Night time was the only hours when it was safe to travel, she found. Caroline, wrapped in her tattered peddler’s cloak and her stolen shawl, had moved a day too late for her own good and upon the world finding Old Mary, she had been desperately trying to find a way to get back to the house. It had become so difficult. She could not very well arrive in a hired car. Everyone in the home would know she was coming and Victor would be livid for sure. She knew that she had to find a new way to arrive. There had to be a way. Old Mary had once been able to make her way to the house and back. It was not through a car of her own neither did she hire one. There must have been a way and she cursed herself for not finding it earlier. Had she figured this out sooner, she might be by her beloved brother’s side now. She might be back in the house fulfilling what she came to do.
The world and this rotten little township, it seemed, was out to get in her way, however. No sooner did Caroline find shelter again did she come upon the difficulty of getting into the house again. She had been working on a solution to this and was nearly upon one when in the great and unfair sweep of the winter wind, the weather turned and the whole of the county was drowning in sheets of snow. The first blanket of it had come swiftly and mercilessly with its blinding, blowing snow and bone chilling frost. The town was left in a state of paralysis for nearly a week as the storm began to pass but still there was so little movement, it was like trying to watch people move in a dream. Most vehicles were out of commission and even if she could have hired a car by that point, she knew that it would never even get to the county road, nevermind to the house. She had hoped that once the snow let up, the world would open up for her for a moment and allow her to find a way to her treasured destination but it remained cruel and withering for days. The cold of the air had a hostile sharpness to it that felt like the breath of wickedness incarnate. It chilled her to her core, bringing stinging pain into her lungs like daggers attacking her with each breath.
With each passing day that she was left in an anguished state of bondage thanks to the weather, the more Caroline grew convinced that the dire situation was in danger of turning for the worst. She could only think that Vivian was there with him now. She must be. Trapped in the house and poor Victor was her only toy to be played with. At night it made her silently seethe. How she wanted to howl with rage at the very thought of what they must be doing. How cruel and horrific he must be treated while she was there. Oh the wicked thoughts that circulated her restless mind. She had tried, vainly, to venture forth. Every day since the snow fell, she would find her way through the streets, looking for anything that might work. She had initially tried to beg but couldn’t bring herself to do it. The sale of her virtue had been profitable enough when she could think only of the wine she needed to plan before but she was aware that no one wanted the love of a woman who stood in the street wrapped in the skin of a wretch. They could not tell she was higher born than this and she could not risk allowing anyone to know right now. Not until after things were set right and she was able to bring Victor home on the ship to carry them back to France.
The estate sat in her mind with the pregnant potential of what should have been. The images of the happy reunion that had accompanied her here were but a vague memory to her, like remembering the pictures of a book from childhood. She was beyond the reach of heartbreak now for what had already been lost. There would be no Christmas this year. There would be no returning before the end of the holiday season and even then, it was difficult to know if there would be a return much after the new year. Sailing at this time of year could always be a bit tempestuous and it would only delay things further. Even if they left tomorrow, the likelihood of them coming home to Papa and the others before the dawn of Christmas morning was slim to none. And there would be no leaving tomorrow. There would be no leaving this week. The world around them was locked in a frozen hell storm that had prevented her from coming to Victor’s aid and now it seemed like it was a million miles away from where she had set out to be. The children would be devastated.
Tonight was the first time that she had ventured into the streets in nearly the whole week. She had tried before but could not find her way past the block before being forced to turn back and take shelter again. She felt the cold even now seeping into her, making her pine for the days of before. She longed to see the great fireplace of their home again. To be settled before it like when she was just a girl, waited on by the house staff. It was a wretched curse, these modern times. This modern little town and its horrid structures that held nothing of the romance of previous days. It held no warmth the same way that her old home once did.
And secrets, something inside of her whispered. This place was simply no good at holding all those wonderful secrets. All of the terrible things that she knew about, hiding in those little crawl spaces back in that house. All those miserable noises that house made at hours when the help ought to have been helping and not skulking around doing naughty things. When all those vile sisters of hers would be lounging around, useless and spoiled as they were. Oh there were no places for such things here and Caroline hated it. She hated the coldness of the designs around her. The sharpness of it all and the way it seemed to perfectly reflect the cruel lash of the wind.
Tonight she had wanted to see about the distances between her furthest reach by transit tram to the forest road. She knew that it would be perilous but it would be easier than trying to find her way there any other way. A hired car would cost quite a bit and as of now, she knew that much of what funds she had access to were limited and swiftly dwindling. She knew that so long as Vivian held sway in that house, Victor would never take pity on her. What little remained needed to be spent with a great amount of caution and there was no room for frivolity. The tram that serviced this town was not running yet but there were men working day and night to clear the tracks. Perhaps there was hope for it to start within the day or so. Anything that might allow her the time to get closer. Each second lost was another that was taking Victor away from where he belonged and, very possibly, closer to the grave.
Caroline felt her limbs burn as she walked the long and silent route to the tram station, hoping that there would be a map to guide her when she arrived. So far, she had tried to figure the terrain by memory alone and found that she was faltering. She dearly wished that she could simply hire a car but there was no use in trying. No one would believe that she had the money and as it was, there was already enough gossip fluttering around this town without the aid of another tall tale. She could imagine the tongues of the women in this horrid place wagging when they heard about the peddler woman renting a car to make her way to the house in the forest. And Vivian. Oh she would know immediately. She would anticipate it. She would prepare and make everything worse. No, it was better to come unsuspected. To come in silence and arrive to bring everything to the right conclusion.
The station was nearing and Caroline felt like the block or so that it would take to walk there would take nearly an hour. Her sluggish limbs trudging through the snow were aching and tired as she pushed forward, each step feeling like pulling herself closer by a rope. The tram tracks were on the other side and through the darkened windows, she could see the stationary vehicle parked. Strange and foolish ideas flittered through her mind, wondering if she could find a way on that tram now. If she could be there when it ran its first run to test it. Surely they would try tomorrow. Surely they must be itching to produce some life in that slumbering beast of a machine. The idea was all that she could cling to as she forced herself onward, stumbling on the ice and pitching like a drunkard in the snow. She was closing in on her destination when her foot found no traction on the ground and she tumbled down, sprawled out into the snow drift.
Sitting up, her pride wounded, she felt as though the world around her was conspiring to make her fail. To rob her of her beloved Victor that he might never return home. She felt like she might weep for mercy there in the street when she spotted the culprit that had caused her fall. A lone page from a discarded newspaper, its previous pages fluttering in the wind. The page at her feet had a splash image of the local cemetery prior to the snow fall and a woman weeping before two graves. The horror rose in Caroline’s heart as she looked upon that woman’s beautiful, terrible visage and saw the tear stains there. She could not even bring herself to read the headline as she looked upon the perfect mourning face of her dreaded sister Charlotte as she stood before two graves. Caroline rushed to return back to her shelter. First time tomorrow, she would prove this horrible paper wrong. With tears in her eyes, she promised that she would prove that this was not true!