That such a young man presided as proprietor of estates would strike any seasoned individual as odd, though perhaps he was a prodigy. Lord knows enough of those were around these days. Near every young man was a genius of some sort, be it musical, due to his authorship, or his business and political saavy. In reality, Gretchen knew, most men were merely given positions and praised on the bare minimum of capabilities. Mediocrity hires.
Still. She could not get this one young man off her mind. The proprietor, and manager of Valentin's estate, and thus, of the well being of his sisters, Gretchen and Bette, as well as their carer from birth, Marthe was entirely in control of them, and Valentin, the only man left in the family has not returned from the east.
And thus it was, that Gretchen found herself, to her immense chagrin, hoping the young proprietor and his flamboyant partner would make their estate a visit. She could not explain, but when she'd accidentally tumbled into him on her way back from the market, something had sparked in her. Maybe the softness of his skin, golden and youthful... or the hardness of his muscular and wiry form. Or maybe it was his eyes. He looked familiar in some way. His deep, honey brown eyes seemed to sparkle with knowing and it hit her in her core.
Now she sat in before her vanity and considered the box that sat, until now, untouched by wary hands. An old thing, it was varnished by the hands of many folk to a thick, mahogany patina, and the crudeness of the cut of the wooden lengths dovetailed into one another gave it a slightly lopsided bearing. The only sign that it may have been something more noble were the delicately carved metal corners and fastening on the lid's exterior. A miniature floral tapestry had been hammered into the old metal. Gretchen reached out and lightly ran a pale hand over the lid. The grain was thick and pleasantly rounded to the touch.
The proprietor's working partner had arrived two full suns ago and left it in the solid grip of Marthe's calloused fingers. She shivered at the memory of him. Refusing to find herself, a single young woman, face to face with the man, she had merely watched as he placed the box in Marthe's grasp. He was tall, with a noble bearing that seemed somewhat older than his years. Thin, and wily, he'd flicked his long fingers out as he bowed before Marthe, his oddly dark eyes flashing and darting about their humble apartments. He was somewhat arrogant, as he let his lips curl into a grin. The way he looked Gretchen up and down clenched her stomach in the most unpleasant way. He did not leer, for that would be far below his parentage, but she felt exposed. His lewdness of the intelligence on his face bothered her and he had an air about him that was at once cloying and bitter.
Marthe had unconsciously hiked her skirts as she stepped forth into the worn frame of the door. A hot blush across her face betrayed her and the man bit his lip. He was polite in his diction alone and Gretchen felt herself disgusted. Marthe, surely, could see through the facade, right? But no. No sooner had he placed the box in her hands then he leaned in to whisper something that turned Marthe redder than the rhubarb in their garden.
She shivered again and nervously ran her hands over her face, like a cat cleaning itself. Letting out a deep exhalation(she'd been holding her breath and hadn't noticed) and slowly unclasped the box. In the candle's glow glinted a pearl necklace, a slight greyish tint sparkling as the flame danced about. The box and the necklace remained a mystery for a breath longer until Gretchen saw a small calling card inconspicuously tucked into the velveteen padding set up against the wall. The proprieter's gentleman's card! It was surely his name written upon the thing. She held the card out and peered closely at the writing upon it.
“Mr. Johannes F.
German Estates Proprieter
She pondered the card again. That was rather close to the school. She had ventured to that district but rarely as she had little reason to go there. If only Valentin were here. Sitting alone in this stuffy house with only her childhood wetnurse and child-sister for company left her wanting for companionship, and someone to share her thoughts and desires with. Valentin had always been there when they were younger but once he became a man, he lost interest in the feminine whims and fantasies of his younger sister. All of her childhood girlfriends had found men of their own as soon as they could, most marrying off at 16. Yet Gretchen was a warier girl and she always had been. She was loathe to get into trouble as a young girl and preferred to stay out of the way of boys in her teen years. She devoted herself solely to to her faith, keeping a well-worn bible by her bedside. She wrote in a prayer journal every night before bed, carefully alternating from a black gall ink to red when she felt a prayer had been answered. As far as she was concerned, God would let her know when the right man had come along. Now, she sat alone before this gift from a young and well-created man who made of himself a secure career and a sturdy carriage and she had none but God alone to share her thoughts with.
She picked up the necklace then, letting each pearl have its moment illuminated by the candle flame. The flame itself seemed to start with excitement as if it could sense the beauty of the pearls. She inhaled deep the musk of age that wafted from the ancient box. Her stomach twisted pleasantly. The necklace was a gorgeous piece of work with the tiniest, and most femininely crafted of clips. Dangling from the centre was a small citrine. The thing must have costed Mr. Johannes F far more than a woman of her ranking could dream of affording. It was far too precious a gift for someone like her, who, in many ways felt like a child still. Young men had suited her in the past, and she had always easily sent them away.
“I must stay home to care for Bette, Marthe. I must sell my bread when I can. I have no time to think about men and marriage, not with Valentin gone to serve.”
She justified her disinterest with feeling called to more worthy tasks. She gardened, she baked and sold her bread, she cared for, fed, bathed, kissed, and cuddled Bette and nurtured her little soul so she may grow healthy and stout. Men, simply, were not within her sphere. But she could not wrest her thoughts from straying toward Mr. F and his strange partner. She felt herself wound up at the thought of him and the memory of the way he'd looked the week before his partner had appeared with the peculiar gift. Tall, hair black as pitch, and skin and curves like a sphynx. She'd startled, dropping her parasol and with overlarge but no less deft hands and a feline agility, he'd stooped to apprehend the run away parasol as it skittered down the street in a gust of wind.
When he spoke, his voice, though oddly pitched, was soft and plush. Thinking about it now made the diaphenous hairs on her pale, little arms, rise and catch the glow of the candle, which now danced delightedly to and fro. She unclasped the pearl necklace and wrapped it around her slender neck, watching her task carefully in the vanity mirror.
Oh, the thing was beautiful! It's facets tinkled in the happy flame, the citrine in the centre hanging just above the gentle swell of her breasts, glittering like frozen fire. She closed her eyes and let out a hum. She let her mind wander to a fantasy, herself as a gentlewoman, in a pale yellow gown bespeckled with little blue flowers and on her arm Mr. F....
The red glow of her eyelids suddenly went dark, drawing her out of her reverie. A draft had pinched out the candle and left her in darkness. It was well past midnight now anyway and her day always started just before dawn. She found her way to her bed, adjusted her shift(though still thinking of Johannes, she left her hands graze her curves a little too long) and settled into bed. Lying her head on her pillow, she whispered a prayer to God asking him for guidance.