“Rumour has it that Prince Ian will be getting married soon, before his coronation.”
Suddenly, someone’s voice pierced her ears.
After confirming that it wasn’t anyone she knew, she relaxed even more. She unconsciously wondered if it was just an old habit that her body was remembering.
She instinctively turned to the direction of the sound and saw two ladies fanning themselves with silk fans. She listened in on their conversation.
“Then it must be Princess Sophia of Fossa, isn’t it?”
“She’s the likely candidate. She’s also the queen’s favourite niece.”
“So Prince Ian is determined to marry her. Does this mean that Princess Charlotte will never marry?”
“It’s been a long time, my lady….”
She wanted to eavesdrop a little longer, but their chatter was interrupted by a gentleman approaching them and bowing.
Natalie felt a pang of regret. She suddenly wondered what it would have been like to have been invited to a ball like this three years ago. It would have been an inspiration.
‘I wouldn’t have danced a single dance, but I would have swept the walls, eavesdropping on the conversations of the guests and the stories of the servants, and share them to Emily or Christina….’
She winced as she continued to imagine, and felt terribly ashamed to realise that she had forgotten why she was here. She had been eavesdropping and delusional out of habit.
‘You’re beyond help, Natalie.’
As much as she wanted to go back to the hotel and cower in a corner right now, she couldn’t, unfortunately.
‘When the hell is the princess going to show up?’
The ball had been going on for ages. They were already into the third dance and the ball’s hostess, Princess Charlotte, still hadn’t appeared.
Natalie was about to say hello to the Princess and head back to the hotel when she became impatient.
The music was building to a climax. This one would be over soon. It was time for the gentlemen to come round to ask for another dance.
To avoid them, Natalie took her back to the wall and began to move slowly, but it wasn’t long before her legs stopped. She spotted Dorothy walking across the floor, holding a gentleman’s hand.
“Hmm… He looks elegant but seems a bit older…”
Regardless of the fact that Dorothy can be a crazy dog sometimes, she would never let anyone mess with her younger sister because of her inwardly bent arms1To side with someone who is close to oneself or favor something which is related to oneself to one’s own advantage..
Still, the two of them got along quite well, chatting away in the midst of their frantic steps. Most of all, Dorothy looks like she’s having fun.
And beyond them, she could see her mother standing across the floor, watching Dorothy. She had been fidgeting the whole time, but now she had a gentle smile on her face.
Natalie couldn’t take her eyes off the smiles of her mother and sister, whom she hadn’t seen in a long time. For some reason, she felt the corners of her mouth twitch upward with excitement.
So much so that she didn’t notice the shadowy figure approaching her.
“Miss Dowse, is that you?”
The sudden sound of her name behind her back sent chills down her spine.
Dowse, did I hear that wrong? Her brain went into overdrive.
Natalie chose to move away. Pretending she hadn’t heard the voice calling her, she took a step forward without looking back.
But the voice calling out to her was louder and clearer than before. Natalie turned around in horror.
“…Good evening, my lord.”
He was a very kind-looking man who appeared to be around the same age as her father. Although she had never met him before, he behaved as if he knew her well. This only added to her confusion, and she chose her words carefully so as not to cause any disturbance.
“I visited Duan after a very long time, and I’m ashamed to say that there were many people whose faces I didn’t remember. If it’s not too much trouble, may I ask for your name…?”
“Greetings, I am the Earl of Humperwood.”
“Ah…. I see.”
She felt like she had heard of the prestigious family before, but he was still a complete stranger to her. Her heart began to beat rapidly. She could only imagine the worst possible intentions of the middle-aged man who had approached her. Trying to hide her trepidation, she asked him.
“So how does Lord Humperwood know me….?”
“You happen to have a blank dance card.”
The old Earl cut her off, his voice raspy as if he were shouting. All eyes around the room focused on her, and Natalie, startled by the sudden behaviour, squared her shoulders.
“Please do me the honour of dancing with me for the next song.”
‘Shit. I’m screwed.’
The dance request card of Natalie was not empty. It’s been dozens of times since she’s been to a ball. To avoid dance requests, she had filled out the card in advance with false names.
But the Earl seemed to know all about the behaviour of young women who weren’t interested in dancing.
It is not good manners to refuse to dance when there is no one to dance with. The middle-aged gentleman was experienced. Maybe he was drunk, though he looked sober on the outside.
What’s certain is that if you were to come here, you would be at a disadvantage if you falsely filled the dance request card.
Natalie agreed to the dance with a feeling of vomiting blood. She could feel the curious eyes looking for gossip dissipating.
At the same time, the old earl smiled, his wrinkled eyes twinkling. Natalie knew she’d made a terrible mistake when she saw his face turn from benign to grotesque in an instant.
Of all dances, it had to be the waltz. The old earl gripped her hand tightly and pressed his shoulder against hers too forcefully, causing her pain.
“My lord. Your shoulders are too close, please keep your distance.”
“Ah…. Is that so?”
Natalie pointed out in a stiff voice, and the Earl reacted with surprise. He moved away obediently, but with even more force in his clasped hands. Natalie stifled her instinctive rejection by clenching her teeth together.
Throughout the dance, the old count continued to stare and talk to her. Natalie tried to think of as many other things as she could, and kept repeating that she was sorry, but she couldn’t hear him.
‘Ah. Why can’t I just pluck out his eyeballs and throw them away.’
However, she couldn’t do anything about those dirty eyes right away, so she was suffocated. At this rate, it may be possible to pull off that elusive fainting spell.
But the real shock and awe awaited Natalie at the climax of the song, after a spectacular turn.
“You’ve been acting so innocent all this time, but isn’t coercion your taste?”
“I’m sorry, but it’s noisy around here and I can’t hear you…. What…?”
Natalie, who was muttering a canned response, paused. Her lips parted in horror.
Oh, God. Mother, what have I just heard?
The offended man was, to her surprise, reciting a line from David’s novel, which had been discontinued three years ago.
“Were you a maid for Lady Mabel, by any chance? I’ve seen you at charity balls and racecourses. You’re not a great beauty, but your uncommon appearance is memorable.”
The old earl whispered sullenly.
What do you mean Christina’s maid. There were even some impolite comments about her appearance, but she didn’t have the mental energy to pick on such things.
“I did not recognise you as David then.”
She couldn’t believe it. She wanted someone to tell her it was a dream.
“You were that David, and your reappearance in front of me must mean that we were meant to be.”
Oh my God, what the hell is this crazyold man talking about.
Natalie barely swallowed her scream. She was surprised she was still pacing, determined to remain inconspicuous.
“I also know what you want.”
“What the fuck…. What the fuck do you know….”
A panicked Natalie unintentionally muttered a swear word that David might have used, and the old count grinned in amusement.
“Ha ha…. I know you have this innocent face, but inside you are as lustful as anyone.”
Finally, Natalie was completely at a loss for words. Her opponent was apparently a severely delusional person who could not distinguish between reality and fantasy.
“Let me fill you up.”
Pervert. A disgusting pervert had appeared.
The music ended just in time.
As soon as Natalie rejected the old count’s hand, she took a step back and turned her back firmly, starting to leave the dance floor after giving a curt curtsy. The thought of getting out of there right away made her steps increasingly urgent.
Before knew it, he suddenly used her name to address her instead of a title. At this rate, he might as well propose and get married to her without her permission.
Having gone through three social seasons, she had boasted that she had experienced almost all the scandals and intrigues that could happen, but now she felt like crying.
‘I was worried that I’d bump into someone I knew. How could a crazy perverted old man recognize my face….’
As she walked quickly while occasionally looking back in anxiety, it seemed like the pervert was not giving up and still following her. As a guest of the royal ball, she had to maintain her dignified manner by greeting acquaintances she met along the way. While doing so, the terror of the man gradually closing in on her was overwhelming.
‘What should I do? Where can I drop it to get rid of him? If I keep attracting attention like this…’
Even now, she could feel several eyes on her. At this rate, all the guests would know that ‘David’ had come to Duan without fear.
Gritting her teeth, she made her way to a relatively deserted area.
Passing through the gate that led to the garden, she couldn’t help but feel relieved. This time, there was no one, and it was almost too empty. She thought that being chased by a pervert was a problem in and of itself.
Natalie’s eyes darted about, searching for a way out. Just in time, she spotted the guards patrolling the gardens.
“Guards! Guards! Over here.”
It was the princess’s ball after all, Natalie thought, and she sprinted toward it.
“There’s a well-dressed but uninvited person sneaking in there. He’s a middle-aged man, please check him out.”
Thankfully, the eager, urgent tone of her voice made the guard take the matter seriously, and he moved in the direction Natalie had run.
“My lord, this is not a place where just anyone can enter. Show me your invitation.”
“You bastard, how dare you not know who I am!”
‘Don’t call me by my name.’
Sitting down haphazardly in a corner of the garden, Natalie tried to catch her breath. She could hear the sound of footsteps getting closer than she had anticipated. It seemed like the stalker was following her more closely than before.
Natalie chewed on her lips nervously and stood up again, leaving the path and cutting through the bushes deeper and deeper into the garden. It was a pitiful feeling to explore the garden alone at night.
She wondered how long she had been wandering through the dense foliage.
Suddenly, a spacious area opened up in front of her.
- 1To side with someone who is close to oneself or favor something which is related to oneself to one’s own advantage.