As promised, ten days later, John McClure paid a visit to Mrs. Randolph Matheson. She smiled at him, delighted to see him.
“Hello, Mr. McClure.”
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Matheson. I have a couple of things for you from your husband.”
“Oh,” was all she said, as she took them from him.
She led him into the sitting room, and when they had sat down, stared at the brown-paper package tied up with brown ribbon and the note accompanying it. She fingered it.
“Please don’t wait until I leave to open it,” McClure pleaded. “I’m much too curious.”
Shae laughed at him, and opened the note.
“I am safe here in New York. Work is satisfactory. I hope you are well. Matheson,” she read aloud, as McClure cleared his throat.
“Open the package!”
Shae laughed at him again. He was like a child at Christmas. Opening the package, she pulled out a beautiful ivory silk shawl with little brown wrens embroidered all over it. There was something so contradictory between the note and the gift. Shae scrunched her eyebrows in thought.
“He’s quite the odd fellow. He has a rather untapped emotional side that he keeps well-hidden under the veneer of respectability,” explained McClure, as if guessing her thoughts.
“Yes, I’ve seen it myself…” she murmured.
“And, I’ve brought something for you from New York too- from me.”
He pulled out a few pieces of sheet music from out of his inner jacket pocket.
“I apologize that they are a little bent. I was trying to make it a surprise and couldn’t think of another way to hide them.”
Shae took them, and perused them pieces. Chopin. Beethoven. Bach. She smiled at him widely.
“This is exactly what I’ve been wanting. Thank you.”
“You’re most welcome. Would you play for me? I’m getting a radical idea in my head and I want to ponder it while you play.”
“Certainly,” she said, making her way to the piano.
She started playing the Chopin piece for him. McClure looked thoughtful as she started, but after awhile she lost herself in the music. Chopin was one of her favorite composers. When she was done, a tear trailed down her cheek. She quickly wiped it away before her guest saw.
He asked her to play another one, and she complied. When she finished, he nodded at her.
“Yes, I think this idea will work. I can’t share it with you, not yet. Might I come to tea tomorrow afternoon?”
“If you come too often, it will cause a scandal.”
“True. I’ll bring a friend of the family, and actually your family by marriage. How about that?”
“But who?” she asked.
“I’ll let that be a surprise too.”
“So many surprises,” she stated. “But certainly come by tomorrow afternoon for tea with your guest.”
He bowed low and exited grandly, quite the showman.
The next day, he surprised her by bringing Beatrice Matheson. She looked behind them for a sign of Neva Langley accompanying them. It looked safe.
“Never fear,” he whispered, kissing her on the cheek, “it is only us two.”
“Good to see you again, Mr. McClure,” Shae greeted, “And you too, Beatrice. How are you faring?”
“Quite well, Lena. And you?”
“Lena! What is this madness?” McClure nearly shouted.
“Aunt Martha insists on calling me Lena and that Beatrice do the same.”
“What a bunch of drivel,” he retorted.
Shae laughed lightly, while Beatrice looked down at the floor. It looked like she was hiding a smile.
“Come, let’s have tea in the sitting room.”
After Shae served the tea, they began chatting. At first it was just McClure and Shae conversing about the weather. Beatrice sat quietly looking down into her tea cup most of the time. The conversation moved to the up-and-coming social season. Still Beatrice said little, but affirmatives or negatives to the questions that McClure or Shae asked her.
Out of curiosity, McClure started up the topic of geology, and the current scientific trend towards the theory of evolution. Shae looked at him, a bit bewildered at his choice of topic, until she saw some life flicker in Beatrice’s eyes. When Beatrice started inserting her opinions, McClure got a look of smug satisfaction on his face.
They continued on for about an hour, when McClure announced that it was time to go, and that they would be back again in a few days.
“Wouldn’t you rather come for dinner?” Shae asked. “We have this huge dining table and hardly anyone sits at it. I’d love to put it to use. Mrs. Harrison would also love the opportunity to cook for more than just me. I have her make the simplest of meals since it is only me. She’d love to show off some of the new recipes that she has learned from the French cookbook that I found in the library.”
“What say you, Miss Matheson? On Thursday evening?”
Beatrice agreed so readily, it made Shae wonder at her own circumstances. She probably felt much like Shae did a year ago, and like now, if she were being honest.
The evening meals or afternoon teas happened every few days for two weeks. Once a week, Beatrice would come with Neva too. Shae endured those teatimes with waning patience. That was the extent of the visits she received from people, but thanks to McClure, she didn’t feel quite as lonely or restless as she did before.
Near the end of the first week of August, Shae received a short note from Matheson. He was fine. He hoped she was fine. He’d be back in November, right before Thanksgiving. Signed, Matheson. So respectable, that Matheson.
It was now a Friday night. During the meal, the trio had talked on travel and where they wished to go someday. Beatrice had a great desire to see the world. Over the past two weeks, Shae began to see her in a new light. She saw that Beatrice was a muted soul, controlled by a dour, old woman and a vapid, nasty friend. She was actually quite intelligent, and had a soft gentleness about her that surprised Shae.
After dinner, McClure asked Shae to play a piece for him of her choosing. She played some Mozart for him, and Beatrice. When Shae finished, she rose and sat beside her guests. After some small talk, McClure announced that he wanted to propose an idea he had. Shae thought it was about time, since she’d been waiting for two weeks for him to tell her his idea.
“Shae since you are so talented on the piano, I was wondering what you thought about traveling to perform. I’d be happy to take care of all travel arrangements, and since most people pay their entertainment for their parties, it won’t cost me much. I’d travel with you for safety purposes.”
“That would be a most satisfactory experience as a pianist. However, it would be unseemly for us to travel together,” Shae said, shocked.
“Yes, it would. That’s where Beatrice comes in. She can be your traveling companion. She’s always wanted to travel, and you two get along well enough. What do you think of that, Beatrice?”
Beatrice’s mouth was hanging open and her face was red.
“Are you alright, Bea?” Shae asked.
“Yes, I’m merely shocked, is all,” she finally replied. “I- I don’t know how Mother would feel about it.”
“Hang your Mother. You’re 23 years old. Do what you want,” McClure exclaimed.
“I’m- I’m 27, Mr. McClure.”
“Even more the reason! Do you want to die in your Mother’s home filled with regret?”
Beatrice broke into tears. She covered her face with her hands.
“Really, Mr. McClure. Surely that was unnecessary.”
“It’s just Old Trix,” was his reply, “She knows I’m only jesting.”
Beatrice cried even harder, and Shae wondered if she had feelings for her friend, John McClure.
“If you’re Mother approved, would you like to go?” Shae asked her, looking her in the eye. “What if we sent a note to your house, asking for an answer?”
Beatrice looked at her and nodded. Shae coerced her to stand.
“Come, let’s go find Mrs. Klein. She can get you cleaned up. She knows ways to make the swelling in your eyes go down. In the meanwhile, I’ll have Canton send a message to your home.”
Shae gently led her out of the room and into the capable hands of Mrs. Klein. When she got back to the sitting room, she reprimanded Mr. McClure in such a way that his ears actually turned pink with embarrassment. After sitting a minute in ashamed silence, he cleared his throat.
“There is another part of this that I can’t share with Beatrice.”
Shae’s heart began to thunder. She was worried about what he might say. Surely he didn’t harbor feelings for her. He treated her and Beatrice the same, so she didn’t think that was it.
“Yes?” she croaked out.
“You said a couple of weeks ago that you wish you had a mission of sorts, correct?”
At her affirmative, he continued.
“Do you trust me, Shae?”
“I feel that you have a unique combination of talents. With your high level of intelligence, your aptitude to excel in nearly everything imaginable, as well as your ability to gain people’s trust, you have the makings of a fantastic spy,” he was whispering.
“A woman spy?” Shae rasped out, attempting to stay quiet despite all that McClure was throwing at her.
“Yes, I know a few. You see, I am a spy myself, employed by a discreet, moral company of investigators.”
Shae slumped back in her chair, thoroughly shocked. Mr. McClure continued.
“You would be excellent at it, really. I hope this doesn’t offend you, but when you want, you can really blend into the background. And your career as a performing pianist is the perfect cover for you. Brilliant talent for the public, and a shadow in the night.”
“What would I be investigating?”
“Nothing salacious or notorious. We uncover plots against government, bank fiascos, and find criminals in order to bring them to justice.”
Shae began fanning her face. It was a lot of information to absorb. Commissions to perform for audiences, travel with a family member-former enemy, and an offer to be a spy to boot. She was flummoxed. She opened her mouth to talk a couple of times, but didn’t have words.
“You certainly get some sort of thrill shocking people, I think. What would Matheson think?”
“He can’t know– not about the spy part, anyway.”
“And the traveling performances?”
“He’s not here to protest, is he?,” he scoffed. “He’s hundreds of miles away in New York City, trotting around pandering to rich socialites.”
Shae nearly snorted at his description of Matheson. Mr. McClure was right. He obviously had no interest in her or in what she did, as long as she looked proper. To her amazement, she found herself agreeing to it. It sounded intriguing, and she was tired of a dull life. He smiled in triumph when she agreed.
He was about to say more, when Beatrice walked in, looking much fresher, and actually quite lovely. As soon as she sat down, Mr. Canton walked in with the message for Beatrice from her mother. She seemed wondrous about the answer.
“What does it say, Miss Matheson?” McClure inquired.
“Finally,” she answered, showing the single word on the paper, written in all caps with three underlines.
“Apparently brevity in letter writing is a disease running rampant in the Matheson family,” Shae retorted.
They all laughed and then made plans.