Eleanor’s fingertips trembled. She was silent for a moment, even after she had managed to lay the trembling paper down on the table.
Then she muttered.
“Warm it up.”
Olivier couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Eleanor looked at Olivier, who looked dumbfounded, and spoke again as if to drive a nail into the coffin.
“Warm that crazy bitch’s bed, it’s not like it’s a hard job for you anyway.”
He gasped, his face flushing bright red.
“Are you out of your mind?”
He felt the blood drain from his body. His head was spinning as he barely stood up from his desk.
“You’re insulting me.”
“It’s not like you can’t marry if you lose your virginity.”
Eleanor nailed it coldly.
“Go and sleep with her once, and that marriage you hate so much can be put off for a while. And then, as she says, you’re good, and I’m good, and it’s done, isn’t it?”
“Have you grown senile?”
“She’s not an old woman, judging by the way she talks about investing in the New World. She must be one of our acquaintances, and we must see her.”
“For God’s sake, Grandma.”
Olivier burst out laughing. He was laughing so hard now that all he could do was giggle.
He searched her face again and again in disbelief, but Eleanor’s stony expression didn’t budge.
Exhausted, Olivier flopped down on the sofa. Eleanor stubbornly clutched her handbag. She said nothing and just stared off into space.
Silence settled over the study.
“I don’t understand, Grandma.”
Miserably mumbling, Olivie’s gaze was on Eleanor the whole time. He couldn’t believe it.
“Grand Duchess Eleanor Dampierre, a giant in the political circles of Ezon. When I was growing up, people called her the ‘Defender of Justice.’ I was proud, because it was my grandmother who kept the flames of the civil revolution alive, who established the great values of justice…”
“I’m sorry to have disappointed you, Olivier.”
Eleanor’s voice remained dignified, but her neatly clasped hands were trembling faintly. Olivier leaned back and buried himself in the couch, watching his grandmother’s wrinkled hands tremble.
“There are degrees of disappointment, Grandmother.”
After letting out a long sigh, Olivier muttered weakly.
“Grandmother, why are you pushing so hard? What are we lacking? We already have enough assets, and there’s no rush for marriage, Grandmother. I’m only twenty-three, so we still have plenty of time.”
“Your father died at twenty-four. Your grandfather died at twenty-five.”
“You’re the only blood of this family, and I want you to marry, but if you can’t do that, I want you to accumulate more money. What’s wrong with that?”
A sigh finally escaped Olivier’s lips. It was a pointless argument that had already been repeated countless times.
Men who die before they reach twenty-five, the sole bloodline of the family, and the endless obsession with wealth.
If only he could have been like some of his friends, a disowned bastard, and live a life of debauchery. Then things wouldn’t have been so difficult.
Olivier knew himself well enough to know that in the end he would not be able to defy his grandmother’s orders. He wanted to run away, but there was no way out, so he’d endure.
But this is different. This is insane.
“I can’t do it. Grandmother, you want me to sell myself, the grandson of House Dampierre?”
Dark green eyes stared at Olivier. It was a gaze that revealed the naked face of her desire that she had never seen before.
“I don’t understand why you’re so picky about getting married. It’s not like you’re being careful about choosing a woman or anything.”
“In addition to leaving the daily stream of vulgar articles in the Echon newspaper untouched.”
Oh, damn it. It’s come back around to this again. I struggled to get out of it, but now it’s grabbed me by the ankle instead. Olivier’s face twisted.
“Go, Grandma, we’re done talking.”
Scrambling to his feet, Olivier pushed open the door to the study.
“Come on, let’s go.”
Turning to face the doorway, Eleanor slowly looked back at her grandson. As if he didn’t even want to see her off, Olivier was staring out the window, his face pale.
“The deal with the woman who gave you the letter… Think about it, Olivier.”
“It’s not even worth thinking about.”
Olivier squeezed his eyes shut. His throat rumbled as he held back his anger.
“Olivier. The time has come when the worth of a noble family is determined by the assets they possess. We are no different, and we are in more danger now that you have delayed your marriage. We stand at a crossroads.”
Eleanor looked at her grandson with sunken eyes. He had been a fiery child from an early age, but he was a good grandson whose stubbornness had always been broken by his grandmother’s words. This time would be no different.
“Investing in the New World will cost a lot of money, but it will pay off. So whether you get married or get money from the New World, I want you to give me one.”
With such words, the young man might feel pressured to get married this time, to preserve his pride.
There was some pressure based on such calculations. Eleanor left the apartment quietly, leaving her grandson, who was trying to calm down his anger, behind.
* * *
Olivier, we love you, but the Duchess Eleanor has had enough.
We’ll see you at Katarina Biché’s party.
Armand says he hopes you will meet your lover there.
Biché’s parties are very hot.
– Caring about you, Monceau
The living room is empty, except for the card Monceau left behind. Olivier stopped laughing. It’s funny. They can barge in all they want…
He tossed the cards into the fireplace and turned around, and this time the maid found him, looking embarrassed.
“Well, sir, the food is…”
How much did Monceau put in Henri’s pocket? Even if Henri paid for the errands at a minimum, this is too much.
It was almost disconcerting to look at the sumptuous feast that seemed to have been transported from the Dubois Restaurant.
“What are we going to do with all this expensive food? It must be enough for twenty people.”
“Throw it away.”
With that brief command, Olivier grabbed the wine bottle and headed out onto the terrace. The cold night air on his face was a breath of fresh air.
Ding, ding, ding…
The bell tolled midnight. Olivier slowly lit a cigar and looked out over the bustle of Ezon’s night.
Carriages plodded up and down the boulevard to the right of the apartment, the shouts of drunken stumblers, and the sounds of singing from the alley across the street.
Someone crying, someone laughing out loud.
Often, as I looked down on Ezon’s night, it felt strange. For some reason, I felt alone, strangely isolated.
In my younger days, which I can barely remember, whenever I felt this way, I used to wander the streets alone, visiting museums and theatres.
If I had gone to the grand theatretonight, I wonder how it would have been. The whole world would have been staring at my face, only remembering the actress scandal, it was obvious. Even the actress on stage as well.
Now it’s too late to clear up Grandma’s misunderstanding. I hadn’t realised that the way the world looked at Olivier Dampierre, which I had invented and built up, would turn out to be a noose around my neck.
I know I’ve ruined it all. The fact that I couldn’t stop it now only added to my self-loathing.
When was the last time I enjoyed a theatre performance without any calculations.
I paid huge donations to the opera without ever going near the theatre, and I bought and sold paintings without ever visiting the exhibitions in the salons.
When Olivier Dampierre’s name is mentioned, all the art he loved is turned into disgusting money.
Everywhere he touched turned into gold, at first he was delighted but later he remembered the foolish myth of the one who couldn’t eat or drink anything.
Damn it. I wish I had at least drank some alcohol to feel better. My friends who abandoned me all of a sudden were cruel. The crazy guys who screamed, ‘Olivier doesn’t even have parents!’ or something like that, as if it was a great blessing, came to mind, making me laugh bitterly.
If my grandmother had heard, she would have gone white and slapped the wretch across the face several times.
They’re pretty darn honest.
In fact, those friends were good. Even though he didn’t have any other friends.
He liked their straightforward and fearless words that blatantly invaded the inviolable boundary of Oliver, who was unmatched by anyone, and sometimes even trampled on a line no one else would cross.
He was comfortable with the idiots who barged in on him, even when they called him names and said he was a disgrace. Bastards who could care less about noble duty, family honour, or arranged marriages.
Olivier couldn’t do either of the two properly. It felt impure to fulfill other desires behind the facade of a prosperous household, but he couldn’t openly live recklessly like his friends did by completely abandoning the family name.
He sought a way out by wearing the wrappings of debauchery on the outside. The fake Dampierre was free and true to his desires. Except the love was fake, too.
As Monceau said, this is a perverted sexual desire. He grabbed the long neck of the bottle and poured out the last of the wine.
He grabbed Mademoiselle R’s card, which he’d left lying around in his study, and began scribbling a reply.
The faint moonlight glinted off the nib of his fountain pen as it glided across the paper.