The clouds that had crowded the sky at dawn when they left had become too numerous and heavy. The fat raindrops splattered angrily on the windshield of the car as it carried on, nearing its final destination. As the engine droned and she found herself cradled in the still cold but not completely uncomfortable seat, Caroline was given to a kind of peace but it brought with it a melancholy and a crowding of thoughts that had been otherwise quieter as of late. Caroline had been lulled by the sound and the feeling of the rushing motor of the car. How lovely this must be for her darling Victor when he would travel. He had so many contacts that she knew very little about. He would do so well when he took his place at the head of the household. How this reminded her of their true home and the images of what could be clouded her eyes as she watched the scenery go by. He would arrange everything and perhaps then Papa wouldn’t be so short with everyone. It must be so taxing for him to be so ill and so very anxious all the time. There had been days that might pass that he scarcely said a single word to anyone in the household. Other times it seemed he could not speak without screaming. The world around him seemed like it was cause for fear in him and as the months and years wore on and their Victor did not return, he became so ill and so very frightened. There were days that he would become edgy and even paranoid in a way that she would have never guessed he could become. He was a leader among their household and yet he’d been reduced to a mad man sometimes. It was too painful to think of. He worried so and if only Victor could see the toll it took on him, he would know how sorely needed he was. Why, their father’s life was in tatters now because of such grief. That must be the reason that he had resorted to this. However dreadful it might be now, Victor’s return would resurrect what they all believed that they had lost. Truly, he would do so well among their family again, striding with as much confidence that he lacked before. His prowess was sure to be the end of their troubles and Papa would be himself once more. The secrecy wouldn’t be necessary and all might be well again.
How Caroline loathed these fibs she told and the heavy secrets sitting beneath them. She so detested how it marred the Fevrier name and how it caused such talk, even among her own siblings. They never did understand. Not one of them, even Victor, ever truly trusted that Papa knew what he was doing. Of course, Caroline, steadfast as she had always been in her loyalty, was the only one among them who might be able to see the master plan that he had. It had taken some time for her to truly understand it. To see it for its perfection. But she knew that there was always reason, even when she did not see how. Papa was to be believed and this was why she was the only one to know the truth. The appearances were difficult to keep up but she had tried her best. She had seemingly accepted with grace when they had started their decline. She had cried real tears when creditors disguised as distant friends had arrived to take away the belongings of their house. Some were Victor’s and she hadn’t the heart to see them go. Others were treasures that Mama had once owned and though her heart ached, a part of her was grateful to see them gone. Such things were a ghostly shadow upon their lives and they only represented what had been. Victor would return, though. She knew in her heart that he would never be gone forever and seeing them take the trappings of his childhood away was beyond what she could bare. How she hated Papa that day but these things had been but a part of the greater design, of course. Victor would see the damage done and his punishment might well be his shame. It would be him to save them from ruin and the child might feel like a man for his own sake. Duty and the memory of failure would hold him and he would finally realize his role. His place would be secure and it would be as it always should have been. Caroline had such dreams of the days to come. Oh, yes it would be lovely to be able to attend breakfast together and know with confidence that they would not be served anything subpar. It was all for appearances and only Caroline knew such things. The others would not understand, of course. They could be so ungrateful. So very sneaky and greedy. They might accuse Papa of ill deeds and only Caroline seemed to understand that it was all necessary. It was all simply to keep those thieving vultures at bay. After all, their father only wanted what was best for his only son and he could not allow the inheritance to fall into the hands of their incredibly irresponsible siblings.
The wind howled with a kind of fury that she only wished she felt now but the thought of her Papa made it feel as though the air itself mourned for the time they had all lost. It would be right soon but how much had been sacrificed to make it so? Such great and terrible things to be done still. It haunted her as she heard the course language of the wind singing its melancholy song. The desperation of it felt bitterly like the emptiness inside her knowing that her family had been gutted so disgracefully. These aching thoughts made her shiver still but it felt as though the chill had gone as far as it could. Burrowed into her very soul, she could not feel the sting of the cold any longer and was left with only the most frigid memories to create a sense of hurt now. Her heart ached as she wondered how much pain they might have been spared if only her beloved brother was not so blind. If only he had not been seduced by the temptress. He might still be their beautiful boy but he was different now. It was difficult to see him as the same young man who left them. How she must have scarred him. Revenge would set things right but could not erase the stain that it set upon them all. Regret, Caroline realized with a heavy sigh, was the indelible mark that they would all bare as a result of this transgression. This one woman to cause it all.
There was anger there still, she realized. As the streaks of water traveled along the window, pulling sideways into long, sharp lines across the glass, she knew that she felt the fury still but it was muted. Like the grey clouds above, enclosing around the sun, robbing them of precious daylight hours. Caroline did not know if she could count on it when the time came but only hoped that it would emerge in full force soon. That she might feel the burn of wrath within her once more. If any one person had more justification for this unspeakable rage in her heart, she could not name them. This was the compound of a broken heart upon a broken family. She would not allow the tramp to take her brother. Would not accept that he had been dashed and corrupted by her. He was not ruined but there was the mark of her deeds upon him. She was certain of it. No longer the innocent that he once was, he was cold to those he loved but she knew it would not stay this way. No, he was still good. Still the love that he had always been but the tarnish had come to the surface. Still, he could be saved. This was her duty. She would not allow Papa to see her as a failure in his final hours. Not allow the wretch to take from her the people that she loved. Despite the passion she felt in these moments, she felt no sense of that old familiar rage curdling within her. Quite the opposite. She felt afraid and she was silently and disgracefully embarrassed by it.
Here in the deeper countryside, she could see the evidence of the seasons to come. The trees had started to take on gold and copper edges and it made her wish to see the leaves turn on the Fevrier estate. Caroline wondered if perhaps this dreadful deed might be done and they might return to their home before the last of the fall foliage came down. She so did hope to come home before the first snow fall. She pressed her gloved hand to her heart and thought tenderly of what it would be to have Victor sitting within the parlor for Christmas. How beautiful it would be. How completely perfect it would be to have him there on the morning, watching over the others as the fireplace threw off enough light to keep the room dim and allow the sparkling of the ornaments to dazzle them. It would be so delightful to see him back in his home with his family. The family that always did love him more than anything. He would see and he would know finally that there was nothing to escape. Nothing to run from. Nowhere to go that they would not seek to return him to his rightful place.
The car carefully slowed as the trees thinned and in the distance, there was a break in the monotony of the horizon. Steeples jutted from the greenery of the treeline and as they came closer, there was a small gap in the distance that widened and revealed their destination. Though she still did not feel the familiar and comforting hatred that she was banking on, Caroline felt something new. A kind of disgust that was different than she had ever experienced before. As the white columns in the distance came into view and the building slowly revealed itself, she knew that she would be able to complete her mission. She felt herself falling into a daze as she watched it coming closer.
“I will see you soon, Vivian,” she whispered, the sharpness of her tone making the driver shiver.