Lady Bennett had the look on her face that said, ‘Caught you,’ as she raised her voice with a fraudulent welcoming tone.
“Aren’t you Lady Charlize?”
“Greetings, Lady Bennett.”
I tried to be as cordial as possible when I greeted her.
Lady Bennett approached me slowly.
“Ah. You’re not a flower in a crannied wall, why are you here alone?
“Right. She’s the fiancee of the Crown Prince and yet, her fiance isn’t even asking her for the next dance.”
“I would be so ashamed if I were her.”
“Oh, me too!”
In that way, the ladies in Lady Bennett’s party, one by one added their own take.
Lady Bennett with a triumphant look led the group with her more dominant presence.
“Since it’s your first time attending such a large-scale ball, I was worried you might not be able to properly dress up.”
Lady Bennett scanned me from top to bottom, subtly narrowing her brow as if she disliked what she saw.
“But still….you’re decent to look at.”
“That dress you’re wearing…I believe it’s Madame Rosita’s handiwork?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
I gave a big nod.
Lady Bennet with an astounded expression snorted at me.
“Ha, you’re joking. Madame Rosita went from dressing the noblest of ladies to accepting commoners?”
“Madame Rosita did me a favor.”
I was trying to move the conversation along.
But Lady Bennett continued to dwell on the subject and became more provocative with her tone.
“Favor? A favor? Look here. Madame Rosita is a star, she took the fashion business by storm.”
Lady Bennet clicked her tongue.
It was as if she was correcting me on a supposed mistake.
“I’m sorry to say this, but that dress is too shabby for someone like you to wear, Lady Charlize.”
Lady Bennett again looked at me from top to bottom. This time she did so more blatantly and with contempt.
Then she widened her eyes and spoke condescendingly.
“It’s worrying, to think you spent years’ worth of salaries on that dress….”
“It’s fine. What you’re worried about didn’t happen.”
“Really? That’s a relief, because it would have pained my heart if it were so.”
A dark smile crept its way onto Lady Bennett’s lips.
“Just so you know, if everyone starts going to Madame Rosita’s and wears the dress you’re wearing, the prestige of Madame Rosita’s boutique will plummet.”
Lady Bennett covered her mouth with an exaggerated gesture.
“Hmm, oh. I didn’t mean to imply that Lady Charlize’s dress is a common one.”
I looked at Lady Bennet with an unfazed expression.
Meanwhile, Lady Bennet continued with an exultant demeanor.
“Ah, did you have to cry and bawl in desperation as you held onto the hem of that dress so that they would sell it to you?”
“I did no such thing. I’m not like Lady Bennett.”
“A maid’s salary is so paltry, if you didn’t cling onto Madame Rosita she’d never…..wait, what did you say?”
Maybe it was because of my nonchalant tone, Lady Bennett only registered what I’d said several seconds after.
She turned to me, her eyes staring directly at me.
“Lady Bennett seems like the exact type to cling onto Madame Rosita for days on end, just to receive one of her dresses.”
I curled the tips of my lips upwards.
“I was able to get a dress that fit me perfectly and I didn’t have to cling one bit to anyone as you’d assume.”
“His Highness, the Crown Prince lent me Madame Rosita’s entire dresser.”
At my calm response, Lady Bennett’s face hardened.
The people around us, who were watching us argue, also became wide-eyed.
“Oh, my God, His Highness, the Crown Prince?”
“You’re very attentive,” I said sarcastically.
“Madame Rosita’s boutique, I also wanted to get a handkerchief there….”
The young ladies who trailed Lady Bennet began to chime in or rather whine among themselves.
“Come to think of it, Madame Rosita hasn’t been commissioned in the last week or so.”
“Could it actually be because the Crown Prince rented the whole boutique for his fiancee?”
The whispers were short-lived.
For Lady Bennett had turned to look daggers at the ladies, striking fear in them.
The ladies sucked in their lips and quickly covered their mouths.
Watching what unfolded, I posed a question to Lady Bennett.
“You know what, Lady Bennett?”
“Usually, people ironically lash out at others where they think they’re weakest at or lacking in.”
Lady Bennett’s face turned red in an instant.
I just smiled brightly.
“It seems more as if you wanted a Madame Rosita dress, Lady Bennett.”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. Why would I want one?”
“Because I’ve listened to you talk only about Madame Rosita and her dresses the whole conversation.”
I know people might be able to tolerate her but I can only do it in moderation before needing to move on.
I didn’t like Lady Bennett because she kept snubbing me, so I didn’t exactly express my thoughts in the kindest of ways.
I shook my head with grace.
“Well, you must feel upset.”
“I beg your pardon?!”
“You kept looking down on me because I was a ‘commoner,’ but do you even have a dress like the one I’m wearing?”
Perhaps hitting the nail on the head, Lady Bennet bit her lip.
I ended our exchange with a glowing smile.
“Madame Rosita wasn’t as prejudiced as you are, Lady Bennett. That’s why she gladly let me wear her dress.”
At that moment, she stood there quiet as if she had been doused with cold water.
Lady Bennett with trembling shoulders looked at me.
What is she going to do now?
I met her gaze calmly.
“Hmph! No matter how pretty any dress is, it has to be complemented with other accessories as well.”
Thinking she couldn’t take a loss like this, Lady Bennett clenched her teeth and opened her mouth.
“Those old-fashioned earrings and necklaces of yours, they don’t match that dress at all.”
I paused and stiffened my shoulders.
Old-fashioned earrings and necklaces?
But this jewelry.
‘The Empress dowager gave me these as a gift.’
Oh God, she’s going to get herself in trouble.
Lady Bennett glared at me with venomous eyes.
“In fact, what does Lady Charlize know about beauty?”.
“Er, Lady Bennett. Those words….”
I hurriedly tried to stop Lady Bennett.
Despite how disrespectful Lady Bennett was, does anything good ever come from speaking ill of Her Majesty, the Empress dowager?
But Lady Bennett was so caught up with herself she raised her voice as if to draw everyone’s attention.
“Do you know when these pearls were fashionable? The knick-knacks were popular during my grandmother’s generation….”
“My apologies then about that.”
At that unexpected voice, people turned around to see who it was.
I let out a small gasp.
Speak of the devil, when did she get here….
“Greetings, Your Majesty, the Empress dowager.”
I bent my knees and curtsied to the Empress dowager.
Beginning with me, everyone hastily followed my example, becoming terribly polite.
After that, I quickly approached the Empress dowager.
“When did Her Majesty arrive? If I had known you were coming, I would have met up with you.”
“It’s fine. It’s burdensome when everyone’s eyes are always focused on me even when I’m idle, so I decided to attend sometime after the ball had started.
The Empress dowager, who answered so, then squinted at Lady Bennett.
“Just so you know, I gave her those gifts because I cherish her in my own way….”
Her smile was bereft of any warmth and intimidating.
…..whoa, it was the first time I had seen the Empress dowager smile coldly.
“Perhaps you wouldn’t have gotten into this mess if I hadn’t given you a gift.”
As the crowd heard her words, they exchanged astonished looks with each other.
“It was gifted to her by the Empress dowager herself?!”
“The rumors were true, Lady Charlize is favored by the Empress dowager too.”
“Well, then Lady Bennett…”
People stared at Lady Bennett from all sides.
Consequently, the situation reached this point because her actions were no different than bad-mouthing the Empress dowager to her face.
Lady Bennett’s complexion turned as pale as a ghost’s.
‘I feel bad for her.’
Even I, who had no fondness for Lady Bennett, thought so on impulse.
However, the Empress dowager’s words weren’t over yet.
“By the way, what was it you said to Lady Charlize earlier, about not being a flower in a crannied wall?”
Lady Bennett desperately tried to make excuses.
To her dismay, the Empress dowager would have none of it.
Instead, the Empress dowager gently looked over her shoulder.
“What do you think, Duke of Rochester?”
“…..who said that about her? Who called her that?”
An infuriated voice rang out from the crowd.
I swallowed my saliva.
W-When did the Duke of Rochester involve himself?
His gaze was like a sharp blade, the Duke scanned those around me.
His eyes alternated rapidly like a sword being swung wildly.
“Who among you dared to say such insolent words to the Crown Prince’s fiancee?”
As soon as the Duke’s gaze reached someone, they hurriedly averted their gaze.
Among the frightened crowd was, of course, Lady Bennett.
Her Majesty, the Empress dowager lightly shrugged her shoulders.
“I know. I was surprised to hear that too.”
The Duke gnashed his molars and strode towards me.
Then he extended his hand.
“Kid….no, Lady Charlize.”
Wow, to be called ‘Lady Charlize’ by the Duke.
It felt strange, maybe even a bit surreal.
The Duke gritted his teeth and continued.
“I wanted to ask you to dance.”
“Oh, thank you.”
I shyly joined a hand with the Duke.
On our way to the dance floor, the Duke didn’t make any effort to hide his fierce gaze.