No one came to release Dougless that night or the next morning. She had no water, no food, and very little light. There was an old wooden bucket in a corner, and she assumed this was to relieve herself in. She tried lying on the mattress, but within minutes she felt little things crawling on her skin. Clawing herself, she jumped out of the bed and pressed herself against the cold stone wall.
She could tell when morning came only because the room changed to a lighter shade of gloom. During the long night she’d scratched at whatever was on her skin so much that places were bleeding. Expectantly, she waited for someone to release her. Lady Margaret had said she wanted to see Dougless early. But no one came.
By holding her arm up to a narrow ray of light coming in through the window, she could see her wristwatch, and if it was set correctly for Elizabethan time, at noon still no one had come to release her.
She tried to keep her mind active and not give in to despair, so she repeatedly went over everything Lee had told her about the events leading up to Nicholas’s execution. Somehow she had to warn Nicholas. Somehow she had to prevent Lettice and Robert Sydney from using Nicholas.
But how could she do anything when she was locked away in a dark, flea-ridden room? And not only wouldn’t Nicholas listen to her, he seemed to hate her. She tried to remember what she’d said when she’d first seen him yesterday that had so offended him. Was it her references to his beloved Lettice?
It was cold in the room, and Dougless shivered as she scratched at her itching scalp. In the twentieth century she had always had the Montgomery name and money to fall back on. Even though she was years from inheriting, she’d always known the money was there, that she could offer a million dollars for information she desperately needed.
But here in the sixteenth century she had nothing, was nothing. All she had was a travel bag full of modern wonders. And she had her knowledge of what was to come. And somehow she had to persuade these people that they couldn’t just toss her into a prison and leave her to rot. The first time Nicholas had come to her, she’d failed to find the information needed to stop his execution, but this time she would not fail. This time she was going to succeed no matter what she had to do.
As she thought of these things, energy began to replace her lethargy. Her father loved to tell his daughters stories of their ancestors, of the Montgomerys in Scotland, in England, and in early America. There was one story after another of heroic deeds and near escapes.
“If they can do it, so can I,” Dougless said aloud. “Nicholas,” she said firmly, “come release me from this hideous place.” Closing her eyes, she concentrated, imagining Nicholas coming to her.
It didn’t seem to take long for him to “hear” her. When he flung open the door, his face was dark with anger.
“Nicholas, I want to talk to you,” she said.
He turned away from her. “My mother asks for you.”
She stumbled after him, her legs weak from lack of use, her eyes not adjusted to the light in the hall. “You came because I called you,” she said. “There is a bond between us, and if you’d let me explain—”
Halting, he glared at her. “I wish to hear naught that you say.”
“Will you tell me what you’re so angry at me about? What have I done?”
He looked her up and down in an insolent way. “You accuse me of treason. You frighten the villagers. You besmirch the name of the woman I am to marry. You bewitch my mother. You . . .” His voice lowered. “You come into my head.”
Reaching out, she put her hand on his arm. “Nicholas, I know I must seem strange to you, but if you’d just listen to me and let me explain—”
“Nay,” he said, moving away from her touch. “I have petitioned my brother to cast you out. The villagers will see to you.”
“See to me?” she whispered, then shuddered as she remembered those filthy women in that little clump of houses. No doubt those rotten-toothed hags would stone her if given the chance. “You would do that to me? After the way I helped you when you came to me?” Her voice was rising. “After all I did for you when you came forward, you’d throw me out? After the way I’ve come back across four hundred years to save you, you’d just throw me into the streets?”
He glared at her. “My brother decides.” Turning, he started down the stairs.
Dougless stayed close behind him and tried to control her anger enough to think. First, she had to figure out a way to keep from being tossed out of the relative safety of the house and into the muck of the streets. And Lady Margaret seemed to be the answer to that problem.
Lady Margaret was again in bed, and Dougless could see that the twelve-hour cold capsule had worn off.
“You will give me another of the magic tablets,” she said, leaning back against the pillows.
In spite of being hungry, tired, filthy, and frightened, Dougless knew that now was the moment when she had to use her wits. “Lady Margaret, I am not a witch. I am merely a poor humble princess set upon by thieves, and I must appeal to you for help until my uncle the king can come to me.”
“Princess?” Lady Margaret said.
“King?” Nicholas half-shouted. “Mother, I—”
Lady Margaret put up her hand to silence him. “Who is your uncle?”
Dougless took a deep breath. “He is the king of Lanconia.”
“I have heard of this place,” Lady Margaret said thoughtfully.
“She is no princess,” Nicholas said. “Look you at her.”
“This happens to be the style of dress in my country,” she snapped at him. “Are you going to throw me in the street and risk a king’s wrath?” She looked back at Lady Margaret. “My uncle would be very generous to anyone who protected me.”
Dougless could see that Lady Margaret was considering this. “I can be very useful,” Dougless said quickly. “I have lots of cold tablets, and I have all sorts of interesting things in my bag. And I . . .” What could she do? “I can tell stories. I know lots of stories.”
“Mother, you cannot consider keeping her here,” Nicholas said. “She is no better than a flirt-gill.”
Dougless guessed that that was a lady of ill repute. She turned angry eyes on him. “Look who’s talking. You and Arabella Sydney can’t keep your hands off one another.”
Nicholas’s face turned purple, and he took a step toward her.
Lady Margaret coughed to cover laughter. “Nicholas, fetch Honoria to me. Go! Now!”
With one more look of anger at Dougless, he obediently left the room.
Lady Margaret looked at Dougless. “You amuse me. You may remain in my care until a messenger can be sent to Lanconia to ask after your uncle.”
Dougless swallowed. “How long will that take?”
“A month or more.” Lady Margaret’s eyes were shrewd. “Do you recant your story?”
“No, of course not. My uncle is king of Lanconia.” Or will be, Dougless amended to herself.
“Now the tablet,” Lady Margaret said, leaning back on the pillows. “Then you may go.”
Dougless got a cold tablet from her bag but hesitated. “Where am I supposed to sleep?”
“My son will tend to you.”
“Your son locked me in a hideous little room, and there were bugs in the bed!”
Judging from the look on Lady Margaret’s face, she didn’t seem to see anything wrong with what her son had done.
“I want a proper room and some clothes that won’t make people stare at me, and I want to be treated with the respect due to . . . to my station in life. And I want a bath.”
Lady Margaret looked at her with cold, dark eyes, and Dougless saw where Nicholas got his imperious manner. “Beware you do not amuse me too much.”
Dougless tried to keep her knees from knocking. Once, as a child, she’d seen a wax museum that showed a medieval torture chamber. Now she remembered the instruments of torture too well. The rack. The Iron Maiden. “I mean no disrespect, my lady,” she said softly. “I will earn my keep. I will do my best to continue to amuse you.” Like Scheherazade, she thought. If I don’t amuse this woman, tomorrow it’s off with my head.
As Lady Margaret studied her, Dougless knew her fate, her very life, was being decided in this single moment. “You shall attend me. Honoria will—”
“That means I can stay? Oh, Lady Margaret, you won’t regret this, I promise. I’ll show you how to play poker. I’ll tell you stories. I’ll tell you all of Shakespeare’s stories. No, I better not do that, it might upset things. I’ll tell you about . . . ah, The Wizard of Oz and My Fair Lady. Maybe I can remember some of the words and music.” Dougless, who had always refused to sing out loud, began to sing, “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Funny what the threat of being burned alive could make one do.
“Honoria!” Lady Margaret said sharply. “Take her, clothe her.”
“And food and a bath,” Dougless added.
“Oh, sure.” Dougless handed the cold tablet to Lady Margaret.
“Let me rest now. Honoria will see to you. She will stay with you, Honoria.”
Dougless hadn’t heard the other woman enter. She looked to be the same woman who had been in the room last night, but Dougless couldn’t see her face as she kept it turned away. Dougless followed Honoria from the room.
She felt better now knowing that she had some time before Lady Margaret found out she wasn’t a princess. Was lying to a lady punished by death or merely torture? Or torture then death? But perhaps if Dougless could entertain Lady Margaret well enough, she wouldn’t care whether she was a princess or not. And, too, perhaps a month was long enough to do what she must.
Clasping her travel bag tightly to her, Dougless followed Honoria to her room, which was next to Lady Margaret’s. It was about half the size of Lady Margaret’s room, but, still, it was large and very pretty. There was a white marble fireplace on one wall, a big four poster bed, some stools, two carved chairs, and a chest at the foot of the bed. Sun came in through a window that had small diamond-shaped panes of glass.
Looking about the pretty room, Dougless was beginning to relax somewhat. She had managed to keep herself from being thrown into the streets.
“Is there a bathroom around here?” she asked the back of Honoria.
Turning, the pretty woman gave Dougless a blank look.
“A privy?” Dougless explained.
Nodding in understanding, she pointed to a small door in the paneling. When Dougless opened the door, she saw a stone seat with a hole cut in it; the little room was the equivalent of an outhouse indoors. And it stunk to high heaven. Beside the seat was a stack of paper, thick, hard paper that had writing all over it. She held one piece of paper up. “So that’s what happened to all the medieval documents,” she murmured. Quickly, she used the privy and left it.
When she went back into the room, she watched as Honoria opened a chest, pulled clothes out, laid them on the bed, then left the room. When she was alone, Dougless walked about, exploring. This room had no silver or gold ornaments as Lady Margaret’s had, but everywhere were embroidered fabrics. Dougless had seen a few examples of Elizabethan embroidery in museums, but they had been old and faded. Here the cushions were brilliant, undimmed by time or use, and the colors were wondrous!
She walked around the room touching everything, marveling at the brightness of all of it. New antiques, she thought as she scratched furiously at bites on her back.
After a while the door opened, and two men came in bearing a big, deep wooden tub. The men wore red, tight-fitting wool jackets, puffy shorts like those Nicholas wore, and black knitted hose. Both men had strong, muscular legs.
There are things to be said for the Elizabethan age, Dougless thought as she admired the men’s legs.
Behind the men came four women bearing buckets of steaming hot water. They wore simple, long wool skirts, tight bodices, and little caps on their heads. Two of the women had smallpox scars on their faces.
When the tub was half full of steaming water, Dougless began to undress, and Honoria held out her hands to help, but then stepped back, her eyes wide, when she saw Dougless needed no help in undressing. In other circumstances, Dougless would have been modest, but not when she was as filthy as she was. When she was down to her bra and panties, and Honoria was staring at her in speechlessness, Dougless held out her hand. “Hi, I’m Dougless Montgomery.”
Honoria didn’t seem to know what to do, so Dougless picked up her hand and clasped it. “So, we’re to be roommates.”
Honoria gave Dougless a puzzled look. “Lady Margaret has requested that you remain with me, yes.” She had a soft, pleasant voice, and Dougless could see that she was quite young, maybe only twenty-one or two.
Dougless stripped off her undergarments and stepped into the tub while Honoria picked up the modern clothes, examining each carefully, unabashedly curious.
Dougless took the soap the servants had left beside the tub, but it felt like a harsh version of Lava and it lathered about as well as a stone. “Would you hand me my bag, please?” she asked Honoria. Looking quite hard at the nylon of the bag, Honoria set it on the floor by Dougless, then watched as she unzipped it. Dougless withdrew a cake of soap—she was always saving the pretty, scented bars from hotels—and began to wash herself.
Honoria was making no attempt to hide her curiosity as she watched Dougless wash.
“Would you tell me about this place?” Dougless asked. “Who lives here? Tell me about Kit and Nicholas, and is he engaged to Lettice, and is John Wilfred here, and what about Arabella Sydney?”
Honoria sat on a chair and tried to answer questions as she watched in awe as Dougless used the marvelous soap, then shampooed her hair.
As far as Dougless could tell from Honoria’s words, she’d been transported back in time early enough that only Nicholas’s engagement had taken place. Nicholas had not yet made a fool of himself on the table with Arabella, and John Wilfred was insignificant enough that Honoria didn’t know who he was. Honoria would give Dougless any facts she wanted, but would not give an opinion. And she absolutely refused to gossip.
After Dougless had bathed and washed her hair, Honoria handed her a coarse, rough towel of linen, and when she was damp-dry, and her hair combed, Honoria began to help her dress.
First went on a long nightgown-like garment, very plain, made of finely woven linen. “What about underpants?” Dougless asked.
Honoria looked blank.
“Knickers. You know.” Dougless picked up her own pink lacy briefs from the chest top where Honoria had put them, but Honoria still looked blank.
“There is nothing below,” Honoria said.
“My goodness,” Dougless said, wide-eyed. Who would have thought that underpants were a recent invention? “When in Rome . . .” she murmured, and tossed her briefs aside.
Dougless wasn’t prepared for the next layer of clothing. Honoria held up a corset. Dougless’s experience of corsets was seeing Gone With the Wind and Mammy pulling Scarlett’s laces, but this corset was . . .
“Steel?” Dougless whispered, holding the thing up to look at it.
The corset was made of thin, flexible strips of steel, covered with fine silk, with steel hooks down one side, and since the corset wasn’t new, rust was showing through the silk. When Honoria buckled her into it, Dougless thought she might faint. Her rib cage could not expand, her waist was about three inches smaller than it was naturally, and her breasts were pressed flat.
Dougless steadied herself against the bedpost. “And to think that I used to complain that panty hose were uncomfortable,” she murmured.
Over the corset went a voluminous, long-sleeved linen shirt, the ruffled collar and sleeves embroidered prettily with black silk thread.
Around her waist was tied a half slip of linen that had wire sewn inside it so that it stood out in a perfect bell shape. “A farthingale,” Honoria said when asked, giving Dougless an odd look for not knowing this simple fact.
“This is getting heavy. Is there more?” Dougless asked.
Honoria next put a half slip of lightweight wool over the wired farthingale.
Over this petticoat went another one, this one of emerald green taffeta. Dougless began to cheer up. The taffeta rustled when she moved and the fabric was beautiful.
Honoria picked up a dress of rust-colored brocade with a huge abstract design of black flowers. The dress was not easy to get into. Over Dougless’s shoulders was a crisscross network of silk cords, a pearl at every joint. The front of the bodice was fastened with hooks and eyes that looked strong enough to hold army tanks together. An embroidered band concealed the closure.
There were no sleeves on the dress, but Honoria attached them separately, pulling them up over the long sleeves of the linen shirt underneath. At the shoulder the sleeves were big and puffy; then they tapered to the small wrists. The sleeves weren’t solid fabric but strips of hemmed emerald taffeta, fastened every few inches by a gold square set with a pearl.
Dougless touched the pearls while Honoria hurriedly and efficiently went around Dougless with a long hatpin type of instrument pulling bits of the white linen out the cuts in the sleeves.
By now it had taken Honoria an hour and a half to put these garments on Dougless and she wasn’t finished yet.
Next came the jewels. A belt of gold links with rough-cut square emeralds went around Dougless’s now-tiny waist. An enameled brooch with pearls around it was pinned in the middle of the bodice, and two gold link chains went off to either side, fastening under her arms. Honoria picked up a collar that was a limp ruffle of linen, put it around Dougless’s neck and tied it in back. (Later, Dougless found out that in 1564, Nicholas’s ruff had been stiff with yellow starch, but, now, a mere four years earlier, no one had heard of starch.) To conceal where the ruff joined the dress, Honoria slipped a third belt of square gold links about her neck.
“You may sit,” Honoria said softly.
Dougless tried to walk, but she was wearing somewhere around forty to fifty pounds of clothing and the steel corset was preventing her from breathing.
Stiffly, her head up off the scratchy ruff, Dougless made her way to a stool and collapsed. She did not, however, slump. One does not slump when wearing a steel corset.
Dougless sat rigidly while Honoria combed Dougless’s thick auburn hair, then pulled it back from her face and braided it. Then, using bone pins, she fastened the braids up. Over the braids, on the back of Dougless’s head, she fastened a little cap that was like a hair net, but again, pearls were at each joint.
Honoria helped Dougless stand up. “Yes,” she said, smiling, “you are most beautiful.”
“As pretty as Lettice?” Dougless asked without thinking.
“Lady Lettice is most beautiful also,” Honoria said, her eyes cast downward.
Dougless smiled. Tactful, very tactful.
Honoria had Dougless sit on the edge of the bed, then put out her leg, and Honoria slipped fine, hand-knit wool stockings up to Dougless’s knees; then she tied them with pretty ribbon garters embroidered with bumblebees. She slipped cork-soled, soft leather shoes on Dougless’s feet, then helped Dougless to again stand up.
Slowly, Dougless walked toward the window, then back. The clothes were ridiculous, of course. They were heavy, unwieldy, terrible for your lungs, and yet . . . She put her hands to her waist. She could practically encircle it with her hands. She was wearing pearls, gold, emeralds, satin, and brocade, and in spite of the fact that she could barely breathe and her shoulders were already aching from the weight, she’d never felt so beautiful in her life.
When she twirled about, the skirts belled out from her prettily. She looked up at Honoria. “Whose dress is this?”
“Mine own,” Honoria said softly. “We are near the same size.”
Dougless went to her and put her hands on her shoulders. “Thank you very much for lending it to me. It was very generous of you.” She kissed Honoria on the cheek.
Confused and blushing, Honoria turned away. “Lady Margaret wishes you to play for her tonight.”
“Play?” Dougless was looking at the sleeves of her gown. Real gold, not fake. How she wished she had a full-length mirror! “Play what?” Her head came up. “You mean like play an instrument? I can’t play anything.”
Honoria was obviously shocked. “They do not teach music in your country?”
“They teach it, but I didn’t take any.”
“What does a woman learn in your country if not sewing and music?”
“Algebra, literature, history, things like that. Can you play an instrument? Sing?”
“Then how about if I teach you some songs and you play and sing them?”
“But Lady Margaret—”
“Won’t mind. I’ll be the bandleader.”
From the way Honoria smiled, Dougless guessed that she’d like introducing new songs to the household. “We shall go to the orchard,” she said.
When Honoria left the room, Dougless took a few minutes to apply cosmetics very lightly—she didn’t want to look like a painted hussy, but it would not hurt her cause to look as appealing as she could.
Moments later, Honoria returned with a lute, and a man handed Dougless a basket that she saw contained bread and cheese and wine; then they were on their way outside.
Now that Dougless wasn’t afraid that any minute she was going to be thrown into a dungeon, she looked about her. There were people everywhere. There were children running up and down stairs carrying things; men and women scurried hither and yon. Some people wore coarse linen or wool, some dressed in silks, some had jewels, some not; some people wore fur, some men wore shorts like Nicholas, and some men wore long gowns. Nearly all the people seemed young, and what surprised Dougless the most was that the people seemed to be as tall as twentieth-century people. She’d always heard that people of the Elizabethan age were much smaller than modern people. But she found that, at five feet three inches, she was short in the twentieth century and short in the Elizabethan age as well. The people did seem to be a lot slimmer, though. From all the moving about they did, plus the poundage of their clothes, they probably couldn’t put on weight.
“Where is Nicholas’s room?” Dougless asked, and moments later, Honoria pointed to a closed door.
Dougless had to watch her step as she descended the staircase in her long skirts, but the brocade in her hand made her feel elegant.
As they made their way toward the back of the house, Dougless had glimpses of lovely rooms with gorgeously dressed women bent over embroidery frames. Outside, she and Honoria stopped on a brick terrace that had a low wall around it and a stone balustrade on top, and she had her first look at an Elizabethan garden. Before her, down some steps, was a maze of low, deep green hedges. To her right was another walled garden of vegetables and herbs set in perfectly arranged squares. A pretty little octagonal building stood in the middle. To her left she could see another garden of fruit trees with an odd sort of hill in the middle. On top of the hill was a wooden rail.
“What is that?” she asked.
“A mound,” Honoria replied. “Come, we will go to the orchard.”
They walked briskly down brick stairs, then across a raised walk beside a rose-covered wall, where Honoria opened an oak door and they entered the orchard. Dougless found that although the gown she wore very much constricted her upper body, from the waist down she was free. The farthingale held the weight of the skirts off her legs, and not wearing any underpants gave her the oddest feeling of being naked.
The orchard was lovely, and it struck Dougless how perfectly in order it was. Everything was planted symmetrically, and all of it was perfectly clean. She could see at least four men and two children using wooden rakes to clean and to generally make the garden beautiful. Now she could see why Nicholas had been so upset by the garden at Bellwood. But to keep a garden like this took the services of many, many people.
Honoria walked along the gravel path on the edge of the orchard to a grape arbor. As far as Dougless could see, there wasn’t a dead leaf or twig on the vines, and the unripe grapes hung down abundantly.
“This is very pretty,” Dougless whispered. “In fact, I’ve never seen a garden as pretty as this one.”
Smiling, Honoria sat on a bench in front of a pear tree that was perfectly espaliered against the wall and pulled her lute onto her lap. “You will teach me your songs now?”
Sitting beside her, Dougless pulled aside the cloth inside the basket she carried. Inside was a big piece of bread, white bread, but not like modern white bread. It was heavier, and very fresh, but there were odd holes in the crust. It was delicious. The cheese was tangy and fresh. Inside a hard leather bottle was a sour-tasting wine. There was also a little silver goblet.
“Does no one drink water?”
“The water is bad,” Honoria said, tuning her fat-bellied lute.
“Bad? You mean undrinkable?” She thought of the little houses she’d seen yesterday. If those people had access to the water, it was sure to be dirty. How odd, she’d always thought that water pollution was a twentieth-century problem.
Dougless spent a lovely two hours with Honoria in the orchard, eating the cheese and bread, sipping the cool wine from a silver goblet, watching the jewels on her own dress and on Honoria’s twinkling in the sunlight, and watching the gardeners go about their work. She didn’t know many songs, but she’d always loved Broadway musicals and had seen most of them on video, so when she began to think about it, she knew more than she thought. Besides “I Could Have Danced All Night,” she knew “Get Me to the Church on Time” from My Fair Lady. She made Honoria laugh at the title song from Hair. And she knew “They Call the Wind Maria” from Paint Your Wagon. She also knew the theme song from Gilligan’s Island, but she didn’t sing that.
After the fifth song, Honoria put up her hand to halt. “I must write these,” she said, then went back to the house to get paper and pen.
Dougless was content to sit where she was, like a lazy cat in the sun. Unlike her usual life, she felt no urgency to be somewhere else or do something else.
On the far side of the orchard a little door opened and she saw Nicholas enter. Immediately, Dougless was alert and her heart began to race. Would he like her dress? Would he like her better now that she looked like the other women of his century?
She started to get up, but then she saw a pretty young woman she’d never seen before enter behind him. Nicholas was holding her hand as the two of them went running down the path toward the grape arbor in the opposite corner of the garden. It wasn’t difficult to see that they were lovers slipping away to somewhere private.
Dougless stood up, her fists clenched at her side. Damn him, she thought. This is just the sort of thing that had gained him such an awful reputation in the twentieth century. No wonder the history books had nothing good to say about him.
Dougless’s first impulse was to run after them and tear the woman’s hair out. Nicholas might not remember her, but that didn’t change the fact that Dougless was the woman he loved. But, Dougless told herself, that was neither here nor there. She owed it to the future memory of Nicholas to put an end to this cavorting.
Feeling saintly, telling herself she was doing this for Nicholas’s own good, she swiftly walked toward the arbor. She was aware that every gardener in the orchard had stopped work and was watching her.
In the secret shade of the arbor, Nicholas already had the woman’s skirt up her bare thigh, his hand disappearing underneath. His jacket and shirt were open, the woman’s hand was inside, and they were kissing each other with a great deal of enthusiasm.
“Well!” Dougless said loudly, somehow controlling her urge to spring at the two of them. “Nicholas, I don’t believe this is the behavior of a gentleman.”
The woman pulled away first and looked at Dougless in surprise. She started to push Nicholas away, but he didn’t seem able to stop kissing her.
“Nicholas!” Dougless said sharply in her schoolteacher voice.
When Nicholas turned to look at her, she saw that his eyelids were lowered, and he had that sleepy look she’d seen only when he’d made love to her.
Dougless drew in her breath.
When he saw her, Nicholas’s expression changed to anger, and he dropped the woman’s skirt.
“I think you’d better leave,” Dougless, her body shaking with anger, said to the woman.
The woman, looking from Nicholas to Dougless as they glared at each other, hurried out of the arbor.
Nicholas looked Dougless up and down, and the anger on his face almost made her retreat, but she held her ground.
“Nicholas, we have to talk. I have to explain to you who I am and why I’m here.”
When he stepped toward her, this time she did step back. “You have charmed my mother,” he said in a low voice, “but you do not charm me. If you come between me and my actions again, I will take a batlet to you.”
He shoved past her so hard that Dougless nearly fell against the wall, and she watched with a heavy heart as he strode angrily down the path and out through the door in the wall. How was she supposed to accomplish anything if he wouldn’t listen to her? He wouldn’t even spend ten minutes in her company. What was she supposed to do, lasso him? Right, she thought, tie him up and tell him she was from the future and she had come back through time to save his neck—literally. “And I’m sure he’ll believe me,” she whispered.
Honoria returned with a wooden lap desk, big feathers that she expertly trimmed into pens, ink, and three sheets of paper. She plucked out the notes of the songs, and asked Dougless to write the music. Her opinion of Dougless’s education was further lowered when she found out that Dougless could neither read nor write music.
“What is a batlet?” Dougless asked.
“It is used to beat the dust from the clothes,” Honoria answered, writing the notes down.
“Does Nicholas . . . ah, fool around with all the women?”
Honoria stopped playing and looked at Dougless. “You should not lose your heart to Sir Nicholas. A woman should give her heart only to God. People die, but God does not.”
Dougless sighed. “True, but while we’re alive, people can make living worthwhile or not.” Dougless started to say more, but she glanced up, and standing on the terrace of the house, she saw someone’s head, and it looked like . . .
“Who is that girl?” Dougless asked, pointing.
“She is to marry Lord Christopher when she is of age. If she lives. She is a sickly child and not often out.”
The girl, from this distance, looked just like Gloria, just as fat, just as petulant. Dougless remembered Lee saying that Nicholas’s older brother was to marry a French heiress and that was why he’d refused Lettice’s offer of marriage.
“So, Nicholas is to marry Lettice, and Christopher is engaged to a child,” Dougless said. “Tell me, if that girl were to die, would Kit consider marrying Lettice?”
Honoria looked taken aback at Dougless’s casual use of Christian names. “Lord Christopher is heir to an earldom, and he is related to the queen. Lady Lettice is not of his rank.”
“But Nicholas is.”
“Sir Nicholas is a younger son. He does not inherit the estates or the title. For him Lady Lettice is a good match. She also is related to the queen, but distantly. Her dowry, though, is not large.”
“But if Lettice married Nicholas, then, say, Christopher died, Nicholas would be the earl, right?”
“Aye,” Honoria said, and stopped writing notes. Looking up at the terrace, she saw the fat, spotty, sickly French heiress go back into the house. “Sir Nicholas would become the earl,” she said thoughtfully.