Her mother thought that foolish. “Every girl does need a husband to take care of her; to love her and protect her. What do you think, Monsieur Robillard?”

The question interrupted Thomson in his conversation with the merchant, but he took it in his stride and turning asked, “I beg your pardon?”

“Would you not wish to see your sister marry well?”

The fact that such a thought had never crossed his mind was plainly written on his features as he sought to frame the proper answer, none too certain of the conversation he was being asked to join.

The mother pressed him further, “You would surely not desire she should be always your companion, with no chance to know the joys of being someone’s wife.”

“No,” he said, “I—”

“Truly,” said the mother, with a knowing air, “I do suspect you’ll one day find your noble friend, the good Chevalier de Vilbray, has stolen her away from you, for as I do perceive he has already claimed her heart.”

The elder daughter, who’d been saddened earlier that morning by the loss of Mr. Stevens in their company, revived now with a wistful smile. “He’d certainly lay claim to mine,” she said, “if he behaved to me as gallantly as he has done to Mademoiselle Robillard. Come, mademoiselle, do share another story of your handsome chevalier and his adventures, for the morning is a dreary one and all of us need cheering.”

Mary felt little inclined to tell stories, but neither did she want to spread her own ill mood to those who had no part in causing it. Pushing the pain of her headache aside, she started to weave a new tale of a voyage on which her invented Chevalier de Vilbray—who now had grown taller as well as more chivalrous than his original—found himself traveling with villains and thieves who intended him harm. It was one of her most inspired stories and filled with excitement and intrigue, and when it had finished the mother and daughters and even the merchant were rapt with attention and greatly impressed.

“Well!” The mother leaned back as she let out the breath she’d been holding. “Your friend the chevalier is certainly one of the bravest of men.”

“Yes,” said Mary. “He is.”

At her side, the young sister had taken a pencil and paper from out of her pocket and was noting down the key points of the story. “My aunt,” she explained, “will be highly diverted by this when I write to her next. You don’t mind if I tell her?”

“Of course not.” Her tale finished, Mary was just on the point of allowing her own eyes to close when she stopped. Her aunt… “Do you write to your aunt very often?”

“Oh, yes. She is widowed, you see, and has little in life to amuse her, and when we are traveling she finds it lonely to not have us near, so I write little letters and post them whenever I can. I shall send her the next from Lyon.”

“Very kind of you,” Mary acknowledged, but absently, her own mind traveling now on a new course of thought. Her Aunt Magdalene and Uncle Jacques were not wealthy, but were she to write them a letter they surely could manage the small price that they’d have to pay to receive it. And were she to ask for their aid they’d be sure to do what they were able to do to assist her.

Lyon was no village, she knew, but a city—much larger than any of the places they’d stopped before this. If Mary could get to a church and a priest she could make her confession and still keep her oath to Sir Redmond. A priest would not put Mr. Thomson in danger, because being bound by the sanctity of the confessional, he’d be unable to pass on the details of what Mary told him; yet having once heard those same details, a priest would most certainly also be bound, at the risk of her soul, to protect her from further exposure to vice. She could ask for protection until Uncle Jacques could arrange for her safe return to Chanteloup-les-Vignes.

Hope found a small fertile place to take root in her heart.

As if sensing the change in her mood, Frisque grew restless again. He turned thrice in her lap this time, pawed at her skirts, and then suddenly gathered his haunches and leaped from her lap to the knee of the Scotsman across from her. Mr. MacPherson’s strong leg did not look like a comfortable bed for the dog, but Frisque turned round and settled upon it decidedly, tucking his nose firmly under his paws.

Mary had at first been too surprised to react, but before she could lean forward and retrieve the dog the Scotsman’s hand descended on Frisque’s back and stayed at rest there, holding him securely. To anyone who had no notion of MacPherson’s nature, such a gesture might have seemed to be protective and endearing, but to Mary’s eyes it was but an example of the Scotsman’s way of keeping everything around him firmly under his control.

And although Frisque had not the sense to feel uncomfortable beneath that hold, for Mary it was growing more important to break free of it.

* * *

She wrote the letter late that night, when they had stopped to sup and sleep at Mâcon. Madame Roy had grown accustomed to the sight of Mary writing in her journal and made no remark upon it when she took herself to bed. And when the older woman’s breathing slowed and deepened into slumber, Mary dipped her quill into fresh ink and on a new page wrote a careful message to her aunt and uncle, ever mindful that her letter, once she’d sent it, would be passed from hand to hand and might be read by unintended eyes, particularly as it must be carried close by Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which was, as Mistress Jamieson had warned her, “full of prying eyes and those who love exposing secrets.”

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