The noise of the saloon had become so common to her that Caroline found herself suddenly very alarmed how one afternoon away from its constant burbling had managed to strip her of its familiarity. Of course, that may also have something to do with the cruelty of sobriety as well. The bottle that Caroline had purchased had done her well for nearly three or four days as she created her letters, making them flawless in their form. She knew, however, that she might not wander the street looking like a drunkard so she waited and on the fifth day, she emerged into the glare of the morning sun. The days had been so stormy with the coming seasonal change that this sudden break from the gloom was most unwelcome. There was still a chill in the air and that did some good to soothe her aching head but it did little to make it stop. Only the sunglasses that she had were able to keep the glare down and that was still not enough to make up for the horrid light that seemed too intense. She did her best to swallow her discomfort but it was brutally difficult come noon when the sun seemed relentlessly harsh and the world around her so cruel.
The rented car was too much of a giveaway and she felt strange being in it after she’d already failed at her chore. It reminded her too strongly of all the things that must be done. She knew that walking about town would be of somewhat greater risk but she was also well aware that anyone parking such a car around the place she was staying would surely cause entirely too much talk. As painful as the decision was, she found herself lowered to walking or making a point to take public transit. It was degrading in the highest order but necessary. Of the only comfort that she could derive from it was that it freed up some of her money for the wine. It was not anything like the glorious collection that Papa had in his cellars before but it allowed her the escape from anxiety that she so craved. She could think better. Yes, it was almost as though a better part of her seemed to come through. One that knew how to contend with these terrible pressures and horrible chores. So many that had to be done.
The wind had a sharper edge to it and she felt the cruel lash of autumn finding her skin through her new coat. It would have been much easier to get by in the wool one that she had before but she’d stained it so that it was yet another thing that had to be abandoned. She idly wondered if the Caroline she once knew was in there somewhere, abandoned along the way. Was that the Caroline that had come here mere months before, despair in her heart but joy and love at the sight of him. Of her beloved Victor. She felt like that woman was long gone. Her beautiful wheat colored hair was now short and vile in its darkness. Pity, for as dark as her tresses were now, she still had not developed the beauty that her brother had. His darker features, so much like their mother’s. No, she maintained their father’s sturdy facial features. The lines upon her were his and she could see him in her reflection. Each window she passed, she could see his burrowing grey eyes staring at her. It was as though it were pressuring her onwards. She so wished to see the beautiful profile of the one she loved but instead she only saw his mask watching her with the eyes of judgement. An unforgiving glare that told her the deed must be done right. That task that she had been sent with was at hand and yet she could not return to France with the news that she had managed to lose him just when he had been found. He would be brought home or she would not return. It had been her vow.
The woman she was now was different and she felt the change was natural though she could not imagine what this might mean. Was this the Caroline that she had been before? Was this the young woman that Nanny had tried to tame and beaten into submission? Was this the woman who had once threatened Vivian before and left her lip bloodied in the dirt? It felt like it could have been. That Caroline had been all but subdued into silence forever. Or so she thought. Could that girl that had been of such a hot temper have come back to haunt her now? Was it really such a bad thing? Perhaps she might have been able to think through her actions. Perhaps she might not have failed so miserably. Yes, it was better if this Caroline was capable of getting her through this turmoil. She could return to the sensible woman she once was afterwards. Let her hair grow again and shed this terrible stain upon their lives. It could be okay if only she could access the wretch that needed to make it right.
Caroline thought of this as she made her way to the post and mailed her letters. She was careful not to draw any attention to herself, lest anyone seem to recall her from her previous outburst. She was relieved that everyone around her seemed to be keen to avoid eye contact. She did her deed in silence, never removing her glasses or hat for fear of being recognized. As soon as she was out of the post office, she felt like a great weight had been lifted off her but the trial was only beginning and she knew it. Relief, for as much as she wanted to savor it, would be temporary for now. She would only allow herself the wine as she plotted the next course of action. She knew that the road ahead would entail more than she had planned on. The civilized Caroline had never dreamed, when she arrived here at the end of the summer, that it would fall to this. Yet, here she was. Alone, she had done what she knew had to be done and yet it had failed. It could not be left this way. She knew that what she had done today would only buy her a short amount of time before she would lose him. She needed to grab Victor back from the edge of this fall and there might yet be only one way to do this. She did not yet know when but she knew that Vivian must die. She also needed to make sure that Victor never strayed from home again. He would never be able to force her hand like this again. It was out of love and she knew this but he must be taught. He must know the price of what he had done. The price that had already been paid once before.