It turned out that rather than made Corinne’s birthday special, Richard had ruined it. He saw the evidence of this in her gloomy aura which she carried throughout the day, even during the tea party he had organised for the little girls of Periville. Fortunately they had a good time, not noticing Corinne’s misery because she still tried her best to be kind and well-mannered.
It was more than he could bear for her to feel this way. He threw away the rose he had intended to present to her that evening and gave the servants a day of freedom, performing their chores himself to distract him from thoughts of the amazing kiss and Corinne’s depression.
A few days later, Corinne was still wandering the manor in a melancholic mood.
Richard, so in love with Corinne that his heart was broken whenever he saw her in this state, was quite desperate to bring a smile to her face. He had only one idea of how this could be achieved now that the single incident of a kiss had been shown to do nothing to improve matters. But it posed a great risk to him, threatening to force him to become closer to Corinne in the way that he so didn’t desire to.
Nonetheless, he found himself journeying to a local jewellery store on a bleak November morning with the intention of buying a diamond engagement ring. An hour later, he was at the manor again and he hurried to Corinne’s room and knocked on the open door as if she had recently announced that she would leave if he did not ask for her hand.
Corinne’s slow, graceful rise from her bed made Richard seem like a sprinting hare. She walked towards him as if in a dream.
“My lord?” she inquired, dropping a curtsey but refusing to look into his eyes.
Richard was in such distress that he didn’t even reproach her for calling him her lord.
“Corinne, I’m sorry,” he told her, his words rushing out at such a speed that they were barely comprehensible. “I did not mean to spoil your birthday. I hate to see you so dejected and distant. I love you and I keep hurting you and I don’t know what to do.”
He dropped painfully to one knee and opened the small wooden box which he held in one shaking hand that was painted the traditional black for formal purposes.
“So, with this ring, I ask if you would marry me.”
Corinne blinked at the sight of the sparkling stone set into the elegant silver circle and glanced up into Richard’s eyes.
“You said we were not marrying,” she said, her tone a little confused.
“I was wrong. I would do anything to make you happy.” In quite some despair, Richard blurted out, “Don’t destroy me, my lady. I beg of you - spare a thought for the enamoured young man being driven insane by your unhappiness.”
Corinne regarded him with concern.
“Are you well, Richard?”
She placed the back of one hand against his brow. It was cool and Richard closed his eyes so he could focus on the glorious feel of her skin against his.
“I am fine,” he whispered, not caring if he would be distraught later.
Corinne removed her hand and he opened his eyes to see her biting her lower lip.
“I still love you, Richard,” she told him carefully. “And I do wish to spend my life with you.” She hesitated and blushed a little. “But will you really marry me, my lord?”
“I will,” he promised. “There will be garlands of flowers and all of Periville shall be invited and we will belong to each other. I love you, Corinne.”
Corinne’s expression slowly changed from embarrassment to amazement to one of tearful joy.
“Then yes, I shall marry you, Richard!” she exclaimed. “It would make my dreams come true.”
Richard slowly stood up, sliding the cool metal over Corinne’s delicate finger. He kissed her hand then gazed into her beautiful eyes.
‘What in the world am I doing?’ was what he thought, but what he said to his wife-to-be was, ‘You are so wonderful, Corinne.’
Richard lay awake in bed until quite a late hour that night, unable to find sleep. Everyone was happy about the fact that he and Corinne were going to be wedded: Corinne, Keris, the staff...: everyone but him. He saw the necessity for Corinne to be happy: he would not have done this otherwise; but he could not help but feel unease. Spending his life as her man would be difficult - he was unsure if he could treat her the way she wanted to be treated, if he could make her happy every single day. His love for her was not a problem, no. The problem was his past. And Richard was very worried that past events would interfere - moreso than they already had done - with his life.