“Oh?” Daphne asked curiously. Upper servants were notoriously loyal, often serving a single family for generations.
“Yes, I was the duchess's personal maid.” Mrs. Colson waited outside the doorway of the yellow room to allow Daphne to precede her. “And before that her companion. My mother was her nurse. Her grace's family was kind enough to allow me to share her lessons.”
“You must have been quite close,” Daphne murmured.
Mrs. Colson nodded. “After she died I occupied a number of different positions here at Clyvedon until I finally became housekeeper.”
“I see.” Daphne smiled at her and then took a seat on the sofa. “Please sit,” she said, motioning to the chair across from her.
Mrs. Colson seemed hesitant with such familiarity, but eventually sat. “It broke my heart when she died,” she said. She gave Daphne a slightly apprehensive look. “I hope you don't mind my telling you so.”
“Of course not,” Daphne said quickly. She was ravenously curious about Simon's childhood. He said so little, and yet she sensed that it all meant so much. “Please, tell me more. I would love to hear about her.”
Mrs. Colson's eyes grew misty. “She was the kindest, gentlest soul this earth has ever known. She and the duke—well, it wasn't a love match, but they got on well enough. They were friends in their own way.” She looked up. “They were both very much aware of their duties as duke and duchess. Took their responsibilities quite seriously.”
Daphne nodded understandingly.
“She was so determined to give him a son. She kept trying even after the doctors all told her she mustn't. She used to cry in my arms every month when her courses came.”
Daphne nodded again, hoping the motion would hide her suddenly strained expression. It was difficult to listen to stories about not being able to have children. But she supposed she was going to have to get used to it. It was going to be even more strenuous to answer questions about it.
And there would be questions. Painfully tactful and hideously pitying questions.
But Mrs. Colson thankfully didn't notice Daphne's distress. She sniffled as she continued her story. “She was always saying things like how was she to be a proper duchess if she couldn't give him a son. It broke my heart. Every month it broke my heart.”
Daphne wondered if her own heart would shatter every month. Probably not. She, at least, knew for a fact that she wouldn't have children. Simon's mother had her hopes crushed every four weeks.
“And of course,” the housekeeper continued, “everyone talked as if it were her fault there was no baby. How could they know that, I ask you? It's not always the woman who is barren. Sometimes it's the man's fault, you know.”
Daphne said nothing.
“I told her this time and again, but still she felt guilty. I said to her—” The housekeeper's face turned pink. “Do you mind if I speak frankly?”
She nodded. “Well, I said to her what my mother said to me. A womb won't quicken without strong, healthy seed.”
Daphne held her face in an expressionless mask. It was all she could manage.
“But then she finally had Master Simon.” Mrs. Colson let out a maternal sigh, then looked to Daphne with an apprehensive expression. “I beg your pardon,” she said hastily. “I shouldn't be calling him that. He's the duke now.”
“Don't stop on my account,” Daphne said, happy to have something to smile about.
“It's hard to change one's ways at my age,” Mrs. Colson said with a sigh. “And I'm afraid a part of me will always remember him as that poor little boy.” She looked up at Daphne and shook her head. “He would have had a much easier time of it if the duchess had lived.”
“An easier time of it?” Daphne murmured, hoping that would be all the encouragement Mrs. Colson would need to explain further.
“The duke just never understood that poor boy,” the housekeeper said forcefully. “He stormed about and called him stupid, and—”
Daphne's head snapped up. “The duke thought Simon was stupid?” she interrupted. That was preposterous. Simon was one of the smartest people she knew. She'd once asked him a bit about his studies at Oxford and had been stunned to learned that his brand of mathematics didn't even use numbers.
“The duke never could see the world beyond his own nose,” Mrs. Colson said with a snort. “He never gave that boy a chance.”
Daphne felt her body leaning forward, her ears straining for the housekeeper's words. What had the duke done to Simon? And was this the reason he turned to ice every time his father's name was mentioned?
Mrs. Colson pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. “You should have seen the way that boy worked to improve himself. It broke my heart. It simply broke my heart.”
Daphne's hands clawed at the sofa. Mrs. Colson was never going to get to the point.
“But nothing he ever did was good enough for the duke. This is just my opinion of course, but—”
Just then a maid entered with tea. Daphne nearly screamed with frustration. It took a good two minutes for the tea to be set up and poured, and all the while Mrs. Colson chitchatted about the biscuits, and did Daphne prefer them plain or with coarse sugar on top.
Daphne had to pry her hands off the sofa, lest she puncture holes in the upholstery Mrs. Colson had worked so hard to preserve. Finally, the maid left, and Mrs. Colson took a sip of her tea, and said, “Now then, where were we?”
“You were talking about the duke,” Daphne said quickly. “The late duke. That nothing my husband did was ever good enough for him and in your opinion—”