A woman’s shrill scream tore the silence, followed by another and another in hysterical succession, growing louder as though suddenly a door had been flung open to eliminate a barrier between them and the frantic sound. And like a boulder tumbling downhill it started others tumbling, too—the scream was answered by the shouts and calls of neighbors and the nervous clopping shuffle of the hooves of horses, and the creak and thud of countless windows being opened.
Jacques—or rather, Mr. Thomson—said, “I take it that will be our Cook returning. Not the kindest welcome for her.”
Madame Roy glanced up sharply. “They will never think she did it?”
“No,” said Thomson. “The servants of course will be questioned, but none of them will need to fear the police.” His voice, too, Mary thought, was not properly English. It had a faint lilt to it, as of an accent he’d long learned to mask.
Madame Roy said, “You seem very certain.”
“I am. The police have been very well bribed since I came into France. I suspect they have known all along where I am, but they turn a blind eye for the twin joys of lining their pockets and thwarting the English.” He comfortably settled himself in the room’s only armchair, which oddly sat some distance off from the fire. “The English ambassador writes to the head of the Paris police, who replies that he’s confident I am not here, then turns round and surprises his wife with a new diamond bracelet. It’s all very civilized. No, the police will not bother the servants for finding a man lying dead in the house, unless…” He looked to the man by the window. “That man you dispatched was not from the police, I hope?”
Mary saw the dead man’s face again and felt the knife’s blade at her throat. She fought the cold by gathering Frisque closer, and the dog whined.
“Keep him quiet,” said the Scotsman.
Mary murmured to herself, “Or else I’ll kill you.”
Thomson, hearing but the last two words and thinking she had spoken them to him, misunderstood and sought to reassure her. “No, my dear, he never would have killed me. I’m of little use to anybody dead. The English, though, would no doubt pay a rich reward to one who could deliver me into their hands. That would be why he brought the coach, to spirit me away, though I’ll be deuced if I can think how he discovered me.”
The Scotsman said, “Ye called out in a public street. In English. And your kitchen lad was there to hear ye do it.”
“The lad sleeps in a room above the tavern near the Fair.”
“You keep yourself informed,” said Thomson.
“’Tis my business to.” He still had not turned round. “This morning when I saw the lad arrive for work he was too drunk to stand. I made inquiries and discovered that last night he had a tale to tell, and found an eager audience in one who bought him drink to hear yet more.”
“I’m sorry,” Thomson said. “It was most careless of me, to be sure, but I did not intend—”
“Among that tavern’s patrons is an English spy who gains his secrets by seducing foolish women. I had him pointed out to me some days ago, together with a woman he so used some years ago and made his wife.” He did turn slightly then. “This morning she was in your house. I did not see her enter, but I saw her leave. She wore the clothing of a housemaid.”
Thomson raised his eyebrows. “Christiane?”
“Aye, that’s her name. He sent her in, no doubt, to gather proof of who ye were. She must have found it. Did she speak to ye in English?”
Thomson paused and flushed a little and he did not answer with a lie, but neither did he tell the truth of how he had betrayed himself at breakfast. “No.”
Mary glanced at him and felt the Scotsman glance at her before he carried on, “Then she had likely matched your face to your description and was satisfied. She went off in a hurry, and I guessed she’d gone to fetch her husband.” With a shrug he turned again and finished with, “Now she’s his widow.”
In the street below them the commotion was expanding, growing louder, but it seemed a distant thing to Mary on her stool beside the fire. She felt so cold now she’d begun to tremble from it.
“So,” said Thomson with a sigh, “we must now travel south.” The silence he received as a reply seemed not to trouble him. He stretched his legs before him and in contemplation of the buckles of his shoes remarked, “I should have much preferred to wait until we were more certain of our welcome, but I see there’s nothing to be done but make the best of it. When would you have us leave?”
“Not yet.” The light had changed its angle very slightly at the window and the Scotsman shifted with it, staying just beyond its reach. “We’ll move at night.”
“Move where?” Thomson asked, but once again his only answer was the silence of the room. He smiled. “You’re not a trusting man, Mr. MacPherson.”
Madame Roy said more than that, but briefly, in a language Mary did not understand, but then in honesty the three of them were making little sense to her with all this talk of leaving.
Mary found her voice and told them all, “I cannot travel with you.” She could feel them turn to look at her, and to be plain she added, “I was told to come to Paris, only that, and when I’m no longer needed here, then I am to return to…” She came near to saying “Saint-Germain-en-Laye,” but she caught herself in time because in spite of her confusion she remembered there were some things she was charged with keeping secret. “…to my family.”