The fabric of her gloves was all that hid her fragile grasp upon this day and Caroline knew it. She might be able to make her face a mask beneath her glasses and her hat but the strain of her wringing hands against the tanned gloves was all that masked the angry red marks that she had inflicted upon herself so foolishly as she rubbed her hands together. Her fingers twisting as her knuckles turned white and her belly aching, Caroline sat waiting to start the terrible business of what must be done. Seated in her gauche clothing hidden by her coat and her cloche hat, she had assumed that she would be sweating obscenely by now but she felt frozen. The autumn air had come to call and it had been so sharp the last two days, the chill had found her tender centre and stung her so badly, she feared that she would never again feel warm. She rubbed her hands together again but the sensation felt deeply disgusting but somehow satisfying in a way that seemed improper. The back of the hired car that she had paid to take her around should have been warmer, she thought, but she could not raise her voice to speak to the driver. Could not bring herself to speak since she left the hotel this morning. The bright autumn day had seemed to strike her blind the second she stepped out and she felt exposed and vulnerable as she had stood in the street. For one moment, the air seemed too sharp and the world too loud and bright. She felt as though everything around her saw through her disguise. Saw through her attempts to hide what she had done and all the things that she kept. All these bloody secrets that she felt as though were coming loose on her. The past would not stay silent forever and it would attempt to ruin her. To take her precious Victor from her grasp, this time for good. It took all of her ability to gather herself together to make her move towards the car. As it was, she was not convinced that she did not look like a fool in front of the driver though he said nothing. Let him ponder. She did not wish to speak with him anyway. But oh how he punished her for it. The car was far too cold and she knew that this was meant to show her that she had done badly. Perhaps it was a punishment for the terrible deeds to come.
Where was her rage now to save her this torment? To urge her forth into her greater purpose? She never anticipated such a purpose as this. Never believed that it could happen again that her love could be so tested but her family was all that she could ever hold to. Yes, she knew that it was for the two men that she held to so dearly but this was such a heavy price to pay and to have to do it yet again was more than she was prepared for when she embarked on this journey. Still for the greater good, she knew what was to be done. What must be done. She could not allow something to destroy her family when it could be stopped and it would be her to do it. She had dawdled when Victor left, clinging to the hope that he would remain in France and only venture as far as Paris. He was far too young, she’d reasoned, to run far. The world was cold and cruel and a young man his age would not weather it but he had. She had allowed his escape to London and it must have been there that the she-devil had gotten her hooks into him. Yes, it must have been the way. The fiend had found him vulnerable and alone there and she had crawled into his heart before Caroline had raise a finger to find him. It had been her fault so it had been her quest. She would right what had been done and damn the cost. It was for love and there was nothing more sacred to her. It was the only thing in the world that she could justify such a vile deed. For him. For love.
Caroline turned her attention to the shops as they passed by. Her mind danced images of what should be. If only she had taken his anger seriously, they might have saved him then. Brought him back and helped to clear his mind. Her fingers tightened again against the soft tan gloves as she thought of how it might have been to hold him back. To keep him in the nursery as she once did. It should have been done. The children are to be cared for, after all. So small, those children once were. They grow so fast and become so tall and beautiful. So handsome and willful. They become something like a grown man and it was so easy to forget that he was yet so young. So proud his airs but still the tender heart of that child could be found within him. She knew it must be so. He could not have been corrupted so easily. Why, already he had created for himself a sensible life away from the madness of the modern world. Surely these fads would pass him by and he had seen to it to preserve the good heart within him. Just like her beloved sensible Victor. So mature and yet so young. He would make a fine head of the household when he finally came to his senses. A great man too one day.
Today Caroline was loathe to be going where she was headed but it was of great necessity. She knew that it was the only way though she was overcome with a paralyzing terror each time she thought of what must happen. She felt ill to think of it even now, sitting in the freezing car and seeing the store fronts traveling faster now. She clenched her fists into balls so tight that it felt as though the fabric would crack. If she was not able to control the torrent of emotions within her now, however would she endure this suffering when she found herself at her enemy’s door? Would she be able to control her trembling once she had arrived at her destination? Would she find the rage that served her so well to this point? The searing anger that might make this terrible business into a kind of sickening pleasure? She did so hope. She searched her soul silently as the trappings of the town became less frequent and the modern world seemed to bid them farewell in the rear view. The hatred that had soothed her and created the woman who could be feared in town was gone. She could not seem to connect to it now and it played upon her mind that it might not return. She could not complete this without that key element on her side. Caroline could only hope that the rage would find her when she finally saw that woman. Her enemy might yet wake the cruelty in her.
Caroline closed her eyes and saw before her the rotten image that had spurred her into action. Given her the fatal clue of where she must go but caused her such dread that she felt as though she might faint at any moment. Still she forced her mind to focus. She could still see it if she tried and within her memory burned that grainy image that set her teeth to gnash. The illusion of depth given by the muddy grey tones in the paper had made Caroline feel as though she were staring into the pitiless eyes of the woman herself. The printed image had made her feel so very weak and frightened and that alone had sent her spiraling into a rage. A kind of blind anger that gave rise to a different woman that Caroline did not know she could become. Oh but the image had not simply been of her enemy. It had been of the woman who had ruined her brother. The woman who sought to steal him from his family and his place within their home. The woman who once mocked Caroline with what she might do to him and how she might break him. This wretch was the author of their pain and there she stood in the photograph smiling back as though the picture itself gloated of its partial victory. She had tried to steal him. Tried to take their precious Victor away and she sneered with a kind of wicked delight in the presence of those flashbulbs. It was a challenge and while she was in the privacy of her own secluded room, Caroline was all too eager to accept such a boast with a violent rebuttal.
The flame that had helped her to secure the future for her brother and had seemed to cast her as a different woman sputtered within her now. She could feel the soft light of its warmth somewhere in her heart but otherwise she felt cold and weary. As the town that held her beloved brother hostage was left behind them, she looked through the window to avoid seeing the driver. He must now know his attempts to bully her were working internally and she straightened her back as a sign that she was not feeling as vulnerable as she very much did. She needed this illusion now when it didn’t count. It gave her ample practice to appear as though she could complete her dreaded business once they arrived. If they arrived. As the last building of the town was lost from behind the tree-lined hills, Caroline knew that there was no turning back now. She balled her hands into tight fists as she prepared to confront her enemy.