“No, he comes from Spain. I have associates in business there who asked if I would find him a position in this country.”
“Ah.” She gave a nod.
The elder daughter, sorting through her cards, said to her sister, “You converse a bit in Spanish, do you not? At least you seemed to understand our Spanish dancing master well enough.” It was no more than playful banter, but the younger of the sisters rose to it, obligingly attempting something to the Scotsman in the Spanish tongue, to which he answered curtly. She replied and drew him into an exchange that, although brief, displayed his fluency, while her own knowledge clearly had its limits, for she often seemed uncertain of her words. At length she gave up altogether.
To her mother and her sister, speaking once again in French, she said, “He has a more provincial accent than our dancing master, but I would suppose that is a function of his class, for he is clearly not a gentleman. How kind of Monsieur Robillard to take him on.”
Her mother turned to Thomson. “Yes, indeed. In what position does he serve you, for in truth he seems quite fierce for a valet?”
Mary observed that Thomson had been caught off guard and had to think about his answer, so she sought to turn attention from him with a bit of teasing of her own. She told the other women, “He may seem fierce, but I promise you señor Montero is not half as hardened as he looks. He’s rather soft beneath it all. Quite sentimental. Frisque, my dog, adores him. And he never will admit it but I’m told that he writes poetry.”
“Indeed.” The mother looked towards MacPherson, and her daughters followed suit with interest, making Mary glad that he was standing at her back and so she could not see his face, although she knew he had not understood what she had said.
She bravely carried on, “Oh, yes. And reads it, too. Which does remind me,” she said to the younger sister, “could you ask him, please, if he has finished with the book I loaned him lately to assist him in his efforts to learn French? I confess I do speak nothing of his language, and you manage it so beautifully.”
Well flattered by this praise, the younger sister said, “Of course,” and asked a question of the Scotsman, who after a weighted pause responded with an answer that seemed longer than the others he had given.
Satisfied, the younger sister translated, “He says that it is safe upstairs at present, and that after we have supped he will be pleased to fetch it for you and return it to your room, if that would suit you.”
Mary felt like saying that it wouldn’t suit her in the least. She had no wish to have to face him in her room, even though Madame Roy would be there. It had been a gamble, certainly, to try to get her journal back in such a sideways fashion, but she’d seen no more straightforward way to ask for its return without resorting to the use of English, which might have betrayed their new disguises, for in truth there seemed no place where they might not be overheard if she’d confronted him. Except, perhaps, within a private room.
She felt the pricking on her neck again, and buried the strong urge to rub her hand against her nape. Instead she briefly gave attention to the game she was still playing, as the elder sister made a declaration of three tens.
“Not good,” said Mary, in the customary answer, as she countered with her own four queens. And then, encouraged by the simple fact her voice had sounded calm, she told the younger sister, “Do please tell señor Montero that he needn’t put himself to so much trouble. I am sure my brother could deliver me the book.”
She played her cards with studied concentration while the message was conveyed in Spanish, and she tried to keep that concentration when his answer seemed as long and full of detail as the one he’d given previously.
“What I think he said,” the younger sister told her, “is that it’s no trouble to him, and he knows the book is of importance to you, so he would be easier in his own mind if he returned it to you by his own hand. He did say he enjoyed it, I could understand that much, and that he has some questions on the text he wishes to discuss with you.”
“Well,” Mary said, and sought to smile. “I’m sure that will prove something of a challenge.”
She had lost the hand. She lost the next one, too, so though she won the next three and thus won the game itself, she felt off balance all through supper, tasting little of the food or wine, and when they’d parted company and gone up to their rooms she could not make herself relax.
There was no point, she knew, in trying to do anything at all until he came to bring the journal to her. Frisque had raised his head with keen anticipation when she’d entered, but seeing she was in no mood for play he’d tucked his head into the blankets as before, content and warm beside the sleeping form of Madame Roy. The older woman’s gown and cloak were neatly hanging in the clothespress, and she seemed so very peacefully asleep that Mary did not have the heart to wake her, so instead she lit a single candle from the hearth and set it on the small round table near the center of the room. And waited.
From her short experience, she’d half expected that the Scotsman would move like a ghost and somehow make it down the corridor without her hearing his approach, but he did not. She heard the even measure of his footsteps coming nearer, and had ample time to meet him at the door.
He did not wait upon the threshold like a gentleman to be invited in, but gave a short nod and stepped forward so that she was left no choice but to step back and let him enter, or be flattened.
In English, in an undertone, he told her, “Shut the door.”