Lord Byron's Daughter

Lord Byron’s Daughter
Lord Byron’s Daughter
London, April 1840
The massive library door shut, muting the strains of shrill conversation from Lady King’s overcrowded ballroom.
Ada Byron’s taffeta skirts rustled, disturbing the cathedral-like silence which called to her soul. She’d only allowed her mother to drag her to the Countess of Lovelace’s ball in hopes of examining her ladyship’s son’s collection of mathematical treatises. When she heard from Charles Babbage that William King had a rare untranslated work of Pythagoras, she knew she had to read it.
Plump arms stole around her waist overlaying the intoxicating scent of old books and rich leather with the stench of garlic. Allowing Baron Mountjoy to escort her into their hostess’s glorious library was an error in judgement.
Ada pushed her way out of Baron Mountjoy’s embrace. “Sir, you go too far.”
Mountjoy stank of days-old perspiration. One would think a man planning to court a woman, even one so far on the shelf as she was, would bother to change his shirt.
 “No, I must have you. You are my light. My star. My fortune.”
His fortune? Well, that at least rang true.
 “Sir, perhaps you are unaware of the fact that Papa’s will specified that if I married an Englishman I would be cut off without a penny.”
 Baron Mountjoy stepped back, eyes bulging, mouth agape. His resemblance to a codfish was uncanny. “Why would an Englishman make a will like that? Even a demmned caper merchant like Lord Byron?”
 “Papa didn’t approve of Englishmen. My fortune is contingent on my marrying an Italian.”
“Good Lord, the man was even dottier than he was rumored to be.”
True. Ada smoothed her skirts, wondering how she could induce the man to leave the library.
The Baron reached for her again, his sweating hands grabbing for her breasts. She stepped back, looking for a weapon. She picked up the silver-chased letter opener lying on the polished surface of the massive desk. “You’d do well to leave now, Baron Mountjoy. I’m not squeamish when it comes to blood.”
“Unnatural Woman,” he hissed. “You’ll end your days a dried-up spinster.”
 “A better fate than being betrothed to a toad.”
“The lady would seem not to welcome your advances,” said a cool emotionless voice.
She looked toward the source. A man she’d never seen before rose from the chair facing the window. 
Ada sucked in a breath.  Mother always said the devil had to be a handsome man. How else did he lure so many away to his pursuits? If that was true, this man, if not the devil himself, was closely related.
He was tall. Dark hair cut a little long to be fashionable, dark eyes under straight brows, beautifully cut lips pressed together in a way that spelled danger for Baron Mountjoy.
 “Do not trouble yourself, sir,” she said. “I am perfectly capable of dealing with this . . .this—”
“So it would seem.” He glanced down at the silver letter opener she still clutched. “In that case, don’t let me disturb you.” He turned around and resumed his seat.
Now it was she who gaped like a fish. No gentleman left a woman to fend for herself. She turned back to Baron Mountjoy. “If you need a bride with money, I advise you to look elsewhere. Perhaps before you court her, you might want to learn a bit about hygiene. A good wash never hurt anyone.”
The baron looked at her with murder in his eyes.
She raised the letter opener.
 “Strumpet,” he muttered. He retreated to the library door. “Whore. Unnatural woman. Mollytot!”  He slammed the door behind him.
“Mollytot?” That’s one she hadn’t heard before. She’d have to look it up. She put the knife back on the desk.
The branch of candles glimmered on the table beside the previously unseen gentleman. She heard the flick of a page turning. “What are you reading,” she asked and then cursed herself. An improper question to a stranger, but her bookish curiosity made her always want to know what other people were reading.
“Never mind. I am sorry I interrupted you.” The other branch of candles sat on a table by the bookcase. The wall sconces made little impression on the room’s dimness. The flickering fire provided another square of light. The man hadn’t answered her. Would he notice if she grabbed the other branch of candles and perused the books?
She decided to chance it.  She held the branch high. Dull gold titles sprang into focus. Shakespeare, Plutarch, Dante. Where were the mathematics books?
“If you are looking for novels you should walk to the left. No Austen, but he has a good collection of Scott.”
She could hear the bored condescension in his voice. Idiot. Why weren’t women allowed to possess a brain? “I am looking for Pythagoras’s treatise on Mathematics.”
“For your brother, perhaps? I must tell you Lord William doesn’t lend his books. Your brother would have to come himself.”
The sound of her teeth grinding was very unattractive. But she didn’t care. “I don’t have a brother. I wish to peruse it myself.”
The man stood up, picked up the branch of candles from the table beside him and walked toward her. In the light, his eyes glittered, or was it the flicker of the candles? “A woman who reads Greek? How very unusual. Why is it I don’t believe you? The Pythagoras is a very valuable book. Perhaps you want to steal it. I know women always want a little extra pin money.”
Hopeless. Men never believed women were interested in anything beyond the roles men had assigned to them. She turned away, muttering a slow stream of Greek curses.
He interposed himself between her and the library door, surprise written large upon his countenance. “You do speak Greek.”
“Yes, and I also understand mathematics. Probably more than Oxford ever taught you. You did go to Oxford, didn’t you? You have the supercilious tone they graduate men with.”
He ignored her retort. Instead, he put a finger under her chin. “You’re a beauty, aren’t you? Perhaps the baron was interested in more than a fortune.”
His breath smelled sweet with a hint of port. She pulled away. “I am six and twenty and have been on the shelf for several years. And I am happy to remain there.”
“You don’t look like a bluestocking. More like Hayez’s idea of a sea nymph. Tell me nymph, do you read any other languages?”
“Several. It’s a hobby of mine.” She knew she should leave the room. Her mother, who was currently keeping a close watch on her half-sister, Chloe, would not be pleased to find her flaunting convention this way. She constantly reminded Ada, “Your father created enough scandal to ruin us all. Only the most circumspect behavior will do for Byron’s daughter.”
Her mother had the right of it. Not even her mother’s remarriage to the dull and immensely proper Mr. Cravens had caused the ton’s spotlight to leave her.
Ada didn’t care for herself. She would always be the peculiar Miss Byron, daughter of the wicked Lord Byron. Not even his poetry redeemed his behavior.
Before his untimely drowning women shook their heads in public and secretly longed to be ravished by him. Men firmed their lips and said he was a demmned disgrace to King and country. To her, he was her beautiful, charismatic, mercurial father.
The man went back to his chair and returned with the book he’d been reading. “Tell me, pretty witch. Can you read that?”
She took the book from him. The parchment crackled with age. It wasn’t a printed book at all. “Manuscript. Hand-lettered.”  When she turned the page, the edge of the paper flaked in her hand. She strained her eyes trying to focus on the elegant cursive. The writing was faded. “It’s in Cyrillic.”
The man waited.
“It’s a system of lettering based on the Greek alphabet. Cyril was a Greek monk who, with Methodius, brought written language to Christian converts in the mid-9th century in what is now Russia.”
He threw her an impatient glance. “I didn’t ask for a history lesson. Can you read it?”
“Could I have a bit more light?”
He held up the candelabra.
The writing came into focus. It was a discourse on travel. At first, it made perfect sense. And then? She stopped reading. “Ridiculous. This is an elaborate joke of some kind.”
The man’s eyes were intent, mesmerizing. “You can read it, can’t you? You’re the one I’ve been looking for.”
His gaze made her feel like a pinned butterfly. She tried to hand him back the book, but it seemed magnetized to her hands.
“You will read it,” he said softly and insistently. “You will read it aloud and then we will both see where it takes us.”
The man was clearly unhinged. “I can’t go anywhere with you unchaperoned. I have to go. My mother and my sister await me.”
“Let them wait. This is more important. Read.”
Why didn’t someone come in? Anyone? A housemaid to poke up the fire. A butler to refill the decanter on the table.
Her throat felt dry, tight. “I’m thirsty. Might I have a glass of water?”
His glance was implacable. “Read.”
Time is a river and it is possible to follow it to another world. Time is God’s construct to keep order in this world. But the right thoughts and words allow you to travel forward to another place.” The writing switched to a series of what looked to be mathematical equations. Ada stopped reading. She looked up. “These aren’t words. It’s a series of mathematical equations. I don’t understand them.”
“Damn and blast.” he said under his breath.
“Would you like me to write them out for you?” Ada asked sweetly. “As you said, I don’t believe Lord William will allow you to take the book.”
“I am Lord William.  I thought you said you knew mathematics.” He took the book from her hand. Her fingers let go reluctantly.       
“Not these equations. They are a system of thought I’ve never seen.” She was itching to get another look at them. She wasn’t sure she could believe in travel through time to another dimension, but the concept was fascinating and if these figures were the key, she wanted a chance to study them. “I could copy them out for you and you could take them to the academy of mathematics. It would be less risky than letting the book out of your sight.”
“Ada, where have you gotten yourself to?” Her mother’s voice was melodic and carrying.
“I have to go. I don’t want my mother to find me alone in a room with a man, even if he is our host.”

“Quite right.” He bowed and went back to his chair. “Give my felicitations to your mother on raising such an unusual daughter. I will see you again, Miss Byron. Soon.”


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