“Eliza-sama, it’s time for dinner.”
The voice surprised me. During this afternoon, I was staying in my room, working on finishing all the paperwork, but I seem to have gotten too absorbed in working. When I raised my head, I felt a dull sensation on my back and neck. It seems that I’ve been working for too long without rest. Since there’s a lack of sunlight during winter, I’m always using candles, and I noticed that it had almost burned all the way down.
“Ahh – thank you very much, Mrs. Hortensia.”
My new nanny, Mrs. Hortensia, was the person standing in front of the door who had called me. It seems that she came all the way to my room to call me as I wasn’t coming out. It was already completely dark outside, and she had a lamp in her hand. The lamplight was flickering, reflecting off of her eyes.
“I’ll get going right now.”
After carefully putting my quill pen back in its pen stand so that the ink wouldn’t run or spill, I stood up. Mrs. Hortensia entered my room, and she began helping me put on my robe to replace my coat. While the inside of my room is kept warm by a hearth which had a heating system that could send warm air to my room through a central fireplace, the corridors didn’t have that system.
Just as Mrs. Hortensia helped me button up the last button of my robe, she suddenly started speaking to me. She had a relaxed smile, and was looking at me with a gentle look in her eyes.
“Eliza-sama is a splendid person. You work your hardest to try and fulfill your duties as a domain lord.”
She took my hand and wrapped both her hands around mine. She still smiled softly at me when she saw my surprise, and she began talking slowly as if trying to persuade me.
“But, before any of that, Eliza-sama is still a child. Even though you have the position of an adult, you shouldn’t treat yourself as if you were an adult.”
She was basically treating me just like a child.
“……I can’t do that.”
My thoughts were bitter as I muttered that out loud. Mrs. Hortensia’s words were warm and soft, just like a spring breeze. They suddenly invaded my dry, cracked heart.
That was why, it was so bitter. It was scary. I felt like I wanted to get rid of this feeling that I wasn’t used to.
A piece of firewood from my fireplace snapped with a loud crackle. However, Mrs. Hortensia never looked away from me at all, almost as if she didn’t hear it.
“No. You must realize that you are still a child, and treat yourself accordingly.”
She was so direct with me. Even though her gaze seemed gentle, it was also strong. This was scary.
“Eliza-sama. It is true that when Earl Terejia hired me, he did instruct me to treat you as an adult. However, you are still a child. I am certain that because nobody treats Eliza-sama as a child, that is why you are always so busy having to think about difficult things.”
I could hear myself clenching my teeth.
It was as if there was a voice screaming in the back of my head to not listen to her, to not let her say anything more. It was difficult to breathe. I felt as if I was being choked by something soft like cotton.
“In this mansion, it’s an unfortunate thing that there’s nobody here who knows how to raise children. That’s why nobody knows how to just let Eliza-sama have fun and relax. Anyone that used to treat Eliza-sama as a child is no longer here.”
Mrs. Hortensia’s tone of voice was invading me with such warmth and affection that it was breaking me into pieces. This time she took her hands that were wrapped around mine, and placed them on my shoulders.
This was no good. I couldn’t let this go on any further. The innermost part of my mind was screaming at me.
I wanted to escape from here. Despite thinking so, I couldn’t move at all. Her arms enveloped me while I stood so still as if I had grown roots. It was as if her hands were made to mend broken objects.
“At your age, you should still have the right to be acting spoiled to others.”
The words she whispered in my ears were like honey to me, giving my mind a sweet numbness. Just like warm milk, she had a sweet, gentle smell. My skin had been missing the warm sensation of human touch.
I just let my muscles relax and leaned against her without using any strength at all.
I considered myself as being strong-armed into this. This was an irresistible warmth. It was completely different worlds, inside and outside of her embrace.
My eyes felt a little hot. The back of my throat hurt as well – it was hot and painful.
“……Eliza-sama? Are you crying?”
I was breaking down. At the same time that lukewarm water accumulated in my eyes and started spilling over, Mrs. Hortensia’s hands rubbed my back.
Even so, I still couldn’t allow myself to just keep sobbing shamefully like this.
“Please let go of me, Mrs. Hortensia.”
At the same time as I said that, I pushed against her shoulders with my hands. Her look was one of slight surprise, then it changed to what I understood as pity.
My heart was pounding. The feeling in my chest was so intense like it would burst at any moment.
I covered my eyes with my sleeves, and stumbled backwards. Mrs. Hortensia didn’t try to hold on to me. When I lightly sat down with my back against my desk, I finally felt a strange sense of relief.
“……Please go ahead to the dining hall. I’ll come along shortly.”
I heard Mrs. Hortensia sighing gently.
“I shall do as you say. But, please, never forget what I just said.”
With that final comment, she left only the sound of her footsteps behind. All strength left my body and I collapsed where I was sitting.
My hands were trembling. I was shivering in fear at something other than that sweet temptation.
Just why did I reject Mrs. Hortensia’s words just now, I wonder.
These contradictory feelings of mine made me want to cry again, and I kept desperately grinding my teeth. Still, in the back of my head, I kept telling myself that it was just fine like this.