✧Prey in a Mousetrap✧
Odette pulled on the reins, directing the horse away from the promenade and onto a side road. The horse, displaying its intelligence, promptly understood the command and turned as instructed. The rhythmic beat of their hooves resonated along the forest path, which was adorned with the rich and lively colors of autumn leaves. As Odette neared the edge of the Black Forest, nestled amidst two grand mansions, their journey came to a pause.
“This is the way,”
Odette’s eyes unwaveringly fixed on the somber forest despite the brightness of the day. Theodora Klauswitz possessed an informant within her household, allowing her to meticulously monitor her activities and whereabouts, cunningly laying a trap.
During the course of Odette’s inquiry, the young maid named Molly emerged as the prime suspect. Molly’s humble position as a maid, despite the fact that she played the role of a close observer of the hostess, made it simple for her to keep in touch with the primary family in a covert manner without drawing attention to herself or raising suspicions.
Molly, who had just lately started working at the estate, did not have any emotional tie to Bastian, which led Odette to the conclusion that she was the most likely person to do the crime. This was especially true when one considers that Molly had only just recently started working there.
With meticulous care, Odette fastened the reins securely to a robust birch tree before venturing into the forest with a sense of confidence. As anticipated, Molly fell into the trap, unable to resist its allure.
Overwhelmed by fear, the maid hurriedly fled deeper into the woods. From the vantage point of a balcony that offered a view of both the garden and the forest, Odette maintained a vigilant watch over the unfolding scene.
Even in the face of betrayal, Odette remained emotionally unperturbed. The truth was, she had never truly confided her deepest feelings to Molly, despite their seemingly close bond as maid and mistress. Though Odette felt a tinge of shame over Molly’s easily deceived nature, she herself remained unaffected. It was all a part of the past. What truly held significance was the future that lay ahead.
Odette stood before her, her gaze fixed upon Molly. The child held a collection of wild flowers delicately in her hands.
Molly, hailing from the countryside, harbored a profound love for the forest. Frequently, she faced reprimands from Dora for her habit of exploring the woods whenever an opportunity arose.
Having discreetly observed Molly on several occasions, Odette detected a burgeoning fascination in the child for plucking wild flowers. It reminded her of Tira, a cheerful child who would joyfully present flowers to others. Odette, unbeknownst to Molly, always cherished the offerings from her hidden informant. Contemplating the situation at present, she found it quite amusing.
“Have you completed your task, Molly?” Odette asked calmly.
“I apologize, madam,” Molly casually expressed, approaching Odette with a carefree countenance and a genuine smile. Odette mustered her resolve to uncover why Theodora had entrusted such a weighty task to this young girl.
“From now on, I will be the one handling all communication between you and your parents.”
“Yes madam, if that’s what you desire,” Molly responded casually, nodding her head. A shiver traveled down her spine, but Odette concealed any visible reaction.
“Then return and deliver the message to your master once again. Inform her that Bastian will not interfere. Additionally, let her know that I will provide a definitive answer once I have met with my father,” Odette commanded, locking her gaze with Molly’s unwavering eyes. Though Molly wasn’t thrilled about taking the longer route, she obediently nodded in agreement.
“Yes. By the way, madam, this is for you,” Molly said, almost turning around, as she offered a bouquet of wild flowers. “Don’t you want to accept it? Flowers are innocent,” Molly sighed, her gaze fixed on the unmoving figure of Odette.
Molly shrugged, then tossed the cherished wild flowers onto the roadside. The wind carried the vibrant chrysanthemums, adorning the desolate path in a scattered exhibition.
Odette remained silent as she watched Molly’s figure fade into the distance, reassured that Molly would not jeopardize the plan. At least one concern had been alleviated.
“It’s all right now, my dear. Our family won’t fall,” Jeff Klauswitz’s face glowing with joy after the phone call. It was an expression that Theodora hadn’t witnessed since Bastian had deprived him of the rights to the railroad construction.
“Has something good happened?” Theodora attempted to mask her anxiety and forced a smile. Franz, who had paused his meal, also looked at his father with an awkward smile on his face.
“I have discovered an investment opportunity that can offset our losses. It is a diamond mine with immense potential for extraction,” Jeff Klauswitz announced, walking back to his seat at the breakfast table with confidence.
“Can we trust this information?”
“Absolutely. Several influential investors have already put their money into the mine and achieved significant returns. Herhardt is one of them, so there is no need for further verification,” Jeff Klauswitz confirmed.
“But my dear, let us not be too hasty. In times like these…”
“Why? Could it be that your husband is a fool, falling for a tin mine?” Jeff interjected, bursting into laughter. “We conducted a thorough investigation on our part as well. Everything checks out. There is no room for doubt.”
“That’s reassuring to hear. I’m glad that all our efforts have paid off,” Theodora congratulated her husband on his stroke of good luck.
Jeff Clausitz was a stern and uncompromising businessman. Due to his quick temper, he was occasionally susceptible to impulsive judgments. However, he was not foolish enough to fall prey to a futile scam.
“Rise and shine, Franz. You should hurry and head to work,” Jeff declared, devouring the remaining food in one swift motion, then clapping his hands loudly. Franz’s plate was still partially full, but he seemed unwilling to indulge his son.
The atmosphere was charged with an impending storm, a sense of tension looming in the air. Jeff Klauswitz, filled with impatience, swiftly completed his preparations and departed from the mansion. Franz, faithfully trailing behind his father, followed suit.
Theodora bid farewell to her husband and son, maintaining a cheerful countenance for an extended period. It was a brisk autumn morning that transported her back to the days of yore, when she could envision a promising future and bask in happiness, before Bastian exposed her true nature.
Theodora recollected the name once more as the car carrying her husband and son drove away, disappearing on the opposite side of the mansion’s driveway.
In her perception, Bastian was akin to a wild beast, moving with calculated precision. He would patiently crouch, waiting for the opportune moment to swiftly strike at the prey’s throat. This trait was evident not only in his strategic maneuvers but also in his ability to seize and accumulate wealth.
Theodora pondered the lingering possibility of the child’s hidden motive. As she entered the mansion’s lobby, she prepared herself for the worst-case scenario. She understood that she couldn’t dissuade her husband without a well-defined plan. This was not the time for hesitation or solely focusing on her own preservation. Nevertheless, the circumstances appeared suspiciously advantageous, reminiscent of a carefully laid trap.
Nancy called out urgently as Theodora prepared to climb the first flight of stairs. The maid scanned the surroundings, then discreetly passed her an envelope hidden under her sleeve before swiftly departing.
The envelope contained a letter from Molly, originating from a location beyond the woods.
“Maybe I should write a memoir,” Duke Dyssen entertained the thought, and a glimmer of hope sparked in his eyes.
He envisioned narrating the story of his passionate love affair with the imperial princess, the subsequent tragic downfall, and even becoming a victim of his own daughter’s crime. If he were to pen this captivating tale, it would undoubtedly become a sensational masterpiece, destined to top the charts of best-selling books.
Why had this idea not crossed his mind earlier?
He fumed with anger at his own foolishness. Struggling to gather strength, he hastily resumed his seat and frantically rang the call bell. The toll of illness had reduced him to a mere semblance of a living corpse, barely resembling the man he once was.
“Hey, caregiver! Caregiver!”
Duke Dyssen called out in a rush, his voice filled with anxiety, towards the tightly shut door of his hospital room. To compound the situation, the previously helpful caregiver had abruptly quit overnight, leaving him to face numerous hardships without a single explanation. Despite managing to find a replacement caregiver, he was dissatisfied with her lack of diligence and incompetence.
Never had he envisioned that Odette would persist in treating him with such disdain even after receiving his letter! Overwhelmed by the resentment surging from the depths of his heart, he furiously hurled the pillow onto the floor, followed by a vase and a glass of water from the bedside table.
The anger that was once solely directed at Odette now transformed into a sense of unease. Perhaps she had already found a substitute for him. It seemed she had satisfied her needs, especially since she now had a wealthy and influential husband by her side.
What if he was unknowingly being poisoned within the confines of this prison-like hospital room, with no mice or birds to bear witness?
The all-consuming anxiety engulfed him, prompting him to cry out in agony as he struck his crippled leg.
Memories surged back, the pain intensified.
This was a tragic outcome triggered by Helene’s opposition to the choice of sending Tira to an orphanage. The princess, who had once embraced the maid responsible for seducing her husband and bearing their illegitimate child, now reemerged as a vindictive force, seeking vengeance.
“Are you deliberately ignoring me now? If you don’t appear this instant, I will cut all ties with you!”
Summoning his remaining strength, Duke Dyssen reached for the bell string once again. However, before he could ring it, a knock echoed through the room. He abruptly ceased his rattling and turned his head towards the sound. If it were a caregiver or a medical staff member, there would be no need for such formalities.
A glimmer of hope flickered within him as he anticipated who stood behind the door. With a sense of astonishment, Duke Dyssen’s eyes widened as he beheld the lady standing before him, her presence both unexpected and intriguing.
In a state of dazed confusion, he observed the graceful sway of the red hem of her skirt, reminiscent of autumn leaves, as she approached with delicate steps. Odette quietly shut the door behind her, maintaining a composed demeanor that appeared undisturbed by the chaotic state of the hospital room.
Bowing politely, Odette exuded an air of serenity, seemingly unaffected by the surrounding chaos. Duke Dyssen found himself unable to tear his gaze away from her, his mind swirling with a multitude of thoughts that left him momentarily speechless. He gasped for breath, as if sensing the lingering taste of uncertainty in the air.
Duke Dyssen finally managed to find his voice, but Odette, who had paused for a brief moment, resumed her stride. Her eyes held no visible hint of guilt as she maintained unwavering eye contact with him, standing tall and composed.
“If your aim was to bring misfortune upon the entire family, then congratulations, you have succeeded.” Odette’s voice rang out as she stopped a step away from the bed, greeting her father with a single word.
Her face, pale and devoid of any emotion, bore an uncanny resemblance to a lifeless wax doll. The lack of vitality in her complexion only served to highlight the cold, gleaming eyes that exuded an eerie aura.
Caught off guard by the intensity of the situation, Duke Dyssen fought to regain his composure and find his voice, while Odette closed the remaining distance between them.
“Why did you do it?” Odette’s question pierced the air, the weight of its significance hanging palpably in the silence. Yet, any glimmer of joy that Duke Dyssen had initially felt swiftly dissipated upon hearing her words.
“Did you truly believe it would benefit you to place that letter in the hands of that person?” Odette inquired, her tone carrying a mix of curiosity and disbelief.
“That person? “Who did receive the letter I sent you?” Duke Dyssen found the question preposterous and responded with genuine sincerity.