“Madam, may I come in?”
While Grace was lost in thought, a knock sounded at the door. It seemed Sally had returned from running her errand.
Sally entered, clutching a small piece of fabric from the textile workshop and a gift box, and was startled by Grace’s appearance.
“Ma-madam! Are you alright?!”
“Oh, I’m fine. It must have been tiring going out. Could you call the others and have them fill the bath?”
Sally hurriedly set down the items in a corner and dashed off to the bathroom. Though Grace had suggested she delegate the task, Sally seemed intent on doing it herself.
‘She’s quite diligent…’
Grace then realized that Sally had not been in that memory she just recalled. Having been by her side ever since Grace possessed this body, the absence of Sally in those memories was quite peculiar.
‘She must have come after that? So, she got friendly pretty quickly.’
And as Grace prepared to enter the bathroom, there was another detail she hadn’t noticed.
In that pleasant memory where Grace and Benjamin were engaging in lighthearted conversation, none of the servants looking on warmly were people she had encountered since.
“Madam, here is the fabric from the textile workshop.”
Fresh from washing off the sweat, Grace found herself in front of a soft piece of fabric and a gift box. She ran her fingers along the edge of the fabric before turning her attention to the box.
“It’s a gift given only to the special guests, Madam.”
To anyone else, it would seem that Grace, being the Duchess, was receiving special treatment. But Grace read a different meaning in those words.
Maintaining her composure, Grace carefully unwrapped the package. Inside was a pair of gloves adorned with a large ribbon.
“Oh, what charming gloves.”
“I should send a reply, shouldn’t I?”
Pretending to examine the gloves’ craftsmanship, Grace felt the texture. There was something inside, tucked between the layers of leather.
“Shall I go to the study? I have to send a letter to the Marquis Charles as well. And I’ll ask for some tea to warm up from the bath.”
“Would you like me to bring you there?”
“It’s just inside the annex. I can go alone. Please, go ahead and prepare the tea.”
Grace flashed a faint smile and sent Sally on her way. Once the door closed behind her, she immediately reached for the hidden envelope.
‘…Now I can investigate.’
She swallowed hard, her hand gripping the envelope with newfound resolve.
In the study, Grace Felton was alone. She even drew the curtains, just in case something could be seen through the window across the main building.
There was no sign of the mist-emitting furniture inside the study. Wondering about the reason for this, Grace decided to focus on her main objective instead.
“…Do I just untie this ribbon?”
Tom wouldn’t have made it too obvious by rigging the gloves to tear apart easily. With that guess, Grace pulled at the end of the large ribbon attached to the gloves.
As expected, the fur trim at the opening fell away, and the stitched seams loosened.
Grace slipped her finger in the gap and extracted a neatly folded letter.
Perhaps to avoid the mishap of someone detecting its contents, the message was written as briefly as possible. The longer the text, the larger the paper needed to be.
“I’ve safely escaped after revealing the whereabouts of the necklace, let me know what to do next…”
Tom was a more resourceful man than Grace had anticipated. When the priest questioned the source of his information, Tom claimed that in his days as a reporter, he had gathered tidbits here and there, and it was during the decoding of various code languages that he stumbled upon the information about the necklace, cleverly laying down a false statement.
‘Quite the sharp mind…’
Initially, they were clueless about the code language used by the black market folks, so when Tom reported recognizing where it was, they didn’t believe it. But after the priests really found the necklace they felt compelled to believe him, despite feeling uneasy about it.
Indeed, the black market that Tom mentioned did exist, and some of the code language was actually used by the people there.
‘Plus, the vow taken in front of the statue during the ritual would’ve made them trust him even more.’
Regrettably, that vow was only disadvantageous to the temple.
Grace shook her head.
The temple folks, drunk on the joy of finding the necklace, likely hadn’t noticed the loophole. They would eventually, so Tom’s whereabouts would need to be moved before then.
‘And I must ensure the safety of the Birkin family as well.’
The question was where to accommodate his large family. Grace slipped the envelope with the medication and a note marked ‘Drug Composition Analysis’ back into the gloves before retying the ribbon.
Once the ribbon was tied, the gloves looked just as they did before.
Grace tapped her lips thoughtfully with her fingers, then slipped a few banknotes into an envelope, sealed it, and placed it back in the box.
‘Next is this.’
The gift for the Marquis Charles. Grace looked at the soft fabric and nodded.
She had planned a separate gift for the baby shower. However, she was an invitee through Benjamin’s connections. Typically, a baby shower was filled with guests from the mother-to-be’s side, making Benjamin’s connection quite an exception.
‘In other words, a guest from the husband’s side, not the wife’s.’
Already burdened with an unfavorable reputation, an unexpected guest could easily become even more disliked.
Grace believed she had done many good deeds lately, but she didn’t trust that alone to change people’s perceptions.
Humans tend to believe what they want to believe, do what they want to do, and think in the most convenient way for themselves.
‘If it’s brought any interest beyond ‘at least she hasn’t caused a nuisance, let’s wait and see,’ that would be fortunate enough.’
If that were the case, Grace couldn’t afford to miss the opportunity. Not being blessed with stunning beauty, each chance she had was precious.
“This workshop may be small, but they have a good sense of style.”
She had requested fabric suitable for gifting to someone expecting a child, and this was their recommendation. The material was perfect for crafting baby clothes or for making a garment for a new mother.
Without knowing the recipient’s taste, body shape, or the baby’s gender, sending a finished garment could be presumptuous.
The household of Marquis Charles likely had their own trusted designers.
‘And the rumors must be starting to swirl by now.’
Any noble family with a sizable storehouse owned fabrics. Yet, the strike at the textile workshop was significant because, in the world of design and fabric, trends mattered.
Textile workshops and dress shops often worked hand in hand. In essence, a large textile workshop was in a symbiotic relationship with several renowned dress shops.
‘How should I describe it… this vast collusion?’
They manipulated prices and sabotaged smaller shops that started to do well.
The talent pool for dressmaking was limited. Once, it was common for noble houses to have their own seamstresses, but not anymore. With the growth of commerce, the trend shifted towards ordering from external shops.
‘While personal fabric orders do happen, shops usually mix and match from their own stock… Personal collections are either timeless or particularly rare and valuable.’
Therefore, this soft fabric was an excellent gift for the times. In addition to this fabric, the workshop also sent a blue cloth with a currently fashionable pattern as a symbolic gift.
Truth be told, Grace was quite taken with the fabric, but since periwinkle blue didn’t suit her at all, she decided it would also make a fine gift for the young Marchioness Charles.
‘I hope she likes it.’
Perhaps a favorable reception would allow Grace to steer their first conversation in the direction she desired.
Without realizing it, Grace hummed a little tune while she filled pages with a letter blessing the upcoming child of the young Marchioness and her husband. She wrote down the address neatly, stretched, and then realized how much time had passed; the sun was about to set.
“It’s gotten so late already.”
She had missed her usual time for a walk. As she gazed absentmindedly at the sky and then glanced down, a familiar head of hair caught her eye.
It was a brown-haired figure she often saw in the streets, but Grace knew immediately who it was.
Perhaps he was taking a late break, as Benjamin was wandering the garden. More precisely, he seemed to have been circling the same spot for a while, judging by the rounded path worn into the grass.
Grace rolled her eyes, wondering if he had been ‘coincidentally’ waiting to bump into her during her walking time.
But the pattern was too distinct to dismiss as mere coincidence.
He was walking in circles right at the first crossroads she usually passed on her walks.
And as Benjamin looked up, their eyes met.
Just like that.
A silence fell between them.
It didn’t seem like any words spoken from such a distance would reach the other, but they both froze, caught in the moment.