5 – 13
“The colour of the flowers?”
Gerda repeated Alois’ words back at him. The only reaction she had was to raise a single eyebrow, there wasn’t even a flicker of panic or surprise on her face.
“I do not understand what you are trying to say. As I said, I attended to you after you fell, I must have had a glance at them then.”
But, although Gerda answered clearly, the senior maid and one of the manservants accompanying her had gone pale. It was the man who had testified about seasoning the dish.
Both of them glanced to the side as if trying to avoid Alois’ gaze.
The only one who faced Alois straight on, her will not faltering at all, was Gerda. The flowers were red. There was no doubt about that.
“After I fell…?”
Alois sighed gently, remembering the flowers that had garnished the meal.
“At that time, I covered up the flowers. I didn’t think it was poison, but… I wanted to avoid any misunderstandings.”
Alois saw Camilla in those flowers. With the visit to the flowering town of Blume fresh in his mind, it was easy to couple Camilla with them. He didn’t remember if he was consciously thinking it at the time, but looking back, he must have done it to try and cover for Camilla.
When Alois had grabbed them with his hands, those flowers had been crushed in his palm. The process to candy those flowers had made them brittle and delicate, and after being grasped like that, they could hardly be distinguished as flowers anymore, especially if they were only paid a passing glance, as Gerda suggested.
What’s more, Gerda also said that she had ordered everything to be cleaned up immediately after Alois was seen to.
“Are you really sure that you saw those flowers here?”
“…Perhaps you didn’t cover them up as well as you thought, Lord Alois. I am absolutely certain that I saw those flowers with my own two eyes. Those poisonous flowers that hurt you.”
“So, you’re saying that you are absolutely certain?”
Saying that to confirm Gerda’s testimony, his gaze shifted away from her.
Instead, they came to settle on the younger maids, the ones who had been brought along by the senior maid.
“Can you repeat what you said a moment ago?”
The two maids looked at each other. At the same time, without saying a word, the senior maid glowered thunderously at the two girls. The maids shuddered in fright at the glare, but it seemed like they had already made up their mind all the same. They nodded to each other clearly, then the taller one began to speak.
“When we brought the meal to Lord Alois, there definitely weren’t any red flowers. There were only white flowers on the food. I’m definitely sure of that!”
“I see, so that’s how it is. The most likely possibility was that the poisonous flowers lost their colour as they were being delivered along with the food. Indeed, by the time I saw them, they had already become white.”
That’s why it had reminded him of Camilla in Blume. The field of white flowers. The garland she wore like a crown. Ever since then, Alois always tied her and those flowers together in his mind.
“Gerda, let me ask you one more time… did you truly see those flowers?”
Gerda didn’t answer straight away.
She simply stood straight, looking at Alois. But that expression of hers… had become ever so slightly stiffer.
“If you hadn’t seen it, then why did you say you had? And even if you had, why did you testify that you’d seen their original colour when you couldn’t possibly have?”
Even if Alois didn’t say it, the intention in the words he spoke to Gerda was perfectly clear. Gerda had only seen the flowers when they had still retained their poisonous colour. In that sense, she wasn’t the one who had necessarily added the poison flowers herself, since she would have seen their colour fade.
But, there was the potential for co-conspirators. Instead of dirtying her hands by garnishing the food with poison herself, Gerda could have had someone else do it.
The senior maid’s voice trembled as she called out to Gerda. But Gerda quickly opened her mouth to drown her out.
“Colour and the like are mere trivialities. I must have merely misremembered. Since the flowers were the root of the poison, something associated with the colour red, I likely said it inadvertently. It isn’t out of the ordinary for such things to happen.”
Her voice was calm and assured, carrying a level of authoritative power to it.
“In the first place, there is ample evidence, as well as multiple witnesses. A simple mistake on my part will not change the truth of the matter.”
“If you admit that your own memories of events were wrong, then it’s only reasonable to assume that the same could be true of others as well.”
Others. Alois didn’t mention anyone specifically, but his gaze lingered on those two who had specifically testified against Camilla.
“Where did you find the box?”
The first one he addressed was the senior maid. She hesitated when Alois asked her that question for just a moment, before going back and reading from the script.
“It was found in that woman’s room. All the maids assigned to cleaning know that box is there.”
“…That can’t be true! I haven’t been able to find the box for over a week! Days before Lord Alois’ collapsed!”
Her passions reignited, Camilla refuted the senior maid’s words on a spur of the moment.
“Both Nicole and I knew that! If you think that I am lying, then all you need to do is ask Nicole!”
“Nicole!? A useless maid who hasn’t even been working here a year!? What’s more, why would anyone believe that girl when she’s just your lackey!?”
Alois interjected between the two of them.
“Even the most distinguished maid in this household acknowledged that she recalled events wrongly. Therefore, we shouldn’t decide whether or not to believe someone based on their position. The words of that young maid are worth just as much as yours.”
The senior maid looked at Alois aghast, as if she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She had built up a high position of influence in the household after years of faithful service to successive Dukes. For someone to say that her word was only as good as that immature girl’s, it was a deep wound to her pride.
“If the box wasn’t in her room, then potentially it was found somewhere completely different. Perhaps your memory of the box being found in her room was also a mistake.”
Alois turned away from the maid whose pride was in tatters. Next was the manservant. As soon as Alois’ gaze settled on him, his back became rigid.
“That the dish had already been garnished with flowers before being delivered from the kitchens. I wonder if this too was a mistake? Instead of relying on one person’s testimony, I think it’s important to hear what the people working in the kitchen have to say as well.”
“As if you could believe such uncouth thugs!?”
The servant raised his voice angrily. Other than Günter, there were other close and distant relatives of the Brandt family working in Alois’ kitchen. The Brandts had been cast down from their peerage and were looked at with disdain by members of the other noble houses. Although their practical skills, especially cooking, were unmatched, they were still treated like lepers by the other aristocratic families of Mohnton.
“Perhaps we’ll find that their memories may, in fact, be more correct.”
Gerda flinched at those words. Since she had said that she was ‘absolutely certain’, just like the others had, she had cast aspersions on their own testimonies through her own mistake. The credibility of their words had turned to dust by her hand.
“Lord Alois. I admit that I may have remembered wrongly, but that does not clear this woman of suspicion.”
Casting a glance at the downcast senior maid and the manservant who had been stunned into silence, she kept speaking.
“We have served this house faithfully for many years. Our loyalty has always been to House Montchat, and we’ve always strived to do our best for its sake. When it comes to whose words are worth believing and whose are lies… I implore you to make a wise judgment.”
Gerda joined her hands in front of her waist and bowed deeply to Alois. If one had only heard those words and seen that bow, then one would only have the impression that she was an obedient and faithful servant, and totally in the right.
“Certainly… I cannot say you haven’t been faithful.”
Putting the good of the Montchat family first, they worked around the clock for the betterment of the house. They paid excruciating detail when it came to managing and maintaining the mansion, and Gerda knew the position of every piece of furniture and the name of every servant.
The young Alois always relied on Gerda. Even though she was overly firm and incredibly close-minded, she never put a foot wrong when it came to keeping the house in working order. That’s why he had never thought of removing her from her position.
“But, in truth, it was only the ‘House of Montchat’ that you were loyal to.”
And the person who represented the house, was its master. For the sake of the Montchat family, she wouldn’t hesitate to kill Alois if need be.
“Like you said, I cannot simply dismiss the suspicions you’ve brought up. Indeed, your story has weight to it. However, if I consider the same events but with you as the poisoner, the story has just as much credibility.”
The red flowers could now be used as evidence against both Camilla and Gerda. There was no definitive proof or unassailable testimony to convict either of them, so all he had left were his own doubts.
Camilla? Or Gerda? Or would he back down, pretending he hadn’t already decided?
Gerda had entrusted the decision to Alois. Simply put, Alois’ own feelings would bring this all to an end.
“We have only known each other for so long, but I’ve seen what kind of person she is.”
As Gerda said, Camilla could have had means and motive to poison Alois.
But, that wasn’t in Camilla’s character. It was unthinkable. But, the only reason Alois had to believe that really was because of what he had seen of her.
In Grenze, in Einst, and in Blume. In this mansion as well. Alois had seen all sorts of sides to Camilla.
Her fiery temper, her reckless courage, her haughty pride, and her flower-like purity. She had lost herself to raging passion, shouted at him angrily, been hurt by those around her and still found the strength to smile when all was said and done. For both good and ill, she was more human than anyone Alois had ever met.
In this house, she had been the polar opposite to Alois, held back his emotions and never showing a sincere side of himself, always wearing a mask to hide away his feelings.
Alois raised his head. The past to which he had clung to and those old memories they carried. Fear and guilt caused a moment of hesitation.
When it came to this mansion, Gerda was the greatest symbol of his father. All the older servants that still referred to his father as ‘Master’ were under her influence. When Alois had been overwhelmed by the pain of his past, he had looked to her for support.
But, the time had come to cast it all aside. Alois had been held back by the ghosts that haunted him for far too long.
“Between you and her… if I have to choose, then I believe in her.”
The pain of the past had passed into memory.
Now, there was only Duke Alois Montchat, Lord of Mohnton.