e middle of summer, it was still a  dress that was quite shameful by her standard.  While it doesn’t expose any skin under her collarbone, compared to the last dress she wore on that night, it was a much more decent dress.

“Why did you bring a new set of clothes?”

“Didn’t you know? You have to attend the Art Exhibition’s opening ceremony today.”

Erna and Lisa stared at each other, eyes widened in surprise for different reasons.

“The art exhibition? Me?”

“Yes! It’s a famous exhibition that is held every summer at the Royal Academy of Arts.” Lisa was delighted as if it was her own business, and flipped the dress again in front of Erna. 

‘The Royal Academy of Arts.’

A smile slowly began to spread across Erna’s lips, who had been excitedly repeating those words.
It was thanks to the nostalgic name of her only friend, Pavel, that was connected with that place.

‘Maybe I can meet Pavel.’

With that hope, Erna started her day with more energy than usual.
After breakfast, she dressed up and was led by the Viscount into the carriage.
Even the landscape of an unfamiliar city did not feel as threatening as usual.

“I hope you do well today.
Unless you have a weird hobby that finds joy in being humiliated.”

As the art academy got closer, Viscount HardY, who had been silent all along, spoke up.
His voice, which did not hide his displeasure, was as cold as ice.

“Yes, Viscount.
I will do my best.”

Erna calmly gave the best possible answer.

She was also vaguely feeling that she had a poor reputation.
The fervent interest to her as of lately has led to numerous misunderstandings and speculations, and it was soon established as a firm truth.
The more she tried to get rid of her weird stigma, the more she felt like she was sinking deeper and deeper.

So, she had to endure for today until the end.

As Erna hypnotized herself with encouraging words, the carriage stopped while she was busy preparing mentally.
A beautiful building made of white marble shone brightly under the sunlight, dazzling her eyes.




“Miss Hardy, you’re really a helpless girl.”

Victoria Meyer’s deep sigh broke the silence of the still garden.
Erna, on the other hand, was sitting on a bench as if she would collapse at any moment with how hard she was gasping for breath.
It was a bit pitiful and pathetic to see her chasing after her breath after only walking for a bit .

“Isn’t it time for you to get used to it? How long do you plan on showing such a pathetic side of yours?”

“I’m sorry… I’ll do my best, Countess.”

Erna barely managed to open her lips and stammered in response.
Her clear blue irises seemed to stand out even more because of her teary red eyes.
Even when such a scene made others look abhorrent, such a pretty face that caught the eye of various nobles made Victoria even more disturbed with how an unfavorable image could still be considered as a part of her charm.

Miss Hardy could have used her looks with just a small smile and a little bit of flattery and different types of men would be on her beck and call.
Seeing Erna who couldn’t even properly do such an easy and simple task made Countess Meyer’s chest suffer from searing pain of regret.

She had seen many young girls who were unfamiliar and had difficulties with socializing, but Erna Hardy was the first one who hated it so much that she would even have trouble breathing when talking to strangers.
Countess Meyer thought that maybe she could endure it quite well today, but the symptoms started once again when the son of Count Bergen spoke to her.
If she hadn’t been quick to support this little Lady and take her out to the garden, Erna would have become a spectacle for everyone to see today.

“I didn’t do that on purpose.
Countess, I really… … .”

“I know.”

Victoria cut off Erna’s sentence while stroking her flabby forehead.

“It wouldn’t have mattered for you to act like this if you were only a simple young lady.
However, because of your circumstances, it is a tragedy for me and Ms.
Hardy if you continue acting like this.”

“Yes?” Lady Hardy raised her head and looked at the Countess with her wet eyes.

The reputation of being a beauty comparable to Princess Gladys was deliberately created by the Hardy family, but it was also an objective fact that couldn’t be refuted in the end.
The reason Viscount Hardy, who was not so fond of this daughter of his even from the beginning, agreed to fully support her social debut was only because of Erna’s beauty.

In the end, this pretty lady was actually such a troublemaker.

“Listen to me well, Ms.
This matter doesn’t only concern you, it’s also a matter regarding my honor on the line.”

“What do you mean?”

Erna, who seemed unable to understand Countess Meyer’s words, asked confusedly.
A deep sigh escaped Victoria’s lips as she looked at the innocent looking lady in front of her.
Ever since her plans went wrong at the beginning, she regretted that she might have made a mistake in taking this job, but in the end, it was already too late for her to quit.

“If strangers scare you that much, let’s pretend they’re not people.
Are you familiar with this saying Ms.
Hardy? Think of them as flowers or animals in the countryside instead.
Wouldn’t it be nice to think of things like that?” The Countess seriously advised.

It was silly for her to think of such a childish suggestion, much more advocate it to others; but Victoria was already at the end of her wits.
She wouldn’t sit still and let the Hardy Family’s daughter pour muddy water over her splendid achievements.

Once the time for the pre-ceremonies to begin arrived, Victoria Meyer hurriedly stood up from her seat.

“I’ll go inside first,  you can follow me inside once you manage to calm down.
Do you understand?”

Lady Hardy, who looked up at Victoria as if urging her to leave quickly, nodded her head vigorously.
Taking another deep breath for the nth time today, Countess Meyer hurriedly left the garden.

Erna squeezed her cold hands tightly, rubbing them together and warming them up with her breath from time to time.
The choking pain in her chest had now subsided, but she did not dare to return to the place where countless eyes were staring at her.

“It’s going to be okay.”

She struggled to sit upright while repeatedly reassuring herself with a familiar lie.
She took out a handkerchief and wiped her face gently and carefully organized her messy clothes.
It was then that she caught a glimpse of a familiar person at the end of the trail where she unintentionally turned her head.

“…… Pavel?”

She muttered with a blank face, while the tall man, on the other hand, disappeared into the depths of the garden.
Red hair, a large physique and a familiar back; it was clearly the figure of Pavel Lore that she clearly remembered.

“Pavel!” She hurriedly called out the familiar name and stood up from her seat.

The sound of hasty footsteps running along the paved pathway began to shake the languid atmosphere of the garden in the middle of summer.

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