Chapter 05: How I Met Claude
Claude and I met half a year ago at the public painting exhibition organised by the seventh Prince of the Kingdom of Valkenburg.
At that time, Claude was a fledgeling painter, and he exhibited his unique avant-garde work, which is quite different from the mainstream realism paintings, at the exhibition.
A goddess bathing in a fountain in the middle of a forest.
His work, which became highly acclaimed later, was quite unpopular on the first day of the exhibition.
Everyone criticised it, “It’s a primitive and crude painting,” and “It looks as if this was painted by an amateur who knew nothing about painting.”
However, I didn’t think that.
I couldn’t move from my spot the moment I saw his painting.
The trees and plants that were painted delicately over time looked as if they were rough.
Even as an abstract, the goddess who exposed her body was beautiful and charming.
The adorable animals flocking around the goddess.
I thought that it was a beautiful painting.
I was utterly fascinated by it in an instant.
When I came back to my senses, I pushed through the crowd to look for the person who had created that painting.
It was the first day of the exhibition, and I was sure that the painter would come to observe the painting they’d exhibited.
I walked around the hall with Claire and asked people if they had seen the person who had painted that painting.
Then, Claude came to find me, probably because he had heard that I was looking for him.
Claude Ritter was a young man in his early twenties.
His wrinkled shirt and frayed trousers seemed really out of place in a room filled with dressed-up ladies and gentlemen, and it was easy to imagine that he wasn’t rich.
He couldn’t hide his vigilance towards me, and he looked suspicious.
He had probably thought, ‘What does this young noble woman want with a fledgeling artist like me?’
I was excited and paid no heed to his attitude. After a brief introduction, I went straight into what I thought of his painting.
『I fell in love with your painting. If you don’t mind, I would like to help you to continue to bring these beautiful works out into the world. 』
Claude looked flabbergasted; probably because he never imagined that this would happen, or he might have just thought I was crazy.
It was normal for people to get confused if a young girl said such a thing on a first meeting. He must be thinking, ‘What is she thinking? What does she want?’
At that time, I had no intention of making him my 『lover』.
I was just genuinely fascinated by his painting and wanted to help him create more.
Back then, I still hadn’t wasted money. I saved the generous allowance that my husband had given me and had barely spent any of it.
At any rate, I hadn’t wasted money and had wanted to use it for something meaningful, which was what supporting this artist was.
To be more convincing, I desperately told him how great that painting was and how shocked I was by it.
I told him that I wanted to see his other works and that I would buy them if I liked them.
He was a handsome man, but he wasn’t interested in his appearance and didn’t have any ulterior motives.
I would have probably made him the same offer even if he had a face that people didn’t want to see twice.
At that moment, all I was evaluating was his talent as a painter.
Claude listened seriously as I blabbered on and on and thanked me many times.
And whether it was because it was troublesome to refuse a persistent person, or if it was because he was moved by my passion, ――― I don’t know which; but although he had declined my offer at first, he agreed in the end and let me be his patron.
At first, I had only passed his money to the servants, but then I started to go to all his exhibitions, and I started to talk to him more.
Our relationship had been neutral at first, but then he invited me to his studio to see a painting he was working on. From then on, I started to visit him more regularly, and we got to know each other better.
Claude was a mysterious person, and he didn’t see me as a woman even though he was the target of my rumoured love affair.
Perhaps because of that, I didn’t get nervous whenever I was in the same room as him, and I always feel at ease when we are together.
It was like we had been friends for a very long time.
It wasn’t awkward even if there was a momentary pause in our conversation or if there was a long silence.
At one point, I revealed my mixed feelings towards my husband.
Claude didn’t laugh at my foolish thoughts.
He listened to me seriously, and he was worried about me. “You won’t be happy like this,” and “Is there no other way?” He would say.
And finally, he even said that he would help me.
『It’s thanks to you that I can draw, so I want to help you.』
I was happy with just those words.
And most of all, Claude is an important friend to me.
I couldn’t use my precious friend for a purpose that I thought was moronic.
I refused many times when he said that, but he didn’t budge.
He even took on the role of my lover so that people would undermine my reputation.
Even though his reputation also dropped at the same time.
“Enough of that. From what I can tell, it seems to be going well. You waste money, gamble, treat the servants badly and even got a lover. To make matters worse, you defy your husband. You’re nearly the perfect immoral woman. Lord Rosenstein is really patient with you,” Claude said, his voice tingling with laughter, as he stirred the tea with a silver spoon after I had explained that I had been lectured by my husband for wasting money.
I had been gazing at the canvas in the corner of the room, but I looked back at Claude, who was sitting across from me and nodded.
“Yes, I think so too. He is a very patient man.”
“If he does divorce you…” Claude suddenly said while looking serious, “… then come here. I’ve said this many times, but I can support you and even pay you wages.”
“As an assistant?”
“Not an assistant, you’ll be the help.”
I married into the Rosenstein family as a political tool and would not be permitted to return home if I don’t accomplish my role.
But then again, I never want to go back to that house.
I am prepared to enter a monastery or fall into prostitution after he divorces me, but Claude said that he would take me in when he found out about this.
Unlike when we first met, Claude has become a well-known painter and now earns a decent living even without my investment.
It was simple for him to at least hire one servant.
“Then I’ll have to diligently work on my sewing and cooking.”
“What about cleaning and laundry?”
“I’m confident with that, especially when it comes to sweeping fallen leaves. ――― You don’t have a garden, so I won’t get the chance to show you my skills. And I can do the prep work for food like plucking chickens and draining their blood.”
“I think that’s good enough.”
“No, it’s not. I have to do my job well because you’ll be hiring me.”
Claude stared at me and then suddenly laughed.
“Did I say something strange?”
“Nope, you didn’t.”
He put his hand over his mouth and tried desperately to hold back his laughter.
This happens sometimes.
He would suddenly laugh after I say what’s on my mind.
My naïve remarks might be amusing.
I tilted my head while wondering what I had done this time, and Claude whispered, “Oh, I really ―――…”
“Have a lot of fun when I’m with you.”
When I heard that I felt strange; happy, but extremely hurt.
There weren’t many people who acknowledged my existence like this.
This was also true before I put on my act as a selfish, domineering, and arrogant woman. I am always hated.
Even my father neglected me.
My half-sister also hates me.
After marrying into the Rosenstein House, the servants looked at me coldly and even my husband ―――.
“Thanks, Claude,” I said as if to block the emotions that were swelling up inside me.
“You have really saved me. Thanks.”
I was vexed because I could only express my thoughts and emotions with these common words.
Still, Claude said to me with a soft and dazzling smile, “You’re welcome.”