Chapter 25

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“I am grateful that you like her.”

 

“Of course. She’s kind and dignified, and…” Ana continued speaking as she looked at her husband pushing a cucumber sandwich, her favorite, towards her. “She’s your nanny, after all.”

 

Garcia was silent for a moment. As Ana sipped her tea, Garcia rested his chin on his hand, watched her, and then spoke. “Isn’t it my wife who’s kind and dignified?”

 

“What do you mean?” Ana tilted her head, not understanding.

 

“Well,” the lips of the noble gentleman curled. He lightly gestured towards the fruit tea gifted by Madam Denian. “It’s rare for a woman to welcome frequent visits and ‘advice’ from an older woman of her mother-in-law’s age.”

 

“Garcia, I’ve never thought of her that way.”

 

If his intonation and voice hadn’t been smooth and monotonous, it could be mistaken as sarcastic words. Surprised, Ana watched Garcia but reflexively smiled when he smiled. A playful person. And a joke.

 

“I know she genuinely cares and likes me. It shows in her expressions, eyes, and actions. Of course, as Garcia says, we may have a conflicting relationship in some aspects, but I like Madam Denian herself. So, I consider it a stroke of luck. In fact… I’m a bit envious of Garcia.”

 

“Me?” Garcia raised his eyebrows in surprise. It was an unexpected look.

 

Ana spoke with a bit of shyness and embarrassment. “I didn’t have a mother to look after me. I had nannies, but no one was consistent with me for a long time. I think I spent more time with my brothers instead.”

 

“That’s because Ana was an easy-to-handle child.”  He softly replied, with eyes filled with confidence.

 

What is he thinking of me? She had been quite the prankster in her ignorant days along with Oliver.

 

“Now you’re making me embarrassed. Even as a child, you were a perfect gentleman and well-mannered, they said.”

 

“Did they really say that?” Garcia asked with interest while his expression remained as tranquil as a flowing river. The only lively part of his static face was the eyes fixed on his wife. They were calm like the waves of an afternoon, but they rippled slightly when their gazes met.

 

Ana enjoyed these moments of one-on-one conversation with him. “Of course. Haven’t I met the living witness? How meticulous and neat you were, keeping your study, desk, and clothes tidily arranged. You even kept a fairy tale book dropped by a servant and returned it…”

 

“Oh my. I was worried about Madam Denian’s age, but her memory is still sharp.” As the conversation progressed and became more awkward, Garcia murmured softly.

 

Ana burst into laughter at his rare flustered expression. Her laugh was as clear as a bell. Garcia watched his happy-looking wife.

 

“I thought it was fortunate that she became your friend, but it seems it’s not just that.”

 

“Forgive me. Isn’t this a small pleasure among women?”

 

“Of course, I always prioritize your happiness,” Garcia responded warmly. “I’m happy to send a gift as a token of gratitude for taking care of you.”

 

Ana hoped this trip would become a good memory for her.

 

* * *

The life of a noblewoman was like a well-crafted tapestry. From birth, separated from parents and raised by a nanny, only having brief contact with the mother during breastfeeding, then following a scheduled routine of nutritious meals, appropriate snacks, walks, and playtime with parents in beautiful clothes, and then bedtime regardless of sleepiness.

 

As they grow older and get a tutor, they start receiving education as a lady, separated from their male siblings. Languages, home economics, aesthetics, basic history, philosophy, geography, arithmetic, proper posture, elegant walking, playing musical instruments, rhetoric, manners – the list of things to learn to become a perfect lady is endless.

 

Indeed, such a perfect lady, as described in the legendary family etiquette books, was rare to find even if they searched throughout the capital, but every lady aspired to be one. Enchanting, sophisticated, elegant, and beautiful, receiving affection, respect, and admiration from their husband and children, a great hostess of the mansion.

 

Except for daughters of families with special inheritance rights, or those with exceptional talent in the military or arts, or those who walk the path of an heir due to the death of siblings at a young age, most undergo a similar upbringing, whether willingly or not.

 

Ana was no exception. She was mostly a well-behaved child, diligently following the adults’ requests. Her difference was that her mother passed away early, so her brothers, father, and the mansion’s servants gave her plenty of love and attention, granting her more leniency in all aspects of her upbringing than others.

 

Count Dupont never scolded Ana for minor mistakes or slight troubles, and her three brothers always doted on her. Even strict tutors like Madam Langeom smiled more at Ana than at the lords. The housekeeper, Madam Mackenzie, turned a blind eye when the girl secretly shared cookies with young maids.

 

Ana still remembered the high stairs of the large mansion, the creaking of the wood, the paintings on the walls, and the smell of the old wood oiled with care. She remembered Zimmer’s hearty laughter as he played with her and the wrinkled face of the nanny who secretly gave her warm milk with honey when she couldn’t sleep.

 

Ironically, it was this love and care, not strict discipline, that made Ana a dutiful and noble person. Even as a sensitive and perceptive child, Ana keenly noticed that their affection wasn’t taken for granted. The color of affection from her father was different for her and Edward; she alone noticed not being scolded for staying out past curfew with Oliver, and she tearfully watched Zimmer getting punished for secretly showing her to a foal.

 

Guilt and gratitude grew into responsibility. She wanted to repay what she received and didn’t want to be ungrateful. So she matured quickly, or rather, tried to. She wanted to be the excellent woman that everyone expected. That was all.

 

As a lovely girl, Ana completed all her home education and then went to a prestigious boarding school for a year before her social debut according to tradition. Except for her dependable Edward, Deiram who pondered a theologian’s path, playful Oliver, and her loving father – leaving them was the only regret for Ana, who went to school without much complaint and adapted well.

 

She was a little scared of not going home for half a year, but the excitement and anticipation of a new world also captivated the little girl. There, she made a few friends, including Lucia Costanza. They shared a room and became close quickly, especially due to Lucia’s sociable nature. She approached Ana immediately, saying,

 

“Are you the lily of Dupont?”

 

Before the day ended, they became best friends, as if Lucia had already decided Ana would be her friend even before she arrived. Ana remembered that she and her, a bold and sociable lady who could easily be mistaken for being bossy, got along quite well.

 

Young Ana found Lucia’s direct and fiery nature intriguing. She thought the same thing when she received the invitation today. Ana pondered, looking at Lucia’s familiar handwriting.

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