(1312-03-15) As Carefully As You Like
Summary: In the anticipation of springtime Raphael conveys Philomène’s dinner invitation to his mystery woman, whom readers of this publication already know all about.
RL Date: 10/03/2020? Maybe?
Related: A Great Saving On Laundry.
iphigenie raphael 

Garden Suite — Maignard Residence

Opening from the garden of the Maignard residence, via a single heavy oaken door opposite the elm tree, this chamber is decorated as a painted garden. Faded by the passage of years, pale flowers and birds of unnatural provenance are depicted against a backdrop of green that runs down to skirting boards of tarnished gilt, carved to echo the floral intricacies of the cornices and the high coffered ceiling which reflects so gently the light from iron candlestands below.

The furnishings are sparse in relation to the room's long rectangular spaciousness: all of antique mahogany, all of a century ago, their age betrayed by style rather than wear. Inside the high mullioned windows of distorted glass, there's a desk to the right and a marble-topped washstand to the left, with a screen just past the latter to create a triangle of privacy in one corner. Adjacent to the desk is a comfortable armchair upholstered in dark red leather; next to the washstand, a smaller white-painted chair makes up in convenience what it lacks in arms. A broad dark marble fireplace is set into the house's innermost wall. Directly opposite it stands an uncurtained four-poster bed made up with hemstitched white linen sheets and bountiful pillows. From each bedpost dangles an iron chain adorned with a soft, padded red leather cuff.

Two large, sturdy, travelworn oak chests stand against the wall between the bed and the desk; the broad windowsill above the desk is home to a collection of books legal, theological, and botanical: no fiction, no poetry, no frivolity. Alone beyond the fireplace is a single mahogany armoire. There are no looking-glasses, no pictures, no objects unnecessary or decorative. Away from the windows and the garden's green the chamber's other, darker half is left bare.

At the end a door opens into a small square salon such as might be found in any noble house, albeit appointed in a more Kusheline taste: all straight lines and angles, dark wood and tarnished gilding, and narrow hinged looking-glasses which fill each corner from floor to ceiling and offer unsettling reflections.

The month of March brings a change in Iphigénie’s bones as well as in the weather, and Raphael calls to find his favoured patron up and about and seated already at her tea-table, as if some part of her were anticipating his tread upon the parquet in the outer half of her bisected chamber. The fire in her hearth is reassuringly healthy too and the air warm as summertime. Another flame flickers beneath the teapot, the fragrant brew from which has already found its way into Iphigénie’s cup. Another two cups wait pristine in their saucers in case either or both of her gentlemen should choose to join her… When Raphael comes through the green velvet drapes, her unpainted face is turned up to greet him and her hand is lifting likewise. She’s swathed in dark cloth and lustrous dark furs, with a garnet-studded silver hoop threaded through each of her earlobes. “Monsieur,” she murmurs, and having met his eyes in that first moment, she lowers her own gaze in a downward sweep over his body. She’s smiling.

"I see I am more or less expected," Raphael observes. Perhaps in acknowledgement of the spring, his shirt today is a deep blue rather than black or red. "You look well." That is said quite warmly as he pauses to regard this bare face.

Iphigénie hasn’t the least concern about being seen so, with her Kusheline pallor unpowdered and her smile just barely pink, by eyes she knows to be loving. Her fingertips hook into Raphael’s as he takes her hand; and that decorous and gentle pressure deepens the pleasure he must surely recognise in her smile and in her eyes.

“Perhaps not expected, monsieur,” she admits, “but hoped for, always, as the afternoon draws to its close… May I give you a cup of tea, monsieur?” she inquires.

"You may," Raphael confirms, helping himself to a seat, retaining her hand as he settles onto the sofa beside her. "Has that spring breeze found you here? I see some light in your eyes."

The light brightens, Iphigénie’s eyes an almost iridescent green as they gaze into Raphael’s. “My bees are waking, monsieur,” she murmurs, “and perhaps, so am I.” There’s honey in her voice; her fingertips press again into his palm as she draws in a deeper breath, and then she withdraws her hand and turns deliberately away to reach for another cup and saucer, the teapot, and the half-full jar of honey from which she allots him his usual taste.

Raphael lets the hand loose, nodding at her words. "It is that time of year," he says. "Things are coming to life. And there seems to be a good measure of joy to go around. The patrons at the salon increase, too."

Stirring that soupçon of honey into his tea — the last honey of last year, preserved with care in thick glass jars — Iphigénie smiles down at the cup, the saucer, the spoon. “Then you must be a busy man, monsieur,” she teases gently, laying down the latter. She takes up his tea and shifts fractionally upon the sofa, turning to offer it to him with both her hands.

"No busier than your bees, I'm sure," Raphael replies. He smells more than ever like sawdust today as he leans closer to her to take the cup. "And you will be thinking of the gardens soon, I expect."

Iphigénie breathes deeply again of his scent as she surrenders the tea. “It’s true, monsieur,” she confides, with her eyes lowered but her fluffy white halo of hair inclined toward his darker head, “I have thought of planting another flower or two, come the spring.”

"What will you plant?" Raphael asks, lifting the cup to his lips. "I have been discussing lavender and hellebore with my friend the Dowager Vicomtesse Philomène de Chalasse. She wants to have dinner with the woman who is improving my mood so much these days. I haven't told her yet that it is you." He lifts an eyebrow as a question.

Useless to say he has by his remarks riveted Iphigénie’s attention: that, he already had. “… What might I plant,” she exhales softly, speculatively, as if to herself. “I gather that whilst I’ve been considering, monsieur, you’ve already been planting… suggestions.” Her eyes gleam, clever and green. “Of course I’d be pleased to dine with Lady Chalasse, if it is what you wish. I haven’t seen her lately,” she admits, “since her bereavement. I wrote a letter to her, but—” One pale hand rises again from the darkness of her lap, in a gesture indicative of the difficulties inherent in attempting to offer Philomène condolences or help.

Raphael nods several times to show his understanding of the predicament. "You'll find her in good humor," he predicts. "She has a lover who suits her, and we thought we might all have a pleasant evening of it. And once identities are revealed, it will save me many delicate phrasings in the interest of protecting your privacy." He smiles briefly.

The four-square arrangement of this proposal for which Raphael is the messenger, brings about another slight re-ordering in Iphigénie’s conception of her world. She smiles as she looks away to find and pick up her own cup of tea. “Monsieur,” she murmurs, and takes a sip, “I can’t imagine you speaking of me disdainfully, or sharing my more intimate secrets. If you do wish to talk of me, to your own friends, by name or not, I leave it to your discretion — I trust you,” she reminds him gently, “and I’ll admit to you, between ourselves, I find it flattering that you would.” Her smile turns mischievous, before being hidden behind her teacup’s gilded rim.

Raphael inclines his head, but there is the trace of another smile in his expressions at her last remark. "Very well," he says, pausing to sip his tea. "I am glad you feel that way. But I am careful never to share any patron's identity unless I have been given permission to do so. And you are the person I would least like to hurt with carelessness." He smiles. "Besides, we all know Lady Chalasse is highly opinionated, and not everyone might like to have their romantic business exposed to her. Even so, I am fond of her and consider her a friend. I think you will be glad to see her in improved spirits."

“Before she went home to L’Agnace this past winter, Lady Chalasse came once a week to take her morning walk in my garden rather than yours,” Iphigénie reveals, “and we would take breakfast together afterward, or a cup of tea… I have heard many of her opinions,” she confides wryly, “but I cannot say they have brought about any great revolution in my own, or that I hesitate to hear more.” A playful quirk of her eyebrows; another sip from her cup, which then she sets down. “I’m rather curious to know what kind of woman has fixed so particular an interest as hers, aren’t you—?” she suggests. “After such a sorrow in her family,” this with a more serious note in her voice, “I only hope she finds herself as blessed as I have lately been.”

"Oh, I'm desperate to meet her," Raphael says in a casually confessional tone. "She seems much better the last I saw her than she had been. Her daughter is doing well. It's a relief." He drinks the tea again. And truly he seems to worry over the lady's well-being.

“I haven’t wished to intrude upon her,” admits Iphigénie, “but I’ve wondered… Monsieur, you reassure me,” and she smiles at him ruefully, knitting her hands together in her lap. She meditates a moment. “I did dine with Lady Chalasse once before — it will be a better dinner, I think, now that she has Caroline. Has she chosen an evening? … It’s tempting to surprise her,” she sighs, “but I think we ought in fairness to tell her beforehand, that she is already acquainted with her other guest. I know that as a hostess I’d prefer to be warned.”

Raphael laughs faintly. "I can write her with dates that suit us both and mention your name at that time," he proposes, corners of his eyes crinkled with fondness and mirth.

… As if his eyes needed to be any more attractive to Iphigénie’s own. She nibbles her unpainted lower lip and admits, “Any evening convenient for you, monsieur, provided perhaps that it is in a couple of weeks’ time, when the spring is with us and the nights don’t turn so chill. As I wait for the warmer weather, you know, I have few pastimes but sitting in my chamber wondering whether you’ll come to hurt me with something other than carelessness,” she teases.

"Next month," Raphael agrees. "Enough lead time for hosting as well.” He sets his cup back on the table and his weight shifts subtly in Iphigénie's direction. Voice low, he says, "I'll hurt you as carefully as you like.”

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