With His Lady's Assistance
(Finalist, 2012 International Digital Award for long historical)
"Is your father even in?" Jack asked her.
"Of course, he's in. He's greatly looking forward to meeting the man I've so singularly honored."
That, at least, sounded promising.
"But before you actually meet him, you must learn something about yourself, sir."
Bloody hell! What had she gone and told her father about him?
She sat up straight as a poker, folded her (inkstained, he noticed) hands into her lap, and met his gaze. "My father would not like me to throw myself away on just any man. Seeing as how I'm his favorite, and seeing as how he does not seem to be aware of my lack of beauty, he believes the man who is fortunate enough to secure me for a wife must be a man possessed of many staggeringly fine attributes."
Dear lord! "Pray," he growled, "what did you tell your father about me?"
"I couldn't tell him the truth--not even the part about your distinguished military service because you did not wish that to be known."
"I tried to think of the things my father would wish for in my husband--besides a title, which I think you'll agree was out of the question."
On that, they were in perfect agreement. "Yes."
"Because he thinks me exceedingly intelligent, he would wish for me to marry a man of equal or superior intelligence."
That seemed reasonable enough. "So you told him I was smart?"
"Not only smart, but a man of scholarship."
Jack credited himself with intelligence, but scholarship? His brows dipped. "What kind of scholarship?"
"Oh, you know, the classics."
"As in Greeks and Romans?" It had been almost fifteen years since Jack had read any Latin, and he'd never been comfortable with Greek.
"Yes, that. And I might have mentioned that you have a facility for languages."
His French was tolerable, and his Spanish and Portuguese were actually quite good. Perhaps he would be able to pull this off with her father. Hadn't the last several years of his life been spent in deception? "I pray that you did not mention any specific languages."
She put her hands to her hips. "Of course I had to mention specific languages! I couldn't very well have promised myself to a man I don't know well."
"What languages did you mention?"
She shrugged. "In addition to Latin, Greek, French and Spanish--I thought not to mention Portuguese because we don't want anyone to suspect you've so recently come from there--I threw in Bantu and Hottentot."
"Bantu and Hottentot!" What in the hell were Bantu and Hottentot? They sounded suspiciously like African tribes.
"They're two of the native languages of South Africa."
"Why, precisely, did you 'throw in' those?" He could only barely control his anger.
"For two very good reasons." She looked so utterly serious when she peered at him through those wretched spectacles.
"Enlighten me, if you will."
"First, my father will never be able to determine if you can or can't speak those languages since he's not familiar with either of them."
He nodded. That seemed acceptable. "And your second reason?"
"Because until recently you've been living in South Africa, where you made a vast fortune in diamond mines." As she watched his face harden, she rushed to explain. "You see, that is the second thing I believe my father would seek in my husband: great wealth."
"So you've made me a rich miner?"
She gave him a self-satisfied smile.
"Could you not have discussed this with me first? I know nothing about South Africa and even less about mining."
"I had no way to get in touch with you, sir. By the way, you must give me your direction."
"I'm surprised you didn't tell your father I live at Kew Palace!"
She frowned. "You don't have to be so ruffled. As it happens, my father knows nothing about mining or South Africa, so he won't be a threat to your charade. And you don't actually have to know about the mining, either. You're so wealthy, you merely own the mines while your underlings do all the work. Which leaves you time for humanitarian work with natives."
Somehow he didn't think he wanted to hear what was coming next. "Pray, Maiden of Evil, what kind of humanitarian work do you have me doing--besides speaking fluently to the Bantus and Hottentots?"
Her eyes narrowed to slits. "There aren't Bantus, sir. That is the name given to the language of several tribes who speak in the Niger-Congo tongue. The Hottentots have their own language which is entirely different from Bantu."
He was quickly becoming desirous of strangling the young lady who sat beside him. "What kind of humanitarian work, Maiden of Evil?" he repeated through clenched teeth.
"You, sir, have undertaken to inoculate the natives against the pox. They are so grateful to you for eradicating the disease they call you Great White God." She smiled. "I rather liked that touch. What father wouldn't wish his daughter married to a Great White God?"
Strangling was too good for her.
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