(123-03-26) Self-Sufficient Hearts Club
Self-Sufficient Hearts Club
Summary: Esme and Camillo have a nice long talk about love, selfishness, and lunch.
Date: 26-27/03/2016
Related: Oh, everything with these characters.

It is so much a settled fact that Master Camillo deals with the mistress of the establishment, that the next time he calls to review the Hightower's standing orders and perchance to make some other small purchase of his own, the girl Katla — left on her own in the grocery shop at this hour of the early afternoon, for her luncheon has been postponed by the length of her employer's — insists he should go upstairs to Mistress Esme. She'll want to see him personally. She always wants to see him personally. And she, Katla, can't go up to fetch her, because she can't leave the shop, and there's only the apprentice next door, and he can't leave that shop.

Camillo hates to intrude. It's a known facet of his personality. But he's also excellent at following instructions. So having had things explained to him in this way, he at last bows his head and heads for the stairs. He hesitates at the foot of them, but then ascends, only stopping short of where stairs meet living quarters so that he can call, "Mistress Esme?"

The stairs creak enough to warn Esme that someone's coming up. And the door at the top of them is wedged open; his voice carries easily in to her, even as small splashy sounds and the chinking of plate against plate carry to him, and then her voice: "Master Camillo? Come in, I'm just washin' up." She sounds mildly but pleasantly surprised, and perfectly welcoming.

Camillo comes up when bidden, slipping into the room without opening the door any more than is necessary. Which is usual for him. "I'm sorry to intrude," he says. "Only the girl told me I should come up. Ordinarily I'd just come back later, but…I thought you might not prefer that."

Esme is standing at one of the sideboards next to her hearth, washing plates in a large bowl of soapy water, for of course the smallfolk of Oldtown don't have such things as sinks with taps, let alone dishwashers. She's wearing a cheerful red linen dress (not stripes, for once) and her dolphin necklace, and a well-worn, somewhat dampened white apron with at least one visible patch where it has been torn during its long life of service. Her table has a fresh, pretty cloth on it, white linen with a border of simple embroidery, red and blue flowers and green leaves. She has not yet cleared away from it two glasses (real glass!) and a very expensive, very empty bottle of red wine.

"Dear me, I hope you've not been worryin' about it all the way up my stairs," she chuckles, shaking her head at him. "I'd have been sorry to have missed you, so the girl did the right thing and so did you. You're not intrudin'," she insists. "Now, sit down. Have you eaten? I've plenty left over."

Camillo blinks once or twice. "There…aren't so many stairs," he says, since he can't claim not to have been thinking about it. "Oh," he says. "I'm not very hungry. But thank you. You let me impose on you so often."

Happy with the state of the current plate Esme stacks it on top of another one, on a freshly-scrubbed wooden chopping board where she has also laid out three pairs of squeaky-clean knives and forks. "Don't be silly; once I've cooked somethin', it needs eatin' up," she insists, smiling. "Have you come with some shopping to do, or just passing?" Both options seem to strike her as equally desirable, to judge by her tone. She's in a good mood.

"Well," Camillo says, "I brought a list of a few adjustments to the standing order. And I thought you might like to know that some of the seeds are sprouting," he adds.

"Oh, that is good news," declares Esme, adding the third plate to the first two, and then turning to the table to fetch those incriminating wine-glasses and commence, very delicately, to wash them too. "But tell me what's to be different from now on — don't worry, I'll remember it," she promises, one eye upon him as she gets on with her work.

Camillo either doesn't notice the paired wine glasses or pretends not to. He actually has a list with him that he takes out of the bag he wears across his body and puts on the table. "Just a few things," he says, mentioning them while she's working, with the paper list as backup. A few small cutbacks now that most of the wedding guests are gone and a couple of additions reflecting noble requests, mostly. He's business-like enough as he goes over them, though of course never high-handed or abrupt.

Small washing-up sounds underlie their talk. Esme listens and asks one or two minor, clarifying questions, and then when they've more or less exhausted his list (and the two glasses are clean and shining, and dripping side by side) she turns to face him again and nods, firmly but with a smile. "I'll see that it's all as you'd wish," she pledges as she dries her hands on her apron. Then she smooths out a wrinkle in her tablecloth with one hand and collects the empty wine bottle with the other, and puts it on the sideboard for lack of any better ideas. "Sure you're not hungry?" she asks.

"Well," Camillo says, "I'll eat something small if you have it, I suppose." Homemade food is often a /little/ better than the large batches and leftovers offered at servants' dinner. "But I hate to make work for you with the dishes."

"Oh," chuckles Esme, with another shake of her head as she turns back to her kitchen, "to tell you the truth my son usually does the washin' up. I can easily just leave your plate to go in with the dinner dishes if I haven't time this afternoon. I wouldn't worry about it. There's always goin' to be more washin' up, it's a fact of life." She picks up a knife and fork she just washed and dries them quickly with a slightly ragged but very clean white cloth which has been standing by for the purpose, and sets for Camillo the same place he occupied once before, a couple of weeks past. A napkin follows, and then the promised plate, containing a golden-brown pasty with its pastry crust just a wee bit flaky. "Somethin' small," she declares, though it isn't really. Camillo will find inside very good steak, caramelised onions, cheese, and all manner of enticing local herbs and foreign spices.

Camillo settles down at the place that's been set for him and picks up his fork, ducking his head apologetically at the inevitability of washing dishes, however evenly Esme takes it. "You're awfully good to offer," he says.

"It needs eatin' up," repeats his hostess patiently, smiling. She produces a pair of her usual wooden cups, and pours apple cider for Camillo and water for herself (she did after all just drink half a bottle of wine, in the middle of the day), and sits down across from him with her apron still on. "I'm glad to hear they're sproutin'. The seeds, I mean. Did the gardeners up at the tower help, or are you goin' it alone?" she inquires.

Camillo eats a little, quietly, before he answers. "I asked a little advice," he says. "So…I'm trying to follow it. And they let me have a part of a plot."

Esme has an amiable and interested look about her as she listens, forearms leaning against the edge of her linen-draped table, her head nodding along with his words. A nice little old smallfolk lady, expensively bejeweled. "I was sure they would," she confides. "Let you have a little place, I mean… Did you find you like it?" she asks then, tilting her head. "Growin' things?" For that was the point of the exercise, after all. To find him a hobby.

"Oh," Camillo says, as if he'd forgotten to consider that part. "Well. I don't know yet whether they'll really come up yet or not. I do worry that I'll kill them. It would be a shame."

"Aye," agrees Esme, understanding that part at least, "when you've gone to the trouble, and spent the coin, and… They might do all right, though, if you keep an eye on 'em. But… are you enjoyin' it?" she asks again. "Lookin' after them, and waitin' to see what becomes of 'em?"

"I don't know," Camillo is forced to admit, fork pausing above pastry. "I don't know what you mean. For now, there's not very much for me to do. I think if I put too much water on them, they'll die."

Esme tries again. "Does it give you any… satisfaction, seein' the green startin' to come up out of the earth?" she suggests gently. "How often do you go and look at how they're getting along?"

Camillo nods once, firm at least on that, and eats another mouthful. "Yes," he says. "I was very glad to see shoots come up. I look in on them about twice a day."

"… Well, that's something," his hostess agrees, giving him an encouraging smile. Her hand (the back of it still damp) closes upon her cup, and she sips her water, her eyes still resting curiously upon him. "Master Camillo," she murmurs, almost apologetically, for she knows the question she's about to utter is rather a personal one, "would you say… you're a happy man?"

Camillo stops eating again, tines of his fork resting on his food as he blinks at Esme. "I don't understand," he claims. "Why are you asking?" He doesn't sound offended, really. Just puzzled, and possibly cautious.

"I wondered, that's all," says Esme, again apologetically. "We've talked about such a lot of things, these last few months, you and I; and now that I think about it I seem to have given you a fair bit of advice, often without really askin if you wanted it," she rubs the back of her neck, giving him a rueful smile, "and I suppose… I don't know whether it's done any good, or whether someone like me had any business tryin' to do any good. However. There we are. At least I've fed you a time or two, and that's not nothin'."

"Oh," Camillo answers Esme's explanation, nodding a little. "A lot of people give me advice." He doesn't say whether it's wanted or not, exactly. "Well, I don't think it's bad to want to help someone," he says. "I think that's good. But even very good advice might not fix every problem. It doesn't mean the advice is bad. Do you think that I seem unhappy?"

"Aye, it takes more than… advice, however good it might be, or however well-meant. It might be the right advice for the wrong problem. Or it might be hard, or even impossible, to put it into practice. I know that," concedes Esme. She sips her water again. "I don't know what you seem," she says honestly, "and that's one of the things I like about you. You're not so easy to read. You're not like anybody else. You're only like yourself."

"Um," Camillo says. "I think I told you once how…sometimes I think I'm not like other people because they understand things that I don't understand. And I think the question of 'Are you happy' is one of those things," Camillo offers, nodding a little at Esme. "To know immediately what it means to be happy and what that feels like and where the line is drawn and how it's different from other thngs." He lits his eyebrows slightly. "Are /you/ happy?"

Esme ducks her head and lets out a half-laugh, her shoulders shaking just twice. She smooths the tablecloth with a restless hand. "Oh, I don't know," she demurs wryly, looking up again to meet his eyes. "First, as you say, I'd have to be sure what it felt like while I was feelin' it. And, you know," she confides, giving the table a pat, "I ain't really lived my life with my own happiness as a goal or an intention. To me it's just been— somethin' you fall into now and again, coincidentally, in the course of doin' other things, and you may not even know it till later on when you're not anymore and you look back and you think: I was happy in that time, in that place."

Camillo tilts his head a little, but he does go back to eating. "So when you ask me, does that mean…you want to get another picture of what it looks like or doesn't look like?" he ventures to ask.

After a moment's hesitation Esme nods. "I suppose that's part of why I asked. It's something I was thinking about while I was doin' the washin' up, and I thought: Master Camillo's picture will be unlike anyone else's."

Camillo finishes off what he wants to eat, which is almost all of what Esme served him, and puts his fork down. "Do you think I am so different from other people?" he wants to know.

"Yes," Esme says at once. She shrugs. "Now, I'm old," she points out, "and I've met a lot of people in my life, and everyone I meet these days reminds me of at least one or two others. The similarities help me to understand them better — it's like startin' two or three steps ahead of younger folk. But you're not much like anybody else I've known, and that's the truth."

Camillo looks thoughtful about that. It's not obvious whether he is going to be pleased, or offended, or confused by this information. "Are there other people you meet who are very different?" he wonders.

"Ooh, not all that many," confesses Esme, shaking her head. "Most people are pretty usual most of the time. Everyone's surprisin' sometimes, of course, when circumstances push 'em out of their usual way. But really uncommon people, well, they're uncommon. They're my favourite kind to talk to," she hints, "because they're apt to say things I don't expect."

Camillo nods thoughtfully. "I think…most people would be more comforted to get what they expect," he says. "But…maybe you like a challenge better." He thinks a moment longer, silence slipping past. "Why do you think people become different from others?"

"They don't necessarily become that way," Esme is quick to suggest. "The gods might've made 'em that way to begin with."

"Why? Camillo asks. And it seems as if the question isn't only academic to him. He really wants to know.

Esme takes his question seriously. She sips her water again, giving it all a moment's thought, before venturing: "We don't know why, of course. But I suppose it might be the gods have it in mind for such people to… do difficult or unusual things, or to make other people around them think in difficult or unusual ways. That'd be my guess, at any rate."

Camillo lowers his head at that hypothesis. "It's so hard to know what you're meant to do," he says. "That's why…it's nice to have work where someone tells you. At least about some things."

A nod from Esme, who has gathered this much at least of his character. If he had nobody to tell him what to do he'd sit all day wondering whether it was better to put on his left sock first, or his right… "I like tellin' myself what to do," she admits, small business owner that she is; "of course, then I have to make sure I do it." She quirks her eyebrows. "I'm pretty obedient most of the time, I don't give me much trouble — but just once in a while I kick at my traces till I give myself an afternoon off."

Camillo smiles at Esme's playful phrasing and nods a little. "That's good," he says. "You must be good to work for. I…don't think I'd know how to work for myself. I wouldn't know what was good to do. But for other people, I can do a good job."

At the compliment Esme ducks her had, in her usual style. Then she looks up again to nod her understanding. "If people tell you what a good job is," she translates, "so you know what's wanted, and you don't have to decide for yourself. Oh, dearie," and all of a sudden she sounds rather sad, and she purses her lips. "They must see you comin' a mile off."

Camillo lifts his eyebrows at Esme. "Who must?" he repeats, but then he shakes his head a little. "Oh," he says. "Do you mean…untrustworthy people? Bad employers?" He tilts his head slightly. "Sometimes. But…I've been alive a while now. I…know a little about that, now."

Esme confirms this with a small fastidious grimace. "Aye, well," she admits. "I can imagine your good nature bein' taken advantage of, shall we say. By people who'd make the wrong decisions for you." In fact she has a list. "I hope for your sake you know a lot about that, enough to keep it from happenin', though I'm sorry you've had to find out." She sounds sincere.

Camillo looks thoughtful, eyes wandering as he casts his mind back. "I think it's been a long time," he says, "Since I followed someone who was bad. But…maybe someday I'll find out I was wrong about that. I don't know."

"They do have some marvelous disguises," sighs Esme, shaking her head. The problems in the life of a Camillo do seem to excite her sympathies. "I'm sure you've chosen rightly in the Hightowers, though, they seem like very fine people from all I've heard. Lord Ormund," she nods, "and his sister."

Camillo bobs his head quickly. "I think they are good," he says. "I have seen nothing that makes me fear. They have not asked me to do anything I would not want to do."

This implication that he has, at other times, in other places, seen things that made him fear, is not lost upon Esme. She is quiet for a long moment, and then she nods. "I'm glad of that," she says softly. "I wouldn't like to think of you bein' put in a difficult position. It's no good pretendin' those positions don't exist, is it? Especially for smallfolk."

Camillo heaves a faint sigh. "Servants are often put into difficult positions," he says. "For instance, what if some authority asks you to bear witness against your employer, but your employer asks you to lie?" he proposes. "Or what if you learn that someone in the house is…cheating someone else or…doing something it would hurt them to know?"

"Well, there's somethin' to be said for seein' nothin', hearin' nothin', and knowin' nothin'," suggests Esme, as all her dropped Gs pile up under the table, "but only up to a point. Beyond that, well. You've got to ask yourself, is this a person I ought to be workin' for?" She lifts an eyebrow. "You can't just give over your conscience wholly to someone else's needs."

Camillo tilts his head slightly. "Well…" he says slowly. "Sometimes it's easier than you think. But. That's not asked of me much anymore."

"… I should hope not," sniffs Esme. Then she sighs. "Well, if you're workin' for good people," she begins, with the air of one composing a list, "and they don't put your conscience to any trouble — if you've earned respect, and you've authority and a degree of independence to prove it — if you're livin' comfortably enough, with coin to suffice for your needs and more free time than you know what to do with," which isn't necessarily much, "what do you suppose is missing to make you happy? Is there," a smile tugs at one corner of her mouth, "a woman who's sayin' 'no', or at least not sayin' 'yes'?"

Camillo seems a little worried by Esme's first question, the question of how he could possibly be unhappy when he has so many blessings and luxuries, but then the second one surprises him more and he blinks at her several times. "A…?" He shakes his head. "No, I… I don't plan to marry, now. I'm forty and…used to things as they are. It can be…inconvenient for servants to marry. Many employers…well, you know this, but…they don't like their servant halls mixed in gender so…" he trails off.

"Servants have married before — upper servants," points out Esme, "and it hasn't been the end of the world. If the Hightower doesn't have accommodations for married staff, well, you could take rooms somewhere nearby in the city. Convenient. The domestic difficulty, that ain't a reason not to marry if you'd a mind for it. If you haven't, though, of course, if you like your life as it is…" She tilts her head. "I married pretty late," she admits, perhaps the only time she's ever spoken to Camillo of her late (ahem) husband, whose ring she still wears, "and mostly for… a different life, you see?"

"Yes," Camillo admits, maybe a little uncomfortable when she pokes holes in his objection. "But I…don't plan to. You married because you wanted something different?" he asks, shifting the focus back to her.

"Well, that's the way it works for women, generally," explains Esme. "You choose a man, you choose his life. It becomes yours as well so you'd better make sure it suits." She pauses. "But you were just saying, weren't you, that you liked service and you wouldn't want to pack it in and be your own boss, or anything of the kind. And in any case it's a different story for men."

"I've been a servant all my life," Camillo says. "It's what I know and what I'm good at. It seems like it would be foolish to change that now. But…I'm not sure I would want to change anyone else, either."

"Can't get married without changin'," opines Esme, "the both of you. You change each other, in ways you never even meant to, even if you don't change the obvious things like where you live and the job you do. It might be the changes are for the better, of course. A good marriage is like that."

Camillo furrows his brow a little and nods. "I haven't been married," he says. Which is fairly obvious. "Would you marry again?"

Esme looks up at him with widened eyes — and after an instant's stunned pause she laughs aloud. "Gods above, what a question," she manages, ducking her head again and chuckling and having swift recourse to her cup of water. "I couldn't do a thing like that even if some fool were to ask me. I've my son to consider," she points out, with the air of one stating the glaringly obvious, "and at my time of life… really, Camillo," she chides.

Camillo pulls back a little at Esme's reaction, blinking. "Well I don't mean to… I'm not… I don't mean to offend," he settles on. "I only wondered."

"… It's all right," she chuckles, and then lets out a sigh and sips her water again, "it only surprised me. To be asked somethin' like that. The fact is," and this she states more soberly as well as more confidentially, putting down her cup and leaning forward with her forearms against the edge of the table, "the very reason why a prosperous widow is a prospect for a second marriage, in some men's eyes, is the very reason why if she's got any sense she won't. If I married again all this—" She gestures to the flat, the two shops below it, and the cleaning business besides. "Which is in my name, every brick and stone and meat-hook, would belong to him, not me."

Camillo nods, a small but repeated gesture. "I understand," he says quickly. "It is a good reason not to marry." He pauses. "Do you think it is a sin not to marry? I mean, never to?"

"Of course not," says Esme promptly. "Some people aren't made for it, one way or another, and it's no good them pretendin' they are. If they were to marry anyway, just out of some fool notion that it was their duty, and it would be a sin not to, well, that's two lives ruined right there."

Camillo looks thoughtful about that. "Some people say it /is/ your duty," he points out. "To your family and the Mother. To marry and have children."

"Think how many terrible parents there are in the world," Esme suggests. "People who didn't really want their children and haven't any notion what to do with 'em. Do you think the Mother is pleased to watch those babes suffer? Do you think just to make 'em, whether they're loved or no, is to fulfill one's duty to Her?"

"I don't know," Camillo confesses, dipping his chin a little. "Mistress Esme," he says next, "What is the difference between selfishness and being true to yourself?"

What Esme thinks of that sort of parenting (or lack thereof) is plain enough in her expression as she sniffs. But then Camillo asks his next bafflingly vast question, and she clasps her hands together and falls with a small sigh into thought. "… I think," she says after a long moment, "it's somethin' like the difference between takin' what you only want, and takin' what you really need. But we all have different needs, and you're the only one who can know yours. Someone else might think you're selfish for takin' what he could get along without. But it might be that you couldn't."

"But," Camillo says, "I think there are some people who…would think they need the whole world, really need it. To them it feels real. So how do you know from the inside?" he asks, brow furrowed.

"Well, they're just wrong-headed," explains Esme. "And I'll tell you something else — wanting so much, wanting the world, wanting the impossible, has its own punishment built in. Those people will never be happy, no matter what they get. If there's one thing I'm sure of it's that the less you need, the happier you are." She glances about her at her spare, clean, cheerful little flat. "You don't have to worry about gettin' it, or keepin' it, or what's the next step, what more you can get… Simple wishes, needs the right size — you can have those granted every day and take joy in them."

Camillo is quiet for a little while, and seems very thoughtful. Maybe on more than one topic at once. Which doesn't help with speed.

From the other side of the table, her usual chair with the two cushions instead of one, Esme studies him as though thinking about his thoughtfulness. "… I don't know how to tell from the inside, not exactly," she murmurs, "but I think it comes back to happiness again. To be true unto yourself, and sufficient unto yourself, I think that's a kind of happiness. If there's something you think will make you happier, and you want it and you get it and it doesn't, well, I'd think that might be a sign it was a selfish want, something beyond merely being true to your own nature and your own needs."

Camillo nods a little at that, since it offers /some/ kind of measure. But he still looks thoughtful. "I think many people may not know they are selfish until they already cause harm," he says. "It seems dangerous to ask for much."

"Am I going to sound too much like a mother," wonders Esme out loud, "if I say, I don't care what other people think, I care what you think—?" She quirks her eyebrows at him and shakes her head at herself. Very much herself.

Camillo lifts his eyebrows a little. "What I think about what?" he asks, perhaps a bit maddeningly. "I don't think I understand much about these things." He pauses, then admits, "I was engaged to marry a long time ago, but I didn't."

If he thinks he can get off that easily, in conversation with an elderly female friend much interested in other people's business, he's very much mistaken. "What was the matter, if you don't mind my asking?" asks Esme, whether or not he minds. "… I don't know whether to say I'm sorry things went wrong, or somethin' else, till I know how you feel about it," she explains, giving him a fond, grandmotherly little smile. (You know, one of the ones she practices nightly, for just such interrogations.)

"Oh," Camillo says, shaking his head a little. "Well, it wasn't… I didn't ask to be engaged. She didn't either. But we lived next door and our parents thought it… The families could combine businesses."

Esme's smile turns knowing — and perhaps a little wistful. "Ah, one of those," she says gravely. "Part of the life you left behind when you got out of the horse business, I take it?" she nudges gently.

"Yes," Camillo admits, but not with much pride. After all, quite a few parental hopes are being dashed in this scenario, at the very least.

"… I had an offer along those lines seven or eight years ago," offers Esme, on the offchance candour will shake something else loose. "Widowed butcher a few doors down. But even if I hadn't had my son to think of, well, it seemed to me," she confides, leaning a little further over the table, "I'd be takin' on a lot of bother for a fairly negligible financial benefit. And the last thing I wanted was to end up cookin' and cleanin' for three whilst bein' edged out of my own business. No, thank you," she chuckles. "I do nicely by myself."

Camillo nods a little. "When…I think of it as a grown man I wonder if…the plan might not have been… Well, the stable and the inn, they both relied mostly on visitors, so you'd think that…when visitors were few, it… So perhaps she married a farmer. That would've been better. I think."

"Oh," and Esme is nodding as well, "two seasonal trades, yoked together… and you not happy in your work even in the good times, let alone the lean ones… I think that must have been the right choice, for her as well."

Camillo puts a hand to the back of his neck. He definitely looks guilty. "I…hope so," he says. "She was very good. I would…want her to be happy, in the end."

"If you weren't the fellow to make her so, it was as well you cleared out of it," opines Esme. "What most women want is to marry one man, and have him be the right one — and I've no patience for any man who knows he ain't that man, he ain't goin' to marry her and look after her and make her as happy as he can, but who keeps her tied up so she can't look for somethin' better."

Camillo makes a slightly uncomfortable expression, but he nods. "I'm sure she could do better," he agrees. "I hope she did."

"You look as though I'd just said somethin' that didn't reflect well on you," Esme observes. "That ain't the case at all. It ain't about better or worse, just right or wrong. And a lot of things influence that, you know."

Camillo nods uncertainly, perhaps not fully following Esme's distinction between the 'good-bad' and 'right-wrong' paradigms. "Yes," he agrees. "Things are very complicated."

But Esme is by now accustomed to having to unpack her thoughts for Camillo's benefit, and she does so with this one too. "Choosin' to make your life with someone, that's one of the most complicated things of all. And if it wouldn't have been a good life, for those practical reasons we've just been sayin', well. Perhaps you've both done better, in avoidin' it. Doesn't make someone else the better man, just better for her, as goin' another way, makin' a life in Oldtown, has been better for you," she explains patiently.

Camillo puts up a hand and nods. "No, I know," he claims. "It's… As it is. And I was still young."

"Ah, well," sighs Esme, "some people aren't meant to marry young, and some aren't meant to be married at all. And I know I shouldn't poke and pry into which of those you are," she apologises, inclining her head toward him, "but I'm always very interested in my friends' lives, I can't help it."

Camillo shakes his head. "It's all right," he says. "I've told others. That I left then and that I don't think I will marry now. It isn't…really a secret."

"… I wouldn't want to think you'd told me anything you might regret tellin' me later on, and wish you could take back," adds Esme gently.

Camillo shakes his head softly. "No, it's all right," he says. "Some people know. I'm not proud. I left abruptly when I had the chance. But…well. If it was better for her in the end then it's all right."

Esme nods again. "I don't think it was selfish of you," she murmurs, in case that's one of the worries percolating round the confines of his mind.

Camillo inclines his head. "Thank you," he says. "But…It probably was. Then. Even if it was right anyway in the end. It was easy to think only of myself in those days."

"Always is, when you're young and unattached," agrees Esme. "I used to be very selfish, myself. One of my besetting sins," she admits with a sigh. "I hope I'm not as much so now, but, of course, we all are from time to time."

"But you're always very generous to me," Camillo points out. "I wouldn't forget that."

"Oh, well," and Esme ducks her head and looks away and laughs quietly. "That's easy enough to be, dearie. Don't think it isn't." Then she glances at his plate, and nods to it. "Though if you've had enough of your pasty, I daresay we'd both better be gettin' on. My shop's hardly seen me today."

"Oh," Camillo says, instantly getting up. "I'm sorry, I wasn't even…" He looks out the window. "I didn't mean to keep you, and poor Katla's had to mind the shop while I was going on."

Esme sits back in her chair and chuckles at his immediate reaction. "Oh, I was goin' on too," she insists. "It's no bother, and don't think Katla's not paid well for her work. It's only that I'd not want to keep you too long from yours. You've responsibilities, after all. And maybe your employers aren't as forgivin' as mine, when it comes to long lunches." She winks.

"Yes, you're right," Camillo is quick to agree. "Thank you for the food, it's very kind." And he sounds deeply sincere on that point. "I'll bring you the first cuttings when the plants are established," he further promises.

The legs of his hostess's chair squeak against the floor as she pushes it back and stands up. "Now, what have I told you?" she reminds him, already gathering his plate and his cup and his cutlery to take them across to the sideboard. "I've nowhere to put 'em. Just let me know how they're gettin' on, that's all I'd ask of you. And how you're gettin' on with them," she adds. Because this is his much-discussed, much-anticipated Hobby.

Camillo bobs his head. "All right," he agrees. "I'm sorry to run off in a hurry, but." He's going to.

It's all right. "It's all right," explains Esme, following him to the stair door. "It was lovely to see you again. Do look in whenever you're passin', eh?"

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License