Here he stopped to draw a breath while all the others, save MacPherson, stared at him.
MacPherson waited. “And?”
His breath by now somewhat restored, the lad went on, “And when I told him you were gone away again this morning towards Avignon, he did not wait to hear another word, but told his boatman to untie the moorings and continue on. He was not but five minutes at the quayside, and once I’d watched him out of sight I ran back here to tell you, sir.”
MacPherson gave a nod, which Mary could have told young Johnny was the closest he could hope to come to getting praise.
“I’m all at sea,” complained his mother. “Who has come?”
Beside her, Thomson slowly smiled in open admiration. “Mr. Stevens,” was his guess, and having read the confirmation in MacPherson’s unexpressive face he added to their hostess, to explain, “We had an Englishman who traveled with us and who caused us trouble. We escaped him at Chalon, and I had hoped that was the end of him, but now I do perceive Mr. MacPherson neither shared my hope nor counted on it, for which lack of faith I am inordinately grateful.”
As should they all be, Mary reasoned. With the current of the river, Stevens would be traveling much faster by the water than they’d travel by the road. They’d be behind him now and not before him, which for any hunted prey produced a great advantage.
Rising to his feet, MacPherson stretched as though to sit so long had left his shoulders stiff, and turning, said to Mrs. Foster, “Call your coachman.”
Luc saw me looking at my watch and smiled. “He’ll call us when he needs us. And it’s only been ten minutes since we dropped him off. Relax.”
“It isn’t that.” I wasn’t worried about Noah. Even though he clearly didn’t like to take piano lessons, he’d seemed happy when we’d left him at his teacher’s house. She had three cats.
“It’s nothing.” I could hardly tell him I was keeping track of time while I was answering his questions to make sure I wasn’t monologuing. “Anyway, I’m boring you.”
“I’m not bored. Why would I be bored?”
“Because it’s really boring, what I’m telling you,” I reasoned. He had asked me about ciphers and their history and I knew I’d rambled on a bit, but thankfully, as he’d said, it had only been ten minutes. I’d been worried it had been much longer, given that I’d only now just realized we were walking down a different street.
I really liked this little town, called Carrières-sur-Seine, a short drive north along the river from Chatou. The oldest section had retained its ancient character, with houses that had clearly stood for centuries, their walls of rustic limestone and rough plaster mellowed warmly by the weather and the years. The town was built into a hillside and its narrow streets were set on different levels, winding down towards the languid River Seine.
We passed a tight gap where a flight of stone steps steeply dropped between two houses, giving me a brief view of the roofs below, a bit of green that might have been a park, the shining silver strip of river, and a smudge of leafless trees.
Luc said, “I’ll tell you if I’m ever bored.”
He wouldn’t, though, I knew. He was too nice. I dipped my chin a fraction so my mouth just touched the soft edge of the scarf I wore—the blue scarf Luc had bought for me a week ago in Paris. It had fast become my favorite.
“Are you cold?” he asked.
“Not really. Just my hands.”
“My hands are warm.” He held one out to make it clear that was an invitation, so I took it, liking how his fingers closed with care around my own.
I liked the whole sensation, actually, of walking hand in hand with Luc. Our steps matched well. We weren’t so far apart in height—with taller men I had to walk more briskly to keep up, but there was no need to adjust my stride at all when keeping pace with Luc. We fit together naturally.
I would have called it “comfortable” except it wasn’t. I felt too aware of him, too flutteringly nervous on the inside to be comfortable. This felt much closer to the first relationships I’d had in adolescence than the ones I’d had more recently: the thrill and the anticipation and the all-consuming thoughts that I’d begun to have of him. And then again, in some ways it felt nothing like those earlier encounters either, leaving me confused as to exactly what it did feel like.
Like Luc, I told myself. It feels like holding hands with Luc.
He asked, “What would you like to talk about?”
“I’ve never been. You have.”
“Yes, well, my mother’s an American.”
“I know. Denise told me.”
“You talk about me with Denise?” He didn’t seem put out. In fact, he looked a little pleased.
“Sometimes. Is that all right?”
“Of course.” His fingers moved and slipped between my own until our hands were more securely linked together. “What else has she told you of my family?”
“That your mother and your brother moved to California when he went to school, and left you here,” I said. “Do they still live apart, your parents?”
“No, that was a temporary situation. Now they live together, half the year in Paris, half in California.”
“And your brother?”
“He’s in California, still. He loves it there. He works for the same company I do, for Morland Electronics, only his job is much more important than mine.”