A Knight in Shining Armor: Chapter 29


What followed was, for Dougless, the happiest week of her life. Everyone in the Stafford household was pleased with her, and it seemed that she could do no wrong. She figured it would wear off in a few days, so she planned to enjoy it while it lasted.

She spent every minute she could with Nicholas. He wanted to know all about her twentieth century world, and he never tired of asking questions. He had difficulty believing her talk of automobiles, and airplanes he didn’t believe at all. He went through everything in her tote bag. In the bottom were a couple of foil-wrapped tea bags, and Dougless made him a cup of tea with milk. As he’d done the first time, he kissed her soundly in pleasure at the taste.

In return for telling him of the twentieth century, he told her of his life. He showed her dances, took her hawking one day, then laughed at her when she refused to allow the lovely bird on her arm to fly away so it could kill its prey. He showed her buzzards in pens that were fed nothing but white bread for days to clean the carrion from their craws before they were butchered and eaten.

They argued about educating the “lower classes.” And that led to a squabble about equality. When Nicholas said her America sounded violent and lonely, Dougless wished she hadn’t told him so much.

He asked her hundreds of questions about the immediate future of England and especially about Queen Elizabeth. Dougless so wished she remembered more of what her father had told her so she could tell Nicholas.

He seemed fascinated with the idea of sea travel and with exploring her new country.

“But you’ll be here married to Lettice. You won’t be able to go anywhere if you’re executed.”

As she’d already found out, Nicholas would not listen to her when she spoke of his execution. He had a young man’s belief that he was invincible and that nothing could hurt him. “I will not raise an army to protect my lands in Wales because they are not my lands. They are Kit’s, and if he is alive, then the future I once had will not be.”

She had no argument for him. When she asked him who he thought had tried to kill Kit, Nicholas merely shrugged and said it was no doubt some ruffian. Dougless still couldn’t get used to the idea of a land where there was no federal government and no police force. The nobility, besides having all the money, had all the power. They judged disputes, hanged people when they wanted to, and answered only to the queen. If the peasants had a good family to rule them, they were lucky, but many were not so fortunate.

One day Dougless asked Nicholas to take her to see a town. He raised an eyebrow at her and told her she would not like it, but he agreed to take her.

He was right. The peace and relative cleanliness of the Stafford household had not prepared her for the filth of a medieval town. Eight of Nicholas’s men accompanied them to protect them from highwaymen. As they rode along the rutted road, Dougless looked at every shadow behind every tree. Being attacked by a dashing highwayman in a romantic novel was one thing, but she knew that, in reality, highwaymen were dangerous.

The town was dirty beyond anything Dougless had ever imagined. People emptied kitchen slops and chamber pots into the streets. She saw adults who she was sure had never had a bath in their lives. At the corner of a bridge over a little river were tall pikes with rotting human heads on them.

She tried to look at all of it and see only the good. She tried to memorize what houses looked like and what the streets were like. If she did return to her time, she wanted to tell her father everything she’d seen. But try as she might, she was so overwhelmed by the bad that it was all she could see. The houses were so close together that women passed things from the windows to each other. People shouted, animals screamed, and someone was beating on metal with a hammer. Filthy, diseased children ran up to them, clutching their legs and begging. Nicholas’s men kicked them away, and Dougless, instead of feeling sympathy, felt herself recoiling from their touch.

When Nicholas turned and saw her pale face, he ordered his men to start for home. Once they were again in the open air, Dougless could breathe.

When Nicholas called a halt, tablecloths were spread under some trees and food was brought out. Nicholas handed her a goblet full of strong wine. With trembling hands, Dougless took the wine and drank deeply.

“Our world is not like yours,” Nicholas said. In the past days he had questioned her on every aspect of modern society, and his questions had included bathing and sewage drains.

“No,” she said, trying not to remember what that town had looked and smelled like. America had many homeless, but they did not live like these people did. Of course she had seen some well-dressed people in the town, but the sight of them could not take away from the stench. “No, a modern town is not like that.”

He stretched out beside her while she drank her wine. “Do you still wish to remain in my time?”

She was looking at him, but between them were the images of what she had just seen. If she stayed with Nicholas, that town would be part of her life. Whenever she left the safety of the Stafford house, she would see rotting heads on pikes and streets filled with the contents of chamber pots.

“Yes,” she said, looking into his eyes. “I would stay if I could.”

He lifted her hand and kissed it.

“But I’d make the midwives wash their hands.”

“Midwives? Ah, then you plan to have my children?”

The thought of bearing a child without a proper doctor and hospital terrified her, but she didn’t tell him that. “A dozen at least,” she said.

Her sleeve was too tight to push up, but she could feel his hot lips through her clothing. “When shall we begin making them? I should like more children.”

Her eyes were closed, her head back. “More?” Suddenly, something that Nicholas said came back to her. A son. He’d said he had no children but he’d once had a son. What exactly had he said?

She pulled her arm from him. “Nicholas, do you have a son?”

“Aye, an infant. But you need not worry, his mother died long ago.”

She was concentrating hard. A son. What had Nicholas said? I had a son, but he died in a fall the week after my brother drowned. “We have to return,” she said.

“But we will eat first.”

“No.” She stood up. “We have to see about your son. You said he died a week after Kit drowned. Tomorrow will be a week. We must go to him now.”

Nicholas didn’t hesitate. He left a man to pack the food and dishes, while he and the other men and Dougless tore back to the Stafford house. They jumped off their horses at the front gate. Lifting her skirts, Dougless ran after Nicholas.

He led her to a wing of the house she’d never been in before, then threw open a door. What Dougless saw horrified her more than anything she’d yet seen in the sixteenth century. A little boy, barely over a year old, was wrapped from his neck to his feet in tight bindings of linen—and he was hanging from a peg on the wall. His arms and legs were pinned to him exactly like a mummy. The bottom half of the bindings were filthy where he’d relieved himself but not been changed. Below him on the floor was a wooden bucket to catch excess “drippings.”

Dougless could not move as she stared in horror at the child, whose eyes were half open, half closed.

“The child is fine,” Nicholas said. “No harm has come to him.”

“No harm?” Dougless said under her breath. If a child in the twentieth century were treated like this, it would be taken from its parents, but Nicholas was saying the child was fine. “Take him down,” she said.

“Down? But he is safe. There is no reason to—”

Dougless glared at him. “Down!”

With a look of resignation, Nicholas took the boy by the shoulders and, holding him at arms’ length so he’d drip onto the floor and not on his father, he turned to Dougless. “And what am I to do with him?”

“We are going to bathe him and dress him properly. Can he walk? Talk?”

Nicholas looked astonished. “How am I to know this?”

Dougless blinked. There was more than mere time between their two worlds. It took Dougless a while, but she got a big wooden bucket brought to the room and filled with hot water. Nicholas complained and cursed, but he unwrapped his smelly, dirty son and plunked him into the warm water. The poor child was covered with diaper rash from the waist down. Dougless used some of her precious soft soap to gently wash him.

At one point the boy’s nurse came in and was very upset, saying Dougless was going to kill the child. At first Nicholas wouldn’t get involved—probably because he agreed with the nurse, Dougless thought—but when Dougless glared at him, he made the woman leave.

The warm water made the boy perk up, and Dougless guessed that the bindings had been so tight the boy had been in a bit of a stupor. She said as much to Nicholas.

“It keeps them quiet. Loosen the swaddlings and they weep most loudly.”

“Let’s wrap you in bindings like that, hang you on a peg, and see if you don’t cry bloody murder.”

“A child has no sense.” Obviously, he was puzzled by her actions and her thoughts.

“He has the brain now that he’ll go to Yale with.”

“Yale?”

“Never mind. Have safety pins been invented yet?”

Dougless had to improvise diapers. Nicholas protested when she used one diamond and one emerald brooch to fasten the corners of the boy’s linen diaper. She wished she had some zinc ointment for his rash.

When at last the child was clean, dry, and powdered (thanks to another hotel giveaway sample from her tote bag), she handed the boy to his father. Nicholas looked horrified and bewildered at the same time, but he took the boy, and after a moment he even smiled at him. The child smiled back.

“What’s his name?” Dougless asked.

“James.”

She took the boy from Nicholas. He was already a very good looking child, with his father’s dark hair and blue eyes, and he had a tiny cleft in his chin. “Let’s see if you can walk.” She put the boy on the floor, and after a few stumbles, he walked to Dougless’s outstretched arms.

Nicholas stayed with her, watching as she spent an hour playing with the boy. And when Dougless put him down for the night, she found out more about Elizabethan child care. James’s crib had a hole in the middle, and the child was strapped in at night, his bottom over the hole, and once again a bucket was put under him.

Nicholas did little more than roll his eyes when she demanded that the child be given a proper mattress. The nurse complained, and Dougless could see her point. If the child had no rubber pants, by morning the mattress would be filthy, and how does one clean goose feathers? She solved the problem by putting a piece of waxed cloth, such as rain gear was made out of, over the mattress. The nurse did as Dougless bid, but she was grumbling when Dougless and Nicholas left.

Nicholas was chuckling as they left the room. “Come and have supper with me,” he said. “We will celebrate the cleansing of my son.” Taking Dougless’s hand, he tucked it under his arm.

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