“Ile de la Cité,” Scott announced, brown tweed jacket flapping behind him as he strode across the Petit Pont. “One of only two natural islands within the Seine. Until recently a hotbed of sin and vice.”
Julian glanced at the waters of the Seine, seeing the reflection of the grey stone embankments and the clouds above. “Any particular variety of vice?” No answer. He looked up. His tutor’s jacket tails vanished around a corner. Julian gave chase.
He caught Scott before the towering facade of an immense gothic cathedral. “Notre Dame.” Scott motioned over his shoulder, his eyes scanning the charcoal stalls and fruit hawkers. “Foundation stone laid in the tenth century. Finished thirteenth. Bells. Windows. Revolutionary wine store.”
Julian turned towards the cathedral. On this drab day, the stained glass was oblique, catching the shadow rather than the light. Incense mingled with the mustiness of old buildings and the bitter tang of the open sewer grate. He breathed in, digesting the smell of the city.
“This way.” Scott took off again.
Julian trotted after him. “Aren’t we going to see anything?”
“What do you think we’re doing?” Scott jogged down a stone-paved street, eyes on the opposite bank of the Seine. “Tour of the city, acquainting you with the sights of Paris.” He dived to the right, avoiding a collision with a photograph peddler. “Pont d’Arcole.”
Julian narrowed his eyes, following his tutor across the bridge. Was this a tour or a hunt? As they jogged along the embankments, he caught a whiff of tobacco cut with turpentine and pomade. He jerked his gaze up to his tutor, filled with suspicion.
Scott scanned the embankment below. His expression cleared. “Why, who have we here?” He darted down the stone steps to a figure seated before an easel. “Frank. What a surprise!”
Dawson raised his gaze from his canvas. His brown eyes were unfocused, looking at them from a long distance. He blinked, shaking his head. “Basil? What the devil—” His gaze fell on Julian. He swallowed his next words. “Well, this is unexpected.”
“Quite,” Julian agreed. “An astonishing coincidence.”
Amusement flickered in Dawson’s eyes as he stood. He wore his usual grey suit, but had replaced his usual tweed cap with a grey hat with a blue band as a concession to Paris. “So astonishing, in fact, that one hesitates to call it a coincidence.” He raised an eyebrow at Scott.
Scott tugged at his tie. “I don’t know what you mean. Julian’s father has come to France for a cure and broke his journey in Paris. We’re taking in the sights—”
“Some sights more than others.” Julian eyed Scott.
Scott gave him a suppressive look. “—and it occurred to me that since your last letter was postmarked in Paris, we might just spot you at your work.”
Dawson’s gaze rested on Julian. “Is that so?”
Julian recognised that expression: someone who had things to say they did not wish him to hear. “There’s some Paris over there I haven’t seen yet. I’ll take it in while I have the chance.”
Scott shot him a suspicious look, but Dawson barely waited until he turned his back.
“I thought I made it clear I work best undisturbed,” he said, voice a low whisper.
“Of course you do, old chap.” Scott soothed. “We won’t interfere, I promise. But I had to see you.
Julian rolled his eyes. People fussed over the silliest things, from the state of carpets to when Julian slept or how much he ate. Even the apparently sensible Scott was no exception.
“You’ve seen me. Now clear off.”
“Come on, Frank,” Scott wheedled. “You’re somewhat glad to see me. Admit it.”
Of everything Scott could fuss over, why Dawson? Julian studied them. Both men were engrossed in their conversation. Dawson was tall, angular and self-contained. Compared to Scott’s comfortable plumpness, he appeared eminently more capable of taking care of himself. His smile was grudging. “All right. I’m not as annoyed as I should be.”
What business did Scott have to look rapturous? “One of these days, you’ll slip up and be happy to see me.”
Dawson snorted. “You know how I feel about you.”
Was it the fact that Dawson was so aloof? Nothing alarmed others more than a taste for solitude.
“A reminder wouldn’t hurt.”
Perhaps it was the moustache? Dawson kept his sandy whiskers impeccably groomed. Everything else came second to his art, and he never seemed to notice the paint on his clothes or charcoal smudges on his skin, but his moustache was improbably perfect.
Dawson chuckled, his tone warm. “I trust you’re not angling for a refresher now. There is a limit to even the Parisien’s laissez-faire.”
Scott placed his hand on Dawson’s arm. “Perhaps we should continue this discussion later. Julian has very sharp hearing—and a bad habit of repeating what he hears at the dinner table.”
Julian turned away. His gaze grazed over Dawson’s easel. With a physical shock, he felt it grip him.
They’d taken in the Latin Quarter at a breakneck pace, but glanced over the work of the artists along the Seine. Most used the river as the foreground for the main focus of their work: the grand edifice of Notre Dame. Dawson alone painted the water. True, Notre Dame was there, reflection warped by the water’s movement into something unrecognisable in the Seine’s murky depths. But it was the river that was alive, challenging, twisting perceptions, threatening to take hold and drag the viewer under.
Julian drew a shuddering breath, only then realising he’d stopped breathing. He didn’t remember crossing the distance between himself and the easel, but he now stood in front of it.
It’s just a painting, the sensible part of his mind said, the part that ate breakfast and parsed Latin verbs. The other part of him, the part they didn’t speak about, was alert to danger. His nose twitched, wet paint and pipe smoke drowning out any danger signals. His ears caught only the crunch of Scott’s footsteps as he stood behind him.
What was wrong? Nothing in the painting explained this. Nothing? No. There in the right corner, a distorted shadow, as if a man stood on the bank. Or was he beneath the surface? Was he the menace that permeated the painting?
“Frank.” Scott’s voice made him jump. He’d forgotten his tutor. “How long has this been going on?”
Dawson’s knuckles were white where they gripped his pipe. “It’s not just me then. You feel it too?”
“This…” Scott shook his head, turning away from the canvas. “Tell me everything.”
Julian turned with him. As he did, his skin prickled with awareness. Someone watched him.
“It’s a lingering unease.” Dawson nodded towards his canvas. “It started about the time I wrote to you. I could still dismiss it then as a nightmare. Now… No matter where I go, what I paint…”
Julian stepped back, focusing his gaze on the cobblestones. His ears strained, sorting through the myriad of city sounds for the one that didn’t belong.
“Where are you staying? Are you alone?”
Francis’s laugh was bitter. “Call me a coward, but after the third week, I couldn’t face my studio. My godmother has taken a suite at a hotel. I’m staying with her and her husband.”
Something shifted in the shadows, a furtive sound. Julian looked up, saw the flash of his eyes reflected in the startled gaze of the cat. Eyes that did not belong to any human stared into eyes that never belonged to a cat—and then it moved, launching its grey body up the steps and across the street at full tilt.
Julian knew to hide his instincts, that well-behaved members of society did not sniff each other, that it was better to walk on two legs than four, but he had not learned to suppress this. When something ran, he chased it.
“Julian! Come back this instant!”
Scott might have saved his breath. Julian didn’t hear him. Focused only on the cat, he pelted down the Paris street.