“Ophelia, my dear” Duke Wharton welcomes me with his kind smile as I sit on the couch.
“Thank you for having me today Duke” he follows my steps and faces me after resting his body on a small divan.
“I heard about what happened from Mace and Earl Hillgarden... How are you?” his hand grabs a teacup placed on the wooden table.
“I’m fine now. I am grateful for your concern” I smile politely as the Duke started to look worried.
“I am relieved to know that but... How are you feeling regarding your family?” I already knew that he wasn’t referring only to my physical state. I don’t know how far the information has spread but taking into consideration that the majority of the nobility was present, it is only natural to assume that everyone knows about Amanda’s actions.
“Duke... No...” I straighten myself and look into his eyes confidently, “Father, during my stay here I was treated as an individual, something that never happened in the Criswell’s mansion so, in my eyes, the Wharton’s are my only family,” he looks at me astonished.
“Ophelia...” the Duke gets up and sits beside me, “I hope you will excuse my momentary selfishness dear,” he then hugs me kindly. He was so warm and I felt like my body was melting, I never received this type of love from Duke Criswell so, being treated like an actual daughter, was something new.
“It is alright father” I hug him back.
“You see, I’ve always wanted to have a daughter but sadly my wife passed away before being able to make it come true. I couldn’t bear getting married again and so I raised Terrel, Mace, and Ralph with all my love, I didn’t want them to miss anything but... I’ve always had an unfulfilled dream, lingering around” I could hear the small cracks in his voice as he spoke, “Several years ago I went to the Criswell’s mansion with Terrel and when I saw you I thought how lucky he was... That’s why I arranged your marriage with my son”
Even knowing that the beginning of my tragedy was created by this man I couldn’t help but pity him. A man whose dreams filled his heart, a man whose kindness blinds his soul. A pure and naive man.
“I remember everything, the way you were poorly dressed and how the maids looked at you, Ophelia... I wanted you to be loved as the precious soul that you are and not neglected,” he continues while holding me tightly, “I would’ve never thought they would try such a horrid thing... If I did I would’ve...”
“Father, stop blaming yourself. You are not to blame for the ink in another’s one’s heart. I may not be your child but, to me, you are more of a father than what my own blood ever was”
“I’m glad to know child... If you ever need anything, whatever it might be, tell me... Let this selfishly foolish old man help you with anything he can” he was aware that I could never be his daughter but, even then, he wished to believe in such truth.
I end up excusing myself and leaving him to his work. I didn’t want to take too much of his time.
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“I’m sorry milady” a servant bumps onto me but quickly apologizes.
‘A rat with manners is it?’ I grin as I notice that the man was none other than Gilbert Averton. He was alone, walking around like a cockroach as his gaze avoided mine.
“John is it?” I smile kindly, “Be at ease, it was my fault as well. Are you feeling alright?”
“Yes milady, thank you very much for your concern” he bows down.
“I’m glad to know... I heard you asked for a day off tomorrow, are you going to town?” I place my hands on his arms and he looks at me.
‘What’s wrong with her...? Is she actually... Concerned?’ Gilbert hadn’t forgotten about the incident that scarred his back deeply but somehow he felt like he hadn’t seen this kind side of Ophelia. It intrigued him but he wasn’t feeling the desire to keep on watching, unlike the majority of the men.
“Yes milady, I will be visiting my family” he responded awkwardly.
“I understand... You should take them some flowers in my stead, consider it as an apology gift” his eyes widen at my words.
“Milady that’s...” he didn’t know what to say.
‘Is this a trap? Is she trying to find an excuse to beat me again?’ were the thoughts inside his head, however, as she stood there, quietly, charmingly, without a trace of evil in her eyes, he couldn’t help but wonder if, deep down, Ophelia Criswell was not as bad as he originally thought. He couldn’t understand it himself, how his usually great insight was now covered in clouds of confusion, without being able to recognize the true personality of the woman standing before him.
“Please, make sure to accept them, it would make me sad if you didn’t...” I insist.
“But milady...” he was still insecure regarding my intentions.
“I will be so sad that I could die if you...” as I was about to finish my sentence I see Gilbert’s eyes sharpen and his suspicious rose, “Will you accept my gift?”
“If you insist milady” he smiles coldly and bows.
“Well then, have a rest of a good day and...” I turn around and right before I leave, I proceed, “...make sure to take extra care when meeting your family...” I glance at him and grin, “...the tigers only come at night after all”
‘I knew it... This woman is nowhere near a pure-hearted soul.’ Gilbert knew that Ophelia was nothing but a wicked woman and even if he doubted his instinct for a second, he was now back on track, ‘Was that a threat?’ he couldn’t really understand her mind or her actions. No one knew he was there besides Duke Criswell. ‘There’s no way...’ he concluded before heading towards the back garden.
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“Olivia, go fetch me some writing material” she obeys and takes her leave as Ivy combed my hair.
“Are you writing a letter to someone milady?” she smiles politely.
“Yes, I’ll be writing a letter to Lord Layton Verne” I answer making her eyes glimmer with anticipation.
“Lord Layton? Are you two friends milady?” she sounded curious.
“We aren’t but I’d like to help him since he looked so troubled during Lady Catherine’s party...”
“I see... Do you know what he might be troubled about milady?” she intervenes as her hands stop combing my hair.
“Yes... I learned a little bit about it but..." I place my hands on my mouth, making it seem as if I'd spoken too much, "I don’t need to tell you anything, do I?” I glare at her.
“Of course milady...” even though I could see the interest grow in her eyes, she remained quiet, as a proper maid should.
‘This should be enough, shouldn’t it?’ I close my eyes for a bit. In my mind, I knew what was the route I needed to take. ‘If someone gets close enough to trust and slip information accidentally... Wouldn’t that be helpful?’
I don’t know who is the spy in this house but I know that no matter the person, one of lower standing will always try to climb their way up and, currently, the only way to achieve it is with knowledge.
Even though the majority of the nobility believe that with strength comes power, the truth is nowhere as harsh. The ones who hold the power in this kingdom are no other than the ones that have the knowledge and know how to use it, that’s how a man like Duke Criswell was able to stand against the other families. It wasn’t luck or even a gift given at birth. It was education and sickening ideals.
“Milady, your writing materials, as you requested” Olivia places the quill and paper on my desk and I swiftly get up.
“You may leave” they obey my order and I sit in the wooden chair.
‘Well then... Lord Layton... I hate to know you are hiding from me little puppy...’
I know what type of man Layton is. I’ve always known and because of that, I was already expecting his lack of reply and presence. He despises social events since he is always secluded by the nobles and aristocrats and, that’s why he didn’t appear at the tea party.
‘Should I invite him for tea...?’ I discarded the idea since, while Terrel is alive and breathing, I cannot bring any suspicions of having an affair, especially with Layton.
‘He wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure and would end up leaving some months after...’ I let out a sigh as I was reminded of old, painful memories.
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“Ophelia Criswell, you should be ashamed of yourself!” the rough voice of Marquess Verne echoed in his dusty study room.
“What do you mean? I’m sorry, I don’t understand, I-...” this was all too sudden. I just woke up and now I’m being insulted by my father-in-law.
‘What is wrong with him?’ this was my first time seeing such a side of this man.
“You foolish, boring girl. Your husband just eloped! And with some merchant girl for that matter!” he throws a letter at me.
As I appraised it, I noticed several blurs on its writing, almost as if Layton had felt the guilt consume him as he wrote it.
I hope you will forgive me. Several years ago I met Luana and, even if you told me to forget about her, I can’t bring myself to. I know you never thought of me as your own son but please allow this selfish human to do the only thing he ever asked of you.
Please don’t search for me and take care of my wife.
It was a small letter but no matter how you read it, you could feel Layton’s pained emotions. This didn’t come as a shock to me, in fact, I was merely counting the days for this to happen. During our wedding night, Layton didn’t touch me, he looked almost disgusted to do so.
I was already aware that he never liked me since his heart was set on Luana’s, a daughter of a small merchant who barely survived. Everyone knew that he helped her by sending some money every month since she had several mouths to feed but, even then, I accepted it.
My feelings for Layton were never meant to be in the first place. I knew I would never be able to love that man, not after what Terrel had done. In a way, I was somewhat thankful for this ginger-haired man that ended up trading his wife for his lover.
We barely had any type of relationship except when his father forced him to and, even then, he was never able to feel release, in fact, his will would die quickly. In the end, he was being forced to do something he only wanted to do with Luana. Part of me believes she might have become pregnant because I doubt that, after all these years of loving each other, they would’ve preserved their chastity.
“This is all your fault! How am I supposed to become a Duke like this...!” the Marquess grabs a jar and throws it on the floor. A piece of it cut my cheek as it bounced off creating a small red line that followed the rules of gravity.
“But Marquess I-...!” as I was about to attempt to explain myself his cold glare almost pierced my skin.
“I don’t want to hear you. Go to your room. You are not allowed to leave until I order you too... filthy bitch. Take her away” the servants bow and grab my arms, forcing me out of the study room.
“Find him! He couldn’t have gone far! Find that bastard! I swear I’ll mince him into shreds next time I see him!” the Marquess yelled loudly but soon his voice turned into silence.
“Let me go! I have to talk to the Marquess...!” I struggled as the young butlers opened my room's dark wooden door.
“Shut up, did you really think you were wanted here? The Marquess only took you in because you are the Duke’s daughter, you cursed child... You have no saying here,” they both glared at me right after pushing me onto the floor.
“You’d do well to remember to keep your thoughts to yourself, girl” the door is closed and I’m left in the room, alone, without anyone in sight.
‘Why is this happening...? Why is this...? Why...?’ tears flew down from my eyes as I realized that this was nothing but a broken record with a different musical piece inside it.