“Has she gone mad?”
It was only after the two had their lunch did the trio return at sunset.
Delphia crushed the snacks she had bought as gifts while she was downtown after hearing what had happened to Irina today.
Now aware of what had happened in the estate, the four, accompanied by the cookies Mr Bayden had made for Florence, were now seething in anger.
“I mean, how could she say that to someone?”
And the one who was the most angry was Delphia. She raised her voice by several notches as she pulled at her hair that had grown a little over the past few months.
“No matter how I think about it, she was being really rude!”
Leo, who was sipping tea alone, nodded.
“The Count and Countess of Florence had raised her too preciously.”
“Even though her body was weak, that doesn’t mean you should raise your child to treat others that way.”
So, she really had a weak constitution.
Sipping her tea, she listened to Delphia and Leo’s exchange.
“What did his grace say? Did he say that he will be protesting?”
Now, Delphia looked as if she could visit the duke instantly should Irina say that Winfried did not.
“Yes, he had urged the Count and Countess of Florence to send letters of apologies.”
“Of course they should!”
It was only then did Delphia take a seat again as though she was finally satisfied. Irina fidgeted with her teacup.
“But I wonder if that is too harsh of a punishment.”
“Her punishment would not be that severe.”
It was the Viscountess of Alphington who spoke this time.
“If the Count and Countess of Leonid were still alive, this could have led to a public family dispute.”
“Would that be bad?”
Bang! Delphia recklessly struck the table again before widening her eyes.
“Of course it would! You’re their precious daughter, right? And to think people would dare look down on you like that!”
It did not seem like her anger had fully subsided. Furious, Delphia had jumped from her seat again and Leo merely ignored her.
“No matter how I think about it, I think it’d be best if you just refuse the young lady’s invitation to her tea party.”
The Viscountess of Alphington had been preoccupied watching Irina.
“Certainly, in order to take your first step into central society, attending the tea party held by the young lady from the Florence County will not be a bad choice. There will be many young girls your age and everyone invited would be from families with sizable authorities.”
The viscountess patted Irina’s hand which she had placed on the table as though to console her.
“Still, it doesn’t seem wise for you to associate yourself with the young lady of the Florence County any further. Whether or not she had truly reflected on herself.”
Delphia, who had gotten fired up all by herself, turned her head around to look at Irina.
“I’m sure she’s inwardly awaiting her revenge. I heard that his grace had sided with Miss Irina in front of her.”
Leo nodded again.
Was there something wrong with that? Certainly, Irina did think she would be disappointed if her cousin were to take someone else’s side and not her own.
However, judging by Delphia’s reaction, there seemed to be something more.
“Dame Delphia. Did anything happen between the two?”
Leo calmly poured tea into his now empty teacup as he answered.
“If the war hadn’t happened, the two might have been engaged.”
An engagement, that meant the two almost got married.
“They’re cousins but.. They were going to be married?”
“The two families, Winfried and Florence, are distant enough relatives to make it difficult to ascertain their direct relation. This was what led to the close friendship between our families two generations ago. To be honest, they’re more like strangers.”
With her eyes widened and her expression hardened, Delphia chastised Leo.
“Their engagement had been mentioned in passing even before they were born.”
Delphia placed a cookie in her mouth before chewing on it hurriedly.
“From what I know, the duke and count of two generations ago had made a promise. To marry their children together when they were born.”
Irina glanced at Delphia.
“But what happened? Both of them ended up only having sons. They couldn’t possibly let their sons marry each other so they extended their promise to their grandchildren.”
Delphia frowned over her teacup.
“And though they seemed to be blessed when his grace and the young lady was born, the war had broken out and had gone on for too long. So, their engagement had barely been mentioned.”
Resting her chin on her hand, Delphia huffed and puffed before continuing.
“Honestly, the duke from two generations ago was probably joking when he said that; Talks of an engagement between the two families had fizzled out since the previous duke held reign which was why his grace hadn’t even thought of the young lady that way, you know? She was the one who fell in love all on her own and went nuts.”
Irina leaned towards Leo as though she had something to ask.
“By the way, Dame Delphia. You mentioned earlier that they were like strangers even though they were distant relatives. But the two seemed quite close to each other.”
“That doesn’t mean they hadn’t contacted each other at all.”
It was Leo who answered this time. As he placed his cup back down, he replied.
“Wouldn’t there be a lot of funerals held during the war? She would have seen him in passing during such events since they were relatives.”
Irina nodded. Ah, so that was what happened.
“In any case, we will have to find an invitation to a decent gathering.”
The Viscountess of Alphington murmured to herself.
“I’ll have to pick an event which Lady Leonid can attend.”
Irina’s eyes widened.
Manners, culture and knowledge–she still had much to learn.
In exchange for sleeping less at night, she had been frequently pushing herself to study but she still could not compare to those who had been learning what she was since they were children.
“It is alright, my lady.”
The Viscountess of Alphington chuckled.
“I’m not asking for you to make your social debut. I just think that you should make your presence known before any bad rumours spread.”
“Yes, you have been staying in the estate all this time so there wouldn’t have been anything spread about you but things have changed now, hasn’t it?”
And the viscountess was right.
The young lady of Florence had visited today.
Be it Florence, the maid that escorted her here, her coachman, or any outsiders, they could easily spread rumours about Irina.
“Before any strange rumours spread, you should make the first move and let people know who you truly are.”
At the end of her sentence, the viscountess rang a bell. And a waiting maid approached them.
“Did you call for me, madam?”
“Yes, could you call the butler, Aaron, over?”
“Yes, I shall be right back.”
Lowering her head, the maid immediately left the room. And soon there was a knock on the door.
“I heard you were looking for me.”
“Do you happen to have any invitations extended to me? I have told several people that I will be staying in this estate for the year.”
“I have a few, should I bring them over right away?”
The viscountess nodded.
“And since we will need his grace’s permission, I’d like to visit the Duke of Winfried with the invitations I have chosen.”
“And why would you like to meet him?”
It was originally the duchess’ job to manage invitations.
But the seat was currently empty. And it was for that reason, Aaron, the butler, was in charge of managing the invitations.
“I do not have any other intentions, I just think that it is time for people to see who Lady Leonid is for themselves. Of course the duke must grant permission first.”
Aaron immediately nodded when he heard her reply.
Hadn’t he seen what had happened earlier with his own eyes?
“Now that you mention it, I might have a suitable invitation for you.”
Irina’s eyes widened. They managed to decide on one this quickly?
“I can’t dance and I still stumble when reciting poetry.”
Irina shook her head as though she had been frightened by Aaron’s words.
“I can’t even play the piano…”
“Don’t worry, young miss. This will not be a gathering where you’d need to dance or recite poetry. Rather, I think you would enjoy their activities. If his grace gives you permission to attend.”
Irina had no choice but to ask upon hearing the confidence behind Aaron’s words.
“Where will it be held?”
“It is a charity art auction.”
‘This is awkward.’
After getting on the carriage, Irina found herself unable to stop fiddling with her bonnet’s pink strap for some strange reason.
The charity art auction that the Viscountess of Alphington and Aaron had told her about a few days ago was going to be held today.
Because of her attendance, Irina had to get out of bed earlier in the morning as she was dragged and passed from person to person in a half-asleep state just to get ready.
This was her first time wearing lace, a frilled dress, a bonnet embellished with decorative flowers and hard shoes atop wooden heels.
There was nothing comfortable with her attire.
‘… And once the carriage stops, I’ll need to converse with strangers.’
There was nothing she found comfortable with the whole affair.
Irina might have already fainted if the viscountess had not assured her that there will be nothing difficult about the place she was headed.
“Fortunately for us, Viscount Percy’s fundraiser will be held just in time. Both Viscount Percy and the guests he usually invites to his events are very welcoming to new faces.”
“Yes, that is why other families would often wait for an invitation from Viscount Percy before sending their young ladies or lords to their first gathering.”
As she helped Irina with her bonnet, the viscountess had also added that since there were also paintings and other artworks on display, it would not be too difficult for Irina to keep up with conversations.
However, she could not help but to feel anxious and nervous.
‘Can I do well?’
She had studied etiquette, the appropriate mannerisms and a little bit of dance but how could she have mastered everything in a season? She would only be lacking compared to those who had studied these since they were children.
She’d be lucky if she wasn’t humiliated in this gathering.
But it was alright for her to be humiliated. It was true that she was lacking.
But she did not want anyone to think badly of the people in the Winfried estate who had been nothing but kind to her.
Irina furrowed her brows and pressed her lips tightly together.
Already, there were voices in her mind that seemed to be mocking the people of Winfried.
Irina mustered strength in her hands that were still fiddling with the ribbon.
Perhaps it was because she had grabbed into the ribbon too tightly and pulled on it. The ribbon that had been beautifully tied by the Viscountess of Alphington had come undone and the bonnet had fallen onto the floor of the carriage.
But it cannot be dirtied.
Irina quickly reached for the bonnet that had fallen on the ground.
However, another hand had picked it up before she could.
And the hand belonged to none other than the Duke of Winfried who was sitting right across her.