She passed him wordlessly - he had only thought her name. Her aura, though invisible, was as hot as ash yet as cold as ice. Richard was alarmed. He had never seen the expression in her eyes so venomous.
What could be wrong? She had seemed fine during her conversation with Princess Mina. Or wait, perhaps she hadn’t been...
There had been one point during a lapse in his conversation with Prince Bernard when he had glanced at Corinne and thought he’d seen a quantity of strain in her expression, slight tension in her muscles. At the time, he’d thought he was imagining it but now he wasn’t so certain. Corinne had just appeared to radiate loathing. Loathing directed at him. Was this mood of hers his fault?
He decided to look for Corinne, to try to analyse her behaviour if not to inquire into her fury.
He found her in the kitchen, industriously scrubbing dishes. Scrubbing dishes?!
Her face was hard, hard as stone. She was evidently struggling not to cry.
Who else was here? Chef, and two maids: Florence and Matilda.
“Chef, Florence, Matilda you may have a short break. It is a beautiful day,” he said significantly.
The chef and the maids looked up in shock; the appearance of their master in the kitchen was completely unexpected. Hurriedly they left, seeing that he was in no mood to be kept waiting. Corinne put down the plate and towel she was holding and turned towards him to leave as well.
“No, Corinne,” Richard said simply.
“May I not have a break too?” she asked, gazing into his eyes with an unnerving, cool steadiness. She seemed to be winning the fight against her tears.
“You are free to do as you please in this house,” Richard said, more sharply than he had intended to. “But I would like you to stay, Corinne.”
“Would you?” she asked, eyes flashing like a bolt of lightning. “Because there are times when it feels you would prefer to share your house with a rat.”
Richard’s heart sank. So his return to his previous treatment of her was undesired by her.
Yet he wanted to verify his suspicion before his sadness deepened.
“Corinne, what’s the matter?” he asked quietly.
“You!” she cried, with startling volume, providing a contrast to the near inaudibility of his question. “You’re the matter - you’ve always been the matter! You’re two different people: you love me, and then you merely like me - change two to three: there are times when you are so far away that to follow you would impossible. I can’t cope with your character’s ... instability! Are you a lunatic?”
“A lunatic,” Richard whispered. Absently he added, “Perhaps I am.”
Corinne threw herself onto a chair.
“I don’t understand this, Richard. Not any of it.”
Richard looked at Corinne and sighed. His thoughts contradicted those of earlier - the situation was difficult and he really didn’t know what to do. He was lost and helpless within the restrictions he had given himself. But he realised that he couldn’t allow for her to be upset to this extent. He evidently needed to do more to show her he cared - not doing so affected her too negatively. Yet it was difficult when he still couldn’t bring himself to court her.
Perhaps they could have a special day together in the future? A one off event wouldn’t be awful, would it? It ... could serve to reward her tolerance of him. And then she would be... encouraged to continue behaving in a way which conveyed acceptance of his actions?
He barely noticed her say his name. How about ... the birthday of her dreams?
The insistent voice penetrated his train of thought. Richard snapped out of his silent planning and looked at Corinne who was watching him with a dejected expression on her face.
At that minute, Richard yearned to take her up in his arms and kiss her.
But now was not the right time. His actions required careful planning - acting on impulse would ruin everything.
“I’m sorry, dear Corinne,” he murmured to her. “I can’t explain. Please don’t be upset by my behaviour.” He walked towards her and lightly touched her shoulder.
There was a pause during which neither of them spoke. Eventually, Richard brought words back to the moment.
“I shall leave you now.”
The pair was silent again and he left.