it was wrong of you to send that messenger. It reeked of the clandestine.
There is nothing shameful in our meeting."
He spread his arms to indicate he was at her service.
"We are sitting next to each other at dinner," she said,
then turned from him as if he were a minor relation, dutifully met,
and now dismissed.
"Your friend," the Baron said, clutching Lutwidge by the
sleeve. "How is his condition?"
"Bradley, you mean? I have not seen him lately, but when I
saw him last, he was unwell."
"He came to me this summer. I had been monitoring the progress
of the disease. He is in the final stages, I fear," the Baron
whispered--a whisper that brought down loose plaster from the ceiling.
"I trust that you took precautions."
"No," Finch said. "I mean, there was no need. I mean--"
"Education," the Baron lectured, waving a gnarled, club-like
finger. "Until I find a cure, we must educate nancy boys such
as yourself, so that--"
"I am NOT that way," Finch insisted. "If you must
know, I love that woman there."
"Where?" the Baron once again grabbed his arm and followed
Lutwidge's gaze. "Tabby? Ah, known her since she was a girl.
Fine character. Independent."
"Very," Finch agreed, watching her graciously kiss Miss
"But, pardon me, isn't it her engagement to that nonentity
of an Earl that we are celebrating?"
"So it is."
The Baron shook his head.
"Youth! You waste so much of your time peregrinating. Deciding
this and that. Then changing your mind. Starting over again. Take
my advice, young man: determine your goals and then strive for them,
head down and in a straight line. Make a list, if necessary, and
refer to it. Cross things off when they are done. Add items when
they arise. But organize your life, direct your resources, budget
your time, for there is less of all these things than you think.
It all goes," his fingers made a surprisingly delicate motion,
reminiscent of a puffball exploding, "in the twinkling of an
The Duchess Middleton and Baroness Tattson brushed past each other
so that the casual observer would not even think they were speaking.
But in fact, this is what they said:
"Have you told her?" the Baroness asked, staring across
the room at Tabitha.
"No, of course not," the Duchess answered, pretending
to approve of how the table was laid out. "Should I?"
"I do not know. Perhaps. It is a good match, on the surface."
"On the surface, yes."
"But she should, at some point, know the truth. It may change
the way she looks at things. She is not happy."
"No," the Duchess admitted. "But what we have to
tell her may only make things worse."
The meeting ended as indistinguishably as it began, with the two
women moving off, never having formally acknowledged the other's
"I am so glad you could come," Tabitha said.
"You look lovely," Miss Ethyl gushed, almost feeling she
should curtsey, Tabitha was so grand.
"I often think of our conversations, at the Hall."
Tabitha nodded, then looked to the Reverend.
"Oh," Miss Ethyl said. "May I present--"
"Found yourself a beau, have you?" the Earl interrupted.
"I congratulate you, Miss Ethyl. And you, sir. You will discover
this girl has a great spiritual nature. Would that we were Mormons
or South Sea savages, that I could sample the fruits of polygamy.
But, being forced to put all my eggs in one basket, so to speak,
"Come dear," Lady Tabitha said, sensing no good could
come of this encounter. "The Duchess is signalling."
"You see how she treats me," he said in mock pity. "To
the victor, alas, the spoilt."
"Gratters awfully," the Earl called over his shoulder.
"Do invite us, if the church isn't too small."
"I say," the Reverend frowned. "He seemed to be laboring
under quite a misconception."
Miss Ethyl fainted. That is to say her knees buckled, but the Reverend
had been watching, sensing her distress, and so was able to catch
and guide her to a chair without anyone else noticing.
"Thank you," she murmured. "I had not thought I would
be so affected."
"By what?" the Reverend asked. "By him?"
"Yes. You see, he and I... Well, I alone...this summer..."