Charlotte was starting to believe that her trust had been mislaid when she’d allowed her whims to control her direction. The sun had begun to hang lower in the sky and the cloud cover of the dreary day was making it seem as though autumn had arrived earlier than was welcome. The chill of the still thrashing wind was getting stronger and the worry of getting caught out in the middle of nowhere was still quite high. Just as she began to think that it was time to turn the way she came and make her way back to the house, Charlotte saw something that looked like a steepled roof peaking out from above the tree tops. Her trust in the journey was rewarded a mere minutes later when she found a rather auspicious destination was hiding amid the trees. First to come into view was the widow’s walk, a sinister weather vane providing a sharp dagger in the sky, risen above the forest as if it were there to try to pierce the heavens. It was a house, not quite as large as the building that she’d passed a short distance away but large enough that it simply radiated wealth. Only the severe slant of the roofs of the second or third floor could be seen from the road that she was on but from the ornate roof cresting that she could see perched like a wicked crown on top of that imposing structure that loomed before her, Charlotte knew this house would provide her with something. It was quite the spectacle, even from afar. The deep set, large of the upper floors windows shone against the darkening sky. As more of the front came into view, she could see the grand balconies of the second floor sitting atop beautifully designed archways that hung over larger windows, most of which had the heavy velvet curtains drawn. Charlotte felt her spine tingle in anticipation. Could it be that there were fashionable types hidden amid the rabble? Something to keep her from developing the same feeble mind as her dreadful half sister? Perhaps there was something to be gained from old money hidden amid the tasteless dullards of this town. Old money could be useful. At the very least, perhaps it could provide a distraction which might prove to be somewhat welcome, even if only for the evening.
Coming closer to her destination, she found that there were many cars parked out front, many of them extremely lovely works of craftsmanship. Even from the distance that she was at, she could see the way they gleamed in the fading light of the dull day. She felt the corners of her mouth twitch into a wider grin thinking of those types of cars. They were the type that would be found among those men and perhaps some women who had come from Europe and had gone to great lengths to bring all their belongings with them. And all of them gathered together in such a place set her imagination aflutter in anticipation of the possibilities. Such people could produce a few friends for the evening or even a potential spouse. Someone who might be able to shield her better than her dour brother and provide a much more stable cover while she sought out that damned inheritance that Caroline was busy stealing.
Since she’d started driving, Charlotte had given very little thought to Victor’s reaction to her behavior. No doubt he’d noticed the change in her since she got the letter and even if he was entirely too distracted with his own affairs, he couldn’t have ignored seeing her make a spectacle of herself after she’d opened it. It was regrettable for certain and she knew that should tonight turn out to be too full of dreary would be aristocratic types, she may very well find herself back at his doorstep. Best to have something to tell him, just in case. And the wretched letter! Left behind for him to find like a petal on one of those damned roses. She slowed the car as she approached, wondering if she might be able to avoid having to go back to his house for sanctuary even if she were not to woo a potential new lover into her web. It was taxing having Victor as her only shelter and the only person she knew with money enough to suit her needs. He would have some rather cumbersome questions and knowing her brother, he would not settle for her method of answering. If not for the fact that he may still be needed alive for that inheritance, she might have been better off to simply give him one of her gifts from the chemist. With any luck, she thought as she pulled up to the large house, she may still avoid his suspicious gaze.
Exiting the car, already Charlotte could feel the sombre mood of this place and her hopes of coming during a party were dampening with each step. The wind was fierce and howling but the trees along the property were taking the worst of it. If she were the superstitious type, she might have taken this to be a bad omen. Still, she was too curious to abandon her discovery now. She allowed herself to be drawn forward toward the stone steps, admiring the pillars that framed them. In the sheltering arch that led to the door, she paused, looking back and seeing again how the cars shone against the darkening grey of the day. It occurred to her now that most of them were black. She felt a shiver go through her body that was part nervousness and part excitement. She knew what these cars were. Gleaming dark and sitting about the house in celebration of the dead. Or nearly dead? It was too much to pass up. Charlotte quickly turned towards the door and hurried up the steps. Perhaps this need not be a wasted trip after all. A recent widower? They were an easy mark. She only prayed that the poor sap had no children. Perhaps the loss of a dear old relative for an old money family. They tended to collect their tragedies. This might be the start of something grand.
Her optimism faded when she got up to the top of the stairs only to see a great, garish crest embedded in the dark wood of the door. A crest that she’d not seen since she’d been in England. A family that she had been wise enough not to bother with. If ever there was a hellbound group that collected tragedies, this would certainly be they. Charlotte felt the disgust quickly flooding the symphony of her body were the bright notes of hope had been dancing the moment before. She was about to quickly make her way back down to her car in hopes of escaping without incident but the door came open and let out a flood of light that seemed to engulf her. A silent butler stood before her and she could feel the warmth that radiated from inside.
“The lady of the house is now taking brief visitors,” he announced in a blunted voice that seemed detached from what he said. “The master of the house asks that all guests please be as quick as possible. If you have a gift to be left, please give it to Angela before you enter the room.”
“I simply wish to see Lady Kent,” Charlotte said in the sweetest voice she could muster. The butler did not react as he stepped aside and motioned her in.
Stepping into the large arch of the doorway, Charlotte soon found herself in an elegant hallway adorned on both sides with large works of art and sconces that boasted plants that trailed down almost to the floor. She was disappointed by the lack of funerary scents throughout the house but she did get the sense that there might still be some to come. There were many things to distract her from such things for now, however. The plush carpet beneath her feet was far from modern in design but somehow still seemed desirable. Leave it to this family to have all the charm of old world still locked up with the stranglehold of a thief and hidden in their garish home like another precious piece to be kept in their china cabinet. Charlotte would almost admire it if she didn’t hold them in such contempt. Still, she was incredibly curious about their plight here. Who might Lady Kent be and what might she be succumbing to? Other than a case of a dreadfully dull and occasionally brutish husband? It must have been something fairly significant if the planters in the sconces were allowed to droop so low and the lights all dimmed as though expecting a death. Perhaps old Richard married himself a widow that simply needed a push to join her first husband?
Charlotte came to a set of frosted double doors at the end of the hall. Two silent, dour servants opened the doors upon her arrival and for a moment, she wondered if this was what royalty felt like as she slowly entered the opulent foyer. She wished nothing more than to marvel at the beauty of the twinkling crystal that cast a surreal glow to everything around her but she was quickly directed towards the grand stairway. From halfway up, she could already see the large doors of what must be the master bedroom, the door closed and shadowed. The frame itself seemed bulky and out of place amid the beautiful, elegant paper on the wall. Next to it was another large door stained the color of rich dark wine. The frame had been painted black very recently and in the sconces set up on either side were bouquets of lilies and baby’s breath. As Charlotte came to stand before it, she saw the door was ajar.
Silently, she slipped into the bedroom, her heart pounding in anticipation of what new information she was about to stumble upon. She quietly gasped as her eyes adjusted to the dim light of the gloomy room. Lying in the large four poster bed was a pale figure draped with clothes befitting someone twice her size. A woman with sharp features that had become more gaunt since last she’d seen her. Charlotte covered her mouth to hide her wolfish smile as she approached. As she neared, she saw, with a mixture of both disgust and contempt, the source of the tragedy.
“Oh Vivian, you perfect wretch,” Charlotte laughed, lowly. “How could you have done this to yourself?”