A Desperate Fortune

Page 27

“Yes, I believe so.” Mary rose in what she hoped was a fair imitation of the other’s competence and grace. “Shall I pour?”

The cipher proved to be a simple thing for her to master after all. She had converted her own name and Frisque’s to numerals by the time Sir Redmond’s wife returned to keep them company, at which time Mary closed her journal altogether with the ciphered sheet set at the place where she’d been writing, laying it aside as Lady Everard went over to inspect the little linnet in its cage.

“Will not you sing for us this morning?” Lady Everard addressed the bird, and tapped a finger lightly on the bars. “You’ve had your breakfast, give us payment. Don’t be selfish.”

Mary said, “Perhaps he’s sad.”

The older woman clucked her tongue. “What reason has he to be sad? He’s warm and fed and fussed over.”

“But you have set his cage beside the window,” Mary pointed out, “where he may see the wider sky, and any bird on seeing that would want to try his wings in it.”

“He’d freeze were he to try his wings out there this morning.” Lady Everard turned from the linnet’s cage and settled in a nearby armchair and remarked, “You do that very neatly, Mistress Jamieson. I can no more play at cards than I can shuffle them, though dear Mr. O’Connor has been trying to instruct me in the simpler games.”

The Scottish woman, who had once again been idly shuffling through the pack of cards and drawing out the knave from time to time, stopped the repeating motion, looking up to ask, “Mr. O’Connor? You’ll forgive me, I’m acquainted with some members of that family, and I wonder…”

“Do you know him, then?” Sir Redmond’s wife looked pleased. “He comes with Colonel Brett quite often here to visit with us. Mr. Martin O’Connor, of the Mine Adventurers Company.”

Mary, who was watching Mistress Jamieson, saw something that looked strangely like relief and disappointment intermingled cross the other woman’s features as she answered, “Ah. Then no, I do not know him.”

“He’s a very charming gentleman,” Sir Redmond’s wife continued. “Very charming, though my husband has his doubts about his teaching me to play at cards.” She turned a little to address her husband who was entering the drawing room. “Is that not right, dear?”

“Oh yes, very likely,” he indulged her, though he could have hardly known what she was referencing, a fact they both acknowledged with a shared smile of affection.

“I was saying,” she informed him, “that you had your doubts about Mr. O’Connor teaching me to play at cards.”

Her husband nodded. “Most emphatic doubts. O’Connor is an unrepentant sharper, and I fear he’ll teach you all his means of cheating.”

“Mistress Jamieson, although she does not know him, is acquainted with some others of that name.”

“They are more honest men, I hope?” Sir Redmond asked the Scottish woman, jokingly.

“I fear,” said Mistress Jamieson, “the unrepentant sharpers do outnumber honest men within that family.” Setting down the pack of cards, she stood and shook her skirts to smooth them, startling Frisque who leaped to stand alert himself, tail wagging with anticipation. “Do you have the letter, then, for Mrs. Farrand?”

“Yes, I have it here.” He made to hand it to her, but his wife delayed him.

“But you’ll not be leaving yet so soon?” she asked the Scottish woman. “You must stay to dinner.” Turning to her husband, she said, “Darling, do persuade her she must stay to dinner.”

Any effort he could have put forward to persuade her was cut short by the distinctive sound of horses’ hooves outside and wheels that crunched and squeaked upon the snow, and looking through the window nearest to her Mary saw a covered carriage with a driver sitting huddled in his cloak upon his box, his hat drawn low upon his forehead as he turned the mismatched team of horses—one a chestnut, one a bay—to smoothly halt before the house. A man, no doubt Sir Redmond’s groom, came briskly out to greet him, and the two spoke briefly before the groom turned again and headed round the house.

Lady Everard peered out as well, with interest. “What now?” she asked her husband. “Who is this? Are you expecting someone?”

“No, not I. But here comes Evans now, to tell us,” said Sir Redmond, as the tramping of the groom’s boots could be heard approaching from the rear part of the house. “What, Evans, who is come?”

The groom, ignoring Frisque’s excited sniffing at his boots, touched his forehead respectfully. “Beg pardon, Sir Redmond, my lady,” he said, and looked to Mistress Jamieson. “It is your driver, madam, come from Paris. He desires me to remind you that the morning is a cold one and he asks you would you very kindly hurry.”

Mistress Jamieson, who during this had also looked out through the window, turned her head to show the same small, private smile she’d given when she’d found the knave of hearts within the pack of cards. “I do suspect he said it rather less politely.”

“Yes, madam,” the groom replied.

Sir Redmond’s wife stared in open surprise at the form of the driver outside. “He is insolent.”

Smiling still, Mistress Jamieson told her, “Aye, frequently.”

Taking the letter Sir Redmond held out to her, she took her leave of them, wishing them all a good day, and on seeing that Frisque had begun a small circling dance on the floorboards, observed, “Your dog needs to be taken outdoors, Mistress Dundas. Come, wrap yourself well and walk out with me.”

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