“Why would you do that… without even looking at my paintings?” Lydia forced out the words.
The shop was decorated with Lydia and her mother’s paintings. Still, perhaps Jerome didn’t know which ones were Lydia’s. He probably didn’t even want to know.
“I’m going to be your patron! What are you complaining about?”
“I don’t need one! I already have people who can help me.”
One of Lydia’s patrons was Countess Morland, who found many young artists. Lydia’s paintings were sold in a gallery the countess ran.
The countess once invited Lydia to her mansion and asked her to paint a picture of her choice. If she hung it at the count’s residence, it might be seen by other nobles. Then, when the countess had a new request for Lydia, she kindly praised Lydia.
The other one was an unnamed gentleman. Sometimes, this person bought Lydia’s work at the countess’s gallery and sent polite letters. The letter’s contents were limited to his impressions of the work and what kind of place it was being displayed. Sometimes he gave her gifts via the gallery. Still, it was all the necessary items for Lydia as a painter.
For example, a chair for Lydia, a cream that soothed rough hands, or a vase used to decorate flowers with motifs. He seemed to have heard that Lydia lived in a painting shop and had even taken care to avoid items that might be purchased in the shop.
What the two supporters had in common was a pure desire to support Lydia as a painter and not as a woman.
“So you want to repay your debt of gratitude to old man Hicks?” he scoffed and smiled wickedly, as if implying she couldn’t repay Hicks like this.
“Of course. Is there a problem?”
“No, there’s no problem. However, are you sure you can move away from this Galleria and do well in another region? Truly? Even someone like me, with such a big heart, can only wait so much.”
Lydia’s chest tightened with discomfort. Jerome, the Baron’s son, warned that it would be easy to crush the Hicks painting shop.
“With such a threat…”
The words did not come out. Even if Lydia kept trying to say that he couldn’t buy people’s hearts with such threats, she felt that he could purchase people’s behavior.
Anxious and desperate, Lydia considered her position. If she refused so hard that he became angry, surely, he wouldn’t think of making a disrespectful civilian his mistress.
No… that’s when he would certainly decide to crush this store without hesitation.
Lydia couldn’t give up and nod, nor could she reject him.
Jerome slowly approached Lydia. He grinned a little and reached toward Lydia’s face. Then, suddenly, the doorbell rang.
“Oh… Master Nevel, welcome. What are you looking for today?”
The shop’s owner, Hicks, had returned. Holding some luggage, he first placed them on the counter at the back of the store, then greeted Jerome.
“I just wanted to talk to Miss Lydia a little bit. I’ll leave you alone.”
“Is that so?”
“Look, Miss Lydia… Be sure to give me a reply the next time I visit,” Jerome whispered after gently touching Lydia’s shivering shoulder and left the art store.
The sound of the ringing doorbell echoed strangely.
With Jerome gone, Lydia exhaled a great sigh of relief. Yet, that would not be the end of it. This was surely the last warning for Lydia. The next time he came to this shop, if Lydia were resistant, he would seriously harm the shop.
Instead of repaying him, Lydia threatened the shop Hicks had been protecting for so long.
“Lydia, what’s wrong? What did that dense bastard tell you!?”
There was no blood connection, but Hicks was Lydia’s grandfather, who had lived with her since birth. He immediately noticed something was amiss with his granddaughter.
“It’s the same as usual… I got pushed around a bit… that’s all. I’m glad you’re back, grandpa.”
Because of Hicks’s kindness, Lydia felt compelled not to tell him of this crisis. That was why she smiled and deceived him so. Lydia was sure her grandfather would try to protect her if she told him the truth. That was why she couldn’t tell him.
“You’re shaking, aren’t you? Something happened, didn’t it?”
“Something did happen, of course, something big! It was the same as usual, but he looked at me with nasty eyes and said that he would buy all my paintings. I’m really so angry.”
Omitting the part where she was threatened, Lydia exaggerated her irritation.
“It’s only natural to be angry. Next time he comes in, you just have to be clearer.”
Hicks’s words of encouragement were counter-productive for Lydia. After all, Lydia was convinced that whatever Hicks sacrificed, he would have decided to protect his family.
“Yeah! I’ll make it clear that I’m not interested in him… it’s still early to close the store, but can I ask you to take care of it for a while? I’ll prepare dinner,” Lydia suggested to her grandfather while clearing the canvas and easel near the counter.
“Yeah, sure. It would be better not to keep the store open further today… Also, I have to go out for a little after dinner. I think I’ll return tomorrow afternoon.”
“After the sun goes down? It’s dangerous. Is the matter urgent?”
“I have an appointment at a mansion in Lylefield first thing in the morning.”
Lylefield was a neighborhood a few hours away by carriage. If Sloughport was the center of trade, then Lylefield was the center of politics. There was a castle where the king lived and a venue where noble councilors gathered. Surrounded by aristocratic mansions, it was an orderly and beautiful town.
Sometimes, people asked for the town’s paintings at the shop. Part of the job was to check where the actual place to display the work was and then suggest the type of frame. Some customers were aristocrats and wealthy merchants, so Hicks was expected to undertake such errands.
If someone of high standing told him he needed to hurry, he couldn’t refuse.
“I understand. Then I’ll make dinner as soon as possible.”
After entering the living space behind the store and closing the door, Lydia immediately went to the kitchen and began to chop the vegetables.
She was at the limit of pretending to be fine, and tears were about to overflow as she let her guard down. However, Lydia’s pride didn’t allow her to cry because of a man she didn’t like. Lydia managed to distract herself by cooking.
I can’t involve Grandpa… ever… If I did that… then I would leave this place.
That was Lydia’s conclusion. Fortunately, if her grandfather didn’t return by tomorrow afternoon, she’d have plenty of time to pack. That was why she had to pretend nothing was wrong until tomorrow.
Lydia continued cooking soundly. When she was almost finished, Hicks arrived. They had dinner together right away. At the end of their meal, Hicks began to prepare for his departure to the nobleman’s mansion, as mentioned. He put on his finest jacket and packed his business tools in his trunk.
“Tomorrow is a holiday, so please take it easy. I’m worried about something happening while I’m not here. You don’t have to leave even if you have visitors.”
“Yes, you’re right, Grandpa.”
“Even so, it’s been five years since your mother died… Recently, you’ve really grown up to look like Amy. You’re so beautiful that strange men can’t help but wander around. “
While he was pleased that his grandchild had become a fine woman, Hicks behaved contradictorily in that he had not yet stopped doing what he did to children: pat them on the head.
It warmed the heart and tickled. Lydia liked to be treated like that by her grandfather.
“Really? I didn’t think my mother and I had the same hair or eyes.”
Lydia’s mother’s hair was flax, and her eyes were amber. The image of her mother that Lydia recalled when she closed her eyes was one of an ill and emaciated figure, so she couldn’t really feel the resemblance when she was told that she looked like her.
“If you and Amy had lined up here just now, you would have looked like twins.”
“Really? That’s wonderful. Thank you, Grandpa.”
“Mhm. I think it’s about time for me to go.”
“Very well. Be careful, okay?”
Lydia sent her grandfather away with a smile. She was glad to have been able to properly thank her grandfather before she left this place.