Mai wrung her hands nervously, eyes scanning the road lying before the morning room’s window. She missed the little rustling of muslin behind her, so when the gentle hand of Masako grabbed her elbow, she jolted and let out a startled shriek.
“Mai, you really need to calm down!” admonished her sister, “and I beg of you, stop staring at that road, that will not make him come faster.” “I was not staring at the road,” she lied unconvincingly, “just wondering about the weather…the sky is very blue, is it not?” “It undoubtedly is. Did it really took you half an hour to figure that out?”
The young lady only groaned in reply, before reluctantly tearing off her gaze from the window. She tried to regain a semblance of composure, but rapidly found out that she had difficulties calming the frantic beating of her heart. She couldn’t decide if she was giddy with anticipation or downright terrified to meet her relative, if she wanted him to arrive at once to end her torture or very late so she could use that spare time to prepare her heart.
Masako sighed and grabbed firmly her friend’s arm, forcing her to sit on the sofa. She elegantly poured a cup of tea and placed it authoritatively in Mai’s hands.
“It is perfectly understandable that you may feel a little nervous, but you have to get a hold of yourself! Now drink, tea shall help.”
The young lady hummed gratefully and took a careful sip of the brown liquid, letting its familiar warmth and taste soothe her nerves. She inhaled contentedly, the scent of black tea filling and nostrils and tickling her mind. That scent… Suddenly the image of an extremely handsome and exasperating gentleman adorned with a fascinating blue gaze flashed before her eyes. This slight dry bitterness, these overtones of sweet smoke, that spicy warmth…
It was Naru's smell! Naru smelled like tea!
Mai realized, horrified, that she wouldn’t be able to dissociate the man from her favorite calming beverage anymore. She decided to push the thought aside, determined to not think about Shibuya. She had a more pressing matter to delve into for the time being. But to think that she would be reminded of him several times a day, when all she wanted was to forget this boorish insufferable narcissist! That couldn’t be! She had to get rid of that smell. Taking action, she hurriedly finished the rest of her cup in large graceless gulps and placed the empty porcelain dish on its saucer with an air of triumph and utter vindication, under the bemused stare of Masako, who was probably wondering about her sanity.
“That is a good thing I did not put any brandy in it,” muttered the dark-haired girl. “I would rather say it is unfortunate,” replied Mai in a huff, “assuredly brandy would have been more efficient.”
After a moment of stupor on Masako’s part, the two ladies exchanged a knowing amused look and fell into a fit of uncontrollable giggles. They tried to keep them soundless, aware of the nearby presence of Lady Hara, whose voice could be heard barking orders in another room, but their hilarity proved to be difficult to smother. Mai had to wipe the tears falling from her eyes, equally due to her mirth and the loosening of her nerves, while Masako was struggling to keep the spasmodic twitch of her lips and the unnatural shaking of her chest under control.
They were still trying to regain a more serious composure when they recognized the characteristic rumbling of a carriage coming in the distance. Immediately sobered, the two ladies straightened on their seat.
“It must be your cousin,” stated Masako, still a little breathless from laughing, “we have to go welcome him.”
Just on cue, Lady Hara’s voice boomed in the house, commanding that the girls came at once to greet their guest.
“You are right” responded her sister, getting up the seat. She started restlessly smoothing the front of her dress, and stopped short when she realised the damage she was inflicting to her no-longer perfectly arranged attire. After a deep steadying breath, the ghost of a smile reappeared on her lips.
“Regretfully, it is too late for brandy. Very well then, it is high time we met Mr Takigawa.”
She confidently walked to the door, back straight and chin held high. After an approving nod, Masako followed suit.
The two young ladies were just joining their parents who were already waiting outdoors when the carriage came into view. Lady Hara turned to Mai in a last attempt to give that probably were unhelpful instructions, but her voice was conveniently covered by the cacophony provided by the approaching vehicle. Mai had never felt more thankful for the loud stomping of the horses, the soft clattering of horseshoes on the dirt floor and the incessant rolling and creaking of wooden wheels on pebbles, rhythmically punctuated by the shrilly metallic rattling of the mounting. The deafening melody was quite efficient in silencing the disagreeable Lady. The vehicle finally slackened its speed to halt gently in front of the Haras. Soon after a tall man harbouring a long blondish ponytail tied in a velvety ribbon got down the cart seat with practiced ease.
Mai observed the gentleman with unabashed curiosity. All verifications had been done by Lord Hara’s lawyer and confirmed that this man was the last of her living relatives. There wasn’t any physical resemblance between them to accredit that fact, though. Neither their stature, hair color nor facial features could have been described as similar. Takigawa was conveniently handsome, she decided, brown eyes shining with something akin to merriment, his face split in two by a boyish grin which made him look younger than his early thirties. His hairstyle was a bit unconventional, as young men generally preferred their hair short and natural, and his colored and overly fancy attire could certainly be considered eccentric, especially for his profession, but it was nothing too ridiculous. Mai concluded his cousin was good-natured and nonchalant, if a bit ostentatious, and most probably harmless.
After he introduced himself and greeted the older couple cheerfully, Takigawa gaze fell upon the two young women who were waiting politely for the formal introduction.
“Which one of these two ravishing ladies shall I call my cousin?” asked the man with a somewhat puerile enthusiasm. “This is Mai Taniyama,” indicated lord Hara, “and let me present you my daughter Masako.”
Appropriate bowing and curtsying ensued. When she raised her head, Mai met the appraising gaze of her cousin which was set fully on her. She felt herself blushing under his stare: the gentleman seemed pleased by what he was seeing, which relieved her greatly, nervous as she had been to be deemed a disappointment, but being under such close scrutiny was also making her slightly uneasy.
“Lord Hara,” exclaimed Takigawa, “you really are a blessed man, seeing as your house hosts the most divine creatures! Had I known how lovely the company would be here, I would have accepted your hospitality instead of staying with Brown!”
If Masako remained perfectly indifferent to the exaggerated compliment, her mother, on the other hand, appeared totally delighted. She didn’t even react at the mention of the despised catholic John Brown, mesmerized by the sheer gallantry of her guest.
“Mister Takigawa,” minced the older woman with false modesty, “I beg of you, stop this flattering! But I have to admit that Masako, who takes greatly after me, is known to be the most beautiful young lady around.”
Takigawa narrowed his eyes at the older woman, and Mai could swear she saw distaste marring his features for a fraction of second. She noted that then devoid of its seemingly oblivious cheerfulness, his face looked serious and determined, and his gaze held an unexpected sharpness. There was definitely more to the man than he wanted to reveal.
“I would not believe anyone saying otherwise,” assured the gentleman with an obsequious smile, which, Mai supposed, was a very effective attempt at cajoling the lady and getting her subdued. “Beauty indubitably reigns over this house. And I dare say my darling cousin fits in perfectly” he added suavely, bowing his head in Mai’s direction. “Assuredly” concurred Lord Hara with his usual affability.
Lady Hara, elated to meet such a tasteful and gallant gentleman, assured to Takigawa in an alien display of cordiality that he was welcome to visit at his convenience. Masako stayed demurely mute, her eyebrows scrunched ever so subtly in slight displeasure. She reproved of her mother’s foolish attitude and inflated ego as much as the gentleman’s outrageous flattery.
Mai, on the other hand, blushed a deeper shade of red. The excessive homage had left her embarrassed, but she was also grateful to her relative for placing her on the same level as the other females of the house. She had been reminded more than often that she was inferior to the Haras in many aspects, be it wealth, grace or beauty, so her battered pride took genuine pleasure basking in the solace provided by his kind comment.
Tagikawa took notice of her modest fluster, and addressed her a warm and comforting smile which radiated sincerity. Mai smiled back instinctively, her wariness about meeting her relative vanishing completely. She decided that she liked the gentleman: she found her cousin to be a nice and caring person with a sharp judgement of others and more depth than he let show.
Before she had the chance to ponder further about his character the clergyman offered her his arm so that they could follow the Haras inside, Masako falling one step behind.
The rest of the day passed quietly. The family shared a copious luncheon with its guest before Lord Hara and Takigawa isolated themselves in the former’s office to discuss legal matters. The gentlemen of course hadn’t enlightened the ladies about the tenor of said legal discussions, but Mai supposed they were related to her meager possessions. She wondered what sort of compensation her cousin was considering to offer: maybe some modest amount of money to augment her dowry, or a small income?
The gentlemen finally exited the room late in the evening, still engaged in a civil conversation. Soon after a servant came to announce the dinner was ready, and the whole party took its seat at the dinner table. Mai ate in silence for a while, listening to the men’s exchange about the beauty of Hertfordshire and the prosperity of the land. But curiosity about her relative was nagging her, and she finally risked asking a question.
“You seem to know Hertfordshire very well, Mr Takigawa. Is that where you are coming from?” “I was born in Somerset actually, cousin Mai. Hertfordshire is the land where I was granted a cure. It is quite large and gave me more than one opportunity to travel the land in the past year.”
Lady Hara perked at the mansion of the size of the vicar’s cure. Such a position probably assured him a more than comfortable income, and she found Takigawa to be an even more pleasant gentleman knowing he was suitably wealthy. Before she could enquire about the actual might of said position her daughter intervened, willing to spare Mai and herself the mortification of their mother’s greediness.
“I heard that it counts many of the loveliest British mansions” provided Masako hastily, efficiency cutting her mother short.
“Indeed, miss Hara. My patroness, her ladyship Luella Davis, is also the owner of Rosings Park, which is certainly the grandest mansion of the entire neighborhood.”
“What a wonderful place to live in” crooned Lady Hara, far too interested. “But such a situation as yours asks for a wife, to relieve you of the domestic considerations at least.”
Mai and Masako shared an equally exasperated and worried look, too well aware of their mother’s obsession with marriage. They strongly suspected she had an ulterior motive. Takigawa smiled brightly in response, giving all the appearances of obliviousness. But according to the teasing humor dancing in his eyes, the intentions of the older lady hadn’t escaped him.
“Absolutely, lady Hara. Great minds think alike. Her ladyship herself said so, and she is all wiseness.”
Enchanted to be compared to such an important figure, lady Hara affected an air of self-importance and knowledge.
“Well, there are specific subjects and issues that a clergyman’s spouse may handle with more delicacy than her husband,” she declared sententiously, “especially with your female parishioners. Lady Luella manifestly cares for your well-being and that of your parish.” “True indeed, Lady Hara.” he agreed. “And so do you apparently. I am most thankful you are taking my interests at heart, and provide such insightful advice.”
The veiled irony was missed by the older woman who nodded condescendingly. Her husband seemed to doubt the honesty of the comment for a while but stayed silent nonetheless. His wife was in an unusual good disposition, and he wasn’t foolish enough to spoil it.
“My dear Mr Takigawa, my neighborhood would assure you that I am the most obliging person. I would be glad to offer you my assistance for finding a suitable bride if needed.” “Hum, my dear…” started Lord Hara, sensing that the conversation was running on a dangerous path. “Mother…” interjected Masako nervously, disgruntled, while her sister sighed, resigned. “You see me grateful for your proposition, but I must decline. Though I do not doubt your skills in that domain.” “I must admit that I have an indisputable good eye for finding a suitable match. When I met this Yasuhara I immediately saw how perfectly my Masako would suit him. And I was proven right!” “Shall I offer my congratulations?” asked Takigawa. “No!” was the strangled reply of Masako, who added hastily with more poise, ” No, I am not engaged to any gentleman at the time.” “But it is only a matter of days, darling! We expect the man to declare himself very soon” she added conspiratorially to the clergyman who nodded in understanding.
The dark-haired girl whimpered, and Mai sent her sympathetic glances. Fortunately, Lord Hara changed topics.
“What a great coincidence that your patroness is Lady Luella. One of our neighbour is her nephew, Mr Lin. Maybe you know of him?” “I have heard of Mr Lin more than once, but I have never had the pleasure to be introduced. He used to be seen often at Rosings but that was before…” he hesitated slightly, “before I was offered the cure.”
Before Mai had any chance to stench her growing curiosity about what exactly happened at Rosings Park, the gentleman resumed.
“I would be delighted to make his acquaintance in any other circumstances, but for the time being, my dearest cousin, I am totally yours.” “Oh, but we shall introduce you, Mr Takigawa. We see the residents of Netherfield quite often.”
Mai and Masako blushed in embarrassment before their mother’s lack of tact. Implying that she would do him a service by introducing the vicar to his patroness’ nephew was on the verge of being rude.
“This shall not be necessary, Lady Hara, for her ladyship will certainly see to it herself.” “Oh, of course, of course” exclaimed the older woman, realizing her mistake. “Cousin Mai,” asked the gentleman charmingly, ignoring the previous offense to everyone’s relief, “have you ever been in Hertfordshire?” “I am afraid not. I must confess I have never gone farther than Merryton.” “We shall see to remedy that” he frowned, scandalized. “You have to visit the Hertfordshire! I am certain you would be quite fond the land, especially Rosings Park and its surroundings.”
Takigawa was looking at her intently, as if trying to read her, but Mai couldn’t determine what he was expecting. So she opted for smiling warmly to her cousin, sincerely excited at the idea of traveling across such a beautiful region.
"That sounds like a lovely idea! Rosings Park seems to be a marvelous place. Maybe one day we will have the pleasure to have you for a guide, as you appear to know the land very well.”
The clergyman brightened at her words, a satisfied grin dancing on his lips.
“I can assure you, dearest cousin, that if it is your wish I will see to make it happen.”
Mai only answered by a smile, which was the slightest bit more hesitant this time. She had the ominous feeling that every spoken word held a meaning she couldn’t quite decipher. But Lord and Lady Hara were sporting approving airs, apparently pleased by the development of the evening, so she assumed she was just being overly cautious. And her cousin, whose arrival she had been so nervous about, proved to be a very nice gentleman. There is no need to read to much into things, she thought. Nevertheless, the characteristic scheming glaze over Lady Hara’s eyes made her wonder if something she wasn’t aware of was happening behind the scene.
AN: There wasn’t enough tea in this story. Sorry my old friend, now the outrage is repaired! This chapter was hard to pull off, but now I feel I’m on the right track for the following one. Coming next, my lovely cinnamon roll John, Ayako and Monk. Hehehe *rubs hands in anticipation*
#Okay but why is Ore so great #I don't know I just #He's so different from Ano wow #Yes hello I stalk your blog #And he's just like so chill with all those anons it's wonderful #You go Ore
Kind of freaked out, but I think I'm going to help this guy Getting real sick of school
I wonder if those are the only paragraphs afforded. Sometimes some of the stories seem terribly truncated - but I suppose a thousand story trials have to end some abruptly. I am finding it so, so hard to give a rats ass about Tuon.
These perfect quiet moments that mean far far far more then we think. These are the kinds of moments I've been waiting for.