The capital of the Kingdom of LeVain, home to three hundred thousand people.
One of the most vibrant places in the city was the Sloughport area. The town thrived on river ports for transporting supplies across the city. On the side of the port where medium-sized steamboats were anchored, a bridge passed along the main street, and you could see the large glass-roofed shopping district, the Sloughport Galleria.
The Galleria was frequented by middle-class people and was home to all kinds of shops. Lydia’s Hicks’s Art Shop, where she lived, was also located in the Galleria. The shop had a small door and a show window. The products there were lined up taller than people. When one stepped inside the store, it smelled of dissolved oil.
The paintings lined with pigments were vivid and exciting. When you pulled the vertically arranged frames off the shelf, the dream of what kind of picture to draw and what type of framing to do next expanded. For Lydia, the beginner painter, this was the most restful place. Surely, it was because her late mother always smelled the same.
Lydia suitably bundled her shoulder-length, honey-blonde hair before sitting in front of the canvas of No. 20. She was still sketching with pastels. However, she would sell this new painting in the gallery eventually.
The motif was the sign cat from this shop taking a nap on the counter. Even though it was a commoner shop, the cat in the tuxedo pattern was somehow elegant. Whimsically, he never sat still, so she decided on the pose from the numerous sketches she had set aside.
Lydia was the grandchild of this shop’s owner, and she was currently tending to the store. Lydia had no blood connection to her grandfather, but that was trivial. Her tolerant grandfather allowed her to paint while attending to the store.
If she actually used the art materials, her advice as a clerk would be more persuasive. Moreover, it seemed that for people considering painting as a hobby, a little girl like Lydia painting a realistic oil painting gave them a sense of security. In other words, if even a little girl could draw, maybe anyone could do it.
As Lydia looked at the cat, the sketch’s composition, and the three canvases alternately and proceeded to sketch, the doorbell rang. Lydia stood up with her pastel and put on the most welcoming smile as a clerk.
“Welcome… Oh, Master Nevel. Greetings.”
Lydia pulled back as it turned out to be an unwanted guest.
“Greetings, Miss Lydia. It’s a beautiful day today, isn’t it?”
The man under thirty years old in a fine flock coat was called Jerome Nevel. He was the Nevel family’s only son. They were involved in the management of several stores in this Galleria. His father, Baron Nevel, was also the director of a union that had shops in the Galleria and had a strong influence in the region.
Lydia didn’t like Jerome.
It seemed that his gaze was somewhat unpleasant. He came here for nothing and bothered Lydia. He was seen as an annoying power holder who repeatedly obstructed Lydia’s business operations.
“How can I help you today? I can be of assistance if you are searching for something.”
Lydia knew there was no use anyway but asked out of courtesy.
Jerome shrugged his shoulders.
“So, is this about the union? Unfortunately, Hicks, the owner, is absent. He should be back shortly, but if you don’t mind, I’ll convey your message,” Lydia asked, hoping he would comply.
“No, no, you see, I… I’m here to see the Goddess of the Galleria.”
Jerome seemed distraught and closed one of his eyes.
I… I don’t like this. He’s here only when grandpa is away…
Usually, Hicks would tactfully get rid of Jerome. If Jerome had come here after learning that the shop’s owner was absent, Lydia would have been stuck in a bad situation.
“I apologize. I have work to do as the shop assistant and painter. Please understand.”
“You’re acting cold, as usual. You’re quite beautiful for a commoner. Maybe because you are half noble? Unlike your father, I am not a man who plays with ordinary women and throws them away when I no longer need them. You can put your mind at ease.”
Lydia was an 18-year-old maiden with wavy honey-blonde hair and rare violet eyes. It might be a bit of an exaggeration, but some say she was the most beautiful girl in the Galleria. Jerome fancied Lydia and was trying to make her his mistress.
Of course, Lydia didn’t want that.
Whether you were a commoner or an aristocrat, there was no way you could have an equal relationship with someone who lightly mouthed such words and tried to fulfill their wishes.
“I don’t know what my father was like… my late mother didn’t say anything, so it’s just speculation. Please don’t talk about that anymore.”
The words were polite, but Lydia glared at Jerome and did not hide her discomfort. Her mother, Amy, had given birth without marrying her father. According to Hicks, her mother suddenly came to the store one day with a piece of paper requesting employees.
Hicks wondered if he should hire her since she was pregnant at the time. However, he could easily imagine that she would stray if he didn’t hire her, so Hicks couldn’t dismiss her. Lydia’s mother was painting as Lydia did today. She didn’t talk much about Lydia’s father.
Before she came to the Galleria, Amy was a maid in an aristocratic mansion. Everyone assumed that an aristocratic man put his hands on her, then disposed of her. Lydia knew that this was certainly not far from the truth.
No matter how much you tried to imagine it differently, you could only think of a man who would banish a pregnant woman as a scumbag. She was uncomfortable just thinking about it. That was why Lydia hated it when someone lightly talked about her father.
What is this person saying? My father is the worst man in the world, so I don’t know if Jerome can be seen as a good man even if he insists on being above my father!
“You’re so elegant when you’re angry too.”
“Master Nevel, I have a dream. I want to be recognized as a painter one day and make things easier for my grandfather, who raised me without even being related to me… So I’m not interested in going out with men.”
Lydia was a common teenage maiden who dreamed of romance and happy marriage. However, she could not say to the nobleman Jerome, “I am not interested.” As such, she rejected his offer with those lies.
“Then, all of your paintings… that’s right! I’ll buy them for ten times the determined price. Then, you’ll be among the famed painters. Don’t worry. If you can’t sell your paintings, I will keep buying them forever.”
Lydia was shocked by the statement and momentarily was at a loss for words. When selling oil paintings, the price per piece was determined by experience, track record, and popularity. They were to rise naturally, and those who did not understand art should not have had the right to decide.
If he buys all my pieces, I will be deprived of the opportunity for my art to be appreciated.
Lydia had a desire for money. Still, she didn’t want to become a millionaire as much as she wished to put her grandfather, with whom she had no blood connection, at ease. However, she aspired to make her work look wonderful.
She wished they could decorate many houses and entertain people’s eyes. Jerome’s remarks negated Lydia as an artist.