Chapter Twenty: [Extra 3.6] The Struggle of Katrina Dunning (Part VI)
I still couldn’t figure out why he was willing to accompany me to the church.
After exclaiming that outrageous line, I was prepared to say goodbye to him. However, after a few beats of silence, Ralph agreed. Then, he also added that he couldn’t stay for long.
I’m so happy.
What should I do?
Does he not hate me after all?
I wondered if he thought that it’d be okay to spend time with me a bit longer than necessary.
Then, if I do my best from here, will I get to meet him again?
While I was thrilled inside the carriage, we arrived at the orphanage. Before I was adopted into an aristocratic family, I used to live there along with many other children. Most of them had either lost or were forsaken by their parents.
I was well-informed of the day-to-day schedule of the orphanage. The priest and the sister would teach the children how to read and write in the morning. By the afternoon, the children would be helping with the house chores and the fieldwork in the hospital.
“Oh, it’s older sister!”
Upon seeing me, the small children taking care of the fields rushed towards us. By the way, I last visited them three days ago.
“Won’t you stay today? Will you be gone again?”
“Come on, don’t be like that. Older sister can no longer stay here. She’s no longer a commoner or an orphan, remember?”
“…I can’t understand difficult things. Are you saying that she can’t come anymore?”
“That’s not true at all. I can come every day and stay for many days.”
After I said so, the oldest girl, who was looking after the younger children, beamed.
“Re… Really?! But, if older sister came to the orphanage, won’t the scary uncle who adopted you get angry?”
“It’s alright. He can no longer complain because older sister knows about his secret.”
“Then, can you stay today? Tomorrow? And the day after tomorrow?”
“Of course! I’m sorry for making you lonely, Shani. Even though a child your age should still be pampered, you did your best to care for the younger children. Everyone… I’m home!!!”
Immediately, Shani’s dark brown eyes grew tearful. Then, she burst into tears.
The younger children were stunned by the fact that the usually mature Shani, who had been taking care of them until now, was crying.
“There, there, everything is alright, now, Shani.”
As I hugged and caressed Shani’s head, the younger children also began to cry. It was as if I had lit some kind of fuse.
“Now, now, everyone. You must’ve been surprised. It’s alright~”
The scene where multiple children cry was a daily occurrence at the orphanage. Therefore, inevitably, the role was decided. The older children were tasked with comforting the younger ones. I knew because I grew up that way. Thus, as I grew older, I began to take care of the others. I learned a lot from the older children, while the younger ones also taught me a lot.
In that place, everyone was a family. Everyone was my siblings.
From the outside, while it may appear like a chaotic situation, it was also one full of sympathy.
Sharing emotions. Empathy. Compassion.
At the same time, it was also an excellent opportunity for the children to learn how to understand the feelings of others.
While hugging everyone, I noticed that Ralph was staring at us.
“…Uhm, I’m sorry for the sudden uproar.”
“…I don’t particularly mind.”
That isn’t what your expression is saying, though?
There was a lingering confusion on his face, one that I couldn’t fully grasp.
As always, I didn’t know what he was thinking.
As such, I didn’t know what to say.
At times like this, what am I supposed to say?!
Ralph, who noticed my restlessness, went on to say, “You’re difficult to understand.”
Again, people often said that about me. But as of this moment, I’m not sure what he was referring to.
…Can I just parrot his previous words to him?
“Just now, you acted like a truly different person than you were at the academy. It has gotten to the point that I think that woman back in the academy was merely my paranoia taking form.”
When it came to the children, I used to be their leader. Back then, even though I was smaller, I never yielded to the bullying of those older than me.
“You wished for me to condemn you. I could’ve easily done so had you acted like you were back in the academy. Even if His Highness and Lady Emmeline had forgiven you, I’d personally see that you’re given your just deserts.”
“Yes, that is what I wanted.”
“Then, why did you bring me here? If you wanted to be condemned by me, I would have to think that you were the same personas back then. You wouldn’t have brought me here if that’s what you truly wanted. Well, if confusion is what you’re after, you must’ve thought that I’m quite an easy person.”
…The first half I can understand, but was he doing a monologue in the second half?
After sending the children who couldn’t stop crying to the field, I looked straight up at Ralph.
“Because I want you to like me.”
His enticing, bright red eyes gradually widened in surprise. I smiled satisfactorily towards his response and repeated my previous words.
Please be conscious of me. Look at me, even if a little.
“It is true that I want you to condemn me. I want to make sure that I get to the bottom of it. To tell the truth, I had wanted Lady Emmeline to slap me, but I’m aware she’d never do such a brutal thing.”
“That’s only natural. She’s been educated for a long time.”
“I think the same way. It’ll probably be impossible to incite Lady Emmeline’s anger. At the same time, I also thought that Lord Armitage, who had been watching closely for a long time, would easily do the job for me. Especially considering the amount of frustration that may have accumulated.”
“That is quite easy to say, but I’m glad you caught on well. I have nothing to say in that regard.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound like that. Also, what you’ve just said sounds like an excuse.”
“It could be.”
“I consider the condemnation as absolutely necessary for my breakthrough. At the same time, I couldn’t be happier if you were the one to grant me my wish. For you are my beloved Lord Ralph Armitage, whom I’ve always admired.”
He tensed up.
Would he be in trouble if he fell in love with me? Or will it make it harder for him to condemn me?
When I proceeded to stare at him, he turned away bitterly.
“I love you, Lord Ralph.”
“…! Like I said, my first name is—”
“But, isn’t confessing your love to someone while using their family name kind of tasteless?”
“I love you. I’ve always loved you. From now on, I’ll always and only love you, Lord Ralph.”
That’ll only make me want to say it even more.
“I have a fiancée.”
“I know. But, hasn’t she passed away?”
“She had, a few years ago, in fact. Still, I can’t choose a woman other than her as a companion.”
Was it no good, after all? While I can understand that, why can’t he say it clearly?
Could it be? That he can’t decide?
Was it because he doesn’t want to choose, or because he doesn’t want to think about it?
“But why can’t you?”
The moment Ralph heard that, he went agape.
“Why can’t you just say that you’re still in love with her. Hence you can’t choose? Is it because you have another reason?”
“It has nothing to do with you.”
“But you didn’t deny it. If you don’t have a feeling for your deceased fiancée, then you shouldn’t hesitate.”
“Even so, I won’t choose you.”
“You still didn’t deny it. That’s fine. I can just love you and persuade you along the way.”
In my words, he didn’t hesitate to show a repulsed expression.
I’ll never give up!
I felt enthusiastic when the children, who were working in the field, screamed.
There was supposed to be an event where a stray dog appeared.
But when I turned around, I was greeted with an impossible sight.
I was sure of it.
Yet, even though it was supposed to be a stray dog, why did a demon appear in its place?
A demon, which should rarely appear in remote areas.
Why… Why in such a place? This is the Royal Capital! Not to mention, the children are—
A giant wild boar-like demon, wrapped in black miasma, roared. The moment the demon turned its sharp fangs at the horrified children, I screamed at the top of my lungs.
In the next moment, an explosive, torrent-like, boiling sensation spread throughout my entire body.
A freezing atmosphere spread all over the area.
The giant boar, who was about to attack, had turned into an ice statue on the spot.
Ralph’s whisper entered my ear.
The magical power of ice…?
That should be impossible. The heroine wasn’t supposed to possess the element of ice. Instead of the heroine, the rare attribute was possessed by the villainess…
Emmeline Ella Arkwright.