A Desperate Fortune

Page 45

The cook’s boy, who appeared to have been shaken by the whole adventure, held the door still wider as they hurried her indoors.

“My dear, you’re trembling,” Jacques observed.

“It is but shock,” said Madame Roy, “and quickly cured with brandy, warmth, and bed.”

The brandy helped, but it could not completely chase away the cold she felt within her. Upstairs she did a thing she rarely did and took Frisque with her into bed and curled her body round him for the comfort of his warmth. She did not need to draw the curtain back to view the window of the house across the street, nor look to see the glowing light of the man’s pipe against the dark, for now she knew not seeing it meant nothing.

He was in that room. She knew it just as surely as she knew the color of his cloak. The hardness of his eyes.

And all the pleasure of her lovely evening had now vanished with the knowledge that in all the time he’d walked so close behind them in the shadowed street—and possibly before that—she had never once suspected he was there.

Chapter 14

I fear the man across the street…

I set my pencil down and sighed as once again the labored notes of the piano in the salon broke my concentration. Noah had been practicing the same arpeggio for several minutes now without much sign of progress. Getting up, I crossed to close my door, which didn’t stop the sound but muffled it enough that I could turn my focus back to my deciphering of Mary’s words.

After two days I was getting faster with my work, having gained a better eye to tell her sevens from her nines, and I was starting to develop a good sense of how she phrased things. Her cadence was clear from the first line I’d finished deciphering, just after breakfast on New Year’s Day:

At three o’clock, my brother came to fetch me with the news that I was wanted, and of the lies he told me I hold that to be the hardest to forgive.

I’d had to edit that and put the commas in and the apostrophes, and modify her spelling. She had written “aclock” for “o’clock” and used a y for “lyes” instead of “lies,” but those were easy things to sort in context. Easier than Mary sorting out the tangled circumstances of her life. It must have been a blow to learn her brother hadn’t wanted her for who she was, but only for the use that he could put her to. And while she didn’t list the lies he’d told her, it was obvious that he’d been less than honest about why he’d brought her to Chatou. The “wagon overturned upon the road” that had supposedly diverted them and made them go the long way round could not have been an accident. Sir Redmond had been waiting all along for their arrival.

He had said as much to Mary, as she’d written in her diary:

On the 24th arose to find Sir Redmond had obtained a bed for Frisque, with the apology he had not been informed beforehand that I’d have a dog with me, or else he would have had the room more properly arranged. “Did Nicolas then tell you that I would be on my own?” I asked, and “Aye,” said he, and told me that my brother had informed him full a week ago that we would be arriving on the Tuesday as we did, which did show faith I think upon my brother’s part, since having not yet met me grown, he could not have known then if I would suit his purpose. Happily—and Jacqui, when I’d read the entry to her on the phone, had seemed to think that word had held some sarcasm—Sir Redmond tells me I am perfect for the part I am to play, not only for the fact I do speak French but for the simpler fact that no one of the former court at Saint-Germain-en-Laye will know my face should they encounter me in Paris, nor suspect that I am other than what I will then appear to be: a woman living with her brother. I shall take it to be practice for the day my brother Nicolas has promised, when I will indeed go home with him, though I confess I do not fix my hopes upon the coming of that day.

I didn’t, either. Which was why, when I had read that entry New Year’s Day, I’d called my cousin.

“It isn’t noon yet,” had been Jacqui’s protest, in a husky voice that told me she’d been out late celebrating. “Have a heart.”

“She hasn’t gone to Saint-Germain-en-Laye.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Mary,” I explained. “She’s being sent to Paris.”

I could hear the creak of bedsprings as though she’d rolled over. “Sorry, what? Who’s Mary?”

“Mary Dundas, in the diary. She’s—”

“What, did you break the code?”

“Cipher. And yes, but—”

“That’s wonderful!” Jacqui was sounding awake now. The bedsprings creaked a little louder, and I guessed that this time she was sitting up. “Just wait till I tell Alistair. He’ll be so pleased.”

“He may not be, that’s what I’m saying. Mary Dundas hasn’t gone to Saint-Germain-en-Laye,” I said a second time. “Her brother lied to her, and now she’s being sent to Paris on some sort of secret mission for the Jacobites. He’s promised he’ll bring her back afterwards, only I don’t think he will. When she writes ‘Saint-Germain-en-Laye’ it makes a long, specific set of numbers in the cipher, and I’ve had a quick look through the diary and she doesn’t mention it much after this.”

“Well, she wouldn’t, though, if she were living there,” Jacqui replied. “I mean, I wouldn’t say, ‘Here I am in London, and I’m going to the hairdresser today, here in London, and after that I’m going to have dinner at the restaurant on the corner, it’s in London, too…’”

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