“Mama!” Bedwig called slyly.

“Oh, Bedwig!” Gunnilda groaned as she turned to see her naked son grinning proudly up at her. “I just put your shirt back on you, and tied it real good, and now you got it off again. Wynna! How did this boy get his shirt off!” she called down the hall.

“I don’t know, Ma,” Wynna said. “I can’t even find it now.”

“Bedwig,” she began ominously, but the baby squealed in laughter and trotted off down the hall towards the safety of his adoring sister.

But Gunnilda could not chase after him, for she heard steps coming up the stairs outside, and she turned in time to see Githa Ashdown come through the door that hung open on this warm June afternoon.

Githa Ashdown came through the door.

“Githa! Well, I’m real glad to see you, but you shouldn’t have walked all the way up here in your condition.”

“Oh, it’s nothing. I wanted to bring you your dress. If it fits then I shall cut the fabric for the dress for the christening.”

“I could have come down to your farm for that.”

Githa laughed.

Githa laughed. “Never mind, child. It was worth the walk to see that Egelric out there with his shirt off. Why’s he digging up your yard, anyway?”

“Oh, he’s just making a kind of garden out there.”

“A garden!” Githa laughed. “Gunnie, you sly one! I can’t get my man working for me at all, and you have your own man plus another one besides!”

“Oh, I…”

Never mind trying to explain.

“Never mind trying to explain: I won’t tell. I simply think it’s a fine thing to have windows in one’s kitchen, when you have a view like that one!”

“Oh, Githa!” Gunnilda blushed. “You can’t see from the window anyhow.”

Githa went to the window and peeked out. “You’re right. Well, you ought to think of an excuse to get outside today. It’s a shame to spend the day in here. But what about your hair, child? Didn’t I tell you not to pin it up any old way any more?”

“Good day, Githa,” Wynna said shyly as she came into the kitchen and sat herself at the table.

“Hallo, Wynn! Why don’t you tell your Mama that she should do her hair nicely, as she did for a while?”

“Oh, Githa, it’s just been one of those days,” Gunnilda sighed. “I haven’t sat down except to eat all day.”

“Well, you had better do your hair properly once you get this new dress on. You’ll look all the sillier with a nice dress and sloppy hair. Won’t she, Wynn?”

'Won't she, Wynn?'

“Oh, put on your new dress, Ma!” Wynna breathed. “I want to see.”

“We all do. Go on, child.”

“Oh, I will, I will,” Gunnilda murmured. “First why don’t you tell me how this baby is coming?”

“Fine, fine. It’s a hard thing to be this heavy in summer, but I never was sick with him once, so I mustn’t complain.”

'Look how high he sits!'

“Look how high he sits! It will be a boy, you can be sure of that, Githa! You see that, Wynn? Sure as sure.”

“Oh, I do hope so. Ethelmund won’t say he does, but it’s only because he fears to be disappointed. He hasn’t been the same man since our little baby died.”

Gunnilda shook her head sadly.

“Ah, the poor men,” Githa sighed. “Sometimes I think they take it harder than we do, dear. It is our birthright. But I suppose you wouldn’t have any idea about that.”

'I suppose you wouldn't have any idea about that.'

“By the grace of God,” Gunnilda said, and ran her fingers over the top of the wooden table to be sure. But she thought she had some idea, thinking of Egelric.

“Ma, won’t you put on your dress?” Wynna begged.

“I never knew you was so interested in dresses!” Gunnilda said.

“How could you know? You never put anything but these old sacks you call dresses on her. She must feel bad next to that Baby of Egelric’s. I’ll say that for him: he doesn’t know how to dress himself, but he has that girl of his looking fine. He always did like a smart-​​looking woman, though,” she said with a sly smile at Gunnilda.

“I guess you’ll want a new dress, next?” Gunnilda asked her daughter.

“She shall certainly have one,” Githa said before the shy girl had a chance to decide how best to answer the delicate question. “But today it’s Mama’s turn, so go put it on, Gunnie. I want to see how it fits you.”

Gunnilda sighed and took the neatly folded bundle back to her bedroom to dress.

It was a shy and awkward young woman who came out again.

'It was a shy and awkward young woman who came out again.'

“Githa, I don’t think it fits right.”

“Why ever not?” Githa cried. “Turn around and let me look at you. It fits you beautifully. Isn’t your Mama pretty now?” she asked Wynna.

“Oh, yes!” the girl whispered admiringly.

“But it’s so…” Gunnilda looked down uneasily at the low-​​cut bodice, for her chest had not seen the light of day since she had been a young enough girl to run around outside quite naked.

“It simply fits you properly, child. Your dresses never did.”

'It simply fits you properly, child.'

“But is it supposed to be… so open at the top?”

“Take your hand away from there. You have nothing to be ashamed of. All of my dresses would be open like that if I had your figure. My problem is I have nothing to show off. But you’re just delicious. Wait till Alwy gets a look at you,” she laughed.

“Oh, Githa,” Gunnilda whispered anxiously. “Wynna!”

“Never mind about her. She shan’t grow up thinking that a nice figure is something to hide away under a shapeless old dress. Men aren’t as clever as you think, dear. If they can’t see what you have, they won’t guess it’s there. Mind – it got you Alwy, and that’s been a real good thing for you, after all. But you might also have got a man like Egelric instead, and what then?”

“Oh, Githa, don’t,” Gunnilda said. “Don’t say such things.”

'Don't say such things.'

Githa laughed. “I’m only thinking of Wynna. Most of the time if you get stuck with a man that no one else wants, you get a man you don’t want either. Alwy’s an exception, dear, and Wynna won’t be so lucky if she doesn’t put herself in a position to pick and choose. But there will be time enough for that. As for you, I do think that that’s rather a lot of neck to be showing without a necklace of some sort, but you shall simply have to drop a few hints into Alwy’s porridge and I’m sure he will get you one.”

“Oh, no, never!” Gunnilda cried. “I won’t have Alwy wasting what he earns on jewelry for me!”

“You just don’t understand the men, child. There’s nothing they like better than being presented with a simple way to make us happy: it saves them a lot of trouble and bother figuring out what we would like.”

'It saves them a lot of trouble and bother figuring out what we would like.'

“But after building me this house, Githa! That would be wrong.”

“Oh, rot. I shall tell him if you won’t. Now sit – ”

“No you better not!”

“All right, dear,” she laughed. “I shall let you do the hinting. But right now I want you to sit so I can fix your hair properly, once and for all. And be quick about it because I would certainly like to sit down myself, afterwards.”

'Gunnilda sat, overwhelmed.'

Gunnilda sat, overwhelmed. 

Githa was a force to be reckoned with. In times past she had associated more with the Countess and with Githa Selle than with busy little Gunnilda Hogge, but the Countess was no longer seeing visitors, and Githa Selle had been gone for months, so she had turned to Gunnilda. Gunnilda thought it might also have something to do with the new station she had suddenly attained; indeed, the King had greeted her as Mistress Hogge in the market the day before, instead of Goodwife.

The King had greeted her as Mistress Hogge in the market the day before.

Gunnilda wondered whether all gentlewomen spoke as freely as Githa did. She had been brought up believing it was more ladylike not to mention certain things, but it seemed she had it quite backwards.

“There, then!” Githa said in satisfaction as she patted Gunnilda’s smooth head. “Now, I should still like to put a necklace around your neck, but that must suffice for now. What do you think, Wynn?”

'What do you think, Wynn?'

“I think she’s real pretty,” the girl said softly.

“Hmm, I’m not sure,” Githa said. “Let’s ask someone who knows.” Before Gunnilda realized what she meant, Githa had leaned out the front door and called, “Egelric!”

“Oh, no!” Gunnilda wailed.

“Aye?” came a faint shout from somewhere in the yard.

“Egelric! We need your opinion!”

“I’m a bit of a mess!” the voice said, coming closer.

“Never mind! We don’t want to eat off of you, just ask your opinion!”

“Oh, Githa!” Gunnilda whimpered, wondering whether it would be possible to hide, as Wynna so often did when visitors came up to the door.

'Hallo, Githa!'

“Hallo, Githa!” Egelric called as he came up the steps. “My opinion is: it’s a girl.”

“Gunnilda says you’re wrong, but more to the point, that’s not the opinion I want. I want you to tell me what you think of this young lady behind me here. Turn around, child!”

“Happy to meet you!” he laughed. “Who’s your friend, Githa?”

'Happy to meet you!'

“That’s my Ma!” Wynna scolded.

“No, never!”

“She is too!”

“Githa, how could you do this to me? You haul me in here, dripping sweat and caked with dust, to meet this fine lady?”

'Githa, how could you do this to me?'

“I thought you might like to know who you’re working for,” Githa said. “Come on, Wynn, why don’t you take me back to see how your brothers are?”

“I guess Bedwig is probably naked again,” Wynna warned as she got up.

“That’s all right, dear, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.”

Gunnilda saw she was trapped, and her hand fluttered back to her breast.

Her hand fluttered back to her breast.

“Well, does the color suit me, or not?” she asked.

“I think your cheeks are lovely that shade of red.”

“Oh my!” Gunnilda whimpered, clapping her hands to her face.

He laughed. “The color of the dress, you meant? Gunnilda, you ask the wrong man. Ask the Duke for his opinion about colors if you want to hear something complimentary. I shall only say something ridiculous, such as comparing you to a moss-​​covered tree. But it’s a very handsome moss,” he winked.

“You don’t think it’s too…”


“Too fine?” It wasn’t what she had started to say, but she realized she couldn’t ask him what she had meant to ask.

'I fear you will henceforth be too ashamed of me to be seen with me.'

“I fear you will henceforth be too ashamed of me to be seen with me. But that is my fault, not yours. I think it suits you well. And not only the color.”

“You like it?”

“Ah, now that’s a question I can answer. I do like it. Is it for the christening?”

“No, Githa means to make me another dress for that. This dress is for everyday.”

“So much for my secret, then,” he sighed. “I always knew you were a beautiful woman – now everyone else will, as well.”

'So much for my secret, then.'

“Oh, pish!”

“I hope you will believe it, too, now.”

“Pish! Get on, you! Githa!”

“Very well – I shall take my peasant self outside. But it was worth coming up here today.”

'It was worth coming up here today.'

“That’s the same thing Githa said about seeing you out there!”

“What’s the matter, Githa?” Egelric laughed as she returned. “Not used to seeing a shirtless man?”

“Oh, heavens, no! It’s a working man I’m not used to seeing. But you’re a fine example of the both. Now get out with you,” Githa said, shooing him out the door. “I have a hem to pin and I’ll not have you peeking at my lady’s ankles.”

'I'll not have you peeking at my lady's ankles.'