“…Let’s just go along with what the lady says, for caution’s sake.”
The master of the house was the viscount, and unfortunately, a regretful one at that. He was hinting at wanting an investment from Benjamin for the crops in this soup.
It was critical not to upset him.
Despite the ambiguous standing of Grace in rumors that had reached even the remote Viscounty of Linden, Benjamin’s demeanor towards her suggested nothing of the sort.
‘What should I make of this?’
The Viscount Linden pondered over Benjamin’s attitude. At the very least, he was relieved that his daughter did not seem to be suffering at Duke Felton’s estate.
“Summon the chef.”
At the Viscount’s command, the butler called for the chef, but instead, his apprentice appeared.
It might have been the first time he had been called like this, he looked awkward and tentative, clutching his hat as he stood in the dining room.
“…Where’s the chef, and why are you here instead?”
“Well, the thing is… the chef suddenly fell ill and had to leave in a hurry.”
Grace watched with narrowed eyes as the apprentice reported to the Viscount.
“I-I was worried about causing a commotion with the important guest arriving today and didn’t report it in time.”
If a figure as significant as Duke Felton was visiting another noble house, the sudden absence of the chef, who was crucial for guest hospitality, would have been reported to the head of the house. However, Benjamin was visiting his father-in-law’s house as the son-in-law, and the butler chose to quietly let it pass, resulting in this situation.
‘The chef probably got sick from this soup. But having tasted all the dishes for the banquet, he couldn’t have known the cause.’
While tasting the dishes, they don’t consume much, so he likely didn’t show severe symptoms and thought it was just a little indisposition.
Grace examined the pink chunks and leaves in the soup with her spoon.
“Can you bring me any of these ingredients left in the kitchen?”
The staff might think the young lady, returning after a long absence, was acting up, backed by her husband’s influence. But this was a grave matter.
Grace looked down at the soup with a serious expression.
‘They wouldn’t have ground up the leaves, right?’
Realizing her suspicions were correct upon seeing the ingredients brought to her, she identified them immediately.
It was one of the ingredients not yet common in the empire, a plant with a celery-like appearance that turned pink when ripe and had a distinctly sour taste.
But that wasn’t the only reason Grace was concerned.
While the root of rhubarb was used medicinally and the stalk for food, the leaves contained a significant amount of toxic substance.
‘The leaves of rhubarb contain oxalic acid.’
‘I never thought my memories of my original world would come in handy like this.’
When Grace first bought the rhubarb seedlings from a merchant, she hadn’t heard anything about the danger of the leaves. It was unclear whether the merchant himself was unaware or had knowingly sold them regardless.
“Didn’t the chef show difficulty breathing and vomiting symptoms after consuming the leaves of this plant?”
Silence met Grace’s question. Given the presence of an outsider, Benjamin, the respondent seemed hesitant to speak freely.
But their reaction spoke volumes.
‘It’s the same with rhubarb in this world too.’
“Though it’s too early to conclude it’s because of that vegetable…”
It wasn’t only the head chef who had tasted the soup; surely, a few others were feeling unwell. They probably thought it was an issue with the freshness of the ingredients and had prepared a new batch.
“The leaves of this plant are poisonous. Just to be safe, prepare an emetic immediately, and arrange for a new meal.”
With that said Grace exhaled a sigh of relief.
‘That should do it, right?’
Benjamin then asked her,
“How do you know so much about this plant, my lady?”
He pushed his soup plate aside, clasped his hands together, and looked at her intently.
‘Why is he asking me that all of a sudden…’
He continued with an innocent expression.
“I heard that this crop was successfully cultivated in the Linden Viscounty. But my lady, you haven’t stepped foot outside the Duke’s estate in nearly a year, have you?”
“So, I’m curious how you knew.”
An awkward and uncomfortable silence filled the dining room. Grace was sure that Benjamin was the only person at ease in this setting.
“Usually, the chef prepares the banquet menu, but isn’t it the master who decides it? So, the ingredients would have been approved by the Viscount and his wife… It’s just odd that you know more about it.”
‘Is he, is he upset?’
Although Benjamin spoke softly, as usual, there was a tense atmosphere.
Glancing around cautiously, Grace carefully spoke.
“It’s one of the plants I once tried growing in the greenhouse.”
Sensing the unusual tension, the Viscount’s wife spoke up to lighten the mood.
“Our Grace has always loved looking at flowers, and she used to buy all sorts without really knowing what they were. She would then ask what she had bought. Isn’t that right, Gloria?”
“Yes, I remember. It was quite cute.”
Grace glanced at the Viscountess and Gloria. Rather than being lost in nostalgia, they seemed to be trying earnestly to defuse the tension.
Benjamin watched their valiant efforts with a smile, not adding any words of his own.
Gilbert broke the silence gently.
“It’s our oversight. We should have informed you properly, but with so many pressing matters at the duchy recently, we thought to tell you when there was a chance for a more positive conversation.”
Grace was taken aback, not expecting Gilbert to speak up, and looked at him with a stunned expression.
“We thought it was a decent variety for commercialization when we first discovered the crop in the greenhouse. So, we started mass cultivation with those seeds.”
Gilbert said, looking at Grace with a steady and earnest gaze that was somewhat chilling.
Memories of being ignored by Gilbert when she was teased as a child flashed through her mind.
“I had no idea that was the crop you planted. I’m sorry, Grace.”
Grace was unexpectedly moved by Gilbert’s apology. It was a flat, even-toned admission of regret, yet it touched her.
“It’s alright. If it benefits the family… that’s enough for me.”
As she spoke, Grace worried whether her pronunciation was correct, or if her voice trembled too noticeably.
She had been so articulate about the rhubarb problem just moments ago, yet now, receiving an apology from Gilbert, she couldn’t muster the same confidence.
‘Is it because I’m not really Grace?’
She wondered if the apology should have been directed to the real Grace, not her who had assumed Grace’s identity. She chided herself.
But Grace had a hunch. Even if the real Grace had been sitting here, she would have acted just the same.
Gilbert’s apology was nothing more than the proper conduct expected of an heir. Though not a viscount himself and just below in rank, his apology carried almost as much weight as if the viscount had done so, sparing the family’s pride without having the head himself admit fault.
‘Since we are in-laws and it wasn’t intentional in the first place, there was no need to cause a fuss over something like this.’
Grace felt constricted inside. Soon after, the emetic was delivered.
‘I’ve lost my appetite.’
Grace fiddled with the bottle of emetic.
She felt she wouldn’t be able to eat anything for the rest of the day, even if she were to vomit everything she had eaten at the mansion or while enjoying the journey with Benjamin.
That’s how uneasy she felt.
She was frustrated at herself for not being able to look Gilbert in the eye and assertively say it was okay.
Grace’s childhood was dominated by a few particular memories.
Among these were many instances of being mocked or ignored. Despite being a lord’s daughter, she held no grudges, which probably encouraged the cunning children to tease her relentlessly.
‘That sounds about right.’
Being innocent doesn’t necessarily mean one is kind.
‘Gilbert… to think my brother would apologize to me.’
Grace finished her meal half-heartedly and collapsed onto her bed, drained of energy.
She was looking at a notebook she had brought from her room. It was filled with all sorts of records.
The Viscountess of Linden was quite peculiar, often snooping around and reading her children’s diaries. So, the Duchess Felton, in her younger days, devised a way to protect her privacy by splitting her diary.
‘A decoy diary that’s easy to find, and another decoy that’s hidden but still easy to find… And finally, the real secret diary was hidden where no one could find it. She really lived in a complex and thoroughly cautious way.’
And this was the real secret diary.
Even as a young girl, the Duchess knew that if her mother found the fake secret diary, the Viscountess would be content, thinking, ‘Well, that’s children for you,’ and would not search any further.