Caroline had taken nearly three days to complete her transformation. She had to wash her cloche in order to go to the chemist under less suspicion but she had managed to rid herself of the wool coat that had been part of her undoing. Once she had returned, in the bathroom she replaced the spatter of red from the cuts on her fingers with the foul smelling scent of chemicals that turned her golden tresses to a darker hue of brown. She had not wanted to go to these lengths but she knew there was no other way. She remembered the way that her reflection looked back at her. The woman in the glass that stared back was not one she recognized. Had she been allowed the time to reflect upon this, she might have been frightened of the furious image she saw. The woman with dark brown hair sneering with fury was someone that she did not recognize but that same woman had taken her body with a fire that she could not control any longer. All for him. All to keep him from her. It must be done. She would not allow there to be any further complications. Victor would come home and she would not allow that woman to stop her.
It had taken a larger sum of money than she had hoped to keep herself disguised and this time, she felt more confident but it made her blush and feel ill when she thought of what she had spent. It was for the goal, she repeated as she dressed and looked at the woman in the mirror. The new look was still rougher than was to her liking but it would have to do. The darkness of her hair covered the raw cuts that she had made in her skin and with her new black gloves, she hid all the marks that she had made. Her gaunt face was pale and drawn, looking older still than she was. She looked at this scornful woman as she forced herself to apply rouge to her lips. She hated her. Maybe more than the woman that she would soon face. She despised the person in the mirror and looked for a hint of that girl that she once so mourned. The girl whose possibilities lie before her and for whom she might have given the world for a chance to make happy. Caroline was surprised to find that within her heart, there was no aching for that girl. No sense of loss or even remorse for having left her behind. That girl could no longer be. Perhaps a part of her mind wished to trick her. To tell her that it might still become what she wished but she had lost more than simply her beautiful wheat colored hair and her youth. What she might have lost, she could not say.
Today was the day that she knew was coming. Perhaps that day in the rented car, on her first trip to the museum, she had been convinced that she was ready. Oh but she knew better. She had left her mark. A way to tell Vivian, the wretch, that she was watching. It was all folly and she knew this now. She knew that she could not approach that woman with the same kind of innocent warnings that she’d issued as a child. She had known this as she entered that car the first time. How she’d twisted her aching fingers together, hoping against hope that she might still be able to get away from this option. She had done this terrible deed once. It had been a mistake and she knew it as soon as she’d seen the result. She shuddered away from the mirror at the thought of it. The past and how it had marred her so terribly. Soon, she would have to confront this option again. Soon, she would be forced to scar herself once more. It was for him. Always for his sake. She would not fail this time.
Uncomfortable with the scrutiny of the driver during her last trip, she vowed that she would not be distracted or unnerved this time. She rented her own car and set off toward the road towards her enemy. Her heart quickened when she thought of what was to come but she knew that it was for the best. When doubt began to creep into her mind, she was reminded, almost shockingly, of that terrible moment when she lost the letter. The shame she felt when she thought of how she might have to explain its loss to Papa Maurice. The white hot thread of fear and panic she felt when she thought of how news would soon reach her own Papa if she did not fix this. He had entrusted her with this task. He had told her that the house might crumble without him. Victor must come home. He must be married and he must be brought back. The very world, all of their precious plans, rested upon her success. She knew these things. She had dallied too long, been too cautious. This must be done to right what had been done. She would be stopped and it was up to Caroline to deliver justice.
It was as though the fury in her had been directing her, making the car move with a speed that might normally frighten her. Caroline was determined to get through this terrible deed this time and the speed felt right now. She remembered all too well how the drive dragged on too long last time. Oh how that driver had been trying to thwart her. It had been as though he knew. He must have. There was no excuse for how fretfully slow he was going on these lonely roads. He must have been trying to stop her from accomplishing her duty to her family. That must be it. Why, at this speed, she was nearly there. Almost through with this terrible chore and there would once again be time. Once again be able to breathe and bring her beloved brother back to sense. Back home finally where he would have all the love he needed. The only love he required in this world.
As the trees swiftly fell away to either side of the road, she saw the streaks of color that were coming into their edges. Like gold and orange blurs that streaked across into the grey of the skies that seemed to dominate the whole area. It was as though the color had to fight to come through into the oppressive darkness of this land. The dull sky and the deeper hue of emerald that seemed to entrench the whole of the country side like a kind of great shadow cast upon its fragile surface. It was as though the earth itself knew the evil it manifested. The sheer malice that it flourished in the very soil. The idea sent a shiver through Caroline’s body and for a brief moment, she felt as though her puppet strings might have been yanked askew and she saw as herself again. But all too quickly that feeling was gone and the car sped onwards on the road, the wild wind whipping the trees to and fro. That feeling was too dangerous too her now. That sentimental Caroline may very well lose Victor to that wretched woman for such folly. The howling of the the tormented air seemed to sing in unison with the horror in her being, telling tales of how necessary it all was. How revenge was the only way. How sweet it would be to see blood, finally.
The appearance of the gaudy house that carried the symbol that she’d burnt into her memory seemed to come too suddenly. Before she knew it, Caroline was upon the doorstep again, looking again at that new crest. Though she had only seen it that once when she was last on these steps, she felt as though she had seen it for a lifetime. This hateful carving was something that stirred such feelings of hatred in her, she was surprised at the viciousness that had arisen in her own mind and body. The very core of her soul was throbbing with a lust for blood that she had not felt in a long time. In a time when she had acted for Victor. A time she had banished from memory.
The silent door gave way as she pushed and once more, she stood in that gilded birdcage foyer. The doors to the tea room to her right showed a solemn sight of emptiness, the chairs all placed upon the tables and everything covered in sheets. The light filtering through the dreary clouds filled the room with an almost mournful air. The grey and blue hues of loss hung heavy behind those frosted doors as though it foretold of the tragedy to come. Without thinking of why, Caroline found herself slipping behind the frosted doors, into the gloomy room. Careful to silently close the door behind her, she looked around as she made her way around the tables. The oppressive silence only made the emptiness of the room more claustrophobic and she felt the need to gasp for air. Still she stayed silent, allowing herself to be led almost by an invisible will through the room. When last she was here, she’d been so very anxious, she had allowed herself to miss so much. The lovely dark carpets and the cream colors walls with carved pillars reaching up to a domed ceiling above. The frescos painted above were garishly done in violent colors that offended her to look at them. Each pillar was a celebration of that wretched crest. The very walls seemed tormented to carry its emblem embedded within them, as though they were calling to her now. Silent screams to Caroline to fulfill her duty. Serve justice as it was proper. Stay focused and move forward. Caroline’s rage began to resurface when she thought again of the revenge that she must have. For her family. Yes, the walls seemed to wail at her. For her beloved Victor.
Suddenly, Caroline was aware that the voices that she heard were not silent at all. Someone spoke somewhere nearby but faintly. She followed the sound to where it became louder and found that a careless servant had left open what might have otherwise appeared to be a closet door. Caroline looked about herself before approaching the door and silently slipping inside. It was the entrance to an area steeped in darkness. To her right was a short hallway and from the small window at the end of it, she could see it was a kitchen. Immediately before her was a stairway bereft of any care or luxurious detail as only a servant’s passage would look like. The voice had become louder and though the words were still unintelligible, its owner was unmistakable. Caroline’s teeth gnashed as she balled her hands into fists. That sound was the only one in the world she hated. Her target was at the top of these stairs. Through the darkness, she silently crept, her heart racing with malice in each, fevered throb.
Here I come, Vivian, she whispered in a feral murmur.