Caroline’s rage may have been burning hot enough to make her move but the alcohol in her was making her weak and too tired to move. She wanted to fight its effects but she found that she could barely lift a finger as she began rapidly losing the battle with sleep. As her eyes closed, her head was filled with fanciful ideas of revenge, none of which she could enact. Her last thoughts as she drifted off to sleep were that she must find a way to punish that harlot. She must find a way to exact her revenge for the sake of her family. For the death of her dreams.
Almost immediately she found herself plunged into a deep sleep and immersed in vivid dreams. She was standing on the drive of the estate house, the image of her childhood home in a lowly condition. The grass had grown terribly long and was swaying in a summer breeze that she could practically feel the warmth of. The feeling of heat on her skin from a dream sun was a welcome distraction from the sorry state that her home had come to. The regal, stately house had fallen into disrepair and the paint had peeled from most of the siding. It stood blackened by age and weathered into a tortured leaning position. Despite her horror at looking at this monstrous parody of where she had once lived, she couldn’t stop her sleeping self from exploring. Her body moved forward even though she wished nothing more than to run furiously in the other direction. Take her from this horrid image of loss! Take this horrible dream away and let her hide in the arms of her alcohol, no matter how bad it was. She felt powerless as she moved ahead into the darkness of the doorway and into the shaded gloom as she entered through the open door.
Her eyes slowly adjusted to the lack of light and as the image came into focus, she felt the immediate sickening wave of dread come over her, wishing with all she had that it would remain vague. Her mind’s eye had no sense of mercy for her despair and the image swiftly came into stunning, devastating focus. The entrance hall before her was barren and the dull light that shone on the warped floorboards was filtered through the cracks where the walls had started to crumble. As she walked forward, she could feel the tears running down her cheeks as she carefully made her way into this dire scene. Caroline winced as she approached where the plaster of the wall had crumbled significantly on the left side and left a hole that opened up to the morning room where Papa had spent most of his days before eleven. He could always be found there with his pipe and his papers. No one was to bother him when he was there. Now, it was dank and the ruins of the wall outside gave only the faint preview of the decay inside. When Caroline reached the door proper, she gasped to see the warped floorboards had become so bad they had opened up and revealed the rotting foundation beneath. Between the gaps that had developed from the twisted wood, some defiant greenery had started to sprout. His books and papers were all still on the sagging shelves, soaked and disintegrating. The walls of this sun room were bloated with the moisture that had caused the hole in the first place and they looked deformed and sick. Caroline stepped just beyond the threshold but could go no further. She couldn’t take her eyes off the walls and gaze in horror at how they were stripped of their rich, beautiful paper, the last of it long gone and only the traces remained in the corners, curled up and blanched to the point of being utterly unrecognizable.
Her vision had become obscured by the tears that had were streaming from her eyes. How could the estate have fallen so fast? How could this have become such a ruin? She knew it was her failure. Her very sins had been the architect of their disastrous fall! She could stand to look at it not another minute. Caroline had unconsciously started to back away from the scene before her and when her back hit the wall, she felt a plume of dust settle around her as a rat scurried out of the defeated wall and into another safe shadow. Caroline gasped in horror and agony at the sight of what had once been her beloved Papa’s room. He had spent so much time there and allowed no one in there. Not even their mother had been allowed to enter this room. Now it was crumbling into the ground and she could not stand to think of what that meant for their father. He couldn’t be dead yet. He couldn’t have died. Not him too!
Scrambling clumsily to get away from this tormented image, Caroline rushed from the setting and back into the gloom of the hallway. She hurried over the treacherous terrain and threw herself at the double doors that would open into the great hall. Despite the rust on the hinges, the doors gave way quickly to reveal even more devastation within the interior of the house. She stopped dead in her tracks as she saw what had once been her home. The yawning horror before her had once been the great hall and heart of the household. Where once there was a grand, vast room with vaulted ceilings, dancing crystals above them like twinkling stars, rich wallpaper that glistened in candlelight and large windows covered in thick, lush curtains of velvet was now a hollow, haunted space. This great room of such history. The place that had once been a grand ballroom, its beautiful floors shone like the sun itself in the middle of the night as the important families made their way around it, twirling around and laughing during decadent parties and beautiful balls. That same floor was now covered in a fine grit that mocked her with the hideous sound it made with each trembling step she took. The grand chandelier that had given the room light lay in the centre of the room, rusted into a black metal heap with the remains of the shattered crystals scattered all around it. There was a vulgar crack in the floor beneath it where the tragic structure had hit it and Caroline felt like it mirrored the one in her heart to see this place fall to such a deplorable state. She could not look at it any longer for fear of what more she might see. What she might realize as she stared at this dreadful image. She tried to turn to flee the house and its wretched images but her foot caught on something and she fell to the unforgiving floor.
Before her now, the double doors where she had come in had been sealed by thick, ancient vines, the tendrils twisting together like knotted fingers curling into fists of rage. She looked to where she had fallen to see a thick root had surfaced from the marble. The warped floor had been hiding the same horrid reality, she realized. The very world around them had conspired to take hold of her beloved home and rot it out. Gut it entirely and make it a mockery of what it had once been. Caroline would weep if only she could find the breath in her to cry. Crawling on hands and knees, she could feel the same, hateful grit that her feet had been crunching on, digging into the flesh of her palms. She looked up to the vaulted ceiling above her and saw the cracks and broken glass in the skylights, the fallen debris blocking most of the light that would otherwise find its way in. She also saw, she realized, that the upper floors were intact. The third floor where the nursery had been. The third floor that had once been the rooms dedicated to keeping children out of sight lest the important families might find them distasteful. The rooms where young ladies would go to avoid being punished. The rooms where they hid when it was time for them to be busy and out of sight. All of their rooms where there on that loathsome, dark floor except one. His room was on the fourth floor.
There was no way to get to that floor from this hall unless one knew where the servant doors were. Unless one knew the nooks and crannies of this place well enough to know how to get around. To get to the third floor, one had to go through the back door in the left corner of the great hall, turn down a smaller hallway and enter the servant door hidden in the closet. It was hidden well enough that sometimes even Papa forgot where it was. In one of his stormier tempers, he would often mistake the door for the right hand side. There was a door hidden there too but that only led to the second floor where Charlotte’s room was. The door that led to the staircase that would take one to the fourth floor, however, was even better hidden. Hidden in plain sight, it was. The great brick hearth lay buried in the centre of the back wall, the grand portrait of their father placed above the mantle. In the decorative panels that framed the roaring fireplace, if one knew where to look, one might find a notch in the dark wood. One would then know that she had found the right panel with the hidden hinge that sat inside the deeper groove that was easily passed by. Painted to the same shade as the wood, the hinge was invisible and the decorative edge on the panel made for a convenient cover for the small space to slide her fingers in and pull the panel from the wall. It was the quickest method for getting to the fourth floor and one that all but their father and the servants were forbidden from using.
Caroline had broken that rule so many times that it would have been useless if her father had ever caught her or punished her. She knew exactly where to find those notches and the small gap behind the decoration that would allow her to open the panel. She pulled herself to her feet and though she was terrified of what she might yet see, she couldn’t stop herself. Her curiosity must be sated. She needed to know. Needed to see what had become of that room where her beloved brother had laid his head for years. Where he had dreamt of becoming a man and where she had once watched him in his slumber. Oh yes, she had spent so many hours there, watching him. Gazing on his quiet, sleeping form and marvelling at his innocence. At his beauty. As she quickly made her way across the horribly scarred and mercurial terrain that had once been their home, she felt a stab of regret. As she approached, she was not so sure that she wanted to see. These were sacred memories and she did not want to tarnish them. Let this house rot and the memories fall with it but let her keep that one special part of it. Oh how she did not want to see but her body would not obey her even as she cried out to stop. Forward she dashed until she stood before the hearth. She whimpered as though she were a spectator in her own form, finding the panel with the notch, finding the gap and pulling open the secret door.