< — Duchess Vivian — > (2)
In order to survive in the bloody social world that was no different from the wild, it was necessary to have a discerning gaze and grasp the trends. The minds of the noblewomen quickly leaned towards the Duchess.
The Duchess who had begun social activities for the first time was not a princess that knew nothing about the world, nor was she a hollow container called a Duchess.
Without raising her voice and without changing her expression, she easily brushed off the past woman of her husband. It was not the composure of the 19 year old young lady who hadn’t been married for long. There had been a common curiosity in the minds of all the women who had attended the party today.
‘Let’s see how beautiful she is.’
But now, there were almost no women who cared about that. The Duchess was not as beautiful as the rumors depicted but one couldn’t say she was ugly. If she turned out to be barely beautiful, they would have said, ‘psh, as expected of a rumor’ and laughed it off but the reception of the Duchess’ beauty varied from person to person. Some were indecisive while some thought it matched the rumors. Either ways, their impression was favorable.
Not all women could have the latest standard of beauty which was a glamorous body and luxurious features. Ordinary women envied beauty and couldn’t help but feel a sense of loss. But the appearance and atmosphere of the Duchess made them think, ‘what if I try doing it this way?’. The dresses with different styles from the current fashion suddenly seemed elegant.
The women seated at the same table as Lucia were people with a line of connections in high society. They had considerable influence but it was not lopsided and their influences were about the same. It was very important to them how good their connection was. They were very skillful and naturally transformed into followers of the Duchess.
The atmosphere was harmonious. The noblewomen diligently chattered away, providing a topic of conversation for the Duchess and continued to make the Duchess the center of the conversation.
Lucia only had to listen to their conversations and give an appropriate answer to their questions. With just that alone, Lucia was the center of the table. It felt like she had become a queen. As she entertained her position, Lucia made sure to stay away from becoming too drunk on the atmosphere.
If one got carried away by the atmosphere in high society, one could disgrace themselves. Lucia had seen people compromise themselves in that way several times. It was very clear from the outside but if one had narrow sight, one couldn’t see it.
If Lucia was of high repute in the social circle and made a mistake, the people would overlook it but she had only just begun. It was better to be careful and even more careful.
“I heard a rumor from somewhere. Apparently, His Grace the Duke purchased all the jewelry on display at a jeweler’s for the Duchess.”
“Ah. I heard that as well. It was Sepia Jewelry.”
“Is the necklace Duchess is wearing also from Sepia Jewelry?”
Lucia nodded slightly and gave a smile. The women interpreted that as a positive answer that the Duke had swept the display of jewelry clean. Lucia’s necklace was evidence in of itself. The women who were somewhat doubtful of the rumor whispered amongst themselves saying, ‘wow, it’s really true.’
“And earlier, I saw His Grace the Duke escort the Duchess all the way here.”
“I also saw that.”
“Oh my. Really?”
The woman who had witnessed the scene nodded and the woman who had discovered a new fact showed amazement and regret that she was not there to witness the rare sight.
What is all this about? Lucia was puzzled when she was met with the gazes of the noblewomen that was filled with curiosity. She didn’t know that this would become the focus of attention.
At the time, when he said that he would see her off, she had thought he didn’t have to go that far but she didn’t go out of her way to refuse. He said he would casually escort her there and because Jerome didn’t say anything, she assumed it wouldn’t matter too much. She reasoned that it was similar to the case where men escorted women to balls.
The noblewomen were more amazed at the point that the man was the Duke of Taran rather than the fact that a man escorted her.
“He was quite worried because I was going to my first tea party. He pays a lot of attention to things that are ordinarily meticulous.” (Lucia)(1)
The noblewomen responded dramatically to Lucia’s simple reply.
Chattering came from all over the place. The women who had personally seen the scene earlier did not think that the Duke escorting was the Duchess was simple. Like Queen Beth, they realized that the ‘beauty of the century’ part of the rumor was not important and ‘the Duke was smitten’ part was the core.
At the table, Sofia was isolated and alone by herself. There was no one who gave Sofia a glance as she sat down with her mouth shut. Sofia looked at the women who were trying to squeeze in a word in order to catch the Duchess’ eye.
Not long ago, Sofia was the woman that was sucked up to. They flatteringly called her Countess, Countess but in an instant, they changed their attitude. Even though Sofia knew well that it was the way the high society worked, it left a bitter taste in her mouth.
It was not the betrayal of the noblewomen that annoyed Sofia. She had replayed the scene from earlier more than a dozen times in her head. The Duke of Taran looked at the Duchess with a warm and affectionate gaze as he kissed her cheek and held her hand. Their skinship was natural. A devastating sense of misery and defeat took hold of Sofia.
‘He…has never looked at me with such eyes.’
The Duke of Taran did not attend most parties unless it was necessary. Sofia had only attended parties as his partner a couple of times. They always met in the bedroom and when she woke up in the morning, he was never there. When she asked for a gift, it would quickly land in her hands but it was always through a messenger. He had never given it himself. His expression was always cold and he seldom truly smiled. However, Sofia liked his dazzling cold red eyes looking at her. She also liked his blunt and cold appearance. She liked everything.
He was a man that could look at a woman with such a passionate gaze. He was a man that could give a woman such a warm smile. The Duchess was not as beautiful as the rumors said but she was brimming with confidence as a woman who was loved.
Compared to the confident Duchess, Sofia felt very pathetic. Her heart hurt like it was being squeezed. As the subject of the Duke escorting the Duchess became the topic of conversation and the women fussed dramatically, something suddenly rose up from deep within Sofia. The ill desire to see the Duchess’ composed expression get shaken.
“He is a more affectionate person than he is known for. When we met a while ago, he was just as before.”
The moment Sofia opened her mouth, the atmosphere froze. The noblewomen could not open their mouth in the cold atmosphere so they lowered their voices and whispered irritatedly amongst themselves.
“What is up with her?”
“Tell me about it. Even when one is quiet, one gets attacked.”
Lucia’s gaze froze over. Sofia’s intention to humiliate her by sitting at the same table was shameful but Lucia tried to let it pass. She tried to understand it as the lingering regret of a harshly dumped woman. The scene of Sofia being cruelly rejected by him had planted a seed of compassion in Lucia’s mind. However, Sofia was crossing the line.
No matter how generous the society was to an affair, it did not approve of putting it out in public. Even if the whole world knew, one had to shut their mouth. For the nobility, face was a serious matter and it was as valuable as their life. The act of mentioning a private affair in front of the spouse concerned was a foolish action that had no excuse.
“I know my husband’s schedule but seeing as he is extremely busy with official duties, I do not know when he could have had the time.”
Lucia did not believe Sofia words. She had faith in him and looking at it objectively, he had no time to. The noblewomen looked at Sofia, their gazes saying, ‘it seems to be a lie…’ and Sofia’s face burned in response.
“We met when I went into the palace.” (Sofia)
“Then, it is not ‘meeting’ but ‘greeting’. Be careful with your choice of words, Countess.” (Lucia)
Sofia flushed intensely. She opened her mouth as though to say something but eventually kept her mouth shut and lowered her head. Seeing this, the noblewomen clicked their tongues. Nobles hated wretchedness and messiness. As a noble, Sofia’s attitude was very dirty and messy.
“Ah, come to think of it, last time…”
When someone began to talk, the mood became relaxed again. Sofia was left sitting alone and biting her lips. Before, the noblewomen were occupied with focusing on the new main character so they did not pay any attention to Sofia but now their gazes were critical of Sofia.
There were quite a lot of women who could only seethe inwardly about their husband’s women problems. Men having an affair was more common than women. Even if they acted composed on the outside, they were displeased on the inside. Sofia’s attitude of mentioning an old relationship was unpleasant to the eye.
“Countess of Jordan. You have stayed here for too long. You have to fulfil your duty as the host.” (Lucia)
The Countess of Jordan had not realized that she had stayed at Lucia’s table from the beginning of the tea party till now. When Lucia pointed it out, her face reddened and she stood up. The Countess of Jordan had an uneasy expression throughout. Some noblewomen looked at the Countess of Jordan with gazes saturated with accusation. It was the women who had been hurt before by the Countess of Jordan who pretended to be a good person but only cared for her benefits.
It was drawing to the end of the tea party. At appropriate intervals, maids served tea and snacks, a total of three times. And when the last snack was served, it was a sign that the tea party was over.
After Lucia tasted the last cake, she placed her fork down and stood up. As though it were a signal, people began to stand up all over the place. Rather than discussing among themselves, the other tables kept looking at Lucia’s table with interest and envy.
“Next time, you have to come to my tea party, Duchess.”
“When do you plan to have another activity?”
The women flocked around Lucia.
One voice conspicuously interrupted them. Lucia turned towards the voice. It was Sofia.
“It was an honor to meet you today. I hope I have the chance to meet you again next time.” (Sofia)
“I’m not sure. Would it not be better for us to part and not see each other?” (Lucia)
A couple of the noblewomen giggled. Sofia clutched her bag tighter. She pulled out a handkerchief from her bag and held it out to Lucia. It was a silk handkerchief that men usually carried.
“When we met last time, His Grace the Duke gave me this as comfort for my tears. I was looking for an opportunity to return it but I do not know when we will meet again so I would like for Duchess to convey my gratitude along with it.”
The noblewomen nervously alternated glances between the Duchess and the Countess. At some point, it had gotten really quiet.
Lucia knew as soon as she saw the handkerchief.
‘She is lying.’
Hugo was not a gentleman that would give a handkerchief to a crying woman because they had a relationship in the past for a while. If he was such a man, he would not have been able to shake the woman off by threatening to kill her on the day of the victory party.
Was it arrogance? Or was it spite? Lucia couldn’t tell what was in Sofia’s mind but she felt that the woman was truly foolish. And at the same time, it occurred to her that Sofia did not know him that well. Oddly, it was a good feeling.
Lucia took the handkerchief and carelessly looked it over then she locked eyes with Sofia and let it drop to the floor. Lucia spoke coolly as she watched Sofia’s eyes widen slightly.
“Countess. You are looking down on me with your lies. This is not an item of his.”
Sofia’s eyes quivered intensely.
“A wife will naturally know about her husband’s handkerchief. Isn’t that right, everyone?” (Lucia)
For the nobility, servants were entirely responsibility for waiting on them. One did not start taking care of their husband’s clothes or handkerchiefs because one became a wife. So, of course, the noblewomen did not know what kind of handkerchief their husbands carried. Nevertheless, the noblewomen hid their momentary embarrassment and began to reply in succession.
“Of course. Naturally.”
“That is a matter of course. How could one not know their husban’s handkerchief?”
Lucia also did not know what kind of handkerchief he went around with. But she was sure that the handkerchief Sofia had, was not his.
“Countess’ actions have crossed the line that I can tolerate. I will not simply overlook this incident today.”
Sofia turned white. She finally realized the stupidity of her actions. She was blinded by jealousy and envy and was not in her right senses. The faces of her family: her husband, her parents and her brothers, came to mind.
Even if her husband, the Count of Alvin, could not be dealt with easily, her father, the Baron of Lawrence was powerless. If the Duke were to step on him, he could only crumble like an ant. Her husband would protect her but he would not protect her family at the risk of damage.
“Du-Duchess. Please forgive me. I was foolish…”
Sofia quickly sank to her knees. Lucia’s eyes were cold as she looked at Sofia below. Sofia’s shoulders heaved as she sobbed but Lucia was unable to feel any emotion. It was repulsive conduct to make a mess all over the place and try to fix it with tears. The fact that Sofia tried to publically disgrace her was not the problem. Lucia had experience being disgraced many times in her dream so she was past the stage of getting hurt.
However, Sofia tried to break her trust in her husband. The trust that the two of them had to resolve between themselves, a third person tried to ruin it. Lucia could not forgive that.
“Go home and pull yourself together. I hope I do not see you in the social circle for the time being. Think for yourself as to what extent is ‘for the time being’. Think about it very carefully.”
Lucia indifferently turned around and left the party venue. Some of the noblewomen remained, clicking their tongue as they watched Sofia who was still crying on the floor but the majority of them rushed to follow after the Duchess.
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