“Yes. My brother, whom I have not seen for many years, did come to fetch me home. We only stayed our journey here last night because we were delayed upon the road and it became too dark to travel, and my brother is acquainted with Sir Redmond, who was kind enough to take us in. But later on this day I’ll have a different view, as you do say, from quite a different window.” She was trying to sound confident, but some of her uncertainty must have yet wavered in her tone, or so she guessed from watching Mistress Jamieson look up with eyes that seemed to take her measure.
“Do you travel far this day?” the Scottish woman asked.
“Not far. My brother lives at Saint-Germain-en-Laye.”
The lovely eyebrows arched again. “At Saint-Germain?”
“Yes. Do you know it?”
This time when she drew the knave of hearts she seemed to do so without paying any heed to it, as though her mind were otherwise diverted. Without answering the question, Mistress Jamieson said lightly, “It is not a place for keeping private thoughts.” And then, on noticing that Mary did not seem to understand, she gave a nod towards the journal lying open on the table. “You will have to guard that well, for Saint-Germain is full of prying eyes and those who love exposing secrets.” But she smoothed the warning with the kindness of her tone, and asked, “And will you go no further in your travels?”
Mary gave a tiny shrug. “I am dependent on my brother and must wait for his indulgence, naturally, but someday I should like to go to Paris.” She’d have felt a fool to say aloud the reason why; to lay her childish fantasies and dreams before this woman, so she aimed instead for something like sophistication. “I am told the men there are the handsomest in all of France, and very gallant.”
Mistress Jamieson looked down and traced the corner of the card she held, the knave. “Aye, there are handsome men in Paris.” For a moment it appeared the other woman’s thoughts had drifted far afield, before they were summarily recalled. Laying the knave faceup on the table, she set down the other cards and reached for her forgotten tea. “And men of wit and learning, which are also handsome qualities.”
Mary tried to match the grace with which the Scottish woman held her teacup, as she said, “I fear I have no qualities that would impress a man of wit and learning, so I must make do with one who has a handsome face.” She’d said it brightly, all in jest, but in the pause that followed, Mistress Jamieson appeared to be considering the matter.
Straightening the edges of the stack of cards she turned the top one over to reveal the ace of hearts, and set it on the table with the waiting knave so that the two were touching one another with their edges overlapped. She said to Mary, “Any man deserving of your notice will need nothing to impress him but that you should be yourself, and any man deserving of your love will see you as you truly are, and love you notwithstanding.”
Such advice, thought Mary, must be spoken from experience. The only ring the other woman wore was on her right hand, not her left—a ring of gold wrought in a curious design of two hands clasping a crowned heart, and looking nothing like the wedding ring her own aunt wore, but Mary could not keep herself from asking, “Are you married, Mistress Jamieson?”
Again, as when she’d given Lady Everard her name, there was the faintest pause, too brief to be much noticed but enough time to arrange her thoughts. She raised her cup to drink. “And if I were, I should not own it.”
“Why is that?”
Above the teacup’s rim the level gaze seemed to assess Mary’s intelligence. “Come now. You overheard me speaking to Sir Redmond, and you clearly are no fool, so then you know what I am doing.”
Mary flushed a bit to be reminded of her accidental indiscretion, but she answered just as plainly. “Yes.”
“Well, then. Had I a husband whom I loved, that love alone would lead me to deny him, lest my actions bring him also into danger.”
Mary, frowning just a little, said, “But if you had a husband…”
“Forgive me, but if you did have a husband and if he loved you, how could he then permit that you would put yourself in danger?”
Another pause, and then a shrug. “My mother likes to say some people choose the path of danger on their own, for it is how the Lord did make them, and they never will be changed.” Emptying the settled tea leaves from her cup into the common slop bowl, Mistress Jamieson continued, “If I had a husband, and if he loved me, then he would understand my nature and not think that he could sway me by withholding his permission, for he’d know I cannot stay beside the hearth and tend my needlework when those I love risk more in their adventures.”
At that moment Mary felt convinced that Mistress Jamieson was all at once the bravest and most fascinating woman she had ever met, and emptying her teacup in her turn she reached to take her pen in hand and started searching through the lines she had last written in her journal for the places where she’d mentioned Mistress Jamieson by name, and with a new respect for secrecy began to strike them out so as to leave no written record that could carelessly incriminate this woman she admired.
Mistress Jamieson, observing her, remarked, “There is a better way to guard your secrets, when you write. Would you like me to show you?”
“If you speak of ciphers,” Mary said, “you need not waste your time, for I am sure I never could remember anything so complicated.”
“He never rode that never fell,” the other woman answered, but since Mary had not ever heard that proverb she was unsure what it meant till Mistress Jamieson translated it more simply: “Nothing venture, nothing have. Come, take a clean page from your journal—tear it out, for you must keep it loose—and we’ll devise a cipher. Is there tea left in the pot?”