(1310-11-11) The Society for the Scrounging of Supper
Summary: A young man visits Oriane Somerville de Toluard bearing a letter of introduction — he is introduced as well to one of her most frequent callers, who has a similar idea in mind…
RL Date: 11/11/2018
Related: None.
oriane symon etienne 

Salon — Maison de la Porte Bleue

Two square chambers are united by broad sliding doors of black-painted wood, creating a double cube lined with simple white boiseries and floored by squares of dark and light parquet in an echo of the marble downstairs.

The resulting combined salon is sparsely furnished with a few small chairs and tables light enough to be rearranged at will, their styles mismatched but harmonious, all of them painted white. In the rear chamber a single large sofa covered in deep sapphire-blue velvet is placed against the wall to the left as one enters it, across from the fireplace to the right.

The small balcony overlooking the Rue du Port, is echoed by a much larger one on the opposite side of the double cube, between the sofa and the hearth. Sliding doors, similar to those in the middle of the salon but set with diamond-shaped panes of leaded glass to let the light in, give onto a fragrant bower suspended amidst a magnificent view of the harbour. Small orange trees grow in pots, scenting the air with their sweetness; the blue wrought-iron railings are festooned with windowboxes planted with such useful household staples as rosemary, thyme, basil, sage, and lavender. And, for pleasure's sake, every white flower that might hope to thrive in the climate of Marsilikos has a place here, whether in a hanging basket or a pot moved inside at night. Overhead stretches a black and white striped canvas awning, the angle of which can be adjusted by lever to provide shade to plants and persons resting beneath it as the southern sun moves in its course.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a bachelor of moderate fortune, let loose alone in a great city for the first time in his life, must be in want of a square meal. Symon de Perigeux has taken to rolling up to the house with the blue doors in the Rue du Port not too long before dinnertime. It's so convenient, after all — just down the street from his flat — and Oriane Somerville de Toluard not only keeps a respectable table but shows a commendable willingness to make room at it for any lost lambs from Siovale who might stray across her threshold.

He isn't obliged to sing for his supper, only to listen for it.

Thus, the Perigeux heir deep in his second glass of wine and held fast to his chair by a sleepy white kitten lolling on her back in his lap, paws akimbo; and thus, the doyenne of the usurpers tending to the most delicate of her pot-plants, which she has lately brought inside from her balcony for the winter. Today as much of her conversation is for her miniature orange trees as for her visitor, who is himself enough of an habitué of the establishment to be invited into the concerns of kittens and plants alike. Some of the latter are still flowering, for her, weeks after the last petals have fallen from the rest of their kind even here in the far south. They seem to flourish upon the diet of light and warmth and genuine concern she tailors to the tastes of each during these daily interrogations. If now and again Symon wearies ever-so-slightly of the exigencies of cyclamens, at least the rapid growth and the daily doings of Daisy and Dahlia never pall. Just look at that tiny pink nose, and those whiskers quivering as Dahlia dreams…

Out in the Rue du Port the fish bell rings. Dahlia starts awake — rolls one way and then the other, trying to get her paws under her — does so — digs her claws into Symon's thigh — and springs straight up onto the table at his elbow, hardly landing in her haste to take cover in the cushioned kitten-nest by the fire which, being comprised mostly of Oriane's old clothes, smells of safety.

"I wonder who that could be," remarks Oriane into the glossy green leaves of an orange tree. "We're not expecting anyone, are we?" she inquires of it.

Distant sounds in the foyer soon result in Madelon, bearing a letter for her mistress and the intelligence that the young man who brought it asked if he might wait. Oriane raises her eyebrows and then examines the handwriting in which her name is inscribed: she doesn't immediately recall it. To Symon she ventures, "You'll forgive me if…?" She holds up the letter, and the seal breaks crisply in her hands as she drifts sofaward. "It may be urgent," she apologises; "but then, if it isn't, I need think no more of it whilst I have your company."

Symon much prefers company for dinner than eating alone with no one but a servant in the room. So he is only too happy to listen, whether he absorbs or not. He's right in the middle of poking a finger into the kitten's soft belly when he has to pull his hand out of the way of scrabbling claws. He winces when it grabs onto his thigh. "Ugh, w-why should a kitten need to answer the door, anyway?" he complains. But of course his host is a different matter and he nods permission. "Of course."

Étienne, also a bachelor of moderate fortune in want of a square meal, picks a similar time to present his letter to his Grandmère's distinguished relative, being not nearly as foolish as he looks and occasionally behaves.

He presents himself freshly scrubbed in a formal, northern-cut tunic of black with forest green embroidery, wearing his best boots, dyed green to match. His shoulder length curly hair has been pomaded into a tail, that is likely to stay put, at least, instead of follow its usual wayward tendency towards escape. The pomade has added a pleasant soft citrus tinge to the sea scent that clings to him and the natural musk of his skin. He has replaced the practical leather thong he usually uses to tie back his hair with a green ribbon. He has freshly trimmed his goatee and shaved around it. He has carefully scraped his boat bottoms before entering and straightened his tunic. In short, he is determined to do his very best impression of a sound young gentleman for his most famous, if rather distant relative. He has, after all, been raised both with her legend and the more personal reminiscences of his Grandmère.

The letter is from the dowager baronne Agnès d'Arguil, introducing Étienne as her grandson and hinting that he could use a bit of straightening up, but that he's a good lad underneath the nonsense. It then goes on to discuss the health of various family members and her serious concerns over the the marriage negotiations of the dowager's namesake, the eldest granddaughter, who has too much sense and spirit to be happy in the marriage her son seems intent on making.

Oriane favours Symon with an appreciative smile and unfolds the letter as she seats herself upon the blue sofa, next to a silver-mirrored candlestand which sheds light enough for comprehension of her correspondence.

The gist of the opening paragraphs is enough to inspire a signal to Madelon, to bring the boy upstairs; one part of her quick mind skims over the rest whilst another counts the maid's footfalls down the stone steps to the entrance hall, and the paired footfalls which mount together to the first floor.

"The grandson of one of my more distant Toluard cousins," she murmurs to Symon, as she refolds the letter and sets it aside just in advance of the young man's advent, and rises again from the sofa. By way of drawing her other caller into a cosy little conspiracy she suggests: "Let's have a look at him, shall we?"

Madelon pronounces: "Lord Étienne d'Arguil."

The woman who comes forward to meet Étienne through this sparse white chamber with more plants in it than chairs, is as he must expect in her elder years, with white hair simply dressed. It's apparent at a glance that her ancestors gifted her with a full measure of d'Angeline blood, that she was once a woman of unusual beauty, that her smile betokens a ready pleasure in making his acquaintance.

Her gown is rather Hellenic in style: that is, to a northern youth surely practiced in tuning out his younger sisters' sartorial debates, it's narrow and sort of drapey and bound about the torso and the waist with a narrow black velvet ribbon. In the warmth of her own salon a shawl about her shoulders compensates for its lack of sleeves, knitted from white wool fine and soft as lace and glimmering with four thousand or more infinitesimally tiny crystal beads. They would be invisible in shadow, but amid the play of candlelight and firelight they blaze as she moves, hinting at a pattern of flowering vines. She is already offering him a well-lined but well-kept hand, upon the ring finger of which is a silver signet engraved with the 'OE' ligature, formed partly by the likeness of a crescent moon. "Lord Étienne," she exclaims in a pleasant alto; "how do you do? I'm Oriane Somerville; may I make you known to a good friend of mine, Lord Symon de Perigeux—?"

"B-by all m…means," Symon agrees, since any grandson is probably at least /close/ to his age. So he looks curiously toward the door to see what the shape of this grandson dinner companion will be. He lifts a hand in a sort of greeting without standing up. "Hello," he offers as a perhaps uninspired opening.

Étienne moves well, with a simplicity and elegance rather like the line of a well trimmed sail. One foot forward he gives her a deep and proper bow, with that same grace that wastes no motion. He takes her hand, brushing his lips lightly against skin and ring. As he straightens, his eyes find her face from under long dark lashes. The effect of his attempt at being proper rather foiled by the frank curiosity in those intensely blue eyes. His judgement of her looks is not obvious. His accent is pure Azzallese, rather than the refined tones of the South, though correct in its way. "It is a pleasure to meet you both." He finally drags his gaze from her face to take in her other young visitor. He flashes the other young man a warm smile graced with a particularly charming set of dimples. "Salutations, Lord Symon de Perigeux."

The maid Madelon has quietly produced another crystal glass, and filled it from the decanter of superb Bordeaux wine which is always put out to greet House Perigeux's bibulous heir. Oriane claims it and offers it with her own hand to Étienne, gathering him up with a grandmotherly smile and drawing him after her into the half of that double-cube salon where Symon sits, logs crackle in the hearth, and kittens successfully conceal themselves in baskets.

"Your grandmama was a delight to me," she confides to Étienne as she takes up her usual seat upon her enormous blue velvet sofa and gestures for him to occupy some other part of it, "in those ancient days when I arrived in Siovale as a bride. You must tell me how she does in Azzalle," she asks seriously, "and I must write to her of what a pleasure it is to be remembered… Lady Agnès," she explains to Symon, "is a sort of cousin of my late husband's. When I knew her she was so deep in her studies at the university that we hardly saw her — but when she did look up from her books, she always had something remarkable to say of them."

"Oh, should I b-bow?" Symon wonders aloud as the two approach. He satisfies himself with the thought that the bow was meant more for their host. The warm smile brings out Symon's cheer right away. "W-well, salutations b-back to you. Did I hear our kind host call you Lord Étienne?" he asks rhetorically. "Come, sit, you m-must reveal the source of your charming accent. Explain everything to m-me; three of my geography tutors quit in despair b-before I w…was even sixteen." He smiles. "If you take after your grandmother in reading b-books, then I w…will be quite useless to you." His tone is entirely cheerful in reporting that.

Étienne attempts to hide his relief at the warm greeting, being far too well bred in matters of privacy of correspondence to have sliced and restuck the seal. In short, he has no idea of what Grandmère might have said about him. Alas for the lad, he has a rather open countenance. Takes the glass with the politest thanks he can muster in such famous and to him, imposing company. "She speaks of you often and with great fondness and respect."

He sits in the offered spot, blushing a little under his seafarer's tan at this warm welcome, carefully smoothing his tunic and crossing his legs, his parti-coloured hose showing off his calves to effect. "I left her in excellent health, still a firm hand with the staff and greatly concerned with the education of my sisters and brother."

He looks down, blushing more noticeably, "I admit, it is strange to see you in person. When I was a child, I thought you were a character out of myth, almost, yet here you are still…almost as I imagined. Hardly changed." He starts, eyes going wide at his obvious forwardness and the triteness of his words. He covers his confusion with a sip of his wine.

This distracts the rather mercurial heir of Berck as he had been rather curious to try the Southern wines, but the events of the last few days had prevented him. "Oh! But this is marvelous! I had been very much hoping to see if the wines lived up to Grandmère's reminiscences! They very much do!" He takes another sip, taking the time to really savour it before swallowing, "Very rich and complex!" Another blush, "My pardon, my lady. I fear my manners are terrible. Certes I have often been told so. I am given to understand there is hope my sojourn here in Eisande might improve them." There is nothing affected about any of it. He really does seem to be overwhelmed and excited to be here in such an elegant place in such famous company with a quality vintage to really enjoy.

To the other young man he says, "I'm from the north coast of Azzale, Lord Symon. We've a fine bay and good beaches as well as defensive cliffs on which our chateau sits. We've orchards and lots of grazing. I fear Grandmère would be horrified by how much reading I don't do, though geography and the stars are rather an interest of mine. Perigeux… so you are from Siovale?"

Hardly changed. Perhaps Oriane's smile grows a trifle wry at that; but, experienced courtier that she is, well-schooled in the composure of her still-lovely features and in the conjuring of pleasant words from the aether, she gives Étienne's knee a quick encouraging pat and confesses, “I’m afraid Lady Agnès found me a disappointment as a new Siovalese. I’m sure your sisters must be much better-educated under her guidance than I was as a girl — I was ignorant of a great deal, though, having been raised on my father’s vineyard, I did at least know about wine.” This last with mock gravity, belied by a spark in her azure blue eyes. “I’m glad and I’m fortunate to possess a few good bottles still to offer to my friends.”

She has a glass of her own, which she has been draining rather more slowly than Symon his; she picks it up and raises a genial toast to her young visitors. “To Marsilikos and its pleasures, and a mild southern winter in good company.”

"Lady Oriane always p-provides the finest v…v…vintages," Symon puts in. "I am from Siovale. Escaped," Symon jokes, flashing teeth before a sip of wine. His glass rises readily to Oriane's toast. "W…what b-brings you here, Lord Étienne?" he asks once they have all had their sip in hopes of a fine winter.

Étienne shakes his head and earnestly insists, "No! You were quite the most elegant person she ever met. She still considers you a model of everything a lady ought to be. My sisters Agnès and Claude try hard to live up to your example." He is too diplomatic to mention Antoinette who takes most after their grandfather and thus most resembles Étienne himself in character.

His eyes go wide, "Oh! I should very much like it if you would teach me wine. We import what we can from southern vineyards, but the best never makes it as far as us and the travel is not as kind to it as stillness would have been!" He lifts his own glass hastily to touch rims. He takes another slow sip, clearly far more interested in the taste of the wine than its effects.

The 'escaped' wins a flash of a wicked grin in Symon's direction that is entirely at odds with his company manners. The Azzallese lad rather hopes the angle of his head hides it from the Grand Personage.

"… I do hope," Oriane chuckles, "I'm not unwittingly a torment to young girls. I know I should have hated to have had some faraway exemplar held up for me like that." But what is it in her hospitality that encourages so many young men to run along ahead of themselves? "I think," she suggests gently to this one, who is at least not trying to seduce her on the battlements, "one learns best about wine simply by keeping congenial company, and by always taking a moment or two to pay attention to the bouquet — as I see your Grandmère has taught you to do, Lord Étienne." A graceful inclination of her head toward him, where he sits at her side. Then she echoes Symon, and inquires politely: "Yes, to what do we owe your presence in Marsilikos? Are you to be with us for long? I confess," and she gives an elegant shrug, one hand catching at her glimmering beaded shawl before it can quite slip away from a surprisingly muscular shoulder, "I only glanced at Lady Agnès's letter; I had rather hear it from you yourself." She smiles.

Any tension in Oriane's diplomacy seems to pass Symon right by. Or at least he pretends it does. "Come now, Lord Étienne," he coaxes, "You can't keep it to yourself forever, you know. P-people w…will b-be dying to know w…what brings you in, and w-with tanned skin even as the sun w…weakens."

Étienne, chastened, nods and sips his wine decorously for a bit. His enjoyment of this is real and his nature hard to repress in the pretense of beauty of any kind, and so soon he is ebullient again, this room being entirely full of tasteful beauty, both in decor and in its inhabitants even if one were to discount the wine, which the heir to Berck would never do.

He opens his mouth in response to the second question, then shuts it in favour of a sip and a breath to think, then ventures, "We have also heard other, more romantic things of you…." He blinks at her disarmingly, "Really, I am hard put to know what to say, meeting you in the flesh in this most charming of rooms." His confession is entirely sincere, even though he is hoping it will distract from the rest. "There was some hope my manners might improve with a wider exposure to examples of what is correct." He mutters, "Among others things." In his most earnest of tones, "I have truly wanted to travel my whole life, my lady, and this city is a wonder."

He gives the other young man a bright smile, "I travelled much of the way by ship. I'd never been on one so large before. The sails sounded like whip cracks and the air was so fresh… I fear I was on deck and underfoot most of the way.”

The romance of her life, Oriane disclaims with a little shake of her head and a lowering of her eyes to some point in the middle distance. One of her potted orange trees, in fact. From there it's simple enough to affect a survey of the salon, after the manner of one seeing it through new young eyes. "But do you find it charming?" she inquires of Étienne in a serious vein. "I've been asked once or twice when I expect the rest of my furniture to arrive, or whether I require the name of a good draper or carpenter. But I find the simplicity suits me very well, at present." Another subtle rearrangement of her shawl; she reflects that perhaps there'll be something more in the letter to let her know what the young man himself clearly prefers not to unburden himself of in her company.

"The kittens are p…particularly fine appointments," Symon opines. "I think they set the room off to great advantage." He looks to Étienne. "You know, just this afternoon I w…was invited aboard the ship of that great Rousse p-pirate hunter everyone is talking about. I simply can't w…wait to get a look at it. You m…make seafaring sound as grand as he did."

Étienne leans towards her with real excitement, "But I do! I like the way the design of the room contrasts with all these miraculously still living and blooming plants. You have captured a piece of summer in all its lush greenery in a perfectly designed and balanced setting… I don't have words really. Simple is better if everything else is going to be…” He gestures to convey what words can't, "So alive. It is like a beautiful woman with a simple necklace that enhances instead of distracts." He turns to Symon, "Oh! Maybe you could introduce me…?"

Such a lot of words he hasn't got, this young man who talks and talks and is reliably breathless with almost every phrase. While Symon genially agrees to broker an introduction between one seafaring gent and another, Oriane (who isn't wearing a necklace, simple or otherwise) looks about her and prepares a faint, noncommittal smile for when next her eyes meet Étienne's. "And will you join us for dinner, Lord Étienne? Lord Symon often finds his way to my door and my table at about this hour of the day," she confides, turning that smile a tad more brightly upon the Perigeux heir, "though I haven't anything to offer but what was freshest in the marketplace today, and another bottle of Bordeaux."

Étienne clearly realises he's erred again unwitting, but barrels gamely on, "I would very much like that, my lady, and freshness in seafood is the most important of seasonings, so that, like your rooms and your dress, simple design in high quality is far better than clutter and an overabundance of ruffles. If someone or something has a classic beauty, why clutter and distract? The heavier sauces are usually for the poorer cuts of beef."

It is difficult to be certain which part of that is a compliment — is Oriane at her time of life fresh seafood, or a promising piece of meat? — but as a kindness to Agnès Toluard d'Arguil, and in the interests of hearing news of that lady's family life in what is certain to be a frank and unvarnished style, Siovale's finest hostess forges bravely ahead. "Then you are most welcome," she says gently to Étienne. Then she alights from the sofa, shawl trailing. "But our visitor really ought to meet the kittens first, oughtn't he, Lord Symon—?"

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