As the sun began to sink into the horizon, it cast intense red light upon the spacious grounds of St. Marguerite’s School. Dusk would soon fall like a heavy shroud over the fountains, the bridge running across a babbling brook, and the tall hedge.
The brass-studded library door opened without a sound, and little Victorique came trotting outside. She moved with slow and deliberate steps, protectively hugging the kimono and obi to her chest with both hands.
Victorique walked on and on.
Past the fountains.
Over the small bridge.
Down the white pebbled path.
She arrived at a garden maze in a corner of campus opposite to the library. Flower bushes grew as tall as a man, planted in imitation of an unusual form of garden beloved by the nobility in the Middle Ages. The square hedges bloomed in a scattered assortment of gold, lavender, and brilliant red flowers.
Victorique entered the maze without hesitation, her small form vanishing from sight like a young ghost swallowed up by the twilight shadows. She unerringly made her way through the path of flowers. The route was clearly a familiar one for her; someone entering this maze for the first time would have surely gotten lost.
She slipped out of the maze and emerged into a small clearing. There she found a two-story house with a modest front yard. Outside of the house, which looked far too small for human habitation, a winding iron staircase connected the first and second stories.
Victorique walked briskly inside. The house was small and colorful enough that it could have been made out of gingerbread. The interior was like the inside of a dollhouse. The furnishings were elegant, but customized to be smaller than normal, and looked vaguely like colorful toys. The bedroom contained a girlish canopy bed and a brass dresser. In another small room that seemed to be the living room, a child-sized rocking chair sat next to the window. On top of a chest sat a plate adorably shaped like a strawberry, and a beadwork picture.
Stacks of heavy books rose from floor to ceiling.
Victorique entered her room, yawning, and gently set the kimono and obi down on a small claw footed table. She stroked the kimono with her tiny hand over and over again, wearing a genuinely delighted smile on her face. In a voice as low as an old woman’s, almost in a hum, she murmured a strange tune. “Kimono, kimono… Kujou gave me a kimono!”
Overjoyed, she made a slow pirouette, nearly losing her balance in the process. She staggered back to her original spot and happily resumed stroking the kimono.
Victorique opened the door to the large wardrobe, preparing to hang up the kimono, but then had second thoughts. “That scoundrel said something about wearing it as a nightgown….”
And so she began to take off her elaborate dress of aqua-blue satin and black lace, starting with the many rows of thin ribbon on her chest.
She untied one row after another.
Untying and untying, from top to bottom…
As she untied the ribbon, tiny fabric buttons appeared underneath one by one. When she was finally finished, she moved onto the buttons.
She unbuttoned and unbuttoned.
And there was yet more unbuttoning…
When that was done, she untied the ribbons at her sleeves and undid their buttons.
At last, she had undone all of the ribbons and buttons, and paused for a breather. Next came the dress itself, but her body had grown stiff, and it took some effort before she could finally slip free. After that, she used both hands to tug off her pannier—the underwear that puffed out her skirts around the hips like an opened lace parasol—then plunked herself onto the floor, and with a few grunts of exertion, pulled her rose-embossed boots off her feet. Her finely stitched silk stockings followed, allowing her bare feet to slip into the soft ballet shoes that she wore around the house.
She sighed, and stood up again. Without the added height from her heeled boots, her proportions looked much smaller than before. She was still a white ball of fluff in her voluminous lacy camisole, three-tiered ruffled petticoat, and embroidered drawers, but she had shrunken considerably compared to when she was fully clothed.
Victorique strained herself up on her tiptoes, and after a few moments managed to put her blue satin dress away in the wardrobe. And then, at long last, she turned toward the kimono that lay on top of the table.
Her expressionless face looked as cool as ever, but there was a hint of joy.
Victorique timidly stretched her arms through the sleeves of the kimono.
First the right.
Then the left.
The flowing kimono gently draped over her dainty form. The corners of her mouth visibly relaxed. However, when she reached down to tie the obi, her face turned mystified. “Is this a belt? …There’s no clasp. Is it a ribbon? …But it’s much too long.”
For the next several minutes, she fumbled with the obi like a cat playing with a toy.
Then at last, in a small voice, she murmured, “This is chaos.”
Now thoroughly frustrated, Victorique decided to wind the obi around her breakably thin waist, forcing the stiff fabric to tie like a ribbon. To this she gave a nod of satisfaction.
She heaved a sigh and sank down into her rocking chair, tired from pondering over the obi. As she rocked in the chair in her kimono, she reached for a nearby book, and began to flip through the pages. With her pipe in one hand, she lit the fire and started to puff away. Soon enough, she was lost in the world of books, and she gave herself over to simply turning the pages while slowly rocking back and forth….
As night’s darkness fell, the quiet moonlight crept through the vast grounds of St. Marguerite’s School. The U-shaped main building was deserted, letting silence pervade the halls of the student dormitories. Other than the quiet footsteps of the prefects making their rounds and the dim light of their lanterns, there was no one else in sight, and nothing else in motion.
A shadow was slowly walking through this dark and silent campus, in the shape of a petite body with shoulder-length brown hair and large round glasses always on the verge of sliding down—it was Miss Cécile.
The lantern in her hand glowed orange. In her light grey nightgown, matching bonnet, and light cloak, she carefully walked down the gravel path.
She reached the entrance of the flower maze, and with a single sigh, entered the garden, vanishing from the gravel path like the ghost of a woman dissolving into thin air. “I’m sure she’s fine … but then again, it wasn’t long ago that something happened to her. I better make a quick nighttime inspection to make sure that Miss Victorique is still there…. I’ll be in big trouble if she goes running off hand in hand with Kujou again,” she muttered under her breath as she slipped nimbly through the maze.
Cécile arrived at the modest yard and entered the small, dollhouse-like dwelling. The lights were off, and it was pitch dark inside. She crept into the bedroom and cautiously aimed her lantern at the canopy bed.
The light shone on a large frilly pillow. Victorique’s tiny face was resting on top of it, asleep. Her long hair was scattered across the bedsheets like a golden dream. She slept with both of her tiny hands pressed to the side of her head like a little child.
Cécile breathed a sigh of relief. “All in its proper … place…?”
But there was something amiss. She carefully shone her lantern onto the bed.
Victorique was wearing a nightgown that Cécile didn’t recognize—light blue, and of a strange cut. A large, stiff pink ribbon wound around her waist, but it had already mostly unraveled.
Cécile stared at her, perplexed. It was highly unusual for Victorique to do anything out of her routine. She always went to the library at exactly the same time, returned at the same time, and wore the same nightgown.
Cécile shone her lantern onto the bed once more.
While she was sleeping, Victorique had slipped most of the way out of her Oriental-style nightgown. Her tiny bellybutton was peeking out above her daintily embroidered drawers. Under the dim light of the lantern, her stomach glowed ivory white.
Cécile couldn’t help but giggle. “Oh, my. Miss Victorique, you’ll catch your death of cold!” she murmured, setting down the lantern. She gently folded Victorique’s nightgown closed.
Cécile left the bedroom, still giggling.
Victorique turned over.
The nightgown that Cécile had wrapped shut fell open again. With her white belly exposed to the air, Victorique slept, exhaling sweet little breaths like a small animal.
The night wore on….
Meanwhile, Kazuya was sitting at his desk in his room in the boys’ dormitory.
In front of French windows hung heavy curtains woven with Gobelins tapestry. Next to them was a mahogany writing desk, lined with neat rows of textbooks and dictionaries. A pale gas lamp on the wall flickered silently.
Kazuya opened the letter from his elder sister he had received that evening at the post office, and read it over and over again. “A Blue Rose paperweight, and a white cotton blouse. What else did she want…? What’s a tartan collar? Shoes and socks, pen and ink…” He put the letter down, sighing wearily.
Then he pulled himself together, and began to arrange maps, train timetables, and department store guides that he had brought with him to Sauvure. He opened one of the store pamphlets on his desk. “Hmm … So the station is here. And that Jeantan place is over here … Should be in walking distance. Let’s see, where should I go after that…?”
Whenever Kazuya reached an impasse, he would pull out another guide and pore over it thoughtfully. Long into the night, he took meticulous notes, slowly devising his plan of attack for the next day’s shopping trip….