Just as she knew she would, when Charlotte rounded a corner she found the same frightened girl that she’d seen in her own room cowering before a larger man. His back was turned to her so he did not notice his audience though he wouldn’t have cared either way. Charlotte didn’t need to hear what was being said to know the familiar refrain. Come into my parlor, he was surely saying. It was posed as a request but there were no real options for the girl. Well, none that she knew of yet. Oh this was going to be a delicious appetizer to this evening’s dreadful dinner! Charlotte couldn’t have hoped for a better set up if she’d planned it. She paused for a moment on the plush carpet as she casually removed her shoes. No use in getting them dirty in this little fight. Carefully and silently, she managed to glide out from behind the corner where the girl was buried in the man’s shadow. The man was far too engrossed in what he thought was sure to be a victory to notice someone coming up behind him. The girl was far too terrified to know that her life was about to change. All the while, Charlotte felt like she was living through an act of poetry as she wandered closer to this scene. And it would seem that fate had decided to be a clumsy artist this evening as this vile cad had decided to target his prey just as she was trying to escape through the servant’s staircase. The door to the hidden depths was exposed and waiting like an open invitation to Charlotte’s waiting hand.
She pulled the tattered gloves from inside her dress and removed the better ones from her hands. Soundlessly dropping both to the floor, she smiled as she was nearly upon her prey. She did so love to make use of her hands in the right situations. True, this foray into violence would likely break one of her nails. Shame, that. They were all so lovely right now. Still, not as lovely as the sound of a man choking for air, the breath slowly seeping out of him in guttural grunts. A sound, she figured by now, was just right to introduce to her new friend. Charlotte pulled the sash from her waist and filled the small pocket with four of the weights from the drapes. Immediately after the last one dropped to the bottom, the fabric pulled taut, straining to extend all the way to the floor. Wrapping the slack end around her hand, in one smooth motion, she grabbed the back of his head by his hair and pull him up into a more favorably position. Swinging the sash with her free hand, the improvised weapon smashed into his temple faster than he could figure out what was happening. Stunned into a vulnerable position, Charlotte quickly moved to wrap the sash around his throat and pulled it tight. Gasping now, the man clumsily stumbled about in the limited space that he was allowed. Charlotte had allowed the slack of the sash to hang over her fist, the weights adding gravity to her grip and each time the idiot moved, pulling the fabric tighter around his neck. With a confident stride, she ushered the man closer to the entrance to the servant stairway, passing the girl who was whimpering in horror at it all. Too dazed to stop her, the brute was quickly overcome and Charlotte took advantage of her upper hand by pushing him directly into the steep, waiting darkness of the servant’s stairs. He had no time to scream before his body hit the steps at an awkward angle and he landed somewhere down in the darkness. He was silent and Charlotte smiled with satisfaction.
In a quick movement, Charlotte replaced the sash, retrieving the weights and placing them back where they would not be detected. She knew that it was a small risk to do this in front of the girl but her new pupil had to start somewhere. Example was always a way to enjoy her own vanity and pass on some valuable skills.
“He’s? Is he?” the girl said, her voice cracking and barely coming out in heavy breaths.
“The lesson, in this case,” Charlotte began, “is to know where to strike and when. Is he dead? He very likely is. But we can’t know until we go down there. Would you like to go?”
“No,” the girl stammered.
“Good, you’re a fast learner,” Charlotte smiled. “I have hope for you. Yes, you’re going to be a force to be reckoned with once I’m through with you. But there’s work to be done.”
“Work?” the girl whimpered, her eyes wildly moving from the stairs to Charlotte.
“Oh you are too precious,” Charlotte laughed, putting her hand on the girl’s shoulder. She jumped and cowered in the corner she was stuck in. Charlotte just smiled. “Don’t be ridiculous, girl. If I had any intention on killing you or making you my slave in the same fashion as the dreadful mistress of this house, I might have already done so. That is part of your first lesson as well.”
“Lesson? What lesson?”
“The lesson is to know where to strike and when,” Charlotte repeated, her voice becoming hard. “You don’t know it yet but you have power. You always did but there are people in this house who would have you believe otherwise. Why else would you be beaten? I see your bruises for what they are. You’re being told you’re a slave when the people who hold you captive know you can be so much better. If you believe them, you’ll always be a slave. If you know better, you’ll know you can make them beg. You can still hold that power. You can find a way to make them give you the world that you deserve. You’ll know how by knowing first where to strike them and when will allow you to make it hurt so badly that they can’t recover.”
“They call you things,” the girl said, looking up at her fearfully. “They call you viper.”
“Oh I am much more than that, darling,” Charlotte said, letting go of her shoulder with a smile. “I have seen the men like the one down there. I know what they would have of me but I know how to make them bow like lowly dogs too. They may call you such things. May call you even worse but think of what it would mean. There would never be another man to trap you again. No woman to lay a hand on you for fear of what you represent. You could be everything she feared but you need never worry about her coming near you because she wouldn’t dare. You could be fire. A force that cannot be bargained with or controlled ever again. Think of it! You could be so much more.”
“How?” the girl said, her voice unsteady but she had crept out of the shadow of the corner. Charlotte smiled brilliantly.
She turned her back to the girl, walking casually and allowing the young woman to watch her every step. Where and when to strike, she thought. What a perfect set up she’d been given this time. Charlotte casually picked up the gloves that she’d dropped to the floor and retrieved the better pair. She picked up the shabby ones and slowly looked back to the girl who was looking at her with confusion.
“You see, darling, there are no accidents in my life,” she said, walking back and handing the girl the weathered gloves. She took a small handkerchief and closed the door to the servant’s entrance. The girl looked as though she might protest but stayed quiet. “I always come prepared for circumstances that arise. Fate doesn’t always smile on me, however, so I must be willing to give it a hand sometimes. These gloves I’ve given you, they would look rather suspicious if I was carrying two, no? And with a man that is likely dead at the bottom of the steps, it would seem that they might think to blame me for such a rotten little accident. Now, wouldn’t it be so much more helpful to both of us, if you just happened to be preoccupied during this little bout of clumsiness our brute there suffered? Say, a little task like mending a pair of wretched, weathered gloves for me? Now wouldn’t that seem a natural thing for us to be doing right now?”
“I think,” the girl said, glancing at the door, her hand tightening on the gloves. “Yes. Yes, this seems like a fine thing to say.”
“Now, darling,” Charlotte said, gently, turning her attention back from the door. She looked the girl in the eyes. “This is what we do, women like us. They will believe us, dear girl, but only if we are not simply saying what we’ve done.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” the girl said, shrinking again.
“Quite right, darling,” Charlotte laughed, easily. She nodded towards the hallway. “Come and escort me to this dreadful dinner. I will do my best not to get ahead of myself but you’ll have to forgive me. You do have so much potential and so much to look forward to. It’s enough to get my own hopes up.”