like a complete imbecile to me," the Reverend said. "And
rude, to boot."
This opinion acted like smelling salts on Miss Ethyl, who straightened
up in her chair.
"How can you say that? He is a peer of the realm. He is one
of the pillars of our society. I would do anything for him."
"May I bring you a glass of water?"
"No, sir." She got up, glared as if he had made some outrageous
suggestion, and left the Reverend kneeling solicitously by an empty
Only a few more hours of this, he assured himself, seeing they were
about go into dinner. I never thought I would miss dining à
deux with Mrs. Hatchitt, but after tonight...
Advice is always there for the taking. People who go off in search
of gurus, read manifestos, or turn over tarot cards, fail to see
that all counsel is really common sense, that its influence has
far more to do with timing, the recipient being amenable, the field
plowed and ready for planting, than any startlingly new outlook
on life. We hear what we want to hear, and only when we want to
hear it. Lutwidge found himself fingering a gold fountain pen he
kept in his breast pocket, and jotting notes on the menu card that
was laid before his plate.
"What are you doing?" Lady Tabitha asked.
"Nothing," he answered. "Just trying out something
the Baron recommended. He admires, by the way, your 'independent
"He is sweet," she said, smiling to the Reverend on her
Marry Tabitha de Bourneville, he wrote, in script so small it could
not be easily read. Then the pen paused. What else?
" 'The downtrodden'," the Earl was sneering from across
the table. "'The unfortunate.' 'The underprivileged.' Words
I particularly dislike that seem to have gained currency during
"They are merely descriptive terms," Miss Ethyl said.
"But so mealy-mouthed," the Earl protested. "What
ever happened to 'bum'? 'Hobo'? 'Smelly old beggar'? Made poverty
seem more romantic, I say."
"Smelly old beggar?" the Duchess queried. "Romantic?"
"The Great Unwashed. Now there is an aptly descriptive expression.
What I am trying to say is: the poor will always be with us. Otherwise
we would not be rich!" He laughed goodnaturedly at his own
logic. "But these words pretend that isn't so. If you put a
'homeless' man in a room, does that make him all right? Not at all!
He will still be a bum, merely within the confines of four walls."
"More often than not 'she'," the Baroness corrected. "For
I have noticed that many of those on the streets are women, with
"Abandoned by the men responsible, no doubt," the Earl
allowed. "Men who should be made to own up to their repulsive
actions, with the gentle encouragement of the lash, if necessary."
Find Bradley, Finch wrote.
"Well," Tabitha said, in a low voice, pushing at her food
but not eating a morsel. "Are you going waste our precious
time annotating the menu or shall we talk?"
"How can you marry that fool?" He gave a curt nod to the
"I mean they say there are no jobs, but when you emerge from
your carriage in brand new boots, no one is there to lay his coat
over the puddle. Just to give you one example, among many."
"It is for you I am doing this."
"You are trying to make me hate you," he said. "But
it will not work. I know you love me. It is as plain as day."
"Is day so plain anymore? This Tower makes everything its opposite."
"Come away with me. To Spain. To Sardinia. To anywhere that
begins with S."
"You are changed," she smiled.
"Not changed. Only more myself. I have a coach downstairs.
Leave with me tonight. This instant, if you like. I am quite good
at fleeing the country. Perhaps you have heard."
"Dear Lutwidge, it is over. I am engaged. Look."
This whole conversation, carried out, as it were, under the glare
of public scrutiny, was accompanied by the false smiles and mimed
shows of interest both were known to affect so well. Lady Tabitha
held out her ring, a diamond sapphire. She may as well have thrust
a sword through Lutwidge's vitals.
"Remember when we first met?" she asked. "And I railed
at you for being so conventional, for so slavishly defending all
the Rules, no matter how silly they might be? Well, now I am counting
on that. I am engaged, Lutwidge," she repeated, "to a
man people consider your friend. You must not cause a scene. You
must set aside all hopes you have for us. For ever."