“I cannot raise a revolution on the money taken from the hands of those my birth and duty binds me to protect.” The king, though only in his middle forties, looked a good deal older as he paused for thought, and finally said, “I once believed as you do, that rebellion was the only way; that violent diseases must have violent remedies. But those remedies, Mr. Thomson, cause very real suffering, most usually to others than ourselves.”

Mary stole a glance at Hugh, whose face betrayed no measure of his thoughts, and she remembered how his eyes had looked the night Effie had sung the haunting sad lament about the warrior who wandered all alone with all his loved ones in the ground, and something told her Hugh knew well the truth of the king’s statement.

“I am glad indeed,” the king went on, “to find you were endeavoring to aid my cause, and I suppose you took the best measures you could for that effect, but the truth is I did write some months ago to General Dillon and the rest, that I could not condescend to such proposals, that such a means of raising money was not all in keeping with my conscience, and that I had rather leave matters as they are without compromising myself, and wait till it shall please Providence to restore what does belong to me. And to my sons.”

The small painted putti, like children themselves, gazed down from the gold scrolls of the flower-wrapped trellis adorning the lovely curved ceiling, the “sky” rendered with such a skilled imitation of light that it seemed there must truly be sunshine behind the pale clouds.

The king said, “Prince Charles will, I hope, be one day both a great and a good man, and I would advise him and his brother as my father once advised me—nay, required me—to treat all our subjects with fairness, and never to molest them in the enjoyment of their religion, rights, liberty, and property, for a king can never be happy, lest his subjects be easy.” He leveled a decided gaze on Thomson. “And it seems I must now be unhappy, for you will not be so easy for this next while in the place where I must send you.”

Thomson asked, “And where is that, Your Majesty?”

“You understand that I cannot appear to be condoning this affair. And I suspect my subjects who have lost all through this misadventure would much blame me if I showed myself indifferent to their suffering. As a simple formality, it will of course be the pope who arrests you, but it will be known to be done by my orders.”

Thomson raised his eyebrows. “You are having me arrested?”

“Not for long. And should you want for anything while you’re confined, you may apply to Captain Hay or to my secretary, Lord Dunbar.” Turning to Hugh he said, “I shall direct you where he should be taken, and then I am sure the Lord Marischal will have new work for you.”

Then his gaze settled on Mary. “I thank you,” he told her, “for coming to Rome. I have little these days I can offer my subjects, when even my ailments increase with my age, but I still thank God my heart is good, and that will never fail you.”

He was turning away, but she summoned her courage and managed to speak up. “If it please Your Majesty,” she began.

The king paused to look back at her.

“My father, William Dundas, served Your Majesty at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and came with you to Rome, and still resides here. I’ve not seen him for some years, and I am hoping very much to see him now, if he desires it.”

King James looked to Captain Hay, repeating, “Dundas…William Dundas… Ah, the wig maker. Of course. But he did leave us, surely?”

Captain Hay confirmed this for Mary. “He parted from hence with your brother Charles, only last Michaelmas. I have been making inquiries but have not yet learned where they might have been bound.”

Mary schooled her face carefully, not wanting anyone to see the great chasm that had just opened within her, exposing the sharp jagged edges of her disappointment. So then their whole journey had been done for nothing, and she had again been cast off, left behind. Mary felt all off balance and strangely deflated, as though she had opened a gift to discover it empty inside.

The king watched her, and in his eyes Mary saw the deep kindness Effie had spoken of. “It grieves me that my friends in Paris did impose upon you, madam, so unnecessarily, and brought you here by ways exposed to accident and danger, and that the circumstances of my court force so many brave subjects and old servants, like your father and your brother, to seek elsewhere for their bread. I hope in God that better days will come when friends and honest people will not be forced at so great a distance from one another.” His small smile was also kind. “Till then, I will neglect nothing that lies in my power,” he told her, “to see you are sent safely home.”

Mary curtsied again as he left them, but when he had gone she looked up at the high rounded ceiling with new eyes from which the romance had been stripped, so she saw the gold trellis not as a beautiful frame but a cage, that some cruel hand had opened to trick the small painted birds into imagining they could find freedom against the wide blue of that sky. But it wasn’t a sky, after all. It was nothing but plaster, and those little birds would be beating their wings on it endlessly all of their lives without anything changing, the more fools for trying to fly in the first place.

Chapter 38

My father said, we do not always get the things we want.

I had transcribed that line an hour ago, and now it resonated in my memory as I stood in Claudine’s studio upstairs and looked with interest at the photographs of Alistair. Claudine, at the table behind me, was sorting the black-and-white prints of a wedding she’d photographed into an album for one of her clients. She asked me, “And why would he be disappointed?”

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