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A Golden Opportunity | 10am, December 27th- Xmas 1677

Guest Cèilidh

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John Battersby's hackney carriage pulled to a stop outside of the modest establishment known as the Golden Pestle. As it settled and the horse champed at it's bit, the man regarded the little shop thoughtfully, carefully packing tobacco into his pipe. The place represented an interesting situation. Some might say difficult, but the Master of the Apothecaries didn't look at life that way.


Lighting the pipe, Battersby took a long, thoughtful pull at it before climbing down from the hackney and sending his patient driver to park it. The long, heavy coat with the shoulder cape kept he lightly drifting snow off him, and the hat kept his head warm.


He glanced in the window, then up at the sign, and finally extended one gloved hand and knocked on the door. Madamoiselle would be expecting him.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The door opened before the rapping of his knuckles, beyond the smiling form of Mlle Vauquelin. "Master Battersby, please come in." she was delighted he was not late, her excitement was high for his visit and time that morning had dragged along in the waiting.


She was dressed in a sensible wool day dress in dark cream, trimmed with cotton lacework of pale blue, with an apron fastened neatly about her trim waist. In contrast to her sensibility however was her coiffure; her gleaming brunette locks were wound up high with artfully crafted curls tumbling here and there and trimmed with plump pale blue satin satin ribbons. A fox fur cloak hung on coat peg nearby. You might take the girl out of court, but you couldn't take court out of the girl.


"Come through to the kitchens, where it's warm. I've hot chocolate on the burner, and I've cinnamon cake, fresh from Lady Aylths tea shoppe this very morning." giving a nod to the apprentice at shop counter, she escorted Master Battersby past the display area and through to the second largest room of the premises; the kitchen (though Louis preferred to call it the laboratory).


The Kitchen was essentially a room lined with tables laden with treatments in various stages of prepare, it't rafters strung with various racks with herbs of all sorts. In the center the main workbench had been cleared at the end nearest to the oven, where a cloth from Basildon Manor had been laid out and set with fine china and silverware from the same source. A plate with cake, cake forks, sugar bowl and tongs, teaspoons and napkins in their rings. On the stove a cast iron pot simmered.


It was evident that Nicolette was a little nervous to make a good impression.


"Won't you take a seat?" they were simple no-nonsense wooden chairs that had come with the apothecary.

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Madamoiselle had been expecting him. Anticipating him even. The door opened before he even touched it. “Thank you, Madamoiselle Vauquelin.” The tall man wiped his sensible shoes on the doormat before stepping inside, hazel eyes drifting over the eager form of the young woman - girl, really - with the odd mixture of practical apron and elaborate hair, over the displays within the shop front and all the neat racks and draws typical of the trade. His expression remained pleasantly neutral as he drew a thoughtful breath through his pipe. Quite the unusual case, this one. Intriguing.


“Ah, Lady Alyth’s. Another establishment run, most successfully, by a noble lady.” Battersby observed as he followed Nicci into the kitchen. There was quite the spread laid on, warm spices filling what was obviously usually the main production room. A little space had been made clear and set like a tea table at a gentleman’s house. It made an unusual juxtaposition.


Clearly Madamoiselle was out to impress, which begged the question as to whether she was nervous of something. Well, perhaps she had reason to be. Time and conversation would fill in the gaps. “Terribly kind of you.” Battersby said as he sat. “You needn’t have gone to the trouble.” He said politely. It was interesting that she had.


“I see the apprentice is hard at work.” He observed. They’d passed the man on the way in. “I trust he’s proving suitable. Jog my memory as to how long you’ve had him?” He asked, watching Nicci. She really was a stunning creature – as, by all accounts, was Lady Alyth. And apparently her cousin was an Earl. One couldn’t help but wonder what drove women who should be leisured, to such ends. Boredom perhaps?

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"Why yes, I'd not thought of that." Nicolette chuckled as Battersby drew a connection via the cake, "although I cannot wholly take credit, my cousin is the one with financial savvy - yet mine is the adoration of curatives that drew his attention to this... opportunity." Still nervous, she spoke carefully, trying to arrange facts to cement a good impression in the Master Apothecarist's mind.


Leaving the front room she smiled to the apprentice. She'd warned him of the important meeting, and Paul nodded to their departure into the back room.


Modesty might have been in part of the calling, for then it was Master Battersby who humbly advised she need not have gone to such trouble. She paused and sought the man's face. "Ah, but it was a pleasure to fuss, I'll admit, it's not every day I receive a guest." As in the gardens she again felt an unexpected affinity with Battersby. Although it might be imagined, or even a cunning act on the gentleman's part, it was also possible that they would become grand friends. She hoped so.


Fetching up an oven mitt, she lifted the cast pot and poured the chocolately beverage into a serving jug. "Shall I tell you a secret Master Battersby? I've long idolised Chelsea Physic, it was at the top of my list of things to see in London. And so you as their head, hold a station akin to royalty in my esteem." she laughed breaking any embarrassment in the air. "But alas, your esteemed toosh need today settle for a wooden chair!"


Taking a chair herself, she fussed a little filling the pretty china cups with steaming hot chocolate. He might have had time to look around the room; most things present were to be expected, aside from a tray of toffee apples that were oddly out of place.


"Master Paul Fallon." she supplied the apprentice's name, sliding the cup upon saucer towards Battersby. "He came with the business, was trained by the late owner, and worked under the widow after his death. I believe he's worked here seven odd years. Quite the boon, knows all our clients and manages both sales and inventories. Why really in a fairer world he'd have come to own the business himself." She gave a dainty shrug and offered Battersby a slice of cake.

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So she had a passion for medicines, did she? Perhaps this was all some grand hobby to her. And yet her cousin the Earl was apparently involved. Did he indulge her hobbies, or was there some other reason? Somehow Battersby doubted the Treasurer did things purely for sentimentality, but he could be wrong. “The value of financial advice from so worthy a patron is not to be underestimated.” He acknowledged. Yet surely the leisured class didn’t need to count their pennies.


Either she was a consummate flatterer, or physic really was her passion. Often it could be difficult to tell, and there was no reason that both might not hold true. “I assure you Mademoiselle Vauquelin, that no royalty would consider themselves ill-treated in your hands.” He replied, warmth and a hint of amusement in his tone, ignoring the comment about his ‘toosh’. Given how often he sat on stone walls in the Gardens, the chair was quite comfortable.


As she fussed and served he accepted a cup of hot chocolate and sipped appreciatively. “Thank you.” The Spanish import was an indulgence, one of the many fascinating things to come from the new world.


There were a great many Apothecaries and a great many of their shops, all a bit much for one man to keep track of, he had people for that. So he appreciated Nicci filling him in one the specifics of the Pestle’s history. “Ah yes. Not an uncommon situation.” He commented on the subject of the widow keeping the apprentice and running the establishment. Indeed, the Apothecaries had a small but significant number of female members, mostly widows who had effectively apprenticed whilst helping their husbands, taking over once they died. As long as they met the entrance criteria, they were welcome. “I can see you’ve done a lot with the original establishment establishment.” Which frankly had been very simple, and then there was all that trouble with the Physicians.


“And whom is Mister Fallon apprenticed to now?” He asked innocently as the slice of cake was offered.

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Rather more than hobbyist, Nicci had even attended the Physic's week long herborising & botanising expedition in June of that same year, though it was little surprise that Battersby did not know the names of all who had attended.


"Truth be told, he purchased the business for less than the cost of the land and building." Nicolette revealed in confidence, "he has no personal interest in the Apothecary continuing, but allows my attempt to... nurse it back to heath," she gave a smile at the metaphor, "as a kindness to me."


Light laughter spilled from her lips with his cheerful reply, "Do not encourage me Master Battersby, lest next time I bring an armchair from Basildon Manor in which you might sit." she teased further. Although of a modest nature Battersby seemed to appreciate the recognition of his position she thus allotted him.


"Not so common, though then there was the other trouble." Nicci referred to the fact that the Widow had been being sued by the RCP. While other aspects of the property may not have been known to him, Battersea was certain to know that the Apothecary had come into the Physicians sight glass. Nicci paused, and slowly supplied, "Family connections." Innocent enough words, which held much meaning regarding the troubles resolution.


"Mister Fallon?" yet for all of that, Master Battersby's line of enquiry was a surprise to her. "Why, apprenticed to the same person whom he was apprenticed to when the widow was manager. Apprentice to the Chelsea physic it'self I suppose." She blinked, having given the title no consideration previously. "Is there some trouble?"

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A kindness. So perhaps the shop was a hobby, or rather a way of further indulging her interest in herbal physic. Clearly she was making a genuine go of the enterprise, to apparent success. There was a puzzle there still, but no doubt time would reveal it.


The Golden Pestle had, in its previous incarnation, gone through some troubled times which were not exactly unheard of in the Apothecary’s trade. Battersby could both acknowledge the way that Madamoiselle had turned the business around, and the neatness with which the previous situation had been handled.


Battersby made a point of enjoying a mouthful of the cake so generously served to him. “Delicious.” He commented, dabbing the corner of his mouth with a napkin, dainty as a society lady, before laying it down beside his plate.


“Clearly Mister Fallon is a boon – indeed the backbone – of your establishment, to his great credit.” He observed. “And, as you say, had he achieved his Journeymanship he might well have inherited the business himself. However, according to our records, he has not passed the examination.” He said simply.


Folding long-fingered hands together before him, the Master of the Society continued. “The point of an Apprenticeship of course is that the Apprentice studies under a fully qualified Apothecary in order to gain the skills necessary to be considered fully competent to practice. The same holds true for virtually every trade. The issue in question Madamoiselle, is that Mister Fallon does not appear to have a master.” He explained.


“He was apprenticed to the previous owner of your fine establishment until the man’s untimely demise.” Battersby related, having been through the records over the last couple of days. “The Society was understanding of the widow’s situation, and it was generally expected that in time she would either re-marry, sell the business to another Apothecary, or undertake the examination for Membership herself. Such is not unheard of. In the meantime a blind eye was turned to the question of Mister Fallon. Unfortunately the awkward situation with the Physicians arose, and then of course you and your patron stepped in and resolved that very neatly.” He acknowledged.


“However, now that the dust has settled, the situation of Mister Fallon – and indeed this establishment – will need to be addressed. An Apprentice must have a master, and an Apothecary’s shop must have an Apothecary; else the practice is not legal.” He said plainly, pinpointing the one thing the elegant and well equipped Golden Pestle lacked.


Battersby spoke in the same calm manner, as though he was certain that there would be a sensible and equitable solution to the problem, he was simply waiting for it to materialise. Rather than questioning the Pestle’s existance, they might be having a friendly chat about plants. As though to emphasise this he simply picked up his half-drunk cup of chocolate, leaning back in his chair and raised brown brows slightly in Nicci’s direction, obviously interested to see what she would propose.

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"Hmm, so I see." Nicolette replied neatly. It was a huge problem, but if being in Louis's household had taught her anything it was that there is always a solution.


"Then we must see to it that Master Fallon sits the examination promptly. I am relieved that you came to me before it became any great issue." she smiled, and taking a pause to think she sipped her hot chocolate.


"There is a fee applicable of course, might I pay you for that directly." a woman of the times, she was quite at ease with the application of bribes to ease the flow of business, and surely Battersby was more deserving than most for his discretion in the matter. Collecting the cashbox she begun to place notes upon the table. "As to the examination itself, it is something more of an oversight than any lack or or deficiency of knowledge. I am more than sure that he shall pass with flying colours, perchance some nominal fee that shall waive the tedious formality?" she continued to place bank notes upon the table before Master Battersby until he might indicate her to halt.


"I am mindful of course that the matter must be conducted with swift prudence, for it would do none of our causes well if the Royal College of Physicians were to discover a blind eye had been turned to the Pestle." she continued to smile agreeably.

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“I didn’t see any reason the situation couldn’t be handled simply.” Battersby assured her. There were so many simple, genteel ways of achieving things, bluster and public fuss were always a last resort. The Golden Pestle was proving successful, the Master of the Society simply wanted to ensure that it was doing so according to the Society’s rules, and to their profit.


Perhaps unusually for a man in his situation, Battersby wasn’t one taking bribes hand over fist. Whilst they didn’t have the noble membership of the Physicians, he believed firmly in his guild’s own ancient origins and the dignity inherent therein. “I would not dream of disrupting your establishment’s finances so precipitously.” He said, holding up a long-fingered hand. Neither however would he waive the formalities. “Let your apprentice bring the membership fee of fifty pounds with him when he comes to take the exam.” The money would come to the Society’s coffers and so to him in good time.


Turning his cup in his fingers, he regarded Nicci with a steady thoughtfulness. “Indulge me for a moment mademoiselle. Given your passion for our practices, I wondered for a moment whether you might wish to sit the examination yourself?” True it wasn’t something a noble woman would normally do, but Nicci struck him as rather different. And her declaration of interest had almost been believable.

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"Oh." the frenchwoman blinked, halting she sat muted.


It was rare indeed to met a man of such principle, further, the good grace to decline the bribe without making her feel criminal for offering it. "I understand." she agreed finally. The bitter pill being that the exam still did need to be sat, and that currently the shop was open illegally. "Is there a date for the next exam, or is it set upon case by case basis?" she enquired, setting the money back in the cashbox.


It was important to her, she was diligent to the responsibility, and so keenly considering the position of the apprentice that Battersby's suggestion of herself caught her completely by surprise!


"Truly?" she breathed, both amazed and flattered. She'd never even thought of that.


Ah, but he cant mean that she could become qualified, she was only a woman after all.


Flushing of her mistake, she smiled, "I would love to test my knowledge and skill through the Chelsea Physic's exam, perhaps I might attempt the test papers after Master Fallon has completed them. At worst it might reveal if I have gaps in my study that I ought attend to - and at best, I might feel the pleasure of measuring to your fine society. I only wish that I might tell my Grandpere such a thing might be possible." happily she reached and squeezed Master battersby's hand in gratitude.

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“I think that, as long as Mister Fallon is able to sit the exam within the next week or two, there should be no problems.” Battersby allowed. They were aware of the situation, it was going to be addressed, and really that was all that could be done about it. “Examinations are generally held as required. Usually a Master would recommend his Apprentice to sit, but you may act for Mister Fallon and make those arrangements.” Obviously it was impossible in this situation to insist that a member should. Well, not impossible, but unnecessarily difficult.


And whilst others would happily accept a bribe, the Master of the Apothecaries was acutely aware of the situation regarding the Physicians, and any suggestion of unprofessionalism or questionable standards could be held against them in what he sensed would be the coming struggle.


Battersby returned a faint smile as the young lady felt compelled to reach out and clasp his hand. Clearly the Society and its profession were more than an idle interest for her, as she had asserted. That or she was a consummate actor. Still, she didn’t seem to quite grasp his meaning however, perhaps she thought he was humouring her?


“Indeed.” He assured her. “Although hardly common practice,” for no woman would set out in life to attempt to enter a trade, “there have been a smattering of qualified women Apothecaries.” He revealed. “Generally widows of members who, by virtue of assisting their husbands through the years, have effectively served an Apprenticeship. Providing they are able to pass the entrance examination as well as any man, they are considered a qualified Apothecary and allowed to continue their husband’s work. Preferable certainly to a business being lost, and the loss of income to a family.”


It made good business sense. The more Apothecaries open, the more supplies the Society sold, since they were the main source of medicinal materials. And whilst it was true that he could count the number of current female members on one hand, they were never the less there; there was a precedent. “What I mean to say Madamoiselle, is that if you passed the examination, you would be entitled to a membership, and to be called Apothecary in your own right.” He explained, just in case it wasn’t clear. “Then you might take on your own apprentices.” He added.

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"I shall discuss it with Master Fallon and make the arrangements." it was essential, though quite expensive true, she was certain Louis would see the investment prudent.


But she had misunderstood Batterby's suggestion - if only because it seemed too good to be true. He explained further, and the world seemed to change. "Truly? A woman might be endorsed?" She'd never imagined such a thing was possible, never thought she might have a formal qualification. It was equivalent to a knighthood in her eyes.


"I must ask my Cousin of course, but now you have told me of this, there is nothing in the world I would wish for more." Somewhat excitable at times, Nicolette was doing her best to control the emotions that now surged within. Never the less her eyes glassed a little, tears of joy threatened.


"Sir," Nicci tried explain, "since a girl there had been naught that struck marvel and happiness to me more, than discovering the healing properties of nature, learning of the gifts our creator placed alongside us upon the earth. It has been my joy to learn these things, to study the texts of the master apotcarisits gone before, and to ramble finding specimens myself. Forgive my emotions, I've no intent to make you uncomfortable - I'd simply... la! I never thought that I might have my name listed with professionals in the craft. It is a little overwhelming. But in a moment I shall collect myself."


Straightening, she drew a breath. Then drew another. Willing calming.


"After the essential, of Master Fallon passing the exam, I would take it myself." her lashes fluttered with a thought, "Unless, I could take it at the same time?" would that be less bother perhaps. Goodness. If Louis advised against it, she'd do it in secret.

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Perhaps her protestation of fascination with the healing properties of plants had been true after all; she certainly waxed lyrical on the subject following his suggestion. He still wasn’t entirely certain that she wasn’t acting – nobility were famed for it – but he could see less and less reason for her to do so. Well, if she were a passionate and professional practitioner, she could prove a boon to the Society.


“Whether following Master Fallon, alongside, or in lieu of, is entirely at your discretion. So long as the Pestle gains the services of a qualified Apothecary, the identity of the individual is largely irrelevant.” He assured her with a benevolent smile. Except that it wasn’t, of course. She could indeed be the qualified Apothecary here, and that would suit Battersby’s purposes very well indeed.


He waved a hand to indicate that there was time and grace to sort things out. “By all means, speak with your cousin. When you know how you wish to proceed, contact the Society Secretary and we’ll make the necessary arrangements for the examination.” And hope with all fervour that her skills were as deep as her interest. It might even be necessary to tweak things in her favour, though he hoped not. Best to be entirely above board.


“Thank you for a delightful tea Madamoiselle, I’m very pleased we had our little chat and that I was able to see how successful you’ve made your establishment.” The lean fellow said as he picked his pipe up from the table. “Perhaps I should leave you to consider your arrangements.” He suggested.


Yes, if Nicci became an Apothecary, then Battersby could count on not only her influence in future possible issues with the Physicians, but that of her cousin the Earl as well. Goodness knew there were a few noble Physicians; best to have some on the Apothecary’s side as well.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Alongside." she expressed preference. For despite her joy of the prospect, gaining a trade qualification was not something to be publicised in certain circles. It was more for personal satisfaction. But then she did not know Battersby had other agendas that might push her beyond comfort zone...


And so it was arranged to be arranged. She intended to first talk to Paul, and later to Louis. What would her cousin think? He held no stow in apothecaries, indulged her as though she was playing at shop, she had a hunch he'd not be impressed at all. It woudl take careful thought to get him onboard.


"Ah, but before you go, I had wanted to show you what I have under development." It had been the pretence at which she'd invited him, though it was not really a pretence at all. Arising, she moved to the tray of toffee apples.


"I have access to a dreadful supply of sugar you see." likely he knew of the Basildon sugar monopoly, "and so wondered how I might make use. Of course there are the usual syrups we use, but then I thought to take a step further. To attempt to make a sweet that is beneficial for the health." Unsurprisingly Louis had been supportive of that idea. "the challenge of course is to not destroy the healing qualities with the high temperature of the toffee. These ones here are lemon and honey, a test batch for sore throats and coughs. Would you like to take them back for the Chelsea gardener's and the like? Any feedback would be most welcome."

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So, things were in motion, well and good. It remained to be seen what her next move would be though he hoped that, as she implied, it would be her arranging two examinations in the near future. Best not to push any further however, and trust things to slot into place. Best he leave her to arrange things.


Save that she suddenly declared that she had something she wished to show him. Brows raised in polite enquiry, Battersby followed the young lady to where she had her sweets and delicacies arranged. It was the purview of the Apothecary to sell not only rememdies but also syrups and sweets, and other tasty morsels, as per the Society's published recipes.


"A fascinating idea." He observed mildly, regarding the preparations with interest. "Yes, very interesting." He mused. "Why, after all, should the medicine be bitter?" It was one of the major complaints about medicine.


An enterprising young lady. "Once you have settled on a recipe - having obtained your qualification of course - you could submit it to the Society for review, and possible inclusion in the official remedial recipes." He suggested. "Once vetted and approved it could be offered for sale, and I dare say the Golden Pestle could be allowed a monopoly for a period of time." He allowed.


After all, it was a requirement of membership that an Apothecary compound and sell their items strictly according to the approved recipes of the Society. Members had been persecuted and charged for attempts to ad-lib remedies, for it put them on par with the charlatans at fairs. The Society had to be taken seriously.

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"That I shall." she appreciated his advice, the gentle reminder of the need for vetting (which admittedly had completely slipped her mind.) A bashfulness to her smile might relay this fact to him just as surely as any confession could have.


Still fetching up a paper bag she placed a half dozen of the apples into it. "If naught else, it is a nice christmas treat. I do feel for the poor workers out in the snow. Did you resolve the issue of the poor little plant? Basildon Manor is still at your disposal if needed." the girl passed him the bag, her mind already a whirr of what she needed to learn. For a start she could not afford to make any mistakes like the toffee apples again. Heaven forbid that the Golden Pestle attract a new lawsuit against!

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  • 1 month later...

A little surprised at the gesture, Battersby never the less accepted the little package that she pressed into his hands gracefully. "Terribly kind of you." He murmured. Who didn't appreciate a few sweets.


Really, the meeting had gone terribly well. It was amazing what could be achieved simply with words between understanding individuals. "I see a fine future for you and the Golden Pestle Madamoiselle, and I look forward to it. I shall watch the progression with interest." And here Battersby tipped his deer-stalker hat to Nicci, took a meditative suck on his pipe, and headed for the door.


Yes, a very productive meeting indeed. Well and good.


OOC: Fin!

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Nicolette could not have agreed more.


She smiled ear to ear after the exiting Master of the Guild, feeling blessed indeed, before turning to hunt out Master Fallon to tell him all the news. A day in London never passed without some manner of development! (Although, she had a little private satisfaction that that fact was in part due to her own initiative and yes, social prowess.)



OOC: Thank you!

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