He spent but little time in her society, for she was a poor, gentle creature of no spirit, who found little happiness in her lot, since her lord treated her with scant civility, and her children one after another sickened and died in their infancy until but two were left. He scarce remembered her existence when he did not see her face, and he was certainly not thinking of her this morning, having other things in view, and yet it so fell out that, while a groom was shortening a stirrup and being sworn at for his awkwardness, he by accident cast his eye upward to a chamber window peering out of the thick ivy on the stone. Doing so he saw an old woman draw back the curtain and look down upon him as if searching for him with a purpose.
He uttered an exclamation of anger.
“Damnation! Mother Posset again,” he said. “What does she there, old frump?”
The curtain fell and the woman disappeared, but in a few minutes more an unheard-of thing happened—among the servants in the hall, the same old woman appeared making her way with a hurried fretfulness, and she descended haltingly the stone steps and came to his side where he sat on his black horse.
“The Devil!” he exclaimed—“what are you here for? ’Tis not time for another wench upstairs, surely?”
“’Tis not time,” answered the old nurse acidly, taking her tone from his own. “But there is one, but an hour old, and my lady—”
“Be damned to her!” quoth Sir Jeoffry savagely. “A ninth one—and ’tis nine too many. ’Tis more than man can bear. She does it but to spite me.”
“’Tis ill treatment for a gentleman who wants an heir,” the old woman answered, as disrespectful of his spouse as he was, being a time-serving crone, and knowing that it paid but poorly to coddle women who did not as their husbands would have them in the way of offspring. “It should have been a fine boy, but it is not, and my lady—”
“Damn her puling tricks!” said Sir Jeoffry again, pulling at his horse’s bit until the beast reared.
“She would not let me rest until I came to you,” said the nurse resentfully. “She would have you told that she felt strangely, and before you went forth would have a word with you.”
“I cannot come, and am not in the mood for it if I could,” was his answer. “What folly does she give way to? This is the ninth time she hath felt strangely, and I have felt as squeamish as she—but nine is more than I have patience for.”
“She is light-headed, mayhap,” said the nurse. “She lieth huddled in a heap, staring and muttering, and she would leave me no peace till I promised to say to you, ’For the sake of poor little Daphne, whom you will sure remember.’ She pinched my hand and said it again and again.”
Sir Jeoffry dragged at his horse’s mouth and swore again.
“She was fifteen then, and had not given me nine yellow-faced wenches,” he said. “Tell her I had gone a-hunting and you were too late;” and he struck his big black beast with the whip, and it bounded away with him, hounds and huntsmen and fellow-roysterers galloping after, his guests, who had caught at the reason of his wrath, grinning as they rode.