Part 30: Furniture
Back to the days when I could barely imagine the happiness I have today.
I was a middle schooler at the time. A normal girl, who imagined about love, as is normal at that age. But I really should not have seen that dream... Because I am furniture. Furniture is nothing more than a tool, and is not human. To a person less than human such as myself, just receiving my education was more than enough to make me happy. So even thinking about love was more than I deserved...
BGM: Moonlit Night
On this day, Eva's family had visited the head family on Rokkenjima. The three people from Krauss's family and the three people from Eva's family had gathered in the parlor, and were having a friendly chat as they reported the news. Genji had supposedly told Kinzo of Eva's family's arrival, but he hadn't come down yet. He was probably immersed in his own 'research', and couldn't spare the time. This often happened, so the others waited patiently for their fickle father to come down.
"Thank you very much. I have been able to gain truly precious study from several of Father's elders who he has introduced me to. Everything I learned was something that couldn't be learned in school."
"It's not language or math you learn in school. What you study is the attitude to have towards studying. Once you form that basis, you can finally start a long period of study that'll last your entire life."
"Those who mistake this point are blockheads who don't spend their lives learning. Even if you're perfect with math and language, you'll be useless to yer company!"
"Hmm, that is exactly right. Hideyoshi-san, your education policy is always truly excellent."
"You're not a full man yet, George! Never forget that, and embrace yer studies."
"Stop it, dear. George is always giving it his all. Right?"
"Truly excellent. I wish our Jessica would learn from him..."
"...Ughhh. Are you still holding a grudge about that test score? I'm studying for tests as best I can. At least don't say it here. Cram it already."
Jessica made an openly displeased face, as though she'd known it would come to this.
"My, my... Doesn't it seem as though, in addition to study, Jessica should also learn how to speak a little more lady-like? That is shameful for a daughter who bears the Ushiromiya family crest."
"My, isn't that fascinating, right? Times change. The time when we had to dress modestly to entertain men ended a long time ago."
"That's right, that's right! I knew you'd understand, aunt Eva! Eheheheh!"
"...Haah... My headache is truly trying today."
"Are you alright? Aunt Natsuhi, your face looks off-color."
"Thank you, I am alright... But time really has flown. It feels like just yesterday when you would run around half-naked by the beach and come back soaked."
"Wasn't Jessica-chan the same? And now she's a lady who fusses over how to put on makeup. You really are particular about your eyebrows. You look really cute today."
"Thank you very much. Nobody noticed, so I was a little worried."
A full smile rose to Jessica's face as the results of her own 'studies' were finally noticed. Eva smiled back in the same way. Then, she turned that smile towards Natsuhi.
"No problem, no problem. That person never notices anything."
"Jessica. I cannot admire you calling your mother 'that person'. Apologize."
"...Later, I will speak to you at length about your language."
"Ugh... If kids are a burden, just say so. I'll get out of the way. It's getting stuffy in here."
Jessica was still at the age where she was a novice at studying for tests. Recently, she had clashed often with her mother, who was enthusiastic about her education.
"Excuse me... Kya?!"
"Ah, Shannon. No need to worry about my tea. I'm just going to wander around the garden."
"Shannon, the tea is getting cold. Serve it quickly."
"M, my apologies..."
Shannon hadn't actually done anything wrong, but Natsuhi, who felt like some shame to herself had been shown, lashed out at her emotionally. This was something that often happened in the Ushiromiya family. But it seemed that Shannon wasn't strong-willed enough to accept it that way.
She shrunk back, and prepared the black tea while cowering. She had the unfortunate habit of making more mistakes when she cowered. Her pitiful appearance dispersed the peaceful atmosphere that had been there until just a moment ago. That wasn't really Shannon's fault, but she thought she might be the source, and felt a pressure on her chest. Her shaking fingers made the utensils clang, and you couldn't have complemented it as graceful. The more pitiful everyone thought that was, the greater the silence grew, the more irritated Natsuhi looked, and the more Shannon cowered...
Shannon's thin neck felt like it was being suffocated and chocked by the death god of tension. At that time, George spoke pleasantly, blowing away the stiff atmosphere.
"Umm, this is..."
"No, don't say it. I'll guess. It's a very distinctive smell, so I probably know it... Is it, Earl Grey?"
"I, I think it probably is..."
"Ahahahaha. It probably is Earl Grey. When you get back to the kitchen, check the can."
"Hoh. George-kun, you know a lot about black tea, don't you?"
"A company president who looked after me was very knowledgeable about black tea. While listening to his lectures, I was able to learn a little."
"Oh yeah, the president of Okonogi Foods. That person's profound knowledge was his specialty!"
"The names of black tea often refer to the place they are made, right? So is this something cultivated from a place called Earl Grey?"
"I have heard that long ago in England, there was a person called Earl Grey, and it was named after him. Furthermore, this distinctive smell doesn't come from tea leaves, but from a fruit called a bergamot, which is a relative of the mandarin orange."
"Is that so? I never knew that. Knowing that, the black tea will taste even more delicious."
"Alcohol and cigarettes are the same. Luxury items have a taste of romance. Knowledge like this deepens the taste."
"It's the same as the advertising on medicine. Natsuhi nee-san, you should try reading the explanation on your favorite headache medicine someday. *giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*."
"Hahahaha! That would be good. Try it tonight."
"...Yes, I'll try it."
"Shannon-chan, try opening that pot. You should find some dried bergamot mixed in with the tea leaves."
"Ah... yes. It is in there. Something like dried orange peel is mixed in."
"Yes. That's probably bergamot. The main ingredient in Earl Grey's scent. The scent is vivid, so it gives the taste an intense impression, but it's a docile taste that's easy to drink. If you make it with milk, the scent may become more mild and wonderful. If there's anything left in the pot after you've poured for everyone, you really should try drinking it with milk."
"Ah, yes... Thank you very much..."
George gave her a small wink.
The Ushiromiya family did not pamper their servants. If there was any awkwardness, they would be harshly punished. So it didn't often happen that they were given a helping hand like this.
Thanks to George's concern, Shannon was somehow able to get a hold of herself and finish serving everything safely. If she was calm when she worked, she could easily carry out her tasks elegantly and flawlessly. When the black tea was laid out on the table and the elegant scent drifted around, the room was completely back to how it had been, in a peaceful mood, as everyone praised George's knowledge. Shannon wanted to thank him for saving her, but it didn't look like she would get the chance. So she at least thanked him inside her heart, praying to God that George would hear it, and pushed the serving cart away.
Shannon and Jessica could be seen in the rose garden. Jessica, who had gotten into a fight with her mother, still hadn't returned to the parlor, and was nonchalantly killing time like this.
"...When I think back on it, I feel that maybe this wasn't the first time he has helped me like that."
Whenever I made a careless mistake, and George was there, he would always naturally smooth things over and make things harmonious, I think. Maybe it wasn't something as direct as picking up a fork that had been dropped. But that was his way of caring. Even servants have pride. They want to fix their own mistakes by themselves. Because if a guest helped them out with that, they would lose face.
"He's really good at reading between the lines in those kinds of situations. Well, maybe that's George nii-san aesthetic take on things. That guy's a show-off in weird ways. Ahahahahaha."
"Th, that's not true... I think he is a really wonderful person."
"Hmmmm..?! Shannon, you haven't fallen in love with George nii-san, have you?"
Shannon had uncharacteristically refuted Jessica's words forcefully, so Jessica had struck back.
"No, that's not it, I think..."
"I, i, it does...?! How could... I am not, umm... qualified, like that..."
"You sure are qualified! You've known his face since long ago so you're almost a childhood friend. They say that in a natural relationship where you don't realize you're a boy and girl, once you do realize it, things go on without a hitch, right? No doubt!"
Jessica loved teen magazines with this kind of story, and she was always getting excited talking about that kind of thing with her friends. She was very sensitive to these kinds of love stories. So this wasn't the first time Shannon had been exposed to this kind of story.
But this was certainly the first time she had noticed George as a member of the opposite sex. She was furniture, and George was an honored guest connected to the Ushiromiya family. She had thought that she wouldn't be allowed to even imagine any deeper relationship. So she hadn't thought of it. Jessica poked fun at it, even more happy that it was someone else's problem.
Shannon was doing her best to make sure that her blushing cheeks weren't discovered. So if George had shown up at a time like that, there'd be no way that she would be able to keep her cool.
Shannon had to frantically try and regain her ordinary composure before George reached them...
"Grandfather finally came down. Now they're having an adult discussion, so they chased me out."
"Hahaha, escaping then was the right choice. It'd be better to get kissed by the angel of death than to look at Grandfather's face."
"You shouldn't speak that way. However, I think Grandfather may think of us as the angel of death. Anyways, when they started talking about borrowing money for business, I came over here."
Eva's family had visited to apply for a business loan from the head family. Kinzo had vast resources, and he lent those out to his children. Of course, they did not borrow money because they were living in poverty.
What kind of business would they expand, using the vast amount of money that they borrowed? How much interest would be attached, and how long would they have to repay it? This wasn't a loan for those who didn't keep it. It was a loan for those who were on the offense. Kinzo strictly judged whether it was worth lending out his fortune, and afterwards, he strictly oversaw its use.
So this spectacle where relatives visited Rokkenjima and explained their business to Kinzo sometimes occurred. To the parents, it might be a situation where they were forced by nervousness to move a lot of money. But to Jessica, who lived on this isolated island called Rokkenjima, it was a precious opportunity to meet up with her cousins. So being able to talk with the occasional guest such as George like this, immediately cured her bad mood from getting into a fight with her mother a short while ago.
"It's natural to be prudent when lending money. Of course, my father will use what he borrows to expand his business, and he came with a plan that could be refused. Everything else is left up to the presentation... But I really wish I could watch from the corner and learn. Mother chased me out. I'm a little let down."
"...It seems that the Master still scolds Krauss-sama and Eva-sama as though they haven't changed since they were kids. I'm sure she didn't want to show that to her son, George-sama."
As Shannon hung her head, she thought back on a scene familiar to those who worked in the mansion. Even Krauss, who acted haughtily towards his siblings, was still treated like a child by Kinzo. Shannon herself had often seen Kinzo slap Krauss and tell him to sit up straight.
It was probably very embarrassing to be coerced like that at his age. In the Ushiromiya family, taking care not to be in the same place when this happened was one of the great tasks of the servants. However, that meant that every time Shannon was in the same place, it was a mistake.
"Probably. Realizing that and going away may be a child's duty. We-ll! Even so, the flowers in this garden are truly splendid this year."
George stretched as he said that. And he smoothly changed the subject away from something that was a little gloomy. This time, Shannon noticed it too. This person, George, could sensitively figure out the situation, and always changed the subject to something harmonious, out of concern. It had been so smooth that Shannon hadn't noticed it until today. Today, Shannon had to really admire that behavior of George's.
Almost all of the boys Shannon knew of her own age had been classmates during her education. But they were all young, and none of them had had the composure that George did. Even though he had been just another guest until a while ago, today, she couldn't describe him with just that.
But that was idle thinking compared to her work as a servant. Shannon tried to chase that away with a small shake of her head.
"Hm? What's up?"
"Ah, no, it's nothing...! Umm, shall I prepare some tea? Umm, I will prepare some more of that Earl Grey."
"Ahaha, so you've remembered the name of that black tea. I'm happy."
"...Umm... thank you for your concern back then..."
Shannon was finally able to put her thanks into words. If you wrote it out, it wouldn't be very long, ...but Shannon had needed just a little courage to say that out loud. But George played dumb.
"What's this? I don't remember doing anything I should be thanked for? Heheh."
It seemed that George's response had been more or less predictable to Jessica. Without thinking, she burst out laughing.
"See-? This is it, isn't he a show-off?"
"N, no... That isn't..."
Jessica made fun of Shannon as she remained silent, red-faced. George didn't know the details, but he naturally joined in, laughing the same way.
George, as the oldest cousin, talked about his life experiences. Jessica talked about recent life on Rokkenjima. And Shannon talked about her recent work. They kept going on about these trivial things. Shannon, even if she found the others' stories deeply interesting, didn't feel particularly connected to their contents. She was nothing more than a servant, and she had no intention of delving into her master's lives. She wanted them to enjoy their time speaking with her, and was only pretending to listen intently and nod at the right moments.
But for some reason, she found talking with George deeply interesting today. Even for things that she would normally ignore, she felt like she could feel a kindness hidden beneath the words. For some reason, she wanted to know more things about George, no matter how trivial. So, she stared fixedly at him.
She thought that as far as looks went, this person Ushiromiya George... was probably, about average, and he didn't really stick out. But he was diligent, serious, and had a deep prudence which allowed him to understand people's hearts and show concern. But she had never been aware of these things until now. She might not have met him many times, but she had known his face for many years. Even so, she had not noticed once until now. So Shannon was embarrassed that she hadn't been able to notice, and she blushed. Maybe George thought that Shannon was listening to his stories intently, because he kept on talking about himself.
...But Jessica didn't miss that slight change in Shannon. So she turned the discussion around to the topic Shannon wanted to hear about most.
"Wh, what is this, out of the blue..."
Normally, just George's reaction would have been answer enough. But for some reason, as she was now, Shannon wouldn't be able to understand it unless he said it clearly.
"Um, umm... George-sama is very nice, so I'm sure, umm... he's very popular with the girls..."
"No, err, hahahahahahahahahaha."
"Quit it Shannon~. Isn't cornering him like that actually pretty meeean? *cackle*!"
"I, I wasn't trying to be mean..."
"Thank you for your happy wrong impression. It's a shame, but I still don't have a relationship with any special girl. As you see, my looks are below average. And I can't speak tactfully in a way that can entertain a girl."
"I, I don't think that's true. And, I think that a man's charm is decided by something that can't be measured by his appearance. Th, that's why, umm... I think that you might be a, um... very charming man, George-sama..."
George looked fairly pleased about hearing his own charm described, but he was just a little surprised at this high praise. Jessica, sure now that her own imagination was right on, acted as though she could barely hold back her laughter.
"Thank you, Shannon-chan. I hope I can quickly run into a girl gracious enough to feel my charm."
"Yes, I'm sure you'll run into one. I'm sure there's at least one... no, a l, lot of girls that will recognize your real charm."
Maybe she wanted to say that there was one really close. Shannon avoided saying that much, drawing a final line as a servant.
"R... really. I guess I'm kind of embarrassed..."
Maybe he had never been praised this much by a girl. George's face turned just as bright red as Shannon's.
As she watched the two of them, Jessica giggled sadistically.
"Well, I'm sure you'll eventually find a wonderful partner, George nii-san. But I don't think you'll be able to escort your partner as you are now, ri-ght? It looks like you're diligent, but it seems that you've been completely abandoning your study of that."
"...E-excuse me for being ignorant. I'll start studying that bit by bit."
"How would you do that by yourself? Are you gonna watch movies about love? Or are you gonna learn from uncle Hideyoshi? *cackle*cackle*!"
"Tch... Acting so triumphant. Men aren't a match for girls when it comes to that."
So it was probably unbearable fun for Jessica when their roles were finally reversed. George also realized that, so this time, he was content with being the one who was teased.
"Then George nii-san, as long as you're okay with it, why not practice a bit with Shannon? You'll keep Shannon entertained all day long on a date! What do you think?!"
"Wh, wh, what are you...! M, Milady...!"
When she heard Jessica's audacious plan, Shannon's face turned bright red with a 'poof', and a doughnut of smoke started to rise around it.
"Th, that's a very fascinating plan, but... I'd feel bad for Shannon-chan. Wouldn't this just waste your precious day off? I'd be butting in on the ideal moment when you'll be able to be alone with someone you really have feelings for. I couldn't do something so boorish."
"I, I, I also, umm... don't have a person I have feelings for or anything, so, umm, caring for me like that is, yes, i, it's unnecessary...!"
Shannon's blood had all rushed to her head, and it looked like even she didn't know what she was babbling about. It seemed that Jessica, who knew how Shannon normally was, found that really comical. She couldn't hide her cackling laugh anymore.
"...I, is that true...? I can't believe that a cute girl like you would be single, Shannon-chan..."
"I, I, I... am a servant so, umm, I don't have any relationship with a boy, umm..."
"Which means that, in the future, if Shannon's gonna have any chance of getting herself a wonderful guy, she needs practice with relationships, right? So you each want the same thing. Alright, that'll work nice, *cackle*!"
Jessica irresponsibly cheered the two of them on. Now, George was also hanging his head, red-faced.
Since Eva appeared in what was already an embarrassing situation, both of them were even more flustered. Jessica watched and laughed loudly.
"Ah, M, M, Mother...! Sorry, our conversation got complicated. I didn't notice...!"
"Oh, Eva-sama, my deepest apologies..."
"It looks like you young kids are getting really excited. You're all about that age. I know it's hard to stop talking about things like that. *giggle*giggle*giggle*."
"Come o-n, aren't you still really young, auntie Eva? Please tell us how you and uncle Hideyoshi met!"
"S, so, what is it, Mother? You called because you wanted something, right?"
"Your father and the rest have finished talking. We're going to talk to Grandfather about you, so come on."
"About me? What could that be?"
"The same topic everyone was just having. Remember, that topic?"
"O, oh, that topic. That isn't really something we need to talk to Grandfather about, right...?"
"What are you talking about? Wait, George nii-san, you aren't getting married to someone?!"
"No, no...! Didn't I just say I didn't have a special woman?"
"That isn't something to brag about, is it? ...Seriously."
Eva smiled bitterly, looking a little shocked.
"A marriage meeting...?"
"...Nn, well, yeah. Hahahaha..."
Surely, as a man, George wanted to find a partner by himself and take her back with him. So it seemed that he thought it would be a bit shameless to meet his partner for the first time in a marriage meeting arranged by his parents.
"Shouldn't marriage meetings be done at a more mature age...?! I still don't feel like I've become an adult..."
"Of course, we have no desire to rush into an immediate engagement or marriage, right? It isn't a problem if you deepen your friendship, and then when you settle down as you age, have her moved to our family register."
From Eva's forceful appearance, and George's somewhat lazy one, the others could catch a glimpse of the scheme behind this marriage meeting. They didn't know who this other person was, but it was surely someone profitable to Eva's family in a business sense. This whole thing about having them have an engagement relationship until they changed registers to deepen the connection between the two families felt almost like a political strategy.
"Marriage isn't something you do after you start liking someone. You fall in love after you do it, right? If you marry just based on emotions, you'll definitely regret it. There's definitely nothing wrong with choosing a person with a secure background for your partner in life, and then building up emotions of love."
"Auntie Eva, isn't that rude to uncle Hideyoshi? *cackle*!"
"I love that person. I want to always be with him, and to live my life by his side."
"...Eva-sama, that's wonderful. Truly splendid..."
"Thank you. But we built up those feelings while we were husband and wife, you see? And I believe that in the future, we will be much, much closer than we are now. I think that's a good way for a husband and wife to be."
"Although I don't think that means you can argue that it's alright to marry someone you don't even like."
"That doesn't mean you can argue that it's alright to marry someone you don't even like. A wedding is instantaneous. But your life as a married could after that is very, very long. So you should search with prudence, and not leave it up to momentary emotions. Don't you think that your mother and the rest of us would be better at that than a person immature in life experience such as yourself?"
"...Th, that may be true, but..."
"I am proud of you, my only son. I want to make you grow so that you will never be embarrassed no matter where you go. And you are the only grandson to carry Father's blood. We must prudently choose a fitting partner for you."
As everyone related to the Ushiromiya family knew, Eva adored George so much that he was the apple of her eye. But that didn't mean she had pampered him. She had been strict with him, and had grown him into a handsome man who wouldn't betray her expectations. That's how he was the apple of her eye.
"Your partner definitely won't be selected based on your parents' profit and loss. I will let you meet a suitable and truly wonderful woman. Maybe there is some immature youth inside of you that's alienating you from this. But at least listen to what your mother says on this point. Have I ever failed to think of your sake?"
"...No, you haven't..."
"That's enough for now. So, let's go. We're keeping Father waiting. Hurry to the mansion."
"Well, sorry, you two. See you later."
George bowed to the two of them, and after bowing once more to Shannon, he dashed off to the mansion.
"N, no, no. Please, don't worry about it. Come on, Shannon. Let's go."
"It's alright. I'm sure you'll meet someone wonderful soon too, Jessica-chan. A wonderful person suitable for you."
"So if he's at the same level as me, hahaha, you mean a guy with bad grades? That kinda pisses me off, hahaha!"
"And of course, you too, Shannon-chan. I'm sure that a wonderful man suitable for you will appear."
"Y, yes!! Thank you very much..."
As Eva giggled and smiled, she approached Shannon's ear with a hand over her mouth, as though she was trying to tell her a secret.
BGM: Witch in Gold
"...Th... that's not what... I meant..."
"George is the eldest grandson carrying Father's blood. He's a person who may bear the burden of the Ushiromiya family someday in the future. To answer that expectation, he has studied tirelessly, entered a wonderful college, and is getting wonderful grades. Did you really think you could snatch George away, you uneducated, incompetent, unqualified, uncultured servaaaant?"
Those malicious words all poured into Shannon's ear without spilling a drop... To Shannon, it was like cold water was being poured in there.
"...I, I... didn't mean..."
This was all whispered in secret. And with the same smile as before. Jessica, who could only see Eva's expression, didn't think it was anything other than Eva telling Shannon some embarrassing story about love. When their secret conversation ended, Eva patted Shannon's shoulders, as though she was urging her on.
"Yes, see you later. Then, please tell me about your story with uncle Hideyoshi!!"
"No waaay. Ahahahahahahahahaha...!"
Eva laughed dryly and headed back to the entrance hall. Behind Jessica, who was cheerfully waving her hand, Shannon reflected very, very deeply on those words of Eva's, about knowing her place...
I had forgotten. I am furniture. Furniture isn't human. So I am a being who must feel gratitude for even being treated like a human, and I am not permitted to wish for anything more. Even if people develop affection for furniture that they're used to using, that is an emotion on the human's side, and the furniture's side has no right to hope for that. They should just serve with simple honesty every day.
But that feeling I felt when talking with George-sama and Jessica-sama... is a forbidden drug for me. In other words, it may be an emotion I must not know.
"N, no. My apologies..."
Natsuhi's words 'too distracted' were right on the mark. Even Shannon couldn't believe that she hadn't noticed Natsuhi until she had called. This was a time when she normally had to concentrate on the cleaning. But she had just kept sighing and hadn't accomplished anything...
"Even if there aren't any guests, you must always be alert. Acting like this is shameful as a servant working for the Ushiromiya family."
"...Yes. I will take care, from now on..."
"The head and my husband will return very soon. Has the study's cleaning been completed? Has the staircase's cleaning been completed?"
"M, my apologies... Not yet..."
"Yes, I know. So I had Runon do it. While you were plodding around, cleaning the hallway, she finished cleaning the study and the staircase."
"...That's because, umm... I wanted to clean it properly, so it took some time..."
So she was always slow with her work. In contrast, Runon skillfully avoided important steps wherever she could. So she could compete her jobs with a result looked similar to an outsider, but in a much shorter time. In other words, she was good at cutting corners. Compared to that, maybe we should say Shannon, who talked back at Natsuhi when Natsuhi was in a bad mood, was bad at cutting corners...
Of course, there was nothing that Natsuhi couldn't stand more than a servant talking back. Her forehead creased, and she spoke sternly. And yet, her slow, admonishing style of speech was even more terrifying, and finally made Shannon realize she had said the wrong thing...
"In that case, aim to do a thorough cleaning. Shannon, I order you to clean the reception hall right now. It is an important hall, where several pictures treasured by the head are displayed, and where honored guests of the Ushiromiya family are invited. Clean it thoroughly, so that not a speck of dust remains, and so that even you are satisfied. Of course, you will finish today. Until you finish that and report it to me, you will not be permitted any food or rest. Understood?"
"Y... yes, Madam."
"That is good. Servants should endeavor to only use those words. The next time you talk back, I will give you an even more severe punishment, so with that in mind, engrave these words in your heart."
"Yes... Madam. Thank you for your guidance."
"You are welcome."
As Natsuhi acted like her headache was troubling her, she headed off down the corridor... When she couldn't see her anymore, Shannon hung her head and sighed.
I had been careless, so something like this had happened. Even though I'm bad at everything I do, I should be able to at least carry out the cleaning as well as an average person can, right? It's because I can't even perform that well, that I'm so shameful and crying. What could be more shameful than this? Not only have I been unable to perform a single bit of cleaning well, but just now, when Natsuhi was scolding me...I was envisioning that person appearing and rescuing me.
If only George-sama were here. Would he casually step in and save me? I'm sure he would show up cheerfully, intentionally acting like he doesn't know what's going on, nimbly change the subject, and make me forget I was ever rebuked by Natsuhi... I kept envisioning him, suddenly appearing from the other side of the door, or the other end of the hallway. I envisioned the kind of person that would be an appropriate partner for him in a marriage meeting. And I envisioned how unfitting I am for him.
Eva clearly told me that. It has repeated endlessly through my dreams...
Kanon was suddenly there. His footsteps were quieter than a cat's, and he left no trace he was there. She probably wouldn't have noticed him no matter how long he stood there...
The expression on Kanon's face was... hatred. He made that expression for Shannon, who didn't know how to do it herself...
"Madam and Runon can fall into hell. That person knows where Madam checks, and only cleans those areas. Her cleaning just now was like that. I know because I saw. She wasn't really cleaning. She's just the worst kind of parasite, leeching off of your thorough cleaning."
"You mustn't use such dirty words... Dirty words pollute your clean soul, Kanon-kun. So at least don't use those words in front of me. Alright?"
Kanon faced away, acting sulky. It was a dishonest reaction, very like Kanon, but I was a little happy. He was getting mad for my sake.
"...Cleaning the reception hall will be tough. I'll help."
"Thank you. But I was the one Madam ordered, so don't worry. Don't you also have your own work, Kanon-kun?"
Kanon then hung his head, and bit his lower lip...
"Just saying that you'll help is enough for me. If you don't go back to your own job, even you will receive punishment... And that would make me sad."
I knew Kanon's character well. Sometimes, he didn't reflect on himself. If I don't refuse forcefully, he will help me even if it means neglecting his own job...
Kanon was a little sad that his favor had been rejected, but he realized that in the end, going too far would also cause her pain, and he gave a single, small sigh.
"...Understood. Do your best, Nee-san."
"Yes. And I am also partly to blame."
"You aren't at fault at all, Nee-san...!"
"...No. I am. So go now."
Kanon-kun's face showed that he still hadn't completely accepted it, but without being any more persistent, he disappeared.
...Even though Kanon-kun had given me words of comfort when I was down. Even so, I was dejected again because it wasn't 'him'. That in itself, was a sin. That went far beyond any dream the likes of me could be permitted to see, I don't know my place.
...But if she didn't finish up cleaning the reception hall, she could not receive Natsuhi's permission to eat. That cruel Natsuhi had surely told the kitchen something to that effect.
I have to respectfully receive Madam's punishment. That's right. My position in the world is furniture, and I had been intoxicated by a dream that is beyond me...
I finished cleaning the hallway and I went to the reception hall. Maybe my hunger made my nose more sensitive. I could sense a delicious aroma wafting from the kitchen, which should have been far away, and my empty stomach was encouraged even more. Until I finished up here, I could not get any soup. I just had to prepare myself.
Several portraits were hung in the reception hall.
...It was the portrait of the witch. That wasn't its true name, but everyone in the mansion called it that. The name of the woman with elegant blonde hair, drawn as the subject of that portrait, was Beatrice.
It was whispered that she might be the family head, Kinzo's former mistress. And also that she was the great witch who had given Kinzo the gold of the legend. The witch, Beatrice, master of the night on Rokkenjima. She was gracious to those who respected her, but she would surely curse those that made light of her. It was in Shannon's character not to neglect rules and beliefs such as those. So she thought of the portrait of her other master as that person herself, and always treated it carefully, treasuring it. And telling the witch that only existed inside the portrait the secrets of her heart had become part of her daily routine.
She was furniture. Furniture doesn't complain. Cannot complain. So she had no right to speak her mind about her difficult days. She had no right to open her mouth and say those words. So, she at least spoke her mind inside her heart. She spoke her mind inside her heart, using words she couldn't say aloud, and protested to the formless witch.
Of course, the witch didn't answer. She didn't console, and she didn't laugh it off. Shannon could only interpret that silence as she liked, as though the witch was responding agreeably.
As Shannon wiped the dust from the witch's portrait, she spoke that inside her heart.
I certainly am incompetent and uncultured, just as Eva-sama said. I am not a person. So maybe I have no right to love... But in that case, why was I given a heart which can know love?
...At that point, Shannon held back her tears for a time. The sound of the rain, which had started falling, along with the chill air in the reception hall, made her feel as though her shabbiness had increased another level.
The witch that didn't answer or laugh, ...answered, and laughed.
Was it her imagination? Was she hearing things? No, that's wrong.