Chapter 08: The Past 01
Behind my closed eyelids, I pictured the past that will never return.
I vividly recalled the happy and painful past.
I still remember the day when my marriage was decided.
It was a freezing afternoon.
“Master is calling you. He has something to talk to you about.” A voice called out to me from behind me as I was sweeping the fallen leaves that were blown by the fierce northern wind, and I turned back.
There stood a servant boy of the same age as me. He glared at me in displeasure.
Why do I have to do something like this? ――― This was written on the boy’s face. He got even more annoyed when I just stood there without replying.
“Are you listening? If you are, then answer. Simpleton.”
I became even more speechless when I was attacked with cold scorn.
Idiot, blockhead, useless, and simpleton.
Endless insults got hurled my way.
My heart still felt like it was being gouged out even if I was used to the pain.
My heart, which was flowing with blood, chilled, and I felt as if it had frozen over.
I froze while gripping the broom handle.
The hard feeling of the handle brought me back, and I felt like I was even being rejected by inorganic matter.
The boy lost his temper at not receiving a reply from me no matter how long he stood there. He said over his shoulders, “Hurry up and go,” before leaving.
I watched as the dead leaves chased after him with a rustle and lamented that I had to sweep again.
――― It won’t become clean no matter how much I sweep.
I fixed my hood, raised my face and saw the grey and cloudy winter sky. It looked like it would rain at any time.
The fallen leaves stick to the ground when it rains, and it becomes difficult to sweep.
I wanted to finish cleaning before that happened, but even a simpleton like me understood that the master’s order had priority.
I gave up, put the broom and dustpan away and went to where the master was.
“You’re slow.” I was struck with this comment as soon as I entered his study and bowed my head in apology.
I saw a middle-aged man standing at the window that was the only light source of this dim room when I raised my face. He frowned as if he was looking at something disgusting.
In contrast to me, the man was wearing a luxurious velvet jacket with a silk shirt with lots of lace underneath.
His pants and shoes were also first-class goods.
However, the delicate buttons on his shirt looked as if they would flip off at any moment because he was fat.
His face was round and made it seem like his handsome face from his youth was a lie. His cheeks and chin were full of fat.
The only thing that hadn’t changed was his vibrant blonde hair. That day, he had it combed to the back of his head so that it wouldn’t become dishevelled.
――― A pig in noble clothes.
In those days, I called him this; an ugly and greedy pig with no grace.
The man’s name is Rudolph Heinz von Lagerfeld.
A noble with the rank of Marquis and the master of this mansion.
At the same time, he was my master and father.
I was a child born between this man and my mother, who was a prostitute, and I was taken to this man’s home six years ago when my mother passed away because of an epidemic disease.
“What do you want to talk to me about?” I asked while looking down at my black and dirty hands, and he replied by clicking his tongue.
What he didn’t like was probably my very existence.
I think it’s funny.
It was all this man’s fault that I existed and looked dirty.
“Stop acting like a servant. You’ll be trained in etiquette and culture from tomorrow.”
“What is the meaning of this?” I asked.
The man twisted his face in disgust.
“It means that you’ll be treated as my daughter.”
What are you saying now?
I was insulted as a prostitute’s daughter and as a greedy girl. You worked me hard and told me that if I wanted to stay in this house, then I had to work as a servant.
You worked me until my back started hurting, took away my meals if I slacked off by finding fault in me and threw me in the cold.
And yet, why are you saying such a thing now…?
“What’s with that look? The extremely greedy you is going to be treated as a noble’s daughter, you know? What don’t you like? You should be grateful and rub your head against the floor,” the man said.
I couldn’t look him straight in the face as he laughed unpleasantly, so I looked down.
I slowly kneeled down, put my hands on the floor, and lowered my head while grovelling.
“Thank you, master.”
The floor was cold and froze my heart.
At that time, I didn’t just feel the pain that I was used to, I also knew that this was humiliation.
So, I didn’t resist.
It was better to throw away what little pride I had instead of opposing him and getting hit.
“What?” He asked, probably because it was hard to hear me while I was grovelling.
I slowly lifted my face, sat down on the floor and asked again, “Would you tell me why?”
“I’m going to use you as a pawn. I’ll marry you off.”
“Yes. Rejoice. Your partner is a young nobleman. He doesn’t just have money, he’s also good-looking. He’s a waste on someone like you with a low rank.”
I had no choice but to doubt my ears.
I was dumbfounded and muttered, “Why me?”
This man had another daughter who was turning 16 this year.
She was a lady who was raised carefully like a princess; she was a genuine noble’s daughter.
Wouldn’t it be better to marry off that girl instead of me, who is of low birth and hadn’t been educated?
“Idiot, there’s only you. Victoria is the heir to the Lagerfeld House. She won’t be getting married into another house. We will adopt her husband.”
I remembered something important when I saw that he wasn’t going to stop laughing.
This man wasn’t satisfied if he didn’t make me unhappy.
In place of my mother, he wants to make me, his daughter, unhappy.
That was why he took me in as an orphan.
『Come to my house, Ophelia. Let’s live together.』
He extended his hand to me with a smile on his face, and yet, as soon as we arrived at the mansion, he slapped my palm away.
『You will be punished in place of your traitor mother.』
He severely abused me, worked me to the bone and beat me up whenever he was in a bad mood.
The servants understood what he wanted and banded together to oppress me.
They vented their dissatisfaction on me.
『I won’t let you be happy. I’ll make you suffer more than I have.』
The man mother loved wasn’t here anymore.
There was only a pitiful and ugly man, who wasn’t able to carry out his feelings and was distorted by his despair.
And that wasn’t my father.
We may be connected by blood, but he wasn’t my father.
“You’ll be trained for two months. I’ll arrange a tutor, so you’ll become the perfect lady. You’re worthless if you can’t do this. You can go do the same job as your mother or enter the monastery.”
I’m sure this marriage wasn’t a normal marriage.
There must be a catch because the other party’s conditions are good.
I filled my heart with anger so that it wouldn’t be filled with pain.
My heart won’t freeze or feel sad if I do this.
But there was a burning urge inside me.
“I took someone like you in with no compensation, and let you stay in this house. I gave you clothes to wear and food to eat. I let you live, so return the favour,” the man finished speaking and waved his hand to tell me to get out.
“I get angry looking at that face that looks like your mother’s. Good grief, I would have loved you if you hadn’t looked like her.”
I stood up, bowed and headed to the door.
I tried not to see what expression he was making.
It didn’t matter whether he was glaring or sneering.
I walked quickly through the dim corridor.
The head maid will reprimand me like a demon if I don’t get back to work quickly.
That woman wouldn’t listen even if I told her that I was called by the master.
――― Ah, but…
I suddenly changed my mind and stopped.
That man told me to stop acting like a servant.
It was a joke that he omitted the fact that he was working me to the bone and instead called it acting, but I had no choice but to obey him.
I don’t have to wear tattered clothes, and I don’t have to worry about sweeping the fallen leaves even if I see rain.
――― As of tomorrow, I will be a lady of the Lagerfeld House.
I was driven by the urge to shout and covered my face with both hands.
“I won’t be unhappy.”
This is his mansion.
So, I have to obey his orders while I’m in this mansion.
I will aim to become the perfect lady, and if I can’t, then I will do what that man wants and become a prostitute or a nun.
But it will be different once I’m out of this mansion.
“I won’t be unhappy,” I swore.
I smelt dry dirt from the cracked hands.
I was given a decent room instead of the storage from the day I was ordered to get married and wore a dress instead of the tattered servant clothes.
This navy and grey dress was remarkably plain when compared to the dresses that his daughter, Victoria, wore, and was something that a widow would wear, but it was much more comfortable than the dirty and tattered servant clothes.
I was given three meals a day without fail, and I was able to sleep in a warm bed at night.
The tutor came three days later. Our greeting was rushed, and she thoroughly taught me etiquette and culture.
In some cases, she was a strict tutor who would relentlessly whip me.
I was taught how to read simple things by my late mother, and when I returned the textbook that the tutor had given me to learn simple spelling, I said, “I can read and write. I can recite poems a little. I will learn etiquette, but you might have forgotten that I don’t have much time. I can’t dance, and I don’t know anything about music. Based on this, I would like to ask for guidance… I don’t mind being whipped as many times as you want if I can be a perfect lady.”
My life would be over if I can’t become a perfect lady.
It would be my downfall, and that man would be pleased.
Therefore, I was desperate.
I studied frantically and learnt etiquette and culture.