Chapter 33: Claude’s Suggestion
The days passed calmly and quietly.
I pondered while looking at the fountain which continued to spurt water even under the strong rays of the summer sunlight.
Claire was by my side, and when I felt stuffy, she would talk to me, make me tea or invite me on walks.
In the evenings when the cool wind blew, we left the mansion and took a walk around the neighbourhood.
The atmosphere outside the mansion was different from the neighbour where the Rosenstein mansion was located; there was a lot of nature and rural scenery and it was unusual and beautiful.
Claire took care of me, but Monica and Susanna also came to see me. We would have tea together, chat, ate outside and Monica, a master of embroidery, taught us how to embroider.
Claude seemed busy as always and he complained, “I don’t have time to chat with Phelia or paint.”
He wasn’t in the mansion a lot, but when he was here, he would come to my room.
Nevertheless, I’m surprised that he was able to wait for me at that apartment even though he’s this busy.
If I send him a letter in advance saying that I wanted to meet him on a certain day, then he would always see me.
He probably overdid it and forced his schedule open to meet with me.
I really can’t thank him enough.
“You look depressed. Are you okay?” I had secluded myself in the detached room when Claude came in and said this when he saw my blank expression.
He must have just returned from outside since he was dressed up at the Seventh Prince Claudias and not as Claude Ritter; he had on a nicely tailored outfit, his hair was slicked back, and he had a black tie around his neck.
“I’m fine. I’m just thinking.”
“Then, that’s good.”
Claude, whose aura was different from usual, shrugged and smiled. Then, he sat down and calmly crossed his long legs.
“You shouldn’t drive yourself into a corner. You have time, so you can just take your time to think.”
I watched Claire leave the room to go prepare tea before I sat down across from him and looked down, “Thank you very much.”
Claude looked around the room and sighed, so I tilted my head wondering what was wrong.
“The roses are gradually increasing. Isn’t it annoying?”
I inadvertently opened my eyes wide and my voice was muddled.
Apparently, he didn’t like the roses that were everywhere in the room.
All these roses were delivered from the Rosenstein House. There were large vases in the corner of the room, on the shelves, by the window and on the table.
Orpheus is still trying to keep his promise to me even after I’ve left that mansion.
He promised that he would send me roses every day once they had bloomed.
It was impossible to send them every day, but once every three days, someone from the mansion would come to deliver the roses, or Orpheus would come himself.
“How do I put this, it’s heavy. Love that is.”
“Is… that so? He’s keeping his promise, and I think they’re beautiful.”
There is no woman who wouldn’t be happy if a man gave her flowers.
The more I imagined how the flowers were prepared, the more in love with him I fell, and it warmed my heart.
“And I like roses.”
“Oh yes, you do. The things you have like your handkerchiefs, parasols and fans are usually embroidered with roses. The crimson ones.”
Red roses are mother’s favourite flowers, and the dazzling appearance resembled Orpheus.
I like red roses because they reminded me of Mother and Orpheus ――― the two who I loved deeply, along with a little sadness and pain.
“Well, if that’s how you think, then it’s fine.”
Claire came back and made tea for Claude and I.
She also knew that Claude was a Prince, and she would get nervous whenever they met, but as time passed and she got used to him, or because of Claude’s persuasion, she was now able to keep her composure in front of him. Her hand, which was pouring the tea, didn’t tremble.
After that, we amused ourselves with our usual idle chatting, but Claude interrupted the conversation with a rare and serious look on his face, “You know, Phelia.”
“What is it?”
“I’m only saying if. If you were to break up with Lord Rosenstein. At that time…” Claude paused for a moment.
He hesitantly closed his eyes and pressed his lips together, then opened his eyes again and put a bright smile on his face which made it seem like the serious look he had on before was a lie.
“Won’t you become my wife? I’ll make you happy.”
I was on the verge of drinking my tea, and his question made me so surprised that I drank it down the wrong way and choked.
I quickly put the cup back on the table and coughed with my hand over my mouth.
“Ahaha. Are you alright?”
Not at all, I wanted to yell, but my throat was sore.
I rejected the handkerchief that was offered to me and covered my mouth with the handkerchief that was on my lap.
The discomfort in my throat didn’t disappear no matter how much I coughed, and Claude continued without paying any heed to my coughing, “Lately, the people around me are pestering me about marriage. What’s more, they’re involving the nobles and want me to marry a lady from a good noble family, so I thought I should settle down since they’re getting annoying.”
“What are… you saying… all of a sudden?” It took me a while to recover fully, but I was angry at Claude, who was speaking clearly, and protested while wheezing and panting.
“Please stop… with the jokes.”
I’m extremely thankful towards Claude, but this is too much.
Don’t add another thing for me to worry about when I’m worrying about how to make amends.
“Well, I’m being serious here… Ah, don’t glare at me like that. What? Do you hate the idea that much? Become my wife.”
“That’s not the problem. It’s not realistic.”
He must lack common sense to marry a woman with the worst reputation in high society, low status, no backing, and once married.
He’ll be condemned by the public; the royal family’s dignity will be damaged and the popularity of the Seventh Prince Claudias will plummet.
I explained, but the smile on Claude’s face didn’t disappear.
“I don’t mind since the real you is a good girl, and you’re a hard worker. So, you don’t have to care about that either.”
“Everyone won’t think so.”
“I don’t care about how everyone else thinks. If you’re worried about what they think, then don’t leave this mansion and just live a comfortable life here. That kind of life suits you more than a glamorous one, right?”
I pressed my fingers against my throbbing head, and sunk into my chair in exhaustion, and he laughed, “Wow, your face says that’s completely out of the question.”
“Your eyes are glassy, Phelia. Your expression is amazing. Look at it in the mirror.”
I sighed deliberately.
I honestly can’t understand why he’s this optimistic.
“You’re only interested in people of the same sex, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. I’m not interested in the opposite sex. But you’re different. I’m totally fine with you.”
I have no idea what’s fine.
Is he saying that he doesn’t see me as a woman?
He said that he was interested in gloomy beauties like Orpheus, so why, of all things, is he courting a woman like me?
“Claude. I think of you as my best friend. You’re someone who I respect and you’re very important to me. I can accept most of your requests, but marriage is impossible. I can’t marry you.”
“You’re speaking bluntly.”
“Yes, I am. I’m not going to marry anyone other than Orpheus.”
“You can’t love me?”
His beaming smile changed into a lonely one. He clenched his fist and held in his anger.
“I love you as a friend.”
“How about as someone of the opposite sex?”
“I gave that love to that person. All of it.”
My feelings remain the same even if we divorce and never meet again.
I will continue to love Orpheus.
So, I won’t remarry.
Even if an extremely charming man whispered his love to me or lavished me with money. Even if I become poor and can’t even feed myself every day.
Claude smiled wryly and leaned against the armrest.
He rested his chin in his hands like a philosopher and squinted his eyes thoughtfully. His aura changed and became calm.
“You’re dedicated. I’m jealous of Lord Rosenstein.”
My chest prickled in pain.
My dedication cornered Orpheus and hurt him. Sometimes I wonder if it was better not to love him rather than be this dedicated to him.
If I hadn’t loved him, then I could have accepted my position, not get others involved in my drama, not hurt anyone, and live his life peacefully as Countess Rosenstein. And my relationship with Orpheus would not have fallen apart.
“I’m sorry for refusing even if it’s brazen of me. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, then I can leave…”
“What are you saying? I won’t kick you out for this. And I’m the one who told you to stay here. If you’re that worried, then you can forget about it.”
“I’m begging you, don’t apologise. It’s my fault for making you say those things. You don’t have to worry about it.”
I watched as Claude shrugged his shoulders, embarrassingly, and regretted that I didn’t refuse him in a gentler way.
I was so upset that I had refused him in a strong tone.
Even though Claude is my treasured friend and benefactor.
Even though he always helps me.
――― Ah, what should I do?
I felt bad and stared at the rose that was on the window.
Red, white, crimson.
I looked at the bright flowers.
My temples were throbbing in pain, and it certainly felt more painful than earlier.
“Sorry. I’ll take back what I said. Forget everything.”
I looked back in surprise and saw that Claude was in the middle of gracefully drinking his tea.
“Hmm, Claude. You’re taking back your words…”
“Just keep that choice in mind. I’m serious about marrying you.”
“Wait,” I said, and he interrupted me by raising his hand. “Let’s end this conversation here today,” he ended the topic.
“Anyway, I’m changing the topic, but actually, yesterday ―――.” Claude continued to talk while changing the topic as if the previous conversation hadn’t happened, but I felt like he was telling me to drop it, so I could only swallow what I wanted to say and ask.
“Madam, you look depressed, are you alright?”
After Claude left, I sunk into my chair and didn’t move. Then, Claire, who had come back with Susanna, peeked at me, worriedly.
“Claude said that too. That I look depressed.”
“Yes, you look exhausted. Did something happen?” Susanna said.
She quickly cleared the tea utensils on the table with Claire and made me blink.
“Well, something did happen.”
It wasn’t something I could talk to servants about, so I smiled vaguely and brushed over the topic.
“Ufufu. By any chance, did Master propose?”
My body slipped out of the chair and I hit my side.
Intense pain rushed to my brain and I stopped breathing.
“Oh dear, really?! I was just saying that but my gosh, Master!”
Susanna hit the table with both her hands, and Claire looked between us while saying, “Huh? What? Ehh?”
I couldn’t refute her because of the pain and was in agony while holding my side.
“So, so? What did you say, Ophelia-sama? Did you accept? I think you and Master look great together, and us servants would be happy about it, but how did you answer him, Ophelia-sama?”
“I refused. I have no plans to remarry.” I kneeled on the floor as if I was repenting, and told Susanna, who had linked her chubby fingers together while looking like a starry-eyed girl, clearly so that she wouldn’t have any misunderstandings.
“No way…!” Susanna put both her hands on her plump chest and said this with a heartbroken expression.
“Hmm, Master… I thought that Master, who is only interested in men, had finally brought home a dreamy doll!”
“I’m talking about you. Because you look like a doll.”
I tilted my head while rubbing my side, but Claire nodded.
“I get what you mean. She makes you want to dress her up in different dresses, doesn’t she?”
“Ufufu. You think that way too, Claire-san? I want to try different hairstyles on her, put makeup on her and make her wear hats…”
“Choose ribbons to tie around her waist and gloves for her to wear…”
The two, who had completely hit it off since the day they met smiled at each other, stared at each other and smiled.
I watched them warmly from the chair and thought about why I was being compared to a doll.
――― Do they mean that I’m quiet like a doll?
Sure, I’ve been quiet since I came to this mansion, but I can’t believe I’m being compared to a doll.
Also, it might be bad to leave my hair, makeup and clothes to the servants.
“But it’s a shame. I was looking forward to the day that Ophelia-sama married Master… but Lord Rosenstein is also a magnificent beauty. His mysterious blue eyes and melancholy expression are irresistible.”
“Madam doesn’t just like Master’s face. She loves him.”
“Oh my! Really?! I thought it was Lord Rosenstein’s one-sided love, but it’s reciprocated?! That’s great, but… ――― Huh? Then, why aren’t you going home? I heard you were worrying about a lot of things, but you don’t have to worry, do you?”
Susanna, who is supposed to be a little calmer, overwhelmed me, and I muttered, “It’s complicated.”
There are reasons why things aren’t that simple.
“Really? You both love each other, but you’re torn apart by the mischievous hands of fate.”
――― Why did it turn out this way?
“Poor thing,” Susanna muttered, and I couldn’t find any words to reply to her. I looked at Claire for help, but for some reason, her face was crumpled up and tears were running down her cheeks.
“That’s right. Madam is pitiful. She’s had a hard life. Even though she tries so hard.”
“It’s alright, Claire-san. In romance novels, the heroine always has a hard time at first, but she becomes happy after many twists and turns. Ophelia-sama will definitely become happy. I’ll lend it to you later, so read it.”
I was confused and sighed softly since I couldn’t keep up with their conversation.
I’m no match for Claire, but I don’t think I’m a match for Susanna either.
I mean, I’m overwhelmed by her energy.
――― If I were bright like her…
“Ufufu,” I looked at Susanna who was laughing loudly.
Next to her, Claire was also laughing, and her cheeks loosened into an adorable smile.
Before I knew it, my headache subsided.