zingmagazine10 autumn 1999







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


"The expression 'fish in a barrel' was never more apt."

The final gong sounded.

"The person I love best in this house," Choir went on, rising now, "is Cook."

"As usual, the girl has got things hopelessly muddled," the Baroness proclaimed from the head of the table.

Despite being the ostensible master of the house, Baron Tattson rarely attended dinners. His schedule did not permit an evening meal until almost dawn, and that was taken, as all his others were, in the laboratory, a specially built structure hidden off in the woods and not open to casual visits. One saw smoke sometimes, rising above the trees, and heard explosions.

Finch, the only newcomer this evening, stood out by virtue of his not being dressed properly. Choir was right, in that the Baroness forgave him his breach of etiquette. Lutwidge did wish he had changed, though, when he beheld

Lady Tabitha at the top of the stairs. Whatever description of mere prettiness the dress she had worn that day at the station might merit was eclipsed by the black sheath that now had the honor of adorning her graceful form. It foamed on one side in a gorgeous bloom of chiffon while the other shoulder remained triumphantly bare. It is possible she was wearing large cauliflowers on her feet. Her lovestruck fiance would not have noticed.

"Yes, I thought the story didn't quite work," Mister MacIntyre said. "Either she witnessed the infidelity through

the window or she killed herself in that room, but surely not both."

"What a gruesome topic for dinner!" Miss Ethyl cried.

She, taking the opposite tack from Lady Tabitha, realizing the sheer inutility of trying to outglamour her rival (rival for what, though, or rather, for whom?) had dressed in an extremely proper, quite expensive tweed ensemble that, with its intricate patterning, padding, and tailoring, came dangerously close to resembling upholstery.

"I have always found ghost stories reassuring,"

Mister MacIntyre demurred. "They describe life going on after death, improved, if anything, by not having to watch out for walls and ceilings...or having to bathe, for that matter."

"This story is hardly reassuring," the Baroness said. "Your servant-girl informant (and now I fear we all know how Mister MacIntyre gathers material for his admirable fictions) has twisted the whole episode into a penny-dreadful romance. In fact, it was the woman, Lady Evelina of Tavis-Ware, who was the adulteress. She was carrying on clandestinely with Sir Rufus, a friend of her husband, and a knight of the Red Rose, though the Tattsons, of course, belonged to the Lancastrian party. Sir Tavis-Ware, out for a moonlight walk, spied their silhouettes on the windowpane of an unused room. Swearing vengeance on his false friend, he ran into the Hall, seized a sword, and bounded up the stairs. But Sir Rufus, a coward, had fled down the servants passage. In the dark, Sir Tavis-Ware mistook the figure on the bed for his rival, and impaled the unfortunate Lady with a single thrust. It is said it took six men to pry loose the sword. Lady Evelina, in her death agonies, protested her innocence to the end, claiming that the man her own husband had welcomed into their home had forced himself on her, and that what he had seen against the glass were not the throes of passion but the thrashings of resistance. She proclaims her innocence still, on summer nights, it is said, but only to the pure of heart."

"Touching," was Mister MacIntyre's rather cold, professional verdict.

"And the window?" Finch asked.

"Aside from her supernatural appearances, it can never be seen from without. The eye slips over it, as if it were a dropped stitch in the fabric of things."

"And what," Lady Tabitha wondered, "was Sir Tavis Ware doing, walking alone, at night, by the moon?"

"I am sure I don't know," Miss Ethyl answered, mistaking the question's rhetorical nature. "Mr. Finch, you are here for the fair?"

"No," Lutwidge answered. "I was unaware of its existence. But I imagine I will enjoy going."