✧A Helpless Lady✧
Leonard’s eyes were currently too clear to dismiss his ridiculous suggestion as being drunk and intoxicated. In the end, it didn’t take too long for the silence that enveloped the card table after such remarks to change to an enthusiastic cheer.
“Wouldn’t it be fun? How about betting all the chips we have here?”
“Great! I will join, I will join!.” Peter pushed the stack of poker chips in front of him with excitement.
Bjorn let out a low sigh and lazily leaned back on his chair. As more fools showed their interest in participating in the useless bet one by one, the game that they were just playing became neglected.
‘Leonard, you bastard. You think I’m going to lose this new bet, just watch how I’ll overturn your game board thoroughly.’
Leonard didn’t flinch despite Bjorn’s annoyed glance. In the meantime, poker chips from all over the place filled the center of the messed up table. The participants realized that the stakes were much larger than they had initially expected and now they all seriously desired to win. However, there was only one person who had not yet placed a bet.
“Bjorn, are you going to join too? Come on.” Peter sneaked up to Bjorn’s side while trying to persuade him.
Everyone in the room knew that Bjorn Dniester would never participate in this type of bet. Therefore, it was necessary for them to offer a bigger stake since the chance to rob the Prince, who was well known for his luck in gambling, doesn’t come very often.
“Join us, yea?” Peter asked again nervously, pushing the poker chips piled up in front of Bjorn.
Although the Prince was annoyed by the incessant begging, he didn’t turn down their provocation in the end. The attitude of leaving in the middle of a game annoys him, but there was nothing that he could do if they threw in such generous bait.
Excited, Peter gathered all the remaining chips to the center of the table. The stakes for receiving Erna Hardy’s favor were now enough to afford a single townhouse in the city center.
“Let’s start the game at today’s art exhibition. Everyone is going to attend, so it’s fair, isn’t it?”
Leonard, who was the instigator of this pathetic bet, solemnly declared.
After drinking the rest of his drink, Bjorn checked his pocket watch. It was going to be morning soon and the opening ceremony of the Royal Academy of Arts’ exhibition, which he had to attend even if he hated it, was approaching sooner than he expected.
The morning sun started to shine its light, marking the start of the day. However, Erna, who had been making lilies of the valley made of paper, was already wide awake even before the sky started to lighten up. The fake flowers, complete with their stems and leaves, were so realistic that they could be easily mistaken for freshly picked flowers.
She proudly looked at the flowers that bloomed with the help of her own hands like magic. The more delicate a flower and their petals were, the more valuable it became; because of this reason fake flowers of the lily of the valley became one of the most expensive ones. It was her favorite flower and it was also the one she could make well.
When she first started making and selling artificial flowers, she had to constantly make lily of the valley flowers because of its popularity. However, orders for this flower had noticeably decreased over the past few years, but still, lily of the valley was the flower she liked the most.
She stood up as the early morning sunlight slowly reached her desk. A day in the city, compared to the countryside, began much later than what she used to. Such a habit was difficult for Erna to understand, as she would start her day even before the rooster began to crow. Because of this, she ended up waking early as usual. She didn’t want to pass her time in vain so she decided to make artificial flowers at dawn, and now she had made enough flowers to fill a basket.
‘It would be great if I could find a place to sell this.’ She looked at the carefully crafted flowers with regretful eyes.
In Buford, artificial flowers were sold through Mr. Alle, who runs a general store. He made an offer through Mrs. Greeve about his interest to sell the flowers, who later relayed the news to Erna. At first, it was only sold in small quantities at the rural general stores, but as her skills improved day by day, Ms. Alle hired someone that could sell her artificial flowers at various stores in the city at a higher price. Compared to a small rural store, stores found in the city were much larger and could attract more customers.
Erna couldn’t even imagine how huge a store, which mostly had every item imaginable, would be like, but this reason was something that didn’t make her worried. If her artificial flowers were delivered there, she could get twice the price of what she sold at the Ale Cine shop.
The living expenses earned by selling artificial flowers had contributed greatly to the income of the Baden family. Tea boxes and sugar canisters were no longer empty and there was no shortage of fabric, so the trouble of wearing old clothes was resolved. Thanks to the positive results of her hard work, the store in the city appeared more beautiful and important in her eyes than the Royal Palace at first. However, her views were overwritten after she finally had the chance to personally visit the Palace.
‘Was there any way for me to sell artificial flowers directly to the stores?’ Erna stared at the completed flowers while seriously contemplating.
Although she was able to protect the country house by making a deal with his father, the living expenses of the Baden family would be having difficulties once again since they didn’t have the money she provided unlike before. Mrs. Greeve, whose eyes had deteriorated a lot, could no longer make artificial flowers and Erna had taken this duty as hers and had been the one making them for years.
“I can do whatever I want here, so all I need to do is find a store that can sell these. If that’s too difficult, how about I send the finished flowers back to Buford? But if the postage costs are too much, I guess I can personally deliver them to Buford and visit everyone at least once every season.”
A light knocking sound rang out when Erna reached such a conclusion. It was her maid, Lisa, who came inside with a large box in hand. Inside was a new dress and hat for her to wear.
“This dress is pretty decent, isn’t it my Lady?”
Lisa smiled as she showed off the blue dress she pulled out of the box, as if she was trying to appease a child; and Erna smiled and nodded her head in agreement. Even when it was now in the middle of summer, it was still a dress that was quite shameful by her standard. While it doesn’t expose any skin under her collarbone, compared to the last dress she wore on that night, it was a much more decent dress.
“Why did you bring a new set of clothes?”
“Didn’t you know? You have to attend the Art Exhibition’s opening ceremony today.”
Erna and Lisa stared at each other, eyes widened in surprise for different reasons.
“The art exhibition? Me?”
“Yes! It’s a famous exhibition that is held every summer at the Royal Academy of Arts.” Lisa was delighted as if it was her own business, and flipped the dress again in front of Erna.
‘The Royal Academy of Arts.’
A smile slowly began to spread across Erna’s lips, who had been excitedly repeating those words. It was thanks to the nostalgic name of her only friend, Pavel, that was connected with that place.
‘Maybe I can meet Pavel.’
With that hope, Erna started her day with more energy than usual. After breakfast, she dressed up and was led by the Viscount into the carriage. Even the landscape of an unfamiliar city did not feel as threatening as usual.
“I hope you do well today. Unless you have a weird hobby that finds joy in being humiliated.”
As the art academy got closer, Viscount HardY, who had been silent all along, spoke up. His voice, which did not hide his displeasure, was as cold as ice.
“Yes, Viscount. I will do my best.”
Erna calmly gave the best possible answer.
She was also vaguely feeling that she had a poor reputation. The fervent interest to her as of lately has led to numerous misunderstandings and speculations, and it was soon established as a firm truth. The more she tried to get rid of her weird stigma, the more she felt like she was sinking deeper and deeper.
So, she had to endure for today until the end.
As Erna hypnotized herself with encouraging words, the carriage stopped while she was busy preparing mentally. A beautiful building made of white marble shone brightly under the sunlight, dazzling her eyes.
“Miss Hardy, you’re really a helpless girl.”
Victoria Meyer’s deep sigh broke the silence of the still garden. Erna, on the other hand, was sitting on a bench as if she would collapse at any moment with how hard she was gasping for breath. It was a bit pitiful and pathetic to see her chasing after her breath after only walking for a bit .
“Isn’t it time for you to get used to it? How long do you plan on showing such a pathetic side of yours?”
“I’m sorry… I’ll do my best, Countess.”
Erna barely managed to open her lips and stammered in response. Her clear blue irises seemed to stand out even more because of her teary red eyes. Even when such a scene made others look abhorrent, such a pretty face that caught the eye of various nobles made Victoria even more disturbed with how an unfavorable image could still be considered as a part of her charm.
Miss Hardy could have used her looks with just a small smile and a little bit of flattery and different types of men would be on her beck and call. Seeing Erna who couldn’t even properly do such an easy and simple task made Countess Meyer’s chest suffer from searing pain of regret.
She had seen many young girls who were unfamiliar and had difficulties with socializing, but Erna Hardy was the first one who hated it so much that she would even have trouble breathing when talking to strangers. Countess Meyer thought that maybe she could endure it quite well today, but the symptoms started once again when the son of Count Bergen spoke to her. If she hadn’t been quick to support this little Lady and take her out to the garden, Erna would have become a spectacle for everyone to see today.
“I didn’t do that on purpose. Countess, I really… … .”
Victoria cut off Erna’s sentence while stroking her flabby forehead.
“It wouldn’t have mattered for you to act like this if you were only a simple young lady. However, because of your circumstances, it is a tragedy for me and Ms. Hardy if you continue acting like this.”
“Yes?” Lady Hardy raised her head and looked at the Countess with her wet eyes.
The reputation of being a beauty comparable to Princess Gladys was deliberately created by the Hardy family, but it was also an objective fact that couldn’t be refuted in the end. The reason Viscount Hardy, who was not so fond of this daughter of his even from the beginning, agreed to fully support her social debut was only because of Erna’s beauty.
In the end, this pretty lady was actually such a troublemaker.
“Listen to me well, Ms. Hardy. This matter doesn’t only concern you, it’s also a matter regarding my honor on the line.”
“What do you mean?”
Erna, who seemed unable to understand Countess Meyer’s words, asked confusedly. A deep sigh escaped Victoria’s lips as she looked at the innocent looking lady in front of her. Ever since her plans went wrong at the beginning, she regretted that she might have made a mistake in taking this job, but in the end, it was already too late for her to quit.
“If strangers scare you that much, let’s pretend they’re not people. Are you familiar with this saying Ms. Hardy? Think of them as flowers or animals in the countryside instead. Wouldn’t it be nice to think of things like that?” The Countess seriously advised.
It was silly for her to think of such a childish suggestion, much more advocate it to others; but Victoria was already at the end of her wits. She wouldn’t sit still and let the Hardy Family’s daughter pour muddy water over her splendid achievements.
Once the time for the pre-ceremonies to begin arrived, Victoria Meyer hurriedly stood up from her seat.
“I’ll go inside first, you can follow me inside once you manage to calm down. Do you understand?”
Lady Hardy, who looked up at Victoria as if urging her to leave quickly, nodded her head vigorously. Taking another deep breath for the nth time today, Countess Meyer hurriedly left the garden.
Erna squeezed her cold hands tightly, rubbing them together and warming them up with her breath from time to time. The choking pain in her chest had now subsided, but she did not dare to return to the place where countless eyes were staring at her.
“It’s going to be okay.”
She struggled to sit upright while repeatedly reassuring herself with a familiar lie. She took out a handkerchief and wiped her face gently and carefully organized her messy clothes. It was then that she caught a glimpse of a familiar person at the end of the trail where she unintentionally turned her head.
She muttered with a blank face, while the tall man, on the other hand, disappeared into the depths of the garden. Red hair, a large physique and a familiar back; it was clearly the figure of Pavel Lore that she clearly remembered.
“Pavel!” She hurriedly called out the familiar name and stood up from her seat.
The sound of hasty footsteps running along the paved pathway began to shake the languid atmosphere of the garden in the middle of summer.