"My trunk." He sprang off the bed, adjusting his clothes, and hauled his chest out from a corner of the room. Frantically, he began patting his pockets.
"Lutwidge?" Lady Tabitha lay dazed on the bed.
"Get up," he mouthed, and tried pointing, motioning to her dress, which was almost back-to-front.
"Please sir," a small voice called.
"You have a boy in your trunk?" Lady Tabitha asked.
"I forgot all about him. Where is that dratted key?"
"That is what you get, not travelling with a manservant," she pointed out. "Carrier would have unpacked your things by now."
"Carrier prefers his summers off. Ah, here it is! He is attempting to better himself through education, which I consider admirable."
"You could have at least brought a steamer."
"I do not think it is proper etiquette for a man to bring a steamer trunk on a country weekend, do you?"
"Perhaps not. I suppose marriage will teach me a lot about men," she said, getting up now, looking, in vain, for a mirror. "Do you...often travel with a young boy?"
"No. And as for marriage teaching you anything, it
seems to me you know far too much about men as it is," Lutwidge muttered, instantly regretting the words as they left his mouth. At that moment the key slid in and the latch popped up.
"Cor!" James' head was drenched in sweat, his curls matted to his neck and ears. "Is he gone yet, sir?"
"Oh. Yes." Finch actually looked around for a moment, as if expecting the sinister personage to be leering down from atop the armoire or peering out from beneath the bed, intent on collecting the young scamp's fare. Instead, all he noted was the door, ajar, and the waft of Lady Tabitha's unannounced departure. "No. He is gone. Everyone is gone."
Lutwidge was in fact virtuous. There had, of course, been opportunities, both of the sordid street-corner variety and others, unmistakable signs, come-hither glances, a parasol trailing memorably on a dewy garden path. Why then, had he preserved himself? It was not from religious scruples or fear of entanglement. Rather it was a strange response to the mechanism of attraction itself. Why? he wondered, whenever feeling the pull, and he felt it as often as any other young man, why am I attracted to this woman and not the one sitting next to her? I have spoken to neither, simply seen them, side by side, on an omnibus, and yet already the yes-no question has, in my gut somewhere, been asked and answered. It was, for him, too senselessly animal. To be swayed by mere features, an extra ounce of fat here, the shape of a muscle there, the color of an eye, the imagined texture of hair... To have one's future determined by such arbitrary details! Thus the very act of being drawn to someone repelled him. And so his urges were canceled as soon as they came into existence. Until he met Tabitha. What was different about her? Taking his hand, she had led him over this forbidding obstacle as if it were an ankle-high gate. What had loomed before him, now, seen from beyond, was laughably small. He desired her, ardently, and his desire was not confused by fear or suspicion. It was a movement toward strength, toward health. It was self serving yet utterly selfless. It was rational, yet he was, as the Baroness had said, head-over-heels. It transcended contradiction.
But when slap comes to tickle, he accused himself moodily, I do not wish to sully such fine feelings by actually acting on them. No. He shook his head. It would have been wrong. The time was wrong. Not because their lust needed to be sugared over by the blessed sacrament of marriage. But because her motives had been so strangely despairing. They had had nothing to do with Tabitha's love, the existence of which he never doubted, but rather her terror of something else. He saw her suddenly as a prisoner, trapped as firmly now behind her fine clothes, shackled by her expensive gems, as she had previously been by her grinding poverty. No outward change of circumstance, not even, he admitted, becoming Mrs. Lutwidge Finch, would free her from this inner sanctum. She must be rescued. With the optimism of a lover, he swore from now on to devote himself to Tabitha's well-being.
"Better?" he asked, as James, the houseboy, tried again to put weight on his legs. The long confinement had sent them both to sleep, so that when he tried to walk he collapsed in a heap, like a jellyfish.
"I got to get going," the lad repeated, trying to raise himself again. "What'll his Lordship think?"
"His Lordship?" Finch frowned. "You mean the Baron?"
"He expects me each night."