Chapter 8. Room 301.
Summer led Liri around, quickly explaining the hotel. “It’s about fetching and returning room laundry. Easy, right?” Liri diligently noted down the details in her notebook.
“They usually decline late-night requests. We need our sleep too, you know? Oh, and jewellery is not allowed,” Summer said, pointing to the rocket pendant around Liri’s neck.
In the underground corridor, there were bells labelled with room numbers on the wall, and strings extending somewhere. “Pull the string in the room, and the bell will ring. You just need to go through this underground passage to get to the hotel.”
The hotel seen from the outside and the hotel experienced from within were different. Opulent chandeliers, frescoes depicting ancient Roman gardens, and beautiful carpets were only part of the hotel. It was a far cry from anything resembling nobility. The small and humble community of Yongin was inside the hotel.
“I’ll introduce you to your accommodations as well. You’ll be using the bed that Bennett used,” Summer mentioned.
The room was plain, lacking even basic furniture. Liri sat on the small bed, stuffed with chicken feathers, which was placed somewhat haphazardly. Like most maids, she would likely endure rigorous work, but for now, having a place to rest her body was a relief.
[To Sister Bellina,
Sister, I haven’t been able to send letters due to being busy. I’ve started working at Bellmore Hotel (please cross out this sentence when reading).
I’m going through a nervous first week. Strangely, the people at the hotel, who have never seen Bellmore, seem to like him. They pay well.]
Liri paused after writing that sentence and then raised her pen again.
[They’ve all graduated from maid school, but I’m the only one from the convent. Still, I’m working diligently not to fall behind. I haven’t made any big mistakes yet.
When I receive my first paycheck, I’ll visit the convent. And the paintings are safe. I still visit Sister Bridget’s grave from time to time….]
“Elizabeth, are you writing a love letter or something? If not, put out that light immediately,” Summer whispered. Liri slipped the letter between the pages of her book and extinguished the light.
* Ring * Ring *
When about a month had passed, Summer called Liri before starting work one day.
“Elizabeth, from today, you’ll be working alone.”
“Alone? What if I make a mistake?”
Ignoring Liri’s response, Summer glanced at herself in the mirror and replied matter-of-factly, “Mistakes can be corrected during the probation. Starting today, you’ll be in charge of the laundry for the third-floor rooms.”
Upon hearing the mention of the third floor, Liri immediately thought of the man in room 301, a memory she had tried to forget. Since the incident on that day when she fled from the bed in room 301, she hadn’t seen the man again. Summer misunderstood Liri’s silence.
“The third floor has many small rooms to attend to, but that’s not a bad thing.”
Liri nodded in response. She couldn’t bring herself to mention the man she had met in Hebron.
“Now, let’s go.”
Liri adjusted her bonnet while looking at herself in the mirror, dressed in a black maid’s uniform with a white apron. She looked quite competent, like an experienced maid. Liri briefly prayed, hoping she would handle her tasks as well as her outward appearance suggested.
* * *
Christopher enjoyed his alone time after a day’s work. He would sit deeply on a plush sofa, sipping whiskey and reflecting on the day.
“They say they searched Hybrom, but no one has seen such a woman.”
As far as he was concerned, her absence was a blessing. The nun leaving for East Longfellow had left an enigmatic message.
“Let it flow as the Lord wishes, but do not become too arrogant.”
At least for Bellmore, those words were wrong. The convent had moved according to Bellmore’s plan. If he could find the woman and send her far away, it would be enough.
Christopher rang the bell, summoning a maid. He needed clothes for his appointment with Cecile tomorrow. Shortly after, someone knocked on the door and politely entered, greeting him.
Normally, he wouldn’t have spared a glance, but the person’s turned back seemed oddly familiar.
“Can you take all the clothes here?”
Upon hearing the maid’s voice as she tidied up while facing away, he set down his glass with a clink, making a noise loud enough to startle her. Startled by the sound, the maid turned around. Upon seeing her face directly, he spoke.
“So, you’ve returned.”
They say a lighthouse doesn’t shine beneath itself, and there was a reason they couldn’t find the woman in Hybrom.
Christopher was the first to speak. Even Liri, who had been bowing her head, looked up to meet his gaze.
“Care to explain why you’re working here?”
Liri shivered slightly under his cold gaze. He was radiating discomfort.
“I didn’t know you were still staying here.”
“That’s not the answer I want.”
“I’m not the kind of… woman you’re thinking of. What happened that day…”
Before Liri could finish her sentence, he interrupted.
“I saw you in Hybrom. Don’t think I wouldn’t know what that place is.”
He said it with an air of certainty.
“Please, just pretend you don’t know, just this once.”
“Who’s pretending? Who hired you?”
Liri lowered her head and pleaded. If it weren’t for this man, that day’s incident would have remained a foolish happening she kept to herself.
“All the maids working here were hired by Lady Bellmore.”
It was the most authoritative name Liri knew, but it seemed to mean nothing to him.
“Lady Bellmore hired you? What in the world did she see in you?”
Liri sensed the mockery in his lips and fell silent.
“You’re an orphan. You haven’t received an education, and you have no experience working in a proper place.”
He relentlessly pointed out that Liri was nothing.
“Moreover, if they knew you had briefly tarnished the hotel’s reputation, they wouldn’t have hired you.”
“That… It’s just a matter of keeping guests quiet.”
“Why should I keep quiet? Tell me why.”
Liri clenched her fist.
“I’ll quit as soon as I earn enough money. Just for a while…”
“Isn’t it too easy to trust people?”
Liri added her plea, but he didn’t respond readily. It was a humiliating silence.
Liri began to suspect that he might be enjoying this situation.
“It’s not that I trust guests just because it’s me. But gentlemen are usually not so suspicious.”
Liri’s words seemed like a bombshell to him.
He approached Liri with determined steps. Liri hesitated and tried to step back, but she soon found herself trapped between him and the wall.
“Do you rot know who I am? Or are you pretending not to know?”
In response to his question, Liri stared at him blankly, unsure of how to respond to a man who asked her who he was.
“If you know about me, why are you saying things like Lady Bellmore hired you?”
“Why not? You’re just a guest, after all.”
Christopher sighed at Liri’s response. He had expected her to cower and show fear, but she surprisingly stood her ground, even though she didn’t recognize her employer.
“A laundry maid who dresses poorly and wears jewellery as she pleases.”
As he tightened his grip on the necklace around Liri’s neck, she was pulled closer to him. Now the two of them were almost within touching distance.
“Why not leave Londinium? Going to a place where no one knows you’re that kind of woman would be better for you.”
He spoke soothingly in a gentle voice. She could feel his warm breath. However, Liri didn’t yield to his words. After all, if she were that kind of woman, she would have left for East Longfellow.
“I’m not going. You’re the one who goes to Hybrom to see women, aren’t you?”
Liri said while gripping the necklace tightly.
“Are you saying you won’t accept any bribes? No matter how much money?”
“I won’t take the money.”
He released Liri’s pendant necklace without hesitation. The tightly pulled necklace dropped onto Liri’s chest, and she shivered as she felt the cold metal touch her collarbone.
“You don’t have any more questions or demands for me, right? I’m talking about the laundry. Don’t get me wrong.”
Liri said as she picked up one of the man’s shirts from the laundry basket.
“I spoke out of concern for you. It’s not too late even now.”
From her first day working alone, luck had not been on her side. He had the expression of someone sincerely pitying a stray dog on the street. Cheap sympathy was more humiliating than insult.
“If Lady Bellmore believes your words, I might get kicked out. But me leaving voluntarily because of something you say? Never. Not!”
Liri shouted her final words and stormed out of the room.
* * *
After that incident, Liri lay in bed for two days, unable to work, and groaning in pain. Summer, who had been placing a cold towel on Liri’s head, suddenly spoke up.
“Liri, is there something going on?”
Summer examined Liri’s expression, but Liri couldn’t bring herself to respond. She wasn’t sure how much she could trust the words of an orphan, even though it had been only one day.
Seeing Liri’s tight-lipped response, Summer sighed.
“Liri, I don’t know what’s going on but don’t talk about the guest to anyone. It’s why Bennett got fired.”
Summer whispered as if the walls had ears.
“The guest will leave the hotel eventually, and talking about it will only tarnish our reputation.”
“What did Bennett say?”
Liri asked anxiously.
“He spread a rumour that some guests brought a woman from Hybrom to the hotel. He even told Bennett to dress her up! Bennett had to take care of that kind of woman, so he felt wronged.
Summer rambled on about Bennett a bit more, but Liri’s interest had long since shifted away from Bennett.
“So, that man didn’t do anything?”
Liri’s thoughts were muddled.
“What kind of person is that man, anyway?”
She thought it would have been more ordinary if he had paid for her services back then, but instead, he ordered her to leave the hotel.
Liri stood up from her bed, brushed her hair, and sat down again. She didn’t want to look at her pallid face that had become even more sunken under the eyes in the past few days.
She pressed her fingers against the dark circles under her eyes and then changed into her hotel uniform.
“Why are you getting up? Take one more day off.”
“It’s okay. I don’t have any vacation days, and lying around like this is unfair to everyone.”
Working diligently and silently at the hotel. That was proof that Liri was innocent.