One night last November, when Mary had finished a story, Colette had remarked, “You must marry a man who will take you to Paris, for you could charm the writers of the great salons with your own tales, and I could charm the men who came to listen, and so find a wealthy husband of my own.”
That had long been Mary’s dream as well, but she was practical. “It will be the other way about, for you will marry before I do.”
“Why?” Colette had asked. “You are the elder.”
Mary had explained with patience, “I am not your sister. And your parents will have need to see you settled with a husband and a dowry before giving thought to me.”
“Then I must set myself at once to win the heart of the Chevalier de Vilbray,” Colette had said, not all in jest. “I saw him riding to the hunt today. He is in truth as handsome as they say he is. Perhaps one day he’ll meet me in the woods, as the prince met the peasant girl in tonight’s tale, and fall madly in love with me.”
Mary, who at that time had not yet seen the chevalier, had allowed herself to daydream of chance meetings in the woods with him herself. She’d smiled. “Well, if he sweeps you up onto his horse the way the prince did to the peasant girl, I trust you’ll sweep yourself back down, for such encounters rarely end so well in life as they do in the fairy tales. Real men are not so chivalrous.”
“I’ll not permit you to be cynical. You cannot tell the tales you tell and not believe in chivalry.”
“I do. But the Chevalier de Vilbray—”
“—will make a charming husband,” Colette had completed Mary’s sentence. “And when we are married, he will carry me to Paris and I’ll bring you with me, and you’ll be the new sensation of the literary salons. You will be adored by all and have so many famous lovers and so many grand adventures that your memoirs, as you write them, will run into several volumes, all of which of course you’ll dedicate to me. Now,” she’d said, “tell me the ending again, where the prince reappears when the princess was sure he’d abandoned her, for that is my favorite part, and I’ll try not to weep.”
It had seemed strange to Mary last night in this house in Chatou to sleep all by herself in a bed, without Colette beside her. And she knew that it would have been equally strange for Colette.
When Mary had said her good-byes before driving away in the closed chaise with Nicolas, Colette had hugged her the hardest. And late last night when Mary had retrieved a nightgown from her portmanteau she’d found a parcel wrapped in paper nestled in the neatly folded clothes, addressed in pencil in her cousin’s careful writing: For your memoirs.
It had been a book with all its pages blank, exactly like the one in which her uncle kept household accounts, with cloth boards and a leather spine, and with it had been a cylindrical traveling pen set, the ink well and talc in small sections that screwed one on top of the other beneath the long section that held three plain quill pens with neatly carved nibs.
An extravagant gift, and had Colette attempted to give it before she had gone Mary wouldn’t have taken it, knowing how much the small pen set alone must have cost. But last night she had held it and been grateful for the sentiment behind the gesture, and the small connection that it gave her to the place she’d left behind, and she had brought both book and pen set down this morning with her to Sir Redmond’s drawing room, where she sat now, the book laid open to its first page while she wrote the details of her journey here with Nicolas.
For if she was in truth to have adventures, she decided, that was where they should most properly begin.
Frisque did not like to be ignored. When Mary had first started writing, he had flopped upon the carpet on his back with all four feet up in his most engaging attitude, attempting to convince her that he needed her attention, and when that had failed he’d alternately pounced upon her shoes and tugged and worried at the hemline of her gown until she’d met his needs halfway by rolling, with her foot, his favorite wooden ball across the floor so he could chase it and retrieve it. She could do this without thinking, because Frisque retrieved things brilliantly. Each time the ball rolled off across the carpet he would hunt for it quite happily, tail wagging, bring it back and lay it down exactly at the right spot near her foot so she could kick it out again.
This went on for some time, and Mary had managed to put down her summary of what had happened the previous day, from the time she had set out with Nicolas right through their evening with Sir Redmond Everard, and she was just starting into the details of what she’d done so far today when she felt Frisque return, so she aimed a kick at where the ball should have been and discovered it wasn’t. Instead she connected with softness and fur and was met with a swift bark of protest.
She left off her writing midword to bend down and apologize, petting Frisque to comfort him. “Where is it, then?” she asked the dog. “What have you done with it?”
Frisque cocked his head in a quizzical way.
Mary told him, “The ball. Where’s the ball?”
It was one of the three words, together with outside and food that could spur the small dog to immediate action. That he expected her to follow him was evident from how he trotted off a few steps, wheeled and bounced and wheeled again, and with a sigh she stood and went where he was leading her, across the room to where a high-backed settee faced the fireplace. The settee was broad and deep, richly upholstered with silken embroidery over the wool of the cushions and arms and the tall curving back, trimmed with braid and a dainty bell fringe that brushed over Frisque’s ears as the little dog pushed underneath, scrabbling with his small paws in an effort to reach the ball wedged underneath the low rail that connected the settee’s carved legs.