Darid 21, 1014
“And this is it!” Rosette said, flinging her arms open wide. “The shop is finally ready!”
And “finally” was truly the operative word here. She had spent the last few months trying to ready everything. The shelves, the wood floor, the plaster on the walls, even the stock samples gracing the shelves — as of now, that wasn’t the half of it. There had been connections made with Albion’s weavers and fullers and dyers, asking them to sell some of their product to her for a low price so she could turn around and sell it to others. There had been some tapestries woven, so she could sell them right away to people looking for something to hang up on a wall. And there had been the dozens and dozens of sketches and plans and patterns: all ideas for outfits, all fully realized, and all ready to (hopefully) sell along with the cloth.
All this — and she hadn’t even started the business yet. Not properly.
“So,” Rosette asked, turning back to her sister, “what–what do you think?”
Toinette ought to have some kind of idea of whether Rosette was on the right track or not. She had only helped her husband build two businesses up from the ground. And while, perhaps, aesthetics had not been the biggest concern in their first shop — nobody much cared what the food stand looked like, as long as the food tasted good and the price was right — Rosette was selling cloth. Cloth, she felt, was different. And she was selling an experience, a taste of luxury, as much as she was selling the cloth. You couldn’t do that on a dirt floor and with walls where the plaster barely covered the straw used to separate outside from inside.
Toinette did not answer at first. She narrowed her eyes and tapped her fingers against her chin. “When are ye openin’, love?” she asked.
Rosette’s stomach dropped. Was it all wrong? Did she need to redo everything? Was there something — something Rosette hadn’t seen — that would drive away all the customers? “M-Monday …”
“Oh, don’t look at me like that, Rosette, it’s fine!” Toinette said, patting Rosette’s shoulder. “This is a real step up from me an’ Grady’s first business, that’s fer certain-sure. Nice an’ bright an’ airy. An’ it seems bigger than it is. That’s always a good thing. Sometimes, in that old place, I felt so cramped an’ hemmed-in that I wanted ter scream at next person who jostled me.”
Rosette felt she could breathe again when Toinette said that.
“I think folks will like comin’ here. I do. An’ with any luck, ye’ll sell a lot simply because they’ll like bein’ here.” Toinette grinned. “But, Rosette … ye got anyone ter help ye out? Runnin’ the place, I mean?”
Rosette shook her head. Help, at this point, seemed like a luxury she could ill-afford. How could she possibly justify to Mordred extra money for wages for a helper when she hadn’t even started things up yet?
Toinette put both hands on her hips and surveyed Rosette with a quirked brow. “An’ how are ye expectin’ ter run this place, Rosie, with no one ter give ye a hand?”
“Well, I–I was only going to do it while the children are in school,” Rosette replied. “Because … well, they have to be my first priority, after all. I–how much help do you think I would need?”
“How much time ye spent behind a cashbox?” Toinette asked, one eyebrow raised.
“Well … none …”
“Then ye ain’t got no idea how much help ye’re gonna need,” Toinette replied in the voice of someone who knew that from bitter experience.
“But you and Grady did fine by yourselves!” Rosette protested.
“First o’ all, since it were me an’ Grady, we weren’t properly by ourselves — aye?” Toinette asked. “Second, we also had Lilé, may she rest in peace, an’ even Finley on good days givin’ us a hand. Third, Grady …” Toinette smiled fondly. “He’s got a natural head fer it — business, I mean. Oh, it were hard those first few years, but once he learned the ropes, he was able ter run jest about everythin’ and keep it all goin’, even when Finley weren’t quite in his right senses … if ye know what I mean.” Toinette sighed.
But the enforced pall over the conversation was gone in a moment, as Toinette blinked and continued, “An’ ye know what I’ve been findin’?”
Rosette shook her head, thought she was more than a bit nervous about where this might be going.
“The best business sense — it ain’t jest learned. Anyone can learn it — Lord knows even I’ve learned it! — but it can also be passed down. Ye know. From father ter son.” And, if there was any doubt as to where Toinette was heading with this, she added, “Or daughter.”
Rosette was not surprised to turn around and see Katie grinning at her.
“Now, hear me out before ye go sayin’ anythin’,” Toinette said. “Ye need help. I think we can all agree of that –”
“Toinette! I haven’t even started yet! I don’t know we can agree that I need help!”
Toinette sighed. “Rosie, first of all, if ye’re thinkin’ ye can jest close up shop when the kids come home, ye need help. An’ ye need someone who can help show ye the ropes, who can show ye how stuff’s done. Who can help mind the cashbox …”
“I’m good at that!” Katie chimed in. Rosette barely stopped herself from cringing.
“An’ can help ye with putting stuff back on the shelves. I know ye’ve got everythin’ lined up nice an’ neat now, but it ain’t gonna stay that way,” replied Toinette in the voice of a woman who knew.
“An’ best of all,” Toinette went on, “Katie won’t be axin’ no wages at first!”
“At first,” Toinette repeated, “an’ then if things work out … well, we can work out how much ye think ye can afford,” Toinette glared at Katie, a “don’t say anything if you know what’s good for you” glare if Rosette ever saw one, “an’ then ye can start givin’ Katie a little somethin’. So, what d’ye say, Rosie?”
What could she say? Clearly a “yes” was what was being asked for, but … “Toinette,” Rosette lowered her voice, “why do you want Katie to be helping me out? Isn’t there plenty for her to do with Grady, at the shop?”
“‘Cause I want to be apprenticed!” Katie answered, which proved that Rosette’s voice-lowering skills were nowhere near as strong as she had hoped they were. “But Ma an’ Da want me to stay in school.”
“Stay in–Katie, you’re thirteen! Of course you can’t leave school yet!” Rosette gasped.
“Which is what her pa an’ I keep tellin’ her,” Toinette sighed, rolling her eyes. “Katie, ye don’t know how good ye have it! But …” Toinette shrugged. “She wants ter spread her wings. Fly a bit. Spend some time in a shop that lets her not come home smellin’ like fish afterwards.”
“Which is always important!” giggled Katie.
“Aye — so Grady an’ I thought, and we thought havin’ her help ye out fer a few hours every day after school would be jest the ticket. So what d’ye say, sis? Give Katie a chance? If it don’t work out, ye can send her back ter her pa an’ me with her tail between her legs, an’ we’ll say no more about it.”
Rosette took a deep breath. “Toinette–”
Someone knocked at the door, and Rosette let out a sigh of relief — saved by the knock! “Come in!” she called, glad of the distraction.
She ceased to be glad as soon as the door opened and Kata Thatcher came in, followed by a young woman.
For she remembered what Kata had been hinting at, ever since Rosette had mentioned her shop and the move. There was a “friend” she had. Someone whom Kata thought Rosette could help. Someone who had fallen on hard times and who could really use a steady, clean job inside, out of the wet …
Rosette had pretended not to understand what Kata was talking about, but apparently pretense was not going to help her now. Still, she smiled as broadly as she could as Kata came in. “Kata! And … who is this?”
Kata grinned back. She gestured to the young woman, who stepped forward. “Rosette, this is me friend, Glenna Ruskin. Ye may remember me talkin’ about her. Glenna, this is Rosette Chevaux.”
The young woman stepped forward and hesitantly shook hands. “Good afternoon, Mistress Chevaux,” Glenna said.
She looked like a nice enough girl, if one could judge by looking. Rosette could definitely believe the part about “hard times,” too, if one judged by the clothing. They had the loose look of clothes that had been let out to fit a broader frame, and hadn’t been taken in yet. Good Lord — was this girl starving? If it was as bad as that, how could Rosette not help her?
Well, either way, Rosette could start by making things a little less formal. “Oh, please, call me Rosette!” She preferred that by far. It was easier to go by her first name than to take a title she hadn’t earned … at least, not in the sense that it was meant when used as a prefix to her surname.
“And–and this is my sister, Toinette Brogan,” Rosette gestured to Toinette, who nodded and smiled, “and my niece, Katie — Katie Brogan.”
Glenna smiled at both, then turned a slightly wondering glance to Katie. Katie replied with a raised eyebrow. Then Glenna shook her head and turned to Toinette. “Ye — ye have a beautiful daughter, ma’am, if ye don’t mind me sayin’.”
“I sure don’t!” Katie replied for her, which made them all chuckle and chased away the tension in the room.
For Kata turned to Rosette as soon as the laughter was over, “Rosette, I’m sure ye want ter be chattin’ with yer sister, so I’ll be makin’ this quick. Glenna’s the friend I’ve been talkin’ about, the one who needs a bit o’ help.”
“Kata …” Rosette started. But Glenna was smiling so hopefully that Rosette couldn’t go on.
“An’ she … well, I’ll let Glenna tell it ter ye.” Kata gestured to Glenna, who swallowed, but started talking quickly enough.
“I–I came here from Glasonland last year, with me little brothers an’ sister. Our parents are dead — killed in …” Glenna shuddered and looked away, which told Rosette plenty that she could guess and more than she, perhaps, wanted to know. “An’ — an’ I had a baby, after I come here. So–so money’s tight. We–”
“You had a baby?” Rosette repeated. “Where–” is the baby’s father? she wanted to ask. But — she couldn’t. Or at least, she couldn’t. Maybe other women could demand that information, but those who lived in glass houses …
Glenna paled, proving that she had heard the unspoken question, and Kata glared, proving that she had, too. “Money’s tight,” Glenna continued. “Seumas — me brother — he works on Sir Lancelot’s lands, an’ I got a job with a group o’ faire entertainers, but … it ain’t much. It’s barely anythin’. So, so, a regular job, with regular pay, would be — would be everythin’ I could axe fer an’ more, Mis–Rosette.”
“Glenna, I don’t think–” Rosette started.
“Now, Glenna,” Kata interrupted, “why don’t ye tell her why ye’d be suited toward helpin’ her out?”
Glenna nodded. “I’ll be the first ter admit that I ain’t got no–no shop experience,” Glenna started, causing Kata to wince — apparently that was not how she wanted Glenna to go about this speech — “but–I know how ter work. Work hard. An’ I’ll do everythin’ ye axe o’ me, Rosette. I’m good at cipherin’ an’ figures, too — if that helps.”
“Well, it might, but –”
“But Rosette,” Toinette broke in, “already has somebody helping her — isn’t that right, Rosette?”
“Toinette!” Rosette hissed. “You sound just like Mama!”
“A-men,” muttered Kata.
Toinette glared at Kata, then at Rosette. “Say what ye like about Ma — but she got stuff done,” Toinette replied. Well, that made sense — Toinette had always been closest to Cerise. Cerise had somehow managed to not be as hard on Toinette, too, though Rosette wasn’t sure why — wasn’t it the oldest who usually got the brunt of parental focus and discipline? But that was neither here nor there.
“Anyway, Rosette an’ me were jest talkin’ about how she were gonna be takin’ Katie on as a help, weren’t we, Rosette?” asked Toinette.
“Katie?” Kata stepped in before Glenna could say anything, smoothly intercepting Toinette. “Well, that’s right kind o’ her, ter offer ter help — but surely ye’ll be the first ter admit, Toinette, that she hardly needs a hand the way Glenna do.”
Toinette put her hands on her hips. “She’s willin’ ter work fer nothin’ while Rosette gets the shop sorted an’ off the ground — aye, I’d say that was right kind.”
Kata should have given up then. By the way Glenna paled and Kata blinked, Rosette even thought she might. Alas, it was not to be. “Money ain’t everythin’, Toinette Brogan. Ye ought ter know that.”
“Aye, I do,” replied Toinette. “Family’s a lot more important than money.”
“An’ it would mean a lot ter me if Rosette would give Katie this chance,” Toinette went on, giving Rosette a look that she might have stolen right out of Cerise’s bag of tricks.
“Why’ that?” Kata asked.
Toinette’s mouth opened and shut. Rosette cringed. Did they really have to go into this here and now? “Kata, Toinette,” Rosette started, intending to tell the both of them that they had made very good points and that she would have to think on it.
But Katie threw a wrench into that plan. “Because I want to be apprenticed, but Ma and Da don’t want to do that,” replied Katie. “They want me to stay in school, an’ learn more … there. But I want to learn a trade, so — this was a good compromise. I get to learn more about dressmaking an’ designing clothes, not just wearing the same kind of clothes your grandmother wore — sorry, Ma — an’ Rosette gets somebody to help with her business.”
Rosette blinked. She was supposed to teach Katie dressmaking, too?
“Although I don’t know why you can’t just hire us both, Auntie Rosie,” Katie went on. “Especially since I won’t be taking any wages.” Katie shot her mother a look there. “You can pay Glenna an’ not me, an’ when you’re making enough, you can pay me too.”
Rosette covered her face with her hands rather than see the looks that Toinette and Kata were shooting to her.
Because even though her mind acknowledged the practicality of Katie’s statement, her gut was shouting, No, no, no! She was already in over her head on this shop, and she knew it. She barely had any idea of how to run a business. Mordred was very little help in that regard, because even though she knew he was very clever with his money, being good with one’s money as a nobleman was not at all the same thing as being able to make money in a shop. And Mordred was the one who so desperately wanted this all to work out … she couldn’t disappoint him.
But she knew, also, that training Katie in dressmaking — even if she wasn’t a dressmaker, technically — and training Glenna in a shop while trying to start up the shop herself and keep the children in line and keep Mordred happy and try to find a moment to breath in it all — that was so far beyond her talents, it might as well be on the moon. No. She could only afford to have one of the young women, if either of them, from the perspective of her own sanity if not necessarily her purse.
So she looked up and took a deep breath, finally daring to look both Toinette and Kata in the eye. “You’re … you’re both very kind to … to offer to help me … but I think I can only take on one assistant right now.”
But which of them? Both women were glaring guilt into her very soul. Who needed her help more? Glenna, the young mother with … for some reason, no father in the picture, and her siblings to care for … or her own sister’s child, who wanted to try some new things in her life and who was growing beyond her family’s horizon?
No. No, that couldn’t be how Rosette looked at this. She had to be practical in this decision. Businesslike. It was the only way she would get better at this.
So … what advantages and disadvantages did each young woman bring to the table?
Glenna first. Her advantages started with the fact that she could almost certainly work more than Katie could, though with a baby at home that might be questionable. She was also older and more mature than Katie. And she was eager to learn. The disadvantages were that she knew less of business than Rosette did, and that Rosette would have to pay her right from the start.
Now Katie. Katie knew more of business than Rosette did, so she would be a big help. They could work on the dressmaking slowly. She didn’t need to be paid. And Mordred had been talking about Rosette joining the Guild … if Rosette helped Grady and Toinette by hiring Katie, then Grady would be more willing to help her …
The disadvantage to Katie was — well, she didn’t need the help the way Glenna did. And she had a lot of spirit, and might be hard to handle. But …
But she had a lot more advantages.
Rosette walked over and hugged her niece. “How–how would you like to work for me, Katie?”
“Would I!” Katie grinned, the same grin she’d had from when she was a toddler and just learning how much fun it was to get her way. “An’ just you wait, Auntie Rosie! We’ll make this shop so good, you’ll be able to start payin’ me in no time!”
“Katie!” Toinette smacked her forehead.
Rosette laughed. “I hope so. And–and as soon as I can, if I need more help … Glenna, you’ll be the first person I ask.” There. That would be a good compromise, wouldn’t it?
Glenna smiled, clearly willing to take it. But Kata … did not.
“Ye’ve had a lot of help, Rosette Chevaux,” Kata replied, so softly that Rosette wasn’t sure anyone else was meant to hear it. “An’ I thought ye might want ter pass some help along terday. I guess I was wrong. But … oh well. Such is life, I suppose.” Her face transformed into a brittle, false smile. “But we won’t be takin’ up no more o’ yer time today. Come on, Glenna.”
And as Glenna and Kata politely took their leave, and Toinette and Katie chattered excitedly about the job and what Katie would be doing and what a big help she would be, Rosette stood off to the side and wondered …
Had she just flubbed her first big decision? But that didn’t make sense. Katie was surely the better choice — wasn’t she?
But if that was the case …
Why did Rosette feel so bad?