Tea Time with the Earl – Lisa Campell

Grey Teahouse was one Ariella had imagined many times, but she’d never pictured anything quite like this. The shop was…simple. It lacked all the extravagant decorations that had surrounded the entrance of her father’s own shop. The boring, brown wooden door had only a sign on the outside and the windows that bordered it had curtains on the other side blocking her view of the inside. She had indeed attempted to take a look inside and she wasn’t ashamed of it. After all, no one would care what a regularly dressed man was doing standing in front of a teahouse. Had she been dressed in her gown, with her hair piled high, she would have most certainly drawn attention to herself. Ariella looked down at her white muslin shirt, large enough to conceal the small bust she had underneath, complemented by her brown tailcoat. The matching brown trousers with suspenders swam around her legs, not too large to be considered foolish, but not fitting enough to show her shapely hips. Her disguise was brought together by the sandy brown wig she wore, transforming her into the man she was trying to be. Ariella let her eyes settle on the sign on the door, letting the mixture of anger and determination consumed her once more, inspiring the courage she needed to go through with this plan. It was outrageous, she knew. Pretending to be a man to infiltrate her father’s rival, her goal was to get to the bottom of her father’s failed business. It was madness, but Ariella had already come too far to turn back. So, she took a deep breath and entered the shop.

There was no one inside. The space was relatively sizeable with a large counter stretching the width of the shop. Behind the counter was a tall, wide cupboard with jars of tea on every inch of its surface. A few chairs stood off to the side of the shop and when Ariella approached the counter, she saw a sign that told her to sit and wait. What great service, Ariella thought sarcastically as she took a seat. At her father’s teahouse, there would always be someone around to greet customers. Yet, here, the place seemed to be deserted. She didn’t even know if there was someone around to attend to her. The late Earl of Watford did everything with his heart, Ariella remembered. That was why Green Tea Company had flourished.

That was why her father had such loyal customers – and rivals that couldn’t hope to compare. That was why when he died and the business failed, Ariella couldn’t believe it was because of his death. She knew her father would not was not the type of man to let a business fail simply because he wasn’t there anymore. No, there must be another reason for it, and she was going to get to bottom of it. Her determination brought her here, to Grey Teahouse, her father’s biggest competition. The Earl of Croydon had also passed away, leaving the business to his heir and son. She was here to apply for the job as his assistant because she believed the demise of her families Green Tea Company had something to do with this rival business. Miss Ariella Green would have never secured the spot, “Arnold Richards”, however, might hope to. But was anyone here? Frowning, Ariella nearly rose to her feet to look around the shop, but then the door behind the counter opened and she stayed still. She held her breath, watching as the new Earl of Croydon walked out.

* * * The interview was a disaster. Daniel was sure that this man knew that as well from the downcast set of his shoulders. He reckoned the man would have sighed in defeat had he not still been in the shop. “Thank you for coming, Mr Foster,” Daniel said as he led him out of the room. “But I’m afraid I may have to look elsewhere to fill this position.” Mr Foster nodded his rather large head. “I understand.” “You have a good day, Mr Foster.” Daniel opened the door and allowed Mr Foster to leave first. He too wanted to sigh because he’d been interviewing men for this position as his assistant for some time now and none were good enough to fill the spot.

Mr Foster had been too clueless about the entire tea industry and Daniel didn’t have the time nor patience to attempt teaching him. He was about to go back into the back office when he spotted someone else sitting in the shop. It was a small man with sandy brown hair, coming expectantly to his feet. Daniel tilted his head to the side. “Forgive me. I didn’t realize there was someone else waiting.” “Good day,” the man greeted him. Daniel approached and was taken aback by how bright the man’s green eyes were. “Are you finished interviewing for the position?” Daniel shook his head. Now that he was standing closer to him, he saw how petite this man was.

His clothes looked slightly too big for him, but there was something oddly confident about the way he carried himself, his voice was rather…soft. “No,” Daniel said. “I am still interviewing. What is your name, sir?” “Arnold Richards.” “Well, Mr Richards, come with me into my office. We’ll conduct the interview there.” Arnold gave him a sharp nod. Daniel turned and went back into the office, taking his seat behind the desk. Arnold dutifully sat before him and folded his arms in his lap. A second later, Mr Richards tensed, folding his fingers into fists in a restless manner.

“Are you nervous, Mr Richards?” Daniel asked, sitting back in his chair. “No,” Mr Richards said with a shake of his head. “Rather, I’m eager to begin.” “I see.” Daniel studied the man before him. With his small frame, it should come as no surprise that his hands were dainty. “Well, this will not be a long interview, I assure you. I am looking for someone to assist me, I will need to get an understanding of your knowledge about teas. I would loathe to spend precious time teaching you what you should already know.” Mr Richards, unlike the other men he interviewed, didn’t flinch.

“Understandable,” was all he said. Slightly impressed by how unaffected Mr Richards was by his blunt words, Daniel went on, “Allow me to introduce myself properly. My name is Lord Daniel Grey, the Earl of Croydon.” “It is a pleasure to meet you, My Lord,” Mr Richards said, bowing his head slightly. “Tell me, then, Mr Richards. How much do you know about the tea industry?” “That is a rather broad question, My Lord,” Mr Richards said, much to Daniel’s surprise. “If I were to tell you all that I know, we will be here all day.” Interesting. The other candidate was already fumbling for an answer at this point. He wasn’t willing to show that he was slightly excited by his confident answer, however.

“One or two impressive facts should suffice.” “Very well.” Mr Richard’s tongue darted out to lick his lips before he began. The movement seemed odd, though Daniel couldn’t determine why. He supposed it had something to do with how small and well-shaped Mr Richards lips were, something he’d never seen on a man before. “Within London, there are five major tea companies, four now that Green Tea Company has gone under. Of course, there are several others throughout London, and England for that matter, but the four major tea companies are responsible for the tea imports throughout England, Scotland and Ireland. Grey Teahouse is one of them.” Daniel leaned forward, giving Mr Richards a curious look. “Impressive, Mr Richards.

I see you’ve taken the time to learn a bit about the industry before coming here today.” “I have always had an interest in tea, My Lord. During my time in the countryside, my family owned a small shop of our own.” “Is that so? Then why come here?” “The shop closed when my parents died, and I came to London to live with my uncle.” “Ah, I see.” Daniel couldn’t help scrutinizing the young man before him. His eyes were direct, never wavering from Daniel for a second. Even with his fidgeting hand, Daniel got the distinct impression that Mr Richards was ready for anything Daniel thought to throw at him. “I’m sorry to hear about your loss.” “It occurred years ago, My Lord,” Mr Richards said simply.

“I have a few more questions for you, then. Do you have a good understanding of accounting?” Mr Richard’s eyes went a wide for a moment before he nodded slowly. “I do understand basic numbers, My Lord.” “And, as someone who has experience working in a shop like this, I suppose you know how to handle customers and give recommendations?” “It is quite easy to say that I do, My Lord. If given the opportunity, I wish to prove this to you.” Daniel nearly smiled. “That is good. I have one more question. What is your favourite tea?” Mr Richard’s emerald eyes rolled upwards in thought before he said, “I am a simple man, My Lord. I greatly enjoy Bohea tea.

” What a wonderful coincidence. “A fine choice, Mr Richards,” Daniel said, unable to hold back his grin. So far, Mr Arnold Richards was the best candidate that he had interviewed. His confidence and his knowledge of the business would be a sure benefit to this teahouse. Daniel rose and stuck out his hand. “Allow me to congratulate you, Mr Richards. You will be my new assistant.” Mr Richards rose, his eyes wide with surprise. He grasped Daniel’s hand and shook quickly before pulling away—but not before Daniel noticed how soft they were. “Thank you, My Lord.

You will not regret your decision.” “I would hope not. Now that we’re working together, I think it is best that we refer to each other by our given names. Please, call me Daniel.” Mr Richards nodded slowly. He seemed uncertain, but there was a shine in his eyes that hadn’t been there before. It made Daniel’s grin widen. “Allow me to see you out, Arnold,” Daniel said, gesturing to the door. “You may begin working tomorrow at 9am.” “I will be here on time,” Arnold said.

He lagged a little behind, forcing Daniel to pause once they were out the door for him to catch up. “You will not regret hiring me.” “I sincerely hope not. Take care going home, Arnold.” Arnold nodded again and then turned to leave. Daniel stared after him, watching the way he walked, with his head held high and his hands clasped before him.

.

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