(1312-03-17) Matutinal Mercies
Summary: Philomène steels herself to resume another part of her Marsilikos routine; fortunately, it’s a morning of mercies all round.
RL Date: 18/03/2020
Related: Other scenes with these characters… especially, A Great Saving On Laundry and As Carefully As You Like.
iphigenie philomene 

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.

Months have passed since the last pasteboard card arrived at the Maignard house stamped with the stylised red bull of the Chalasse, above a scribbled time and a large, looping letter P.

The lines of communication haven’t been shut off entirely: the maid Caroline takes it upon herself to drop a hint or two to one benefactress about the other, when an inquiring note with a seal she knows arrives at the little house in the Rue du Port a week or so after the Vicomtesse de Gueret’s departure for L’Agnace, and then when she returns as a dowager.

Of course, then, Iphigénie writes a longer letter, several pages inscribed slowly and with care to keep her appalling handwriting from descending into true illegibility. She has composed many such missives in her life, and she’s of an age to be writing them more and more often as her companions of old leave her behind— her phrases at least are polished and graceful, with none of the awkwardness that too often attends upon the subject of death, and her scriptural references are spot-on. (Not too many of the latter, though, she knows her audience.) She closes it with a renewed invitation to Philomène to make what use she wishes of the Maignard garden… Though, oddly, even when the new Dowager Vicomtesse resumes her rounds, riding out from the city or walking its streets, keeping company with curious coughing foreigners, punching out sailors in distasteful low bars, picking fights with anyone who stares too long at her scars when she’s just trying to take a damn bath, Iphigénie’s garden knows her not.

Until now.

The note comes late in the evening, by Caroline’s hand: a polite albeit terse request for Lady Maignard’s leave to walk in the garden the next morning. Iphigénie is in the midst of retiring for the night but her own maid Nadège conveys an immediate, easy affirmative for Caroline to transmit to her mistress in turn. The hour named is an early one — in this season, still well before sunrise — and one might surmise from it either that, like some species of bat, the Chalasse lady doesn’t sleep, or else that she aspires to avoid as many human eyes as she possibly can whilst being let in by the concierge and decanted into the garden by a lackey.

What she hasn’t counted on is that she’s one old bat calling on another.

At some point during her dogged, limping laps round the freezing cold parterre garden, she turns back toward the house and sees a brighter rectangle on the lower floor: one of the leaded glass windows of Iphigénie’s chamber, lit up by the glow of a candle or a lamp.

And before she can slip away into the greyness of the approaching dawn, she has to get past a different servant. This one delivers an invitation to breakfast. Blast her.

Beyond the heavy green velvet drapes which still bisect Iphigénie’s garden chamber, rendering it smaller and easier to heat though the chilly weather of winter and early spring, the usual table at which they’ve taken a cup of tea or a bite of bacon often enough before stands close to the fire in its own drapery of crisp white linen. There’s a chair to one side of it and a sofa to the other; Iphigénie is ensconced already upon the latter, in a warm red dressing-gown with a dark woolly rug over her knees just to make sure. She has been up long enough to paint her angular Kusheline features immaculately and to comb her hair into a fluffy white halo. Just now she’s tending to the tea, while two maids work in tandem to strip her bed and make it up again with fresh sheets, and another arranges before her the final components of breakfast.

Her vivid green eyes are innocent of sleep as she deposits the infuser in its dish and looks up to Philomène. “Vicomtesse. You look well,” she decides, after a moment’s study; “I’m glad. Won’t you sit—?” she suggests, replacing the lid upon the teapot with a soft clink.

“Philomène,” the woman corrects swiftly, taking her time to look around the room. Making sure everything is as it should be, that there are no gaps where a draught might sneak in, no damp patches, no cobwebs. Apparently not, no. The maids do their jobs well enough. Finally satisfied, she gives a small nod, turning to Iphigénie with a half smile. “I didn’t think you’d be awake yet, Lady Maignard,” she admits, limping over to the chair (no comfortable sofa for her thank you) and taking a deep breath before her face steels and freezes, and she lowers herself carefully down into it. “I didn’t intend to bother you, I just thought I might reacquaint myself with some of your plants and see how they, and your bees, were getting on after a long winter.”

That chair’s not exactly a bed of nails either, being like the sofa chosen by Marius Lefebvre nó Mandrake for his consort’s use — if it’s martyrdom Philomène desires, she’ll have to make use of some of the garden chamber’s other accoutrements, the chains hanging from the bedposts, or the instruments of flagellation tucked away in that locked chest over there, or the white-painted wooden chair which stands between the washstand and the door to the garden, and which is not very comfy in the long term, especially if you’ve got a bad back.

As Philomène seats herself Iphigénie is discreetly occupied with her teapot instead, picking it up carefully in both hands and then reducing its weight by pouring two cups. One might think she saw nothing, noticed nothing, knew nothing of the other woman’s moment of visible weakness. “My bees are just beginning to wake from their winter’s rest,” she answers, “and so am I… Though,” she looks up again and with a wry smile transfers the first, unsweetened cup to Philomène’s side of the table, where a place is waiting for it amongst various other dishes, “none of us are much inclined yet to venture out of our cosy little hives. And so we’re all the more grateful when our friends come to us,” she suggests gently.

Philomène nods thanks for the tea as she takes it up with both hands, letting the warmth of the liquid ease some of the lingering chill of the morning air. “I don’t doubt you have a great many friends to visit, though, who do so at far more sociable times of day, and with far more sparkling wit and friendly company,” she notes, nonetheless allowing herself a small smile at Iphigénie’s tact.

For her part, there’s none of the elegant and immaculate make up. She’s made an effort, which is frankly more than usual, but it’s a smudge here and there, and a long, gruelling walk around the gardens this morning doesn’t add to any attempt at easy femininity. It, or the tea, or the conversation, or most likely of all the stifling heat of Iphigénie’s rooms adds more of a blush to her cheeks than any paint ever would dare.

“Thank you for your note,” she adds, as casually as she can manage, then moves on quite swiftly to ask, “The bees still produce honey in the winter, though? Or is that purely a summer phenomenon?”

There’s a jar of honey on the table, which is no doubt why Philomène has seized upon apiculture as a distraction. “You’re welcome,” Iphigénie offers in an undertone, spooning just a taste of honey into her own waiting cup. Then she tilts the jar so that her visitor can see how little remains therein. “Last year’s,” she explains, and sets it down to stir her cup.

“They don’t make honey in the winter — there are no flowers for them,” she points out. “Instead they sleep through the cold weather, every bee in the hive huddled together, and they wake only to eat the honey they’ve stored or to seek more in another part of the hive… But they can only move on mild days,” she says sympathetically, “and if they run out of honey, one must return some of what one took from them in the summer, to keep them from starving before the spring. So I am cautious with my honey just now,” she admits, “though I understand that in Eisande they usually begin to produce in the third or fourth week of March… You know,” she adds, regarding Philomène squarely, “that self-deprecation doesn’t suit you.”

“Well, neither does my jacket, but I like it,” Philomène retorts immediately. She shrugs one shoulder, settling back to take a tentative sip of her too-hot tea. She can regret that later when she can’t feel her tongue.

“The Chalasse traditionally farm wheat,” she points out after drawing in a breath to try to cool her mouth. Good luck in a room like this. “I think more than most I understand being frugal in the early months of the year, although some of the trade deals and an emphasis on increasing our pig stock has made a considerable difference. I no longer wake up in a cold sweat every day in February, concerned that we’ll have nothing left to see us through to spring.”

The honey having obligingly dissolved, Iphigénie contentedly scalds her own tongue. She raises a finely-drawn eyebrow at Philomène. “You enjoy embroidery, yes, but— deprecating yourself?” she teases in a murmur, then takes another sip and sets down her cup in her saucer.

“Perhaps you’ll be able to tell me when the growing season begins for your l’Agnacite hemp,” she suggests, more seriously. “We’ve been following the instructions you left with us in the autumn, but the bush seems slow to wake again… The Rose Sauvage has been good enough to supply me with a little from their store, but greeting the spring will be a relief in more way than one,” she admits. “What will you have for breakfast? I’d like your opinion of the bacon,” she nods to a covered dish; “we’ve a new butcher lately, and I think it excellent.”

“They don’t like the frost,” Philomène admits, risking another sip from her tea. “Give it a few weeks yet and they’ll start to grow again. April tends to be good, and if it’s for some reason a dry April, get as much water on them as you can. If you’re looking to grow it in quantity, you’ll want some irrigation in, take out some of your hedges, too.” Because that will really add to the neat, square sections of garden to let cannabis run wild instead.

She eyes the dish dubiously, then at least has the good grace to attempt to look as though she’s going to give it a fair chance. But if it’s not her bacon, how good can it really be? She may not be a connoisseur of these things, but she is loyal. “I’ve yet to find any southern bacon that’s a patch on ours, but I’m willing to be proven wrong. Who’s the butcher?” Because if they don’t have Gueret pigs yet, you can bet they’re getting a visit before the end of the day.

“Ah,” murmurs Iphigénie, “I think it was—” And she names a Marsilikos butcher from a line of Marsilikos butchers, staples of the city’s Shambles and suppliers of meat for its nobility’s tables these many generations. (Two or three, anyway.) Philomène will know him well. There is thus an excellent chance that the bacon being presented for her attention is Gueret Old Spot.

“Perhaps not quite such quantities,” she adds, of the hemp, “but enough to see me comfortably through next winter without the need to importune my friends.” A wry smile.

It’s enough to prompt a self satisfied smile on the Chalasse’s face. “I’d lay good money, then,” she notes smugly, “that your excellent bacon is indeed from our excellent pigs.” She sets down her tea, cuffing away the beginnings of sweat from her hairline. “I did tell you many months ago that you’d notice the difference. There’s not a pig in the world like our Old Spots. I won’t deprive you of any, though. I’ll have my orange when I get home. Caroline will have it ready for me, I know.” She glances over to the other woman. “For which I ought to thank you. We’re well suited. Or at least she suits me well, and I hope I’m not too eccentric an employer for her.”

The servants having melted away to leave their mistress and her visitor in privacy, Iphigénie is busily making up for herself a plate of the excellent bacon, and warm croissants fresh from the oven which she slathers with the exceptionally bitter marmalade she prefers. “Won’t you take an egg with me, at least?” she wheedles, her own being soft-boiled in a silver cup.

“Caroline did come to see me,” she confides, without mentioning the timing or the precise number of the maid’s visits, “and I could see at once what a weight has been lifted from her soul by the payment of her debts, and her confidence that she can balance her scales and really begin again. You’ve done well by her, and I’m delighted to know that the arrangement suits you both so well,” she says sincerely. “There are so few people one can tolerate having in one’s pocket every hour of the day.” She meets Philomène’s eyes across the table, betraying the green glint in her own. “Though rumour has it you’ve found another, my lady—?”

Philomène lifts a hand to decline, shaking her head. Rather than an egg, she returns to her tea, although the sip stops abruptly as she’s called out and she levels her gaze at Iphigénie over the rim. “I shouldn’t trust rumours if I were you,” she insists tartly as she lowers the cup and stares defiantly at the older woman. “Besides, I think you’ll find that there is very little time spent in anyone’s pockets. We both have far too much business to see to. Business,” she adds, “which necessarily keeps us apart.” She stares a moment longer, challenging Iphigénie to argue, but then there’s a slight grin pulling at the corner of her lips and she relents. “Whatever you’ve heard is no doubt exaggerated, but I do, on occasion, have a very welcome overnight guest.”

With the aid of a gleaming silver spoon Iphigénie decapitates her egg. She adds a sparing few grains of salt to it, but pauses before the final assault to consider Philomène’s staking out of her usual bold position— and then her gradual retreat therefrom, into smugness.

“I wouldn’t have thought our friend Monsieur Raphael a gentleman inclined to exaggeration,” she muses. “But if you tell me there isn’t a great deal of truth in his report of your happiness, vicomtesse, I shall endeavour to believe you — no matter how much you smile.”

“I would have thought our friend Monsieur Raphael would be a great deal more discreet,” Philomène charges the absent man, lifting her chin and raising a brow. “I am, after all, a woman still in mourning. And, for all his faults, I do miss Louis-Claude immensely,” she admits more quietly. “But he’s been gone more than a year in real terms. A woman must make her own way, no?”

<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Empathy: Great Success. (8 7 4 3 4 2 7 7 6 4 1 7 1)

Iphigénie nods her sympathy, but eats a little of her egg before she speaks— and before it can get cold, bereft of the top of its shell. “It is a quality of love that once it is born into the world it lingers, that it outlasts the good times and the bad, and even life itself,” she says softly. “But it is no sin, my lady, even in mourning for one love, to accept the gift of another. The opportunity to give and to receive love is the surest healing the angels may bless us with.”

“I take heart that they have allowed me some joy,” Philomène admits cautiously, finding her tea again and swirling it in its cup. “But then, there’s joy in a good meal, or a good fight, or a good argument, too, and for some reason they’ve always allowed me those too. Either I’m not as awful as I’ve always imagined, or I’m really very good at fooling them otherwise. She’s often away, dealing with her estate, but I’m happy, Lady Maignard. I am genuinely happy. Now you can tell me how I don’t deserve to be, hm?”

<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Empathy: Good Success. (7 4 6 4 1 1 6 2 3 3 2 7 8)
<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Religion: Amazing Success. (6 7 1 2 3 1 8 8 3 3 5 7 7 8 7)

“Perhaps the angels in their loving mercy deal with all of us better than we deserve,” Iphigénie suggests, and she produces another disquietingly apt quotation from holy scripture on the theme of striving to be worthy of the blessings one receives, even if it’s after the fact.

She leaves that thought for Philomène to tuck away and find solace in later on, if she’s so inclined, and posits a different kind of mercy. “I think, too, you might acquit Monsieur Raphael of indiscretion. He is in mourning himself, and he cares for you — it’s natural for him to feel touched by your happiness… And he did rather have to tell me.” She quirks her eyebrows at her visitor; and then, at last, the truth is on the table between them. “You invited him to dinner to meet your friend the Vicomtesse de Cerdagne, and you suggested he bring his own woman friend.” She pauses, her green gaze steady upon Philomène’s face. “I am she,” she says simply.

<FS3> Philomène rolls Composure: Good Success. (6 8 7 4 6 8)

When faced with startling news, there are two possible reactions. The one Philomène usually instinctively reaches for, that being sudden and extreme violence, and the far rarer. This is a rare occasion, and the only immediate display of any perturbation is a slight pause of the teacup on the way to her lips. There. A nice, fortifying sip of tea to recover her composure, and then she arches an eyebrow at Iphigénie.

“You? Well, Monsieur Raphael is certainly punching above his weight, isn’t he?” she manages, before a wide grin overtakes her. “Which certainly explains why he was so bloody mysterious… the little shit, I’m going to beat him black and blue when I see him.”

Ah, there’s the violence. It’s just displaced.

She laughs aloud, offering the woman her hand. “Now that is some of the best news I’ve heard in a while. Really, I think you could do a lot better than that reprobate, but no, genuinely, I’m very pleased for you. Well, less of a mystery now, then, but of course you’re still welcome to dinner, you know that.”

“Oh, do,” agrees Iphigénie easily, smiling as she lays down her spoon and joins hands with Philomène across the table. Her nails are short, neat, unlacquered; how is her skin perceptibly cool in the heat of her garden chamber—? “If I’m very fortunate,” she teases, “he may pass on such deserved and commendable discipline to me…” She raises an eyebrow and presses the other woman’s fingertips, and then withdraws her hand to continue with her egg.

“That we’ve been seeing one another isn’t a great secret and never was,” she goes on, “but I had the impression Monsieur Raphael was… frank, with you?” is her delicate suggestion. “Perhaps that’s why he didn’t like to call me by my name to you. Nevertheless.” She shrugs. “I’d be delighted to accept your invitation to dine à quatre, but I felt it would be hardly fair to step out of my carriage onto your doorstep one evening without a word of warning. Monsieur Raphael has undertaken to write to you about dates, and to mention my name at the same time… but when you came to walk this morning, the timing seemed serendipitous. Will you take another cup of tea, perhaps?” For she noticed, of course, Philomène’s immediate recourse to that soothing and strengthening brew, and the consequent effect upon her cup.

Perhaps the oddest thing is that in none of this has Philomène had recourse to her far more usual beverage, even for a cheeky swig when she thought nobody was watching.

“I won’t,” she demurs, waving a hand vaguely, “as I’ve a meeting first thing this morning which I ought to get along to shortly. Unless, of course, that mysterious meeting is also with you?” There’s another of those little grins - she really does look pleased. It’s a rarity in itself. “I will send word, though, as soon as Adeline is back in the city. Assuming she’s not too tired to dine, of course.”

Iphigénie’s slight smile is appreciative as she chews a mouthful of pastry and marmalade.

Swallowing, she addresses Philomène in a demure tone mismatched with a mischievous gaze. “Not as far as I know, my lady, for I’ve no engagements today… unless Monsieur Raphael should call,” she speculates. “He does like to surprise me.” She pauses. “I hope you’ll come again, my lady,” she says more seriously; “I do enjoy intelligent company, you know.”

“If I had a heart, rest assured that would warm it,” Philomène insists with an easy smile, then in the interests of fairness informs her friend, “I have been avoiding you. I’ve no time for talking to priests,” of course not, “but I know you won’t shrink from giving your frank opinions on religious questions, and I was rather afraid that you’d disapprove. But I think I’m off the hook for now, no? Remind me some time to introduce you to an absolute arsehole of a fellow veteran I’ve been showing around. Sharp as a tack, and a complete shit. You’ll like him.”

“Yes,” says Iphigénie thoughtfully, “I suspected you might be avoiding me, but I didn’t know the reason why.” Which suspicion doesn’t seem in the least to have affected the welcome she gave to Philomène, or her pleasure in the other woman’s company.

The unusual encomium the Chalasse composes for her new friend, does however lift Iphigénie’s eyebrows. “My my,” she murmurs. “Why don’t you bring him to tea one afternoon?” she suggests as her fellow dowager rises stoically from the chair and they clasp hands again in parting. “After all,” a flickering smile, “you know all about my taste, now.”

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