zingmagazine10 autumn 1999







about zing


alexis vaillant
love for sale
lutwidge finch a novel: chapter 5
evil camouflage


Unlike Choir, Lutwidge Finch contented himself with a seat rather than a private car. First class, of course, but not even his own compartment, merely the uncomfortable horsehair segment of a bench. The question that so bedeviled others, to face back or forward, as if that symbolized one's attitude toward life, a melancholy, retrospective brooding versus an uplifting, exhilarating, come-what-may heartiness, had never engaged him. He did like a meal, though, and was careful to bring his own, good bread and better pat, rather than entrust his appetite to the vagaries of the dining car. Besides, the line to Little Dipping did not even possess such a dubious amenity. It led nowhere, meandering further and further into what another writer has so aptly called, "The green heart of England," reminding him of nothing so much as a Shetland pony, with its amiable, ambling trot that, for all the commotion, carried it not so far, not so fast. To make up, perhaps, for this lack of speed, the engineer sounded his whistle frequently, calling to rural encampments along the way, where whole families came out to gawk, whether at the still-miraculous technology of steam locomotion or the smartly got-out city folk residing within, Finch could not say.

His parents, always so obliging, had received his cabled regrets with equanimity. "Business," they understood to mean personal business and, had he known, he would have been surprised at the leap their hopes took. For though he had a sister happily ensconced at the center of a growing family in Torquay, and a younger brother sworn to defend the seas from high atop the deck-like halls of Admiralty House, Lutwidge was the golden boy over whom they both marvelled and fretted; marvelled because of his sanguine temper, fretted because he oftentimes seemed not of this world, a changeling whose good nature was untainted by motive, unaffected by others, like a balloon drifting at that strange height it chooses, below the sky and above the earth, moving still through the air, touching nothing and letting nothing touch it. They worried, more prosaically, for his happiness.

All of which was to change, for he still felt secure in the promise he had extracted from Lady Tabitha. True, she had refused to wear his ring, and he had not heard from her since she left London, which puzzled him. He had sent several letters explaining his absence. Word had gotten back to him of Sir Roderick's eccentric decision to leave her his wealth, but to one as comfortable as Lutwidge this came only as pleasantly surprising news. He did not know his beloved well enough (not so well, in this sense, as Choir) to understand what a thunderclap this was to her. Had he suspected the turmoil she was in, he would certainly have written more seriously, congratulating, appreciating, and counseling her. He had, in truth, considered doing something like this. But it seemed vulgar. Money matters were best left unspoken, he felt. It had distressed him not that he was marrying a penniless girl (he had enough for them both), nor did it now change things that his fiancee was soon to be an heiress of considerable means (so much the better.) Besides, the tragic business of Bradley's death had, understandably, distracted and preoccupied him these past weeks. He was still troubled by the business of Bradley's pet macaw, which he had gone to collect this morning and found missing, the door to its cage open.

"Spavin!" the conductor called. "Little Dipping next!"

He munched contentedly, watching the landscape slow. Trees grew right over the telegraph line, so eager were they to bask in the sunshine of the cleared track. Leaves and flowers jostled each other, bees floated, and birds darted, stopping unpredictably, making streaks of color, wild marks of punctuation, flourishes at the end of gorgeous, unreadable sentences.

"Cider, guvnor?" an old man walking along the platform asked. He held a tray with brimming clay cups.

"Yes, why not?" Finch handed him a coin.