I heard about her. She was the new wife of my Master's son. Everyone hated her at first, of course.
The Young Lord was everyone's beloved. His parents loved him because they were the type of people to do so. In my life, I did not think I'd ever meet anyone as gentle or as kindhearted as they are. Maybe they loved him even more because he was an only child. Before the Lady conceived him, she suffered miscarriage more times than I would have wanted to count. Each time broke her heart - and each time we servants mourned with her. When the Young Lord was born, I was merely three years born into this world, but even my young eyes could so easily recognize the celebration in the eyes of everyone I met. He was an angel as a baby, and he was a savior as a man. He carried his parents' values even with the dignity of a noble. He was proud of what he had, and humble of what he hadn't. He had respect for everyone, even for the youngest of infants. For this, his family, friends, and most especially, his servants all loved him dearly.
It could not be helped that she was hated. I had expected the young lord to marry someone who was as humble and generous as he was, and yet when people heard the initial rumors, it put a sour look on everyone's face - except of course, on the Master's and the Lady's. They would love what the Young Lord loved.
These were what the rumors had said:
1) She was a fun-loving person. The servants would not have minded if not for the fact that she threw parties every full moon. She would find the simplest of reasons to launch a celebration. She had extravagance and luxury at her disposal, and she was definitely unreserved in her use of it.
2) She also loved books dearly. For his beloved, the Young Master built her a library, and replaced all her old books with new versions. He also ordered that these new books be replaced every five years with newer ones again. Until when was this order to be carried out? - indefinitely of course. If some of the books were to be unavailable at the time, they would be especially made just for the Young Lady.
The Young Master was a generous man, so we understood his actions, for he was him, and his love would not be restricted by money. However, the servants expected that the new Lady would reason with him and stop this ridiculous request. She did no such thing.
3) She refused to see her parents. The servants could only imagine what horrible type of person would refuse to see her parents once she got her hands on wealth.
4) While the Young Master himself, with his busy schedule, visited his parents in their quarters at least thrice a week, she did not see them until three months later. Neither did she see other servants but her own maids during that time span. How horrible, that she needed to be coerced into seeing the gentle Master and Lady.
There were more rumors, of course, but these were the biggest that kept the compound buzzing during her first few years.
It has been three years since she was married into my Master's family. The rumors died down as time passed. I guess people just ran out of things to talk about.
I was in charge of the stables, so I never met the Young Lady until I had to temporarily replace the cook in her quarters. (The original cook was sick and had to take a leave of absence. For sure, he maximized his leave because no illness was so severe that it would not heal in a month. If it was, he would have been nursed to health in the compound. The Family was a generous people.) Of course, she usually ate her dinner with the main Family, but when the Young Master was away, she preferred to eat on her own.
I was briefed with what she liked and disliked, and I did well on my temporary job. I did not see her until two days after I started, but it was clear that there was a great change between her relationship with the servants. They did not tolerate her, or merely respected her. They loved her.
I was confused, because her relationship with the other servants in the compound remained distant and indifferent. I had thought the rumors died down because they learned to accept her presence, but it seemed that it died down because they were proven untrue.
The first day that I met her, I was working in the kitchen, preparing her next meal. When I heard her voice - melodious, elegant, but compared to the other nobles in the city, alive - she had only said, "Excuse me."
The conversation became an awkward mix of my apologies and hers - mine for not noticing her and hers for disturbing me. It was a cycle, and now looking back, I did not understand why we kept apologizing. Finally she smiled at me, and I swear on my heart and the beautiful grave of my mother, I had never seen anyone more beautiful in my life. Her smile was radiant and youthful, and her eyes sparkled like that of dew drops, mixed with a hint of curiosity and, oddly, wisdom.
She had come to the kitchen for water, and was searching for her one of her maids. I asked why and she did not answer. I gave her the water and she thanked me. At that, she left.
I was disappointed at how short the conversation was. I need not have been. The next few days, she came to visit me, and befriended me. She asked me about my life, and in turn - of course, only a few days after - I asked about hers. She did not keep any secrets from me. And because the masters of the house were friendly and it was not a rare case when it happened, a servant became friends with his Lady.
I learned a few things about her:
1) She was kind to her servants, and she kept her maids close because she was closer friends with them. She valued loyalty, and so because she was loyal to them, she did not want the people assigned to her to be replaced. (It was common in most families, for servants to have a rotation. The female ones sometimes worked as maids, kitchen girls, or helped with the gardens.)
2) Her servants were the reason that the rumors died down. They told me that she had heard of it at some point, and she laughed it off. Later that day, they caught the Young Lady in tears.
3) When I thought that I would not meet kinder and gentler people than the Master and the Lady, I was wrong.
And regarding the rumors, here was the truth:
1) She was born in poverty, but because she lived not with the same culture as nobles, friendship came easily to her. In her old life, she had jumped and tumbled and laughed with her friends. Some were male, and some were female. Once she married into the Family, she had decided not to shame them. The Family, while not really mindful of this problem, understood her intentions well. They insisted that her friends be able to visit her every month. Of course, since they were disguising it as parties, these monthly meetings cost no little money, but the Family did not mind, and because they would not take no for an answer, she accepted gracefully.
2) The order for new books every five years was as true as it got. She had initially rejected the offer, but the Young Master was firm with his decision. He said that this was his wedding gift to her. "And I thought this gracious family and this beautiful house was my lifelong wedding gift," she told me. She had been smiling then as I answered, "The Family are not lacking in funds." At this she nodded, and we moved on to another topic of conversation.
Once, I caught her sitting down, uncommonly relaxed with the most wondrous look in her eyes. She had been reading a book then, and I thought to myself, I understood why the Young Master wanted this for her.
3) The reason why she refused to see her parents was because she knew that they would only come for money. I shook my head at that, and I told her maybe they weren't good parents when she was a child, but people who want to change need to have a chance at redemption. She scoffed at me (the first and only time that I saw her do that) and that's when I discovered that her parents were abusive. She showed me the marks (only in appropriate places of course) on her body. She had burn marks and quite a few scars - all hidden in places unlikely to be seen. Her friends were from nearby families who sought to help. They saved her when things were too rough, but they could not take her permanently from her true parents. They were only shoulders to cry on, and people to laugh with. When she was fifteen, she left her own home, and worked as a maid in one of her wealthier friend's house.
4) She discovered that she had a younger sister in her mother's womb when she left. It was a few days after her wedding day, and the moment she knew of her sister's existence, was when it had gone. Her parents had managed to drive the young seven-year old to end her own life. She was mourning for three months, and so the Family respected her space.
I learned all of this information in two years. She was not secretive, but she was reserved. I respected that, so I never pushed for answers.
In her eyes, I saw friendship and companionship. In mine, I hoped she saw a loyal servant who admired the beauty of the lady he served. No more could I ask for in a Lady, and a friend. I was especially happy that the servants were wrong in their first impressions. The Young Master had found a beautiful wife, one he will most especially be happy to spend his life with.
Seven Months Later
The Young Master was supposed to come home three weeks ago, and the Young Lady has been crying in her room this whole time. She tried to look strong in front of the servants, but we did not miss her bloodshot eyes, ringed with dark lines.
In three weeks, she has aged two years.
A half hour ago, a messenger came, who brought news about the Young Master. The Family insisted that the news be told in front of everyone - including us, the servants. They respected us like family, they knew that we also worry.
He agreed, and in more formal words, he read a letter - reporting the Young Master's death. I saw the Master and the Lady try to keep themselves together, for us. The master had his hands in fists, and the Lady was leaning on him. They held each other closely in silence. But the whole room erupted in quiet sobs and words of denial. Even the men, who were supposed to keep strong, could not stop themselves - because how could you be strong when you lost someone you respected like a hero, but loved like a brother, and a son.
I could feel my cheeks wet with tears. I did not make any sounds, because that would be worse, but nothing could stop the sorrow from breaking out.
I suddenly remembered to check on her. The Young Lady, how was she? I searched for her beside the Master and the Lady. I searched for her in the crowd, she was not there.
I tried her room, the gardens, even the tearoom. She wasn't anywhere to be found. Finally, after hours of searching, I tried one last room - the Young Master's.
I peeked inside, and there she was. I expected her to be crying out.
But she was sitting on the floor, leaning on the bedside, her body limp, and her eyes... empty. She just lay there, with no tears, staring at the ceiling.
She held something in her hand, the one thing that made me breathe relief, because she was clutching it so tightly that she could not be dead - although the rest of her body made it seem so. She was holding a watch, the Young Master's favorite watch.
I remembered it. It was a scene I wasn't supposed to see. The Young Master was saying his goodbyes to her, and she was so worried for him. He took off his watch, and handed it to her.
"Keep this," he had said. "Remember when I used to refuse to lend it to you? I'd give you the whole world, but not a second with this watch." He laughed. "You used to complain to me about it a lot. Now, I'm leaving this with you. With how clumsy you are, I'd never trust you with it. So of course, I'll come back to for it - for you. Don't worry so much. This is my promise to you."
The watch was his grandmother's gift to him on her deathbed. He took care of it so much.
She was crying then, telling him that she won't give back the watch when he comes back, all while sobbing. I remembered thinking that the Young Lady worried too much, and that the whole thing was a little funny.
It wasn't funny now. It was a beautiful memory, but tragic.
My body automatically moved forward, until I realized that I wasn't going to talk to her, or pat her on the shoulder like a good friend would. I wasn't moving to her so that she could lean on me. I wanted to embrace her, and absorb all her sorrows. I wanted to touch her, so that she could forget him, so that she wouldn't be so empty like this anymore.
I loved her most for the life that she had in her eyes.
That was when I stopped myself. I loved her.
The whole compound was mourning, the Young Master was dead, the Master and the Lady would be devastated, and the Young Lady was dying inside, and I loved her.
It hurt. This moment of realization and selfishness hurt.
The Young Master was the shore that kept my feelings at bay. Without him, my feelings exploded out of my chest like a torrent. I moved back to the servant's quarters and lay down on my bed.
By loving the Young Lady, I would betray the Family that took care of me as a child, and the family in the compound that I grew to love.
Today, the Young Master passed, and I swear on his death, that I shall also kill the feelings that I have for his wife - my Beloved.