“I already showed you that.”
The Prince whispered, glancing in one direction. Natalie’s eyes naturally followed his gaze.
“Anything is possible.”
She turned to see Dorothy smiling, surrounded by people.
“Who do you think you’re dealing with, you better dream big, and….”
She muttered something disagreeable and lifted her gaze back up to the prince. He was smiling, his brows drawn together playfully.
“That’s fine. From now on, don’t hold back any thoughts that come to mind, and don’t worry about anyone’s judgment. Just be yourself, like you did just now. Okay?”
The prince may have been an unlucky man, but his charming laughter provided such a visually stimulating experience that even amid the feeling that tears might burst forth, Natalie’s heart trembled. Without hesitation, she nodded and looked at him.
“If you will grant me the next dance, it will all begin.”
The prince said, taking a step forward in time to the music. Natalie took a step back.
Dancing twice with the same person at a ball meant implicitly becoming partners for the season.
In other words, they were considered a man and woman in the depths of marriage talks.
“From that moment on, I’ve become a crazy fool deeply infatuated with you. I will come to see you every day, dressed up like a peacock1used metaphorically to describe someone who is dressed in a flashy or ostentatious manner, often implying that they are seeking attention or trying to stand out.2.”
This time she took a step away and he took a step closer.
“At the end of this season, I will propose to you, and we will get married before the pheasant hunting season begins. Just wait and see.”
He had the luxury of leading the dance, explaining the crucial manoeuvres and watching her movements.
“And one year later, we will get divorced. This time, it will be the opposite, twice.”
As Natalie was earnestly taking her turn, upon hearing the word ;divorce,’ she instinctively furrowed her brow. As a citizen on Grand Batten, she had an unavoidable, visceral aversion to the word.
“If you’ll accept me, of course.”
Accept he says, but just by looking at his face, anyone could discern that he held the upper hand.
The music, incidentally, was a cheerful waltz. Maybe it was the pressure of answering before it was over, or maybe it was the man in front of her who kept talking at a frenetic pace, but the tempo seemed three times faster.
In short, Natalie’s judgement was not very good at the time.
Time passed quickly, and finally the song ended. The two faced each other. Natalie couldn’t take her eyes off the prince as she bowed in reflex. He, too, looked at her throughout the brief moment of silence.
As the other men and women separated and left the floor, the Prince took a step toward her and held out his hand as he had the first time.
“Miss Dowse, would you like to dance one more song?”
It was like he was asking, Are you ready?
This is so crazy, but I really can’t help it.
As a low-ranking noble of Warfield, Natalie could not dare to defy the prince of this country.
She told herself that excuse.
Didn’t he threaten to kill anyone who refuses him? The guilt-ridden people can do nothing but quietly take his hand.
Most of all, Dorothy could find a husband, her family could be okay.
The answers didn’t come easily, but they were there all along.
At the moment of taking his hand, it felt as if the country would crumble, but surprisingly, there was no apparent change. No curses or insults flew at that moment, and the Astius royal family did not disappear from history.
Natalie stared at her hand in disbelief, then suddenly looked up.
“It will be fine, I assure you. I have never failed.”
At that moment, the prince whispered. His confident expression and voice filled her with trust, admiration and jealousy.
“I also know how to respect my partner, so don’t worry, I’ll be good to you.”
It was during that moment, with a vague thought that taking the prince’s hand might not be a bad choice, that Natalie adjusted her posture once again. Getting ready for the next dance, he said
“If you’re ready, we’ll begin.”
At Natalie’s puzzled look, the prince replied simply.
“To play the part of a man going mad for Natalie Dowse.”
True. Nothing is off limits.
Natalie’s face crumpled at the prince’s last whispered words.
He was far too well-behaved for a woman who had been confined to her room like a plant for three years.
“Mr Heaton, what is it?”
“Lady Savile, just a moment.”
Roger Heaton muttered, staring off into the distance toward the dance floor.
Roger, who normally wouldn’t have been invited to the Duchess of Horace’s ball, let alone have the chance to exchange a casual hello with her, had the good fortune to attend the Duchess’s ball as an escort for Georgiana, Countess of Savile.
The noble lady, who had never paid him a glance, was suddenly interested in what was going on. So there Roger was, mingling with Georgiana. Georgiana introduced the younger naval lieutenant as a new friend, but people recognised him as her lover.
“I know someone, so I’m going to say hello for a minute.”
Roger instinctively knew something interesting had happened on the dance floor. He addressed Georgiana in a moderately sweet voice, and she, quite drunk, giggled and nodded.
Some noble and important figure had appeared, and Roger began to make his way through the crowd, intent on getting his face seen. As he made his way through the dense crowd, his eyes finally caught sight of several couples making their way across the floor.
Not seeing the diminutive lady, Roger nudged her shoulder.
“I apologise, lady. I’m afraid I’m not allowed to…. Auntie?”
“…Oh, my, Roger?”
“Lady Wa, Baroness. What brings you here?”
Roger refrained from addressing her as ‘Lady Warfield’, conscious of his surroundings. It had once been a point of pride for him to have a close cousin with a title, but not now. Who knew, maybe someone would remember the name that had become a mockery, and the last thing he needed was to be involved in a scandal.
“…It is a long time since I have seen you. How is your mother? Ah, I followed them as a chaperone.”
The Baroness was not amused. After receiving an insulting letter from her sister, Mrs Heaton, over Natalie’s affairs, she had severed ties and lived as she pleased.
“Ah, that’s right. Of course, my mother is fine too. Is the Baroness comfortable too?”
“I’m fine…. I’ve been fine. Quietly.”
‘How can you be here if you’ve been so quiet?’
Roger had spent months trying to get Georgiana to come to this ball, and now he was here. He squinted his eyes and quickly scanned the Baroness. Her dress, he could see now, was quite a fine piece of luxury. Far beyond that of any of the other ladies.
Roger asked cautiously.
“But… when you say you’ve come to chaperone, you mean Dorothy, don’t you?”
“Yes, that’s right, and….”
The Baroness trailed off, jerking her head towards the dance floor, where the party was in full swing. Roger’s gaze naturally travelled to the floor as well.
Roger’s face contorted uncontrollably. It was uncomfortable to run into someone who was no longer his immediate boss, but who was still his boss, at a ball like this. And he wasn’t the kind of guy who enjoyed being bullied.
So when Roger heard the servant’s voice earlier announcing Prince Ian’s entrance, he ducked out of the way. He hadn’t expected to see him until the ball was over, and he hadn’t expected him to be on the dance floor.
‘What’s up with him?’
He was notorious for not enjoying dancing, let alone partying, and yet.
Here was the dashing, arrogant prince, who was known to only appear at parties when he was escorting Princess Charlotte or a princess from another country, dancing with some middle-aged lady.
Soon, however, Roger realised that the prince’s dance partner was a young lady, albeit one who was dressed to not to impress. She looked to be in her twenties at most, with a clear, young face.
Roger muttered to himself as his aunt, the Baroness, whom he had momentarily forgotten, whispered as if sharing a secret.
“Actually, Natalie was invited so Dorothy and I could come along.”
Roger blinked, not understanding the Baroness’s words for a moment. A thought flashed through his mind.
Once more, more slowly this time, his eyes followed the direction of the Baroness’s gaze.
A young woman, dressed in a heavy gown for her age.
Pale skin, dark eyes and hair, a young face.
No way. Roger muttered dumbly.
The second most interesting event at the Duchess of Horace’s ball, which lasted until five in the morning last night, was that the queen of Duan high society had finally become the chaperone of a young lady.
That lucky lady was Miss Dorothy Dowse, of the barony of Warfield.
She was to be housed in the ducal outbuildings on the Westside. She was accompanied by her mother, Baroness Warfield, and her sister, Miss Natalie Dowse.
In time for a slow breakfast, the three mother and daughters gathered in the breakfast room on the ground floor of the house.
The table was set with scrambled eggs, sausages, sliced tomatoes, smoked herring, and tea and coffee. But there wasn’t even a clink of cutlery from earlier.
Of course, Baron Warfield rarely took breakfast. The unassuming baron had no interest in so-called aristocratic formalities.
But even taking that into account, the mood at the table was sombre and murderous.
Natalie stared silently at the newspapers and papers of the day that had been laid out on the table in place of food.
It was an illusion that the headlines seemed clearer today.
The first and most interesting event to occur at last night’s ball was, of course, Prince Ian dancing with a lady ‘twice.’