A Knight in Shining Armor: Chapter 4


They walked together down the wide sidewalk in silence, the man looking in shop windows, at the people, and at the cars on the street. His handsome face wore such an expression of astonishment that Dougless could almost believe he had never seen the modern world before. He asked her no questions, but often halted for a moment to stare at a car or at a group of young girls in short skirts.

It was only a block to a small clothing store for men. “Here’s where we can buy you something less conspicuous to wear,” she said.

“Yes, I would see a tailor,” he said, looking up over the door and frowning as though something were missing.

“It’s not a tailor, just ready-made clothes.”

When they were inside the little shop, Nicholas stood still, gaping at the shirts and trousers hanging from the racks. “These clothes have been made,” he said, his eyes wide.

Dougless started to reply, but instead turned to the clerk who’d come forward to greet them. The man was small, thin, and had to be at least ninety years old. “We need clothing for him from the skin out. And he’ll have to be measured for size.” Even if the man did remember his sizes, he’d no doubt pretend he didn’t, she thought.

“Certainly,” the clerk said, then looked at Nicholas. “If you’ll step over here, sir, we can begin measuring.”

When she saw that the man was leading the way to a semi-private area at the back of the store, Dougless stood where she was. But Nicholas insisted that she go with him into the curtained-off area.

Dougless sat on a chair off to one side, picked up a magazine, and pretended to read while the clerk began to undress Nicholas. The way he raised his arms for the clerk to unlatch his armor made it look as though he was used to other people undressing him. Carefully, almost reverently, the little man set Nicholas’s armor on a cushioned bench. Dougless saw the man run a caressing hand down one side of the armor before turning back.

Under the armor, Nicholas wore a big-armed linen shirt that was plastered to his body with sweat.

And what a body he had! Dougless thought as she almost dropped her magazine. She’d seen armor in museums and had laughed at the way the metal had been molded into the shape of a muscular torso. She’d always thought that it had been done to hide a man’s paunch. But this man, this Nicholas Stafford, was indeed as broad-shouldered and as muscled as the shape of the armor.

Dougless tried her best to keep her attention on the magazine she was holding, some treatise on the joys of salmon fishing, but she kept glancing up at the bare-chested Nicholas. The clerk brought one shirt after another for him to try on, but the earl liked none of them. After about the fifteenth shirt, the clerk looked with pleading eyes to Dougless.

She put down the magazine and walked to stand before him, her eyes determinedly on his face. “What’s wrong?” she asked Nicholas.

He moved to one side, away from the clerk, who busied himself with folding clothes. “There is no beauty in this raiment,” he said, frowning. “There is no color, no jewels, no needlework. Perhaps a woman could ply her needle to one of these and—”

Dougless smiled. “Women don’t sew today. At least not like this,” she said as she touched the cuff of his linen shirt that had been thrown across a clothing rack. The cuff was embroidered in black silk in a design of birds and flowers with a lovely hand-done trim of black cutwork on the edge.

Dougless caught herself. Of course women—some women, somewhere—still sewed like that because someone in this century had sewn that shirt, hadn’t she?

Dougless picked up a beautiful cotton shirt from the discarded heap. The English weren’t like Americans in always wanting something new every five minutes, so the clothing in English stores tended to be of the best quality, made to last for years. If one could afford the outrageous prices, the quality was worth the cost.

“Here, try this one on again,” she said, finding herself coaxing him. She wondered if there was a woman alive who hadn’t experienced shopping with a man and trying to persuade him to like something. “Look at this fabric; feel how soft it is.”

As Dougless held the shirt for him, his reluctance evident, Nicholas slipped his arms into the sleeves, while she did her best to keep her eyes off the way his muscles played under his skin.

The shirt was beautiful. “Now,” she said, “step over to the mirror and have a look.”

She had seen the three full-length mirrors when they’d entered the curtained area, so it had not occurred to her that Nicholas had not noticed them. She wasn’t prepared for his reaction to the three mirrors. At first he just stared at them; then, cautiously, he reached out to touch one.

“They are glass?” he whispered.

“Of course. What else are mirrors made of?”

From inside his balloon shorts, he withdrew a little round wooden object and handed it to her. On the other side of the wood was a metal mirror, and when Dougless looked into it, her image was distorted.

Glancing up at the man, she saw the way he was studying his reflection. Was it truly the first time he’d ever seen a clear full-length view of himself? Had he only seen his own reflection in distorted metal mirrors such as the one she was holding?

Of course not, she told herself. He just didn’t remember the last time he’d seen a mirror. Or maybe he did remember and was pretending he didn’t.

Looking up, she caught sight of her own reflection in the mirror. What a mess she was! As a result of all her crying, her eye makeup was under her eyes instead of above them. Her blouse was hanging out of her belt, and there a long cut on the sleeve, and it was dotted with blood. Her navy blue tights were bagging at the ankle. And her hair, tangled and droopy, was too awful to contemplate.

Turning away from the unpleasant vision, she mumbled, “Trousers.” This time, Dougless left the curtained area as the clerk measured Nicholas. When the door to the shop opened and more customers entered, the clerk ushered Nicholas to a dressing room, then handed him several pair of trousers through the door. All was quiet for a moment until Dougless saw the dressing room door open a crack and the man peeped out, looking at Dougless for help. She went to him.

“I cannot manage,” he said softly, then opened the door wider so she could enter. “What manner of fastening is this?”

Dougless tried not to think of this situation. She was squashed into a dressing room with a strange man who couldn’t figure out how to work the zipper on the front of his trousers. “Here, like . . .” She started to show him on the trousers he had on, but she thought better of that. Taking a pair hanging from a hook, she showed him the zipper, then the snaps; then she took a step back to watch while, childlike, he zipped and unzipped, snapped and unsnapped. When she was sure he’d caught on, she started to open the door.

“Wait. What is this wondrous substance?” He held up a pair of boxer shorts, stretching the waistband in and out.

“It’s elastic,” she said.

“Elastic,” he said, mispronouncing the word as “elistic.” But his face was so alight with discovery that she couldn’t help feeling good also.

“That’s nothing,” she said, smiling. “Wait until you see velcro.” She backed out of the dressing room. “You need any more help, let me know.”

She was still smiling as she closed the door behind her. Standing with her back to the dressing room door, she looked at the clothes around her. How plain they must look to a man who was used to wearing silver armor, she thought.

While they had been inside the dressing room, the clerk had placed the armor, the sword, and the dagger in two large, doubled shopping bags and had set them to the left of the dressing room door. When Dougless went to pick up the bags, they were so heavy she almost dropped them.

After a while, Nicholas came out of the dressing room. He was wearing a soft white cotton shirt and slim gray cotton trousers. The shirt was of the current voluminous style, while the trousers were snug. He looked utterly divine.

As Dougless watched him, he walked to the mirror, then glowered at his image.

“These . . . these,” he said, tugging at the ease of the trousers at the back of his leg.

“Trousers. Pants,” she supplied, blinking at him. It was taking her a while to adjust to his good looks.

“They do not fit me. They do not show my legs, and I have a fine pair of legs.”

Dougless laughed and her trance was broken. “Men don’t wear stockings now, but, really, you look great.”

“I am not sure,” he said, frowning. “Perhaps a chain.”

“No chain,” she said firmly. “Trust me on this. No chain.”

She chose a leather belt for him, then socks. “We’ll have to go to another store for shoes.”

Feeling as though she’d done her good deed for the year, Dougless wasn’t prepared for Nicholas’s actions at the cash register. The little clerk totaled the tags he’d cut from the clothes, then told them the cost. Dougless was shocked speechless when Nicholas shouted, “I will have your head, thief!” then reached for his sword—which, thankfully, was in the shopping bags by Dougless’s feet.

“He means to rob me!” Nicholas bellowed. “I can hire a dozen men for less than he asks for these unadorned clothes.”

Dougless nearly leaped as she put herself between Nicholas and the counter while the poor little clerk huddled against the opposite wall. “Give me the money,” she said firmly. “Everything costs more now than it used to. I mean,” she said as she clenched her teeth, “you’ll remember soon enough about how much things cost. Now, give me the money.”

Still angry, he handed Dougless the leather bag full of coins. “No,” she said, “the modern money.” When Nicholas just stood there, not seeming to understand what she was talking about, she searched through the shopping bags until she found the English pounds.

“He will take paper for clothes?” the earl whispered as Dougless counted out the money; then he smiled. “I will give him all the paper he wants. He is a fool.”

“It’s paper money,” she said as they left the shop. “And you can exchange the paper for gold.”

“Someone will give me gold for paper?” he asked, incredulous.

“Yes, there are gold dealers, and some banks sell gold.”

“Then why do you not use gold to buy goods with?”

“Too heavy, I guess.” She sighed. “You put your money in a bank. Money you aren’t using, that is, and use the paper as a substitute for the gold. Where do you put your money?” she asked.

“In my houses,” he answered, frowning as he considered what she’d told him.

“Oh, I see,” she said, smiling. “I guess you dig a hole and hide it. Well, today money is put in a bank where it earns interest.”

“What is interest?”

Dougless groaned. Enough was enough! “Here’s a tea shop. Are you hungry?”

“Yes,” he answered as he opened the door for her.

The English custom of afternoon tea was a tradition Dougless had taken to readily. It was heaven to sit down at four o’clock and sip delicious hot tea and eat a scone. Or five scones, as Gloria did, she thought with a grimace.

At the thought of Gloria, her fists clenched. Did Robert know his daughter had taken Dougless’s handbag? Did he know he’d left Dougless completely stranded, alone at the mercy of crazy men? And how had Gloria known that Dougless had been expecting an engagement ring? For the life of her, Dougless couldn’t believe that Robert had told Gloria such a thing. Had Dougless said something and Gloria had guessed from that?

Dougless couldn’t believe that Robert had done what Gloria said and “laughed” about her. Robert wasn’t a bad person. If he were, he wouldn’t love his daughter so much. He wasn’t one of those men who went off and left their children without a backward glance. No, Robert felt bad because he’d left his child when he’d divorced, and he desperately wanted to make it up to his daughter, so he took her with him when he went on vacation. And it was natural for Gloria to fight for her father’s love, wasn’t it? And wasn’t it natural for the child to be jealous of the woman her father loved?

Dougless knew that if Robert walked into the tea shop at that moment, she would fall to her knees and beg his forgiveness.

“May I help you?” the woman behind the counter asked.

“Tea for two,” Dougless said. “And two scones, please.”

“We have clotted cream and strawberries also,” the woman said.

Absently, Dougless nodded, and in moments the woman passed a tray holding a pot of strong tea, cups, and plates of food across the counter to her. She paid, then picked up the tray and looked at Nicholas. “Shall we eat outside?”

He followed her outside to a little garden that had vines growing over the old brick walls that enclosed it. Fat old-fashioned roses ran along the border and filled the area with their fragrance. Silently, Dougless set the tray down and began to pour the tea into two cups. On her previous trips to England, her mother had considered her too young to drink tea, but she’d tried the English custom of adding milk to tea the first day of this trip and had found it delicious. The milk made the tea the correct temperature and took the sharp tannin flavor out of the tea.

Nicholas was walking about the little garden, studying the walls and the plants. She called him to the picnic table and handed him his cup of tea and a scone.

He gave the tea a tentative look, then sipped cautiously. After two sips, he looked at Dougless with such naked joy on his face that she laughed as he drained the cup. She poured him another cup while he picked up the scone and looked at it. It was very much like a southern American biscuit, but it had sugar in the dough, and these were fruit scones, so they had raisins in them.

She took the scone from him, broke it in half and slathered it with the thick clotted cream. He bit into it and as he chewed he looked like a man who had fallen in love.

In minutes he had drunk all the tea and eaten all the scones. After a couple of remarks about his gluttony, Dougless went back into the shop and bought more of everything. When she returned, she ate while he leaned back in his chair, sipped tea, and studied her.

“What made you to weep in the church?” he asked.

“I . . . I really don’t believe that’s any of your business.”

“If I am to return—and I must return—I need to know what brought me forth.”

Dougless put her half-eaten scone down. “You aren’t going to start that again, are you? You know what I think? I think you’re a graduate student in Elizabethan history, probably Ph.D. level, and you got carried away with your research. My father said it used to happen to him, that he’d read so much medieval script that after a while he couldn’t read modern handwriting.”

Nicholas looked at her with distaste. “For all your wonders of horseless chariots, your marvelous glass, and the riches of goods to purchase, you have no faith in the mystery and magic of the world,” he said softly. “But I do not doubt what has happened to me, and I know from whence I came,” he said evenly. “And you, witch—”

At that, Dougless got up and left the table. But he caught her before she reached the door to the shop, his hand cutting into her arm.

“Why were you weeping when first I saw you? What could cause a woman to weep such as I heard?” he demanded.

She jerked out of his grip. “Because I’d just been left behind,” she said angrily. Then, to her shame, tears began again.

Gently, he slipped her arm in his and led her back to the table. This time, he sat beside her, poured her another cup of tea, added milk, and handed her the pretty porcelain cup.

“Now, madam, you must tell me what plagues you so that tears pour forth from your eyes as from a waterfall.”

Dougless didn’t want to tell anyone what had happened to her. But her need to share was greater than her pride, and within minutes, she was pouring out her story to him.

“This man left you alone? Unattended?” Nicholas asked, aghast. “He left you at the mercy of ruffians and thieves?”

Nodding, Dougless blew her nose on a paper napkin. “And at the mercy of men who believe they’re from the sixteenth century, too. Oh, sorry,” she added.

But Nicholas didn’t seem to hear her. He got up and began pacing the garden. There were four other tables but no other customers. “You but knelt by the tomb—my tomb—and asked for a . . .” He looked at her.

“A Knight in Shining Armor. It’s an American saying. All women want a gorgeous . . . I mean, a . . . Well, a man to rescue her.”

Smiling a bit, his lips hidden in his beard and mustache, he said, “I was not wearing armor when you called me forth.”

“I didn’t call you,” she said fiercely. “It’s customary to cry when you get left in a church. Especially when a fat brat of a girl steals your handbag. I don’t even have a passport. Even if my family wired me money for a ticket home, I couldn’t leave immediately. I’d have to apply for another passport.”

“Nor can I get home,” he said, beginning to pace again. “That we have in common. But if you brought me forth, you can send me back.”

“I am not a witch,” she practically shouted at him. “I do not practice black magic, and I certainly don’t know how to send people back and forth in time. You’ve imagined all of this.”

He raised an eyebrow at her. “No doubt your lover was justified in leaving you. With your vile temper, he would not want to remain with you.”

“I was never ‘vile-tempered’ as you call it, with Robert. Maybe a little-short-tempered now and then, but only normally so, because I loved him. Love him. And I shouldn’t have complained so much about Gloria. It was just that her lying was beginning to get on my nerves.”

“And you love this man who abandoned you, this man who allowed his daughter to steal from you?”

“I doubt if Robert knows Gloria took my bag and, besides, Gloria is just a kid. She probably doesn’t even realize what she did. I just wish I could find them and get my passport back so I could go home.”

“It seems we have kindred goals,” he said, his eyes boring into hers.

Suddenly, she knew where he was leading. He wanted her to help him on a permanent basis. But she was not going to saddle herself with a man with amnesia.

She set her empty cup down. “Our goals aren’t alike enough that we should spend the next few months together until you remember that you live in New Jersey with your wife and three kids, and that every summer you come to England, put on fancy armor, and play some little sex game with an unsuspecting tourist. No, thank you. Now, if you don’t mind, I believe we have an agreement. I’ll find you a hotel room, then I’m free to leave.”

When she finished speaking, she could see the flush of anger through his beard. “Are all the women of this century as you are?”

“No, just the ones who have been hurt over and over again,” she shot back at him. “If you really have lost your memory, you should go to a doctor, not pick up a woman in a church. And if this is all an act, then you should definitely go to a doctor. Either way, you don’t need me.” She put the tea things on the tray to carry them back into the shop, but he stood between her and the door.

“What recourse have I if I tell the truth? Have you no belief that your tears could have called me from another time, another place?”

“Of course I don’t believe that,” she said. “There are a thousand explanations as to why you think you’re from the sixteenth century, but not one of them has to do with my being a witch. Now, will you excuse me? I need to put these down so I can find you a hotel room.”

He stepped aside so she could enter the tea room, then followed her to the street. All the while, he kept his head down as though he were considering some great problem.

Dougless had asked the woman in the tea shop where the nearest bed-and-breakfast was, and as she and Nicholas walked quietly along the street, it bothered her that he didn’t speak. Nor did he look about him with the intense interest he’d shown earlier.

“Do you like your clothes?” she asked, trying to make conversation. He was carrying the shopping bags full of armor and his old clothes.

He didn’t answer, but kept walking, his brow furrowed.

There was only one room available at the bed-and-breakfast, and Dougless started to sign the register. “Do you still insist that you’re Nicholas Stafford?” she asked him.

The woman behind the little desk smiled. “Oh, like in the church.” She took a postcard of the tomb in the church from a rack and looked at it. “You do look like him, only a bit more alive,” she said, then laughed at her own joke. “First door on the right. Bath’s down the hall.” Smiling, she left them alone in the entrance hall.

When Dougless turned to look at the man, she suddenly felt as though she were a mother abandoning her child. “You’ll remember soon,” she said soothingly. “And this lady can tell you where to get dinner.”

“Lady?” he asked. “And dinner at this hour?”

“All right,” she said, frustrated. “She’s a woman and a meal this late is supper. I’ll bet that after a good night’s sleep you’ll remember everything.”

“I have forgot naught, madam,” he said stiffly, then seemed to relent. “And you cannot leave. Only you know how to return me to my own time.”

“Cut me some slack, will you?” she snapped at him. Didn’t he understand that she, too, had needs? She couldn’t give up all that she needed to help this stranger, could she? “If you’ll just give me the fifty dollars we agreed on, I’ll leave. In pounds, that’s . . .” To her horror, she realized that was only about thirty pounds. A room in this bed-and-breakfast had cost forty pounds. But a deal was a deal. “If you’ll give me thirty pounds, I’ll be on my way.”

When he just stood there, she rummaged in the shopping bags until she found his paper money; then she removed thirty pounds and gave him the rest of it. “Tomorrow you can take your coins to the dealer and he’ll give you more modern money,” she said as she turned to go. “Good luck.” She gave one last look to his blue eyes that looked so sorrowful, then turned and left.

But once she left the house, she didn’t feel jubilant at finally having rid herself of the man. Instead, she felt as though she were missing something. But Dougless forced herself to put her shoulders back and her head up. It was getting late and she had to find a place to spend the night—a cheap place—and she had to decide where to go from here.

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