"You would not, if you had been brought up in my circumstances," Choir grumbled. "Being heir to what was practically a kingdom unto itself, from my earliest years I can remember being dragged to various agricultural gatherings, always walking beside my father, our boots squelching in the mud, while he pretended to appraise various lumbering, urinating specimens of animal husbandry, awarding ribbons and silver-plated cups to what were invariably the most grotesque of the creatures, being handed awful mugs of tea by the wives of petty gentry, and then finally, the crowning insult always, being forced to bawl out God Save The King before all and sundry."
"A pity," Finch smiled. "I was hoping you would accompany me."
"Oh I would not miss it for the world," the Earl said. "I have an unusual fondness for the three-legged race. Some of these local farm boys are quite athletic."
"We will all go," the Baroness said. "I must perform many of the duties Jeffrey has just described, though with better grace, I hope."
"Roast saddle of hare!" the Earl exclaimed.
There was something appealing, Lady Tabitha thought, in the way the nobleman said whatever came into his head, with an arrogance so complete he sometimes sounded like a holy fool. But he is not a fool, she amended. He only allows himself to appear so, because he simply does not care what those around him think. She had noted, with a mixture of pity and contempt, the veiled, longing gazes of Miss Ethyl. Clearly smitten. A conquest she doubted the Earl had made the slightest effort to gain. A city surrendering at the mere sound of Caesar's footsteps.
And what of Lutwidge? What of their walk up to Tattson Hall from the train station? What of those carefully garnered fifteen minutes she had counted on to allay her fears, her misgivings, over what she had so impulsively sworn to only a month before in London? They had been frustratingly inconclusive. He was exactly as she remembered him, and his effect on her exactly the same. Her love, if that is what it was, had neither grown nor lessened. There was something maddeningly sane about this, a "rightness" against which she rebelled.
"Of course I had heard the name, Bradley Ghoulrich," she said. "But I had no idea he was such a friend of yours."
"More in the past than lately. Our paths had diverged...and were about to sheer off completely, perhaps. In some ways you remind me of him."
"A certain honesty," Lutwidge struggled, "bordering on the headstrong. And more. A kind of grace I admired. I hope you have not felt a lack of attention these past few weeks. I simply could not get away."
"I did not feel neglected." She stared down. "I haven't come to count on you to that extent, yet. Besides, Jeffrey has been very good to me."
"Yes, well I am glad of that."
He had taken her hand. They were alone on the country road, the roofs of the Hall, visible from the train station, having modestly absented themselves as the path dipped before rising to the elm-lined avenue.
There is nothing I would like better than for him to kiss me, she thought. Kiss me brutally, and efface all the doubts from my soul, pass over me like a wire brush, leaving me bloody and clean. A shocking notion. Who put it there? And perhaps all would have been well had he read her mind. But something in the grand front she had so recently affected, the clothes, the manner, the distant, God-sighting stare her green eyes took on, caused even Lutwidge to reverence rather than actively worship, to hesitate rather than grasp her by the shoulders as he had done in the Tattson House library not so long ago.
"You look to the manor born," he said. "As if wealth were your natural state. I had hoped to be the one providing it for you, but I am glad you have gotten it on your own."
"Why?" she asked.
"Because I would not want you feeling beholden to me."
"Not that way."