As soon as I get back to my apartment, I’m going to freshen up and smoke a cigar until my head hurts.
I feel dirty, like I’ve got something on me, and I need to ritualistically wash it off, and then I’ll feel better when I get to my holiday hotel.
Numbly watching the rapidly passing scenery, Olivier tried to erase the strange memories of the previous night.
It had ended well, he thought, just as he had hoped.
He had given a ring to one of the maids at Biché’s mansion and asked her to marry him. A foolish nobleman running away in love with a lowly maid.
Ezon would be upset for a while, and with my name in the mud, the excessive interest from the marriage market would diminish. My grandmother would stop talking about it until things calmed down.
Mademoiselle R. would have a field day. The thought of having my ego stroked and having to wear a badge of honour gave me a momentary thrill.
My heart sank even more when I saw the bouquet of flowers left in the carriage. Shouldn’t I have given it to her?
After staring at the bouquet for a while, Olivier buried himself in the sheet and closed his eyes. His face was hollow, as if he had fallen apart, and it scratched at the back of his mind.
His assistant, Henri, however, seemed relieved that things had gone so well.
“So, how did you manage to capture the sunshine of Biché? You’ve certainly got the connection you were looking for.”
Just then, as the carriage turned onto the bridge into the centre of Ezon, the morning sun, stinging in the eyes, poured in unbidden.
“She has such a pretty face. Haven’t you seen?”
Olivier narrowed his eyes and peered out the window. The golden waters of the Loire River glistened in ecstasy.
“I don’t know either. It wasn’t a situation to laugh about.”
An afterimage of light burrowed into his closed eyes. The maid’s bloodless face twitched again.
As he pondered, the carriage passed over the end of the bridge, and Olivier’s groping face was soon buried in the shadows of the building. It was then that Henri’s voice broke in.
“I, by the way… We have a little problem. You should see it for yourself, master.”
Olivier took the piece of paper Henri held out to him.
* * *
“It’s the Duke of Dampierre!”
The entrance hall of the apartment was packed with reporters who had heard the rumours. The burly valets held out their hands menacingly and tried to shoo the reporters away, but it was no use.
“You proposed to Biché’s maid!”
“What does it mean to propose in public?”
It seemed like opening the door of the carriage was not an easy task as they clung to it like a tedious routine, persistently following him whenever he tried to shoo it away.
“It has become very noisy, just as you wish it to be… At this rate, it will be difficult to get inside the house.”
Olivier, who was burying himself in the sheets with his arms folded, ignoring the reporters at the door, suddenly called out to Henri.
“Henri, about that maid, I want you to go to the Biché right now and get her.”
“I’ve changed my mind. We’re going to stay together.”
“I know how to handle it. It’ll be more difficult when the Biché mansion is crowded, so hurry up.”
As soon as he finished speaking, Olivier sprang to his feet and unlocked the carriage door. As soon as he stepped out, reporters with notebooks swarmed around him like bees.
“Did you have the permission of the Duchess Eleanor Dampierre to do this?”
“What happened to your relationship with the actress Charlotte!”
“It’s a relationship between a maid and a little duke. It will cause quite a stir in aristocratic society!”
There were shouts everywhere. Surrounded by valets, Olivier slowly made his way through the crowd.
With a few nods here and there, he left the reporters behind and entered the apartment.
After watching him for a while, Henri sighed heavily and signalled to his coachman.
The reporters who were milling about in front of the door turned their heads to Henri’s carriage, but Dampierre’s carriage was already speeding away from the street.
Olivier pushed open the grille and got into the elevator.
He actually hated lifts. They made him feel like he was in a cage. He usually took the stairs, but now that he didn’t have the strength to walk up them, it was the only option.
He pressed the button firmly, and the pulley slowly began to grind with the sound of the machine turning.
Running an irritated hand through his hair, Olivier took a deep breath. In one hand, he held the bill of sale for the southern mansion he’d given Henri.
His grandmother must have been crazy with money.
The southern cottage where Olivier had planned to spend the summer had been sold months ago. She’d even frozen the family’s accounts, worried that Olivier would live large while she was gone.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Olivier will starve to death… Even though he caused a big accident to resist his grandmother’s restrains in his own way… Everything is still the same
The lift had already reached the third floor, but Olivier, who hadn’t gotten off yet and was leaning against the wall, suddenly looked down at his feet.
Hardened mud dripped from the square carpet on the floor. He had gotten mud on the soles of his shoes when he’d walked hand-in-hand with Amélie along the lakeshore. Olivier shook the mud off his shoes with a grimace.
Every time he slapped the toe of his shoe against the ground, the damp soil crumbled into stormwater and stained the floor. It reminded him of that clean, clean face, white nape, and the quiet scenery of the lakeside.
This miserable feeling somehow felt like it would improve a bit if he could see Amélie Gagnier. That famous, sunshine-like smile… But she probably wouldn’t show it. Not in the meantime.
The first thing that came to mind was the tortured gaze that kept darting downward at every opportunity, as if looking for a place to hide. He wondered what it must be like to live your life looking down at your feet instead of looking people in the eye.
He remembered the face that had stood calmly in front of Olivier the whole time, even though he had put her through that. How frustrating, when you’re annoyed, you should punch people like me…
Frowning, Olivier rubbed his heels together. With a harsh scraping sound, the remaining dirt came off completely.
* * *
“Give it to me, Amélie.”
Georges snatched Amélie’s suitcase from her hands. Despite the fact that it was barely a suitcase, Georges gripped the handle of the trunk tightly and refused to let go.
“You don’t have to do this, Georges.”
She tried again and again, but he wouldn’t budge. Mrs Maxine, who had been watching the pointless struggle, whispered to leave it alone.
“Amélie, write to me when you’ve calmed down. I’ll meet you in Ezon.”
Amélie nodded and smiled. She tried not to cry, but tears kept welling up.
“If anyone asks for me at the Dampierres, tell them I’ve already left… The secret, please keep it well. I went far away with the Duke.”
Maxine raised her arms and pulled Amélie into a tight embrace. It was truly the last hug.
“Goodbye, Amélie. Be well, and I’ll see you again.”
* * *
The carriage drove out of the mansion without incident and gradually picked up speed. Endless fields of barley stretched as far as the eye could see, swaying in the breeze.
The warm morning sun fell warmly on her eyelids, and she felt her mind drift away as she relaxed.
Yes, this is going to work.
Sinking into the rocking carriage, Amélie leaned her weary head against the window and closed her eyes.
The night’s commotion was over. Perhaps it was nothing, she thought nonchalantly, as she drifted off to sleep.
Suddenly, Amélie’s mind flashes back to the moment when she locked eyes with the duke on the lakeshore.
The heat from their clasped hands. The long silence, as if the dawn air had stopped moving. Eyes looking into each other without words. It was a moment when the lustful atmosphere of the late night obscured their reason.
Amélie remembered clearly the man’s face tilting towards her as if drawn. And the gasp that escaped her lips as they slowly opened in instinctive thirst.
They were close enough to smell each other’s scent. Unconsciously, she brushed her fingertips across her lips and inhaled deeply.
If it weren’t for the chimes of midnight, we would have kissed.
But in the end, she was glad nothing had happened. She don’t know about him, but she doesn’t think she could have forgotten that moment until the day she died.
The moment when they held hands and walked together by the river, and then suddenly separated from each other as the midnight bell rang through the deep darkness. The way she felt so miserably small in front of a gorgeous man.
She was glad it was over before they could get further entangled. She repeated once more with more force. Beautiful things are poison.
The fresh smell of spring wafted in through the half-open carriage window.
Amélie had just taken a deep breath of the warmth of the spring air.
“Amélie, hold on!”
Amélie’s carriage, which had been travelling at a steady pace, suddenly lurched sharply to the right.
At the same time, a loud clatter of horse hooves sounded as a large carriage thundered past them.
The power of the large carriage, pulled by four horses at full speed, was indeed great. The mere passing of it shook her to the core.
The wind was so strong that Amélie’s little carriage swayed impatiently from side to side before coming to a halt.
Amélie coughed softly as a cloud of dust rushed in through the open window. Georges looked back at her.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine.”
Amélie picked up her hat from the ground and dusted it off. She tied her hair back into a ponytail, tidying up the mess from the rush.