“An Englishman!” Thomson at first had exclaimed when he’d seen their new papers, while they’d been awaiting their coach and its driver. “I fear that I’ll not be convincing.” Yet Mary, observing him since, had decided he was at least as accomplished as she was at changing his skin. He’d adapted his accent to hide any trace of inflection that marked him as Scottish, and did it so perfectly Mary’s own accent seemed rustic beside it, although their new names and relationship kept that from being a problem.
Mrs. Foster had said, “If they found you in Paris, they’ll know you were posing as brother and sister and that you made yourselves out to be French. And that’s how you stayed on your journey to me, did you not? Which is why you’re now changed to be husband and wife.”
Madame Roy had not liked that arrangement at all, until Thomson had promised her he would not take it so far as to share Mary’s chamber, and that they could all carry on as before, only Madame Roy was Mrs. Grant now, and Thomson and Mary were Mr. and Mrs. Symonds, and keeping on in his role as a servant, MacPherson was now Mr. Jarvis.
He made, to be sure, an unusual servant. The more Mary saw him with Thomson, the greater her wonder that anyone watching the two men together would ever count Thomson the master. MacPherson stood straighter and strode with more confidence, and Thomson looked to him always and followed his lead, yet whenever they came to an inn or an alehouse, the people they met were accepting of what they were told, treating Thomson with all the regard of a gentleman, leaving MacPherson to fend for himself. Which appeared to be what he preferred.
For the whole of their journey from Lyon, not once had MacPherson sat with them inside the coach, riding beside them instead on a series of horses he’d hired and replaced when they’d stopped to change theirs. Mary reckoned the horses he’d used must have been fair exhausted at finishing each leg of travel, from carrying not only his weight but that of his swords and his gun case. The cleverness of its design had grown clear when he’d first strapped it onto the side of his saddle: with the top half of the cylinder removed and secured behind, the now-modified traveling case made a boot into which the long rifled gun could slide and remain there at rest, close to hand if he needed it. So far, to Mary’s relief, he’d not needed it. But he remained ever watchful.
When he had signaled the coach to turn in at the yard of the inn here, he hadn’t turned with them. Instead he had made a complete circuit of the inn, making sure all was in order, and now with a clopping of hooves his horse drew alongside them. MacPherson dismounted and ran one hand over the horse’s damp withers before he began to unfasten the straps of his gun case.
Thomson remarked, “I could do with a cup of spiced wine. I am feeling the cold in my bones tonight.”
The man by the stable door had begun kissing the woman so boldly their coachman called over in French and reminded the man there were two ladies present and he would be well advised to take his woman indoors, or at least to the relative privacy of an unoccupied stall, whereupon the man called back in very bad French with a thick English accent that he and the woman were only enjoying themselves and the coachman should mind his own business.
MacPherson, at the hard exchange of voices, briefly glanced from one man to the other before lowering his gaze to the last strap and fitting the top once again to his gun case, but Thomson, affronted, stepped into the fray.
“Come now, sir. Are you English?” he asked, in that language. “If so, then you ought to have manners much better than those you display.”
The man by the stable door turned so the light from the lantern nearby showed the shape of his features. “Indeed I am English, and sir, you are well met. I meant no offense.” Evidently the scant light allowed him to take note of Thomson’s superior clothes, because he touched his hat brim respectfully. “I’ve been a long time on the road and I trust you won’t blame me for taking a kiss where it’s willingly offered.”
Which answer apparently satisfied Thomson, who having received his apology nodded acknowledgment of it and started to head for the door of the inn.
But Mr. MacPherson asked curtly, “And is it?”
The man replied, “Is it what?”
A person who’d never encountered MacPherson might well have believed from his tone that he cared not what answer was given. But Mary had heard how he’d spoken in Paris mere moments before he had killed, and without even seeing his face she could tell he was now in a mood that was dangerous.
Having not had her experience—nor, it seemed, any great instinct for caution—the stranger allowed his own voice to grow heated. “Of course it is. Haven’t you eyes in your head?”
Having finished securing the long gun and slinging the case on his shoulder, MacPherson turned round. The light from the lone lantern hanging within the wide door of the stable could not reach the place where he stood.
Thomson had retraced his steps and sought now to undo what he’d started. “Come, Jarvis,” he said to the Scotsman. “The woman in truth does look willing enough, and I must get my own wife indoors and to bed. Let us not interfere with another man’s pleasure.”
MacPherson ignored him, and in the same tone as before told the stranger, “I’d hear it from her, and not you.”
The woman had, during this interchange, kept her face turned from them, either in shame or from modesty. That she was local was plain from her clothes and the style of her headdress. MacPherson now called upon Mary, and said, “Mrs. Symonds, you speak French. Ask her.”