With apologies to Patrick O'Brian and Georgette Heyer, a cross-genre frivolity by grandowl
Walking down Whitehall towards Stephen's townhouse, Jack fell in with Lord Rotheram, talking mostly of politics, until Rotheram asked, "Do you go to Lady Marston's ball this night?"
"No, Prestwood has offered to squire Sophie and the girls, so I shall spend the evening with my charts."
Rotheram hesitated, looking down. "Aubrey, your wife is a lovely and wise woman, but a trifle innocent. Prestwood is—let us say that he is not the thing."
"Oh? Aye? Indeed. I take your meaning milord, and I thank you for the warning."
Killick was in the hall. "Sandwiches and coffee in my room. Lay out that damned magpie rig. The carriage in 45 minutes. There is not a moment to be lost."
"This here bleedin white waistcoat may be all the crack, but it just ain't right. And the black coat is more suited to a parson than to an officer of rank. No color, no braid, no nice buttons, nothing. Unnatural, I calls it."
Jack privately agreed but saw no need to tell Killick of it. "At least Sophie's left my hair alone. Tie it back, will you now, and see if the carriage is here."
Arriving at the ball, Jack saw both the girls dancing and Sophie in conversation with a slim, elegant dandy. As he moved across the room, trying not to tread on toes or trailing gowns, he saw Sophie's posture change from polite interest to what he recognized, with a inward shudder of memory, as fury. She saw Jack approaching, but Prestwood did not. When Sophie's eyes softened at the sight of Jack, Prestwood allowed himself to be misled by his vanity into a wholly unwarranted optimism.
Grasping for her hand, he said, "Ah, my dear, you DO understand the depth of my feelings, the joys I can show you, the—" Sophie snatched back her hand, her face icy. "You forget yourself. I have told you I will not dishonor my marriage with you or any other man. Make me no more indecent suggestions. Jack, take me away from this importunate person."
Prestwood whirled and found himself staring at the broad expanse of Jack's fashionable white waistcoat—a far less agreeable sight than Sophie's silk-draped bosom. Looking up at Jack's grim, scarred face, he began to stammer. "Very sorry—appear to have misunderstood—no disrespect intended—mortified—" He backed away until he collided with a pedestal holding a bust of the first Lord Marston.
"Jack I thank you. Such a rude, impertinent, immoral—to think he would imagine me — I was such a fool, not to see what he would be at. And a miserable little worm of a man. Now Jack, you are not to fight him, he has apologized, and I should be astonished if he troubled me again. But if I had had your fowling piece at hand five minutes ago—"
Jack let out a shout of laughter. "Long ago, my love, when we were in the Med, Stephen told me just how you would behave if any man made an improper suggestion to you. And Stephen, bless him, was exactly in the right of it. Come. Introduce me to the girls' swains."
© 2004 Grandowl