(1311-07-30) Recompense
Summary: Iphigénie takes the opportunity of Philomène’s Tuesday morning walk to suggest a possible solution to her domestic difficulties, only to find a problem of her own solved instead…
RL Date: 30/07/3019 - 31/07/3019
Related: Joint Venture.
iphigenie philomene 

Garden — Maignard Residence

The garden is girded by a high wall of plain grey stone, lined with trellises which climbing roses and honeysuckle are being trained in the strictest Kusheline style to ascend. It is chiefly laid out as a parterre in which beds of colourful flowers are separated by low, angular, meticulous box hedges and raked pathways of dark gravel, about a bronze fountain celebrating a Maignard ancestor.

The spreading canopy of a mature elm tree provides shade over a small lawn and its own more haphazard growth of bluebells, crocus, borage, and nasturtiums, arisen during years of neglect, kept because of their great interest to the plethora of bees whose buzzing sets the air aquiver as they partake of their floral feast. Their home is a neat stack of wooden hives in the far corner beyond the elm, amongst bushes of lavender and fennel, rosemary and sage.

Spaced along the house's rear façade three sets of heavy dark doors lead into chambers well-lit by mullioned windows of thick, distorted glass.

Late on Monday afternoon, once again a card is deposited with the Maignard servants. Once again it bears the inked stamp of a bull, but if you thought last week’s was terse this week is even shorter. In rather large letters across the bulk of the card read the figures ‘7-8’ and a question mark, lending to it at least some sort of nod to a polite request, and beneath that a quickly written ‘Gueret’ with a flourish across the crossed T, no doubt the sign of a signature written often enough that it’s second nature.

It’s therefore of no shock to anyone that the following morning, despite a looming set of clouds which threaten to bring very welcome rain after the heat of the last week or so, Philomène de Chalasse can be seen once more tramping her way around the gardens of the Marsilikos Maignard house. Even without that limp which would give her away as clearly as a large sign overhead, it should be obvious to anyone even at a distance just who it is calling on Iphigénie’s niece’s house today. The tall riding boots, the dark, fitted breeches, a crisp white shirt with the collar turned out high to frame that notably sculpted jawline, and the faded brown riding jacket that stops at the waist and comes to a point, when fastened, at the front, with its hundreds of painstakingly embroidered stitches that make a subtle pattern of leaves and vines in colours so muted that it’s only when the light catches on their texture that they really shine and stand out. With the distinctive limp and the belligerent way she holds her chin too, there’s no mistaking her.

Today the bees receive a lecture on the way in which weather fronts can affect cloud formations, what this means for the level of precipitation expected, and a rather long discourse into which Philomène sidetracks about the way in which the changes in air pressure and temperature affect the joints and certain old injuries, including a certain amount of colourful language. The poor insects must be shocked.

Toward the end of her tirade the side door opens and Iphigénie steps out onto the path and then the lawn. In deference to the heat that hasn’t yet broken she’s clad in a loose pleated linen dress made just like the one she wore to ‘supper’ last week, save for its colour being a deep burgundy to match her painted lips. No formidable engineering beneath — only a white linen shift, one strap showing at her shoulder. She comes slowly nearer, walking barefoot through the flowers, no doubt on a mission to rescue her poor bees before they turn savage.

“Vicomtesse,” she calls softly, “I hope I don’t interrupt…? I wanted to be sure I saw you this morning,” she explains as she comes to a halt beneath the elm’s canopy, “first to thank you for our supper, and then… I may have come across a maid for you,” she confides.

Looking up from her reverie, Philomène rests a hand on the elm beside her, offering a genuine smile for her hostess. “My dear Lady Maignard, I was coming to the end of my walk anyway.” This may be a lie, but it’s a polite one. “And once again I must thank you for the use of your beautiful gardens. And the ear of your bees,” she adds with a slight hint of amusement.

With her free hand, she straightens her jacket, raising an eyebrow at the potential offer. “Oh? Where did you find her?” There’s only a slight pause, then a more dubious, “What will she cost?”

Iphigénie smiles mysteriously at her visitor. “One might say that she found me,” she suggests, looking away from Philomène at the sound of the house’s other doors opening upon the regular matutinal procession of her furniture. “Her cost is less than her worth, at present, for she was dismissed from her two previous places… Let’s sit,” she suggests, nodding to the sofa presently approaching on four legs (not its own), “and I’ll tell you all about her.”

That little titbit is enough to make the Chalasse’s eyes flicker with renewed interest and she pushes herself away from the tree trunk, dusting off her hands, as she limps her way over towards where the sofa is being set up. She reaches into the inside pocket of her jacket for her customary copper flask, unscrewing the lid and taking a quick swig before politely offering it across, a brow raised. Yes. It’s the morning. And. What of it?

“Well,” she drawls, waiting for Iphigenie to sit before she risks lowering herself down with that usual flash of pain that’s covered with a far too serene expression plastered on her face. “I think it depends on exactly what she was dismissed for, but colour me intrigued already. I’d certainly rather a girl with some kind of character and balls to her than a complete wet blanket.” She pauses, suddenly aware that she might be taken the wrong way, but hesitates. “I… oh, bollocks, you know what I mean. I’m not picking on you today either.”

“I do know what you mean,” agrees Iphigénie, her mien grave but her green eyes lively as she settles next to Philomène upon the sofa, to await her breakfast-table, “though I sometimes find myself wishing you would moderate the language in which you express it… I was asked if I’d take her on, and I tell you truly that knowing her circumstances I wouldn’t hesitate,” she insists, holding the other woman’s gaze with her own and offering up ample sincerity, “but that I’ve all the staff I require for an empty house and I can’t justify the expense of paying her to sit and do nothing for several months — and that would be an empty charity, too, of no possible benefit to her soul,” which seems also a potent consideration to her. “I thought perhaps you, my lady, would have the courage to help a girl who has confessed her sin to make just amends for it. She has been foolish; but I think she has a good heart, and she is willing to work.”

Her tale began as the sofa-bearers retreated; it halts as they return with the table, followed already by Nadège superintending another lackey with the breakfast tray.

“My apologies, I shall refer in future to moist bedclothes,” Philomène counters with a flicker of a grin. “Which I hope you might prefer?”

She settles back in her appointed seat quite comfortably, one elbow leaning on the arm of the sofa as she listens and the other hand absently pushing the heel of it against her thigh, working out some of the early morning pains from her interrupted walk. “A good heart is one thing, but tell me, it wasn’t theft, was it? I won’t deal with thieves, they’re simply rotten to the bone,” she opines, having on this as strong an opinion as she does on everything. “But if it’s just foolishness… well, haven’t we all been foolish in our time? I’ll take her.”

“I see repentance isn’t one of your qualities, my lady,” drawls Iphigénie, smiling wistfully as she watches her white tablecloth unfurled with a flourish and her breakfast blossoming upon it. The tea, the hard-boiled egg, the excessive quantity of croissants dictated by Nadège’s perpetual efforts to put a little fat upon her mistress’s gaunt frame. “… Leave us for now, mm?” she suggests with a speaking glance to her maid, who curtseys to her and shepherds the lackey and his tray back into the house. The chairs which would normally appear, don’t.

“I think perhaps the girl will not suit you,” she goes on, to Philomène; and she tells the rest of the tale whilst brewing tea, pouring two cups, and adding honey to her own, in the steps of a ritual already familiar to her visitor and performed always just the same. “She is seventeen, and she stole to please her first lover, who seems to have been making sport of her,” she explains in an undertone, shrugging as if to say: we all know it happens. “When the flames of lust died down and she realised quite what she’d done, she made a full confession of her sins at the Temple of Kushiel and you may imagine she received chastisement. Her confession to her employers was less successful. They turned her away, they wouldn’t have her in the house any longer — though I might note they have not refused the payments she has already begun making to them in recompense. But—” Iphigénie presses her lips together. ”She lost her most recent place as well when the mistress of the house heard the gossip and put two and two together. Without work, she cannot keep paying her debt, and of course you understand why she can’t get work. She hasn’t a vocation for Naamah’s service and yet if she can’t find a different kind of place soon, domestic work or something in a shop, she may have no choice… Or she may steal again, if her other choices are to lie down with strangers or to go hungry. I don’t like to see any young person in such a position. I said I would inquire among my friends,” she explains, taking up Philomène’s cup and saucer in both hands to make a formal presentation of it.

“I have so very few qualities worth mentioning that it would be a waste to use one up on repentance,” Philomène quips as she listens. Her lips purse considerably at the tale while her fingertips drum against her leg. “What would there be to stop her stealing again now, and using that to pay off her original debt? It would be the easiest thing in the world. A maid has absolute access to everything within the house, after all.”

She shakes her head. “I feel for the young woman, I honestly do, but I won’t risk that level of trust on a known thief.” Accepting the cup and saucer with a small nod and a half smile, she adds, “However,” and a finger comes up, “I do have an alternative proposal, if you’ll hear me out.”

There’s a moment’s pause while she takes a sip of tea, a brow raised over the rim as she waits for the expected if tacit permission to continue. One well worn hand gestures around the gardens. “You said you’re in need of a gardener. And a gardener would not have the same unprecedented access to your house or its contents. As I imagine the girl has little skill in the matter, rather than hiring her as a maid which would be completely unsatisfactory, might I offer my services to train her on your behalf in the art of botany?”

Such tacit permission is granted by a slight, curious nod of Iphigénie’s head. And then as Philomène outlines her inspiration of the moment, her hostess nods again, and again. “It’s true, she knows nothing about gardening — I did inquire. It isn’t a common pursuit amongst city-bred youth.” She gives the other woman a wry, understanding smile. “But you know, and you like to take exercise in my gardens. Vicomtesse, I rather like your idea,” she decides, “as a temporary expedient. Perhaps a time will come when you know her well enough that it might not seem such a risk—? Or I may be in a position to offer more real work to domestic staff later in the year. Or she may take to it, and prefer gardening to anything else she might do with herself. The main thing is to provide her with the means of not falling into further sin,” she says seriously, claiming at last her own cup and scalding her tongue pleasurably upon its contents. “Seventeen is a little young, I think, to see one’s whole future marred beyond redemption.”

“Even if she doesn’t find herself particularly taken with it, it gives the girl an honest trade,” Philomène points out. “And as you say, with so few city folk with any skill in the matter, there will always be work for her. I’ll let you deal with her immortal soul, but I can certainly train her to know which plants to pull and which to leave, and how to turn the soil and raise a crop.” Yes, it’s possible she might have been slightly misleading when she said ‘botany’, but really how far different can a garden and a few hundreds of acres of good farmland be?

“When would be a good time to meet with the girl, that wouldn’t inconvenience you?” No mention of inconveniencing the soon-to-be gardener.

“… Raise a crop,” echoes Iphigénie faintly, but she doesn’t argue. “Perhaps Friday?” she suggests. “I’ve already given her something for a few nights’ lodging. I can easily arrange for her to be here in the morning, at your usual hour, though—” She hesitates, considering the engagements she knows to be inscribed in her diary. Her painted lips form an odd little triangular smile and she admits, “I may not be present myself.”

Another sip of her tea, and she restores her cup to her saucer and sets them down upon the table. “You’ll pardon me if I eat my egg?” she inquires of the woman next to her, a formal request she no more expects to hear denied than Philomène did her own a few moments ago. “… While it’s still warm,” she murmurs, mostly to herself, and strikes the top off it neatly with her spoon. “And you must tell me, vicomtesse,” she adds, “how I might best repay the kindness you show by interesting yourself so much in one of my little projects.”

Philomène flicks her hand vaguely at this request. Of course she can eat her damn egg. That’s what it’s there for. She takes another long, contemplative sip from her tea before setting it down in her saucer with a quiet clink. “Perhaps,” she suggests, “you might take it as some recompense toward any offence previously offered in error?”

Iphigénie eats a little of her egg, then lays down her spoon and touches her napkin to her lips. “… I have forgotten any error,” she says gently; “but I would be the last to interfere with anyone’s efforts to make whatever expiation her own conscience might dictate.”

“In which case I’ll simply hold it as a favour in lieu for the next time I invariably put my foot in my mouth,” Philomène decides, flicking a somewhat self-deprecating half smile. “Will you, however, excuse me for now? I’ve a few concerns about my Hirondelle’s hock, so I’d like to take her out for a slower walk in the city today instead of a longer ride this afternoon, and I’d rather do it when it’s still relatively quiet.”

The health of a favourite horse is a concern the urgency of which any Kusheline noble respects — Iphigénie, no different, says at once and with slightly widened green eyes, “Of course. I hope you’ll find the trouble is nothing serious. Until Friday, vicomtesse.”

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