A Knight in Shining Armor: Chapter 13


Dinner was to be served at eight, and as Dougless dressed in her museum-visiting clothes, she hoped Elizabeth would send the gowns to her as soon as possible. But as eight drew near and no one summoned her to dinner, she wondered what was going on. She knew the servants had eaten earlier and she hadn’t been invited to eat with them, so she assumed she was to eat with the family. Sitting in her room, she waited.

At eight-fifteen, a man came to her and told her to follow him. She was led through the maze of rooms to a narrow dining room with a big fireplace and a table long enough to use for skateboarding. Arabella, her father, Nicholas, and Lee were already seated. Arabella, as Dougless had expected, was wearing a dress so low cut it pretty much left her bare from the waist up. She was showing more than Dougless even possessed.

As unobtrusively as possible, Dougless slipped into a chair next to Lee that a servant held out for her.

“Your boss wouldn’t eat until you were here,” Lee whispered as the first course was served. “What’s going on between you two? Is he a descendant of the Nicholas Stafford, the one that was almost beheaded?”

Dougless gave Lee the same story she had given the cook, a story she was sure that by now every servant probably knew, that Nicholas was indeed a descendant, and he very much wanted to clear his ancestor’s name.

“I’m glad I had ol’ Arabella sign a contract,” Lee said, “because if he’d asked first, I think she would have given him exclusive access to the papers. Look at the two of them. With the way she’s looking at him, they just might go to it on the table—again.”

Dougless choked on her salmon so badly, she had to drink half a glass of water to clear her throat.

“What is this boss to you? You two aren’t . . . ? You know.”

“No, of course not,” Dougless said as she watched Nicholas lean over Arabella, his eyes looking down her dress. Looking down to see what? Dougless thought. There weren’t but a couple of inches that she wasn’t exposing for everyone in the house to see.

When Nicholas glanced up at her, Dougless moved a little nearer Lee. “I was thinking, Lee, since my boss seems to be so busy, maybe you need a secretary for the weekend. My father is a professor of medieval history, so I’ve had some experience with helping him research.”

“Montgomery,” Lee said slowly; then his eyes lit up. “Not Adam Montgomery?”

“That’s my dad.”

“I once heard him present a brilliant paper on thirteenth-century economics. So, he’s your father. Maybe I could use a little help.”

Dougless could almost read his mind. Adam Montgomery would be in a position to help a struggling young professor. But Dougless didn’t mind. Wasn’t ambition good? Besides, she would let Lee believe whatever he wanted if it helped her find out what secret Nicholas’s mother knew.

“The trunk is in my room,” Lee was saying, and his glances were decidedly warmer since finding out who her father was. “Maybe after dinner you’d like to, ah . . . visit.”

“Sure,” Dougless said as she envisioned an evening spent running around a table trying to escape his advances. At the thought of a table, she glanced at Nicholas and saw he was glaring at her. Smiling, she lifted her wineglass to him in salute, then took a deep drink. Nicholas turned away, glowering.

After dinner, Dougless went back to her room to get her notebook and a few supplies as well as her handbag. She thought she might as well be prepared for a long night spent rummaging through four-hundred-year-old documents.

Twice she got lost in the house as she turned wrong corners in her search for Lee’s room. She halted outside an open door when she heard Arabella’s seductive voice coming from inside. “But, darling, I get so frightened when I’m alone at night.”

“Truly,” Dougless heard Nicholas say, “I would have thought you past such childish fears.”

Dougless rolled her eyes skyward.

“Here, let me refill your glass,” Arabella said. “And then I’d like to show you something.” Her voice lowered. “In my room.”

Dougless grimaced. Stupid man! According to the cook, Arabella showed everything in her room to every male who visited Goshawk Hall. With a malicious little smile, Dougless began looking through her handbag. Smiling brightly, she walked into the parlor. Every light except one dim one was off, Arabella was pouring a water glass full of bourbon, and Nicholas sat on the sofa with his shirt half open.

“Oh, your lordship,” Dougless said briskly as she began going about the room turning on every light. “Here’s the calculator you wanted, but I’m afraid the only one I have is solar. It will only work in a brightly lit room.”

Nicholas stared with interest at the small calculator she handed him, and when she began to demonstrate it, his eyes turned to saucers. “One may add?”

“And subtract and multiply and divide. See, here’s your answer. Say you wanted to subtract this year, 1988, from 1564, the year your ancestor was accused of treason and lost his family’s fortune forever, you’d get a minus four hundred and twenty-four years. Four hundred and twenty-four years in which to right a wrong and keep your descendants from laughing at you—at him, I mean.”

“You,” Arabella said, so angry she could barely speak, “leave this room at once.”

“Uh-oh,” Dougless said innocently. “Was I disturbing the two of you? I’m so awfully sorry. I didn’t mean to. I was just doing my job.” She started backing toward the door. “Please carry on with what you were doing.”

Dougless left the room, walked down the hall a few feet, then tiptoed back to stand outside the door. She saw the shadows from the room darken.

“I need light,” Nicholas said. “The machine does not work without light.”

“Nicholas, for God’s sake, it’s only a calculator. Put it away.”

“It is a most wondrous machine. What is this mark?”

“It’s a percent sign but I can’t see what it matters now.”

“Demonstrate its function.”

Dougless could hear Arabella’s sigh through the walls. Smiling, quite pleased with herself, Dougless continued her search for Lee’s room. He greeted her wearing, of all things, a silk smoking jacket. Dougless refrained from giggling. One look at his face and at the martini glass he held, and Dougless knew that he had no intention of talking to her about anything except why she should jump into bed with him. She took the martini he offered her, sipped it, then grimaced. She hated martinis, dry or otherwise.

Lee started by telling her how beautiful her hair was, how surprised he was to find such a stunning woman in this moldy old house, what a great dresser she was, and how little her feet were. Dougless could have yawned. Instead, when he refilled her glass, she surreptitiously took two of her stomach tranquilizers from her bag, opened the capsules, and poured them into Lee’s drink. “Bottoms up,” she said cheerfully.

While she was waiting for the pills to take effect, she showed Lee the note Nicholas had slipped under her door the night before. “What does this say?”

He glanced at it. “I think I should write the translation.” He took a pen and paper and wrote:

I think my selfe moch

bownden unto yow.

I am Desyrynge yo

assystance no further.

“Desyrynge?”

“Deserving.”

She had come close to guessing what Nicholas had written last night when he’d left her, before she’d found him in a tavern.

Yawning, Lee rubbed his hand over his eyes. “I feel a little—” He yawned again.

With many apologies, he stood up, then went to the bed and stretched out “for just a minute.” He was asleep instantly, and Dougless quickly went to the little wooden chest on the table near the fireplace.

The papers inside were old, yellow, and brittle, but the writing was clear, the ink not faded as modern inks faded in a mere year or two. Dougless eagerly grabbed the papers, but her heart sank as she looked at them. They were in the same kind of handwriting as the note Nicholas had slipped under her door, and she couldn’t read a word.

She was bent over the papers, trying to decipher a word here and there, when suddenly the door burst open.

“Ah ha!” Nicholas said, his sword in his hand, as he charged into the room.

When Dougless’s heart settled back in place from the fright he’d given her, she smiled at him. “Arabella finish with you?”

Nicholas looked from Lee asleep on the bed to Dougless bending over the papers, and began to look embarrassed. “She was off to bed,” he said.

“Alone?”

Nicholas walked to the table and picked up a letter. “My mother’s hand,” he said.

At the tone in his voice, Dougless forgot her jealousy. “I can’t read them.”

“Oh?” he said, lifting one eyebrow. “I might teach you to read. In the evenings. I believe you could learn.”

Dougless laughed. “Okay, you’ve made your point. Now sit down and read.”

“And him?” Nicholas pointed with his sword at the sleeping Lee.

“He’s out of it for the night.”

Nicholas put his sword across the table and began to read the letter. Since Dougless could be of no help, she sat quietly and watched him. If he was so in love with his wife, why was he jealous when another man looked at her, Dougless? And why was he fooling around with Arabella?

“Nicholas?” she said softly. “Have you ever considered what would happen if you didn’t return to your time?”

“No,” he answered, scanning a letter. “I must return.”

“But what if you don’t? What if you stay here forever?”

“I have been sent here to find answers. A wrong has been done my family as well as me. I have been sent here to right that wrong.”

Dougless was playing with the hilt of his sword, rolling it so the jewels reflected in the table lamp. “But what if you were sent here for another reason? A reason that had nothing to do with your being accused of treason?”

“And what would be that reason?”

“I don’t know,” she said, but she thought, love.

He looked at her. “For this love you speak of?” he asked, almost reading her mind. “Perhaps God thinks as a woman and cares more for love than for honor.” He was making fun of her.

“For your information, there are many people who believe God is a woman.”

Nicholas gave her a look that let her know how absurd he thought that idea was.

“No, really,” Dougless said. “What if you don’t go back? What if you find out what you need to know, but you still stay here? Like say for a year or more?”

“I will not,” Nicholas said, but he looked up at Dougless. Four hundred years had not changed Arabella, he thought. She was the same. She still wanted one man after another in her bed, still had a heart of stone. But this girl who made him laugh, who helped him, who looked at him with big eyes that showed everything she felt, this woman could almost make him want to stay. “I must return,” he said sternly, then looked back at the letters.

“I know that what happened to your family is fiercely important, but then it did happen a long time ago, and, all in all, everything seems to have worked out all right. Your mother married a rich man and lived out her days in luxury. It wasn’t as though she were tossed out in the snow. And I know your family lost the Stafford estates, but, really, who was left to inherit them? You said you had no children, and your brother died childless, so who did you deprive? The estates went to Queen Elizabeth and she built England into a great country, so maybe your money helped your country. Maybe—”

“Cease!” Nicholas said angrily. “You do not understand honor. My memory is ridiculed. Arabella says she has read about me, and your world remembers only what a clerk recorded. I know that man. He was ugly and no woman would have him.”

“So he wrote about you. Nicholas, I’m sorry, but it really is done. It’s over. Maybe history can’t be changed. I was just wondering what you’d do if you had to stay, if you weren’t called back.”

Nicholas didn’t want to think about that. Would he tell Dougless that he’d marry her and run with her to bed? He didn’t want to tell her that Arabella, once so very, very appealing, was now a bore to him.

“Montgomery, do you fall in love with me again?” he asked, smiling at her. “Come, we will take these letters to my bedchamber. I will let you make love to me.”

“Drop dead,” Dougless said, rising. “Stay here and read. I don’t care what happens to you, whether you stay in the twentieth century or go back to the sixteenth century, or to the eighth, for all I care.” She left the room, shutting the door so hard Lee stirred on the bed.

Falling in love with him, indeed, she thought as she made her way back to her dreadful little room. She might as well fall in love with a ghost. He had about as much substance as a ghost. And, besides, if he did stay in the twentieth century, he’d be a great nuisance. Always, she’d have to explain things to him. Imagine trying to teach him to drive a car! Horrendous thought. And if he did stay, what would he do? What could he do? All he seemed capable of was riding mean horses, handling a sword, and . . .

And making love to women, she thought. He seemed to be awfully good at that.

As she made her way downstairs to her dreary little room, she told herself she’d be quite glad to get rid of him. His poor wife. She had a great deal to put up with. Arabella was the only one of his women Dougless knew about. There were probably hundreds of women the poor ugly little clerk had known nothing about, so the twentieth century knew nothing about all those women.

Yes, Dougless thought as she put on her nightgown, she would be well rid of him when the time came. But as she climbed into bed, she couldn’t imagine not seeing Nicholas every day, not watching his delight over things she took for granted. She couldn’t imagine not seeing his smile or having him tease her.

It took her a long time before she slept and when she did, she slept fitfully.

In the morning, feeling absolutely rotten, Dougless went into the kitchen and found Mrs. Anderson and another woman staring at the worktable. It was covered with opened tin cans, somewhere between twenty and thirty of them.

“What happened?” Dougless asked.

“I’m not sure,” the cook said. “I opened a tin of pineapple, then left the room for a moment. When I returned, someone had opened all these tins.”

Dougless stood frowning for a moment, then looked at Mrs. Anderson. “Did anyone see you open the can of pineapple?”

“Now that you mention it, there was someone here. Lord Nicholas came through to go to the stables. He stopped and spoke to me. Very nice man, that.”

Dougless tried to hide her smile. Nicholas had no doubt seen the marvel of a can opener and decided to try it out. At that moment a maid came running into the kitchen carrying a vacuum cleaner hose.

“I need a broom handle,” the maid said, sounding as though she were about to cry. “Lord Nicholas asked me to show him how the Hoover worked, and he sucked up all of Lady Arabella’s jewelry. I’ll be discharged when she finds out.”

Dougless left the kitchen feeling a great deal better than she had when she got up that morning.

She didn’t know where she was supposed to eat breakfast, but she wandered into the empty dining room and found a sideboard covered with silver chafing dishes. Feeling a little defiant, she filled a plate and sat down.

“Good morning,” Lee said, entering the room. He filled a plate and sat across from her. “Ah . . . sorry about last night,” he said. “I guess I sort of passed out. Did you see the letters?”

“I did, but I couldn’t read them,” she said honestly, then leaned forward. “Have you read enough to find out who betrayed Nicholas Stafford to the queen?”

“Oh, heavens, yes. I found that out the first time I opened the trunk, and I have that letter hidden.”

“Who?” she asked under her breath.

Lee opened his mouth to speak, but then Nicholas entered the room, and Lee shut up.

“Montgomery,” Nicholas said sternly. “I would see you in the library.” He turned and left the room.

Lee grunted. “What’s wrong with him? Get out on the wrong side of Arabella’s bed?”

Dougless threw down her napkin, glared at Lee, then went to the library. She closed the door behind her. “Do you know what you just did? Lee was about to tell me who betrayed you when you walked in and stopped him.”

Nicholas had circles under his eyes, but instead of making him look bad, they made him look even more darkly romantic, rather like Heathcliff. “I read the letters,” he said as he sat down in a leather-upholstered chair and stared out the window. “There is no naming of who betrayed me.”

Something was making him sad. Dougless went to him and put her hand on his shoulder. “What is it? Did the letters upset you?”

“The letters tell,” he said softly, “of what my mother suffered after my death. She tells of . . .” He stopped, took her hand, and held on to her fingers. “She tells of the ridicule of the Stafford name.”

Dougless couldn’t bear the pain in his voice. Moving to the front of the chair, she knelt before him and put her hands on his knees. “We’ll find out who lied about you,” Dougless said. “If Lee knows, I’ll find out. And when we do find out, you can return and change things. Your being here means you’re being given a second chance.”

He looked at her for a long moment, then cupped her face in his big hands. “Do you always give hope? Do you never believe there is no hope?”

She smiled. “I’m almost always optimistic. That’s why I keep falling in love with thugs and hoping one of them will turn into my Knight in Shining—Oh, Colin,” she said, and started to pull away.

But Nicholas pulled her up from the floor and into his arms; then he kissed her. He’d kissed her before, but then he’d merely desired her, now he wanted more from her. Now he wanted her sweetness and her loving heart. He wanted the way she looked at him, the way she was so eager to please.

“Dougless,” he whispered, holding her, kissing her neck.

It was when the thought crossed his mind that he didn’t want to leave that he shoved her from him. “Go,” he murmured in the tone of a man under great stress.

Dougless stood up, but anger filled her. “I don’t understand you. You kiss any woman who can reach your face, you never push any of them away, but with me you act like I have some contagious disease. What is it? Do I have terminal bad breath? I’m too short for you? My hair isn’t the right color?”

When Nicholas looked at her, all his desire for her, all his longing, was flaming in his eyes.

Dougless stepped back from him, as a person might step back from a fire that was too hot. She put her hand to her throat, and for a long moment they just looked at each other.

The door flew open and Arabella burst into the room. She was wearing what was obviously a designer-made English outdoor outfit. “Nicholas, where have you been?” She looked from Nicholas to Dougless and back again, and she didn’t seem to like what she saw.

Dougless turned away, for she could no longer bear to look in Nicholas’s eyes.

“Nicholas,” Arabella demanded. “We are waiting. The guns are loaded.”

“Guns?” Dougless asked, turning around, trying to compose herself.

Arabella looked Dougless up and down, and obviously found her wanting. Tall women often seemed to feel like that about small women, Dougless thought, and was awfully glad men didn’t feel the same way.

“We hunt duck,” Nicholas said, but he wasn’t looking at Dougless. “Dickie has promised to show me what a shotgun is.”

“Great,” Dougless said, “go shoot pretty little ducks. I’ll manage.” Hurrying past Arabella, she ran out the door. Later, from an upstairs window, she looked down on the courtyard as Nicholas got into a Land Rover and Arabella drove him away.

Turning away, Dougless realized that she had nothing to do. She didn’t feel free to explore Arabella’s house, and she didn’t want to walk in Arabella’s gardens. She asked a passing servant where Lee was, but was told that he was locked in his room with the letters and had left instructions that he was not to be disturbed.

“But he left a book for you in the library,” the servant said.

Dougless went back to the library and there on the desk was a small volume with a note attached. “Thought you might enjoy this. Lee,” the note read. She picked up the book.

At first sight she knew what it was: it was the diary of John Wilfred, the ugly little clerk who wrote of Nicholas and Arabella-on-the table. The forward said the book had been found hidden in a cubbyhole behind a wall when one of Nicholas’s houses had been torn down in the nineteen fifties.

Dougless took the book and settled down on a big sofa to read it. Within twenty pages she knew it was the diary of a lovesick young man—and he loved Nicholas’s wife, Lettice. According to John Wilfred, his mistress could do no wrong and his master no right. Pages that listed Nicholas’s shortcomings were followed by pages listing Lettice’s glories. According to this drooling clerk, Lettice was beautiful beyond pearls, wise, virtuous, kind, talented . . . On and on he went, until Dougless wanted to throw up.

The clerk had nothing good to say about Nicholas. According to the book, Nicholas spent his time fornicating, blaspheming, and making the lives of everyone around him hell. Other than the snide, spiteful story about Arabella and the table, there were no specific stories about what Nicholas had done to deserve the animosity of all (if Wilfred was to be believed) his household.

When Dougless finished the book, she slammed it shut. Because of the false accusation of treason against Nicholas, his estates had been destroyed, and with them the true story of his life. Lost to the future was the true story of how he’d managed the estates owned by his brother and how he’d designed a beautiful mansion. All that was left of him were the spiteful yearnings of a whining man. Yet people today believed this.

She stood up, her anger making her fists clench. Nicholas was right: he had to return to his own time to right the wrong done him. She’d tell him about the book, and when he returned to the sixteenth century, he could kick ol’ John Wilfred out of his house. Or, Dougless thought, smiling, he could send the ugly little clerk off with the perfect Lettice.

Taking the book, Dougless left the library and asked a servant where Lord Nicholas’s room was. She thought she’d leave the book for him to see. He was beginning to be able to read modern print now, and she was sure he’d have enough interest to read this book.

His room was next to one that a maid said was Lady Arabella’s. It would be, Dougless thought angrily.

Once in his room, her anger left her. It was done in shades of blue, with a four-poster bed draped with rich blue silk. In the bathroom were Nicholas’s toiletries, all the things she’d chosen for him. Putting out her hand, she touched the shaving cream, the toothpaste, and his razor.

Quite suddenly, it hit her how much she missed him. Since he’d appeared they’d been together almost constantly. They’d shared a bedroom and a bathroom; they’d shared meals and jokes. Turning, she looked at the tub, saw that there was no showerhead above it, and wondered how he was dealing with the lack of a shower. Were there other things in his room that he didn’t understand yet had no one to ask about?

As she walked back into the bedroom, she smiled as she remembered the way he would come out of the bathroom wearing nothing but a towel, his hair clean and wet. Before they’d come to Goshawk Hall, they’d been intimate in such a pleasant way. She’d shared meals with him, kissed him on the forehead goodnight, and even washed out his underwear in the basin. They’d laughed together, talked together, shared together.

There was a Time magazine on the bedside table, and on impulse she pulled open the table drawer. Inside was a little pencil sharpener and three pencils, two of which were now only an inch long, and a stapler and two pieces of paper with about fifty staples in them. There was a toy friction car on top of a colored brochure for Aston Martin cars, and beneath that was the current issue of Playboy magazine. Smiling, she closed the drawer.

She walked toward the window and looked out across the rolling lawns to the trees beyond. It was odd how she had lived with Robert for over a year and had believed herself to be madly in love with him, but when she thought of her life with him, she wondered if she’d ever been as intimate with Robert as she had with Nicholas. She’d spent a lot of her time making an effort to please Robert. But Nicholas was so easy to be with. He never complained when she squeezed the toothpaste tube in the middle. He never whined about how she hadn’t made everything absolutely perfect.

In fact, Nicholas seemed to like her just as she was. In fact, he seemed to accept what was, whether in people or things, and he found joy in them. Dougless thought of all the dates she’d been on with modern men and how they’d complained about everything: the wine wasn’t right, the service was slow, the movie had no deeper meaning. But Nicholas, faced with insurmountable problems, found joy in things like a can opener.

She wondered how Robert would react if he’d suddenly found himself in the sixteenth century. No doubt he’d start demanding this and demanding that, and whining when it wasn’t given to him. She wondered if Elizabethan men were like the cowboys of old and hanged men who were particularly bothersome.

She leaned her head against the cool glass. When would Nicholas leave this century? When he found out who had betrayed him? If Lee mentioned the name at dinner, would Nicholas instantly disappear in a puff of smoke?

It’s almost over, she thought, and suddenly felt her heart yearning for him. How would she deal with never seeing him again? She could barely stand not seeing him for one whole day, so how was she to live the rest of her life without him?

Please come back, she thought. We have so little time left. Tomorrow you might be gone, and I don’t want to miss this time with you. Don’t spend this little bit of time we have left with Arabella.

Closing her eyes, she tightened her whole body as she wished for him to return.

“If you’ll come back,” she whispered, “I’ll make you an American lunch: fried chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs and a chocolate cake. While I’m cooking, you can . . .” She thought. “You can look at plastic wrap and aluminum foil and Tupperware—if they have it in England. Please, please, please return, Nicholas.”

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