As the driver finally came to a stop before the grand stone steps, Caroline was able to register the size of the building for the first time. It towered up higher than even the tallest buildings that she’d seen in an obscene display of grandeur that she was disgusted to be in awe of. Getting out of the car, she made her first unsure steps on the ascending stairway towards the doors that were set back under a large stone canopy carved to look like vines had engulfed it. The canopy jutted sharply over two large pillars that flanked the steps she climbed now and made her feel small and helpless. The cold wind stung as it whipped her, threatening to pull her coat open or her hat off her head. Caroline wondered suddenly if the world was conspiring to thwart her. If she was in danger of exposure before this great monument to her enemy. She clung to her costume, straightening her back as she made her way to the door lest she be called out as a fraud.
The dreary cold seemed to emanate from the building as she approached the large wooden doors that had been carved with great care and detail. As she got closer, she felt the rage inside herself but it was quickly engulfed by the memories that made her lips quiver. The doors were indeed almost identical to the ones that she’d grown to hate as a child. The forced play dates that they were made to endure with that wretched family. And her. The vixen who would use her cruelty to get what she desired but would hide beneath that mask of innocence. She was to be Victor’s bride upon his nineteenth birthday, even though she was at least ten years his senior. How disgraceful to think that her beloved brother would be married to someone who could not have found a husband by nearly thirty years old! And no one in France would have the hag because she was nothing more than a wretch in fancy clothing.
Before Caroline could stop herself, she began her march towards the door, cursing her father with each deliberate, furious step. He sold her Victor for their money. He took their brother away to appease his own greed. In this moment, Caroline could not reconcile the image of Papa in her head with the man who might agree to such a horrid disgraceful action. He looked into those wicked eyes when this woman was born and saw the evil in them. Saw the disgusting torment that he would inflict upon them all at Victor’s loss and still signed him away. Took him away from her. His own daughter and he would betray her like that.
Seething, she stood at the doors, tracing the intricate images, wished to destroy the artistry to reflect the truth behind the woman who created this rift in her life. Her fingers stopped upon the crest embedded in the door. She stepped back to see it better but her eyes did not deceive her. The crest that she had committed to heart and soul with her own burning rage and hatred was not the one she saw before her. It was still hideous but it was not the one that she knew. Not the same family that she knew from the youngest years in her childhood.
For a moment, Caroline paused, her breath caught. Could this have been a mistake? Could she have come to this fateful moment only to have failed on some small detail? No, of course she couldn’t have. She knew that woman’s terrible voice! She’d heard it ringing through the store that day and like a coward, she’d slunk away from her. Oh her rage would have done something good that day. How foolish of her to waste that opportunity in fear. Could she have come here by mistake only to find that she had allowed the tramp to venture out of her grasp? Clutching at her coat, Caroline swallowed her panic and forced her breath to still. Gritting her teeth, she refused to accept that she was wrong. This must be the place that she would find her enemy. She had researched this too well. It was all too much work to have been wrong all this time. She knew she was right. Forcing her lips to stop quivering, she raised her head in her proud stance and made her way back to the door, placing her gloved hand on the ornate handle. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she heard herself resisting. That this was wrong. She could not do this even if she was right. She could not be brought to relive the terrible things that had happened before. Her gloves pulling tightly on her hands as she gripped the handle harder, she pulled the door open with no resistance and walked into the building.
The museum foyer was as grand as the exterior. She allowed herself to take in the sight around her and feel the awe it inspired. This was the image of her youth. The chandelier above was radiant and cast a warm glow amid the dancing light of the crystals threw on the walls around. The room itself was a might bit strange. Octagonal in shape, it gave the scene of being in a great gilded birdcage. Bitterly, she thought of the house this wretched woman would have shut her brother in. The birdcage that she might have created for her entrapped prey. And it would be beautiful like this too. Too beautiful for anyone to complain about it at first. It would be laid out with the finest rugs beneath their feet as this place was. There was a door to her left with a large glass window through which she could see the exhibit currently on display. To her right was a set of French doors with frosted glass that gave the wavy impression of tables and chairs. In the centre of the room beneath the twinkling chandelier was a small table with an open book, a pen and a bowl with fresh cut flowers. Powder pink colored roses nipped as the buds had only just opened. Caroline removed her gloves and took the pen in her hands. These roses, she reasoned, should have been allowed to come to blossom. Should have been left where they were. Should never have been tampered with. She pursed her lips in bitterness, staring down at the rose buds. The true captive in the gilded cage was the youth. The young ones that were made to suffer for the greed of others. She did this to them all. Trapped them and kept them in these rotten cages to die under her smothering wants.
Caroline was shocked to see the centres of some of the buds suddenly becoming a glaring red. She looked to see that she’d pricked herself with the end of the pen, the drops staining the petals in glorious vibrant gore. How lovely, she thought. She replaced her gloves and with the bloodied end of the pen, she signed the guest book before her in a hand not like her own. The writing was beautifully curved and perfect in every detail. Her enemy was nothing if not a perfectionist after all. She would enjoy such attention paid to her. And, why, she’d left her a gorgeous improvement upon her stolen roses. Something to enjoy them a little more. Crimson suited the damned better than white or pink anyway.
Almost as if she were being guided, Caroline left her gloves on as she entered the French doors to find that the staff had just set up for afternoon tea. With a kind of charm and grace she had never known, she asked to be seated near the window and ordered only tea. Rose tea, specifically. Sipping quietly, Caroline tried to think of a time when she had ever enjoyed this kind of tea. Floral and vaguely sweet, the aroma haunted her but kept her rage at bay. She felt a kind of satisfaction in knowing that the owner of the gilded cage would know what was coming. She would feel the burn of hatred that she had seeded so long ago.
Caroline thought back to that day again when she found out that the vicious serpent meant to have her brother. It was at afternoon tea in their house on a day much like this one. The children had been sent to play and the elder siblings were to take their place for tea. Beneath her breath, sure to keep from the ears of others, she whispered her designs on Victor. She watched him, only a child with those bright, large dark eyes of his. He’d looked on the world with such wonder and moved with such grace and he was beautiful. The serpent had looked at him as though he were nothing but a toy that she would own. She smiled wickedly at the thought of what she would do to him as his wife. Yes, she was to be owner of him and her sickening thoughts were written all over her face. Caroline had looked at her that day and in her mind, she’d silently vowed to keep him from this tramp. This hissing vixen who meant to take him away from them. The cold hatred in her eyes must have been quite the sight for she swore she saw the girl before her start. She had tried her best to complete her task but now, Caroline knew, she would fail. She knew that she could find the wench and the deed would be done.
Getting up from her tea, Caroline smiled brightly thinking of the things to come. The wickedness that she might commit. And she’d left her enemy such a pretty parting gift. A crimson kiss mark on the edge of her cup to match the perfect stain that had seeped through her glove as she sat, her finger throbbing in time with her excited heartbeat. Soon revenge would be had and that woman would know it had come from the heart shaped petal shaped blood smear on her bone china.