The business of saving her brother was one that she accepted must be done mostly without him but Caroline lamented the need for such secrecy, particularly as she moved about her tasks. She knew that with Papa’s health fading, most would not notice that she had fibbed about how much money from the account that she would take but she knew that her father would not deny her. After all, she had been the one to find their lost sheep and it was only correct that she should have the resources she needed for her task. Of course, they would hardly understand that she had needed to go out and buy different clothing in order to fulfill this chore. It was a tedious task and she was appalled to have to lower herself to wearing these modern styles but it was a necessary evil, as far as she was concerned. Oh how she did so wish to be able to walk freely about the street without the wretched costume she was draped in. There was a kind of distasteful casual feeling that she could not agree with even as she put on her blouse this morning and forced herself to pull on the new coat instead of the lovely one that she’d worn when she left the estate. She felt truly revolted when she had to perch that silly cloche on her head but it was the only way to hide the many pins she’d had to apply in order to hide the length of her hair. She felt foolish as she walked about the street in such a state but she knew her normal attire would be a dead giveaway should she be spotted. All the more important since it was not only Victor she need be wary of.
The midday sun was threatening to sink behind the curtain of haze that seemed to envelop the sky each afternoon. Caroline sighed as she saw the first signs that sunset was nearing and she felt as though she had accomplished so very little today. For as much as it would do wonders to have the sun relent on her just a bit under this ridiculous hat, she still felt the pang of regret that she was not further along in her plan. One chore, a rather large one, had been done first thing in the morning but she’d had a dreadful time trying to concentrate on the task at hand. She knew that she had to be diligent in these beginning steps as the foundation of her plan had to be sturdy if she was to trap Victor where she needed him. Caroline did so hate to think like this but she knew it was for the best. Her brother was bound to end up in a miserable end if left this way and she could not bare to think of what would become of him if she did not try to help. Oh but he was so very clever too and it had to be done right. She knew very well that he would sniff her out if she did not have everything in place. It was off to a slow but good start but all the while, she could not seem to relieve herself of a terrible pain in her head.
It had started earlier in the morning when she was attending to her first order of business. She had been uncomfortable to be sure in these disgracefully casual clothes but she did not think that she had been so careless when she had pinned her hair. Caroline felt a nagging sense of dread when she thought of how it must have simply been that she’d pinned a few of them in awkward places. That must be why they pulled and pinched and itched when she moved her head. The itch did not cease, however, under the hat that she had hidden under all day. Why, she couldn’t remove it and let the world see what she was hiding. Even in a small community such as this where no one knew her, it would certainly get back to her brother before she could stop it. Still the crawling fingers of that itch moved about her scalp, tingling and throbbing and finally, by the time her meeting was finished, it had graduated from a simple annoyance to a pain that was becoming difficult to mask. Perhaps she had scratched herself while she was fiddling with the pins this morning. Perhaps she had been a bit clumsy while she was tired. Yes, that was it. She must have simply been a bit too drowsy and the brush may have slipped. For a moment, Caroline felt her body freeze as she briefly remembered the violent strokes of that silver brush going through her hair, the pain and release of watching it pull harder and harder as she watched the bristles fill with more strands of gold.
No, that wasn’t it!
Caroline flushed and for the first time all day, she was grateful for the way this wretched hat hid her eyes. She realized how foolish she must look standing in the middle of the street, her face growing pale and her lips trembling as they did. Yes, she must look an awful sight. She had been out too long in that bright sun and with evening sure to close in soon, she had best get back to the hotel room. The breeze had picked up and despite her embarrassment, she felt a deep cold running through her veins that made her feel ill. She hailed a cab and was quickly relieved to be sitting in the dim back of the car back to the safety of a room that she might feel warm in again. She settled in the back, attempting to look comfortable and desperately trying to ignore the growing itch in her scalp that was threatening to return to the same throbbing pain that it had been this morning. She took comfort in the idea of wrenching the wicked hat from her head and letting all the pins out of her hair. She would feel better once she was in the bath. Soon she would feel better. She would feel relieved of this ache in her head and the chill in her body. Soon she would be able to feel at peace.
As the cab came to a stop before the large building she was taking refuge in, she sighed with relief at the idea of being alone in her room again. Striding through the lobby, she almost felt as though she were a different woman entirely. She greeted the staff as she entered, smiled at other guests and made her way to the elevator as though she did not have a single care in the world. Caroline felt like she was excluded from the scene she was living in as she felt as though she were watching this woman move about with ease and grace that she herself had never known. She felt the act crumbling around her, however, as the car neared her floor. Feeling the facade getting near to its end, the stinging scratches on her head began to sing and she tried to smile to keep from grinding her teeth against the feeling. Staring at the numbers as they climbed, wondering if the man tending the elevator could tell how her head ached and how badly she wished to wring her hands. She felt her body starting to tremble at the thought of what it would look like. The gossip in a small place such as this and it would get back to her brother for certain. Oh did you see that strange woman in lobby, they would say. Did she really say the word lift instead? Did you see her shaking and rubbing her hands together like a guilty child? How bizarre they would say. How utterly suspect, he would think. She felt a pang of panic that shocked her painfully as the bell rang and the door to the elevator opened before her. She smiled at the man but hurried her way down the hall.
She no longer cared at the spectacle she made of herself as she rushed to the door. The stinging in her head was driving her mad. The bath would calm her terrible nerves. Yes, that was all she needed. She must relax or she feared her very heart would burst. It would all be over and done once she was out of these ghastly clothes and into the quiet of her own room. Yes, it was all almost over. She nearly stumbled to the floor as she lunged like a drunk woman for the knob. Desperately trying to control her shaking, she fumbled with the key but managed to make it without being seen. In a blind panic, she collapsed to the floor of the room and felt instantly washed of the attention of the world. She felt the hot tears of relief sliding down her pale cheeks as she shut the door behind her and pulled the cloche from her fevered head. The exposure to the air made the terrible scratches sting anew and Caroline was forced to choke back the urge to rip at her hair to rid herself of the sensation. Standing up now, she felt her limbs were heavy and she wished nothing more than to take to the bath and then to bed. The afternoon heat and the stinging air had taken all the wind from her and she clutched to the furniture as though the world had tilted just enough to make her feel like she was walking a tightrope as she moved towards the interior of the room.
In mid-step, Caroline froze as she caught sight of a package left in the middle of her bed. A small brown bag package had been left and it was addressed to her by name but not by address. Someone had delivered this to the building and they had laid it upon her pillow. Lying in wait, she thought as she approached, feeling like the lead in her limbs had somehow become heavier. She had barely ripped off the edge when she caught sight of the edges of a small, crocheted caplet she had not seen in a long time. Caroline broke out in a cold sweat and felt the bile rising in her throat as she watched the small note tucked in with the caplet tumble to her feet. The vicious scrawl of letters stared back at her with its relentless message that made her feel faint.
“Papa is dead. I have found you.”