‘Now that’s unusual.’
Grace checked the receipts stuck here and there in the diary. She found it peculiar because the concept of ‘receipts’ had not been widespread in the empire for very long, yet the young Duchess Felton had been using them way before they became common.
The receipts were embarrassingly primitive. They seemed to have been inspired by Grace’s childhood glimpses of Viscount Linden’s tax ledgers and account books.
In the corner of the homemade receipts from Grace’s youth was a seven-digit number on each page. There were records somewhat akin to receipts before, but these numbers were strikingly similar to the current system used in the empire.
‘It seems she wanted to keep precise track of where and how much money was spent and to whom.’
From Grace’s records, it appeared she used this system mainly to confirm transactions with merchants visiting the Linden estates.
These records inadvertently left will surely be of some help for the current Grace.
‘It looks like there was a merchant who visited periodically.’
Grace had made regular purchases from a certain merchant. The transaction receipts stopped about a year before she got married, but below that was a written address.
‘They must have been a good business partner.’
The fact that they had given out a personal contact address, even though she wasn’t a big client, indicated a personal rapport between them.
Grace hadn’t expected to find such information in the Linden Viscounty, but it was a pleasant surprise.
She sighed wistfully.
‘I hope the business has grown reasonably well, even if it’s not a major guild.’
The Felton ducal house owned a trading guild, but there were issues with using it for Grace’s current needs.
‘There would be problems if I used the ducal trading guild for dealings with the Kingdom of Arsia.’
There were two textile workshops planning to go on strike soon. Grace had made some preliminary arrangements in anticipation, but the problem was that the workshop she had found was too small, and Lily, the girl from the orphanage, was clever but inexperienced.
‘But if a moderately experienced guild were to join forces, that would be a great help.’
Grace was mulling over a dilemma, staring at the address written in the diary.
‘To contact or not to contact? That is the question.’
“What are you pondering so deeply?”
“Ah… whether to make contact or not…”
“This address writt… Ahh!”
Benjamin had quietly taken a seat near Grace without her noticing. Startled, Grace pressed a hand to her racing heart as she sat up.
“You can stay lying down if you wish.”
“No, it’s alright. Did you have a good trip?”
“Yes, thank you.”
After dinner, Benjamin had excused himself to talk with the Viscount Linden and now returned, carrying a tray of light snacks.
“I noticed you didn’t eat much at dinner, so I brought some light refreshments. Please have some if you feel like it.”
He placed a plate with a few sablé cookies and fruit on the side table and then looked at the notebook in Grace’s hand.
“Do you need any help with that?”
After a moment’s consideration, Grace closed the book and shook her head.
“I think I can manage this on my own for now. If it gets too difficult, I’ll let you know.”
It wasn’t that she distrusted Benjamin outright, as in the past. There were things she wanted to try handling by herself first.
‘And while I don’t think Benjamin is trying to kill me… it’s possible that the cause of death isn’t him but lies with the Felton ducal house itself.’
Someone might want to remove her, a seemingly insignificant person wearing the guise of the Felton ducal family.
‘Once part of the Felton ducal house, one holds power comparable to the royal family. With that kind of power, one could do almost anything.’
Grace, despite being part of such a powerful family, lacked the nerve for bold actions and could only laugh at the irony.
‘If I’m right, even if I divorce, as long as Benjamin is kind to me, I can’t escape death.’
Someone who coveted her position might feel threatened by Grace’s mere existence and could resort to murder.
‘Now that I’m fairly certain Benjamin doesn’t see me as a thorn in his side for my activities, I have nothing to fear.’
Even if all of Benjamin’s kindness was an act, it was clear he wasn’t hindering her social endeavors.
Didn’t the duchess in the original story die of a ‘mysterious illness’? If Grace’s social standing grew and she gained influence, her death couldn’t be swept under the rug as ‘of unknown causes.’
‘Still, it’s questionable that Benjamin would simply announce it as an illness…’
Was this a butterfly effect from the original Duchess of Felton’s inaction? While she pondered this, Benjamin chuckled.
Grace expressed her confusion at his laughter, and he simply shook his head.
“No, it’s nothing. I’m just pleased to see you taking the initiative to do something.”
‘Come to think of it, Benjamin said something similar before.’
Even when Grace used to go out on her own, Benjamin had always agreed, seemingly just happy she was getting out.
“I want to send out some letters, so I’ll need to employ a messenger.”
“You need a quick reply, then?”
“Yes. I’d like to have responses by the time we return to the Felton estate. And it’s not just one place.”
Grace planned to contact several trading guilds listed in the diary.
‘I’ll reach out to other merchant guilds too, but I can’t request trades from the ones associated with “The Siren’s Song.”‘
Grace felt a pang of regret.
Observing her, Benjamin casually offered her a grape to her mouth.
“Do you not want this?”
“No, it’s delicious.”
Without realizing it, Grace naturally accepted and ate the grape he held out to her. She had felt too queasy to eat during dinner, but now the fruit slid down smoothly.
[The Siren’s Song]
It was one of the guilds from the original work, ‘The Saint’s Wish.’ Aria encountered this guild after dealing with the Kingdom of Arsia, but the guild’s master only saw Aria for her value as a saintess and wasn’t genuinely interested in her.
‘The Siren’s Song was sizable enough that it would have been great if they had been on Aria’s side, but they never took a clear stance and eventually faded from the story.’
Since they had neither supported nor opposed Aria, there wasn’t much information available about them. So Grace would have to probe other guilds instead.
“Could you… stop that?”
“Oh, my apologies. I got carried away.”
While Grace was lost in thought, Benjamin had been happily feeding her grapes one by one. When she didn’t resist and kept accepting them, he showed an embarrassed smile.
“I’ll contain myself.”
“…No, it’s alright.”
“May I continue?”
“…No, thank you.”
After finishing the grape in her mouth, Grace gave the now sparse grapevine a wistful look and stood up.
“I’m going to see Sally.”
“Alright, I’ll be waiting. Take your time.”
Leaving Benjamin behind, Grace clutched the diary to her side and left the room.
‘The servants’ quarters are that way, right?’
As Grace made her way to the servants’ lodging, she heard footsteps following her.
‘Who could it be?’
The steps were cautious, yet there was no attempt to hide them. It implied no intent to harm or spy on Grace.
‘Maybe it’s better to acknowledge them.’
Assuming it was someone from the Viscount Linden’s household, Grace turned around.
“Gr-Grace, where are you headed?”
It was Gloria.
“I wanted to talk to you, but there never seemed to be a good time. I was debating whether to visit your room when I saw you.”
‘Is this for real?’
If that was the case, wouldn’t it have been simpler to just call out to her?
It meant Gloria had hesitated whether to call her or not. Grace pretended not to notice and just nodded.
Gloria suggested with a faint smile.
“How about we sleep together tonight like we used to?”
Grace thought about Benjamin waiting alone in the room.
“That sounds nice, I’ll let His Excellency know.”
She felt a twinge of guilt toward Benjamin.
After asking Sally to do a task, Grace told Benjamin she would be spending the night with Gloria. He looked slightly disappointed, but he agreed.
She felt a bit like she had done something wrong.
‘What is this feeling, like abandoning a puppy on a rainy day?’
Grace remembered the way Benjamin had looked at Aria and Sylvester in Count Ardel’s domain, with a longing gaze.
She couldn’t understand why he would then act so fondly and eagerly towards her.
‘It seems he does have a liking for me, separate from his feelings for Aria.’
The Benjamin from the original work and the one she saw up close seemed different. If Grace was being deceived, then he was truly an actor worthy of an award.