"Well I doubt I will be, regardless. I am a frivolous creature at heart. Look at this thing." She smiled at the gold web entangling her. "What was I thinking?"
"It is beautiful."
"Yes. It suppose it is. I will wear something simpler to dinner, though. Listen! Was that the gong? We must be going. I hate being late. I leave the grand entrances to our Miss Ethyl, all elbows and adenoids."
"Who?" Finch called, hurrying after her.
And indeed now he could, though he had paid only perfunctory attention to the heiress. He did not naturally hold people in contempt, as Choir and, to some extent, Lady Tabitha did. Miss Ethyl seemed nervous to him, and stranglingly shy, an affliction she had tried to overcome tonight by a glass of sherry taken privately in her rooms. This led to her speaking perhaps too much, out of turn and often awkwardly, much as a stutterer sometimes rushes on, for fear any hesitation will lead to an awful lockjawed halt.
"I have always enjoyed county fairs," she was saying. "Indeed, my Lord," she smiled nervously at Choir, addressing him as one would the Deity, "when I was a girl I often poured those cups of tea you so detested for our local nobility. The world is like a fair, that's what I think. People coming and going, a little bit of order but a lot of chaos. And the weather, and..." her voice trailed off, stunned, perhaps, by coming in contact with a thought. "A lot of country marriages result from fairs. Did you know that? They are rather like our debutante balls."
"Rather," Choir sneered.
"I think our friend is quite right," the Baroness said gently. "Life is a fair. Certainly one anticipates it with the same enthusiasm. It seems to breed hope, even in the oldest heart. I know I look forward to tomorrow."
A knock on the Hall's front door provided an awkward break in the conversation. Rather than gliding in with the next course, a butler stooped low to speak distinctly into the Baroness's ear.
"Certainly," she said, frowning slightly, then turned to Choir. "Jeffrey, a man is here to see you. Urgent business. Shall I have him shown into the drawing room?"
"A man?" Choir echoed, showing no inclination to set down his forkful of game pie.
"Hardheart," Finch said cryptically, having glimpsed the agent's figure through the entrance to the dining room.
"Damn!" Choir threw down his crumpled napkin.
Without further words to the rest of the party he stalked out.
"I have often said it," the Baroness sighed. "Jeffrey's temper is all that prevents him from making a great match for himself."
"He is a man of affairs," Miss Ethyl defended the Earl. "One can hardly hold him to conventional standards. He sets the tone of what is right and wrong by his very actions."
"Well," Mister MacIntyre said, "in that case we must pay to those actions very close attention indeed."