Sick Husband's Contract Wife - Chapter 33
“Even if you’re not using your social position, you have your pride. The carriage attendants must be doing this on purpose.”
“The person they answer to has not changed. So they aren’t going to suddenly bend to me simply because it appears I am getting along well with Amoide.”
There is a clear hierarchy among the maids and servants, as well as all others in the ducal estate. Everyone is subordinate to Amoide and Camilla, of course.
Among the servants were head seniority positions; Greta was Camilla’s faithful hands and feet, as well as holding her official title of head maid. She was able to maintain her high position because of her relationship to Camilla. That is, if Greta were to speak, you can say it is as if the words are from Camilla herself – so no one in this house would dare disobey her.
Jean, on the other hand, was able to establish himself without needing to subordinate himself to Greta, as he was brought in as a chef in charge of the relatively sequestered kitchen. However, outside of the kitchen, Greta had almost complete control over the rest of the mansion. Camilla’s approval had granted her that authority.
As appropriate for a noble family, the Ifrit Dukedom had a particularly powerful person running internal affairs within the mansion. If it were done as is customary in aristocratic houses, Camilla’s daughter-in-law should have absorbed many of those responsibilities.
Regardless of the still living former duchess, the current duke must be recognized as the genuine head of the family, and his wife should also wield corresponding power.
And so, when their offspring ascend the title, most noblewomen would step down from their old duties. They would either continue to attend sporadic social events, return to their lands in the countryside, or build their own large estate separate from the main ducal household.
But the Ifrit Dukedom would never accept that in the current state of affairs. Camilla retained her authority since Amoide has been in poor health and because I, as his wife, was nothing more than a puppet that Camilla had planted.
It is only natural then, that because Camilla ignores me, I find myself at the bottom of the estate’s social order. It seems unlikely that my words would ever be given more weight than Greta’s. However, it was Camilla herself who said that she would delegate Amoide’s medical care exclusively to me – even if continually monitored.
“In some ways it’s better than before, but in the grand scheme of things, nothing much has changed. Maybe because I don’t have a child yet.”
Greta is closest to Camilla, thus it’s inevitable the staff will pay more attention to her. It seems they perceive my position in the Duke’s household as little more than the rundown carriage I’m in now.
“It is not only neutral, but advantageous.”
I leaned against the carriage’s sloping wall. As the carriage passed over the uneven gravel and protruding pebbles, it shook violently.
“There are advantages?”
Rona asked, raising her head slightly.
‘Firstly, it is best to avoid attracting the attention of others.’
I am in a carriage that shakes so strongly from just this terrain. A duchess would never be spotted riding on this kind of vehicle.
Secondly, it can only be advantageous not to reveal our ultimate destination.
They were on a carriageway some distance from the city centre. We would have to travel for quite some time before arriving at our destination.
“Hm. Nothing has changed here.”
At first glance, one could see there were far fewer stores on the outskirts of the city than in the city centre.
“What are you planning to buy?”
In the colder-than-expected surroundings, Rona wrapped her arms tightly around her body.
“If you want to shop, surely it should be Ritore Avenue.”
“There are far too many people there.”
Ritore Avenue, in the heart of the city centre, had the city’s busiest junction. Stores with flashing signage and expensive glass displays were everywhere. It was certainly the favoured shopping location for those who could afford it.
“There you would be able to find the best stores for clothing, jewellery, and sweets… It is said to include all the finest goods in the Empire.”
Rona didn’t seem happy about the absence of luxury retail therapy on the street we rumbled down.
“Why on earth did we come here?”
I cracked a small grin at Rona’s question.
“I absolutely must see someone, and this is where I can find him.”
We came to a halt in front of a dilapidated pharmacy.
The sole word, ‘pharmacy,’ was etched into the wooden sign, with a pharmaceutical bottle and pestle and mortar depicted alongside. Both the artwork and the content were so underwhelming that it seemed unlikely anyone ever visited.
It was the type of place where one wondered if they even had an actual pharmacist on staff.
The doorbell rang.
I knocked twice on the aged wooden door.
The building remained deafeningly quiet. Because there were no transparent windows, I couldn’t peer inside.
“It really hasn’t changed a bit.”
I whispered under my breath and gently nudged the door open; the inside of the drugstore could be seen through the opening that appeared. A middle-aged man was seen nodding off in the sunlight, his belly bulging over the chair’s armrest.
The sound of the pharmacy door opening jolted the man out of his slumber.
When he saw me come in, the man who had leapt from his seat stopped mid-leap.
“How have you been?”
I greeted him first.
“Who… who might you be?”
Walter’s spectacles had slid to the tip of his nose when he spotted me, and he blinked many times as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
Walter finally flashed a big grin. A brilliant light swirled in his blurry eyes.
“Long time no see… How many years has it been? Two, three years?”
“It hasn’t been three years quite yet.”
“That’s correct. That much I would remember no matter how much of a drunkard I am.”
Walter approached me swiftly, speaking quickly.
“Your other family members had also moved away. I assumed you were sold since you clearly couldn’t keep up with your rising debt.”
“It might have happened.”
I said, the corners of my lips raised wryly.
“They complimented you on your performance in the nursing position I recommended you for. However, you hadn’t updated your job registration for a long time. According to what I’d heard, you unexpectedly departed.”
When I’d been unwell and could no longer work at the drugstore, Walter kindheartedly recommended me as a nurse for the Countess. When the old Countess later passed away, I got employment sewing clothes at Opium.
It was around that time I received Camilla’s invitation.
As soon as I reached the Duke’s mansion, I stopped interacting with everyone outside of the estate. Camilla’s directives played a large part in that.
“There were some unforeseen circumstances.”
Walter bent his head to the side and examined my garments slowly.
“You’re dressed a lot nicer than you were before.”
Walter’s eyes widened in place, as if he had suddenly realised something.
His face filled with sympathy and sadness.
“Selene, is this it?”
“… Excuse me?”
“Are you being kept by a wealthy man or something? ‘I’ll pay your debt, so you reward me with your body,’ for example.”
“No, it’s not like that.”
I laughed, waving my hand. But then, my laughter abruptly halted.
Walter’s description of my situation was, in fact, spot on.
Being paid to bear a child.
No matter how you looked at it, the contract I had signed had to be regarded as ludicrous.
Would I be able to make a different choice if I were to go back in time and redo everything? I wasn’t certain. The two options for escaping the rising debt were Opium or Camilla’s offer.
Walter cautiously called my name after I was silent for a time. My upbeat conversational tone returned as I came to my senses.
“Ah, actually,” I replied, “I was introduced to a job that pays well.”
“Oh, where is it?”
“It’s a secret.”
As per my agreement with Camilla, I cut off all connection with the outside world the moment I stepped into the Duke’s mansion.
Including Amoide, no one was to be aware of the arrangement between us.
During my time off, I was allowed to see my siblings once a month, although only for a few hours at a time. I think they imagined I was working as a maid for a wealthy home and that was how I was able to support them.
“You don’t look to be tired at all. The calluses on your hands appear to have completely healed, and no new injuries have emerged.”
Walter’s perceptive gaze scanned my hands as he spoke.
His observations have always been truly insightful. Despite his permanently drunken demeanour, he was a sedulous observer of the clients that frequented the drugstore. As a result, he was able to infer much about people, not only regulars but even first-time visitors.
“Your state of mind, however, has changed. You appear distressed. That would mean you’ve been psychologically pressured but not physically burdened.”
I felt an embarrassed flush climb up my neck and avoided eye contact with him.
“My eyes are not deceived. Don’t judge me based on the fact that I’m typically drunk.”
The man burst out laughing.
“How did you know?” It was an excellent read.
“That’s the expression I usually see on customers who come into my pharmacy for help with heart problems. The same as a blocked toilet.”
“Yes, it’s like hanging on to problems you can’t solve and letting them eat away at you until you’re sick from worrying about them.”
By groaning and grasping his chest, Walter theatrically imitated an attack.
“No matter how brilliant the doctor, they cannot treat something like that. They come to my pharmacy for medication that, even if only temporarily, soothes the suffocation in their chest.”
Walter’s pharmacy was once located in the middle of the city, but due to a faulty loan guarantee, he was forced to move his drugstore to a less attractive section of town.
Even so, he was a highly talented and renowned pharmacist, and many people travelled specially to visit him. This was mostly because many of the medications he provided were unparalleled in effectiveness. Among these were contraceptive or infertility treatments that worked where many different doctors had failed.
Some visitors were even noblewomen. Those who had achieved success whispered to others, and newcomers trickled in two by two. Despite its modest appearance, the pharmacy was lucrative.
This is why, despite her misgivings about her husband’s addictive personality, Walter’s wife recognized at least part of her husband’s aptitude.
“There must be a reason you came to me out of the blue after leading such a reclusive life,” he reasoned.
His previously relaxed air became more focused. Walter’s intuition was, again, correct. It was this uncanny ability that meant that, even if a patient approached warily, he could confidently identify the proper drug.
“Well, you see…”
I hesitated. The words did not come easily. I was still debating whether or not to ask Walter for such a favour, even after going this far to meet him.