The butler looked at her as if he had no more questions. Instead of asking another question, Estella obediently followed the butler. Javier led her around, explaining this and that.
“Actually, in the lessons with Lady Cecilia, you will be more like a playmate. Lady Cecilia’s language development is a bit slow, so it may be a bit difficult for her to keep up with the usual lessons.”
“Does she not speak much?”
“No, she can only spit out simple words like eat, toilet, and her name.”
“Is Lord Cedric okay?”
“He’s fine, except he’s a bit of a troublemaker. In fact, he’s the one who’s really hard to deal with.”
Javier smiled as he said this, and then began to brag about his master.
“Cedric is also very bright, though not as bright as Duke Diego, the eldest son. I don’t think he’ll be slow to learn.”
‘I don’t know.’
Her brow narrowed slightly. Young boys were the hardest to teach. They’re stronger and more accident-prone than girls. Especially if they have a history of misbehaviour.
She recalled a younger student from her days as a primary school teacher who had fallen out of a second-floor window while playing. It was a long time ago and a world away, but it still struck a chord with her.
There was a boy who doesn’t listen and a girl with a speech impediment…
They were demanding students. Estella had been excited by the high salary offered by the Duke. If there’s one immutable truth in a capitalist society, it’s that there’s no money without a reason.
‘No, isn’t it a capitalist society where social status matters?’
She smiled, then scratched the back of her neck, feeling a little queasy. As she listened more about the two children, she felt a strange sense of familiarity. It was like she had learned their names a while ago.
“For now, I’d like to introduce you to the children you will be teaching.”
Estella followed Javier dutifully, feeling a little nervous. His strides were large, almost overwhelming to keep up with. With all the travelling and the constant explanations, she was barely able to process the mystery of what was happening to her.
Javier stopped in his tracks.
“Lord Cedric’s room is here, and the room at the far end is Lady Cecilia’s.”
She had roughly memorised the locations the butler had pointed out by eye. It was at the end of the corridor, so she wouldn’t forget. Javier looked back at Estella, who was nodding, and then he spoke in a different, more serious tone.
“Before I introduce you to the children, there’s one thing I should warn you about… It’s important that you avoid crossing paths with Duke Diego and the two of you should not come face to face. It would be best if Miss Margret also avoids Duke Diego as much as possible.”
When she looked at him with a perplexed expression, Javier smiled awkwardly. This made her feel even more confused. Earlier, when she mentioned the name ‘Master Diego,’ she had sensed a friendly tone in the butler’s voice. She didn’t understand why he was now describing him as a person of interest.
Javier explained in a reluctant tone.
“Master Diego is a gentleman, and Lord Cedric and Lady Cecilia are also very lovely children, but… there are always adult circumstances at play, no matter where you go. Since Lady Cecilia and Lord Cedric have a different mother from Master Diego, they do not get along very well with each other.”
And again. Another unknown feeling settled over her chest. Diego, Cedric, Cecilia, half-siblings…
Her face stiffened at once.
“…Are you saying the Duke’s name is ‘Diego’?”
The butler nodded, puzzled. Estella’s voice became even lower and more cautious.
“And Lord Cedric and Lady Cecilia, whom I will be teaching…they’re born from a different mother?”
Estella’s face fell. Until this morning, she had been puzzled, not sure why she remembered her past life now. Somehow, now, she felt like she knew why. It was a reason that made her feel more eerie than pleasant.
If the description she’d just heard was real, and if her judgement was correct, this was…
‘Was it entitled「Contract Marriage to a Dangerous Duke」?’
Estella pulled from her memory a novel that her former self had read before she died. The night before her accident, she’d stayed up all night flicking through the pages, so she couldn’t help but remember it, especially if this was the world she’d come to now.
If it were just the family names that were vaguely familiar, Estella would have dismissed them as a coincidence. But with the overlapping ages, genders, and family relationships of the children, she couldn’t deny the reality of the situation. Even her own name appeared in the novel. ‘Miss Margaret’, the governess who looked after the children in the book, was a title Estella would soon have.
Estella desperately tried to organise the book’s contents. Whether the title was The Dangerous Duke or The Evil Duke, it was clear that the heroine had an arranged marriage. As you can imagine from the uninspiring title, the content was just as generic.
The heroine, Adriana, is a poor woman who has been sold to an old, ugly, powerful man. And in order to turn things around, she offers a young nobleman a contract marriage. This man is Diego, the master of the Duchy of Berta and the male protagonist of the novel.
Adriana had nothing of value to trade with him, but she happened to know a secret that Diego hid behind his good-natured face.
That secret was… was the murderer of her father and half-siblings!
Shall I tell you what the memory that just came to mind suggests?
Her current address, the Duchy of Berta, unfortunately belonged to a corrupt family. She was soon to be executed by the most corrupt family.
She heard Javier call out to her, and when she turned around in surprise, he asked anxiously.
“Is there something wrong?”
“Ah, no… I’m just a little worried about how I should behave.”
She hadn’t quite recovered from her confusion, but she was thinking more clearly than she had just now. Somehow, the fact that she could breathe and walk calmed her anxiety. At least now she had a brain to organise her thoughts.
“You don’t have to worry about that, Miss Margaret, your job is to teach the children.”
“… Yes, I understand.”
“We’re running a little late, so why don’t you go inside first.”
Estella was led by Javier into the room where the ‘Master’ was waiting. For a moment, She felt the urge to turn around and run, but the wooden door slammed shut behind her with a chilling sound, as if to say there was nowhere to run. Still, Estella could not bring herself to face the children who would be the cause of her death.
Javier was the first to step forward, approaching Cedric.
“Young master, where is Lady Cecilia?”
“She was here just a moment ago, but she left to go to the loo. You should have come a little earlier.”
The voice replied irritably. Estella walked forward, mesmerised. Cedric’s face, hidden by the butler, slowly revealed itself.
Estella briefly caught sight of Cedric’s face. Although he was quite cute, resembling his mother who was famous for her beauty, his face was full of schemes. He looked quite similar to the image Estella had imagined while reading the novel. From the way he had tightly wrapped the bandages around his knees, which seemed to have been badly injured, Estella could imagine how well he could run. No, even just from the content of the novel, Cedric was an unruly rascal.
‘It’s real, this.’
Estella stopped closing her eyes. She wondered if this was all a nightmare, if she’d had a terrible dream before she’d left home, when she’d been so anxious about travelling so far.
But she had never experienced a dream in which everything was perceived so clearly. There was an overwhelming sense of reality in this space. So much so that she couldn’t deny it wasn’t real.
Estella silently balled her fists. She remembered vividly how the governess, Miss Margaret, had been disposed of in the novel. As a supporting character, Miss Margaret’s screen time had been very poor, but her death had been a memorable scene because she had been with Diego’s half-siblings.
‘Miss Margaret dies trying to protect Cedric and Cecilia during an attack.’ Is that a meaningful death? No, it’s a meaningless death.
‘I’ve already died, and you’re saying I’m going to die again?’
She reflexively clenched her fist at the bleak future. Or perhaps, at the moment she faces death on this side, she will return to her crumpled body. Having finished a long hallucination. However…
She thought suddenly. If this is real, if this crazy thing about being reborn in a novel really happened.
If I run away and leave them behind, I’ll live.
“What the hell, you stupid thing.”
As if he’d caught a glimpse of her thoughts, Cedric’s first words were a personal attack. Estella’s eyes widened.
She was taken aback and couldn’t even respond. At least in South Korea, there was no one of higher status than her. Although they may not listen well, she was still addressed with respect as a teacher. But Cedric was looking down on her, and even showing contempt.
“Your glasses are too thick, I can’t see your eyes. You think you can fight the devil with something that stupid and win?”
Estella muttered in disbelief. The butler, standing behind her, whispered in a troubled voice.
“He’s referring to his biological mother, the madam.”
A boy calling his mother the devil.
Estella was no longer sure she could handle Cedric. Cedric must have noticed that Estella’s reaction to him was less than favourable. Cedric crossed his arms and looked her up and down.
“What are you looking at?”
For a moment, Estella considered very seriously the selfish, unprofessional option.
Should she really ditch him and run away…