That sounded over-grand to her, now that she thought of it: “the man whom she’d be helping to protect.” She was not truly a protection for him, merely a small piece of his disguise. Those who were searching for him would be looking for a man alone, she had been told, not one with family.
“When he does arrive,” Sir Redmond had explained, “you’ll greet him as his sister, and the servants will assume that is the truth of your relationship.”
“That is the whole of it, my dear. You’ll stay there with him until we are given word where we’re to send him. That may take some weeks, I fear.” He’d stressed the need for secrecy. “His liberty depends upon it. There are many who would seek to find him and so claim the rich reward that’s offered by the English.”
“Would it not be safer,” Mary had suggested, “if he were concealed somewhere away from Paris?”
“Men are better hidden in a crowd than in the country. It is yet the time of Carnival in Paris, when all within that city are well occupied with feasting and with revelry, and we have found you lodgings in a house in Saint-Germain, where you will further be protected by the Fair that does begin a few days hence.”
Mary had looked at him, confused. “In Saint-Germain? But—”
“Not in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, my dear, but Saint-Germain in Paris.” He’d explained it was a quarter of the city that had nothing to connect it to the palace or the town where she’d been born and where her brother had returned to live, except that they both honored the same saint and so did partly share his name. Sir Redmond, being then with Mary in the room that held his books, had found a map in one to show her. “See now, this is Saint-Germain. It takes its name from this old abbey at its center, Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It’s now primarily a prison, I believe, although the ancient church and abbey palace yet remain in use. And here”—he’d moved his finger slightly—“is the place where every year they hold the Fair, beginning on the day that follows Candlemas and lasting till the eve before Palm Sunday.”
Mary had begun to feel excitement at the prospect of a fair, until Sir Redmond had reminded her that she would not see much of it. “I’d rather that you did not venture too far from your lodgings, and then only when it cannot be avoided.”
It was not, she thought, the way she had imagined seeing Paris.
She had dreamed of a city of beautiful buildings and gardens and bridges that gleamed in the sunlight, and churches with bells that rang over the river that wound past tall houses and streets paved with stones. She had dreamed of the salons and lively discussions, of places of learning and shops filled with wonderful things. She had so far seen none of it.
All the way in on the road from Chatou she’d been closed in a chaise with Madame Roy, the dour-faced woman who had been selected to serve as her chaperone. They had been shuttered away, kept from seeing the things they were passing until they’d arrived in this tight narrow street and had entered these rooms where she had to take Sir Redmond’s word for the fact that the old abbey church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés even stood where he’d shown her it did on the map, a mere few streets away, for outside her own window the tight line of houses leaned so high that she could see nothing beyond their walls.
Only the slow-burning glow of the pipe of the man in the grimy house opposite.
Mary yanked at the calico curtains that hung at her window and drew them together to gain herself privacy.
Frisque, who’d been battling the fringe of a carpet in front of the clothespress, turned now with a wag of his tail as the chaperone entered their room with a purposeful rustling of linens and silk.
Madame Roy was a tall, middle-aged woman, healthily formed, with an unsmiling face deeply pitted from smallpox and straight hair the color of pewter confined by a cap with long lappets that hung to her shoulders. She spoke perfect French, though her accent was one Mary hadn’t been able to place. Mary couldn’t be sure Madame Roy was the woman’s real name, because Mary herself had been given the alias “Mademoiselle Vasseur” for her time here, so she would match “Monsieur Vasseur,” the man who would pose as her brother.
The chaperone held in her arms the two new gowns Sir Redmond had ordered for Mary. Both were finely made and of the latest fashion called the robe volant—unstructured at the front and with a long front seam that, instead of dividing over the petticoat as in the old style, stayed closed nearly all the way up, parting only above the waist to show the ribbons and ties of her stomachers. Both gowns had lovely broad pleats spreading down in the back from the shoulders, and full sleeves gathered at the elbows into soft cuffs trimmed with scalloped falls of lace, and both were styled in bold damask prints, one a richly olive green and one the color of ripe plums.
Madame Roy explained her entrance with, “I have to hang them in the clothespress.”
“Here, let me,” Mary said too quickly, for she’d left her journal and the pen case lying in an open drawer within the clothespress, being too distracted by the pipe smoker to properly conceal them. As she gathered up the folds of gowns and petticoats from Madame Roy, she added, “I fear I’ve not been a very sociable companion. Do forgive me.”
“I have rarely been accused of being sociable myself.” A twist that might have been a smile turned up the corners of the older woman’s mouth. Her eyes looked pewter gray as well, and Mary found them difficult to read. “It is a tiring thing to travel. I expect you’ll feel more settled once your brother has arrived.”