Once Raiva was done lamenting her fate of having three outrageously attractive men residing in her newly established boarding house, she arose and went to her dressing room to have a look at Victors handiwork.
He had managed to elegantly twist her hair around itself, with the two strands of hair meeting each other in the middle in an ornate knot, secured with the ribbon, which was trailing down her loose curls. This particular shade of marigold looked very complimentary against her hair, if a little bright next to her black mourning dress.
In the end, she decided to keep the ensemble, as she honestly couldn be bothered to undo or change any of it. After all, she wasn trying to impress any one, and she especially did not have any energy left to figure out what to do with it instead.
Upon her return to the bedroom she noticed that her luggage had arrived while she was entertaining Victor.
/How did I not hear that?
She decided she could use the diversion and began moving her bags to the dressing room and started the process of unpacking, sorting and hanging what dresses, shoes and accessories she had kept from her old wardrobe.
Her favorite white dress, with the lace sleeves, the now-outdated green tea dress that Tristan had given her, the gold embroidered dark plum gown from Giovanni, and the simplest dresses and separates she could find among the hundreds that had been amassed over the past years.
Among them, curiously enough, was a marigold walking skirt and a matching vest.
/Oh right, from that time at Sir Walters.
Her thoughts momentarily went back to Victor.
/How does he remember me? I only remember him because of the Julianne incident.
/Then again, that would have been only a few months before the fire, wouldn it? That would make an impression on a newly debuted teenager, I suppose.
After finishing up in her dressing room, Raiva went to the kitchen, where Frederick was in the midst of dinner preparations. He looked up, and gave her a sympathetic nod, deciding not to inquire further as to why she looked so tired, or why she had her hair up all fancy like, because he too knew that she had no such skill herself.
They sat in silence as she had some tea and Frederick continued his work, as he occasionally sipped from his own cup, which Raiva had prepared for him.
Unfortunately, Shelly had no such restraint.
”Oh, my lady, your hair! Who did, wait, was it sir Victor? I saw him being very gallant in the drawing room, but how did he end up- ”
”Shelly, dear? ” Frederick gingerly interrupted her. ”I think I saw Madam Raivas office being in a bit of a state. Im afraid a gust from a window may have kicked some dust about in there. ”
If there was one thing Shelly could not abide by, it was two things: drafts, and dust.
She turned around on the spot to inspect all the windows and dust the office, in her usual fervent battle against untidiness.
The two watched her go, then silently returned back to what they were doing.
A while later Raiva let out a long, leisurely sigh. ”Thank you, Frederick. ”
”Of course, madam. ” He smiled a comforting smile at her.
”You know just Raiva is fine, right? ”
He chuckled, ”Shelly would never let me hear the end of it. ”
She laughed faintly.
”One day Ill convince her too, ” she said confidently, without actually having any confidence in that statement at all.
”Won that be a day for celebration? ” he wondered as he sniffled softly from the onion fumes.
”Promise me youll make lamb curry when I do? ” she asked jokingly, having only ever heard of curry from Fredericks wine-induced ramblings.
”Or when the sun rises in the west. Whichever comes first, Raiva, ” he murmured through a gentle trickle of tears.
”Oh! ” Shelly could be hear exclaiming a few rooms over, likely from the office.
Raiva stood up from her seat by the kitchen window.
”Sounds like the fourth tenant is here, ” she declared to Frederick over the sizzle of meat on pans.
Frederick grunted in acknowledgment has he skillfully evaded and contained the splatter of fat and oil.
She made her way to the entrance, where Shelly was in the middle of opening the door.
On the other side of it stood a graceful young woman, whose toffee colored hair and voluptuous figure seemed to be enveloped in the warm glow of the dusk outside.
Entranced, Raiva vaguely heard Shelly greeting her, before she stepped inside and greeted her with a proficient bow, rather than a curtsy, making her almost miss the timing of her own response.
”Miss Octavia, welcome, ” she returned the greeting, thankfully remembering her name from the tenancy contract, but finding enunciation momentarily strenuous.
Now that she saw her in proper light, her first impression seemed only confirmed.
Octavias toffee hair was barely shoulder length and straight as a pin, with a straight cut fringe framing her dainty face, and dainty, but plentiful freckles covering her nose and parts of her cheeks. Down-turned hazel eyes were looking back at Raiva with a confident gaze, almost making her avert hers. She was petite, more than she had initially thought, just over half a head shorter than herself.
”Thank you, ” she said warmly, pulling her out of her train of thought. ”If youll excuse me, I should go unpack. ”
”Of course, I hope youll find it to your liking. ”
As her last tenant began her ascent up the stairs, Raiva turned around, still in a minor daze, to go help in the kitchen.
Suddenly Octavia cried out, ”One moment, madam Raiva! ”
She turned back in bewilderment, becoming more and more disoriented as this encounter went on, and looked at her inquisitively.
”Could I have a moment of your time? ”
/Four times today. What is happening, honestly?
Octavia followed her into her office and set her bag down by the door with a thud. Raiva couldn help but glance at it upon hearing such a loud sound, when it had just been carried around by Octavia as though it weighed nothing more than a purse.
”Madam, Im sorry to ask this, but are you in mourning, are you not? ” she asked hastily.
”My condolences. I wouldn ask unless it was important. Are you aware of what yellow ribbons with mourning dresses symbolize, especially in high society? ”
”Excuse me? No? ”
Octavia closed the door carefully, as though she were wary of someone overhearing.
She continued in a lowered voice, ”In short: it means that you have been propositioned by a potential lover and accepted their advances, by accepting the yellow ribbon itself. It means you have said yes to meeting later, to… socialize.
”Im assuming you did not choose the ribbon yourself? The hair is a little unusual, but did they tie it in there for you? And are they acquainted with high society? ”
Raiva held a hand to her face and blushed from embarrassment.
/No wonder he was so aggressive towards the end.
”No. No, I did not. And yes, he did. And yes, he is, ” she finally answered incredulously.
”-Fucking men-, ” muttered Octavia, though so low and without moving her mouth, that Raiva was convinced she had made it up
”Alright. Is the person who gave you the ribbon in the house tonight? ”
/Oh, no no no no no.
”Yes, ” she croaked, her head spinning.
”Very well. We have three options.
”One, you now know the meaning behind it, and you could accept if you so desired, though it will likely be obvious to anyone else who would know the meaning. ”
/Lord Cassian. Probably Shelly-
/Oh, **. Thats why Shelly was so interested in my hair earlier.
”Two, we remove the ribbon. That will make it fairly obvious that you know the meaning behind it, and it will serve as a firm rejection, though men of course aren always known for handling firm rejections well. I would perhaps particularly be concerned if he lives in the house, although I spotted a lock on what I presume is your bedroom door, so it could be fine. ”
/I highly doubt Victor has such a disposition, though I can think of a number of men that would react so strongly.
”Miss, he won - ”
”Three, and my personal suggestion, we change your dress. ”
Raiva was genuinely surprised at someone suggesting she discard something so symbolic and important for an issue like this. Especially someone who didn know how long she had mourned for.
”I know, and I am sorry. Your dress is a good quality fabric, but fairly worn by the hem, and so I hoped an appropriate time may have passed already. Please her me out.
”This way, he won realize that you have caught the underlying meaning. It will simply look like you have decided to end your mourning period, and you decided to wear something that perhaps suited the ribbon you have been gifted, as a coincidence. He might still interpret it as an acknowledgment or a subtle reciprocation of his advances, but it is -much- easier to deny and explain away. ”
Octavia finally paused, and drew in breath. She was looking at Raiva, clearly waiting for her decision, glancing at the door. They were both keenly aware that dinnertime was steadily approaching.
”The third one. It would spare everyone involved the most embarrassment, I hope. Could you help me? ” Raiva asked hopefully, very aware, that she did not have much of an eye when it came to her own clothes, nor time to carefully consider. More than once had she been persuaded out of certain color combinations and clothes too casual or formal for the occasion.
/And I do not need to make more of a fool out of myself today.
Octavia initially hesitated, but quickly decided it might be for the best, and hastily nodded before grabbing her bag and following Raiva into her dressing room.
”This is all of it, Im afraid, ” she muttered, suddenly almost regretting disposing of most of her wardrobe.
Octavia dismissed her worry genially, saying ”Im sorry if I sound rude, madam, but Im sure we shall make do. How about this set? ”
This was exactly what Raiva had worried about would happen. She had pointed to the marigold skirt and vest.
”While is is technically an outdoors leisure outfit, no one really makes the distinction anymore, ” Octavia continued, not noticing her hesitancy. ”Oh, the stitching on this is wonderful. What is it, habotai silk lined linen? It needs some steaming, but- ”
She fell silent when she saw Raivas facial expression.
”Whats wrong? ”
”Well… Its a long story, but the first time we met I think I wore that set, and Im worried it will- ”
”Affirm his advances further? I see. A wonderful set once you remove the ribbon, just as a future reference. Beautiful with your eyes and hair. ”
Raiva found herself inexplicably blushing again.
Octavia glanced around and her eyes fell on a gray plaid item tucked into the corner.
”Now this is a corset skirt! What is it made of? A silk and merino wool blend? With silk lining? ” she looked to Raiva to confirm.
She in, turn was a little flustered from the onslaught of questions, only being able to stammer out, ”Y-yes. To all of it. The silk lining on this one is a heavier kind though, since it is intended for colder weather. ”
Inwardly she was relieved that she went through every one of her clothes with a seamstress to confirm that she had a good selection of versatile, durable clothes from the mountain she started out with. And that she remembered any of it.
Octavia gave her a hearty laugh and a delighted smile, relieved that this wasn another case of a beautiful woman with too much money, having no idea what she owned. Not that she would have blamed her, of course. It would simply be a pity.
”Well then, madam, is it fortunate that tonight will be cold, so no one could blame you for wearing wool in early spring. Im told the water might freeze again tonight, ” she patiently explained, her eyes darting around again.
Before another minute had gone by, Octavia had found a plain ivory linen blouse and dug two close-to-marigold yellow cuff links out of her bag, as well as a needle, thread and a pair of scissors.
It only took her another minute or two, with Raiva looking on in astonishment, to carefully remove the already attached cuff buttons and make adjustments for the cuff links to fit.
”There, ” Octavia mumbled with the needle still between her teeth, placing the equipment back into her bag. ”All ready. Then, Ill excuse myself. ”
She bowed politely again and made to leave for her room.
Raiva hurriedly call out, ”Miss Octavia! ”
”Thank you, so much. Youve gone above and beyond for me despite having no reason, ” she said hesitantly, not sure how to convey her thanks properly. She finally decided to bow her head so far she went into a small curtsy, continuing ”Im indebted to you. ”
Octavia looked at her for a second and seemed to consider her gratitude quite seriously.
”I shall remember that, madam, ” she finally said with a radiant smile on her face, before leaving the rooms for good this time.
Raiva flushed at her bright smile, and felt suddenly nervous about putting on the skirt she had just been carefully caressing and investigating with her hands.
/Stop overthinking it.
Hearing the faint clattering of cutlery and ceramics, she hastened her pace and managed to put the laid-out clothes on in record time, only struggling with the cuff links.
/This is much harder one-handed, isn it?
A gentle knock sounded from the door to her bedroom.
She froze and looked up nervously.
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