The man stopped too, and leaning close to Mary’s side said, “Do exactly as I say. Whoever knocks upon that door, you tell him you are in the house alone, and send him off again. Do not allow him in.”
He backed away from her and melted to the shadows of the wall, but she was very much aware of him when she first heard the scuff of booted footsteps and the almost lively knock. She did not wish to answer it at all, but she was more afraid of what was waiting at her back than of whatever lay beyond the door, and so she tried her best to gather her composure as she turned the handle, easing the door open just enough to show her face.
The man who stood on the front step looked reassuringly friendly. He was of middle age and height and rather handsome, in the wig and clothing of a gentleman. The carriage he’d arrived in was more handsome still, its driver sitting hunched upon the box, the horses steaming in the winter air. The man removed his hat and bowed and greeted her in French, “Madam, good morning. I am sent with an important message for Monsieur Vasseur, that I am told I must deliver to his hand.”
Her mind was racing with such speed it failed to register connections, and it took her half a moment to remember that “Monsieur Vasseur” was Jacques. And half a moment more to bring to mind what she’d been told to say, although she could not bring herself to say it, for she feared that by so doing she might send away their only hope of rescue.
Mary realized half in horror that the man upon the step was now advancing. He was smiling and his hand was on the outside of the door, and in that instant while she wavered without knowing what to do, he had stepped through somehow and joined her in the entry hall, completely unaware what danger waited for him there.
She panicked then and shook her head against the stranger’s cheerful smile and said, “You cannot be here. You must go.”
“Not yet.” He closed the door more gently than the man in gray had closed the kitchen door. This was a gentleman. His manners and his voice remained as charming as they had been on the step. He was still smiling when he locked the door, and when he drew the dagger. “Take me where he is, this man who calls himself Vasseur.”
Her heart resumed its wilder beating, only now it weighed so heavily within her chest she could not move at all, the way a rabbit frightened by a passing hawk might freeze so it would not be seen. But this man was not passing. And he saw her very plainly.
He had turned the dagger till he held it sideways like a sword, and raised it now to touch it to her throat. “He is not worth your life,” he told her. “He—”
She did not clearly see what happened next, for everything was sudden, swift, and shocking.
She was conscious of the movement at her side, the sweep of gray that knocked the other man aside and drove him hard against the wall. And when the other man as quickly turned his dagger on the man in gray, she saw the deadly flashing of a longer knife that slid along the bottom of the other’s blade and trapped it at the hilt and forced it up and back behind the other’s head, and was withdrawn in one quick forward motion that concealed its violence so efficiently that Mary did not know until the other man had fallen and she saw the blood begin to pool around him on the floor that he’d just had his throat cut.
The man in gray turned round, and though he breathed more quickly he was every bit as in control as he had been before. “Up.” He nodded at the stairs behind her. “Go.” And when she did not move at once he spurred her on with, “Now.”
She did not know how her legs carried her, they trembled so alarmingly, but he was close behind her on the stairs and she could not stop for she felt certain he would not. She was proved right when, as they reached the upper floor, he did not pause nor break his stride but only called out, “Mr. Thomson!”
Jacques, as was his custom after breakfast, had been sitting reading in the parlor, but he rose now with his book in hand and looked from Mary to the man behind her.
Run, she would have told him if she’d had a voice. Instead he stood his ground and frowned and said, “Mr. MacPherson.” He was speaking English too, now. “I did wonder who was at the door. Has something happened?”
“Aye.” The tall man moved past Mary. “Get your things. There is no time to waste. You have to leave.”
His sword is like a beam of light upon the warrior’s side. But dark is his brow; and tempests are in his soul.
—Macpherson, “Fingal,” Book Three
February 14, 1732
Her hands would not stop shaking.
It was left to Madame Roy to tie the tapes of Mary’s petticoat and fit the second gown over the one she wore already. They’d been told in no uncertain terms they could bring nothing with them but the little they could carry in their hands, or wear, and having been allotted but five minutes to prepare themselves they’d had to work at speed, a thing that Mary was incapable of doing in her current state.
“He killed a man,” she said again. She’d said it twice already but Madame Roy only nodded as she’d done before, with patience.
“Yes, I know, dear. Put your gloves on.”
“He” was in the chamber next to theirs, with Jacques. No, Mr. Thomson. Mary found the change of names confusing, and her brain was having difficulty holding to the details. Mr. Thomson. And the man in gray was Mac…MacSomething. He was Scottish, then. Her father had been Scottish, though this hard man’s voice was nothing like her memory of her father’s voice. Her father’s had been pleasant, even soothing, but this man’s was—