The child arrived in a mail wagon.
It was a late afternoon in the early spring. Bill Remmer was busy planting rose seedlings all day long.
“Are you Mr. Bill Remmer?”
Standing with a dazed look on her face, the child asked a cautious question. Her smooth pronunciation gave off a strange feeling.
“Yes. I am indeed Bill Remmer.”
Bill took off his straw hat with the same hands that had dusted off the dirt from his clothes.
When the tanned face, which had been hidden by the shadow of his straw hat, was revealed, the startled child swallowed her saliva. The child's reaction was nothing out of the ordinary for Bill. Anyone who first saw Bill Remmer generally reacted like the child because of his rough-looking appearance.
“Who are you?”
Bill's face grew more terrifying as he frowned upon the child.
“Hello. Uncle Bill. I am Leyla Lewellin. I came from Lovita.”
The child enunciated clearly and slowly. Lovita huh.. Bill realized why her pronunciation sounded rather strange.
“You're saying, you crossed the border into the Berg Empire all by yourself?”
“Yes. I rode the train.”
The child smiled awkwardly and unnaturally straightened her posture. The mailman who had brought the child approached the two from behind.
“Ah. This child finally met you Mr. Remmer.”
“Good timing. What made you bring this child?”
“This child was walking alone in front of the station so I asked her where she was going and she said she was on her way to find Bill Remmer, the gardener of the Herhardt family. I brought her here because I was on my way to deliver some letters.”
The mailman replied with a smile and handed an envelope to Bill Remmer. It was a letter from a distant relative living in the neighboring country of Lovita.
Bill urgently tore open the envelope on the spot. The letter contained the story of a child who was an orphan and was taken in by relatives who were now no longer able to foster her due to their supposed 'poor' circumstances. The child's name was Leyla Lewellin. The little girl standing in front of Bill was the orphan.
“Damned people. They sure are telling me this news fast.”
Bill lost his breath in amazement.
No one in Lovita could take care of this mere orphan. Bill Remmer was the last among those who had a faint connection with the child. The letter stated that if Bill's situation was not favorable, he should leave the child in the orphanage.
Bill muttered a curse and threw the crumpled paper to the floor.
“These people should go to hell. How can they send this little thing here alone.”
Now that Bill understood the whole situation, his face gradually turned red with anger. The child was treated like a bomb that was passed back and forth from one relative to another and meant to be thrown away when no one else wanted her. She was ultimately sent away to a different country with an address of a distant relative she did not even know of.
“Excuse me, Uncle Bill. I am not that young.”
The child who had been silently watching Bill suddenly opened her mouth.
“I'll be twelve in a couple of weeks.”
She whispered in a rather grown-up tone. Bill chuckled in amazement. He was relieved that she was older than he thought. The child looked smaller than her age.
When the mailman who delivered the troublesome girl left, the two were left in the garden. Bill wrapped his head around with his hands and pleaded God for help.
Even though they were distant relatives, the two seemed more like father and daughter from afar. Bill had never met his distant relatives for more than 20 years and yet, there he was, stuck with a child who he never knew existed until today.
Even though the weather was chilly, the child wore a thin layer of clothes. She was emaciated- like an iron skewer. All Bill could see of her was her vivid green eyes and gold-threaded hair.
It was impossible for him to take care of her. Bill concluded.
But the only solution left was to put her in an orphanage, which drove him crazy. Bill once again murmured a curse towards the relatives that put him into this mess. The child flinched and started biting her red lips.
Bill shook his head in frustration and led the way.
“Let's fill our stomachs before I make my decision.”
His blunt words were carried away by the evening breeze. As the two walked further towards Bill's cabin, the child's timid steps gradually became light and cheerful.
“Is that all you're eating?”
Bill frowned upon the small plate the child was holding.
“Yes. I eat a little.” The child smiled.
“Child, I hate children who don't eat a lot.”
The child's eyes widened at Bill's words. The light of the table lamp lit over the child's skinny wrist that was revealed under the carelessly raised sleeve.
“You should eat everything like a cow.”
Bill's expression became more stern. The troubled Leyla, slowly blinking her eyes, moved more loaf of meat and bread onto her plate. She then hurriedly began to gobble up her food.
“I can't eat like a cow but I do eat quite well uncle.”
The girl brightly smiled with bread crumbs near her dainty lips.
“Yes. I can definitely see that.”
Bill laughed and started filling his tall glass with alcohol.
“Aren't you afraid of me?”
Bill scrunched his face to deliberately scare the child. The child simply stared at the man, not daring to avoid his eyes.
“No. You don't yell at me. You give me lots of good food. So I think you're a good person.”
What kind of life has this child been living? Bill thought as he filled his glass of beer again.
The letter said the child's mother abandoned her husband and child to elope with another man. The father of the child, who was heartbroken by the betrayal, became an alcohol addict and had died of alcohol poisoning. After that, the child grew up in the homes of her relatives, only left to be deserted by them.
Even though the child had a pitiful past, Bill believed it was still absurd to raise her.
Bill Remmer chugged down the glass of beer and decided that he will make his decision by next week.
“Did everyone hear? The gardener Bill Remmer has started to raise a young girl.”
A young maid hurriedly rushed into the lounge servants used during their free time. The servants who were taking their rest all turned their eyes toward the young maid.
“A girl? Mr. Remmer? It would be more plausible to say that he decided to raise a lion or an elephant instead.”
One of the servants snorted.
The Herhardt household's gardener, Bill Remmer, was a man who had a natural talent for growing flowers. Thanks to his talent, he has been able to maintain this position as a gardener for 20 years even with his brusque temper. He was deeply trusted by the Herhardt family. Especially Norma. Due to Norma's unique love of flowers, she gave infinite understanding and tolerance to Bill's gardening and temper. It was also her decision to give the gardener a cabin in the woods located behind the Herhardt's mansion.
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Bill Remmer's life was simple.
He worked in the garden and took a rest in the cabin. Despite his time drinking with his fellow workers, he spent most of his time surrounded by flowers and trees. Even after decades have passed ever since his wife died of an illness, he did not get close to any woman.
The Bill Remmer raising a little girl? The servants who were resting in the lounge reached a consensus deeming that the rumor was nonsense until one of the maids sitting by the window burst into an exclamation.
“Oh my. It must be true! Look over there.”
The maid pointed over the glass window with her eyes wide open. The servants all at once rushed over to the window and soon became shocked with wonder. On the other side of the garden, Bill Remmer was gardening with his body crouched down and the rumored petite girl was following his footsteps.
The girl's golden hair, braided in one strand, shook back and forth like a pendulum as she trotted along.
'”I still haven't made my decision.”
When there were questions asked about the child, Bill repeatedly answered the same response.
“I can't leave her here so I need to think well.”
While Bill's thoughts continued through spring, then to summer, Leyla Lewellin was slowly settling down on the Herhardt estate. The child's diligent stroll through the gardens and forests had already become a familiar scene for the Herhardt servants.
“I think she's grown a bit.”
Mrs. Mona, the Herhardt's chef, smiled while looking out the window. Leyla was examining the grass and flowers that were beginning to bud behind the forest cabin.
“She's got a long way to go. She's still smaller than average girls.”
“Look, Bill Remmer. Kids are different than your plants. They can't grow overnight.”
Mrs. Mona shook her head as she lowered her basket down on the table.
“Cookies and cake. There was a tea party yesterday at the mansion.”
“I hate sweets.”
“Really? This is Leyla's”
Bill Remmer's dark eyebrows wrinkled at Mrs. Mona's nonchalant response.
This child was not meant to be here and yet, the Duke's servants began to look after Leyla every day. They greeted her, brought her food, and sometimes visited her. It was becoming troublesome for Bill Remmer.
“You should buy her some clothes. The young lady's skirt seems like it will go up to her knees.”
Mrs. Mona tsked as she stared at Leyla running after a bird. Bill failed to refute. Even in his eyes, it seemed obvious that Leyla was wearing clothes that didn't fit her.
“Oh my! Oh my! Look at her!”
Just when Mrs. Mona was about to leave, she suddenly pointed towards Leyla and shouted in dismay. Bill glanced at where Mrs. Mona was looking towards with a queer look. When the bird Leyla was chasing after landed on a tree branch, she started to swiftly climb up the tree. Her movements were athletic and light like a squirrel.
“She sure has a talent for climbing trees.”
Mrs. Mona scowled at Bill's unconcerned reply.
“Bill Remmer! You knew about her climbing trees and you let that go? How the hell are you raising your child?”
“She's growing strong and well as you can see.”
“You're raising that girl like a wild beast! My God.”
Mrs. Mona raised her voice and made a fuss as Bill snooped around the window deafeningly. Leyla perched on the thin branch and watched the mini birds playing on the thicket.
After watching over the girl for a couple of months, Leyla Lewellin was proven to be a curious child who wanted to know more about the world. Flowers and grass, birds and insects. Anything that caught her eyes amazed and piqued her interest. One day at night, when Leyla wasn't returning for dinner, Bill had gone deep into the forest to find Leyla sitting by the river looking at a flock of water birds. She was so focused that she couldn't even hear Bill calling her name again and again.
After spitting out a couple of more harsh lectures, Mrs. Mona had returned home. Bill had slowly walked out to the back of his cabin.
Leyla delightedly waved towards him.
The child, who came down from the tree as quickly as she went up, hurriedly dashed towards Bill. The dull gray one-piece dress Leyla was wearing had short sleeves and was ragged. Her hand-me-down like clothes seemed inappropriate when meeting the duke so Bill had made his decision to buy her new clothes.
“Get ready and come out.”
Bill said impulsively when the two arrived in front of the back door cabin.
“We're going downtown to buy some clothes so you don't have to look so puzzled.”
Bill awkwardly gave off a dry cough and scratched his back neck.
“Duke Herhardt will be here soon, so it'll be a bit weird to greet him with your state right now.”
“By the duke, you mean the owner of this land right?”
“Yes. Since it's break, he'll be back.”
“Break? Does the duke attend school?”
Leyla frowned as she tilted her head. Bill grinned and stroked the child's disheveled hair.
“The duke is only 18 years old so he has no choice but to attend school.”
“Whaat? Eighteen years old? The duke?”
Bill's laughter grew louder at the child's stunned expression. The child's fluffy hair that Bill had touched with his rough fingertips was as soft as cotton.
A train from the capital had entered the platform at the Carlsbar station.
The waiting servants approached the private section of the station. By the time they lined up in a straight posture, a tall, slim boy descended onto the platform.
Starting with the polite greeting of the butler Hessen, all the other servants soon bowed their heads towards the boy. With a straight and graceful manner, Matthias responded to their greetings with a light but silent salute. His rosy lips were curled up in a smile that was neither excessive nor insufficient.
It wasn't until Matthias took a few steps when the Herhardt's servants began to move. The onlookers quickly backed away and opened the path for the young master to pass. Matthias walked past the platform without showing any chance of slowing down.
Matthias smirked as he found a carriage waiting for him in front of the station.
“Ah….. Yes, master. Madam Norma doesn't believe cars are trustworthy.”
“I know. For grandmother, cars are simply a lump of iron that is unbearably vulgar and dangerous.”
“My apologies. Next time…”
“No. 'Classic' is not bad. Once in awhile.”
Matthias calmly got on the carriage. His long arms and legs gave off movements were slow but steady. The carriage gradually picked up speed as it passed through the square and the bustling shopping streets. The separate wagon that was loaded with Matthias's baggage followed the carriage that was engraved with a golden crest off into the distance.