Agnes's arms, dumping posies into the dirt. Agnes began to wail.
"Ow! And look what you've done, you gouty lummox. Who taught you to walk, a blind man with no feet? You've ruined my flowers, you cursed son of a poxed whore!"
"A thousand pardons, mademoiselle," Max said politely as he bent to gather the posies back into the basket.
"And may a thousand devils carry you off to hell, you're trampling all over them with your big feet!" Agnes exclaimed. She jerked the basket out of his hands, lurching into him.
Max steadied her. "And I think you're a little drunk," he said, laughing and casting an appreciative eye at the girl's heaving and half-bare breasts.
"I most certainly am not!" Agnes huffed with indignation, her bosom swelling provocatively.
Then she spoiled the effect by belching and swiping at her mouth with the back of her hand. She began to sidle away from him. Max watched her a moment, his face relaxed with amusement, before he shook his head and, turning, went on his way.
Gabrielle had moved to a nearby bench in the gardens to wait for Agnes because the newspaper vendor had started to eye her suspiciously. She felt sick with disappointment. Why couldn't she fall in love with a simple man—a farmer or a shopkeeper? Instead first she had chosen Martin de Nevers, a duc's only son and heir to one of the most powerful houses in the kingdom. And now this Maximilien de Saint-Just . . . At best he was a thief. And at worst-She almost shouted with relief at the sight of Agnes running through the trees.
Agnes pressed a heavy black key into Gabrielle's hand. "Here it is," she said breathlessly, glancing back over her shoulder. "I think he suspects something."
"Why should he suspect anything?"
"I don't know ..." Agnes gave her a worried look. "Don't dawdle, Gabrielle. Get the ring and get out. He could return at any moment and, well, he has a look about him, around the eyes. I think he's a man who could be very, very dangerous if crossed."
Gabrielle nodded once and swallowed hard. "You should go back to the shop, Agnes, in case Simon and Dominique come back early and wonder where we are." She had gotten them out of the way that afternoon by sending them off with a pair of poles to do some fishing at the river, ushering them quickly out the door after dinner before Simon could notice the empty space in the jewelry case.
Squaring her shoulders, Gabrielle stood and began to walk with jerky movements toward the apartments above the Care de Foy.
The stairway still smelled of the same perfume, but this afternoon there was no rattle of a dice box and no woman's laughter. The building seemed strangely empty, although she could hear snatches of conversation and voices raised in argument from the cafe below.
Her hands shook so badly trying to fit the key into the lock that for one heart-stopping moment she thought he must carry more than one key and Agnes had picked the wrong pocket. Then suddenly it slid smoothly into the hole, the lock turned, and the door clicked open. Gabrielle darted inside and quickly shut the door behind her.
She didn't feel so nervous once inside his apartment, perhaps because there was already a familiarity about it. The broken glass from the windows and mirrors had been swept into one comer, but all his scientific paraphernalia—what hadn't been shattered by the explosion—still littered the shelves and tables of the large room.
She peered through the microscope, first with one eye and then with the other, but could make nothing out. She looked through the telescope and saw a square of blue sky. She tilted the instrument toward the galleries across the way, focusing on the newspaper vendor. His seamed and pitted face jumped before her, startlingly close, and she watched for a moment, fascinated, while he dug the wax out of his ear with a twig.
One end of the room was dominated by a large fireplace equipped with a spit and trivet for cooking, but there were no ashes in the grate. He probably eats