The ocean liner on which he arrived was a distant memory now but simply the idea of seeing his memère brought back those long days that he spent with the black widow on those stormy seas with a kind of crushing nostalgia. She was the very reason that he had been able to start anew on North American soil and he was well aware that while he had been paid for his services by the man who hired him, he also owed her a debt that would not so easily be forgotten. It was not the man nor his money that had gifted him with such fortune and as long as he never lost sight of that, he had not seen his luck run dry. It was not lost on him, either, that the man who had so insisted on her safe passage to Courtland County had become greedy since their arrival. It had been a slow and simmering kind of malice that he dealt in and that man, whose real name Victor had never known, had allowed it to swallow him and the fool had embraced it. Even the name that he gave was one that Victor was loathe to think of in the safe arms of his own home. He did not wish to taint these walls with a name that could be remembered and a face that might be seen in the dead of night in the shadows. Victor was no stranger to darkness but he knew all to well the dangers of it. He had seen it in the widow’s eyes and it haunted him. He had no proof that memère had been to blame for that man’s untimely death but also was not foolish enough to chance that she was innocent. He was well aware of the kind of reputation she had wherever she was from and he knew better than to chance the veracity of it.
The woman he called memère was not his own blood though to look at her, it was easy enough to fool an onlooker. Though she was elderly, she had sharp features not unlike his own with and a wicked tongue to match when it fancied her. The man had never revealed where she was from and though she claimed it was close to the border of Germany in France, Victor knew this to be a lie. Aboard the ship, she spoke of her ancestry very little unless it would allow her passage to somewhere she wanted. Though few people dealt with them during their travels, she had told at least five different crew members that within her veins ran French, Dutch, German, Romani and even Italian blood. Though he knew better than to question her, she had once caught him glance at her during her fib. She later told him that her heritage was not one of province or country but tradition. She made it clear to him on that night that though the words were different, what she was called in any given country was the same. Victor wisely answered that to him, she was only memère. From that night, for better or worse, she was his son of fortune.
The road to the house of the black widow was not difficult to find in the light but he knew better than to venture out now. Memère was not one to abide by the laws of the sun and that which he sought from her was best kept in the shadows. Best kept even from his own waking mind, with its questions that will have no answers. Questions that he did not want answers to. No, memère would tell him truths that no one else could or would and he knew to delay such things with her would have consequences. If he were his daylight self with her, she would punish him and unlike his father, he would feel the heat of her vengeance in his soul. He knew that memère had a kind of wisdom that he was not capable of rationalizing, no matter how badly a part of him wanted to. The sun would set very soon and he could already see the long shadows stretching across the road upon which he must travel. He dreaded this visit, knowing that it would not be his last. He had no way of telling how but he knew that memère awaited him. He knew that she was preparing for his arrival now and that as soon as the sun sank upon the horizon, the urge to see her would be insufferable. Victor also knew that this was a journey to be made alone. He had readied the car to be taken by himself this morning and with each excruciating moment that ticked by, the darkness became heavier, pregnant with a kind of dread that he had not known since childhood.
While his dealings had remained his own and the house staff never interfered with his affairs, it bothered him to lie to them this morning about why he insisted upon driving himself this evening. The story he told about needing to be alone after the dreadful visit from his sister was, after all, completely feasible to the household. They relaxed with such a story, relieved that it was only the sorting of his annoyance and nothing further. While he had very little to do with his staff outside of business relationships, he felt strangely protective of them when it came to this sinister business that he found himself in. Perhaps this was what led him here this afternoon. The study where he had only a month before stood with his back to Caroline, lamenting his foolishness in allowing her to come here. Now he felt none of that malice in his heart but something stranger to him. He watched the movement of the men he employed to clear more land outside. They worked well as he knew they would. His own company was known for efficiency and Victor saw to it that his laborers were not only well paid for their efforts but hand selected for any projects that he required in the building of his own house. They were paid twice as much for the work and he found that the incentive had been of great benefit to him. Just as memère had said it would be.
Today they were clearing ground for what would become a new staff quarters. It would be little more than a cottage but it would be sufficient for the child and her mother. She had been diligent about ferreting information for him, almost to the point of alarm. Victor was suspicious of her but he could tell that the older woman was a dullard and almost deaf. No doubt the drunkard she married had done a great deal to dull the woman’s senses over the years and he was sickened to think of all that child knew from that household alone. It was little wonder that she let nothing pass her by while she was here. She had become invaluable to him and it was difficult to keep himself in check in trying to hide that from the others. So far, the staff had been oblivious to his shifting attitude towards the young girl and no one dared question why she was the first to be offered lodging in the new staff quarters on the property. The promise that he would have more built had been enough to keep their curiosity at bay and this was a relief as he tried to quiet his mind. He knew better than to panic over such things but the call from memère rang in his head and he could feel her tugging at him, digging to know more of what he had been doing. He knew this call did not spell disaster but he knew that any indication that she wanted to see him would be an upset to his plans. His anxiety grew with the ticking of the clock.
A soft knock on the door behind him, Victor felt his heart flutter but kept his eyes forward. His expression may have been of stone but he knew his eyes sparkled with a kind of fear that most never saw in him. He refused to allow anyone to see it now. Not so close to the fall of darkness as the first lights began to appear in the town below.
“Sir, the noise troubles you?” the girl child asked softly. “They have been here much longer than any of the other workers.”
“Yes, child, they are working still,” he said, his voice sounding foreign to him. “They will not be here much longer. The house will become quiet soon.”
“Sir, the staff are talking again,” the girl said, inching forward. “They speak in hushed tones. They say you are leaving for the night to be free of the memories of your sister. This is not true, is it.”
“No, chèrie,” he sighed. Curse her perception, he thought to himself. “I must go see someone this evening. It is best I go alone.”
“You won’t bring her the roses, will you?” the child asked, her voice suddenly on the verge of panic.
Victor was taken aback and looked to the girl to see her cowering but not from what she said.
“I did not tell you whom I intended to see,” he said, slowly. “Why would you assume it was a woman? Why would I bring her the roses?”
“I know things,” the child said, her voice wavering. “The roses know too. Please don’t bring them to her, even if she asks. Nothing good will come of it. Please don’t ask more.”
The girl ran away before he could say another word, her face already streaming with tears. A part of him was disturbed by how much she knew and how she found out but it was the terror in her voice that halted him from moving. He looked out over the land being cleared for her new home to see that on the edge of the work site was a young rose bush.