Marguerite pulled off the road and up the long gravel driveway that led to the Broken Oaks mansion and mentally berated her father once again at the assignment he’d given her once he’d found out that Nanette Passebon was in residence in Honfleur. He knew well she didn’t care for the alchemist, but amused him to send her to make manners with the woman.
The vampiress sighed and put the automobile into park after pulling up in front of the decrepit looking home. Whatever her wishes, a command from the Lord of House Dufoix was something that could not be disobeyed if she wanted to keep her head attached to her shoulders. Not that it was likely her father would be that angry with her, but it was also a small thing to risk the anger over as well. The thought lingered in her mind as she made her way up the battered brick walkway and pressed the doorbell to summon the butler, smoothing out any wrinkles in her dress as she waited.
Nanette had never considered herself an actress; that sort was never much for company or conversation, in her estimation. But spending days on end playing the part of the charming and sweet country doctor was putting her alongside Sarah Bernhardt. Her morning had been filled with snot-nosed little brats called off from school with little more than a late spring cold, and the afternoon had brought decrepit old men and woman whose rheumatism was acting up and whose internal plumbing wasn’t doing much of anything at all. Finally the evening had come, and she had closed up shop, smiling a saccharine smile and nodding to those patients she passed on her drive home.
Finally, she was alone, and the play-acting could end.
For all the peeling paint and overgrown acres surrounding the exterior of the old plantation home, the interior was just that much more extravagant. Nanette had spared little cost in making Broken Oaks suitable to her tastes before moving in. She sat quietly with one of several newspapers brought to her daily from New Orleans and took her evening coffee - a bit of a commonality but a comfortable vice nonetheless - on an antique settee in the formal parlor. The old butler who stood at attention beside the door flinched slightly when the doorbell rang and looked to his mistress for instruction; she raised her eyes from her paper only long enough to wave him towards the front hall and the door beyond.
Marguerite raised an eyebrow at the sight of the butler when the door opened. Where had the alchemist dug up such an old fossil? The man had to be well past normal retirement age for normal work, they had laws about that sort of thing now didn’t they? Marguerite found it hard to pay attention to such things when her own ageing had ceased more than three quarters of a century past.
“Is your mistress at home and receiving visitors? I am Marguerite Dufoix, she’ll know the name.”
“Please follow me,” the butler half-mumbled, stepping aside to allow the woman entrance before turning to move quietly down the intricate parquet floor towards the front parlor where his mistress waited. He stood alongside the doorway to allow the woman to enter the parlor, then slipped out to the hallway to wait; he would be called if needed.
Upon seeing her visitor, Nanette arched a slender eyebrow and set her silver-plate Turkish coffee cup down on a marble topped table beside the settee. Before greeting her guest, Nanette folded her newspaper and let it rest on the cushion beside her, declining to stand.
“I’d have expected a visit from a Dufoix a little sooner after my arrival, I must confess,” she spoke in greeting. “Though I’d not have expected the younger. Welcome to Broken Oaks, Marguerite,” she went on, finally deigning to stand. “Do sit down. Could I offer you some coffee? I’ll have Martín bring it in.”
“Coffee would be wonderful, thank you.” Marguerite replied, mentally grinding her teeth while her outward expression was that of a polite smile. If the alchemist hadn’t been a valued ally of her house in the past she’d have the bitch on her knees begging for the slightest touch after that insult. “I’ve only just arrived in the area this week and have spent most of that time attending to the required details. As soon as I heard that ‘Dr. Passebon’ was in residence here, I informed my father and made arrangements to come pay my respects. House Dufoix does not forget our friends.” There, let the alchemist put that in her pipe and smoke it.
She sat down in the offered chair and smoothed out her dress automatically before returning her attention back to Nanette. “The house looks lovely on the inside, you must have had quite a bit to do to bring it up to modern comforts. I had to have quite a bit done to the old homestead when I decided to take it over, the passage of time had been quite hard on it I’m afraid.”
Nanette glanced at the doorway; Martín had already begun ambling towards the kitchen. The old man had been a good investment in his day, though it was clear his years were coming to an end. Nanette was considering keeping his head after he’d gone, as a remembrance. Though it certainly wouldn’t fit in with the rest of the collection.
“I had a good long while to plan my coming home,” Nanette responded, relaxing back onto the settee. “I’d had contractors in here more than three years ago, once I’d gotten the legal paperwork brought up to speed. I purchased Broken Oaks in the early fifties, it was just a matter of becoming my own great-grandaughter once again to take up residence. I’d always meant to come home to Louisiana, one of the few places I’ve ever really enjoyed. There’s just that pesky process of waiting for people to forget.”
She had ignored the vampire’s less than friendly tone. It wouldn’t do well to make an enemy of the Dufoix clan, as irritating as the young vampire could be. It was more likely than not the youth itself that grated on Nanette’s nerves. She really couldn’t have a decent conversation with anyone less than a century and a half, it often seemed.
“I hadn’t been back since I was a teenager, I doubt anyone is left alive who could remember the ‘original’ Marguerite Dufoix.” Marguerite leaned back in the chair, slightly more relaxed now that Nannette was done being difficult. There wasn’t anyone else in town aside from her servants that knew her and not the facade she presented, so as difficult as the alchemist could be Marguerite would put up with her for now. “It is a strange feeling, coming home again after so long. Most of the old landmarks are still there, but everything has changed.” Both the town and herself. She hadn’t been back since the day after her first feeding, which felt so very long ago now.
Nanette laughed softly, a rare occasion in the company of so brusque an acquaintance. Pressing her fingertips to her lips to stifle the quiet chuckles still threatening to escape, she closed her eyes and gently shook her head at the memory of her last days in New Orleans. The mild nod of her head shook loose a elegantly curled tendril of dark hair, and it fell prettily against the paleness of her cheek.
“I daresay I had garnered quite the reputation in my early days in the city,” she responded, more laughter dancing in her light eyes as she spoke. “Granted, you weren’t even a twinkle in your dear father’s eye at the time, but suffice it to say there is very good reason it was nearly two centuries before I could return undetected.”
Stories of the horrors that dwell in the night can persist; a beautiful face hiding savage cruelty is not easily forgotten. Time and the ravage of a war were just enough to erase the name that had once been whispered in fearful tones among the people of New Orleans.
“I had heard a little about your exploits when I was a child,” Marguerite told the alchemist as the butler shuffled back into the room bearing a coffee service. “Of course, by then I’m sure some of the stories had been exaggerated, as all scary tales are. My nanny used to threaten me when I misbehaved that ‘Mademe Passebon gonna come eatchya if’n you don’ mind.’”
Nanette laughed again, this time nearly rocking in her seat as she did. One hand flew to cover her open mouth in as ladylike a manner as possible, while the other she braced on the table beside the settee, completely ignoring Martín as he poured another cup of the steaming Turkish coffee. Imagine, thought! Nanette was just tickled.
“Oh, dear child, how terribly funny!” she finally spoke, twin roses blossoming in each cheek of her pale face, brought on by the mirth. “That I’d even...! Oh, it’s just too much!”
She was still chuckling to herself as Martín finished, and she waved him away without a word, retrieving her own coffee cup for a long sip before speaking again. “The stories they would tell, how silly. No, no, never a cannibal. Whatever was left after I completed my... work... went to the dogs. Or the slaves. Neither would have noticed the difference, anyhow. Of course, I do keep the odd trophy now and again. For my collection, you understand.”
“Of course.” Marguerite didn’t understand, unless she considered the fact that Nannette was...what was the phrase? Batshit Crazy? In either case she was too polite to say so as a guest in the woman’s house, and kept her expression unchanged as she lifted the coffee cup to her lips. “I never cared to keep trophies of any of my kills, that isn’t something that appealed to me. Of course,” she took a sip of the coffee and nodded approvingly, “I don’t normally take my time with food like you do with your...research.”
Nanette shrugged. “Waste not, want not,” she responded. After all, what use was there in tossing away what could easily be used for research? Even a subject kept bound for months at a time would still regenerate blood and skin tissue, all very useful for one in Nanette’s line of work.
She cleared her throat and leaned back in her seat, folding her hands in her lap. She regarded the vampire for a long moment; what could one do with such a creature? Her head certainly wouldn’t do for the collection. Nanette had quite enough brunettes.
“Now, Marguerite,” she began. “I understand the... protocol... that demanded your visit this evening and in truth, I do appreciate seeing the gentility of such old world manners now and again. But I do wonder... are we going to be able to coexist in this lovely little town?”
Marguerite tilted her head slightly as she returned the alchemist’s gaze coolly. After a moment’s contemplation the vampire decided could take her, if she truly wanted to and had the need. The woman, no matter how insane or past her original expiration date she may be, was still human. Still subject to the same evolutionary and biological urges as the rest of her kind.
Her father and the others would be irritated, yes, but they knew she wouldn’t take such action unless she truly believed it necessary.
She held the other woman’s gaze for several seconds longer, allowing her to see the predator behind the attractive exterior, then shook her head. “I think we can come to an agreement. Neither of us will be snatching bodies off the street here as it were anyway. Honfleur is too small, and New Orleans and its suburbs are just a short distance away to provide us with what we need. As long as neither does anything that would draw undue scrutiny I think we can agree to a civilized arrangement. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“I would assume that is your more congenial manner of telling me to stay out of your way, and you’ll stay out of mine,” Nanette responded glibly. She pursed her lips. “That, I suppose, will do for now.”
She stood and straightened the skirt of the lilac dress she wore in a habitual manner. Appearances were everything, after all. “Shall I show you to the door? I’m due for a facial.”
“Of course.” Marguerite rose at the polite request for her to leave, having no wish to stay and witness the aforementioned facial. “A pleasure to see you again, as always”
Nanette gave a strained smile and nodded in return, watching as Martín arrived to shuttle the vampire to the door. Once Marguerite had gone, Nanette gave a sigh. Honfleur was not going to the quiet, relaxing hamlet she had once assumed. That was fine; she’d put more thought to it later. For now, she had a beauty ritual to complete.
“Martín,” Nanette called to the old butler. “It’s time for me to make my toilette. Bring the girl from the attic to my powder room. And bring my tools as well.”