Victor had been mulling over the things the girl had said to him all morning. It vexed him, the way that she sounded as though someone spoke through her. The adult warnings that came from such a small girl. A girl, he could see, who had witnessed much in her young life. Her name is to speak in pain is what she had told him though it scarcely made sense if he attempted to tease it out. Something of a riddle, he thought. The child did not speak in riddles, though. She hardly spoke at all unless she was prompted to. He could see the expression in her eyes and knew the pain that she spoke of. A pain of silence and waiting. It was a pain that he knew well. A pain of suffering alone and though he had escaped his own prison, as she soon would escape hers, the price for freedom had not paid his debt in agony. The scars and memories of the past had found the thread to follow. Perhaps it was that initial thread that had led to his now forgotten feelings of fondness for Caroline. The letters that she sent him and the way they stirred emotions that he long thought buried beneath his hatred. It seemed a bad dream now. A reality that he could not figure or understand how it had ever been. He wondered now if that child would feel the same. Would she be able to leave the bars of her prison behind and find herself still saddled with how they felt? Would she somehow crave their wretched security enough to allow them to entrap her again? Perhaps only time would tell but there was so much that Victor wished to believe would come to pass. Watching her and seeing so much of his own struggles, he wondered for the first time if true escape was something he could ever hope for.

He might be tempted to brood about this. To find solace in misery for a while and wrap himself in the cold embrace of memories that he could safely say were locked in the past. It was a distraction he could not see to right now, however. Much as he wished to sink into his own turmoil and collect his thoughts, particularly on the last he’d seen of the widow, he knew there was the pressing issue at hand. Something was the matter with Charlotte. Something was very wrong with her, in fact, and he had noticed that she’d been diligently trying to behave normally and failing. It was not like her. She was a master at hiding her intentions and her deceptions. He wished that he could be relieved of the prickling sensation within his mind but he could not ignore the signs. She acted as though everything was fine but even the child had seen it. She was strangely idle. Quiet in a way that she never used to be. It was easy to want to throw this uncharacteristic demeanor off as a simple trick of being married off to so many curiously unlucky husbands. It wasn’t beyond imagination that she’d learned such a trick as silence out of desperation. After all, while she never outrightly said that she’d murdered anyone, the guilt was something that she had no interest in hiding. Rather the contrary. She was delighted at the prospect of how often she’d let her greed take her through the wilds of barbaric practices. It was her arrogance that had seen her through to get more than one husband and it was that same haughty air that spelled that something was incredibly wrong with her. It gave rise to his suspicions but it also gave a voice to a creeping feeling that there was something beyond her that may indeed be causing this change in her. Something or someone that may have found the power to challenge, and dare he say frighten, his power-hungry sister. Such a person, should it even be a person at all, he was not eager to meet.

Victor had been pacing about the house. He had initially left the drawing room on account of the chill that it filled him with to be there. It was as though the girl’s words hung about the air, echoing in his ears perfectly each time he turned his head. Sometimes, it felt as though she might still be in the room with him, the ghost of that moment lingering just behind his shoulder. Soon enough, the noises of the builders about the garden that was coming into shape at the back of the property and the constant sound of construction about the right side of the house where the staff quarters were nearing completion had forced him to wander about his home in search of anywhere that might allow for solace. He felt as though for a moment, he were back in the house on the estate in France. His heavy footsteps would echo about through the central hall and around the dining room as he tried desperately to think of something other than his sister and the girl’s dire words. So alike to the way that his steps would announce his pondering while he wandered in that rural house in France, his hours spent pining for Annabelle and plotting how to escape with her as his bride. How futile that all seemed to him now. He wondered if he would yet be thinking of this day a few years from now, hearing his own footsteps haunting him with the useless attempts at peace that he sought then. That he sought now.

His wandering had felt aimless initially but there was a sense about him that he knew where these thoughts and his very pronounced foot falls were taking him. It was the same feeling that he’d had swell within him as he’d stood in the spot where the garden was to be placed. The first day that he’d spotted the roses. How light and dizzy he’d felt then. The memory of it filled him with a kind of naked dread that made him shiver. He’d felt like a drunk man that day, wandering in circles but not lost. No, he remembered it too well, the feeling of being pulled. Called to the soft petals that he’d felt beguiled by. He felt a pang of disgust as he wondered if he had looked the same as the mess that had become of the widow when she had touched the petals of that rose. His footsteps had become more rapid as he thought of this but he felt powerless to stop them. He scarcely felt able to control himself as he seemed to rush towards his destination. His body knowing well before his mind what lurked amid the halls of his home. He felt foolish as he thought to himself that perhaps he was trying to save himself from their spell. The roses had been there that day. He’d felt their presence and felt that same dire longing to touch them. As he hurried, he felt the childish urge to stop himself from the past. Stop before their wicked color burned into his mind. The feeling would tingle in his fingers and his senses would still at their pungent perfume.

The corridors that stretched along the back of the house, leading to the french doors to the garden seemed to be ever out of reach as he hurried. The steady tap of those footsteps that only a few minutes ago seemed to announce his melancholic introspection had turned to the rapid drumming of his heart as he rushed. Too late, he saw that it was not himself from the past that he sought to save and his effort would be just as futile. The beautiful doors to the garden were left wide open, the sharp breeze from the damp cold swirling about him as he finally came to them. It seemed as though the scene before him were a dream that had swallowed his voice as he called. There stood Charlotte, her face a mask of anger and bitter tears streaming black down her face. In her hand, she clutched the stem of a rose she’d pulled off a nearby bush, her gloves ruined from the stains quickly spreading through the white. He called again, rushing from the doors to where she stood but she did not respond. Instead, she marched as though pulled about like a puppet, her steps faster than his own could reach her. She was soon out of reach and by the time that he’d followed her trail to the circle drive in front of the house, he arrived only in time to see her car enter the forest trail off the property.

Victor looked back and saw that behind him lay a trail of petals, strewn about the green of the grass. He followed them back the way he had come only to see something white lying in the grass where Charlotte had stood. Victor moved slowly, wondering if it was one of her gloves. He was repulsed at the memory of how the red had been spreading through the white satin so quickly. What madness had possessed her, he could not tell but it haunted him to think of it. As he approached the rose bush, however, he saw that it was not a soiled glove but rather a piece of paper. A letter that was marked with black tear stains and smears of blood on the edges, left crumpled in the grass. Victor took the defeated paper from the ground just as the first large rain drop spattered on its surface. He tucked it into his pocket as the rain began to pour.

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