So she just nodded and left the room. Although heaven only knew why she had bothered to nod. Uncle Robert never looked back up once he dismissed her.
And now here she was, at the supper she herself had requested, and she was wishing-fervently-that she had never opened her mouth. Haselby was fine, perfectly pleasant even. But his father…
Lucy prayed that she would not be living at the Davenport residence. Please please let Haselby have his own home.
In Wales. Or maybe France.
Lord Davenport had, after complaining about the weather, the House of Commons, and the opera (which he found, respectively, rainy, full of ill-bred idiots, and by God not even in English!) then turned his critical eye on her.
It had taken all of Lucy’s fortitude not to back up as he descended upon her. He looked rather like an overweight fish, with bulbous eyes and thick, fleshy lips. Truly, Lucy would not have been surprised if he had torn off his shirt to reveal gills and scales.
And then…eeeeuhh…she shuddered just to remember it. He stepped close, so close that his hot, stale breath puffed around her face.
She stood rigidly, with the perfect posture that had been drilled into her since birth.
He told her to show her teeth.
It had been humiliating.
Lord Davenport had inspected her like a broodmare, even going so far as to place his hands on her hips to measure them for potential childbirth! Lucy had gasped and glanced frantically at her uncle for help, but he was stone-faced and staring resolutely at a spot that was not her face.
And now that they had sat to eat…good heavens! Lord Davenport was interrogating her. He had asked every conceivable question about her health, covering areas she was quite certain were not suitable for mixed company, and then, just when she thought the worst of it was over-
“Can you do your tables?”
Lucy blinked. “I beg your pardon?”
“Your tables,” he said impatiently. “Sixes, sevens.”
For a moment Lucy could not speak. He wanted her to do maths?
“Well?” he demanded.
“Of course,” she stammered. She looked again to her uncle, but he was maintaining his expression of determined disinterest.
“Show me.” Davenport’s mouth settled into a firm line in his jowly cheeks. “Sevens will do.”
“I…ah…” Utterly desperate, she even tried to catch Aunt Harriet’s eye, but she was completely oblivious to the proceedings and in fact had not uttered a word since the evening had begun.
“Father,” Haselby interrupted, “surely you-”
“It’s all about breeding,” Lord Davenport said curtly. “The future of the family lies in her womb. We have a right to know what we’re getting.”
Lucy’s lips parted in shock. Then she realized she’d moved a hand to her abdomen. Hastily she allowed it to drop. Her eyes shot back and forth between father and son, not sure whether she was supposed to speak.
“The last thing you want is a woman who thinks too much,” Lord Davenport was saying, “but she ought to be able to do something as basic as multiplication. Good God, son, think of the ramifications.”
Lucy looked to Haselby. He looked back. Apologetically.
She swallowed and shut her eyes for a fortifying moment. When she opened them, Lord Davenport was staring straight at her, and his lips were parting, and she realized he was going to speak again, which she positively could not bear, and-
“Seven, fourteen, twenty-one,” she blurted out, cutting him off as best she could. “Twenty-eight, thirty-five, forty-two…”
She wondered what he would do if she botched it. Would he call off the marriage?
It was tempting. So tempting.
“…sixty-three, seventy, seventy-seven…”
She looked at her uncle. He was eating. He wasn’t even looking at her.
“Eh, that’s enough,” Lord Davenport announced, coming in right atop the eighty-two.
The giddy feeling in her chest quickly drained away. She’d rebelled-possibly for the first time in her entire life-and no one had noticed. She’d waited too long.
She wondered what else she should have done already.
“Well done,” Haselby said, with an encouraging smile.
Lucy managed a little smile in return. He really wasn’t bad. In fact, if not for Gregory, she would have thought him a rather fine choice. Haselby’s hair was perhaps a little thin, and actually he was a little thin as well, but that wasn’t really anything to complain about. Especially as his personality-surely the most important aspect of any man-was perfectly agreeable. They had managed a short conversation before supper while his father and her uncle were discussing politics, and he had been quite charming. He’d even made a dry, sideways sort of joke about his father, accompanied by a roll of the eyes that had made Lucy chuckle.
Truly, she shouldn’t complain.
And she didn’t. She wouldn’t. She just wished for something else.
“I trust you acquitted yourself acceptably at Miss Moss’s?” Lord Davenport asked, his eyes narrowed just enough to make his query not precisely friendly.
“Yes, of course,” Lucy replied, blinking with surprise. She’d thought the conversation had veered away from her.
“Excellent institution,” Davenport said, chewing on a piece of roasted lamb. “They know what a girl should and should not know. Winslow’s daughter went there. Fordham’s, too.”
“Yes,” Lucy murmured, since a reply seemed to be expected. “They are both very sweet girls,” she lied. Sybilla Winslow was a nasty little tyrant who thought it good fun to pinch the upper arms of the younger students.
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