This wretched weather was possibly the most dire insult that Charlotte had suffered since her arrival here. No sooner had she managed to find a way to guarantee that her picture would find its way into every paper did the snow begin to fly and within the week, winter had descended on the entire county. It had rendered the whole area completely helpless! Paralyzed even! The insult! Oh how it galled her to think of it. Caroline was out there somewhere wasting that inheritance on her pitiful existence and only the devils that had caused this insufferable storm would know if she had found Charlotte’s little trap. The thought that she might have wasted all that effort and makeup on a ploy that would not be seen was too much to think of.
And then there was the vile Kent family to consider too. They were all the way out there in their lush houses out in the opposite direction where the forests got thicker. How in the hell were to they to get the news now? The transportation in this deplorable little town was all but ruined by the ice and snow and there would be little to no deliveries at all. Oh how utterly frustrating! What was she to do if they had not seen it? What if neither Caroline nor Vivian had seen her performance? She could not very well put on a display like that again lest people brand her mad. And how was she to bring attention to Victor’s death again? He may have died and she would attend that funeral almost out of duty but mostly to ensure that he had actually died but there would be no performance there. Was she to look like a fool weeping at a funeral for a dead brother only to attend the last respects for him weeks later? No, not likely. They could not bury him in this rotten mess but that would mean that it might be a while before there was a real funeral for Victor if there was going to be one at all.
It was true that she had not seen anything reported prior to this about a death of a prominent figure in the town but few people knew anything about him here. That was of little comfort since the presses had basically stopped in their tracks since the storm but even if they hadn’t, it would be difficult to find out if Victor had succumb to the poison or not. She imagined that there were some who knew of him and considering his business ties, someone would have to know he was dead if he had perished. Still there were few people who even knew about the house in the forest hills and there was an even smaller amount of people who were keen to even talk about that area. He lived like a ghost up there and from what little poking around down in town she could do here, she found that no one had taken any exceptional interest in him or even knew that much about him at all. There were a few people who knew of the house but had no idea what it looked like and seemed to care even less. If it was true that he had died up there, he would remain fairly unknown if not completely unacknowledged by anyone here. Even the gossip train was fairly cavalier about the house in the trees and its sombre occupant. For a town with so little to entertain itself and so much gossip, she was surprised by this. Charlotte wondered how a bachelor of his age and wealth had escaped the notice of an entire county. It was true that he was soured on the idea of marriage and that such attention would surely grate on Victor but she could not believe that anyone who had designs on a rich husband would be dismissed so easily. She knew her own stamina well enough to know that any man could be had if one simply tried hard enough and there ought to be some doe out there looking to make herself a bride of a sombre bore such as him.
All of this was mere distraction from the more pressing matter. She knew that there had to be some limit to that money and without seeing Caroline in action, she could not fathom how much might be left. She was ashamed to admit that she knew very little about the sum but considering the expense of getting to this wretched little part of the world, it was hardly likely that it was a paltry sum. The question was how much did she start with. It would soon determine how much she might have left after all this.
Charlotte’s trip to the estate prior to her coming here was enough to confirm the rumors of what had been going on behind closed doors at the Fevrier house. She already knew, of course. It had been more than a whisper when she was still living under that nightmare of a roof and she had been the victim of it herself. After the deaths of some of her older sisters, she knew that there could not very well be any money going into the house but it did not stop her father’s lavish habits nor his trips to his other properties when Victor had become old enough to act as decision maker in his absence. There was once money to be had in those daughters he’d fathered but he discovered that they were less useful after a time. Brides were only profitable when they were younger and able to fetch handsome gifts and generous amounts from good families. When they began to get older, it became more difficult to land those lucrative connections and with the world becoming less keen on arranging such deals, those older mouths to feed were becoming more expensive. Charlotte had been easy to marry off when she was barely more than seventeen but for the others, they were becoming a liability and their dreadful father would not go hungry on their account. The first death that she could remember was when she was still living there and it had been framed as an accident. They all knew better, of course, but it was hardly such. The next ones were after she had been married off but they had occurred so close together, she knew it spelled a certain kind of desperation.
None of this meant that the money was all gone. Of course it didn’t. There would be a sudden fire should that be the case and the only survivor would have been Victor, tied to their wretch of a father figure. It simply meant that there were reserves and that they needed to be uncovered. The old brute had been greedy and perhaps not that wise but he was keen enough to keep his money close. The old miser would have let even Victor starve if it meant he could keep enough to keep himself going until his next dollar came in but he also knew that he could not trust them not to revolt on him. He used accounts under fake names, at least a few that Charlotte had found access to through rather devious means. She could not drain them, of course, but she’d managed to dip her fingers in at least a few times. She knew there were others though and it was a matter of finding out which one Caroline had found her way to. It had to be sizable. There were smaller ones, for certain, but whatever account she’d managed to access had to be enough to get her here. She had to be able to continue to live without the grace of Victor’s house so she must be still able to pay. Charlotte knew that she would choose death over living in the streets. Charlotte knew that the day might come that they find Caroline’s corpse in the streets and when they did, she would know for certain that the money was gone. She also knew that along with it, she may very well be stuck here until she could find a way to finance her way out of this hell.
Charlotte made her way to the window of her rented room, looking out over the snow as if to search for a path that might lead her out of this troublesome reality. It was a dreary and dark late afternoon that was cold but at least it had stopped snowing. Since she was young, Charlotte had hated the snow for all it exposed. She had never seen storms such as this, even in the rural estate. It reminded her of that icy prison, however. The trees that lined the tall stone walls along the edges of the property were left barren and weighed down in white, exposing their cage walls for what they were. No longer the picturesque garden with hedges and tended trees from her early youth, when the snow came, they could see the cruel grey walls that kept them where they were. As the years rolled by and the cruel nature of the house became more evident to her, those trees were no longer tended to and the hedges grew into a briar so thick, it added yet another defense to keep them at their father’s mercy. A word he scarcely knew the meaning of. The snow did not help then, either. It merely kept hidden the thorns that tore the clothing and skin of treacherous little girls who tried to flee from that horrible reality.
Her eyes settled on the barren streets below only to find that the snow had revealed something vile even here. Charlotte scowled and felt a chill of disgust run through her body as she watched the quickly moving dot on the horizon move closer and become the shape that she knew it would be. A sleigh, complete with a driver bundled up front. The horses, large and sturdy, pulled steadily forward on the road coming from the forest and she need not guess who was in the carriage of the vehicle. Leave it to the Kent family have such luxuries when there were none to be found anywhere in this horrid little county. She watched as the horse-drawn carriage came closer, knowing that the Kents had seen her ploy but instead of dealing with Vivian, she would be seeing Master Reginald Kent soon enough. At least, she would if she was not careful and Charlotte had no intention on speaking with that monster at all.