Caroline had retired to bed early though she was aware that her brother was not fooled by her attempt to feign exhaustion. Still, she made the attempt to try to fool herself at least. She had locked the room for the evening and dressed for bed though she had yet to draw the curtains. There was something about watching the night fall on the land that she dreaded and yet she could not look away. The way the shadows would seem to crawl out from the forest and swallow the small township below felt ominous to her and she wondered how her brother could stomach seeing this day after day. How he could live among such strange and dark shadows. It seemed that comfort was not something she could hope to find in this house and it was troubling that her brother was so in love with such surroundings. She was well aware that Victor was wary of her and since their conversation the other evening, he had become cold and difficult. Surely her pacing about the room tonight would do little to entice him to see reason nor would it improve his humor. She frowned as she wrapped herself in her dressing gown and continued to move about the room. She had made a fire earlier and if she was truly committed to the lie that she would soon go to bed, she would have to let it die. Still, she was not content to sit in the chill of the room. Not alone. She knew well enough that the sombre mood of this place was all too welcome to stay and she was not. It felt as though the flames themselves were burning too cold for her liking and she wished so dearly that this feeling would leave her. She wished she truly were exhausted and that she might be able to rest. Maybe tonight the shadows would not play tricks on her and she would not be haunted by the last words that she had heard come from their ailing father. How very similar the words were to the ones Victor spoke to her.
She knew the day she arrived that this house would be his tomb. So like Papa he was that way. So very stubborn. In the four years since he had left their household, he’d grown into a fine man. He had more than proven to everyone that he was at least their father’s equal in his mastery in financial matters though it was difficult to pin down exactly how he had managed to recover from his banishment of the household so quickly. Of course, there was no denying that though they shared a last name, Victor was always a perfect hybrid of their parents and for all his charisma and beauty, he was to thank their mother. Unlike herself and most of his siblings, he was truly his mother’s son when it came to his temperament and his features. He was a handsome man and between Papa’s unwavering determination and Mama’s ruthlessness and cunning, he might have any woman he desired and yet he focused that iron will of his on creating a fortress to the world. She didn’t know yet if he was able to see what he had built for himself but it was his own private hell of solitude. The chill of it was evident the moment her foot touched the stone step and she knew that her quest would be fruitless. He would never marry. Not under duress at any rate and certainly not to save the one who had inspired such a lofty attempt to shut out the world. She hadn’t the heart to tell Victor any of this, though she was acutely aware that he would not deign to listen to her anyway. She only wished that her siblings and her ailing father would have realized that before this. Whatever hope they’d placed in her was only the dying embers of what they wanted, what they truly wished would be, giving off their last light before going cold. Their hopes would be dying sooner than Papa at this rate.
Such strange final words that Papa had uttered. As he spoke them, he’d clutched her hand in such a way like a drowning man. She felt compelled to recoil when he’d done it but remained steadfast in fear of what it would look like to the others. Caroline had always been the sensible one. The same as they had always come to depend on, especially when it came to Victor. She’d grown up nearly exclusively mothering him and wrangling him from the time that he left his wet nurse and when their poor Mama passed, she practically assumed the role if only because she was the only one that might be able to reason with him. Though she was never as successful as she would have hoped, she liked to believe that at least once, her brother had been fond of her and maybe even this entire visit had been a nod towards that past affection. She no longer knew what to think of his demeanor and his distance did little to support her feeling that he might once again respect her wishes. It was in these moments that she once again felt the tug of her father’s hand on her own as though grasped by a phantom and she wondered if he had in fact died already. She gasped at the thought when she realized that it was not out of sadness but out of fear. She could hear those terrible words echo in her ear as if he stood beside her and she felt an awful burden placed upon her shoulders by them. She knew that she could not come home to disappointed faces and yet she knew there was no moving this stone for them. A terrible fix she was caught in this time.
She wanted to resent her brother his stubbornness but she found that she could not. Her weakened heart could not allow her to feel as her siblings did towards him and as she stood now at the great window, staring at the small lights winking out in the distance, she only felt a kind of sorrow. She was devastated at how alike the two were. All her good sense had done nothing to save him from himself. Done nothing at all to ease the rift that had begun when her own father had seen himself reflected in his younger and only son. He’d warned her then that she would be the one to tame him. At the time she’d been honored to be the one. Caroline was not the oldest but she had been the one with the brightest ability to deal with the young one, as they’d called him. He was simply a wayward child, they had reasoned. He was simply a lad who had spirit about him and soon he would be taught the ways of being a young man. She had been the only one to try to reach him and his hand, though it remained unwilling so very often, would eventually reach for hers. He did not like the life that had been carved for him but she swore that one day he would understand it and even learn to relish it. She thought she had all but succeeded in this venture when he had started to take on the duties for their father. He would have been a fine head of their household if only he would listen but he never did. Caroline knew that for all his potential, her brother was nothing if not completely stubborn to a fault and there was no swaying his mind once he’d made it up. So it was before and so it was still. And yet, she saw this house and what he had built and she knew that she was right about his potential. If only that rift could have been avoided, this might have become their household in their family estate and they need not have their brother living among the shadows as he did. It all felt like such a tragedy.
A chill ran down Caroline’s back and she felt close to tears. Her time here would be coming to an end soon and she would have to return to her own family. Her father and his eyes, fixed on her with eagerness. She felt short of breath just thinking of this. Victor would never relent and this was her only task. All her life, she had been taxed with this one assignment from their only parent. And she had failed time and again to produce what was asked of her. Victor, the wayward child. The young one with too much spirit. She was the one to reach him, to tame him. She would find a way to quell his desire to roam. To see reason, she would teach him. It was the only thing in her life that she had done, foregoing her own marriage prospects and settling into life as a makeshift matriarch of her whole family and yet here she was going to fail at it again. To return to their questioning eyes and know once more that they would be disappointed. He would be disappointed and so very angry. Why must she have failed the one time it mattered so much? How could she really be coming home to break the trust of a dying man?
The chill she felt before intensified and Caroline, for one terrible moment believed that she was not alone in her room, though she knew she’d locked the door. She turned, trembling and convinced that she would see the eyes of her accuser standing at the doorway. Her lips quivered when she saw the last ember from the fireplace slowly fade and the wisp of white smoke coming off it curled up as if to carry with it a secret that she did not remember telling. Caroline quickly crawled into bed and burrowed under the covers but still could not rid herself of the chill as the darkness seemed to creep closer from every corner.