Marielle Clarac’s Engagement – The Love Story of Marielle Clarac – Chapter 02

Five days after our circus jaunt, I was once again being swayed to and fro in a carriage alongside Lord Simeon. This time our destination was rather close by. It can’t be long now until it’s visible on the horizon.
House Pautrier’s party was still a handful of days away, but it had been agreed that we would arrive early and stay there as guests until the party. Relatives, and any guests who had traveled a long way to get there, had already arrived and were staying at the estate, where an informal gathering of sorts would be taking place leading up to the party itself. It had been arranged that we would blend in as part of this gathering.
A letter from Lord Cedric had arrived at Lord Simeon’s residence soon after our first encounter at the circus. It included a further explanation of the circumstances and an invitation to come and stay. He’d gained Earl and Countess Pautrier’s approval without much difficulty, feeding them an excuse about getting to know us better before the real party.
“There’s no need for your attendance, you know,” said Lord Simeon, grimacing.
I’d forced him to accept it, and he still wasn’t quite accepting enough. “Oh, but it’s entirely necessary. How could I stay behind, after I listened with such concern to Lord Cedric’s story, and promised him that I’d help? The excuse he gave his grandparents will also seem more natural if we attend as a couple. I’m sure that was his intention—it’s certainly what his letter suggested.”
“He was being polite. A proper gentleman would always seek to keep a lady away from a potentially dangerous situation. If he did expect you to come, then his cowardice truly knows no bounds.” His tone was so scathing, I drew back slightly.
“You seem to be quite hostile toward Lord Cedric. What is it that you find so offputting about him? Is it that he was raised as a commoner?”
“That doesn’t have an impact on my opinion at all. I judge people purely based on their own words and actions.”
“In that case, I don’t recall anything in his behavior that would invite such harsh criticism.” “Have you quite forgotten? As of yet, we have no proof that anything he said was true.” “No, but nor do we have any reason to assume he was lying.”
Lord Simeon sighed and shook his head. Frustrated, I looked away from him and out the window instead.
I asked myself, Why is he so eager to shut me out this time? Normally he’s quite content for me to do whatever I please, but this incident with Lord Cedric has put him in a foul mood. It might not even be so dangerous. All he said was “potentially dangerous.” It’s not as if I’m the one being targeted here.
And, since other people were staying at the estate as well, it seemed unlikely that anything too terrible would happen. I wished that Lord Simeon would stop worrying over nothing. I wasn’t aware of any bad blood between House Flaubert and House Pautrier either, so I really couldn’t grasp the reason he was so agitated. What is it that makes this specific situation so irritating to him?
While I turned all of this over and over in my mind, the carriage arrived at House Pautrier’s estate. By the time we’d made it through the vast grounds to the front entrance, Lord Cedric had already appeared to greet us.
“I’m so glad to see you,” he said, full of both gratitude and joy, as we stepped out of the carriage. “I must thank you again for agreeing to my request, inappropriate though it was.” His sincerity was palpable. How someone so gracious and sincere could be deemed to have “cowardice that knows no bounds,” I did not know. It seemed completely over the top. It also seemed out of character for Lord Simeon, who was supposed to hide his black-hearted villainy beneath a cool exterior, to be so openly negative.
“Good day, Lord Cedric. Thank you for being so kind as to let us presume upon your hospitality.” A few servants were visible nearby, so I did my best to reply in a manner that suggested I was here for purely social purposes.
“Thank you most kindly for the invitation,” said Lord Simeon, expertly hiding every trace of his bad mood. “I hope we won’t be causing you too much bother. You must be busy readying everything for the party.” Aha! The cool facade had returned. The black-hearted depths were there, but his handsome face showed nothing of what was under the surface.
I love it so much when you’re like that, Lord Simeon!
“Not at all, not at all. I’m pleased to have you here. My grandparents are overjoyed that I’ve already made some friends. They’re inside, so why don’t you come in and greet them?”
We left our luggage in the servants’ hands and followed Lord Cedric inside. Being just as prominent as House Flaubert, their residence was just as impressive as well. Every inch of it overflowed with style and personality. My own house’s modest decor was nothing in comparison.
The key difference compared to House Flaubert, however, was the traditional atmosphere that permeated every room. The whole building was furnished in a refined and understated manner, with an old-fashioned ambiance. It perhaps reflected that its owners had reached an age where they didn’t often visit new places and see new styles.
Though I often visited other houses for balls and garden parties, it was rare that I had the chance to set foot in their living quarters. While taking great care not to look like an ill-mannered busybody, I tried to look around and take in every detail of the estate and etch it into my memory. This experience will be very useful to me. If I can’t depict the surroundings properly, I won’t be able to convey the full atmosphere of the story to my readers. And that atmosphere could be best described as “stately.” I wouldn’t have described it as simple, but it certainly wasn’t ostentatious—there were no valuable works of art on display, for example. If anything, you could say that the manor itself was a priceless antique.
House Pautrier had apparently amassed its vast fortune by avoiding reckless spending. Now all of this—the estate and the fortune—was to be inherited by Lord Cedric. I could understand why the rest of the family would be less than thrilled. If he’d grown up here and been raised as the heir all his life it might be a different story, but he’d only just turned up.
We reached the drawing room, where the earl and countess met us in high spirits. They had a long and friendly relationship with Lord Simeon already, so they exchanged some warm words.
The earl remained seated, as his legs were not as reliable as they had been. “We heard the news of your engagement, but our age prevents us from getting out and about, you see. At last, we have the chance to meet your dear fiancée. My, to think that the little lad we know is old enough to be engaged already. How time flies!”
He’d come across as much more well and able the last time I’d seen him, but in a few short years he appeared to have aged more than ten. Perhaps all this terrible misfortune surrounding the succession has worn him out, I thought. At the very least, his face was cheerful and bright— calmed, maybe, by Lord Cedric’s recent arrival.
Lord Simeon responded to being called a “little lad” with a bitter smile. Even the Demon Vice Captain can’t win against someone so senior, I suppose!
“Little lad, indeed! I must apologize for my husband’s rudeness. You’re a fully fledged member of the Royal Order of Knights, and nothing less.” Countess Simone wore a warm expression, too, much like the other day, as if all she thought of anymore was her grandson.
Lord Simeon seemed somewhat uncomfortable. It must be quite awkward for him to be treated as “Simeon, that little lad we know from House Flaubert” when he’s used to being the Vice Captain, mercilessly working his men to the bone. I wished I could show his men the face he was making at that moment. This lesser-spotted version of Lord Simeon was so cute, I could die.
Lord Simeon gave me a watchful sideways glance. Somehow he’d sensed something, even though I did my best to hold in my shameless grin and feign a prim and proper smile instead.
I laughed inside. He was blushing. Don’t think I haven’t noticed!
The earl and countess didn’t give the kind of mystified reaction I was used to. Not a hint of
the puzzled face that everyone else presented in the first moment they saw me. Perhaps at their age, my plain appearance didn’t seem to matter so much.
Instead, they treated me as a normal person right from the start, and asked me several questions about what the youth of today were interested in, clearly for Lord Cedric’s benefit. I enjoyed a congenial conversation while sipping a cup of tea.
Then, suddenly, a rather livelier group turned up.
“Ah, I see more guests have arrived,” said a young lady who’d broken away from the rest of her group and rushed into the drawing room in advance. “I hope you don’t mind if we introduce ourselves.”
She looked roughly the same age as me. I imagined she was not yet twenty. Her hair was strawberry blonde, and she was, on the whole, quite attractive. The young lady that followed behind her looked so similar that it was easy to guess they were sisters.
A man, slightly older than Lord Simeon, brushed past them. “This is a surprise,” he said. “Lord Simeon of House Flaubert, isn’t it? Why exactly are you here?” He had curly, dark brown hair and freckled cheeks.
He must be the earl’s nephew. What was his name again? I tried to recall the name that went with the face, but I came up short. The young ladies’ names didn’t spring to mind either. For me to struggle with their names, they can’t be making regular appearances in society.
The earl’s expression changed in an instant. His eyes shot daggers at the new arrivals. “How dare you barge in here when you weren’t summoned. You’re being very rude to our guests.”
The three of them flinched slightly at being scolded, but they weren’t deterred and came closer anyway.
“I realize we’ve been quite forward,” said one of the sisters, “but it would seem equally rude not to introduce ourselves to guests who are so intimately familiar that they’ll be staying here with us.”
“I’d hate to think they were staying under the same roof, but didn’t even know our faces,” said the other. They both had their eyes fixed firmly on Lord Simeon. The glimmer in their eyes was a familiar sight. Lord Simeon stayed seated and kept his smile placid, letting their lurid gazes wash over him.
“Won’t you introduce them to us, Great Aunt?” begged one of the sisters in a voice as sweet as honey.
Countess Simone sighed in irritation. “I can only apologize for their deficient manners. These are my sister’s granddaughters. We’ve taken them on here in an attempt to teach them proper decorum. The older sister is Evelyne, and the younger is Suzette.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” said the older of the two, taking her gorgeous dress into her hands and bobbing a cute curtsy. “I’m Evelyne of House Le Comte.”

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