Caroline paced in her dressing gown, her bare feet making a soft, wet sound on the hard tile floors of the hotel bathroom. Though it was barely a whisper in reality, the noise was strangely unsettling to her as though it were an echo of someone else walking in the room. Someone who could be heard above the din of the running water. There was a plush rug at the edge of the tub in the corner of the room for her to walk on and mute the noise but it was too small for her liking and besides, she would be forced to be still soon enough. She looked back at the steaming water as it slowly filled the tub and felt the yearning to be back at her home in the manor estate in France. She missed the claw foot tub and how it held its warmth for a very long time. She had spent many an evening in there, letting the cast iron tub cradle her and dissolve her anxiety. She had been so eager to see her dearly missed brother that she had practically forgotten all the wonders of her own home. All the things that she now dreadfully missed as she paced in this strange bathroom within the large hotel of the township.
It was for the best, she reasoned with herself. No, it was all for the right reasons that she should stay near to her brother but not yet return. She saw the error of her ways once he left on that ghastly business trip that took him away for over a week. Being left alone in that house had made her realize what it was that had been driving him away. She was yet too eager to force him to see reason and too easily she had forgotten with whom she was dealing. Victor would yet see that he was meant to be the man of the house and the best way was to allow him space first. He must be allowed his delusions for the time and soon enough, he would see that all was for his own good.
Oh how foolish she had been when she arrived. She had been so spectacularly taken with what he had done that she was blinded to what he was truly. Of course he was still her brother and she loved him with all her heart. And of course there was the matter of the fact that he had grown quite a bit and he had become a very handsome young man but he still going through his wild years and in these crazy times, it was a wonder they didn’t lose him to the flappers in Paris. No, her darling brother was still barely more than a child and he must be coaxed much the same as when he was still much smaller. That could only be done once he was given time and space. Not too much space, mind. He had been allowed to roam for a mere four years but he had developed quite the attitude in that time. He believed himself to be a grown man now and though it was best to allow him these ideas for now, she was all too close to believing him for a while. In his house, that poisonous thought had been planted and it was only in leaving that she realized her error.
That house left her shivering and she pulled tighter at the dressing gown for warmth at the memory of it. There was something wrong with that place. She knew it the moment she allowed her foot to touch the stone steps and walking beneath the falling petals of that rained from the archway had filled her with a sense of foreboding that she had not known in all her life. It was a place of darkness that he dwelled in and there was no hope for them if she could not get him out of there. Only she could reach her beloved Victor and she knew that she must. Not for herself or her family or even Papa at this point but for him. Victor was drowning in those terrible shadows and she knew not what caused them but she knew that he was all too eager to allow this. She could not understand what would drive such a passionate man into the arms of such destruction.
She paused at this thought, ruminating on it, rather. It was a difficult thought that sat with her in a way that was uncomfortable and raised a feeling of dread in her. For a moment, she knew why but it was a fleeting hint of what she felt before it was gone and she allowed it to drift off. She had been tangled too deep in those dark webs herself and had no desire to drown with her brother. One of them had to see reason if he was ever to be able to come back to them, the bright young man that he was meant to be.
The tub now full, Caroline reluctantly allowed the dressing gown to fall from her shoulders and prepared herself for the hot water. It was indeed just as hot as the steam promised and quickly she watched her pale skin of her feet turn from their usual alabaster to a deep red. She slowly lowered herself into the hot water, feeling the brutal sting of it with each inch she lowered herself down. A familiar, if not uncomfortable, feeling for her. She allowed herself to focus on this act of pain and the thoughts of her darling brother faded. She did not wish to bring up the things that she knew would be sure to follow if she continued to think of such wicked ideas while she was now alone.
It had been so long since the days when she was alone and truly out of reach of anyone. It was difficult at her family’s estate for such moments, even as adults but it seemed so much worse as children. There was always dramatics in her family life it seemed and escaping to the solace of silence was a rare gem to be found. She used to try to find it wherever possible and for a time, it seemed as though every place she found was simply a false hope. When she was a young girl, perhaps no older than seven, she had found that the servants’ quarters were easy to sneak off to and in those days, they had few children of their own. She might have played with them a few times but mostly she would find her way to a maid’s chambers and hide beneath the bed. Her father had been so cross with her when she was found that time, he struck her violently enough to make her fearful of Papa. He had been most upset about it afterwards and even bought her new dresses to make up for it. He was always thoughtful like that. It had been impressed upon her, though, that the staff quarters in the lower rooms under the kitchen were not a place for her.
She soon found, however, that there were few places in that house where she would not be bombarded by the noises of daily life. The library was always full of gossiping whispers. The garden always had Mama’s friends and guests surveying the grounds and enjoying tea. The rest of the house was filled with staff and siblings and other visitors that there was scarcely a place where she did not feel the presence of someone else.
The east wing was once a favorite spot of hers as a young girl of thirteen. It was once the place where her grandparents had been most active. When her grandfather had died, her father had practically banned anyone from going there. For many years there were rumors though she knew better than to believe anything. People always thought ill of Papa because of his temper and it was truly so unfair of them. As she grew older, she knew it must have been a terrible grief for him to lose his father so suddenly. The wing was shut out of the difficulties suffered by a grieving son. It was so when Victor left too. She knew it well as she had refused to go near the nursery where she had practically raised him. When she would find herself near his chamber and find her heart aching too much for her to bare. She could not stand the sight of the things that he had left and know that it had been some terrible thing to take him from them. No, this was what her Papa must have felt as he banished all those things in the east wing to rot. All of the old possessions of her late grandfather were left as though he were expected to come back any day. Eventually they covered everything in sheets and she found that it was like dwelling among ghosts but her fantasies took her to believe strange ideas. The sounds coming up from the vents in the chambers below sounded like the obscene gasping of the phantoms she imaged the sheets to be. The fluttering fabric in the breeze made her feel small and unsafe.
Caroline felt her skin crawl with pain at that long banished memory. How silly to think of it now. How utterly childish. When was the last time she had thought of those days? She remembered just a few years ago she had wandered up there again. Tinkering with the long forgotten artifacts of their beloved grandparents and again she heard those terrible sounds echoing from the vents. Thinking back, it surely must have been the wind that made such deceptive noises in the drafty wing. So loud they got, but that must have been her imagination. She knew that it must have been. After all, it was in the middle of the day and the vents only led to the kitchen and the servant quarters. No one would have been there in the time before dinner would have been prepared. Her fingers ached as she held on to the plush face cloth and twisted it viciously as she thought of being in that room the last time. In that dusty old room with the moth-eaten phantoms fluttering about in mockery as she thought again how very much their voices sounded like Victor’s.