A Knight in Shining Armor: Chapter 26

At four A.M. Dougless crept out of the house to go to the fountain to take a shower. Yesterday a couple of the ladies had been talking about the suds in the fountain and Lady Margaret had looked at Dougless knowingly. Flushing, Dougless looked away, wondering if there was anything that went on in the Stafford household that Lady Margaret didn’t know about.

Now Dougless smiled in memory. If it weren’t all right for her to use the fountain for a shower, no doubt Lady Margaret would have told her so.

Even in the faint light, Dougless could see Lucy waiting for her. Poor lonely kid, she thought. Since yesterday, Dougless had asked questions and found out that Lucy and her guardian had been brought to England to the Stafford household when Lucy was just three years old. It was believed that she’d make a better wife for Kit if she knew English ways and got to know her husband’s family before marriage.

But from the moment Lucy had arrived, Lady Hallet had denied anyone access to the child, who had been very ill from the voyage across the Channel and the rough road journey across England. By the time Lucy was well, no one seemed to remember she was living with them.

Something Dougless had noticed about the sixteenth century was that the adults didn’t idolize children the way twentieth-century Americans did. It had surprised Dougless to find out that most of Lady Margaret’s ladies were married, and two of them had young children at their homes, which were often a hundred miles away. The women didn’t seem to be in any throes of agony over whether or not they were spending “quality time” with their children. Dougless once, over embroidery—which they did very well and at which Dougless was hopelessly clumsy—mentioned that in her country women spent whole days with their children, entertaining them, teaching them, and trying never to be bored by them. The women had been horrified by this idea. They believed you should ignore children until they were of marriageable age. After all, they said, children died easily and their souls weren’t formed until they were of age.

Dougless had returned to her embroidery. Heretofore, she’d thought parents had always, throughout time, adored their children. She’d thought that mothers were always agonizing over whether or not they gave enough to their children. But there seemed to be more differences between the twentieth century and the sixteenth than just clothes and politics.

Now, looking at Lucy, she could feel the girl’s loneliness. She was a stranger in a house where she’d lived since she was a toddler, yet she knew fewer people than Dougless did.

“Hello,” Dougless said.

Lucy smiled broadly, then caught herself and resumed her stiff pose. “Good morn,” she said formally. “Do you mean to do this again?” she asked as Dougless started to remove her robe, then turned away as Dougless stepped, nude, into the fountain.

“Every day,” Dougless said as she gave a whistle for the boy to turn the wheel. She gasped at the icy water, but a clean body was worth some discomfort.

Lucy remained turned away while Dougless bathed and washed her hair, but when the girl didn’t leave, Dougless sensed that there was something she wanted. But perhaps it was only that she wanted a friend.

Dougless got out of the fountain-shower, dried, then turned to Lucy. “This morning we’re going to play charades. Maybe you’d like to join us.”

“Will Lord Christopher attend?” she asked quickly.

“Ah,” Dougless said, understanding. “I don’t think so.”

Lucy slumped down on a bench as though she were a beach ball that had suddenly been deflated. “Nay, I will not attend.”

As Dougless toweled her wet hair, she looked at Lucy thoughtfully. How did a dumpy-figured, not-very-pretty adolescent capture the attention of a gorgeous hunk like Kit?

“He talks of you,” Lucy said sullenly.

Dougless sat beside her on the bench. “Kit talks about me? When do you see him?”

“He visits me most days.”

Kit would, Dougless thought. He seemed awfully thoughtful and kind—and he probably considered visiting his future wife his duty. “Kit talks to you of me, but what do you talk to him about?”

Lucy wrung her hands in her lap. “I say naught.”

“Nothing? You don’t say anything to him? He comes to visit you every day and you just sit there like a bump on a log?”

“Lady Hallet says it would be unseemly for me to—”

Dougless couldn’t control her anger. “Lady Hallet! That ogre? That woman is so ugly that the sight of the back of her head would crack a mirror.”

Lucy giggled. “A hawk once went to her instead of to its master. I thought the hawk mistook her for its mate.”

Dougless laughed. “With that beak of hers I can understand the mistake.”

Lucy laughed aloud, then covered her mouth. “I wish I were like you,” she said wistfully. “If I could make my Kit laugh . . .”

She didn’t have to say more to make Dougless understand. “My Kit,” as in “my Nicholas.”

“Maybe we could find a way to make Kit laugh. I was thinking about doing a vaudeville routine with Honoria, but maybe you and I could do it together.”

“‘Vaudeville’? ‘Routine’? I do not believe Lady Hallet will—”

“Lucy”—Dougless took the girl’s hands in hers—“something that I’ve found that hasn’t changed over time is that if you want the man, you have to fight for him. Now, what you want is for Kit to notice you, and what you need is a little self-confidence. You also need to trust your own judgment and not someone else’s. So maybe we can accomplish a few of these things by putting on a show. Kit will see that you’re no longer a little girl—and so will Lady Hallet, for that matter—and we’ll both have a good time. So how about it?”

“I . . . I don’t know. I . . .”

“What did one duke say to the other duke?”

Lucy looked blank.

“‘That was no lady, that was my wife.’”

Lucy’s mouth opened in shock; then she giggled.

“Where does a three-hundred-pound canary sit?” Dougless paused. “Anywhere he wants to.”

Lucy laughed harder.

“You’ll do,” Dougless said. “You’ll do very well. Now, let’s plan. When can we rehearse? No excuses. You’re the heiress, remember, and Lady Hallet works for you.”

By the time Dougless got back to the house, it was full daylight. She knew that many people had an idea of what she was doing each morning, for there were no secrets in the household, but everyone politely refrained from asking her point-blank.

In the mornings Lady Margaret was too busy to want any new games, so Dougless wandered into the gardens and soon found herself drawing the ABCs in the dirt for three children who worked in the kitchen. Before she realized it, it was time for dinner.

Neither Nicholas nor Kit came to dinner. Dougless vowed that after the meal she would look for Nicholas and again try to talk to him. At least now that she knew that Kit hadn’t shown Nicholas the secret door at Bellwood, she knew Kit’s “accident” was not imminent.

Smiling, she left the table and allowed Honoria to again try to teach her how to make lace from a bit of linen. Honoria was making a beautiful cuff with the word Dougless in it, surrounded by odd little birds and animals.

Bent over her embroidery frame, Dougless felt at peace. She was going to be able to help Lucy, and yesterday Nicholas had remembered something about their time in the twentieth century. She glanced at the big emerald ring on her thumb. Now that his memory had been jogged, surely he’d soon remember more. She was going to be able to accomplish what she had failed to do the first time.


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