As she’d anticipated, Victor was suspicious as soon as Caroline set foot inside the door and was further agitated when she continued to pace around the drawing room alone before dinner. She could not very well pretend that he didn’t have good reason to question her behavior. Caroline had been dismissive of the house staff and even snapped at one of the young girls who had offered her tea when she returned. She had been shopping for hours and returned with only a few small items for some of their siblings. Though she tried diligently to converse with him, Caroline was tripping over her words and alarmed at the slightest things. She knew that he would be in a dreadful mood if she continued to fuss but she could not react any other way when she heard that woman’s voice echo in her ears. Along with feeling uncomfortable with the violence in her tone, Caroline could only image the kind of terrible things such a woman would say to her if she knew that she was from the Fevrier family. Of course that dreadful woman would know of the terrible rumors circling them all like cruel vultures. Too aware of their father’s failing health and it would be the ruin of their family if she knew how desperate they were to get Victor back. She could breath not a word of this to her brother, though. If he knew, what kind of awful accusations she would have thrown at her from him she dared not think of. Caroline had never felt more crushed. Never except the terrible time when her brother had left them.
The clock on the wall of her room loudly announced that it was eleven in the evening and she still had not retired to bed. The ticking was terribly intrusive tonight and she felt as though it was part of a silent jury sitting in witness of all the things she had failed at. It did little to help her that she had shamefully accepted too much wine this evening. Caroline had wondered how old the bottle must have been because the vintage hit her badly after a second glass. She did so wish that Victor did not keep so much wine in his cellar but thought better than to speak of such things to him while he was in such a mood. The kindly youngest servant girl had taken pity on her and refilled her glass several times, most of which when Victor was pre-occupied and less likely to judge. He did so hate it when she became intoxicated but it had done a wonder to calm her nerves and the rest of the evening had been terse but more normal afterwards. Victor seemed to calm as soon as she returned a bit to her old self but still, she dared not chance her luck at this point and retired early, claiming a headache from the activity of the day. Her brother was not altogether fooled by this but he’d accepted her retreat without any argument.
Caroline had tried, diligently, to force herself to relax but the minute she was alone, she felt the walls had moved closer to her. It was as though the anxiety that she felt drew them ever closer still and with each trembling breath, she felt them encroach. The clock had suddenly become terribly loud and Caroline swore that the noises outside that rattled the window were straining to get into the room which was horribly chilled and seeping into her in a way that the fire could not protect her from. This was her personal jury and it had come to attack her. It was as though there were phantoms sitting with her in judgement. They spoke in her ear as though they were crouched next to her. They spoke in the voices of her siblings and her elderly father. They spoke in the voice of the woman in the shop. Caroline dare not say her name, not even silently to herself. They spoke in a voice that she had not heard in five years now and she could not bring herself to think of its owner. No, she could not stand it tonight. The sound of him, angered and his temper flaring like Mama’s used to when they were children. It was too difficult for her to bare this burden tonight. It was willful deception and she knew it. The phantoms knew it too. Caroline could feel the weight of their chiding sitting heavy on her. She had seen nothing but more than once, she swore that she felt the cold breeze of someone pass by. Of someone standing at her shoulder the way Papa used to when she had failed to teach Victor again. They all knew her failure. Her deception. Her terrible secrets.
Caroline felt her breath catch in her throat at the thought of having to tell this to her siblings. To Papa. She had sworn to him that she would do everything in her power to return Victor to his family where he belonged. He was counting on her and their faith in her had been their last hope. It was a poorly kept secret that they were difficulties in the family as their father’s health faded and there had been too much faith placed in their youngest brother. To be sure, he’d grown into the heir that he was always meant to be but the longer she was there, the more she saw how in love he’d fallen with his isolated house in the forest. Caroline had no way of knowing this when she’d set out to come here and even though she knew how stubborn Victor had always been, she had foolishly believed somewhere in her heart that he would find it to forget the past. That perhaps finally she could bring this rift to a close and complete their family once more.
It had been so easy to agree to this and give her sincere promise to her family when she was still in the position to lie to herself. Before she knew of his beloved darkness in this house, it seemed as though there was hope. Knowing now that such a dreadful woman was here was too great a burden for her. She shuddered when she thought of what Papa would think if he knew. How would she be able to face him now? How could she face any of them knowing what she did? It was easy to lie to Victor about it in fear of his cold temper and his already strained sense of civility. It was less so when she was going to be coming back to the estate without the young man that they were expecting. Of course, they had all assumed, rather out of wishful thinking than anything, that he was penniless and would be willing to jump at any chance for redemption. Though she knew not how, by some miracle he had managed to restore himself to a fine position and needed no creditors it seemed. They had not factored in that he would have recovered his own wealth and that the inheritance would matter little now.
The clock remained too loud and she the accusatory thing would cease its mockery. She felt hopeless despair upon looking at the antique beveled face of the offending timepiece only to find that it was nearing midnight. There were no comforting lies for her to succumb to here and the clock would not allow her to rest and retreat into the soft dreamy bed. Trembling, she continued to pace but her legs had started to ache from walking about the room too much. Outside, the whisper of the trees in the wind was getting louder and she felt another presence pressuring her. Why had she come here, she thought as she wrung her hands together. She paused at the window and looked out over the darkness. From the glass, she could see the silhouettes of the modern buildings that she had seen up close and felt sickened by them. It seemed as though the darkness of this place had swallowed all her plans. All her dreams of her brother and his happy life. Of the children that he should have. Of the life that they would have had. Her breath shook inside her chest and her lips quivered as she was forced to turn away. Feeling faint, she nearly fell into a nearby chair. She rested her head against the sturdy oak desk and wished for the past to come back but this time she could have done something sooner. Something that would have saved her brother from the distance that he put between himself and all of them. Saved herself from this unforgiving predicament. From the terrible deed that she was about to commit.
Without allowing herself too much time to think about it, Caroline moved in a most mechanical manner as she took out the paper from the drawer. She crumpled the letter she had started when she arrive and threw it in the fire. She took a crisp piece of paper and her favorite pen from the holder. She began to scribble a note and before she could read it back to herself or even think of the content, she let the ink lead the way. The scribbles scarcely looked as though she had written them, they were scrawled so fast. She need not read it to know that it sounded blunt but it mattered little with what she wrote. Faster still, she wondered idly if it would even be legible by the time she was finished. It was as though her hand knew better than her mind what to say and continued on as though it would simply finish without her. She felt a cold sense of shame tied to the relief sweeping over her as she wrote. She had nearly finished her signature when the clock behind her struck midnight. The scrawl of her writing scratched through the paper with a violence that made her shiver. She quickly folded up the letter and placed it in an envelope that she’d intended to send the other letter in. Swiftly, she sealed it. Drawing her dressing gown closer to her as she silently slipped out of the room and down the darkened hallway, she ran to the morning room where the mail would be collected to go to the post. She tucked the envelop into the pile, forcing it under the others so that it sat near the bottom. In the darkness, she couldn’t even see it to retrieve it now. The deed was all but done.