3 – 2
“Why did you dismiss those maids without consulting with me first?”
When she was on her way to Alois’ room with a container of cream in her hand that might help his skin condition, Camilla heard a woman’s low voice.
It was a middle-aged woman’s voice, calm but with a coercive air to it. There was something about her tone that made Camilla freeze up on the spot, as if on instinct. From where she was, she could just see the door to Alois’ room and in front of it, she saw two people calmly talking.
She didn’t have to squint to make sure of who it was, either. It was Gerda.
Standing in front of her as if in opposition was Alois. Camilla could only see his massive back, however.
Neither of them seemed to notice Camilla at all. So, they continued the conversation, without raising their voices.
“I personally made the judgement that it was in the best interests of this house.”
“That girl was a legitimate member of the Ende family, she isn’t someone who should be dismissed on personal judgement alone.”
Gerda’s mannerisms didn’t even change when she was face to face with her master, Alois. She stood tall with a straight back and her chin up, that brown hair tinged with streaks of white neatly braided behind her head. With both her hands linked in front of her, she directly faced Alois. Although there was absolutely none of the undisguised hostility she usually directed at Camilla, there definitely was not a friendly air between her and Alois.
“She tormented her colleague to the point that damage was done to the house. Not to mention, she even targeted my guest. Is that not reason enough?”
“When it comes to the damages, it was hardly all that girl’s fault alone. As for the bullying, that is an internal squabble between members of the Ende family. It is not something that Lord Alois should be personally interfering with.”
“It happened in my house, so it’s only natural that I would intervene.”
Neither Alois nor Gerda raised their voice or even had a hint of venom in their voices. However, their locked gazes were beginning to become fiery.
As Alois said that last piece, Gerda simply looked at him in silence. Alois, also, returned her gaze. Camilla felt the atmosphere become even chillier than when they were talking before.
It was Gerda who finally broke that silence.
She swallowed the words she was about to say. Before continuing, Gerda averted her gaze, taking a deep breath.
“Lord Alois, you’ve known it yourself for quite some time. Just how much the Ende family has done? Surely you haven’t forgotten.”
“This and that are two different thi-”
“That girl was a bridge between the Montchat and the Ende families. As long as she was here and offered due hospitality, we could trust on the cooperation of and communication with the Ende family. Now that she has gone, we have to seek out an alternative. When there is a hole in the ship, it’s necessary to find a stopgap. Lord Alois, have you truly thought about this?”
Despite how imposing the words were, Gerda spoke calmly. Though she didn’t raise her voice, her speech cut through the silence authoritatively.
“Evaluating the abilities and conduct of the female servants in the mansion and assigning them accordingly is my role. If you are misled and interfere over trivial matters, the management of this house may go awry. In the future, please consult with me first. Thank you in advance.”
Without changing her tone at all, Gerda bowed to Alois. Then, raising her head, she passed right by Alois as if that was the full stop on their conversation. Alois grimaced bitterly as Gerda walked straight past him with her shoulders squared, the expression on her face not moving an inch.
But, Camilla didn’t see that face of his.
When Gerda bowed and moved past Alois, she caught Camilla’s eyes.
When Gerda strode towards the end of the hallway where she stood, was that where she was always going to go? Or was it because Camilla was there? At any rate, she made a beeline straight for Camilla.
And, passed her by. She didn’t drop her speed at all as she breezed straight past Camilla, only sparing her a single glance.
Camilla only caught a glimpse of her face for an instant. And of those eyes that bore a quiet, yet deep, hatred.
She didn’t say a single word. She didn’t stop walking. She barely even breathed.
Yet, those eyes alone sent a chill up Camilla’s spine.
Resentment, Loathing, Envy, Malice. She had been on the receiving end of all those emotions and more back in the capital. Camilla had no shortage of enemies. There were quite a few people who hated her, some of whom made no attempt to hide it. She was used to seeing people’s faces twisted in disgust as they looked at her.
But, the look that Gerda had given her… Was something else entirely.
Her high brows covered those eyes in shadow, with only that dark look looming out of the abyss.
It was after Gerda’s footsteps had echoed into the distance that Alois noticed Camilla standing there, rooted to the spot.
At first, he was surprised, but that turned to worry as he approached the unusually quiet Camilla. His huge frame hadn’t changed much at all, but it seemed like the earthquakes caused by his steps didn’t shake the floor beneath her feet as much anymore.
It was definitely quieter than before, but Camilla didn’t notice it. She still felt that chill gripping her chest.
“Camilla, have you been there long? Did you perhaps see that shameful…”
Camilla raised her face with a start.
Before she knew what was happening, Alois stood in front of her.
Recently, despite his huge body still matching his reputation, he was having trouble fitting properly into his regular clothing. So, thanks to the new clothes that had been tailored for him, he cut a slightly refreshing impression.
Unfortunately, Camilla couldn’t tell the difference the change from gigantic to enormous. The only reason the servants of the house could notice was that they had spent years living and working around Alois. Meanwhile, that red face of his was festering even worse than before, with the puffy skin around his eyes making him look even more like a toad than usual. For Camilla, he was still far from her ideal.
That pockmarked face of Alois shifted as he grimaced as if he were troubled by something.
“I am deeply indebted to Gerda for everything she does, since she has been handling the day to day tasks of organizing the servants in the mansion for a long time… It’s just unfortunate she has that side to her.”
As Alois said that somewhat gloomily, Camilla finally let go of the breath she was holding. Thanks to the surprise of having him suddenly appear before her, and that pitiful remark of his, she had finally managed to recover some of her cool.
– She only looked at me for a moment.
She was also merely a servant.
– So, just why did I react like a skittish fawn!?
Her newfound calmness didn’t take long to give way to anger. When Gerda’s eyes were far away, that fear she felt suddenly seemed illusionary. She felt foolish for ever being cowed by the glare of some middle-aged servant. Since she was staying in Alois’ mansion as a guest, even if she was a foreigner, Camilla still ought to be far higher in social rank than someone like her. Just why on earth should she be frightened like that?
“Lord Alois, just who is that Gerda woman?”
Suddenly rounding on Alois rather assertively, Camilla posed that question to him.
“I do not want to believe it, but is she possibly another member of the Ende family?”
There seemed to be no shortage of people from the Ende family in this mansion. Since the Montchat and the Ende were so tightly entwined, you could find members of the latter working all sorts of posts in this mansion. Man or woman, they seemed to be everywhere you looked. As for the ones with that characteristic Ende blonde hair, there were four of them, though she knew the one that definitely wasn’t against her.
Gerda’s natural hair colour wasn’t blonde, but a dark brown. She also had a sharp facial expression, at odds with the usual ‘cute’ faces of the Ende family. However, judging by the way she spoke, she seemed to have something of an affinity for them. Was she speaking as the head maid of the Montchat family when she emphasized the relationship between them and the Ende or was she speaking as someone who had a relationship with that family herself?
As Camilla’s thoughts raced, Alois simply shook his head.
“No, she isn’t a member of the House of Ende. Although, her family has been involved with ours for just as long…”
Alois’ words trailed off as he was speaking. Just what was he thinking of? He looked into Camilla’s eyes, his own looking troubled as he blinked.
“What… What is it?”
Camilla was a touch taken aback by his sudden seriousness. As Camilla retreated a step, Alois continued to speak.
“Why don’t we have you study just a little bit? About the Montchat family, and about this land’s history.”
No, thank you.
Learning about the house you are to marry into is expected of a noblewoman.
They were to become the mistress of that house from then on, after all. If you didn’t know about the history, traditions and current circumstances of your husband’s family and lands, how could you ever expect to be a good wife?
However, up until that point, Camilla really didn’t know much at all about the Montchat family. Alois, too, didn’t force her to learn anything either.
That was because, similarly, he had no intention of forcing marriage on Camilla either. Whilst she was officially here as a marriage candidate, Alois had treated her as a guest. If they weren’t going to become closer, there was no point in having her learn anything.
But, recently, Alois’ attitude had changed. He had begun to see Camilla in a different light after the quarrel in Grenze and the incident with Nicole.
It was as if he really recognized Camilla, and instead of treating her as a mere guest… He wanted to treat her for the reason she came in the first place. So it would seem.
When he said that he would like her to study, that’s how she interpreted it.
That’s why Camilla found the idea so unpleasant.
– I still need more time.
It had only been four months since her heart was broken and she was exiled from the capital. In a way, quite some time had already passed.
But, compared to the years that Camilla spent loving that man, it was nothing more than an instant.