"Why, Miss Russell, may I say you look quite lovely today?" The man standing before me was handsome in what you could say was a traditional modern sense, but really had no outstanding characteristics to deem him remarkable. Well, other than fine set of completely developed muscles and beautifully tinted blue eyes set into a finely sculpted face. The curious question danced briefly in the back of my mind as he gestured for me to join him at the table: How had such an apparently able-bodied young man in the prime of life avoid participation in the war? Maybe at some point during our luncheon I could deftly work the topic into the conversation.
"Thank you, Lt. Wetherby, for your compliment." I batted my eyelashes for effect, hoping not to appear as though trying too hard. I spread the napkin in my lap as daintily as I could muster and waited for him to order for the both of us. Although I knew I was quite capable of deciding what food I would like to consume, I chose to keep my tongue in check so as not to ruin the interview then and there. The lieutenant, despite his modern clothes and hairstyle, did not strike me as the type of present-thinking male who would be readily accepting of a young feminist. The waiter took our choices and disappeared as Wetherby turned his attention back to me.
"Excuse me for saying so, but I certainly hope your guardian will not be showing up again today." A slight smile played across his lips. "I was deprived of your company quite before I was ready to relinquish it, my dear."
"He's not..." I caught myself before revealing too much about the relationship (should I say the former) that Holmes and I maintained. While my exploits with the criminal element had been scant and quiet, his had not and was surely known to Wetherby's employer, if not Wetherby himself. "He's just concerned. Certainly you can understand. He comes from a generation quite different from you and I."
"What a loss... for him." He took a sip of the wine in front of him, and took a bite of the fresh greens. I played with the salad, rearranging it artfully more than eating it. It was drenched in some heavy cream dressing that left the entire course flat and lifeless. Weatherby paid no mind to my dining antics and continued his side of the conversation, chewing around the lettuce as he went. "How long are you to be in town, Miss Russell?"
"I'm not quite sure. I had some work to do back at Oxford, but I might be persuaded to procrastinate a bit if something livelier came along." I fervently hoped he would catch the hint. So far the meal had yielded nothing interesting, including the company and the food.
"Well, some acquaintances of mine are throwing a little soiree this evening. Would you like to attend? I must be perfectly honest with you, Miss Russell. It may be a little shocking to a woman of your breeding..." He left it hanging there, knowing full well that the persona I had cultivated in his eyes would leap the challenge. The waiter brought the main course, setting the steaming plates before us, and then departing. The sauces poured liberally upon the chicken and meager vegetables was less appetizing than the previous salad dressing. I attempted to conceal my grimace at the attrocious repast and drew my focus back to Wetherby.
"Lieutenant, I am a modern woman." I tossed my head for effect as I continued my demure chiding. "I think I am capable of handling very 'shocking' situations with grace befitting a woman of my station and experience." I allowed a brief pause and a slight, sultry emphasis to rest upon the word experience before I continued. "I would be quite amenable to attending your get-together. What time should you come round to pick me up?"
"That's my girl, Mary...may I call you Mary?" I nodded at his jovial familiarity. "I knew you would be game. You won't regret it. I'll be by around eight. Wear whatever, not formal though."
"By the way, Lt. Wetherby, I was meaning to ask you... where did you serve during the war? Forgive me, but I'm not all that familiar with military uniforms, regiments, and what have you."
"That's understandable...after all, the Army is a man's world." His patronizing tone would only go so far with me, this I knew for certain. He laughed, a soft self-deprecating chuckle. "Not at all courageous or honorable, I'm afraid to say. I spent my time as an adjutant to the General staff. Never got much of chance to see the real action. Papa didn't want me to go off and get myself killed, I'm the only heir to the family fortune, you know. Although who knows when I'll ever see it. I think the old man's never going to kick the proverbial bucket." I flinched slightly at his last callous comment. I had inherited my wealth far too earlier and much too tragically for my taste. He reached over and patted my hand where it was resting on the tablecloth. "Not to worry though, Mary. I have plenty of funds for us to enjoy a night on the town now and again…that is, if you're of a mind to?" The enthusiasm in his voice, mixed with a bit of boyish hope, was almost too much to bear.
I slowly withdrew my hand, forcing down the urge to wipe it clean of the thin sheen of perspiration his palm had left behind. I swallowed my revulsion along with a cleansing sip of wine, then responded. "But of course, Lieutenant. I would be honored to go out on the town with you."
He laughed again, his smooth modulated voice sounding almost an act as he stared at me from across the table. "Lieutenant….oh, how formal, Mary. I think we've gotten past all that, don't you? Please call me Jeremy. All my friends do."
To be continued