Victor felt his back stiffen when there was a knock at the door of his bed chamber before the latch sounded. A part of him felt like it was about to slip from his control as he anticipated the entrance of what was sure to be the chamber maid to tidy what he did not eat. He felt a cruel part of him surface for only a moment before it was back within his grip. There was a part of him that felt the fury ignite further when he thought of what he would say as he heard the soft footsteps enter behind him. The terribly cruel and yet satisfyingly sharp things that he could lash her with. Yet he swallowed them bitterly. He would not be his father’s equal, no matter how much his own nature wished it upon him. The footsteps paused behind him and he felt his grip tighten on the globe in his hand as though it were the only thing allowing his own self control.
“Dinner was not to your liking this evening, sir?” the young girl asked, sheepishly.
Victor sighed. She was a very young woman, barely twenty if her mother was to be believed. She looked barely fifteen years old and Victor had difficulty believing that she could be a day older. Her mother was older and tended to the laundry. He had been convinced to take her into the house, nagged incessantly until he gave in under duress. Since then, the young girl did her work silently and without being seen for the most part. Victor saw so little of her that he could not even remember her name half the time and given his volatile mood, this was proving too difficult for him now. Still, she was so very young and a part of his heart thawed to think of such things. Rumor among the staff was that she was assisting her mother on account of her father being a drunkard. Not unlike his own precious Annabelle. Thinking of these things, he forced his demeanor to soften in her presence.
“No, everything was well done, child. Tell the kitchen staff that my appetite should not be taken as a reflection of my appreciation for their skills.”
“Tell them I will retire early this evening. I wish to rest after my trip and I do not want to be disturbed. Please leave my room as it is, child. You can tend to it tomorrow instead,” he said, feeling calmer.
“Very well, sir,” she sighed. “Shall I put away Mademoiselle Fevrier’s belongings or will she be expecting them in the morning?”
“Belongings?” Victor said, turning to face the girl. She seemed shocked by the action and stepped back. Victor’s back straightened but he softened his voice. “It was my understanding that Mademoiselle Fevrier had taken her leave. Was it you who tidied her room, child?”
“No, sir,” she replied, shrinking. “It was Katerina, this morning. She was the one who said that Mademoiselle had left some of her belongings here. Perhaps she was mistaken?”
“Perhaps but perhaps not,” Victor said, half to himself. “Show me where Katerina told you these belongings were and I shall excuse you for the evening with full pay, even if she should prove mistaken.”
“Very well, sir,” she nodded, leading him out of the room.
The girl was quick on her feet and by the way she walked, he knew she had seen something. Her steps were too sure of where they went. She was aware of what she was looking for. He had no interest in scolding the house staff for their gossip, however. It would prove to be useful yet and he knew that there were more merits to be had to be aware of what they spoke of. The girl led him into the room and lifted the bed skirts to reveal a puzzling array of small toys that were far too young for their siblings. Sitting among them was a small, stuffed bear with large black eyes like jewels and a wide blue ribbon. The type that Caroline had purchased for others as gifts for a baby. The young chamber maid then got up and stopped before the writing desk, though she froze before it. She looked down sheepishly as though she were a small child hiding a broken china doll.
“Come, child, I wish to see what it is you know,” Victor said, firmly.
The girl shrank a bit but still moved slowly to show him where on the desk there was a small compartment with a key for the drawers. She did not look at him as she took the key to the second drawer on the right hand side of the desk and unlocked it. Pulling the drawer out to reveal its contents, Victor felt a surge of anger at the image before him but satisfaction at the discovery.
“It appears as though you have turned up an unexpected treasure,” he said, coming forward to look at the drawer contents. Gently lifting her chin up to face him, he spoke quietly. “Tell me truly, child, was Katerina planning to tell me about this?”
“Good girl. Now listen well, because I have an extra job for you,” he said, letting go of her chin. He began to pace. “I suspect that Katerina did not tell you about this secret so much as you may have overheard her speaking of this, is that correct?”
“Your ears are keen, child, and I believe that such a skill may prove useful to me. You see, I have heard things too. I have heard, for instance, rumors that suggest perhaps not all is well with your home,” he said, watching her body language. She shuddered and looked away. “Such things do not have to be true, my young friend. If, for example, I should offer you the chance to get a happier home for yourself and your mother, would you be interested in a different line of work for me?”
“What kind of work?” she asked, miserably.
“You hear because they do not notice you and do not see you, child,” he replied. “You notice things because you are still young and the world ignores you. Be my ears while I am away. I am not old but you are still a child and I cannot see the things you do. Tell me of what you see and hear and I will reward you with the promise that you never need go home to the sound of a drunk man ever again. Give me your word and you and your mother shall know peace for as long as this house stands.”
“I will! I will do it,” the girl insisted.
“Then I will count on you to tell me everything you know,” he replied. “Now, think child. Did my sister reveal where these items came from? Do you know who this letter was intended for?”
“The toys were from a store in town but not the stuffed animal,” she said, thinking. “Katerina knows who the letter is for but she did not say.”
“Then listen very closely to her in the future,” Victor nodded. “Is there more that Katerina has said about Mademoiselle Fevrier?”
“No but she did speak of a woman that Mademoiselle feared,” the girl replied, quickly. “She did not say her name for fear that you would hear. If she tells, I will tell you, I swear.”
“Very good,” Victor nodded. “I will check with you again in a week’s time and you shall see your payment soon. You may take your leave now.”
The girl scampered off down the hall and quietly through the house. Victor waited until he was certain that she was gone until he looked upon the small trinkets on the floor and the half finished letter that was written in a hurried hand. The toys, particularly the bear, were strange but it was the letter that truly bothered him. Buried in the drawer, he knew there was more to be told here and he dreaded where this new discovery would take him. It was a place that he had not gone since he arrived.