Mr. MacPherson appeared as content as a man of his nature could be with his solitude, because when Mary had taken Frisque briefly outdoors and come in again, passing the door to the drawing room on her way up to her chamber, she noticed the Scotsman had settled himself in the chair she’d abandoned, his pipe laid aside and a book in his hand.
He remained in that chair throughout most of the next day.
She found it distinctly unnerving, him sitting there reading. At first she had found it amusing to see he’d been reading the book she had set down herself when she’d started to listen to Thomson: Madame d’Aulnoy’s Hypolitus, with its sensational string of adventures, professions of love, and a hero who wore his emotion so openly when with the heroine that in the space of a few pages he’d gone from “bathing her cheeks with his tears” to embracing her, to—when their parting was imminent—throwing himself at her feet. Mary tried to imagine Mr. MacPherson throwing himself at any woman’s feet, and failed.
And yet, he seemed to find the novel passable enough, for when he’d finished it just after breakfast he had set it down where he had found it, risen briefly from his chair to search the bookshelf by the fireplace, and resumed his seat with Madame d’Aulnoy’s Travels into Spain, ignoring everything and everyone within the drawing room.
Thomson seemed much cheered today and in a better temper, which to Mary’s mind was partly due to her deliberate effort to be kind to him. He sat now with their hostess and Madame Roy, who were playing at a lively game of backgammon and talking of their youth. It had occurred to Mary that both women, having lived at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, might well have known her parents, or her aunt and uncle, but she dared not ask them questions, for to share a common cause—as Thomson’s tale had clearly illustrated—did not mean that people could be trusted. And no matter how her brother might have let her down, she would not bring him trouble for the world.
Instead she’d taken up her journal, having had neither the time nor inclination to attend to it the night before, and sitting at the table by the window she was now intent on setting down her summary of what had happened yesterday, beginning with her walk and conversation with the younger of the frilly sisters at Mâcon, continuing through their arrival at Lyon and Thomson’s sad confession, and concluding with:
And after he had told me that and opened all his heart to me, I could not in good conscience keep my plan, and so this morning having chosen to continue with him I decided not to go to hear the Mass, despite his having offered to have somebody escort me, which I hold as further proof of his true good and generous nature. I have stayed instead withindoors with the others. I perceive that we are waiting, though I do not know for what. We are informed by Mrs. Foster that a coach stands ready to convey us to wherever we are going, but the hours pass and Mr. M— seems fixed in place with little wish to move, so—
Mary felt a sudden pricking at the bent back of her neck, and resisting the strong urge to raise her hand to shield the spot, she turned her head instead with careful nonchalance and found MacPherson’s gaze directed calmly at the pages of his book. It was the third time she had felt that he was watching her, yet either the sensation was the product of her overwrought imaginings or else he was too quick in his reactions to be caught.
It was imagined, she decided. There was nothing she was doing that would warrant the attention of the Scotsman, and he impressed her as a man who did not waste the slightest effort without need but only spent it with efficiency. Which meant that even now, when it appeared that he was idle, he most likely had a purpose known to none except himself.
If so, his face revealed no hint of it. He looked less fearsome, reading. With his gaze turned downward it had not the piercing steadiness that hardened all his features; and his mouth, although still crooked and uneven at its corners, was not set into its stricter lines. He looked almost…approachable, she thought. And while he never would be handsome and had not the will to charm, she did allow some women might yet find his hair attractive.
Having rarely seen it but by evening candlelight, and mostly in the day beneath his hat, she had observed today that in the sunlight angling through the window of the drawing room MacPherson’s fair hair had a range of hidden lights within it, from a color much like honey to a reddish tone that only showed when struck directly by the sun. It might have even curled, had not he kept it gathered neatly back into the black band at his collar.
He prepared to turn another page and Mary saw the movement of his eyelids and immediately looked away before he caught her looking. With her head bent as before above her journal she continued:
—we can do no more than wait until he leads us onwards. I confess I would not mind to spend more time here in this house, for Mrs. Foster is a very amiable hostess and her son is—
“Sir,” said Johnny Foster, entering the room in some disorder. He appeared to have just come from the outside, though Mary had not heard the front door open, so he must have entered by the back. His face was flushed as if from running. “You were right,” he told MacPherson. “He did come.”
MacPherson closed his book and set it to the side. “When?”
“Not a quarter of an hour ago. I recognized him easily from your description, so before he’d even had a chance to disembark I had got in before the other men and offered him my help, and as you’d said he would he asked if I had seen two men arriving with two ladies, and he gave me an account that matched you perfectly, and I replied as you instructed.”