It was not the reaction she had been expecting. And now that it had finally taken place, she could not fathom how... how she could have possibly not expected it. Was it not the most logical thing to happen? Did she really need more proof of that woman's coldness, selfishness...?
‘I'm leaving, Mother,’ she replied resignedly, not wanting to fight anymore. ‘I'm leaving never to return. I beg you to forget me.’
Flora stood up and walked to the door. She had intended to say so much more. A large part of the many hours she had been a mouse had been spent thinking about what she would say. And after she'd managed to break the spell, she had planned her words and the way she would look at her mother with even more keenness. Not once had it crossed her mind what was now so clear to her: the uselessness of it all. That woman was a wall made of self-centeredness, and anything else would crash into it and fall hopelessly to the ground.
The duchess closed her eyes for a moment in a condescending manner.
‘Not so fast.’
But nothing happened. Flora did not freeze, as she had intended.
The girl had, however, felt a tingling sensation all over her body.
‘You don't feel the slightest remorse, do you?’ Tears came to her eyes, although she tried to fight them back. However, they did not affect her voice. ‘You're really going to make me hate you. And when you do, we'll see how much of you there's in me... and how much I've learnt.’
At her mother's surprise, the young girl, opened the door and ran down the corridor. The sound of her steps soon faded away among the sound of the guests leaving the ball at the request of the two princes. Despite the obvious reason, a lot of them were indignant at having been asked to leave, and they had no qualms about telling any other guests or servants.
‘You don't need to go,’ Regine was telling the man who had been her partner for most of the evening. ‘I'm the prince's cousin. This request is not applicable to family; or to his relatives' partners.’
Her partner hesitated and then joined the other people who were abandoning the room and stepping into the garden, towards their respective means of transportation.
While Regine was trying to recover from this humiliation, Cecilia appeared among the crowd to ask her about Gloria.
‘What do I care where she is?’
‘I haven't seen her since before the recital. How can you not know where she is?’
‘I had more important things to do than pay attention to my younger sister. Besides, she didn't look too happy after speaking with you.’
‘What do you mean? She left?’
‘I don't know, Mother. I really don't know. Like I said, I have been too busy to see what she was or was not doing.’
Cecilia decided to cut the unproductive conversation off rather cruelly. She had seen the young man leave.
‘Well, I certainly hope you were busy doing something useful. I wouldn't want to have to beg your aunt again to sit you next to good catches.’
Regina felt truly hurt.
Having her own mother, after the boy's disdain, rubbing in that she could not even take the credit for making his acquaintance was too much; even for someone so little sensitive as she was. Up until now, the worst she had felt was anger, envy... Never had an insult caused her pain, as this one had.
However, the ball had proven that Gloria could flow into a rage and forget her manners more easily than she did. So she mended her broken self-esteem and followed Cecilia to their carriage ─once the latter abandoned her search for her younger daughter─ in order to go home (the idea of their being somehow exempt from vacating the premises had not crossed Cecilia’s mind, unlike her firstborn's).
Flora ran into Herta in one of the corridors. The former's face could not hide her agitation.
‘My dear friend,’ Herta said, taking her by the arm, ‘what's the matter? Have you been attacked?’
‘Only by my own stupidity.’ She told her about the meeting she'd just had. ‘And now I'm scared. I thought I was braver and less sentimental. Which is what I ought to be! With my mother being the coldest and harshest person on earth!’
‘Maybe you take after your father,’ said the fair-haired girl, trying to bring some warmth to this somber moment in the life of the other girl.
‘I hope not. My father was a horrible person who treated my mother awfully. His death is something I will never reproach her for, no matter how things are between us.’
Suddenly, Flora's past became for Herta a deep, dark mystery.
‘But what about you?’ the sorceress' daughter asked. ‘Where were you headed?’