Chapter Twenty-Eight: And Thus, Opened the Door to the Secret
After setting up a room for Leticia to use, I went to the guest room to pick her up.
When I entered, I saw her and Ricardo sitting across the table and playing chess. Leticia seemingly noticed my arrival as she quickly turned to look back and laughed happily.
“Sister, Ricardo-sama, is so good at chess! I tried many times but still couldn’t defeat him.”
The chess could always be seen in this guest room, and I had sometimes seen Olivia carefully wiping the chess pieces one by one. The chess board was made of alternating dark wood and white stone. The pieces were of the same material, too. I had only seen Nolan and Ricardo playing chess once. Both had very solemn expressions as they played, and the same went for the atmosphere, as I could neither say anything nor ask them to let me join in next time, but now, Ricardo was cheerfully making his moves.
The outer corner of his eyes dropped in gentleness.
“Nolan-sama is an even better player than me.”
“Wow, really? Then I absolutely can’t win!”
“How about the madam having a bout with Nolan-sama next time?”
I smiled bitterly in response to Ricardo, who had a grinning smile and recalled his conversation with Nolan a while back in the kitchen.
I suspect he may have been purposely provoking Nolan.
“Well, Leticia. The room is ready. Let me guide you.”
“Okay, sister. Thank you!”
Leticia stopped playing chess and ran up to me after saying her goodnight greetings to Ricardo.
I brought her to the room Peter had used in the past, and when she slept after a while of chatting, I once again returned to the guest room. There, Nolan and Ricardo were sitting facing the chess board. It seemed as though they were playing with each other this time.
I sat down on the couch nearby and silently watched the ongoing game.
When Nolan made his move, Ricardo’s inner eyebrow wrinkled. He exhaled deeply and carefully thought while looking at the chess pieces. Finally, when he made a move, Nolan did the same. And it repeated like that.
Although they were sitting across each other in silence, deep down, they explored each other’s thoughts, foreseeing their next move—the so-called probing of each other’s intentions.
The expressions they made each time the opponent moved their piece was interesting. The shape of their mouths would change as if to say, “Oh, that move, huh?” The grim expression or occasional “I expected it.” When Nolan smiled, I, who was watching the game from nearby, would also become happy.
Only the sounds of click and tick echoed in the guest room, which was very pleasant to hear.
—Nolan was winning. And Ricardo had the most pieces taken back.
In between, I realized I was cheering for Nolan as if it was a matter of course. I tried to watch them from an objective point of view and I couldn’t help but smile bitterly. Wasn’t it very much like how a wife would feel for her husband? Though I am one.
One of the pawn pieces Nolan had reached the edge of the board. It’s a promotion.
There’s no doubt about Nolan’s win anymore. Maybe this strange and satisfactory feeling was the cause that I suddenly found myself in solace, lost to the urging drowsiness. In the end I seemingly fell asleep on the couch.
I opened my eyes when I felt someone shaking my body, and following after, Nolan’s face appeared in my blurry vision.
“Let’s return to the bedroom. You will catch a cold here.”
A blanket dropped from my shoulder. I must have I fallen asleep in the middle of their game.
Ricardo wasn’t here anymore when I looked around, and the chess pieces had already been lined up beautifully.
“Did you win Nolan-sama?”
“Chess… Did you win against Ricardo?”
After a momentary surprise, he nodded. “Yeah, I won… Despite someone falling asleep in the middle.”
Nolan helped me get up from the sofa while playfully teasing and looking at me.
I directly moved to the bed as soon as I entered the bedroom, burrowing into the bedding, almost crashing into it. I rolled to the edge of the bed like always and took my usual place, facing the wall. After taking deep breaths twice and thrice, my consciousness gradually blurred.
Today was really a rough day.
As I was lying down, I heard the rustling sounds of someone pulling the bedding on the opposite side. It seemed like Nolan had also laid down.
“Liese, about today…”
I was suddenly startled hearing Nolan’s voice pouring into my ears. Then I heard a creaking sound coming from the mattress behind my back. I was now lying sideways.
Nolan seemed to have shifted right beside me.
I recalled Nolan and Ricardo’s conversation in the kitchen, and the alarm bells started ringing in my heart.
Indeed, if I’m not wrong, Nolan said something like, “I’m also struggling to keep with my reason every night” to Ricardo at the time.
—Really? Was he really struggling with his reasoning?
It might be a bit late as we were already sleeping in the same bed; I also grew slightly accustomed to it, but I’m now somewhat nervous.
I felt myself tensing up at the presence of Nolan right behind my curled back. I tightly shut my eyes and firmly clutched the sheets on my hand.
Then I felt Nolan’s lips touching the tip of my ears. I’m now slightly scared of the kiss that usually excited me.
Nolan laid beside me while sighing profoundly, pulling the bedding up to my shoulders after whispering so.
The following day, we had fine weather, with clear blue skies stretching as far as my eyes could gaze upon.
And Leticia, with her sparkling eyes, which were just as clear as the blue sky, expressed her gratitude to Nolan and me.
Then she glanced at stepbrother, who had already straddled his horse, and said in a slightly reproachful tone, “Brother! Properly say your gratitude to sister too, not just to the esteemed count!”
Stepbrother pulled a scowl on his face and muttered with an even more reluctant tone, “Ahhh, Liese… That… You helped greatly this time.”
His tone was just like a child being forced by his parents to apologize. It didn’t make me happy in the slightest bit.
“Sister, come to our place next time to play! Together with the esteemed count!”
“Leticia, it’s already time! The Royal Capital is too far from here!”
Ignoring her urging brother, Leticia threw herself in my arms. My body staggered from the momentum.
“I’m glad you’re happy, sister. The count is really a wonderful husband, right?”
I wondered if that was how we looked from the viewpoint of my little sister… A lovely couple? I said my thanks, having mixed feelings inside.
While clinging to me, Leticia turned her adorable emerald eyes to Ricardo, her lovely eyes upturned slightly and became even more precious. I could also almost see the light glittering in her eyes when she looked at him.
“Hey, sister. Ricardo-sama is kind and… A very gentle man. If I’m going to marry someone, I would rather a man like—” I cleared my throat awkwardly and opened my mouth to stop Leticia from speaking further.
“Ahhh, the Ricardo you see is actually married, Leticia.”
I saw her emerald eyes widen to the point where she couldn’t make them wider even if she tried. And then, the corner of her eyes dropped as if she was slightly hurt. “I see. I overlooked that.”
You’re not at fault, Leticia. He intentionally hides it.
“…Leticia, come again to see us. I mean to see me, not Ricardo!”
“I will, of course. Sister, too, you should come to visit us.”
Leticia ran to the entrance where stepbrother and Pierre were waiting and straddled her horse.
After adjusting herself, she waved her hands adorably to say goodbye to me.
I stared at their gradually fading back for a while, and then turned to look at Ricardo with a sharp glare. In response, he raised his eyebrows as if to ask what the matter was.
“Ricardo-san. I’m requesting you to please put on your wedding ring.”
With stepbrother and Leticia leaving, I also returned to do housework. I realized how grateful we should be to have Olivia in our lives every day.
Just washing the sheets of the three guests who stayed here last night was pretty hard labor.
I burst into laughter as I dried the clothes my stepbrother had borrowed from Nolan. When he wore them, the waist part was too tight to close, and the leg part was too long to look baggy.
He even made an excuse as lame as “my waist is just swollen slightly from riding the horse for so long” repeatedly. It’s not always so swollen, he tried talking back.
Nolan was cleaning the barn.
It was pretty hard work having to clean the barn because of having five horses stay over, as usually there was only two. He entered the barn holding a shovel and assiduously carried the sawdust dirtied with horse dung and dumped them outside.
I flung a new stock of sawdust to replenish the diminished part, which Nolan spread equally in the barn. He did it thoroughly and spread it everywhere without cutting any corners. With this, the warm and fluffy horse bed was ready.
I had never done such work before coming to Dahl Island. It shouldn’t be any different for Nolan.
But Nolan was also quite handsome in his working leather boots, with his faintly dirtied look due to the dancing dirt. The mist caused by the dust created such a fantastical scene that I couldn’t help but be awestruck by it as my hands had stopped moving.
However, the horses were still vigilant around me, so as per usual, I didn’t enter their range when they were in the barn. So this pumped me even more to do my best and show myself to them as much as possible to familiarize them with myself, even if just a bit faster.
The day was over, and I greeted the night exhausted.
—By tomorrow, Olivia will return…!
I even felt as if it had been ages since Olivia was last here.
Feeling reassured that Olivia would be returning tomorrow, I slipped inside the bedding. Not long after, fatigue and a sense of security lured me into the world of dreams.
The sudden sound of the door opening woke me up.
I rolled on the bed and checked the spot next to me, but I didn’t find Nolan, who was supposed to be there.
After laying on the bed for a while, anxiety overcame me, and I opened the door. I went out into the corridor but didn’t find anyone. Or rather, it was so dark that I almost couldn’t see.
I suddenly had a bad premonition and hurriedly moved to the window. I gazed outside and squinted my eyes. My forehead tightly stuck to the window, scrutinizing the outside situation. And sure enough, I could see a shadow moving under the moonlight. When it left the mansion’s premise, the shadow got divided into two.
With that silhouette and height, I immediately understood who they were.
—Nolan and Ricardo?
I had more or less a guess where they were heading to at the dead of night. After all, I had done the same thing in the past.
They both were heading to the barn. I was dead sure they were.
I hurriedly jumped out of the room, ran through the creaking corridor, went down the stairs, almost stumbling down, and quietly left from the entrance.
Leaving the mansion, I ran towards the barn with stealthy steps. I carefully twisted the knob and opened the gate.
Inside was pitch black, and I didn’t find anyone. But I was sure. The two should be in the basement of the barn. I carefully made my way and moved towards the piled-up hay.
There was a spot from where the hay seemed to have been moved. Right then, I was able to lay upon my gaze on the uncovered door.
I quickly bent down and touched the doorknob with trembling hands to confirm, and I was right. I couldn’t make out the padlock that should have been there.
—I knew it!!!
Nolan and Ricardo opened the lock and went down to the basement!
Thump. Thump. My heart began to beat loudly, and I felt myself gasping. I became worried that they may have noticed me due to my rough breathing.
I could vaguely hear both of them talking as I brought my ear closer to the gate.
“Are you sure?”
“It’s dangerous to keep this here anymore. I don’t know what Liese would think if she were to find out.”
I was startled by their conversation.
“Furthermore, I don’t want Liese to see it when she’s opening herself more and more in front of me.”
“Madam sure has a keen intuition when it comes to things like…”
“…Anyway, we can’t leave it here anymore.”
“I do think this would cause the madam to misunderstand. I’m sure by then, another storm would descend upon our residence, just like the time with Peter.”
I couldn’t ignore it anymore. What the hell was in there…? Why did the Peter‘s name come up?
The two were making rattling sounds down in the basement. It was as if they were carrying a wooden box or something.
Guessing from what they were talking about, they’re probably trying to move out something they have hidden in the basement. But I don’t know exactly what it was.
I groped around for the knob in the dark while kneeling on the floor, and after I found it, I quickly grabbed and turned it. The moment I slightly opened it to peek inside, the door abruptly pushed back firmly, which of course, directly hit my jaw.
Just when I imagined a shadow coming from below without momentary delay, a cold object was suddenly placed on my neck. I was startled when something was pressed on my neck and when I reflexively shook my hand unintentionally, a sharp pain assailed the back of my hand.
What I shook off was the tip of the sword aimed at me.
As I held my hand almost simultaneously, Ricardo, who was pointing his sword, exclaimed, “Madam!? I’m… I’m deeply sorry…!”
“What are you guys doing here?”
I was getting increasingly annoyed at Ricardo, who didn’t utter a single word and just stared at me, so I walked down the stairs, avoiding Ricardo, who stood as if blocking the narrow and gloomy staircase.
A lamp was placed on the staircase, so I quickly grabbed it.
When I descended, a narrow room-like a warehouse came into view. The ceiling was barely high enough for a man to stand. The visibility was terrible because the only light source was the lamp in my hand, which made the already narrow basement look even more narrow.
Several boxes were placed here and there, and in the middle of them stood Nolan. I wasn’t sure due to the dim light, but he was apparently making a half-surprised, half-dissatisfied face.
“Weren’t you sleeping, Liese?”
“Wasn’t there a danger of the basement caving in?”
Nolan didn’t reply.
“What are you hiding here?”
Ricardo interjected in the middle, hoping to to persuade me, “Madam, you maybe husband and wife, but it’s natural for either of you to sometimes have their little secrets.”
He’s even saying something plausible but crazy.
I sternly glared at Nolan.
“Then please do better at hiding your little secrets if you don’t want others finding out!!!” Saying that, I jumped at the nearby wooden box and opened its lid.
Items like screws, metal washers, and springs were mixed in them. It seemed like a garbage box, and not a normal wooden box.
I continued, and when I opened another wooden box nearby, it seemed to be a box filled with hand tools such as knives and scissors—neither this nor that.
The next box, wooden, contained a bundle of folded, non-woven fabric bags.
In the dark and cramped basement, one clattering sound after another, I explored the contents of all the wooden box I could get my hands on.
Eventually, Nolan reached out and help my left wrist tightly.
“Your hand is injured.” He then silently wrapped his handkerchief around my hand. After binding the two ends tightly, Nolan turned to one of the wooden boxes.
With a clang, he opened the lid.
After that, he knelt beside the wooden box. No one said anything, but I understood that whatever the thing in that box was… It was his secret.
I took severe steps forward, kneeled next to Nolan, and looked inside.
What was in there was a piece of carefully folded velvet cloth.
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