Chapter 40: Claude’s Love
I felt a strange feeling that I couldn’t describe when I woke up .
It was as if the load that was caught at the back of my throat had been removed, as if I had lost something and gained something more important in its place…
It was a sudden change that I could see clearly.
I was a completely different person today than I was yesterday.
The sun was shining bright through the curtain.
The familiar garden was outside the window, the trees, flowers and fountain were still there and the events from yesterday seemed like a dream.
So many things had happened…
I touched the bandage on my neck and Claire came into the room to wake me up.
Claire didn’t go easy on me at all even though I had just woken up.
Her face was red with anger as she lectured me on my reckless behaviour yesterday. She was still angry when I finished getting ready and was eating breakfast.
When I brought up Diana and Juris’s marriage to her, she cheered up and cried while laughing. “I’m glad they’re getting married,” she said.
“Now Madam can finally be happy without worrying about anyone else.”
“Will you be happier with that than Diana and Juris’s marriage?”
I was joking when I said that, but she quickly agreed. I felt baffled.
“Honestly, I think Diana-sama and Juris are cunning. They took advantage of you, but you didn’t blame them for it, and they ended up with the person they love in the end. They relied too much on your kindness. Master does as well.”
I widened my eyes at Claire who had said that cheerfully.
Apparently, her anger hadn’t subsided.
She had only changed who she was angry at…
“Of course, I know you don’t blame them. I only accepted it because you said you forgave them and the Master. I’m happy as long as you’re satisfied and happy… I’m sorry, I know I’m being rude, but I wanted to know that there are people who think like me too.”
I went to the garden by myself after that.
I wanted to take my time since I knew that this might be the last time I would walk through this garden.
I walked on the short, mowed grass while looking at the trees, flowerbeds and the fountain.
I watched as the water spout up the fountain and fell down, it’s crystal-like drops glittering in the sunlight…
I liked this square fountain for some reason.
Even when I was holed up in my room while pondering, I would stand by the window and look at the fountain.
“Do you like this garden?” I heard a voice and turned around to see Claude standing there as a fresh breeze of wind blew.
He wasn’t dressed as Prince Claudius, but as my good friend Claude Ritter.
I squinted at the summer sunlight and his dazzling white shirt.
“Yes. It’s a very nice garden. You must have a very good gardener.”
“I’ll tell the gardener you said that. I’m sure he’ll be happy to hear that.”
Claude stood beside me and smiled faintly. His verdure eyes stared at the fountain.
“If you like this garden then you can…”
His verdure eyes which had been staring at the garden fixed onto me.
The wind blew, shaking his soft blonde hair.
“You should just marry me. Marry me and this will be yours. This whole mansion will be yours.”
“You changed me.”
My words were interrupted by a calm and clear voice.
He sounded quiet and earnest, and I couldn’t help but listen to what he had to say.
“I thought I could only love someone of the same sex, but you’re different. You were special to me. I thought you would divorce him and come to me. I honestly did. I wouldn’t give you a hard time, and I could love you more deeply than that man.”
Ah, he’s serious…
I couldn’t ask him to stop joking like before.
I knew that Claude really loved me.
I finally understood that he was looking at me as someone of the opposite sex and not just as a friend.
But I couldn’t answer him.
Claude helped me so many times.
He supported me when I felt like I was falling apart.
He pushed me to move forward.
He gave me time to think.
I can’t thank him enough.
I could grant him anything but this.
Marriage is the only wish of his that I can’t fulfil.
Even if Orpheus hated me and abandoned me.
He’s the only person I love.
I looked down at the falling droplets, at the spreading ripples and at the marble edge reflecting the light.
I stood still, unable to move my lips or even my fingertips.
“It’s okay, I understand,” Claude smiled wryly and said, feeling sorry for me since I could only remain silent.
“I’ve known your answer from the beginning. You love him.”
I couldn’t say I love Orpheus because I was afraid of hurting him even more.
I can’t say that I love Orpheus.
I kept my lips tightly pressed together to keep the meaningless apologies from flowing out my mouth.
The water from the fountain continued to fall while making a refreshing sound.
“Have you made up your mind to go back?”
I replied after hesitating for a bit, “Yes.”
He noticed. He realised that I had decided to return to Orpheus and start over.
I gulped as I tried to stare back into his verdure eyes.
Claude had a gentle smile on his face that made my heart ache.
His smile was so beautiful shining under the strong summer sun that it made me want to cry.
“Your reputation in social circles is terrible. It’s going to be very hard for you to restore your reputation.”
“Still, I’ll do it for him…”
I couldn’t say anything else because Claude grabbed my arm and held me tight.
The next thing I knew, I was in his arms and his golden hair swayed at the corner of my eyes.
“I love you, Ophelia. I love you.”
“I want you to be happy this time.”
I can’t take it anymore.
I tried to hold back, but an avalanche of emotions poured out of my eyes and soaked my cheeks.
“Thanks. Thank you for everything. Thanks to you…”
“Oh no. Why’re you talking like we’ll never see each other again. Our friendship is going to last forever.” When he said it like that, my tears wouldn’t stop.
The kinder you are, the sadder I get and the more choked up I get.
“I’d rather you kiss me than say thank you, but your husband will kill me if I force a kiss on you, so I’m not going to do it. He’s glaring at me right now too.”
What are you talking about…?
I pulled back a little and looked up at him and saw that his gentle smile was almost turning into a mischievous one.
“But I suppose he’ll forgive me for this,” Claude said, then he pressed his lips against my cheek.
A soft, warm feeling grazed my lips and the warmth that had enveloped my body faded away.
I felt a tinge of remorse when I realised that I had been kissed by another man even though I am someone’s wife.
I had been kissed on my face and not at the back of my hand.
“It’s not okay. What are you thinking?” I thought I heard a grumpy voice, and this time I was pulled back.
I was enveloped in another warmth when I was about to fall down. A firm arm wrapped around me and rubbed the area where Claude’s lips had touched.
I twisted my neck and looked up and saw a face even more handsome than Claude’s, and sapphire blue eyes so deep that they seemed to absorb me.
How long had he been in the garden?
I didn’t feel his presence at all.
“You’re really narrow-minded. It’s fine, isn’t it? I only kissed her a little. The princess has chosen you.”
“… Your Highness.”
Claude raised both his hands and said without remorse, “I’m sorry for kissing your wife.” Then he ruffled his fringe.
“Orpheus. I’m going to be a man and back away, so don’t give Phelia a hard time again. If you do anything to make her cry, then I’ll take her from you and I won’t give her back.”
There was no reply.
Instead, he tightened his embrace.
Claude shrugged, turned around and waved his hand in the air as he walked away.
I called out his name since his back looked so lonely, but he didn’t turn back.
He eventually disappeared behind a tall tree in the garden.
Is this the right thing to do…?
I felt the arms around me loosen while I was feeling depressed.
I turned around, remembering that I was alone with Orpheus.
There was something that I needed to tell him right now.
Words that I should have told him earlier, ――― I needed to tell him that I decided to return to the Rosenstein mansion and start over with him.
I need to tell him that I wanted to face forward.
I took the hand that was trying to cup my cheek and squeezed it tightly.
I stared at his eyes which hadn’t changed since I first met him. His eyes still held the same earnestness in them that made me want to look away, and still held the same intense emotion that made me want to run away.
“I’ve hurt you. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. So, I want to stay by your side and make up for that.”
Divorcing Orpheus and leaving the Rosenstein mansion won’t make up for that.
It would be meaningless even if I joined the monastery and prayed to God.
I can atone by…
“The only way I can atone is by restoring the honour of the Rosenstein House and myself and make you happy this time. I’ll do anything to make this happen, no matter how hard it is. I’m ready to give up everything.”
I bowed my head deeply while holding Orpheus’s hand.
“I’m begging you. Please give me another chance. Let me start over with you…”
He grabbed me by my shoulders and forced me to look up before I could finish, then he hugged me.
“You’ll stay with me?” Orpheus’s voice was shaking.
The arm which was wrapped around me and the hand that was stroking my head were both trembling.
“Yes. I will never leave you again. I won’t leave you even if you hate me.”
“It’s impossible for me to hate you. You’re my everything.”
I closed my eyes and listened to the feeling in his chest and the sound of his heartbeat.
I tried to use all my senses to feel Orpheus.
I’m so happy that I feel faint.
I wouldn’t care if I died right now.
“I’m sorry. I can’t think of anything clever to say at times like this.”
“It’s fine. I don’t need anything else as long as you let me stay with you like this.”
I really meant it.
The person I love is right beside me, holding me close.
I don’t need anything else.
I don’t need sweet smiles or kind words.
I want to give more than take.
“I love you,” I told him wholeheartedly.
I love you.
I love you.
I repeated as if in delirium.
“Orpheus, I love you.”
I don’t need a reply.
I know how Orpheus feels even without words…
I covered his lips as he was about to say something and kissed him.
I love you…
I stretched out my arms and clung to his neck. I relaxed my body and let myself be drowned in his warmth and scent.
The Rosenstein mansion welcomed me with its beautiful appearance which hadn’t changed since I left.
The white mansion shone against the blue sky.
The garden was lush and green with dark summer flowers and roses blooming in it.
When I entered the hall, Juris, Diana and Marion were waiting for me. They smiled and welcomed me home.
I was happy to be greeted by them, but I couldn’t say that I was back because all the servants were lined up in the hall which was normally deserted.
“What is this all about?”
I think I’ve seen this scene before.
I believe it was on the day I married into this house.
The servants were all lined up in the hall on that day as well and they all bowed in unison as soon as I entered the hall.
Just like now.
“I apologise.” Elza, the head maid, apologised.
She walked up to me and bowed deeply once more.
“I apologize for failing to supervise the servants.”
What is she talking about?
I tilted my head in confusion, and the next thing she said made me think I had misheard her, “I’ll take responsibility and leave today.”
“… Excuse me?”
What the hell is going on?
Why are the servants bowing to me?
I’m not sure why Elza is apologising to me and submitting her resignation.
I have no idea what’s going on.
“Why are you…”
“I explained the situation to her and cleared up the misunderstanding,” Diana said.
“I told her everything, including why you were behaving the way you were and about me and Juris.”
I looked at the servants who were looking anxious, and they all apologised, “I am sorry,” “I apologise,” “I misunderstood the situation,” then they bowed their heads and stopped moving.
I finally understood what was going on.
They were apologising for treating me coldly and for speaking ill of me behind my back.
“I’m sorry for overstepping my boundaries, but I wanted to do something for you.”
“It’s fine… you didn’t overstep your boundaries.”
Normally, I would have to explain the situation to each of them, clear up the misunderstanding, then bow and apologise, but Diana took over that role for me.
I don’t think she was overstepping her boundaries.
I can’t thank her enough if the misunderstanding was really cleared up thanks to her.
“So, what do you want to do? I’ll leave the decision to you,” Orpheus, who had been watching in silence, said.
He crossed his arms with an unreadable expression on his face and said something that made me doubt my ears again.
“If you want, I can replace not only Elza, but all the other servants as well.”
The servants gasped.
However, none of them objected.
I guess Orpheus and Juris may have told them that it was up to me whether or not they can continue working here in the future.
They didn’t have to do that…
Orpheus’s drastic announcement made me slump my shoulders and I told the servants to raise their heads.
“You can’t do that. I won’t allow you to quit. Elza, you can’t quit either.”
I took Elza’s hand; the dry, crackled hands of a hard-worker.
I gently wrapped my hand around hers and looked at her hands as if they were something very important.
I will not make any selfish assumptions or run away.
I will face her head-on this time.
“I need you, Elza. I must make amends, and I need to restore the honour that has fallen to the ground. I need your strength and support for that.”
I will be a perfect and impeccable lady, and I will clear my name.
I will be a good wife who people will praise.
I need the help of Elza, the senior maid, to do this.
As the Countess, I need her help to manage the residence and keep the servants in line. I also have a lot to learn.
“Please don’t quit. Stay here.”
Her expression, which was normally stiff and stern, twisted painfully.
“I know. But you act like that for Orpheus, right?”
I had misunderstood Elza and assumed that she hated me.
But I was wrong.
She was worried about me in her own way.
I want to start over from the beginning…
Elza shook her head and smiled slightly.
It was the first time I had ever seen her smile.
“It’s also for you, Ophelia-sama.”
I knew it would be okay.
I’m sure I can start over with her.
I returned Elza’s smile and let go of her hand. I looked at the faces of the servants in the room to make sure they were alright.
I breathed out, sorted my unorganised feelings, and frankly said the words that came to my mind.
“We’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve also misunderstood you all. I should have talked to you more,” I paused.
I suddenly felt anxious, wondering if I had the right to say this.
The servants wouldn’t have been so cold if I had behaved better…
As soon as I thought that I lost the confidence to say something arrogant.
I felt something warm touch my back while I was looking down.
Orpheus was standing beside me with his hand on my back.
The warmth of his deep blue eyes encouraged me, and I cheered up.
I’m sure I can make them understand…
Nothing will begin if I don’t say these words.
I raised my head and stood proudly.
I took a step forward in order to become the Countess Rosenstein that everyone recognises as being worthy of Orpheus and not as the hated Countess Rosenstein.
“Let’s start over again. Let us all start over again.”