The silence of the drawing room was a welcome retreat from the sound and fury of the world around him. It seemed as though the world itself was always too loud and even now, he could hear the echo of it faintly through the windows and coming to find him over the trees. Sleep had long left Victor since that night. He drove steadily in the darkness, feeling for the first time the freedom of it. The kind of solace that he’d always sought when he thought that the world would shield him finally from the nightmare that was his life on the estate. He was not old now but he was younger then. Young enough to run and feel a kind of ache in his heart that would fan the fires of his quest simply to get away. Yes, that was always the goal. To run from the one that might enslave him to a life that he, himself, had longed to escape. Mama had died, they said by accident though it was never proven. The youngest of siblings were all older than himself. He was to gain the throne of nothing that they sat upon without knowing. Perhaps he’d always known about the family reserves that his father stashed away like a bandit. Double dealings that might have made others blush with shame. Dirty money that would come back to haunt them all. Victor had no idea how much of it there was, only that it existed and he stood to inherit the blame as well as the lot of it. His father could then spend his days with the mistress that he believed no one knew about and watch as his own family name dissolved beneath the son that he hated.
Then he murdered her. Victor was certain of it and from the moment that he plucked her body from the pond, he knew that he could not allow her death to have been for nothing. Her murder. Her memories haunted him as he left in fury and it was the will to escape his prison and the memory of her cold skin that had driven him all the way here. Still, it had not been enough. He could still feel the tears on his face when he pulled her feather light body to his, the gossamer veils of her night gown fluttering about him in the water. He could still hear the voice of his father commanding him to take charge in the back of his mind and hating him for it. He had come here under the guise that he would be free of these things and found new masters to serve. New chains painted to look like freedom.
The look in the widow’s eyes, he had never seen before. That fire that spoke of that same obsession that he’d once had to escape the clutches of his captor. She was possessed of something that he could not name and it had clouded her senses. So much so that she did not know how truly he feared her in that moment. It was not until he had returned home that he realized that the look in her eyes that had seemed so unnatural upon her was that same dread that he felt. Her confidence had bled from her face and it had been replaced by a mask as still and empty as death. She feared this and he wondered what manner of horrors she was hiding. What she might have done to him had she been herself. What was done to her in this time.
Victor could not shake from his mind the voice of that child servant as she’d warned him of the roses. Their beauty had been such that the widow was beguiled by them but there was something sinister in the feel of those petals. The way that she looked at them so eagerly. There was a vulgarity in it that in hindsight made him ill to think of witnessing it. Though he could not say why, it felt obscene in the moment. In the daylight, he felt a pang of embarrassment at the very thought of it. It was madness to think that something as benign as roses might inspire such suffering. Such a look of anguish that haunted him late at night. He was perplexed why he could be so foolish to be preoccupied about such things when there were so many other affairs to be dealt with. Still, late at night, when the distractions of the day were finished, he was bombarded with thoughts that could not be so easily cajoled. No matter how much he wished that beautiful and perfect logic could disrupt these feelings of dread, he stubbornly insisted upon being nowhere near the roses. He had not touched them since the day that he’d brought his offering to the widow. The faded bruise on his arm throbbed in response as though to punctuate the moment with a warning.
And then there was that bloody card. The one that he’d been sent with, hidden in his pocket until he returned home. He felt a kind of anger at the thought of this thing being in his home. He wished to keep it out, possibly to bury it where he might never see it. He knew better. The widow would never allow for such an insult and though she might be ailing or haunted by something, this was a higher insult than anything else he might do. He had shown fear in her face and lived to survive. He might yet still face a kind of punishment for such an act and yet he feared it not. This was not simply out of a sense of over confidence on his part but a feeling of his strings being cut like a spell being broken. It was something he was wary of and this alone was worthy of being cautious of. He’d stayed up nightly, trying to think of what to do with it when no eyes were upon him but still he felt as though he would be seen. Maybe it was the widow herself who was the author of these anxieties. He did not know for certain but felt it was folly to tempt her. Instead, he had wrapped the card in a freshly pressed handkerchief and hidden it in his room. He had been curious numerous times as to the message of the card but he knew that it was useless. They were but pictures to him where as to the widow, they had been a map for her life. She could read such a map at first glance whereas he would have no idea where to start even if he deigned to try. Still, it vexed him. He wished to know but when he thought of looking at it, he felt the throb of his heartbeat in the wicked mark that its owner had left upon him and he knew better.
A small but steady hand interrupted his brooding thoughts as it placed a saucer and cup next to him. The child stood near him but did not speak. He straightened in his chair but did not look at her as he cleared his throat to speak.
“There is much on your mind, sir,” she said, quietly. “You look as though you might become ill.”
“It must be a curse to have such keen perception, child,” he sighed. “I did not request anything, chérie.”
“There is much that you will soon face,” the girl said, her voice steady but melancholic. “Your sister hides things. She has such terrible secrets that she holds.”
“She always has,” Victor said, practically whispering to himself. “Does she meddle in the affairs of the house?”
“No, she is too frightened to create chaos here,” the girl replied, carefully. “She is afraid of many things.”
“I’m afraid that you do not know my sister, dear girl,” Victor replied, pulling the saucer in front of him. “Of all the things that Charlotte knows, fear and mercy are not among them.”
“She believes that she is hunted,” the girl sighed.
“And is she?” Victor asked, turning to her.
“Not anymore,” she shook her head. “But someone wishes her to believe that she is. Someone wishes her gone. Moreso than the other.”
“Oh? And do you know the name of this someone who wishes my sister to become so paranoid?”
The child’s face crumpled into a frown of utter and perfect despair. She put a hand on Victor’s shoulder and looked him in the eye.
“Her name is to speak in pain,” was her only reply. The girl looked down at her feet and let her hand slip from his arm before she wandered away towards the door.