Conveniently, each time she’d found herself approaching that level of weariness, MacPherson had stopped anyway for varied other reasons—once to readjust the crossed straps of his sword belts, and another time to work a bit of thorn out of the top edge of his boot—and so she’d gained her moment’s rest. Had she been more suspicious she’d have said that he was doing it on purpose, but it seemed such an unlikely thought that Mary had dismissed it almost instantly, remembering MacPherson did not do things out of pity.
Still, the third day in the afternoon, when she’d begun to feel her knees grow more unsteady as she climbed, she’d seen MacPherson glance behind a minute before he had stopped to reorder the portmanteau’s contents as though he desired to better distribute the weight.
Thomson, seizing the chance to set down his own burdens and sit for a moment, had grumbled, “My back will be bent by the time we get out of this desolate place. Can we not find an actual bed for tonight?”
But MacPherson in typical fashion was quietly focused on what he was doing and couldn’t be bothered to make a reply.
Stubborn man, Mary thought, as she’d watched his bent head, and as though she had spoken aloud he’d looked up then, directly at her.
Thomson, seeming to think that he hadn’t been heard, had tried again: “Can we not stop at an inn? Plainly no one has followed us, and I would happily risk being recognized if I could sleep but one night in a bed.”
After holding the silence for half a beat longer, MacPherson had dropped his gaze back to the task at hand. “If someone’s following us, ye’ll not see them,” he’d said. “And the risk is not only to you.”
As he’d fastened the straps of the portmanteau, he had glanced once more at Mary, who had just set Frisque on the ground for a moment to stretch out her arms. The dog wasn’t a great weight to carry, but holding her arms bent so long left them aching and numb.
MacPherson had watched her. And then he’d advised, “Let it walk.”
“He’s a ‘him,’ not an ‘it,’” she had said, “and he’s too old to walk so far.”
Frisque had already curled into a tight round of fur on the hard ground, his eyes drooping shut. For a moment MacPherson looked down at him, then bending forward he scooped the dog up with one hand and, before Mary could even offer a protest, he’d put the tiny spaniel in the large and deep hip pocket of his horseman’s coat. Frisque had all but disappeared, only his muzzle and eyes and ears showing, and after a brief scrabble round with his paws to align himself upright, the little dog had seemed delighted.
And after MacPherson had slung the repacked portmanteau on his back as before with the gun case and set out again, Mary could not deny it had made walking easier, not having Frisque in her arms. She was wearied at times by the weight of her cloak, but whenever the changeable clouds had rolled over the sun and the winds had blown harsh through the valleys and gorges she’d been very grateful to have it for warmth, and when sleeping she’d used it to soften her “bed,” rolling into its folds in the way she’d seen Mr. MacPherson roll himself within his great horseman’s coat when he lay down to rest before keeping his watch through the night.
Madame Roy says it is the particular way of the Highlanders, Mary had put in her journal, who in their own homeland of Scotland do wear a great garment of wool that will serve as a skirt or a cloak or a blanket according to need. She says her own father and brothers oft slept out of doors while they tended the herds, in all weathers, and never knew illness until they were come into France where they all slept inside the house and in their beds.
Thomson, she’d thought, although Scottish, could not have been bred in the Highlands. She could not imagine him sleeping outdoors in the snow, as Madame Roy had described to her—he was a man who’d spent his life in towns and craved their comforts.
When they’d passed beneath the high stronghold of Aubenas, he’d gazed up at its towers with great longing in his eyes, but they had passed it in the cold and misty dawning hour before the town had wakened, for their path was crossed here by a road that carried travelers from the west into the mountains of the Cévennes, and MacPherson had determined they should cross that road themselves before another person could be found upon it.
And then the rains had started, and they’d none of them had comfort after that.
All winter rains were desolate, but these had a relentless force that wore at Mary’s stamina. Even with her hood up and her head down she’d been wetted through, the lining of her cloak proving no barrier to such an onslaught. She’d been very thankful her journal and penner were safely wrapped up in the portmanteau Mr. MacPherson had charge of, and would not be ruined. He’d seen to that when the rain first had begun to grow fierce, by arranging the cases he carried so they lay beneath his loose horseman’s coat, gaining that extra protection on top of the fact that their leather was already oiled to resist the wet.
He’d moved Frisque, too. The pocket providing no shelter against the rain, Frisque had been buttoned into the warm space between Mr. MacPherson’s own waistcoat and undercoat, held there with a firm hand while the Scotsman walked.
Mary had begun to wish he’d carry her, as well, and she’d suspected had she asked he might have tried it, for he seemed to have a strength that knew few limits. But her own strength had been failing by the time they’d finally reached a place where shallow clefts and deeper caves began appearing in the steep rock face beside the path, and when MacPherson had stopped in the mouth of one such cave to rest a moment, she had needed no encouragement to follow.