Mary might have disagreed with that. She’d felt distinctly over-guarded strolling in the younger sister’s company outside the inn along the river, with MacPherson walking just behind them. He had kept two paces back and been discreet, but she’d been ever conscious of his watchful presence, and she’d known there’d be no hope of handing off her letter to the younger woman without him observing it. Still, she knew MacPherson, even if he understood a word or two of French, had not the depth of understanding to be privy to their conversation, so she had made use of that. And as she’d hoped, the younger sister had found Mary’s claim of thwarted love for the Chevalier de Vilbray to be romantic.
“Oh, you poor thing,” she’d told Mary. “Can your brother not be reasoned with?”
“My brother,” Mary had replied, “is quite a different man from what he seems, I am afraid.”
“What will you do?”
“I have a letter.” She had felt it in her pocket as she’d spoken, though she’d dared not draw it forth. “I have poured my very heart into it, and if I can but find some means to send it from Lyon, at least my gallant chevalier will be assured I’ve not forgotten him.”
“Why, I can send the letter for you.”
“Would you? That would be most kind.” She’d tried to sound surprised, as though this had not been her own design from the beginning. “I would give it to you now, but I do fear señor Montero would inform my brother.”
Glancing back, the younger sister had remarked to Mary, “He is not a man, I’ll warrant, who would know or understand the agonies of love.”
The devil had pricked mischief into Mary’s heart then, and she’d said, “Oh, you are wrong. He loved a woman once with all his being, but…” She’d paused then, and pretended great reluctance to divulge the tale, but actually she’d used the pause to call to mind the details of Madame d’Aulnoy’s fairy tale about the Russian prince who’d sought the fabled Isle of Happiness, where lived a magic princess and her court. Of course they fell in love and lived in perfect happiness three hundred years, until the prince had ruined things, which seemed the perfect story to reshape to fit a man such as MacPherson.
“But?” The younger woman’s eagerness to hear the story had shone in her eyes, and Mary had obliged, then added:
“It ended most unhappily. This woman had a beautiful estate, where they might both have lived in comfort and contentment all their lives, but he was restless there and went to seek his fame upon the battlefield, and so chose honor over love.” She’d paused again, for in the fairy tale the Russian prince was killed, but her invented story obviously could not have that ending. “When he finally did return, he found the gates of her estate forever barred to him.”
“Is that why he has come away from Spain and into France?”
Mary had nodded and had neatly turned the tale back to her purpose. “And I fear the same might happen if I cannot reassure my dear chevalier that he has not lost my love. If I can pass the letter to you while I’m traveling, I will. If not, perhaps we could contrive to meet tomorrow, at the great cathedral in Lyon. The one that was described to us.”
“The one with the celestial clock? Of course. Maman is keen to see it anyway, it will be no great trouble to persuade her we should go there. But your brother…”
“My brother will surely permit me to hear the Mass.”
Frisque had concluded his business and lifting his nose from the ground sniffed the wind with a wag of his tail before turning to lead them all back by the way they had come, trotting cheerfully past the tall Scotsman who’d stopped for the moment to let them pass by him, and then had turned with them and fallen in step at their backs as before.
The younger sister had frowned faintly. “I suppose it is as Maman says: we cannot know what people truly are by their appearance. I would not have guessed your brother was a tyrant. Nor would I have guessed señor Montero had endured a tragic love affair.” She’d chanced another backward glance towards MacPherson, walking with his long coat swinging and his hat pulled low. “Perhaps,” she’d said to Mary, “that is why he writes such sentimental poetry.”
The younger woman had in truth appeared to gaze with different eyes upon MacPherson during the remainder of their journey.
Now, as she stepped off the diligence d’eau and followed Mary’s path across the plank, she slipped her hand most willingly into the Scotsman’s, sending him a smile before she turned to shield her eyes against the lowered angle of the sun. Across the river Saône, a line of buildings stretched along the low stone wall that met the water’s edge, and in the midst of them the two square towers of a large cathedral rose with prominence. “Why, look, Maman, that must be the cathedral with the famous clock, do you not think?”
Her mother paused in mid-negotiation with one of the would-be porters to look also, and inquiring of the boatman she received the answer that indeed it was the same cathedral.
“Then we ought to go tomorrow,” said her daughter, adding charmingly to Mary, “Mademoiselle, will you come with us? We could meet you there at morning Mass. It would be most diverting.”
Mary thought the invitation well delivered with a passably convincing spontaneity. She played her part and said, “It’s very kind of you to offer, but my brother may have other plans…”
“Oh, do please let her come.” The younger woman turned a most appealing face to Thomson. “We’ll take very good care of her.”