They kissed. Oh,
the catalogue of kisses these two were compiling. From shy and tentative,
filled with the mutual fear of offending, to coarse and willful, as
if they could kiss their way through any obstacle, to this sweet renaissance,
a whole conversation, recounting, explaining, apologizing, using only
lips and sighs, while their hands wandered freely, confirming, Yes,
you are here, just as I left you; that their love was not a dream but
solid as flesh, as this flesh. Here. And here!
"Let me see what I can do," she said, when they finally stopped.
"Though I seem to have lost the habit of eating myself, perhaps
I can find something here for you."
She took off her coat and began bustling amidst the pots and pans.
"How did you get in?" he asked, staring as she bent over.
...for the Albany, of course, was a bachelor establishment.
"I bribed the doorman. He let me up the back stairs. You don't
mean to tell me you have never done that?"
"No. Never. Have you?"
She shook her head, going through sacks of dried peas, old pots of crystallized
"No, but I have heard tell. That is so typical, Lutwidge. You live
in a veritable Babylon and do not even realize the fact."
"I keep my nose out of other people's business."
"To a fault, perhaps."
"Let us not fight. What are you doing here, Tabitha?" he asked
"Making you dinner," she called, burrowing deeper into the
storage bin. "Though there is precious little. What would you like?"
"You," he said, in a low, serious voice. "Here. Now."
"So it is true what they say," she joked, referring to her
hindquarters, still raised high in the air, "about yourself and
Bradley Ghoulrich, I mean. I wondered if I had cause to be jealous."
"Did you ever doubt me?" he asked.
"Not for a second."
"Are you still marrying Choir?"
"Because I said I would."
"You are rather free with your promise, Lady Tabitha."
"You released me from mine," she pointed out, having turned
now, still sitting on the floor, though, and staring back at him. "He
is no such gentleman. He would demand I keep my word, and he would have
the force of public opinion behind him."
"So instead you will be unfaithful to him."
She did not answer, but continued to stare.
Lutwidge dug into his back pocket and took out the card from the previous
"My list," he said. "Something the Baron Tattson recommended
I make. I see here, first in priority: Marry Tabitha de Bourneville."
"I am flattered."
"But that is not what you are proposing, I think. What you are
proposing would look as if I were merely 'scoring off' my former friend.
No, I will wait until my goal is achieved and we are truly united."
Tabitha shook her head.
"If I broke with him and married you, we would never be able to
appear in society again."
"An additional incentive, surely."
"You see, now we come to the crux of the matter. I am far more
conventional than I once thought, and you are far less straitlaced than
I at first imagined."
"Then our children will be the perfect mix." He lifted her
up and once again gathered her into his arms.
"I cannot even cook you dinner," she pouted. "I am absolutely
hopeless. I was raised to be an ornament, nothing more, and that is
exactly how I feel, like one of those silly, hollow, shiny figurines
you hang off a Christmas tree. I would make a terrible wife and a worse
"If we do not get something to eat soon I am going to start nibbling
at your ear."
"Mmm. Well what is that?" she asked, nodding to a cake tin
pushed back high on a shelf.
Lutwidge dragged a chair over and stood on it.
"Whatever it is, it is heavy," he said encouragingly, sliding
the large, covered plate toward her. "Perhaps a plum pudding. Here."
He handed it down to Tabitha who set it on the table and removed the
top with a flourish. But instead of cake, there was only a large black
ball, the size of a child's head, with a powdery gray fuse trailing
away from it like a rat's tail.
"Well this is no good at all," Lutwidge said disappointedly.
"We shall have to go out."
"What is it?" Lady Tabitha asked.
"A bomb. One of Carrier's new enthusiasms. He constructs incendiary
"Lutwidge!" She turned to him. "He has told you this?
And you have not reported him to the police?"
"What a servant does on his own free time is no concern of mine.
Besides, reporting anyone to the police these days is like signing their
death warrant. You do not think he is one of those anarchist types,
"Of course!" she said. "Look at what he has written on
" 'Death to all Monarchs.' Well, I am not sure if I agree with
that. Much as I would like to see things change, mind you. Hang on...
He did ask whether I would be attending the Royal Ball or not. He particularly
wanted that night off."
"He is going to try and assassinate the new King!"
"We do not know that for a fact," Lutwidge frowned. "He
said he had a meeting tonight. At his rooms near the Museum."
"We should go," Tabitha resolved, "and find out more.
It would be terrible if we accused him falsely."
Lutwidge was staring at her.
"You do not think I am a 'nullity', do you?"
"Oh Lutwidge, no! You are my life. I love you."
He broke into a boyish grin.
"There must be an eating establishment on the way."
"Yes," she said, as he opened the door for her. "You
know, I believe I feel my appetite returning."
The homeless were
grateful for the change in government. Extra editions of the papers,
when crumpled and stuffed inside one's clothes, provided a barrier against
the wind. And the Royal Ball, with its added significance this year,
the first public appearance of the new monarch, inspired whole special
sections, rotogravures of the great beauties and what dresses they might
wear, which, when burnt, seemed to dance as in a kinetoscope, first
the arms and legs stirring, crackling, a sudden blue flame appearing
in the vicinity of the heart, then a burst! And the whole figure did
a little jig, its minute-and-a-half of life, while blunt fingers poking
through ragged wool tried desperately to warm themselves before the
fantasy turned to ash.
"Will I be able to recognize him, do you think?" Doris asked,
practicing her curtsey even though they were seated in a coach speeding
through the squares of Belgravia. "I mean, no one knows what he
looks like, even. People say that he is fat, or that he limps. I even
heard one man say he was an idiot who was kept chained in a pit and
watched over by male nurses."
"More likely he will recognize you," Mister MacIntyre said
proudly, admiring the expensive gown he had insisted on her purchasing.
"You shall doubtless be the belle of the ball."
"Lovesick, you are," she pshawed. "I thought it would
have worn off by now."
"I shall die with a smile on my lips," he predicted. "You
must not be upset, you know, if I am carried away during a moment of
sexual excess. Simply crawl out from under the wreckage, so to speak,
get dressed, and ring for the maid. Getting dressed first, is the thing
to remember. People so often forget, and then it becomes a story."
"What a terrible thought!"
"Not at all. I have outlived my usefulness. They will need a new
name for this age. And new books to read."
"Then what were you doing, scribbling away at five AM this morning?"
"Ah, you heard? And I tiptoed so quietly down the hall, so as not
to wake you."
"An old warhorse still snorts and kicks the stable door at the
sound of distant battle. You must admit," he pointed out, as they
slowed now, joining the queue choking the cobblestone crescent of the
majestically-lit Hall, "these are interesting times."