They met in passing at house parties as if by chance, though I was vain enough to think he followed us so that he could have a chance to tryst with me. She did not pay undue attention to him, aware that many women’s eyes were upon him, for his lithe figure and handsome countenance was much admired. But he watched her play with great attention, trying to understand her power over the cards.
‘I can’t understand your system,’ he said to her as they promenaded through Percy’s gardens, with me one step behind, holding her parasol.
‘What do you mean by system?’ she asked, distracted by the spring blooms.
‘Oh, I see, ‘ she said, once he had explained. ‘No, I play entirely by feeling. You see I can feel the emotions of others, their sudden shifts, the changes in their mood.’
‘But you may get taken in by a liar,’ he said.
‘I think there is little chance of that,’ she laughed lightly. And then he asked her to teach him her method, whatever it might consist of. ‘That sort of thing cannot be taught,’ she explained, ‘but I can teach you the rules of the game, and we can play against each other until you acquire your own style.’
He was eager to begin, but she said, ‘Not here. When the season is done, I will receive you in my own house and then you will learn.’ He saw the wisdom in that and readily agreed.
That night when we lay side by side, the breeze of the night drying the salt off our wet bodies, I asked why he was eager to learn gaming.
‘I’d like to take you away, my girl. But I am low on money and need to make my way in the world.’
‘The two of us, only, do you mean?’
‘Yes, just us. No more prying eyes or boring conversation with these stultified mummies. We’ll go elsewhere, Brazil or the Indies where we can live in the open. I’ll cover you with silks and jewels and you will no longer have to trot when Madame Marie calls.’ He sealed his lies with kisses so deep that I felt the stars coming down to earth and settling in my body.
When the season was over, we went back to New Orleans and she prepared the house and prettied it up. ‘I don’t receive people normally. I live poorly compared to my friends and…’ she trailed off. And then she asked, ‘Do you think that man can be trusted?’
And I said, yes, because he had saved our lives, hadn’t he?