My father was a tolerant but somewhat bewildered man, who never seemed to know quite what to do with our name and money, despite the fact that he had held both since birth. Even before my mother’s illness, he spent many long days hunting or holed up in his study, leaving her to her friends (and later her nurses) and me to my governesses before I left for boarding school.
Naturally, it was my great escape to enter North Haven, and I was blessedly spared from the cattiness and cruelty that so often pervades the institutions of young people. But while I had a group of close friends, I never divulged a thing about my mother. Not that I feared my friends would shun me, but I was loathed to instigate any unfavorable opinions about my family. Little did I know that my mother’s condition was already the height of gossip all the way to New York; I assumed, in my naivete, that because she was tucked away in an upstairs bedroom, she was naturally shielded from the world. I did not realize that secrets were inadvertently leaked, servants talked, and word spread faster than galloping horses.
One night in mid-summer, only a few weeks after I returned home, I awoke to yet another fit of screaming. It had pulled me out of a pleasant dream, and I wrapped my pillow around my ears, trying to return to sleep. But then there came another scream, a different voice. It sounded like the night nurse, Helena. This was a new development and, with a strange sense of foreboding, I leapt from my bed and hurried down the hall. What I came upon is almost too terrible to describe, but as it is essential to my tale, I will make an attempt. I found Helena, her hands clapped to her mouth, the front of her shift covered in blood. My father was slumped on the floor holding my mother’s limp, crimson body, rocking her back and forth. Blood streamed from a deep wound in the side of her neck, flowed down her arm, and pooled next to a letter opener on the floor. That was all I saw before I was spun around and rushed back down the hallway by the head housekeeper. She closed me into my room and I sat on the bed – dazed, but at the same time acutely aware of what I had just seen.
My father, his face wan and wracked with guilt – perhaps for always categorically refusing to place my mother in a “barbaric” institution – called me into his study the day after the funeral. The service had been a hushed-up affair, so as not to incite any worse speculation about crazy Caroline Lancater drowning in her own blood. My father sat behind his desk, his hands folded as though in prayer.