My dear," the Baroness Tattson was telling Lady Tabitha, "the boy is simply head over heels."
"He told you?" Lady Tabitha asked coldly, staring straight ahead. Trapped in this coach, she could hardly tell the Baroness she had no wish to discuss what she knew was, for her patroness, the topic.
"He exuded it from every pore. He betrayed it with every action. He embodied it in every gesture. He virtually acted it out for me as if we were playing Charades."
"Perhaps that is exactly what he was doing," Lady Tabitha offered.
"A charade. He is polite...to a fault. You have said it yourself. Perhaps he was merely humoring you, trying to please you."
They rolled on in silence for a moment, toward a dinner party on the very fringes of acceptable social territory, a hostess so down on her luck as to excite the Baroness' pity and promised attendance.
"I simply don't understand," the great lady went on. "He is at your feet. He is the ideal match. You haven't told me you feel nothing for him, and even if you did I would not believe you. I have a sense about these things, you know."
"I do not want him at my feet." She was wearing--having had it forced upon her--a ridiculous feathered boa which, despite the season, was all the rage that year. Its insipid down detached and created an artificial snowfall as she turned to face the Baroness. "It is possible, just possible, I do care for Lutwidge Finch."
"And that is bad?"
"It is tragic."
"Golders Green, m'am," the coachman called.
"You have arrived far too early," the Baroness shot back. "Take us up Primrose Hill."
As the gaslights from the street receded, the darkened closet of the coach took on a tense, charged air. Each woman's face was lit at sudden intervals, caught in unexpected attitudes.
"Well, something is troubling you," the Baroness said practically. "Tell me what it is or you won't be able to eat your dinner."
"He is too good," Lady Tabitha finally said.
"Bosh! No man is good enough, my dear. Surely there must be something in particular."
They were sitting side by side and the incline of the hill threw them back against each other. Lady Tabitha's lips moved. The sounds they produced were barely audible. The Baroness strained to hear.
"What? What's that you say?"
"I fear I am not completely intact."
"What do you mean?"
"I fear," she stared straight ahead, "I am damaged goods."
The Baroness nodded, trying not to show her surprise.
"And is that so terrible? In this day and age many girls are not--"
"I did not think it would be. I never thought it would be such a problem. But now..."
"Surely you don't think he will ask you to submit to an examination?"
"No. He will ask nothing. He will not even care. But the guilt I feel when I set myself beside him, when I sense his utter trust in me... It is more than I can bear."
"Poor child," the Baroness said sincerely. "You are such a strange mix of the modern and old-fashioned."
"Would you be wishing to sample the view, m'am?" a voice asked.
"View?" The Baroness raised her lorgnette to survey blackened chimneys and a soot-stained oak. "What view? Where are we?"
"Primrose Hill, m'am."
"Primrose Hill? I told you Golders Green! Hurry, we'll be late."
"I don't shock you, then?"
"No," the Baroness said distantly, distracted, trying to remember some reference in a recent conversation. "Who is the man, if I may ask?"
"A friend of mother's. Many years ago."