That she feared and yet was fascinated by Mr. MacPherson was made evident all through that entry by the way she wrote about him, nowhere more so than towards the end when she described how he’d returned her diary:

…so as promised after supper came he to my chamber and returned it in his customary way, without the benefit of niceties, and only asked my word that I would keep it private, which I freely gave him. I believe he distrusts everyone and puts his faith in nobody, for which he has my pity, though ’tis sure he would not welcome it. I follow his example now, for since he read the first part of this book and is no fool, he may have made a full discovery of the cipher and so read the rest, so I now use this newer cipher which I pray will guard my privacy. I would not wish that he should know my thoughts so well, for though Frisque seems to think him harmless I am certain that we never shall be friends.

I was happy that she’d been allowed to keep the dog and take it with her on their travels. It would have been hard for Mary Dundas if she’d had to be alone among so many strangers, and so far from home, without the company of Frisque. She never said what sort of dog he was, but from the paintings I’d seen of the time and from her mention of him lying on her lap I guessed he was a miniature spaniel of some kind, with floppy ears and silky fur.

I saw him clearly in my mind, as clearly as I pictured Mary and her traveling companions: Mr. Thomson, at the lower end of middle age and charming in a gentlemanly way; the older Madame Roy, her features marred by smallpox scars as Mary had described her, yet not all unkind in spite of her more structured ways; and more clearly than any of them, Mary’s stone-faced nemesis, the tall Mr. MacPherson, who had killed a man in front of her without remorse and was by her account the only one of them who had a full sense of the plan that had been put in motion, and that they were now required to follow.

I was frankly curious about that plan myself, and I’d have loved to follow Mary as she found out more about it. If I left her now, I knew I’d always wonder what had happened—what adventures she had lived, and what became of her.

So when my mobile pinged to let me know a message had arrived, and I read Jacqui’s text that said: Keep going! with a smiley face, I felt a rush of great relief and wasted no time picking up my pencil to continue my transcribing of the diary, Mary’s words now like a voice that I heard speaking to me clearly in my mind.

Which meant that later on that evening, I began to worry for her when I reached the entry that began:

We find ourselves again in danger…

Chapter 21

Let them move along the heath, bright as the sun-shine before a storm…

—Macpherson, “Fingal,” Book One

En route to Saulieu, in Le Morvan

February 17, 1732

The diligence was crowded. There had only been the seven of them yesterday, when they’d departed Fontainebleau at first light and so entered into Burgundy, to dine within the ancient walls of Sens and carry on along a mostly level road that kept within a valley and crossed rivers on the way to the old city of Auxerre. There they had stopped the night, and Madame Roy, revived a little by their easy day of travel, had slept soundly and been well enough to come to early Mass at the Cathedral of Saint-Étienne while they’d waited for the horses to be harnessed to the diligence. They had been joined this morning at Auxerre by three men who had journeyed down from Paris by the coche d’eau, or “water coach,” that traveled by the river Seine.

The new additions to their number made a motley trio: one a merchant with a most impressive wig and fine lace cuffs and an unfortunate dependency on snuff that made him sneeze at frequent intervals. He brought with him a servant who, poor fellow, was consigned to ride outside within the partly sheltered box that hung upon the front end of the coach, protected somewhat from the wind but still at the full mercy of the snow that swirled around them as the coachman strapped himself into his jackboots on the rearmost nearside horse, took the long whip and all the reins into his hands, and started out just as the sun came up, at seven.

The third man was an Englishman, quite young and lean of limb and featured rather like a ferret. Mary thought he grew more ferret-like, in fact, the more he spoke. He knew no French beyond “hello” and “please” and “thank you,” and those spoken in a rude indifferent accent, but discovering the merchant and the elder of the frilly sisters spoke some part of English he proceeded to regale them with his stories, little knowing that at least four other persons in the diligence were listening and understanding all.

He seemed to hold his English ways to be the best, comparing what he’d seen and done in France since his arrival some few months ago to what he held superior in London. Paris streets were, by his reckoning, too narrow and too dangerous and lacking in the footways he so prized in London streets. The city of Auxerre, where they’d just spent the night, was dirty and had nothing to commend it in his view, nor to remark upon, despite the fact that Mary in the short time she had spent there had admired the cathedral and a Benedictine monastery and a stately clock tower that showed the movements of the sun and moon.

The merchant for a time chose to debate him in his views, until they fixed upon a shared dislike of Spanish foreign policy, which then occupied them for some time.

The elder sister, during this discussion, sent several apprehensive glances at the Scotsman, sitting as he’d sat the day before, in stoic silence, before finally she felt moved to tell the other men, “Señor Montero is from Spain.”

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