Late that night, Finch wearily ascended the stairs, finally having gained his room after an hour of desultory chat, first smoking with Mister MacIntyre (the Earl remaining closeted the entire time with his agent, Hardheart), then, after they had rejoined the ladies, passing yet another hour in general conversation. He turned the knob and found, sitting on his bed, none other than Lady Tabitha, who had gone up just moments before.
"Close that?" she asked, nodding to the door.
"Yes," he said. "Good idea."
He turned the key as well.
"For your protection," he explained.
She still wore the striking black sheath described earlier. But its stiff, severe shape had wilted, as had her marble look of perfection. There was something worn, a bit desperate, about her smile. Her hands unconsciously clutched at each other, as if to stop themselves from drowning, or prevent themselves from being saved.
"Sit with me?" she asked, phrasing all her desires as questions.
It was not a large bed, and, as has been mentioned, her shoulder was bare.
"I am sorry I was not dressed properly tonight," Lutwidge began. "And you were looking so,"
She kissed him. Strange there is only one word in our language to describe such a multitudinous act. Whereas their first (and, until now, only) kiss had been one of mutual discovery, a surprise and confirmation, a kiss meant to acquaint them both with the fertile valley of love and contentment into which they were about to descend, this was utterly different, an assault, though of the sweetest kind, and, again, an act of desperation, a plea. Lady Tabitha clung to him like a climber to a rock face, showing no modesty, kissing him again and again, finally moving her lips to his ear and whispering wetly a request that he do to her what had only been done once before, and against her will.
"______ me," she said, and tightened her grip as she did. It was no accident she used such a coarse word. It summoned up in full that awful experience which had ended her youth, which had led, surely as sin leads to damnation, to her mother's premature death.
"Shouldn't we wait?" Lutwidge said.
"Are you sure you won't regret it later?"
"I don't want things to be so perfect and pure on our wedding night. I want it to be like this, now."
"Don't be such a prig, Lutwidge!"
An animal in him was aroused, an animal conforming exactly to the outlines of his body yet not him, not Lutwidge Finch, a creature who knew just what to do and was doing it, whose hands, whose legs, whose mouth were all travelling well-known paths, some deep story he had been born with and never needed to learn.
"This is wrong," his voice alone said.
"Yes," she seemed to agree, yet encourage him at the same time. Its wrongness was right, its very wrongness was what she thrilled to. He gave himself up to it, a force far stronger than his will. All right, he would let Error creep into his life. Galled by the accusation he was still a virtuous schoolboy, he ignored the little voice crying out, the pathetically muffled protests of conscience, calling, its tiny fists beating frantically against,
"Lord!" he cried, suddenly stopping.
"What?" Lady Tabitha asked.