✧For My Precious Cousin✧
*Click For Audio Drama*
Arvis was bustling with the preparations for Herhardt’s dinner party.
As Leyla walked home from school, the roads were swarming with carriages and vehicles. Uncle Bill had been extremely busy these past few days, engrossed in arranging flowers for the mansion’s interior. It was that time of the year when flowers start wilting, so he had to gather some from greenhouses and procure the rest from local flower gardens.
Leyla helped her uncle out by making frequent trips downtown to buy flowers. Her hectic days made her feel lucky; at the very least, she could forget about her missing pen and her unanswered letter from the Duke. But now that her work was done, she had to return to Arvis.
As the entrance to the mansion loomed closer, Leyla slowed her pace.
Fortunately, Duke Herhardt seemed to have brushed the matter aside. Or more likely, he didn’t have a chance to ponder over it. He, too, had been swamped with work lately, and Phoebe, who had been secretly communicating with him, was confined within a cage in the backyard.
“I can’t believe it.”
She had uttered these very words at least a hundred times since Phoebe brought in the Duke’s letter.
“How did he come up with the idea of taming Phoebe and using it as his carrier bird?”
She hadn’t lived a long life, nor was she acquainted with many people. However, within her lifetime, Duke Matthias von Herhardt was by far the most strange and yet enigmatic man Leyla Lewellin had ever come across.
“Why does he keep taking other people’s things? Is he a kleptomaniac?” Leyla kicked an innocent stone on the path as she grumbled.
She didn’t want to meet the duke, even though she needed to get her pen back. She didn’t really know why she was determined to avoid him even more now, but Leyla felt like she had to.
Just as Leyla was about to enter the mansion from a side entrance, a blaring honk startled her. She swivelled to see the Brandt family’s car park right in front of her.
As the back seat window slowly rolled down, Leyla approached the car with stiff steps.
“Leyla, long time no see.”
Sitting inside was the familiar face of Claudine Brandt.
“How have you been?” Claudine beamed, scanning Leyla from head to toe.
Leyla froze for a moment. A familiar sense of guilt, like that of a child who had made a grave mistake, gripped her tight. It was the same emotion she had felt last summer, on the day of Duke Herhardt and the Lady’s engagement ceremony. The memory of her first kiss being stolen by Claudine’s fiancé never failed to make her feel pathetic.
The Duke’s gentle voice, his soft laughter, and the touch of his firm, fervent hands flitted across her mind, but Claudine’s gaze brought her back to the present.
Clasping her frozen hands together, Leyla, as she’d always done, greeted Claudine with a polite bow.
“Hello, Lady Claudine.”
It was a surprise to no one that Herhardt’s dinner party had ended on a perfect note. Always the epitome of grace and elegance, the two hostesses of the party were consistent throughout. In the Berg Empire, the name Herhardt had earned the epithet ‘perfection’. A mishap in Herhardt’s dinner party would merely heighten everyone’s unbridled curiosity.
“Would it be alright if we took a walk in the greenhouse for a while?”
Claudine politely asked Elysee after everyone had moved on to chat in the living room. Standing on the other side of the room were the people Claudine had referred to – her fiancé and her cousin.
“Of course, go ahead.” Elysee von Herhardt readily consented. “You young people do need to spend some time together.”
With her subtle tone, the ladies surrounding Elysee burst into laughter in tandem, as if they were dancing in rhythm.
Claudine exited the living room and Matthias together with Riette followed suit, leaving behind the ladies who began gossiping about the youngsters’ love affairs.
“Oh, Duke Herhardt, Madam Norma granted me permission to expand this greenhouse when I become the Duchess of Arvis,” said Claudine, her radiant voice permeating the tranquil greenhouse in the dark.
Matthias’s lips twitched with a faint smile.
“What do you think?”
“I’ll go along with whatever my Lady wishes.”
Claudine already knew what Matthias would answer, but she still nodded with a pleasant smile. “You can look forward to it. I’m confident that I can truly love this magnificent greenhouse, Arvis’ Heaven.”
Claudine walked along the pathway with a spring in her step. Although she was being escorted by her fiancé, most of her conversations ended up revolving around Riette.
Claudine had just begun talking about what tropical plants to grow in the expanded greenhouse when a servant arrived to see Matthias. Someone had sought him out to discuss business-related matters.
“Come back quickly.” Claudine smiled as she let go of her fiancé’s arm. “I’ll continue my walk with Riette.”
“I always end up as the Duke’s substitute for my dear Lady Brandt.”
Despite his grumbling, Riette willingly lent his arm to Claudine.
After Matthias and his servant departed, Claudine and Riette were the only ones left in the greenhouse, surrounded by the soft lull of the flowing fountain.
They resumed their prior discussion as well as their stroll. Claudine’s visualization of expanding the greenhouse was quite specific; she had already made up her mind about which particular plants to import and how to landscape them.
“It seems like you’ve already become Duchess Herhardt. Your love for Arvis exceeds your love for your fiancé,” Riette surmised as he turned to look at her after listening to her ideas.
Claudine nodded without a hint of shame. “Either way, I’m still showing love for Herhardt.”
“You two really are something.”
Riette’s laugh was one of defeat.
“Matthias is pretty cold, are you okay with that?”
“What do you mean?”
“Duke Herhardt doesn’t love anyone. He never loved you before, doesn’t love you now, and will never love you in the future.”
“Which prestigious nobleman marries for love?”
“Some do! It would surely happen if Lady Brandt would simply become my wife.”
As usual, Riette kept his expression and tone light and casual. Claudine just flashed a smile in response.
“Riette, I’ve been going in and out of Arvis with my mother for ten years.” Claudine turned to look at Riette. “Do you know what that means?”
“It means, for ten years now, the aristocrats of this empire have already fancied you as Duchess Herhardt.”
“Right, Riette, this is why I like you.”
Claudine laughed softly and placed her hand back on Riette’s arm.
Riette calmly escorted his cousin. The subtle tension between them soon disappeared as their casual conversation and laughter flowed back in.
“I also want to raise a peacock after I expand this place.”
Claudine changed the topic while observing the birds in the greenhouse.
“Is this the birth of a bird-loving couple?” Riette asked sarcastically.
“The bird is still there, by the way. That pretty little bird who dwells in the Duke’s bedroom.”
“I don’t mind. Duke Herhardt ought to have at least some small pleasures. We should respect his wishes.”
“I hope it stays just at that.”
“It’s not worth your worries. No matter how pretty it is, you can’t bestow the title of Duchess to a bird, Riette.”
“Well, that’s true.” Riette failed to refute. No matter how much Matthias adored the canary, a bird was just a bird. “Do you know how long a canary lives? Does it have a long life?” He asked.
Claudine tilted her head, “I don’t know, but I hope that noisy bird doesn’t live too long.”
“Didn’t you just say that we should respect the Duke’s small pleasures?”
“Yes, but if that bird dies, there will be another bird who’ll entertain Duke Herhardt.”
“Claudine, I truly want to give my blessings to you and Matthias.” Riette laughed absent-mindedly as he gazed at Claudine’s face, “You two are such a perfect match.”
Riette felt a brief pang of pity for Matthias’s little bird. The poor bird was bound to hover around the well-matched couple helplessly.
Claudine’s lips lifted to a natural smile. Seeing her cruel, yet beautiful face, Riette blurted out, “Should I become acquainted with that bird for my precious cousin?”
“I didn’t know you had that kind of hobby.”
“She’s not my cup of tea, but she’s still pretty.”
“It won’t be easy.” Claudine giggled as if she were having a lot of fun. “That bird may look pretty, but she has the pride of a princess.”
“Hah. Do I look like the type to easily fail?”
“No… but I’m indeed curious. Will you be able to become friends with that haughty bird?”
Claudine was no longer smiling, her features as cold as the window panes reflecting the moonlight.
“If you succeed, I’d be happy to send you a congratulatory gift.”
“Isn’t gratitude and love enough?”
Their ostentatious smiles dissipated as the pair’s intense stare-down grew profound.
As the door to the greenhouse opened, Riette let out a low sigh and the pair made their way forward. Matthias had returned.
Neither the carrier bird nor Leyla had returned. Everything was exactly the same as it had been prior to him sending the letter.
Matthias scoffed as he looked up at the sky, where the white pigeon used to flit about. He laughed coldly, bitter and borderline angry.
“You can go back now.”
Matthias declared to the servant waiting in front of his balcony door.
“Then I’ll be waiting in front of the annex when it’s time for departure.”
Mark Evers left a polite greeting and returned with the rest of the staff.
Left to his own devices, Matthias let his mind wander as he looked down at the tranquil river below his balcony. He believed that Leyla had been too preoccupied with assisting the gardener recently. But now… that was no longer the case.
After lifting his cuff to check his watch, Matthias paced up and down his balcony. There was still some time left before his afternoon appointment. Also, it was the weekend, so Leyla Lewellin would probably be in her cabin.
Thus, he deduced a fair conclusion and decided to follow through with his plan without hesitation.
Matthias walked down the riverside and entered a forest path carpeted with fallen leaves.
He was filled with regret.
It flooded through him hot and thick, darker than the colour of autumn leaves.
‘I should’ve hurt her until she cried.’
However, he soon found Leyla Lewellin. She was hanging laundry near the cottage’s fences. She looked very calm and relaxed, enough to make Matthias seem foolish for restlessly waiting around for the past week.
Matthias stood still and watched her with discretion. Leyla continued hanging the clean bedding, her attention entirely focused on her task. She pulled left and right, pulled once again, and then twisted the sheet tight until it was dry enough to hang.
Her proud smile added to Matthias’ bewilderment.
‘Ha… Would you look at that?’
Lately, he’d been thinking about those words often. She was annoyingly cute yet ferocious, and she always amused him with her quirky attitude. Matthias felt frustrated with himself for being so disarmed by her.
Leyla turned around just as Matthias took a step forward. Her body stiffened like a pole as soon as she saw him. So far, he had thought her actions were very adorable, but Matthias now decided to change his outlook.
Leyla swivelled and started running. When she disappeared beyond the yard, Matthias realized that she was running away from him.
The sight of her running away as if she had seen a ghost made Matthias scoff. It was amusing to watch and more amusing to think that she believed she could dare run away from him.
He withheld his sentiments for now. After he stopped laughing, Matthias began to chase her.
Leyla ran out of the yard and towards the harvesting fields on the opposite end of the Schulter river. Matthias’ strides grew longer, and the gap between the pair narrowed. Leyla looked back in fear, and then… she stumbled.
She finally got caught under a willow tree near the river. Leyla struggled against him, but Matthias had grasped onto her shoulders tight and caged her between the tree trunk and his body. His hands were blazing as he aggressively grabbed her matted hair.
When he looked down, Matthias was greeted by the sight of a tearful Leyla.
“Where are you going, Leyla?”
T/N : Starting from this chapter, daily updates will be changed to mass/weekly updates. The updates will be slower, but I will provide better translation results
Translator : Moonvielle
Editor/PR : Hanabi & April_NEET
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