Charlotte had returned to the house, her demeanor calm but inside she was obsessed with the need to see the inside of the letter. Should it contain anything to do with the money, it would only be another day that she was stuck in this wretched hell of a town and she might be back in at least England before the first of December. True, it didn’t compare to the glorious lights of her beloved Paris but it would be better than here. It would be too late to see the fall fashions in the city of light but it would allow her time to recuperate before the spring lines began to appear. Why, she might still find another husband in that time and that always made for good shopping before things took a turn for the worse. Still, she was confused that even this didn’t seem to excite her that much. For as much as she hated this tiny, boring place, she was shocked to find that she didn’t care to leave as much now. It wasn’t as though her will to get out of here and especially away from the men who might find her yet had diminished any. If anything, she was well aware that she might, at any time, be discovered. Charlotte was not naive enough to believe that anyone might come to her aid in such a case and her deceased husband kept such unsavory company. The likes of which she would much rather avoid than anything and if that envelop held the keys to her escape, it was all the more reason to open it now.

It was, however, most unfortunate that this dreary corner of the world was among the only safe spaces that Charlotte could count on right now and it was owned by the one person whom she both trusted the most and the least. Depending on the contents of this letter, assuming it was a letter, she might invoke his wrath and while she was not afraid of him, per se, she was aware that they shared the same taste in vitriol. Considering his moodiness of late, something had transpired in such manner that she had not seen and she was best to be cautious. If she simply produced the letter that contained the means to get him out of that inheritance, his suspicious nature would erase all of her excuses. He seemed as though he were in particular danger of bursting these days. She’d not seen him like this since his childhood days when he was first told of the plans to rule over his future. He would wander about, his demeanor that of a young man who plots. But it was different. He was plotting, for certain, but there was purpose behind it. When he was a boy of only sixteen, so serious and so very old in his youth, he felt the helpless trap of his age. He was a man with no standing or power to his name yet. All he possessed was his temper and his fiery will. It had proven to shape him into the bold man of fortune that he was now but there were still traces of that child within him. The man who felt that passion and that fury could subdue them but he was a man who walked to plot his future with a look of uncertainty about him. It made her nervous.

Though it had been maddening for her, Charlotte kept the letter secret for the rest of that day upon her arrival back at the house. She spoke very little of her trip into town, adding idle complaints so as not to arouse Victor’s suspicions. Still, her brooding sibling had kept an eye on her, keeping quiet as he did so and staying up late into the night. As such, Charlotte chose to hold the letter close to herself and open it only once he had retreated into some manner of meetings or other busy work that he could occupy himself with. She slept that night with the letter under her pillow, her fingers curled around it protectively. Such horrid dreams she had of things that would go unremembered upon opening her eyes but would burden her for the rest of the morning. She felt the overpowering sense of dread haunting her as she made her way through the rooms, in search of somewhere that might allow for her to shed her secrets. Alas, there was always someone whispering. Eyes upon the walls and upon the bodies that moved about between them. The servants that populated his home were few and regularly unseen but she felt their presence about her more now than ever. She was especially wary of the child that he built the home for.

From an outward appearance, there was nothing to fear except that she reported to Victor regularly on the activities of the house. The other staff were all but unaware of this but Charlotte had seen the way the child would interact with him. And to his credit, Victor was almost kind with her. Not affectionate though it might be mistaken for such kind of nonsense. No, there was a kind of respect there that he reserved for that one. She still addressed him by his proper title and he never called her by name but at this point, she wondered if that was simply to protect his arrangement. What was it about her, now that she thought of it, that caused her to feel so very guarded? It was in the eyes, she determined. Those large, sad eyes that saw such horrors but recorded them all. Saw and kept those horrid memories locked away safely as she waited for later. Perhaps to tattle to Victor? Perhaps there was yet more this child could tell but that was information that she found herself feeling almost frightened of. And when she was in the room, Charlotte knew there was something about that girl that she did not trust. There was a price to be paid when she was caught by those haunted eyes. She felt no need to extinguish them, but rather, to avoid them. There was no telling what manner of secrets that she held and to hold all of Charlotte’s sins was a terribly frightening thought indeed.

Perhaps this was the true reason that she had wandered outside into the wind. The cold air stung her lungs as she walked about the grounds, clutching at the collar of her coat. It was far too soon for the chill of winter to touch the air to transform the world to autumn but it seemed as though nature here was less civilized than it was back home. It ran wild across these vast landscapes, creating chaos that could be neither domesticated nor completely recovered from. There was something admirable about it, even with the discomfort that it caused her now. Charlotte allowed the winds to whip at her, almost as though they were guiding her along to a secret space. Anywhere would do. She was careful to avoid the mud of the gardens that were being laid. Victor would demand to know what she had done if she were caught with dirty shoes. She smiled to herself at the thought of being scolded like a child at the sight of her muddied shoes. Her finger began to throb madly beneath her glove as she approached the edge of the forest were the wilds of the woods began again. Following the edge of the grounds, she found a trail tucked in between the trees. Absently, she followed until she found a curious sight. Charlotte stopped and stared at the low hanging tree before her. Tethered to its lowest branches was a couple of ropes that held a small rotten wood seat. Clearly meant for a child as the seat hovered only barely a foot off the ground.

Here the wind was less cold and the overhang of the still full trees allowed her to feel covered in the shadows. Charlotte felt a kind of disturbance around her here but the urge to see the contents of the letter was too strong. She looked behind her, trying desperately to shed the feeling of being seen. She carefully took the letter out from the inside of her jacket and felt a chill run through her body as she opened the envelop. Within was no money but rather, a long letter, at least two pages if not more.

Charlotte felt her heart beating furiously as she carefully unfolded the letter pages. She felt her breath quicken as she saw but at first could not fathom the image before her. The letter before her was written in such a hand as she had not seen in so many years. Trembling, she felt her breath stagger at the sight of it. It could not be true! The spidery lines of such a venomous scrawling hand! It stung her heart to see it. A rage built within her that she had not felt in many years. Not since last she saw the owner of such a hateful and cruel scribble. Her teeth gnashed as she forced herself to read the words the wretch had written. Clutching the envelop in her tightening fist, her lips were set to quiver from the sheer hatred that welled within her breast. Her heart ached with it and pumped with a slow icy vitriol that felt deliciously painful. Could this have been masterminded by her wretched half sibling? And if so, could it be true that she had done such a thing in hopes of fulfilling her vile desires? Her breath shortened at the thought of it. She felt the color drain from her face as she thought of what this letter might mean. Could it truly have been written by the fiend that she’d long considered dead? She thought her teeth might well crack in fury at the thought that he might have survived. That she might have to return to finish the mess that his survival would have caused. Or could this be a deeper betrayal from her witless sister? Could someone whom she’d long taken to be a dullard have developed some form of cleverness that might have allowed her to pull this off? If so, then her designs on Victor’s return were truly disturbing. And ripe for a kind of blackmail that would almost guarantee that the money should be Charlotte’s before the end of the year.

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