ow, Duke Stork being here was nothing out of the ordinary, him being Blanche’s grandfather and all, but… Sure enough, the thought of coming face-to-face with one of Abigail’s likely murder suspects was rather uncomfortable . Unnoticed, I watched a safe distance away as Duke Stork conversed briefly with Miss Jeremie, who listened with her hands folded politely in front of her . A few pats on her shoulder signaled the end of the conversation and he took his leave . Hm… I wonder what they were talking about? The two looked pre~tty friendly with each other .
Miss Jeremie had gone back inside at this point so I waited a few seconds more before making my way over naturally . Blanche’s maid standing by the door spotted my approach and greeted me nervously, “W-welcome, Lady Abigail . The princess is currently having her etiquette lessons . You will find her if you head straight inside . ”
“Is it fine for me to enter during her lesson?”
“Of course it is, ma’am . ” After a moment of consideration, I nodded .
Leaving Clara and Norma behind, I headed for Blanche and Miss Jeremie in the study . Today’s lesson focus seemed to be on posture . I peeked in to see Blanche taking careful steps with a book balanced upon her head . Rather than looking noble, she’s… c-cute…!! Why do they not have cameras in this era?! I need to take photos!!! Sob…well, it can’t be helped…I can only attempt to burn the images onto my retinas…
As I silently cheered the girl on in my head, I heard something drop onto the ground . Mm? What’s this? Ah, the book on Blanche’s head fell, huh . It was just a book, but Blanche turned really pale for some reason . Something was a little off here…
Miss Jeremie walked over and picked up the fallen book, dusting it off with sharp, precise movements . Her unsmiling face was quite the study in chilly disapproval, as was her voice, “Let’s try that again . Since you’re Lady Miriam’s child, I believe that you can do much better than that if you try . Proceed . ”
“Y-yes…!” Blanche took the book and moved back to her original position . Just like before, she began making her way across the room with the book perched atop her head . Unfortunately, she wasn’t even able to make it halfway there this time .
Miss Jeremie’s sigh was loud in the ensuing silence . She opened her mouth again, heralding another stern reprimand, “Walking to the end is important, but you need to put more effort into your posture . Beauty and posture are inextricably linked . It doesn’t matter how lovely you look in your dress: if you do not carry yourself well, you have no beauty to speak of . ”
Woah, scary… Miss Jeremie is a total Spartan huh… Frankly, it wouldn’t hurt her to be a little more caring since the girl’s still young and all . In any case, Miss Jeremie’s lecture ended with this resounding declaration: “Beauty is what’s most important in a woman . Title and intelligence bedamned, without beauty to support her first and foremost, all else is meaningless . ”
As soon as I heard it, my mood took an immediate nosedive . There was an unpleasant feeling in my throat like I’d swallowed something foul . Several scenes from my previous life flashed across my mind—memories of the times I’d been told the exact same thing . The laughter and snickering that accompanied all those many instances of so-called well-meaning advice on what a woman’s worth came down to: her beauty . The unwanted memories relentlessly battered my heart—bad memories that I’d much rather do without . Miss Jeremie’s not right . She’s not, but…
As I stood, quietly lost in thought, Miss Jeremie walked over to adjust Blanche’s posture . “Straighten your back, tilt your chin down a little more . And your hips… Mm?” A strange look crossed Miss Jeremie’s face as she felt around Blanche’s hips for a bit . “… . Princess Blanche, did you eat anything other than the foods that I approved of?”
“N-no . ”
“You didn’t eat anything during dinner, did you?”
“Your waist got bigger…” MIss Jeremie muttered to herself before raising her head . She now wore a kind smile at odds with her previously cold expression . “In that case, we should adjust your meals some more . ”
I reared back in surprise . What? Adjusting meals? For an elevenyear old? For a moment, I thought I’d heard wrongly . Maybe if the girl had been overly obese, there would be less room for objection, but Blanche was thin, if anything . Surely you can’t be serious…?
“You may take a short break . We’ll resume the lesson in ten minutes . ”
I regained my senses as soon as I heard this, remembering my purpose . I need to give Blanche her present! I should also ask about this meal adjustment thing . I coughed lightly as I entered . Miss Jeremie gave me a curt bow .
“Welcome, Lady Abigail . What brings you here today?” Miss Jeremie was smiling but it didn’t reach her eyes, which exuded a subtle rejection .
“I came to give something to Princess Blanche . ” I held out the beautifully wrapped glass jar in my hand . “Here you go, Blanche . ”
The girl hesitantly took the proffered item from me . “Um, this is…?”
“Open it . ” Instead of doing so, Blanche first glanced at Miss Jeremie . Only when the woman nodded in tacit permission did Blanche put her small hands to work undoing the purple ribbon . The silk cloth fell away to reveal the jar beneath .
A faintly sweet scent spread throughout the room, detectable even from a distance . “These are cookies from my hometown . They’re quite tasty . ” Thankfully, Blanche seemed quite interested in the cookies, if the glow in her eyes was any indication . She looked at the cookies with a fervent excitement others reserved for precious gems . “Try some . ”
“T-thank you…” Blanche stuck her hand into the jar as soon as I gave my permission . But just as she was about to grab a cookie…
“You aren’t actually planning on eating that, are you?” Miss Jeremie’s voice was like the crack of a whip . Blanche flinched at the sound before hastily taking her hand away . Her objective achieved, Miss Jeremie bowed towards me again . “Unfortunately, Lady Abigail, Princess Blanche needs to control her diet at this time . I would therefore like to request that you take back your gift . ”
So she really had been talking about dieting a moment ago . An odd feeling of suffocation rose up within me . “Princess Blanche is at the age where her growth is at its peak . I would think restricting her diet would be very unhealthy for her right now . ”
“This is all for the princess’ sake, Your Majesty . Didn’t you give me leave to handle all matters related to Princess Blanche’s care at my discretion?” Blanche seemed rather confused, sensitive to, but not grasping, the undercurrents to our conversation . She looked back and forth between Miss Jeremie and myself a couple of times before carefully opening her mouth .
“Lady Abigail, I’m all right . I don’t have to eat the cookies, so… I’m sorry . I was just being greedy . ” Blanche said this with a smile that sat awkwardly on her face . Only when I felt a sting did I realise I’d bitten down on my lip . I don’t want to see her smile like that; I liked her previous smile better . She was just an eleven year old child . An eleven year old child that had been genuinely excited over the sight of cookies .
“You can eat them if you want . ”
“Your Majesty . ” Miss Jeremie intervened with a smile . “I too, would love nothing more than to give the princess sweet things . I understand your sentiment completely, but doing so would only be poison for the princess . ” The woman didn’t seem to know when to back down . Does she really think that way? Or is she simply determined to thwart me, confident in the Stork family’s backing behind her? “Princess Blanche needs to control her weight . If she wants to look good in a dress, she can’t afford to gain any weight . ”
“‘Look good in a dress’? Is that really more important than Blanche’s health?” Ice dripped from each word, my voice having taken on a menacingly low tone . She must have picked up on it for I saw a glint of fear in Miss Jeremie’s eyes .
“A-all other noble children do the same . They begin a strictly-controlled diet once they reach the age when one begins wearing corsets . ”
Corsets? I barely refrained from shouting at her; I simply could notbelieve my ears . Was wearing a corset so important that you’re able to justify torturing a child in this way? “No matter what you say, you can’t deny the fact that you’re hurting Blanche’s health, can you?” Miss Jeremie fell silent . Despite that, I could tell she was clearly not ready to admit defeat . I certainly wasn’t about to give her a chance to rally . I could not in all good conscience leave Blanche’s education to someone like this . “I had indeed left Blanche’s care in your hands, but this is getting ridiculous . In the future, someone else will be taking over Princess Blanche’s care .
“I wish to speak with Princess Blanche alone . Please get out . ” I cut her off mid-sentence . Miss Jeremie seemed like she had a lot more left to say but I had no intention of listening . In the end, she could only leave with her tail between her legs . So women are just as fanatical about their weight even in this world, huh…
I ended up chasing her off but… truth be told, I didn’t feel very good about it . It’s not like I am unable to relate to Miss Jeremie . After all, I myself had pretty much been a diet fanatic during my past life . But… doing it to a child is just inexcusable . And if that weren’t reason enough, the thought of seeing Blanche making yet another face like the one before was more than I could bear .
Blanche herself was currently trying to calm me down by any means possible, believing herself to be the reason for the dispute between Miss Jeremie and myself . “I’m sorry, Lady Abigail . I won’t eat the cookies . So please don’t be angry…” The child seemed on the verge of tears .
You did nothing wrong, so why…? I spoke kindly, trying to reassure her . “No, I’m not mad . You can eat the cookies . Would you like to have them with me?” I offered the cookies to her again but unlike before, she didn’t immediately take it this time . “Try it . It’s tasty . ”
“But… If I gain weight, I won’t fit in my dress…”
“So what?” I picked up a particularly sugary cookie . A bit of it stuck to my finger . “It’s alright if you gain a bit of weight . It’s alright if you can’t fit in your dress . A child has all the right in the world to enjoy good food and live life to the fullest . ”
Blanche stared at me wide-eyed, clearly shocked by the words I’m almost certain she’d never heard before . Having said my piece, I offered her the cookie once again and waited patiently . After much hesitation, she slowly took the cookie from my hand and took a bite . Her eyes lit up the moment she tasted the sweetness of that first bite . I listened to the crunching sounds of her tiny jaws working to demolish the rest of the cookie . “Is it tasty?”
Blanche nodded eagerly in response . It must’ve tasted really good, huh? A tiny pause elapsed before the girl nervously opened her mouth again . “…Can I have more?”
“Of course . ” When I gave her another cookie, Blanche took it delicately like a little baby bird . Her expression as the sugar melted in her mouth could only be described as pure bliss . Despite not having eaten anything, I felt so full . Filled with joy just quietly watching Blanche .
That was, until I noticed tears suddenly welling up in her eyes, much to my dismay . “I-is something wrong? Was there something bad in it? Do you want to spit it out?” I reached out and wiped the tears off her cheeks, filled with surprise and worry .
“N-no . U-um… It’s just so sweet…” Stumbling over her words, Blanche tried her best to smile even with tears in her eyes, “I’ve…I’ve never had such a thing…”
I felt my heart break at her simple confession . It’s just a cookie, something so ordinary…yet you’re crying because of it…Just how much have you had to endure to cry because of a single cookie? I’d pulled her into my arms sometime without realising it . The tiny little child sniffled in my embrace and clung to me . Like a little girl clinging to her mother . “Eat as many as you want . I can bring you all the sweets in the world if you desire . ”
Blanche continued crying wordlessly in my arms . I stroked her head gently, comforting her . Now knowing why Blanche was so much smaller than other children her age, feeling just how small her tiny frame was in my arms broke my heart all the more . I hugged her even tighter . Blanche, I’ll bring more cookies tomorrow . Then the day after, I’ll bring you even better sweets . I’ll give you all the sweets in the world, so don’t you cry . Smile in the sun as you always do .
* * *
Let it be known that Abigail wasn’t very fond of this place . The Friedkin family, minus Blanche, sat on either end of a long table, eating without looking at each other . Only the sound of cutlery moving busily about could be heard in the otherwise silent dining room . They always dined separately, but out of nowhere, she received an invitation—a summons, really—to dine together with Sabelian .
She wasn’t fond of this place at all . Why did he call her? She didn’t want to see his cursed face even in her dreams, let alone reality . As Abigail swallowed back another curse with a bite of food, Sabelian finally broke the silence . “I heard you got into a fight with Blanche’s nanny . Is this true?”