Since that rather unpleasant discovery and the utterly dreadful maternity clothing she’d happened upon, Charlotte could think of little else besides what in the devil this house might have been prior to Kent’s unfortunate arrival. The prospect of what those surgical tables might have once been privy to disturbed her and the thought that these rooms might once have housed those women with children, both wanted and unwanted, disgusted her to her core. She could only admit her fear in the dead of night when she heard the wind breeze through the trees outside. The thought of how remote this dreadful house was made the idea of those surgical rooms loom heavily in her mind. She could only assume that the current owner of the house had no idea of their original use and, furthermore, likely no idea of what was still up there. She could not believe that he would have allowed so much space to go to waste when he could continue to fill this house with his greedy wants. She had her doubts that he might wish to see it though and, as it was, she was finding that her initial enthusiasm for the hidden upstairs had significantly waned. She had been forced to take refuge there only twice since her daylight excursion where she found those clothes. Each time it had been out of necessity and both times, she been plagued by horrible nightmares afterwards. It was tempting to blame it simply on her nerves and the want to escape Kent’s vile temper but she couldn’t help but notice that something stirred in the air when she was there. It felt as though she were being watched and that feeling persisted and followed her even after she retreated from the wretched place.
Charlotte, of course, dashed the silly notion of the house being haunted. Perish the thought! Spiritualism was so gauche and the very idea made her scoff at the prospect of being involved in anything that might lead to those crude Victorian entertainments of sitting around with cups and candles in hopes of enticing a con artist to take money from the gullible. She found it rather insulting to invite such tawdry competition into her dwellings. No, she didn’t worry about such matters. She was, however, concerned about what this house once was and whether there had been a system in place to keep those women locked in this place as a means to hide their secrets. If there was, perhaps, a way around those defenses. She already knew the staff were in the dark on such matters but she also knew there some who might know more than they were telling. Older folks who might need to have some manner of persuasion brought up as a means of loosening up their tales. No one was so old that they might remember anything that useful in terms of the history. Kent would have seen to it that those were the first to be purged from his services in his reconstruction of the house but not all hope was lost in that avenue. After all, servants get curious and curiosity might have yet led them to discover clues they didn’t yet have all the puzzle pieces for. It might not be a way out but it might lead to one if she knew before they did what she was looking at. True, she didn’t know if any information they might provide might be of any use but even if an escape route was not to be found, it might prove to be another tool in her getting out of this forsaken house.
None of this was that daunting to someone as skilled as she. Charlotte was, after all, a woman accustomed to staring down unfavorable odds. As such she knew, with some resignation, that she could not rely on chance alone in this case. With so much that may be of no use to her or no use without access to other aspects of the house or information about it, she knew better than to simply hope that this would be enough. Alas, Charlotte had found herself in situations such as these before, sometimes much worse. Unfortunately, however, this particular situation would require her to lower herself in ways that she truly loathed. Though she’d done many things she would rather not acknowledge in the pursuit of getting the desired end to come through, she was dreading this deed in excess of what it would require from her. She did so hate to embarrass herself like this. Damnation of it all, however, it was inevitable and had been since she first set foot in the house. Charlotte would have to submit herself to the task of willingly speaking to Vivian Kent.
Oh but what a wretch she was! The very thought filled her with a special kind of loathing that she feared gave her wrinkles at the tightness in her face when she imagined herself doing this. It was true that she had spoken to the shrew when she thought the woman was on her deathbed. That simply didn’t count, thought. Charlotte had only come to the house on account of her own misled curiosity and the prospect of landing someone stupid enough that might pay to get her out of this little divide of hell. She had only found Vivian by coincidence and her decision to speak to her was sheerly for the novelty of speaking to a nearly dead enemy. She couldn’t imagine anyone else in her position who would pass up such a golden opportunity. And true, she had somewhat enjoyed that encounter on account of the spite that she was able to bring out in the old girl. It had been a casual need to gloat at the time but Charlotte regarded that as nothing more than the perks of being a professional widow. The talk they were going to have today was promising to be far less amusing than that lovely little encounter. Yes, it was likely to be horrible and not the least of which owing to the fact that her nemesis would actually be able to speak this time around. Well, as much as the woman could speak, that was.
Since the start of her incarceration, Charlotte had noted that Vivian had kept her verbal abuse directly mostly at the staff. She’d heard what she said to the maids and the many things that she’d done to the underlings were visible on their bodies on a daily basis which meant that she had not softened her cruel streak over the years. This was why it was so surprising that, aside from the occasional stinging barb hurled at her husband, she’d remained rather silent. What was curious was that most of those barbs hit exactly where they were supposed to. With an acid tongue such as hers, Vivian should have had that man cowering or another one on the side ready to replace him. Instead, she was busy sulking and allowing that beastly imbecile to poison her. As much as she wasn’t keen to see her nemesis back at the peak of her health, it was still vastly preferable to Reginald Kent and his ghastly personality haunting this dreadful house.
That was truly it, wasn’t it? They haunted these walls rather than living in them, this strange couple. For her part as of late, Vivian had been haunting only her own room. It was freezing in that wing and it was a wonder on whether it was because Kent had threatened the staff away from giving her any wood for her fireplace or if her troubles had been the fault of her own utterly vile personality. It made little matter as either scenario required Charlotte to dress as though she were expecting to take a stroll through the frigid woodlands. The very idea of leaving the house in this coat was an embarrassment that made her burn inside with anger at the prospect that anyone might have kept this wretched thing. Truly, was Vivian attempting to showcase to everyone that she lived under this opulent roof only to be surrounded by such out of date items that it was a wonder if she had any wealth at all? Truly a disgrace to her bloodline, muddied as it was.
Charlotte noted the silence and the emptiness of the house as she wandered through, pulling the coat around her more tightly. She made her way down the long corridors and up the steps to the second floor where the Lady’s bedroom was. The air was so stiflingly chilled that she could see her own breath. You would never know that spring had finally come through the winter’s cruel frost outside from the cold inside. Such was the weather within the house that it was a shock when she placed her hand upon the doorknob and found it warm to the touch. Not hot but pleasant enough to dispel the chill in her fingers. The knob itself turned effortlessly and Charlotte let herself into the room. Immediately, she had to remove the coat for the heat that came from within, enveloping her within its embrace. It might have been rather pleasant if not for the occupant of the room. Vivian had been sitting at the fireplace, tending to it herself. She turned sharply, preparing a caustic verbal assault on the hapless servant who dared to disturb her. Charlotte did not cower and her nemesis merely stopped at the sight of her. The expression on her face began as shock, quickly dissolving into a glowering expression when she registered who had entered her room. The Lady stood as regally as she could in her current state and looked Charlotte with venom in her eyes.
“So you’ve come at last.”