Angelique stood beside Jeremiah's grave, watching as the
coffin was lowered into the ground. She kept her hand on each
of her sons' shoulders, felt Bramwell shiver slightly. There
was a threat of rain in the air, and the threat of something else
as Angelique glanced up to find Lucy Mitchell not far away. She
felt Natalie's hand on her arm. "Not here, chéri.
This is not the time. Whatever she may have done, I truly think
she cared even a little for Jeremiah Collins."
"She still has no right to be here," Angelique hissed. "And I will not stand for it."
"You are handling this all wrong, Angelique," Natalie said. "You should not be angry with her. You should be trying to convince her that Nicholas will turn on her just as he turned upon poor Jeremiah and on her mother."
"I can't speak to her, Natalie," Angelique insisted. "I won't. Not after the lies she has told. Not after she had such a part in tormenting Bramwell."
Deborah saw Lucy as well, and glancing up at Ben, she said, "I have to speak with her, Ben. Just for a moment. To give her my condolences about her mother."
"I'll go with you," Ben said.
"No. It will simply cause a scene. You can stay right here and keep watch."
Lucy saw Deborah speak to Ben, and then approach her own position near the gate of the small cemetery. She drew her hood over her red hair. "Hello, Lucy."
"I wanted to tell you how sorry I am about your mother -"
"She's better off now," Lucy responded. "But she called for you so many times those last few days. I wanted to be able to tell her that you would be there, but -"
"I could have been, Lucy, if you hadn't -"
"Hadn't told you how much I want you?" Lucy asked, her eyes blazing. "I needed you last night, Deborah. I needed you to be there, to hold me as I cried for her - but you've made it more than clear that you don't want to be my friend."
"I want to be your friend," Deborah insisted. "Only- nothing more than that."
"Then we cannot be friends," Lucy told her. "Now, if you will excuse me, I must go and see to the burial of my mother."
"Lucy- why are telling such lies about Barnabas Collins? What has he ever done to you that you should treat him so terribly?"
"He took Collinwood from me," Lucy said. "But I will have it, Deborah. I will."
"With your friend Nicholas' assistance?" she questioned.
Lucy nodded to where Ben stood, watching them like a hawk. "Go back to your boring Ben, Deborah. Live your boring little life. One day, you will look up and realize that you could have had so much more had you chosen differently." She turned and left the graveyard without another word.
Deborah shook her head and returned to Ben's side, grateful when she felt his hand grasp hers in its warmth.
After leaving the cemetery, Angelique told Natalie to take the boys back to the house. "But where are you going, Angelique?" Natalie asked.
"For a walk. I need to be alone for a few minutes."
"Very well, chéri. Do not be out too long. The rain will not hold much longer, I think."
Angelique smiled at her. "I'll be fine, Natalie." She knelt before the boys. "Go with your Aunt Natalie. I'll be along in a while."
Bramwell's eyes met hers. "Angelique-"
She shook her head. "Later. Go and help your Aunt with Lucas and Rebecca now."
He threw his arms around her, and then turned to follow the others.
It was an hour later that Angelique found herself standing in the light rain before the Old House, watching as the ghost of Josette appeared to beckon her forward. Feeling she had no where else to turn, she followed the ghost of Barnabas' first wife into the house.
Harriet frowned as a clock somewhere in the great house struck the hour. Her eyes flashed angrily as she paced the foyer. Where was he? He had lingered behind to say his final good-byes to Jeremiah in private, forcing his wife to return to the house with Sarah and Giles. It had been almost two hours. He was probably still at the grave, blubbering. She shook her head. She had been so certain that he had changed, that he wanted nothing more to do with Jeremiah Collins. She ran her hand over her swollen abdomen. "Promise me that you'll never be like him, my darling little one," she whispered. "I don't care if you chase everything with a skirt, as long as you don't end up like your father."
The door opened, and Harriet watched as her husband entered the house. He moved slowly, pausing for a moment as he noticed her while removing his cape. "It's high time," Harriet began. "I was beginning to think that I would have to go and fetch you back here," she said. "I suppose you've been at his grave all this time?" Daniel sighed heavily and turned toward the study. "Aren't you going to speak to me, Daniel Collins?"
"I'm tired, Harriet," he told her, not turning to look at her. "And I need to be alone."
"You've been alone ever since you found out that he was dead, Daniel. I need you to be with me -"
Daniel's eyes were deeply shadowed as he turned to her. "Not now, Harriet. I can't. Not now. Perhaps, given some time -"
"Oh, go drink yourself into a stupor for all I care!" Harriet screamed at him.
"Maybe I'll do just that," Daniel said quietly, turning to continue to the study and closing the door.
Harriet stomped her foot on the marble floor. It was all his Cousin Barnabas' fault, she decided. If he hadn't asked Daniel to lure Jeremiah out the night before his death, then Daniel wouldn't be acting this way. She knew that Barnabas couldn't possibly be a witch, but for a moment she wished that he would be convicted of the crime as punishment for what he had done to Harriet's marriage. And if he were, then perhaps Angelique might be persuaded by the Countess to leave Collinwood in Daniel's hands. Harriet smiled at last, thinking how much she would enjoy being mistress of this house. She ran her hand over the stair rail, dreaming of how different things would be if she were indeed mistress of Collinwood.
Angelique entered the Old House, going toward the stair, only to pause as she heard a voice. "You are troubled," Josette said from the parlour.
"Of course I am," Angelique replied. "Barnabas -"
"I know. I tried to warn you of the danger - but Barnabas was more frightened for your safety than he was his own."
"Yes." Angelique sighed. "I could easily release him, stop this insanity - But Barnabas has forbidden me to use my powers. I feel so helpless."
"And that is not a feeling you have ever enjoyed," Josette recalled. "But I never thought of you as helpless, Angelique. I always envied you, you know."
Angelique's blue eyes widened at the admission. "You? Envied me?"
"You were so lovely, and every man who came to the house always looked at you with such - wanting. I always wanted someone to look at me in that way. And I think- for awhile, Barnabas did."
"He did love you, Josette," Angelique admitted. "He could never have married you if he hadn't."
"No. Our Barnabas is such an honorable man. Too honorable at times, I suppose."
Angelique felt no jealousy as she heard Josette's words. "Our Barnabas. He is that, I suppose. You will always have a part of his heart that I cannot touch."
"But yours is the greater portion - and that is how it should be," Josette sighed. "What are you going to do about Nicholas' offer?"
"How do you know about that?"
Josette's smile was gentle. "I may not be able to leave this house, but I can hear things - Have you made any decision?"
"I have no choice to accept his offer- if the Collins family is to be saved."
"Then you will leave and return to Martinique with him? To become -"
Angelique turned away. "I have no other choice -"
"But you do have a choice, Angelique."
She turned to face the spirit of this woman she once hated, the spirit of the woman who she knew now as her cousin - and perhaps the only one who could help her resolve this mess. "Tell me what you mean."
Angelique was deep in thought as she neared Collinwood. The children would be ready for bed, she wanted to tuck them up, tell them goodnight - And there were plans to be made.
"Good evening, my dear."
Angelique came up short on the path as Nicholas suddenly appeared before her. "You're very fond of parlour tricks, aren't you?"
He smiled, revealing those even, white teeth. "They suffice," he said. "Have you made a decision, Angelique?"
She turned away from him. "If I agree to go with you -" She glanced at him and saw his smile widen. "IF I agree - what guarantee do I have that you will leave Barnabas and the rest of the Collins family untouched?"
"You don't trust me?"
"Do you blame me? You made a bargain with Jeremiah- he's dead. And so is Lucy Mitchell's mother."
"Your only guarantee will come from our master, Angelique."
"Then I will speak with Him," she said, starting to move away.
Nicholas grabbed her arm. "That won't be necessary, Angelique - Once you are back where you belong, if you place this family under your protection, there will be nothing I or anyone else can do to harm them."
Angelique's eyes widened. "I would be that powerful?"
His hold loosened. "Beyond your wildest dreams, my dear Angelique." Seeing victory near, he added, "And it would not impossible for you to - recruit Barnabas Collins to join us -"
"No. That would defeat my purpose of protecting the Collins family. If I agree, Nicholas, Barnabas will have to be cleared of the charges against him -"
"That can be arranged quite easily," Nicholas told her.
"And in such a way that that fool Trask is totally humiliated."
Nicholas smiled. "That can be done as well. Anything further?"
"If I simply leave Collinwood, Barnabas will follow. He will have to think me beyond his reach -"
Nicholas' dark eyes narrowed in thought. "It will mean sacrificing dear Lucy, -"
"But you were going to do that anyway, weren't you?"
His eyes flashed at her understanding of him. "You are going to be the perfect consort, Angelique. Be ready."
She nodded, then turned to look at the house. "I shall be. When shall it be done?" When there was no response, she whirled again. He was gone. "Nicholas?" Sighing, Angelique continued back to the house.
Lucy entered the cottage and removed her shawl. She had spent the entire evening after her mother's funeral in the company of Reverend Trask and was bored nearly to tears. Did the man not know anything other to quote from than his "Good Book"? The one time she had brought up a poem she had once read, he had insisted that such secular pursuits were beneath her and further insisted that she read from the Bible herself. What had been worse were the constant tittering of Trask's son, Lamar and young Jason Greene as they peeked from the other room. Trask had seemed oblivious to their observation, but it did explain why he had kept his hands fully to himself - unlike the previous evening. It had been a great relief when she had managed to claim a headache and depart.
Glancing into a mirror, Lucy grimaced at the dark, high necked gown she had worn. She very nearly tore the buttons from it in her haste to remove it. Throwing on a dressing gown, she went to the stove and poured her some water for tea from the kettle by the fire. As she was returning the kettle to its place, a voice spoke nearby.
"Did you enjoy your evening?"
She nearly burned herself. "Nicholas. No, I did not. I will be so pleased when he is gone and I no longer have to put up with his hypocrisy."
"Trask? A hypocrite?" Nicholas questioned. "Such thoughts from someone that he's obviously quite taken with. You should feel honored."
"I don't. I hate him."
"But it's not only Trask that you hate, is it, my dear? It's all men."
"I don't hate men," Lucy insisted. "They are quite - useful at times." Nicholas laughed, drawing a frown. "You are in a very strange mood this evening."
"I am always pleased when I have won."
Lucy studied him closely. "Won? What are you talking about?"
"I've gotten what I came to Collinwood for," he told her. "Angelique has agreed to return to Martinique and take her place there."
"But- what about the Collins family?" she asked. "I thought you came here to -"
"I had to give Angelique something for her agreement. And she wanted the safety of the Collins family."
"But- what does that mean for our bargain?" Lucy asked.
"I'm afraid it means that our bargain is ended."
"No! You promised me that I would have Collinwood!" She grabbed at his arm.
Nicholas looked down at her hands. "You are more than welcome to accompany us when we go, my dear. In fact, Angelique told me that she insists that you go with us. She wants to suitably - reward you for your service."
Lucy's eyes widened in fear. "Reward me? She wants me dead. She hates me!"
"With reason, I should think. You destroyed her life here -"
"With your help - and Jeremiah's. You can't just turn me over to her as if I were your property -" her voice failed as Nicholas' fingers closed around her neck.
"Oh, but you are, my dear Lucy. You became so when you made your bargain with me - His fingers loosened to slide down to the top of her breasts. "You are mine to do with as I wish - and I wish to present you to Angelique as a gift."
Lucy shook her head. "No, please, Nicholas. You can't-"
"I can, and I will." He released her suddenly.
She sank onto the divan, her green eyes filled with tears. "She'll kill me, Nicholas. She will."
"Surely someone with your - talents, can convince her of your worth, Lucy." His glance at her body, revealed by the now open dressing gown, left her in little doubt about his meaning about "talents".
"Why you -" she came at him, fingernails trying to claw at his smirking face.
But Nicholas quickly grasped her wrists. "Sheath your claws, little cat. You're going to need them."
Lucy jerked away from him, turning away. "If I don't go with you, what will happen to me?"
Nicholas spoke into her ear. "You could always marry the Reverend Trask," he suggested.
Lucy gasped and turned, her arm lifting to slap him, but he was gone. She fell back onto the divan, sobbing. There had to be some way to stop this. There HAD to be.
It was late into the night when the idea struck her. She had lost Collinwood. She had to admit that. But, if she could turn Trask's attention toward Angelique Collins, at least she would be alive, and have a chance to avenge herself further on Barnabas Collins for all he had done. Tomorrow morning, she would go to Trask, tell him that she had made a dreadful mistake - that he had arrested the wrong person for witchcraft. She was taking a chance, she knew that, but she hoped that once Angelique was gone, Nicholas would simply leave Collinsport, having failed in his mission.
The Reverend Trask approached the small cottage slowly. Lucy's note had made little sense, and he was uncertain of why she had insisted that he come immediately to the cottage. His knock on the door was answered with a hesitant, terrified small voice. "Who is it?"
"It is I, Miss Mitchell," Trask said. "I received a note -"
The door opened immediately and Lucy stepped back. "Come in, quickly. Did anyone see you coming here? It's very important that no one saw you."
"I do not think so," Trask said, frowning. "What is the problem your note mentioned?"
Suddenly Lucy threw her arms around him, sobbing. "Oh, Ezekiel. I'm so frightened. We've made a horrible mistake---I mean, I've made a horrible mistake. But I had to. There was no choice. And now-"
Trask held her against him for a moment longer than was strictly necessary before holding her away from him. "What do you mean?"
"I had to do it, Ezekiel. She threatened to kill Mother if I didn't. And now that Mother's- dead, I - I know she's going to kill me once this is done."
"You are not making very much sense, Lucy," Trask told her. He moved to the divan and sat down, pulling her with him. "I believe you should start at the beginning. Who threatened your mother?"
"The real witch. Barnabas Collins is innocent, Ezekiel," she told him, seeing his denial begin to form. "He is. He has been framed for all of this by the real witch."
"And you know who that witch is."
Lucy nodded. Her voice was soft, barely audible. "Ang-Ang-" She shook her head. "I can't say it. I'm afraid she'll know and -"
Trask placed his hand over hers. "Nothing can harm you while I am here, child. Now tell me the name of the witch."
Lucy met his eyes. "Angelique Collins."
Trask was obviously uncertain. "It can't be. You were so certain that Barnabas Collins was -"
"I know. I told you what she told me to. She's been using me ever since they moved to Collinwood. She killed Mr. Collins' first wife, Ezekiel. And she's been tormenting his son by that marriage with terrifying nightmares."
"But why would she do something like this?"
"To get Collinwood. She believes that once Mr. Collins is dead, she will have full control of the estate - and will be so powerful that no one can stop her."
Trask rose and paced across the room. "I must pray about this. You say she plans to kill you -"
"She had promised to release me once he was dead, let me leave Collinwood. But last night--" Lucy shivered, drawing her shawl tightly around her.
Trask returned to her side. "What happened?"
"I was kneeling - there, beside the fire, praying, as you said I ought to do, when suddenly I felt someone else in the room with me. At first, I saw no one. Then, the room became cold. So cold that I began to shiver. And then, she was here. She told me that she couldn't risk my telling you all of this once Barnabas was gone. So after his trial, she plans to return me to Collinwood - and 'take care' of me." There were tears on Lucy's face. "I don't want to go back to her, Ezekiel. She - she used to come to my room and -" her eyes closed. "She's evil, and I can't let her get away with it. She must be stopped, Ezekiel, or else no one will be safe at Collinwood."
"How are we to stop her? I cannot simply release Barnabas Collins. If I do that, she will know that you betrayed her trust - And I cannot arrest her without proof."
"I know how you can get that proof, Ezekiel," Lucy said hesitantly. "If you are willing to try it."
Trask looked down at her. "How?"
"I wish I knew how much longer Daniel was going to lock himself away in the study," Harriet sighed, ceasing her needlework.
"He's grieving, Harriet," Sarah reminded her. "He and Uncle Jeremiah were quite close, as you're no doubt aware."
"I did not think that you would be aware of such a thing," Harriet countered.
"I have eyes, Harriet," Sarah said. She looked to where Angelique sat, gazing into the fire. "Angelique?"
When there was no response, Sarah's gaze shifted to the Countess. Natalie reached out to touch her daughter's hand. "Cheri?"
Angelique started. "Excuse me. I was thinking - I have to see Barnabas."
"But Giles said it wasn't safe for you," Sarah told her sister in law. "And that Barnabas told him he didn't want you to go back to that awful jail." She lifted a handkerchief to her eye. "Whenever I think of my brother in that terrible place - he looked so pale and tired yesterday -"
Angelique rose. "I'm going to see him. Perhaps - perhaps there might be some way I can help that he hasn't considered."
Natalie shook her head. "No, Angelique. You must remain here, at Collinwood. Going to the jail will only make things worse for Barnabas."
"Ben!" Angelique called. Turning back to Natalie, she smiled. "I must do this, Natalie. It is for the best. You will see."
"You called me, Mrs. Collins?" Ben asked, entering the room.
"I need a carriage to take me into Collinsport," she told him.
"Into Collinsport?" he repeated. "You don't need t'go there, ma'am. Begging your pardon, but Mr. Barnabas -"
"I have to go because of Barnabas, Ben. It's the only way to save his life. Please get a carriage ready for me."
Ben looked as if he might refuse, but then nodded and left the house. "I will go with you," Natalie offered.
Angelique turned to her, taking her hands. "No. You stay here, with the children. Take care of them for me."
Something in her daughter's words sent a deep chill through Natalie du Pres. She was saying good bye. "Angelique, child -"
"It will be all right, maman," Angelique whispered softly. "You will see. Tell the children that I love them."
Sarah gasped. "Angelique?"
She turned to the younger woman. "Don't worry, Sarah. I'll see you - later."
Sarah squeezed her hand, and then placed an arm around Natalie as Angelique departed the house. "What is going on, Countess?"
"She's not coming back," Natalie sighed. "She was saying good-bye."
"Don't be ridiculous," Harriet said. "She's simply going to see her husband." Picking up her needlework, the woman went across the foyer and up the stairs. "I don't know what all the fuss is about."
Sarah felt Natalie draw a shuddering breath. "It will be all right, Countess. Angelique said it would -"
"No," Natalie sighed. "No. Nothing will be all right ever again."
Trask stood outside the Collinsport Jail as the constable led the prisoner toward the courthouse nearby. The townspeople crowded around, jeering, shouting jibes at Barnabas Collins. A sudden fear that Collins would not live to make it to the court sprung up in Trask's mind, and his hand found the pistol hidden beneath his long coat. Suddenly Lucy appeared out of nowhere, running toward Barnabas, crying. "I'm sorry, Mr. Collins! I never meant to hurt you. I had no choice -"
Barnabas shook off her arm. "Then tell them the truth, Lucy. Tell them who is really responsible for all of this - for Jeremiah's death, and that of your mother."
An open carriage rolled to a stop, and Barnabas frowned upon seeing the face of his wife. "Angelique." She wasn't supposed to be here. She had agreed - or so Giles had told him.
Lucy's eyes grew wide as she ran to Trask's side. "It was her!" She screamed. The crowd gasped as Lucy's arm shot out to point toward the blonde woman now standing in the carriage. "She's the one! She's the witch!" Lucy turned toward Trask. "You have to do it, Ezekiel. You must - to prove it to all of those gathered!"
Barnabas watched in horror, unable to move, as he saw Trask step forward.
His hands shook as he brought out the pistol and leveled it at Angelique. "I accuse you of witchcraft, Angelique Collins," he declared.
"I am no witch," Angelique told him. "What evidence do you have that says I am?"
"This," Trask said, pulling the trigger of the weapon.
"NO! Angelique!" Barnabas screamed, fighting to get to where she had fallen onto the carriage seat.
"She is not dead," Trask announced. "A witch cannot be killed by a pistol. They must be hanged - or burned -" he turned back to the carriage. "We know the truth, Angelique Collins. Rise. Accept the punishment of a just God ---"
Barnabas broke free and climbed into the carriage, taking Angelique into his arms. "Someone find a doctor!" he called out, and was pleased to see several people run away to do as he asked. "Angelique -"
She opened her blue eyes. "Barnabas." Her hand lifted to touch his cheek, leaving a streak of blood there. "I love you. Always - remember -" Her hand fell, her eyes closed.
Barnabas bent his head, crying softly. "Angelique. No. My beautiful love-"
"It is an act," Trask insisted. "Rise -"
Barnabas' eyes were filled with rage as he spoke. "She is dead, Trask! You killed her! She was no more a witch than I am, yet you killed her." He came from the carriage toward Trask.
The Reverend ducked away, and then suddenly realized that the townspeople were looking at him in the same way that they had been looking at Barnabas Collins only moment before. "No. Lucy, tell him. Tell him what you told me. That she wanted him dead so she could gain Collinwood -" Barnabas was closer, and Trask turned to the Constable. "Do something, my good man!"
"That I will, Reverend," the man said, clapping a hand on Trask's shoulder. "To a cell with ya."
Barnabas grabbed Trask's shirtfront before the Constable could move. "You will have your day in court, Trask. And you will suffer the same fate as you planned for me - as you have sent so many innocent people to. You will hang, Trask. And if you don't, then I will hunt you down and destroy you -"
Trask's eyes searched the crowd for Lucy, but she was gone. He watched as the constable removed the manacles from Barnabas Collins' wrists and placed them on his. "She wasn't supposed to die. She was - supposed to rise back up and admit that she was a witch. That's what she told me would happen. I must pray. Pray for guidance. Prayer will solve everything."
Barnabas turned back toward the carriage in time to see the local physician climb up beside Angelique. "Doctor?" But the man simply shook his head negatively.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Collins."
Barnabas looked around as Giles came forward. "Let's take her home, Barnabas," he said gently, his eyes sad.
"Yes. Home." A home without his beautiful Angelique, Barnabas thought. Things would never be the same again. As for Trask, Barnabas was certain that his days of terrorizing innocent people were over. As for Lucy Mitchell, ---He drew Angelique's body into his arms as Giles climbed into the carriage and took up the reins. "Let's go home, Giles."
Lucy entered her cottage and leaned back against the door, breathing heavily. Nicholas was going to be furious when he found out what she had done. She had truly believed that a gunshot couldn't harm Angelique. She had thought that when Trask shot her, and Angelique survived, the townspeople would rise up and destroy her through hanging. She felt no remorse for her part in Trask's problems. He had destroyed enough lives that he was due a comeuppance.
Lucy sat down by the fire, trying to warm her cold hands. "You little fool! What have you done?!"
Lucy lifted frightened eyes to Nicholas. "I didn't know she could be shot," she tried to explain. "I thought she would survive -"
"Under normal circumstances, she would have. But, unknown to me, she relinquished all of her powers last night, after agreeing to my plan to leave Collinwood."
"Then you'll continue to destroy the Collins family?" Lucy asked hopefully. If that was the case, then she still might have a chance.
"No. I've been ordered to forget this place, to go elsewhere
on another 'assignment'."
Lucy grasped his hand. "But what about me? You promised -"
"And I told you last evening that it was not to be. Now, you have no place other than here."
"But I can't stay in Collinsport! Mr. Collins will have me killed - unless the townspeople do it for him. I won't be able to live -"
Nicholas pulled his hand away. "Then I would make arrangements to leave, if I were you."
"How can I? I haven't any money, no where to go -"
"I don't care what you do, Lucy. You're of no use to me any longer." Suddenly he was gone, leaving a sobbing Lucy alone in the cottage. There were sounds of townspeople gathering outside. What was she to do? What?
Ben Stokes watched as Deborah came into the cottage. "How is the Countess?"
"Bearing up," Deborah told him. "She is hiding much of her grief for the sake of the children and Mr. Barnabas."
"I've never seen a man as stricken as he is," Ben mused. "Never realized how much he loved her, I s'pose."
Deborah threw her arms around him. "Oh, Ben. I never believed something like this could happen. That a madman would kill Angelique- When I think of those poor children - Let's get married, Ben."
Ben shook his head. "The house is in mournin', Deborah. We can't-"
"I don't think anyone would object, Ben."
"Can't do it," he insisted. "Six months from now -"
"Who is to say that either of us will still be alive by then?" she asked. "I don't want to take that chance. Please, Ben?"
"I'll speak to Mr. Barnabas about it as soon as I can. But right now -"
Deborah nodded. Barnabas Collins had locked himself away in the room he had shared with his wife, refusing to see anyone, even his children. "At least this had brought Mr. Daniel out of the study. He assured Mr. Barnabas that he would take care of the yards until Barnabas felt up to it again."
"I hope Trask is hanged for what he did," Ben said. "Hanged like all those innocent young women that he accused of witchcraft. Would be a fittin' end, if you ask me."
Deborah found herself wondering what part Lucy had played in this tragedy, and considered for a brief moment going to visit the young woman. "The Countess has arranged for the burial to be this evening," Deborah told him.
"Aye. I heard some of the others talkin' about it in the stables. They're taking wager that Mr. Barnabas won't come out of that room to go."
"I'm sure he will, Ben. Even if the Countess has to drag him out." She snuggled closer to him. "Hold me, Ben. And don't ever let me go."
Natalie du Pres tapped lightly on the door of the master bedroom of Collinwood. "Go away," came a tired voice. "Leave me alone."
"No, Barnabas," Natalie said, just loud enough to
be heard through the wooden door. "I will not go away. Your
children need to see you. To have you comfort them -"
Barnabas wrenched open the door. "How can I comfort them when I can find no comfort for myself?" he asked, turning away quickly, but not before Natalie caught sight of his red-rimmed eyes.
She closed the door behind her. "Oh, Barnabas. She would
not want this of you. She would expect you to be strong - to take
care of the children as she would have done."
"I've no strength to go on, Natalie. Angelique was my strength. Without her-I have nothing."
"You have three wonderful children. Oh, Rebecca is too young to understand, yes. But Lucas - and Bramwell, poor Bramwell has lost two mothers now. He needs you more than his brother."
Barnabas sat down heavily on the sofa before the fire. "I have nothing to offer them, Natalie. Surely you -"
"I am only their aunt, or grandmother. YOU are their father. Allow them to come in, Barnabas. Do not shut them out." He placed his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking. Natalie laid a hand on his head, smoothing his hair. "Barnabas, you and I both know the truth about Angelique. That she was truly a witch." He lifted his head to look at her, brows knitted together in uncertainty. "A witch cannot be killed by a lead ball fired from a pistol. That is a fact."
"She's dead, Natalie," Barnabas reminded her. "Even now, her body lies downstairs, waiting to be placed into the cold ground -"
"Angelique would have done anything to save you and her children - do you agree with that?"
"Of course I do." Realization dawned. "You think she made a bargain with Blair. And being killed was the only way she could leave -"
"It is possible. If it was even Angelique who was shot." Seeing his confusion, Natalie took a deep breath. "She was not acting herself when she left the house this morning. It was almost as though she were in a trance."
Barnabas looked at her. "Have you read the cards, Natalie? What do they tell you?"
"They see nothing. Only darkness -"
Barnabas shook his head. "Even if it was true, then she
is still lost to me," he said.
"Blair's bargain meant that she would have to leave Collinwood." He sat back, staring into the fire. "No, Natalie. She is dead to all of us - forever."
Angelique Bouchard Collins was buried in the family cemetery. Barnabas did attend, his hands holding those of his sons. He looked around the graveyard, noticing the townspeople hovering on the outside of the wrought iron fence. They didn't lift a finger to save her, yet now, here they were, watching her be put into the ground like a bunch of vultures.
Once the service was over, Barnabas remained by the grave as Natalie took the children toward the carriage. As he stood there, head bowed, he heard someone approach. George Willhite, the foreman from the yards came forward, cap in hand. "Mr. Barnabas -"
Barnabas fixed him with a look that stopped him. "Yes, Willhite?"
"I've been asked to offer the condolences -"
"Condolences? Not one of you lifted a hand to stop Trask from his madness. When I was arrested, most of the good townspeople called for my hanging." His eyes searched out those gathering in the falling darkness. "I want none of your condolences or sympathies. Get off of this property before I have you removed."
Willhite swallowed. "Thought you'd like to know, sir, that Lucy Mitchell's body was found an hour ago. She hanged herself in her cottage right after -" he glanced at the fresh grave.
"Thank you for the information," Barnabas said. "And what of Trask? Has he done likewise?"
"He just sits in his cell, muttering. The Constable's seen to sending his son and Jason Greene to stay with Trask's older son in Rockport. He says he thinks Trask is mad."
"Undoubtedly," Barnabas agreed. "If you will excuse me -"
Willhite stepped aside, watching as the only Collins he had ever liked working for turned his back on those watching and vanished into the darkness of the wooded lands of Collinwood.
Harriet removed her hat and fluffed her hair. "I am glad
that is over and done," she sighed, sitting heavily as Daniel
poured himself a glass of whiskey. Natalie had taken the children
upstairs, and Giles had seen Sarah up to give her a sedative to
help her sleep. "I shall be quite pleased when the house
settles down," Harriet said. "Must you drink, Daniel?"
Daniel lifted the glass toward her, drained it, and refilled it
without a word.
"Things are going to be very different around here, very shortly," Harriet told him.
"What makes you think so?" Daniel asked, his voice tired.
"Well, with Angelique gone, it falls to me to be mistress of Collinwood, doesn't it?"
"Not if Cousin Barnabas decides otherwise," Daniel pointed out. "With the Countess in the house, he'll probably ask her to take care of those duties."
"But she won't stay here forever, will she? I mean, she does have an estate in the Caribbean. She can't remain away from there for much longer -"
"I think, my dear Harriet, that the Countess du Pres will do precisely what she wants to do and not even you will be able to stop her." He finished his drink. "I am going to bed. I have to go into the yards on the morrow." He started for the door, and then turned to look at his wife. "Are you going to join me?"
Sighing heavily, Harriet rose from the sofa. "I might as well. There certainly isn't any reason to remain down here, is there?" Except to think how I might rearrange the furnishings, she thought to herself. That awful rug before the hearth would be the first thing to go, she decided, taking Daniel's arm.
Barnabas entered the house and stood there, allowing himself to acknowledge that he would never see her blonde hair as it shone in the light from the window above the stair, never see her beautiful blue eyes filled with love for him. He slowly climbed the stair and made his way to first Lucas' room, to make sure the child was at last sleeping, then to the nursery, where Rebecca had just gotten to sleep, according to Mrs. Burns. He touched the tiny fingers of his daughter, and then left the room to go to Bramwell.
His oldest son was sitting in the window seat, looking out
over the moonlit grounds.
"You should be in bed," he said.
"So should you, Father," Bramwell said.
"I'm not ready for bed as yet," Barnabas told him. "What are you looking at?" he asked, joining Bramwell at the window.
"If you look closely, on a full moon, you can just make out the top of the mausoleum where Grandmother and Grandfather are buried," he said. "And over there is the top of the Old House -"
"Have you been over there," Barnabas asked.
"This afternoon," Bramwell told him. "She said I shouldn't be sad about Angelique's death. That things will work out, Father."
"Things will work out," Barnabas repeated.
"She said we should be patient. But that is all she would tell me." Bramwell looked at him. "I miss her," he said simply. "I miss them both."
For the first time in years, Barnabas felt a connection with this solemn young man and hugged him tightly. "So do I, Bramwell. So do I."
Lucas stood beside the small bed, his eyes wide. "Don't cry, baby. Be all right." He placed a chubby hand on the infant's chest, trying to calm him.
"Get away from him!" Harriet shrieked as she entered the room, all but pushing the little boy out of her way as she picked up her crying baby. "What did you do to him?"
The child backed away, his eyes wide as Harriet came toward him. He shook his head. "Nothing. He was-crying."
Harriet's eyes flashed. "You keep away from my son. Keep
your grubby little hands off of him. I don't want him sullied
-" she stopped as the door opened to admit Natalie du Pres.
Lucas ran to throw his arms around her, and Natalie frowned. "What is wrong, Lucas?"
"He was in here, trying to do who knows what to Quentin," Harriet accused. "If I hadn't come in when I did -"
Natalie sat down and looked at her grandson's face. "Did you do anything to hurt your cousin, Lucas?"
Lucas shook his head no. "Was crying. No one to stop him."
Natalie looked up. "I heard the infant crying myself. It was the reason I came in," she told Harriet. "I wanted to make certain that he was well -"
Harriet drew her son even more closely to her. "He is quite well-and will remain so as long as you keep that little - ruffian away from him."
"Ruffian?" Natalie repeated, her eyes narrowed dangerously. Taking Lucas' hand, she said, "Come, little one. I can see that we are not wanted here."
Harriet watched them go, and then turned her attention to her blue eyed son. "There, darling. It's all right. Mama is here. I'm not going to let anyone hurt my darling." She looked up to find her husband watching her. "Daniel."
"You're going to spoil him," he accused.
"He's only a baby. Babies should be spoiled." She put him back into his crib as Daniel neared. "Don't disturb him," she said. "I just got him back to sleep after that silly Lucas woke him. I worry so about those children being around Quentin, Daniel. I don't trust them -"
"Lucas would no more harm this child than he would his own sister -" Daniel told her, touching his son's tiny hand with a finger. It still amazed him that he had fathered this child.
"You know what the villagers say about Barnabas-"
Daniel fixed her with his pale gaze. "I've told you before, Harriet, I will hear none of this. Cousin Barnabas has been through enough in the last year. I will not allow you to malign him in this house. If it were not for him, we would be forced to return to New York and live with my sister -" He saw Harriet's frown. "I did not think you would like that." He picked up his son and sat down.
"I told you-"
"I am his father, Harriet, and I will hold him as I please. Now go and attend to the menu. Cook was looking for you."
Harriet watched him for a moment, then turned and left the room.
"The nerve of that woman," Natalie ranted, pacing back and forth before the man who sat beside the fire in the study. "Accusing poor Lucas of trying to harm her child. He was only concerned, and what does he get for attempting to help?"
"Calm down, Natalie," Barnabas said. "How is Lucas?"
"He was having his dinner with Bramwell when I left him. He seemed willing enough to forget the incident, but -"
"I will speak to Daniel," Barnabas said.
"And how many times will that make that you have done so?" Natalie sat down before him, looking at him. He had aged so much in the last year since Angelique's death. His once dark hair was now flecked with white strands, his lips seldom saw a smile come across them. "Oh, Barnabas. We cannot remain here."
Barnabas looked up at her, frowning. He always frowned these days, she thought. "What do you mean? Collinwood is our home. Bramwell and Lucas' heritage -"
"What heritage? They fear going into the village, remembering what happened to Angelique -" she noticed his fingers clench into a fist at the sound of her name. "And they hear the rumors - the dark whispers -"
Barnabas sighed. "I have heard those as well," he admitted. "The stories that I sent Angelique to her death to free myself and discredit Trask."
He said the name of the murderer of his wife with a rasping, hate filled voice. One month after Angelique's death, the former reverend had been declared to be totally insane, sitting in his jail cell, constantly praying, beseeching his god to save him from his sinful ways. Unwilling to sentence a man not in his right mind to hang, the magistrate had instead remanded custody to Trask's son in Rockport, himself also a minister. Gerald Trask had come to Collinwood to call on Barnabas, and had assured the master of Collinwood that his father would never harm anyone else again.
"Barnabas, you never leave this estate -" Natalie pointed out. "You only invite such rumor and lies by your own actions. You send Daniel to the yards in your place, you spend much of your evenings at the cemetery - when is the last time you spoke to your sons? And I do not mean wishing them a good night as you do every night."
"I have no desire to-"
"To continue living your life without Angelique," Natalie said. "I know you miss her, Barnabas," Natalie said quietly, touching his arm. "I do as well. And so do the children. They need you all the more because of it. You must come out of this - ennui. Please, for their sake -"
Barnabas closed his eyes, resting his head against the back of his chair. "I try, Natalie. But I cannot. I cannot forget. Everything I see, everything I touch - reminds me of her -"
"Then we must leave Collinwood," Natalie told him, her voice harsh.
Barnabas opened his eyes to look at her as if he thought she had taken leave of her senses. "Leave Collinwood? But where would we go?"
"Martinique. You could begin anew there, Barnabas. Learn to forget -"
"I have memories of both of them on the island," Barnabas pointed out.
"But they are happier memories," Natalie said. "Easier to live with. And the children will be happier there."
"And what am I to do about Collinwood?" he asked. "Simply walk away from it? From my responsibilities?"
"No. Give it to your cousin and his wife. Let them try to enjoy more happiness than you ever knew here. You will have a new life in Martinique, Barnabas. A new future to build for your children. Bramwell and Lucas will grow up learning how to raise the sugar cane. And Rebecca will be the prettiest girl on the entire island, able to pick and choose her beaus-"
"You paint a pretty picture with your words, Natalie," Barnabas said, drawing a faint breath of hope into Natalie's chest - only to take that breath away as he continued. "But I cannot leave Collinwood. Perhaps I will send you and the children to Martinique-"
"They will not wish to go without their father," Natalie said.
"They may have no choice," Barnabas said quietly, his gaze back on the fire. Rising, he said, "I am going for a walk."
Natalie nodded, knowing that he was going to visit Angelique
and Josette's graves, to pay his insane penance for the deaths
of the two women who had loved him and died. There was only one
other who might convince him, she realized, and went upstairs
to find her grand nephew. And then she was going to tell Deborah
to begin packing their trunks. They WOULD be returning to Martinique.