Compared to the frosty winter night, the hotel room was downright tropical. The fire burning in the grate of their private drawing room was generous, the windows shut tightly and the curtains drawn against the noxious influences of the Parisian miasma.
Julian didn’t notice, attention fixated on the thin figure sitting on the sofa before the fire. Pip looked up as they entered, and the way his expression lifted as his eyes fell on Julian said everything about his relief. Julian dashed across the room to fling his arms around him.
Behind him, Cross cleared his throat. “I found our prodigal. You were right; he returned to the bridge.”
Pip patted his head. “That was very clever of you, Julian.”
He hadn’t felt clever. In fact, he hadn’t even considered doing anything else. Julian nuzzled Pip’s coat, breathing in the scent of home.
Cross snorted. “I’d better find Scott and let him know he can call off the police search.”
Julian could never tell which of Cross’s dry tones was his joking one, but Pip smiled. “You can tell the restaurant to send up Julian’s meal now. He’ll be famished.”
He was, but the thought of dinner was nothing to being found. Julian heard the door click shut behind Cross. “It was your scarf. I smelled it first.”
“Did you?” Pip’s hand rested on his head. “I shall have to apologise to Thomas. I wanted to go with him, but he insisted I wait here in case you came back to the hotel. He took my scarf with him as a compromise.”
Julian’s arms tightened reflexively around Pip. He did not want to think about why Cross had insisted Pip remain behind, but it was too late. His nose had caught the bitter scent of the medicine.
Pip coughed. “I’m very glad to see you, but your father needs to breathe.”
Reluctantly, Julian disengaged himself. He unwound the scarf, holding it out to Pip.
A rattle in the corridor outside indicated a waiter was on his way with his dinner. Julian opened the door before the man had even reached the door. He looked at Julian with surprise. “The young gentleman has good ears!”
Julian winced. Again, he hadn’t even thought!
“The young gentleman is very hungry.” Pip chuckled. “He’ll eat at the table.” He seated himself at the table, waiting as Julian was served. As the door closed behind the waiter, he spoke. “Did you really get lost chasing after a cat?”
Julian winced. “Yes, sir.”
Pip sighed. “How many well-brought up people have you seen chasing cats?”
Julian’s heart sank further. “Not very many.” Pip eyed him, waiting. “In fact, it might be more accurate to say none.”
“Exactly. You know better than this, Julian. What were you thinking?”
Julian concentrated on the steak in front of him, cutting it into tiny pieces. His stomach was empty, but he’d lost his appetite completely. “I wasn’t. Thinking, I mean.” He bit his lip. How to explain to his father that rush of instinct?
Worse, how to explain the cat? Thinking back, he’d seen many cats shy away from him, sensing the other part of him. The urge to pursue them had been there, but not as strong as this one. He bit his lip. If well-brought up young gentlemen did not chase cats, they especially did not chase cats that turned into boys. Julian swallowed. If his fathers found out about the boy, he would be in serious trouble.
Pip placed his hands flat on the table, leaning forward. “It’s imperative that no one suspects you are anything but the gentleman you appear. You understand that, don’t you Julian? Otherwise…”
Otherwise cages and injections and endless experiments. Julian tensed, fingers locking around his knife and fork. “I understand.”
“Quite apart from the danger to you, it was terribly rude to Mr Scott. As your tutor, you should be giving him all your respect, and that means obeying his instructions. When he returns, you’ll apologize for worrying him.”
Julian winced. He could see Latin translation in his future. “Mr Dawson, too?”
Pip looked up. “Mr Dawson?”
“He was with us when I saw the cat.”
Pip frowned. “Dawson. Why does that name sound familiar?”
“He’s the artist we met in Armadale.”
“The one who painted the selkie?” Pip’s eyes shone. “And he’s in Paris? I have been wanting to—” He caught himself abruptly, the enthusiasm fading from his face. He cleared his throat. “Thank him. For those charming sketches of you.”
Julian paused, weighing his father. He wasn’t sure about much when it came to human behaviour, but he was almost certain that was not how Pip had intended to finish the sentence. What had stopped him?
“It’s not polite to stare at people, Julian. Go on. Eat your meal before it gets cold.”
Julian obediently turned his attention to his meal.
Pip stood, occupying himself with rearranging the ornaments on a side-table. “Did you run across Mr Dawson by chance?”
“It depends on your definition of chance.” Julian swallowed a mouthful of meat. “Mr Dawson wrote Mr Scott from Paris. He was surprised to see us at least.”
“Mr Scott was very helpful in finding hotels for us and assisting with all the travel arrangements. And I thought he was asking after the state of my health an awful lot.” Pip and Julian shared a smirk. “Well, it doesn’t hurt anyone, I suppose. We would have stopped in Paris regardless, and you could do with a bit more culture.”
Julian nodded, thoughtfully. Dawson was culture, was he?
There was a distinctive tread in the corridor outside. The drawing room opened to admit Cross, followed closely by Scott. “Here he is. Julian, I think you have something to say to Mr Scott.”
Julian stood obediently, puzzled. Scott looked fatigued, but both Pip and Cross were firm that polite society did not comment on such things. What did he that leave him to say? He caught Pip’s eye. Right. “I’m very sorry, Mr Scott. I shouldn’t have run off like I did.”
“Scared me half to death.” Scott walked over to him. “You’re all right?”
“My feet are sore, and I was very hungry. But I’m all right.”
“Well, that is something.” Scott collapsed into an armchair. “Not quite the introduction to Paris I had in mind.”
“No, but an educational outing nonetheless. Julian will think twice before dashing off by himself.” Pip patted Julian’s head. “I’m thinking bed with no supper.”
Julian schooled his epression into impassive. After the day he’d had, curling up in his bed was a relief, not a punishment.
“An early night for all of us,” Cross suggested, drawing up his habitual armchair. “We’ve earned it.”
Pip cleared his throat. “Is the acquaintance you ran into by the Seine the same Mr Dawson responsible for those lovely sketches of Julian?”
Scott glanced at Julian. “That’s right. I’d forgotten you were acquainted with his work.”
Julian kept his expression bland. Scott never forgot anything.
“Invite him to join us for afternoon tea I’d like to thank him for taking such an interest in Julian. No, I forgot—they don’t do afternoon tea here.” Pip turned to Cross. “Would dinner be better?” His tone was so casual that Julian would have believed in entirely spontaneous—if he hadn’t known his father better than that.
“Dinner should be fine. It’s not as if we’re drowning in acquaintances.” Cross took the armchair nearest Pip’s sofa.
Scott was quiet a moment. Evidently weighing Dawson’s probable response against his desire to see him again. “I’ll ask,” he said at last. “But I must warn you, he is not a sociable fellow.”
“Naturally,” Pip said. “The artistic temperament.”
Julian cocked his head. “How come when I am unsociable it’s rude, but when Mr Dawson does it, it’s artistic?”
Cross scratched his chin. “An excellent question. You can ruminate on it in your bedroom.”
It didn’t matter how many lectures he received on the extra work created for the chambermaid, or the questions it raised, but Julian slept best only after trampling his bedsheets into a more comfortable nest. He curled up in the centre, shutting his eyes and preparing for sleep. But although his body was exhausted, his mind was another story. Just as his pursuit had been automatic, his thoughts strayed back to the cat boy with unerring persistency. Who was he? What was he? Why did he want to know Julian’s secrets? Did he get told off for forgetting himself? What did he mean by ‘too much time’ spent with humans?
His ears caught the tread of feet outside his door. Julian shut his eyes and concentrated on keeping his breathing regular.
The door cracked open. “Fast asleep,” Cross pronounced.
He heard footsteps approach and a blanket drawn up over him. “Are we doing the right thing?” Pip asked.
“We couldn’t leave him to be raised by scientists,” Cross said. “And there’s no one else we could trust with his particular needs.”
Pip stroked Julian’s hair. “I know. But even so, it’s so hard being a good example of a proper gentleman.”
Cross snorted. “Perhaps Julian would benefit from a bad example.”
“I’m perfectly serious. You know that we won’t be around to take care of him forever. When we’re gone, he’ll have to be able to comport himself properly.”
Julian fought to keep himself from gasping. Where were they going?
“There’s plenty of time for that yet,” Cross’s voice was the gentle one that only came out when the three of them were alone. “Mereweather has worked miracles with his patients. He’ll do the same for you.”
Pip’s fingers stilled on Julian’s hair. “If I go into the sanitorium, it will be alone. You and Julian won’t be able to accompany me.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Now, it’s high time you were in bed. This has been a tiring evening for you.”
Julian stayed still as Cross shepherded Pip from the room, but the moment the door closed behind them, he sprung to his feet. He paced up and down his bedroom, venting his agitation. Where was Pip going? Why was he not taking Julian? Because of his behaviour?
Julian came to a halt. He’d been sent away once before, to school, to learn proper behaviour. If he wanted to stay with his fathers and not be sent away, he had only one option. To behave exactly as a gentleman should.
He climbed back onto his bed, pulling his blankets straight and smoothing them out before climbing beneath them.The blankets felt both cold and too heavy. Julian lay still, willing himself to sleep. From now on, this was how he slept: perfectly ordinarily.