It would be nice to say Lady Tabitha was insensible to any of this, that her innocent nature was no more affected by a sudden access of wealth than a rose is by a spring shower, that is to say nourished, perhaps prettily cleansed and set on its shapely stem for a time, but essentially unchanged. That, however, would be a lie. Although she was not yet rich--probating the will and transferring the estate would take months--she knew very well she was an entirely different person, both in her own eyes and in others'. Her beauty, which before she used as a kind of currency, thriftily venturing a little of it here and there, only where it was necessary and there was a decent chance of getting some return, she now regarded as a possession utterly private, with which she could do as she liked, a gem to remain untouched, rarely even worn, but whose worth was acknowledged by all, not in the least by how expensively it was set. To put it another way: Every garment Tabitha Bourneville had ever worn, all of which had been carefully packed and shipped on ahead to Tattson Hall, now lay in the ash pit of that great house's incinerator. The fashionable dressmakers, lazily dreaming of the autumn's couture, had been shaken from their desultory labors by long and quite specific telegrams instructing them to ship south their most precious and flattering summer dresses and hats. Money, she realized, was no object. And neither was she. Cunning, as a tactic in the wars of fashion, was dispensed with. Like the later Napoleon, she won her battles now with a sheer crushing superiority of forces.
"He was a retired Colonel of the Halberdiers," she told Choir, staring off at the mountains.
"How sordid," the Earl said.
"Yes. Afterwards, I walked into the ocean to wash away my shame. I kept thinking, just a little more, one step further, so the water would rise higher and...cleanse me." She forced the last words out. "Then I looked down and saw I was up to my neck, that the sand had slipped away from my feet."
"You could not swim?"
"No. I ceased to struggle. I suddenly realized what I was doing, what I had intended all along, and it seemed so right. I found the bottom one more time, with the tip of my toe, and pushed myself off, as if launching a ship."
"Yes," Choir said. He seemed to approve, or at least sympathize, with her actions. "Death before dishonor."
"I remember the weight of my clothes, and the disarrangement of my hair, and the shame I felt."
"There is no need to go into detail," Choir said gently.
But Lady Tabitha continued, almost in a monotone. He was reminded of one giving testimony at an inquest.
"I was pulled down. It was really remarkable. Like a hand, pinching me between its thumb and forefinger. If I ever felt the presence of God it was in that awful invitation to die."
"And then what happened?"