Caroline sat in the darkness of her rented room, the heavy drapes drawn shut. She had not left in at least a day and had sent away the maid twice when the girl had arrived to clean the room. She had been as courteous as she could but she did not believe that they knew nothing. How could they not? Oh someone must have seen something! Someone was playing a terrible trick on her. Of course they were. Someone who knew about poor Papa and his ravaging illness. Oh how sick he must be with worry. She did not believe that he was gone. He was simply ill but he had not gone without saying goodbye to her. He couldn’t have. He loved her far too much. Far too soon. He could not have died yet. He was still strong enough for at least a little while longer yet. She had not succeeded in her task and he was going to be proud of her yet. She knew it. He had to be.
Feeling too sick with worry to stay idle any longer, she began to pace, her lips trembling as she struggled to think. What rotten spectre had come into her life now at this most dire hour? How might this have become without her noticing? Surely it must be someone she knew. Someone who stood to gain from her failure. Yes, that’s all this was. It was a rouse. A terrible, nasty trick. But could it be Victor?
No! Not her beloved brother. He was too fragile and young for such a vindictive act. Far too kind and tender of heart to commit such wanton acts of cruelty. She loved him so but he kept such rotten company. It must be someone he knew. Someone in the house, perhaps. Someone who knew who she was. There was no other explanation. Victor had fallen into the clutches of another who had poisoned his mind. Yes, that was it. It must be. Someone was tricking her dear brother and he was still so blinded by his strange wealth. He believed himself to be a man and yet he was still so much a child. A child at the mercy of a vixen, no doubt! But who might it be? One of the terrible people under his employ perhaps? A maid whom he might have taken a fancy of? No, best not to think of such things! It was beneath him to do something so vile. No, even poor, sweet, innocent Victor would know better. He would not have lowered himself to fraternizing with the staff of his own house. Why, it pained her deeply to think of such rubbish. Such disgusting thoughts.
That woman! It must be her! Caroline had laid eyes on her last when she was in the shop buying trinkets for the children. For her siblings. Yes, that was it. She had been so very careful but she must have let herself become clumsy when she was trying to escape her gaze. Yes, that must be it. She had set her sights on Victor when she was but a vicious school girl and now she tormented Caroline with the knowledge of how to vex her most beloved sibling. Oh she was just so cruel. So very wicked and she endeavoured to do such unspeakable things to poor Victor. That must be it. It had to be the case and she must be the treacherous fiend who had played this terrible trick. Who else might have cause to see her in such agony? That woman must be the culprit! She was at the heart of this madness. She had found a way into Victor’s heart and would not rest until she had stripped the Fevrier name into ribbons. Papa must be so very worried. So very heartsick for what becomes of his beloved children. He was so ill and he must be so weakened at the thought of how this must be taxing them. Why the thought of Victor in such a state would near put him into a fit. She could not stand the thought of it. Papa loved him so and he would be so cheered when she brought him home. She so looked forward to the day that he would walk through that door on her arm and she could show him all the love that awaited him. If she could only detach him from the terrible company he kept, she could show him such things.
Pacing around the bed, she looked upon the small crocheted caplet that was sent to her. She had not dared touch it, leaving only the corner of the paper wrapping peeled back. The small white part of the exposed garment had such an ugly stain on the edges close to the collar. The wicked item was wrapped with such a precision that it looked almost like a sinister gift. Such a poisonous thing to do. How vile of that terrible woman to do this to her! She was to blame! She must be.
There was a small voice echoing in the back of Caroline’s frazzled mind. It was so very tiny and in her panic, she had all but missed the very simple message that it kept repeating. Like a child’s voice, saying the same wretched thing over and over until she wished to silence it with her bare, white knuckled fingers. She wrung her hands silently until that twitching fingers were raw and sore. The panic had slowed a bit as she slowly came to her conclusion but there was that terrible repetition going on in the back of her mind. How she wished to cast it out. To get a hold of its nagging source and purge it completely from herself. Her chest trembled with a kind of terror that had turned to rage without warning on her and she felt the fire burning like smoldering embers within her.
Caroline had felt this kind of terrible sensation before. Something so very like it had come bubbling to the surface when she was but a child and she would be confined to the nursery. Oh how her nanny could be so very cruel. Caroline had long ago feared these bouts of rage that boiled within her. Feared the way that they made her voice sound harsh and cruel. Feared the feeling that seethed beneath her skin that should have felt wrong but instead felt so utterly cathartic. Feared the demon it brought out in her nanny who would punish her so harshly, the marks could sting for days afterwards. She hated her nanny. She hated so many things and yet she had learned to fear this hatred. Fear it so that it would not result in any more lashes. She’d learned to still her body and soften her voice but the rage seemed to flourish within her still. She would look at the purple marks on her white, childish limbs and feel like it was flowering within her flesh. There was a sensation like it had grown since then. What rage had filled her then was a kind of anger that only a child could feel. The want for sweets. The desire for a different doll than the one she’d been given. Arguments over the way that she kept her flax colored hair. These things were another lifetime ago. Another girl who was once a very small child. One could describe her as willful once, not unlike other children she’d seen. Why, her own one day might be the same. But the rage was so very loud back then. That fiery will that she once knew was so painful but so fulfilling when it came out of hiding. It was like being buried the day she realized that she’d managed to place it behind the ice of her reason.
Why, yes, she was the reasonable one, wasn’t she? She had come here, had she not? She had come to bring their darling brother home and she had done everything asked of her. The rage seethed still but it felt colder now. More malleable to the touch and useful for the task at hand. Clearly this woman must be stopped and she was not being unreasonable to believe such a thing. No, of course she was not. Why, her very name was at stake. She could not allow her beloved Victor to fall prey to such wickedness. Not as long as she could prevent it.
Caroline’s heart quickened in her chest as she looked at the offending gift sent to her. The liar would know the depth of her anger soon enough. There was only one matter to attend to now. She must find out who had found this wretched piece. She would find out by any means necessary who had found this caplet. She would unravel what this person knew about it. Why they would send it to her. She would come to know all these things so very soon. By any means necessary.