Two figures emerged from the house, directly underneath him, and set out for the stream, where a small gazebo raised its ornamented roof almost to the treetops. Rather than crane to get a better look, he waited patiently for the couple to enter his purview. A pair of youngsters--they would call themselves adults--in their early twenties perhaps. The woman was ablaze in white, with a chiffon bow embellishing her backside and trailing halfway down to the ground, like an animal's tail wagging gently. She held a parasol, still furled, relying instead on a gauzy wide-brimmed hat which did little to guard against the rays of the sun but did show to advantage her healthy, glowing chestnut hair. Her beau, to whom Mister MacIntyre paid only cursory attention, was a lad whose herky-jerky walk, as if his pinstriped coat were too tight, and conversational gesticulations, marked out clearly as some type of family idiot, no doubt in line to inherit a pile of cash. He seemed ignorant of his companion's robust perfection, emblematic of the summer itself, which Mister MacIntyre could sense even from these three storeys up, through a pane of glass and the weariness of fifty-odd years difference in age. Instead he was motioning off to the Cotswolds, blind to the true nature of beauty at his side.
New arrivals, Mister MacIntyre reasoned, for surely I would have remembered her from last night.
Lately, his memory had been going. It disturbed him more than he cared to admit. Despite speaking with benign acceptance of being weaned from this world of woe, he found himself fiercely protective of his dignity, of his reputation, as if the modesty he had cultivated all these years, the modesty that had been his trademark, literally his calling card, his entrČe, into these fine houses, had burst, as an ageing dam must, and let loose a flood of rapacious egotistical hunger. Life, one last glorious gulp of it, that was what he wanted, watching the young woman's absurd organza bow waft on the bright summer air.
He had banished the room's clock because it ticked and gave, he feared, a metronomic regularity to the rhythm of his prose. But his stomach, growing more insistent, kept time well enough. He waited until the couple reached the edge of the lawn, saw the lout offer his hand, and the young woman take it, holding her parasol away from her body as if she were walking a tightrope. Together, they descended the banks of the stream until only the top of her hat was visible, then nothing.
It in no way invalidates Mister MacIntyre's well-known mastery of character that he was wrong in all the particulars. He had simply begun to work, taking the raw data of what he observed and fictionalizing it to bring out the essences. Would that the Earl were in line for a "pile" of money. It certainly was what he wished for. Nor was the young noble insensitive to the beauty of Lady Tabitha as she walked beside him. Indeed, his appreciation of her charms had only grown since her unexpected monetary elevation at Shepperton Manor. She was now truly Lady Tabitha de Bourneville, without the "poor" he had always mentally prefixed to her title, much as a bookmaker indicates with a chalked X the name of a horse who has been scratched from the race. Lucky girl, he felt like telling her, as soon as the shocking announcement had been confirmed by an examination of Sir Roderick's will. Lucky in that you may now very well find yourself one of the most eminently-titled women in the land. You must keep in mind that the Earl knew nothing of Lady Tabitha's engagement to Lutwidge Finch, and that he honestly did regard as lucky any woman who had the qualifications to even be in the running for such a gold ring as the one he must some day slip on maiden's fortunate finger. I would marry myself, if I could, he had once realized. For to join himself to anyone lower was, by definition, a diminution, however slight, of his standing, while to ally himself with those few stratospheric personages above him, well, it simply wasn't done. To be in a position of inferiority, vis ý vis anyone, was inconceivable to Choir. Among peers, I have none, he quipped, again, to himself. No one else would appreciate it. That was point.