Angelique was watching Bramwell return Rebecca to her cradle when Barnabas entered the room. Her blue eyes searched his face as if searching for something. Bramwell stood and faced his father. "Is she going to be staying at Collinwood, Father?"
"I have invited her to remain as a guest," Barnabas admitted. "She wishes to get to know you, Bramwell. It is only natural, since you are all of the family she has left."
"She-frightens me," Bramwell said quietly, his eyes serious.
"Nonsense," Barnabas insisted. "But I want you tell me if she begins to try and convince you to leave Collinwood with her."
"To go where?" Bramwell asked.
"Martinique," Barnabas told him, glancing at Angelique as she gasped. "Your grandfather died two months ago, and you are his heir."
"The Count is-dead?" Angelique questioned.
"There was a fire," Barnabas explained. "The house was destroyed."
"Oh my. So now she feels she has no one except for Bramwell. You mustn't allow it, Barnabas. Once she has him on that island, you will never see him again."
"I have no intention of allowing her to take him anywhere," Barnabas assured both Angelique and the frightened boy. "When he is old enough, he will be able to make the decision to visit, but he belongs here." His eyes focused on Bramwell fully now, and saw a return of the fear from the previous night. He smiled. "Why don't you take Lucas to Mrs. Burns for his nap?"
"Yes, Father." He turned to Angelique. "May I return later for another visit with Rebecca, Angelique?"
"Of course," she assured him, smiling. She gave Lucas a light kiss, and then waited until the two boys left the room. Her smile faded as she looked at her husband. "There is more, isn't there?"
He smiled, sitting on the bed. "You know me too well," he admitted. "Yes. The Countess came here because she discovered that I had married again. She wanted to satisfy herself that my new wife was a suitable mother for Bramwell."
The blue eyes flashed fire. "The nerve of that woman. Did she know the identity of your wife?"
"Not at first, I think. She was asking about you when Bramwell and Lucas came in."
Angelique laid back in the bed as she recalled his mother's reaction to seeing Barnabas and Lucas together. "She realized that you were Lucas' father."
"Yes. Even then, she might not have made the connection-were it not for the fact that Josette wrote to her, telling her that she and I were planning to raise your son as our own."
"So she knows the truth."
"Not all of it," Barnabas reminded her. "Under no circumstances must she discover the true circumstances of Josette's death. She must continue to believe that Josette fell ill and chose to hide that illness until it was too late to help her." His face darkened at the memory of that horrible night.
"I cannot imagine that the Countess took the news well that I am now your wife and therefore responsible for raising Bramwell."
"You were before we married," he reminded her. "Your promise to Josette bound you to him even if nothing else did. But you are correct. She was not pleased. It is another reason for her wanting to take him back with her, I think."
Rebecca made a small sound, and Angelique glanced in the direction of the crib before looking back at Barnabas. "Does she know about-Rebecca?"
"We never mentioned it. But I'm certain that she will find out about it soon. I think everyone in the house is talking about it." He went to look at his daughter. "Mrs. Hester has given her the rooms on the far end of the corridor."
"Did she bring Deborah with her?"
"I believe that was the name of the young woman, yes. In all truth, I paid her very little attention."
Angelique nodded. "Deborah was never one to attract attention. She served the Countess whenever I was busy with Josette. Josette once told me that her aunt had elevated Deborah permanently upon her return to Martinique after Josette's-marriage." She watched him moved restlessly around the room. At last, she held out her hand. "Barnabas?"
He came back to her, taking her hand. "Forgive me. I'm still trying to deal with-so many things." He brought her hand to his lips. "We cannot risk your attempting that spell to help Bramwell while she is in this house. If she were to discover the truth-"
"She won't. But I cannot remain here, Barnabas.
I must face her, as your wife. As
Mrs. Barnabas Collins, if I am ever to gain her respect."
"I fear that Countess du Pres will forever think of you as a servant, my darling."
"I am," she told him. "But I only serve you," she said. "I will not greet that woman from my bed," she insisted. "As soon as Lucy returns, I shall get dressed and join you and our guest for the evening."
"Are you sure you should?" he asked, obviously concerned. "Rebecca's birth was more difficult than Lucas'. Why not wait until tomorrow?"
"No, Barnabas. I cannot explain this to you so that you would understand. If I am to make the Countess understand that I am mistress of Collinwood, then I must be the mistress-and I cannot do that from here. I promise that if I become too fatigued, I will come back to my bed."
"Is there nothing I can do to change your course of action?"
"No, unless you forbid me to do it-"
Barnabas kissed her palm. "I shan't. I'll go and find out where Lucy has gotten to. Mrs. Hester mentioned that she had gone into the village-"
"To see her mother. Mrs. Mitchell has been ill, and Lucy was worried about her."
"Of course. But she should be back by now."
As if she had heard him, the door opened and the young woman herself stood in the doorway. Her eyes widened upon seeing Barnabas, who was now standing beside his wife's bed. "Oh. Mr. Collins." She glanced behind her. "I didn't expect you to be here."
"I was on my way to find you," he told her. "Mrs. Collins has decided that she would like to go downstairs."
Lucy frowned. "Is that wise, Mrs. Collins? You were so ill this morning-"
"I am quite well, Lucy," Angelique assured the girl. "Is there something troubling you? Is your mother worse?"
"Oh, no. She's feeling better-especially after hearing about your beautiful baby. I have-a visitor who would like to see you. If you're well enough, of course."
Angelique met Barnabas' look, then returned her gaze to her maid. "By all means."
Lucy turned to the visitor, who had remained out of sight. "You see? I told you. Come in."
Deborah entered the room slowly, as if uncertain that she would be truly welcome. She curtsied prettily. "Mrs. Collins. I thought-I thought I might pay my respects."
Angelique smiled a welcome. "Deborah. Come here."
The maid swallowed heavily as she passed Barnabas to come nearer the bed. Sensing that she was nervous of him, Barnabas smiled at his wife. "I will be downstairs. When you are ready to come downstairs, have Lucy send for me."
"I will, Mr. Collins," Lucy promised, having crossed to look at Rebecca.
When the door closed behind Barnabas, Deborah relaxed slightly, and Angelique recalled that she had always been a bit awed by him. "You are looking well, Deborah. Apparently the Countess hasn't worn you completely to a frazzle."
"She tries, madame," Deborah said with a smile. "She tries." Her brown eyes dulled. "She is very angry with you for having married Mr. Barnabas."
Angelique frowned. "I wasn't aware that the Countess knew about my marriage until she arrived at Collinwood."
Deborah's eyes widened. "Perhaps I should not have mentioned it. I-I did not realize-"
"The Countess received a letter about your marriage, Mrs. Collins," Lucy informed her mistress. "It was that which has brought her to Collinwood."
Angelique's eyes fixed on Deborah. "Is this true, Deborah?"
"Yes. I do not know who sent the letter, Mrs. Collins. I should not have told you about it. If the Countess discovers that I've said anything-"
"She will never find out from me," Angelique assured her.
Lucy was still beside the crib. "Come and see the newest Collins," she invited Deborah.
Glad to have the subject changed, Deborah moved in that direction. "Oh, Mrs. Collins. She is very beautiful. Do you have a name as yet?"
"Barnabas chose Rebecca." Angelique was only half paying attention, as her mind was occupied with the news that Deborah had imparted. So the Countess had known before her arrival that Barnabas had married Angelique. Who could have sent that letter, she wondered. And for what purpose? "Lucy, would you lay out my blue silk?"
"Yes, ma'am." She smiled at Deborah. "We can talk later, after our duties are done."
"I would like that," Deborah said, returning the smile. "I will go now." She looked at Angelique. "It is a pleasure to be in your house, Mrs. Collins."
"We'll talk again," Angelique assured her. "And Deborah, it might be best if you don't mention having been to see me when you go to the Countess."
"You need not worry on that, madame. Au revoir." She closed the door behind her.
Lucy retrieved the blue silk gown from the armoire and went to assist her mistress. "She didn't mention, ma'am, that the address on the letter was from France."
Angelique frowned. Who in France would want to cause
trouble here at Collinwood?
"Thank you, Lucy. You're very loyal."
"You and Mr. Collins have been so good to me," Lucy insisted. "Letting me go and check on Mother whenever I needed to. It's not everyone who would have given me a chance to be a lady's maid."
"You're very good at it," Angelique said. "Now help me with this gown-and then we must do something about my hair."
Barnabas was waiting for Lucy to tell him that Angelique was ready for him to escort her downstairs when the sound of a carriage arriving brought him to the door. After the Countess' arrival, he found himself wary-until he recognized the carriage and the young woman who was coming toward him. "Sarah! I didn't expect you until tomorrow."
"I told Angelique that I would be here before the baby was born," she reminded him. "Giles is busy with his father's import house, and agreed that I would be happier here than waiting in New York." She looked up at him. "You look terrible, Barnabas. Almost as though you haven't slept in ages."
"I haven't," he told his sister. "You're too late for your niece's birth," he said.
Sarah's eyes grew wide. "But, she wasn't supposed to have had the baby for another two weeks. Is she well?"
"They are both quite well," he told her, leading her into the drawing room. "We also have another guest. The Countess du Pres arrived this morning."
"The Countess? But-why is she here? Does she know about-?"
"As to her reason for being here, she claims that she simply wants to get to know Bramwell. But I believe she intends to try and take him back to Martinique with her."
"Bramwell doesn't belong there. He belongs here, at Collinwood."
"I know. And yes, the Countess knows that I am married again-and the identity of my wife. She doesn't know about Rebecca, however."
"Rebecca? That's a lovely name. How did Angelique take the news of the Countess' arrival?"
"It troubled her," he admitted. "But she's determined to prove to the Countess that she is deserving of being my wife."
"And just how does she intend to do that?"
"By coming downstairs to dinner this evening."
"But-is that a good idea? If she gave birth this morning-"
"She was back at work the day after Lucas was born," he told her. "But I'm very glad you are here, Sarah," Barnabas told her, placing his hand over hers. "She won't admit it, but I think she will be most grateful for your support. I know I will be."
Sarah smiled at him. "I'll stay as long as I'm needed, Barnabas," she assured him. "And now," she decided, rising to her feet, "I'm going up to see my niece." Suddenly, as she was on her way out of the room, she stopped. "I know what I was going to tell you. I was so surprised by your news that I quite forgot mine." She paused for effect. "There is a rumor that Cousin Daniel is back in New York."
"There was no mention of him."
"Where did you hear this rumor?" Barnabas wanted to know.
"Giles and Daniel had some-mutual friends, apparently. We were at a party the other evening, and one of them mentioned to Giles that he had seen Daniel. When I told him that Daniel had left the country to travel, the friend insisted that he had returned."
"And was this person a-close friend of Daniel?"
"Giles said he was. That he and Daniel had been as close a brothers before Daniel moved to Collinwood."
"If you're going to meet Rebecca, you had best go now, before the Countess comes downstairs."
"You're right. I won't be long."
After she left, Barnabas found himself deep in thought. Why would Daniel have returned to New York alone when he had been so insistent that Jeremiah needed him? Thinking that something was wrong with the entire picture, he went to the study to pen a letter to a friend of his in New York, asking him to make some discreet inquiries regarding this matter.
Barnabas sat back, hoping that his feeling of relief wasn't
short-lived. The evening had progressed very quietly, with no
outbursts from either the Countess du Pres or Angelique. Both
seemed to be going out of their way to keep the peace. Although,
Barnabas reasoned, that was possibly due to his own presence and
to Sarah's as well.
Sarah had maintained the lion's share of the conversation, telling Angelique about New York and her friends there. She yet to mention the report of Daniel's rumored return, and so Barnabas himself remained quiet about it. He would discuss it later with Angelique when they could be alone. "You sound as if you've adjusted very well to living in the city, Sarah," Angelique commented.
"I cannot understand how anyone could prefer to live in such a place as New York," the Countess said. "It is dirty, and the people are ill mannered."
"Not every city can be Paris, Countess," Angelique reminded her. "Indeed, if they were, then Paris would simply be just another city, just like all of the rest."
"Paris could never be like any other city," the Countess declared. "Besides, how could you possibly know what Paris is like? To my knowledge, you have never visited there."
"No," Angelique agreed. "But I have spoken with many who have visited Paris, and-"
"One cannot base such things on the stories of others," the Countess declared. "One must actually visit Paris to understand it."
"I am surprised that you have not returned there yourself,
Countess," Angelique said, her eyes beginning to glitter
with something that Barnabas couldn't identify.
"Considering how you feel about the city-"
"Alas, with the current state of affairs in France-" she frowned, not wanting to think about the unsettled state of her homeland. "I am content to spend the rest of my life in Martinique," she announced.
"I am surprised that you are here at all, Countess," Barnabas said. "The estate-"
"Is in capable hands, I assure you," she told him. "My brother employed an excellent steward to attend to such things." She rose to her feet. "If you will excuse me, I have had a long day, and need to rest. I will see you tomorrow." She hesitated for a moment, as if uncertain about saying anything further. "The meal was-excellent," she told Angelique, her expression showing nothing.
"Thank you, Countess," Angelique acknowledged. The Countess was on the steps when the sound of an infant's cry brought her to a halt. Her eyes narrowed as Mrs. Burns, carrying a small, blanket wrapped bundle, appeared on the landing, begging the Countess' pardon as she passed her on the stair.
Angelique and Barnabas had risen to go into the foyer upon hearing the cries. "Oh, Mrs. Collins," Mrs. Burns said. "She's hungry, I believe," she explained, her eyes full of apology.
Angelique took the infant, smiling up at her husband. "Don't be angry, Barnabas. I told her to let me know if Rebecca woke and needed me." She gave the baby a light kiss, lifting her eyes to those of the woman still standing on the stairs as if frozen in place. "Would you care to meet the newest member of our family, Countess?"
Natalie du Pres' frown deepened, and she turned without acknowledging Angelique's words to go up the stairs and to her room.
Barnabas shook his head. "If I didn't know that you couldn't have planned this-" he began-
"I planned nothing, Barnabas. Rebecca simply wanted her mother. Thank you, Mrs. Burns. Are the boys in their beds?"
"Master Lucas is. Master Bramwell asked to read for a time."
"I'll look in on him in a moment." She turned and took the now quiet baby into the drawing room, Sarah at her side.
"She's so tiny," Sarah said. "Smaller than Bramwell or Lucas. Are you certain she's all right?"
"She's fine," Angelique assured her. "But she needs to be fed. I think she and I will go upstairs and take care of that problem."
Barnabas came to her. "I'll escort you up," he told her. "And I'll be back down in a moment, Sarah."
"I think I'll go up to bed as well," she told
him. "The trip from New York seemed longer than usual.
All in all, I think the evening went very well." She gave
them each a kiss, and then left them alone.
The Countess tossed her fan onto the vanity, noticing as she did so that Deborah flinched. "Another child! She has another child. A daughter this time. And my poor Josette-"
"I have your night clothes ready, Countess," Deborah said haltingly.
"She believes that she is untouchable as mistress of Collinwood," Natalie scoffed. "Well, she shall learn. Once I send my letter-" she waved the hovering Deborah away. "Be gone, girl. I must make a codicil to the letter I wrote earlier so that I can send it on its way tomorrow."
"A letter to home, madame?"
"No. There is no one I would write there," Natalie said. "And it is no concern of yours who I choose to write to. Now off with you."
Deborah backed toward the door and left the room, frowning. She wanted no part of causing trouble for Angelique - Mrs. Collins. And she was very afraid that trouble was precisely what the Countess intended to make for her former maid.
"Is Sarah certain that Daniel's been seen in New York?" Angelique asked as Rebecca lay at her breast.
"She claims that Giles discovered it through a mutual acquaintance of his and Daniel's. I must admit that I never considered that Giles might have traveled in the same circle as Daniel."
"They are of the same age," Angelique pointed out. "And although Millicent never went in for the social set overly much, she and Daniel would have been known many in the city, I'm sure."
"Just the same, I'm going to have a little chat with Giles the next time I see him."
"What about Jeremiah? Was there no mention of him?"
"No. I've sent word to Symington in the city. Asked him to make a few inquiries."
"Rebecca is asleep," she told him. "I'll put her down and then go check on the boys."
"Why don't you go back to bed," Barnabas suggested, reaching to pull the bell that would summon Lucy. "I'll go and make certain that they are well."
"Send Bramwell in to say goodnight, then. I only hope he doesn't have one of his nightmares during the Countess' visit."
"As do I." He kissed her hand. "I won't be long," he promised, standing as Lucy tapped on the door.
Lucas was sound asleep, and Barnabas touched his dark hair lightly as he pulled the covers more tightly around the boy. He was so different from Bramwell-outgoing, ready for anything. Even as a small boy, Bramwell had been shy, timid, often clinging to Josette's skirts-and now those of Angelique. Barnabas sighed softly, and then entered his elder son's room. The room was dark, and Barnabas supposed that Bramwell had decided to go to bed instead of reading as he had told Mrs. Burns that he intended to do. Approaching the bed quietly so not to disturb the lad, Barnabas sensed something was wrong. The figure under the quilts was too still. Barnabas placed a hand on the quilt, and felt no moment-not even the steady rise and fall of breathing. Fear gripped him as he pulled back the covers, only to be replaced quickly with relief as he realized that the quilts had been covering pillows arranged to look as if Bramwell were sleeping in the bed. The relief was replaced in its turn by anger and a hint of fear. Where was Bramwell?
Ben Stokes entered the Old House as quietly as he could. The parlour was dark and quiet, so he turned toward the stair. As he climbed the steps, the third one groaned, and Ben froze, listening. The soft sound of movement came from above, and shaking his head, Ben continued his ascent. On the first floor, all the doors were closed except for one, and it was this one in which Ben stopped in the portal, his eyes searching the shadowed darkness. The acrid smell of still warm tallow met him, and Ben moved cautiously toward where the smell was strongest. He found the still soft candle easily, and lit it, hearing as he did so a movement toward the door.
Reacting quickly for such a large man, Ben easily caught the small intruder. "You ain't s'posed t'be here, Master Bramwell."
The boy looked defiant. "You can't tell me what to do, Ben," he reminded the servant.
"I wasn't doin' any such thing, boy. I was just tryin' t'tell ya that your father's lookin' for ya. And if he had found ya here-"
Bramwell frowned. "How does he know I'm gone?" he asked.
"Apparently he went t'your room t'check on ya. Then he found the secret passageway slightly open and came t'get me an' Riggs. I sent Riggs t'the stables. I knew where I'd find ya."
Bramwell lifted his eyes to the portrait above the fireplace. "I thought I heard her calling to me." He remained like that, his attention wholly fixed on the portrait of his mother.
Ben felt a shiver of fear up his spine, placed his hand on the boy's arm. "Come back t'Collinwood, Master Bramwell," he pleaded, frightened for the boy's sanity. "Before Mr. Barnabas finds out you've been here."
"I don't care if Father finds out," Bramwell said bravely. "This is where I really belong, Ben. Not at Collinwood."
"Ya can't stay here, Master Bramwell," Ben insisted. The door downstairs opened, and Ben's eyes widened, then he grabbed Bramwell's arm as the boy would have put out the candle. "It's too late for that."
"Ben?" Barnabas asked, having heard the man's voice. "Where are you?"
Retaining his hold on Bramwell's arm, Ben moved toward the door. "Up here, Mr. Barnabas. I've found Master Bramwell."
Bramwell's struggle to free himself increased as he heard his father's footsteps on the stair coming ever nearer. "Let me go, Ben," he begged. "I can still get out of the house-"
"And how ya gonna do that?" Ben asked. "He's on his way up right now."
Bramwell's eyes grew large as he watched the door. He wasn't ready to face his father here. "Please, Ben," he begged softly, but knew it was too late as his father appeared in the doorway.
"What are you doing here, Bramwell?" he asked, the single candle throwing shadows on his worried face.
"I-had to come, Father," Bramwell told him,
swallowing his fear.
"I can't explain it. I simply had to."
"I think you had better try to explain," Barnabas said. "I have half of the servants out searching for you. Angelique is very worried."
"I'm sorry," Bramwell apologized, lowering his head. "I never considered that anyone would discover that I had left the house."
"You must have known that someone would come to check on you. Mrs. Burns-or even Angelique. Or the Countess."
Bramwell lifted his eyes again. "Does she know?"
"I imagine so. This won't help matters, Bramwell. If I could understand what you found so important that you had to leave Collinwood at this hour to come over here-" He lifted his eyes to the portrait that hung over the mantle, then turned to look behind him, as if feeling that he was being watched. He frowned, and then returned his gaze to the portrait again. The scent of jasmine still clung heavily to this room. Strange that he hadn't noticed that before. This was the first time he had been in this room since-he turned again to look a the bed, half expecting to see Josette's cold, still body laying there.
"Mr. Barnabas?" Ben asked, worried about his employer's expression. "You all right?"
No, Barnabas wanted to say. I'm not. He sensed something in this room. Not anything evil, simply a presence. But he knew how skittish Ben could be, and forced himself to answer. "I'm fine, Ben. But I think Bramwell and I will finish this conversation at home."
Bramwell looked mutinous for a moment, until he looked up at the portrait of his mother. He stood there, his attention caught, as if he were listening to a voice that no one else could hear. His face grew calm, almost serene. "As you wish, Father," he said quietly. He turned and left the room.
"Stay with him, Ben," Barnabas ordered the servant.
"Make certain he gets back to
"Aren't you comin', Mr. Barnabas?" Ben asked.
"In a moment."
"Beggin' your pardon, sir, but you shouldn't stay here alone."
Barnabas raised his brows. "Bramwell has evidently
spent a great deal of time here
alone, Ben. What makes my staying any different?"
Ben swallowed nervously. "This room, sir- it gives me the shivers."
Before last night, Barnabas might have dismissed Ben's words as superstitious nonsense. But now, it was as if his eyes had been opened to a world about which he had only just discovered. "It's only a room, Ben. Go with Bramwell. I won't be a moment."
"Yessir," Ben said, shuffling out of the room.
Barnabas looked at the portrait again. Was it her presence he felt in the room, he wondered. "Are you here, Josette?" he asked softly. The scent of jasmine increased, filling the room with the sweet aroma. Barnabas waited, but there was no further response. At last he turned toward the door, closing it behind him. But the sense of a presence remained with Barnabas until he had left the house.
Bramwell was in the study, sitting in one of the chairs by the fire when his father entered the room. The boy rose quickly to his feet, hands behind his back, to face Barnabas. "Have you seen Angelique and assured her that you are well?" Barnabas asked him.
"Yes, sir. And I apologized for running off the way I did. Ben told me that you are going to seal the entrance to the secret passageway in my room."
"He has orders to do it tomorrow morning so not to disturb the household any more than it has been this evening." Bramwell hung his head at the implication that he had been responsible for causing that disturbance. "I'm going to trust you not to use it again this evening."
"I won't, sir," Bramwell assured him.
Barnabas looked at him for several moments. "Bramwell, why did you go over to the Old House?"
"You wouldn't understand," the boy said.
"I might. I might understand far more than you realize. Tell me, Bramwell."
Bramwell met his gaze for a moment, and then said, "I thought I heard Mother calling me. Saying that I had to come to her at the Old House."
"Have you often heard her?"
"No. Not away from the Old House, anyway," Bramwell tried to clarify the denial. "I've been at the Old House every time I've heard her before. That's why it was so important that I go there tonight. I thought that it must have been very important for her to be able to contact me over here."
"And was it important?" Barnabas asked, not denying the possibility that Bramwell's mother had contacted the boy.
Bramwell frowned. "She said she hadn't called me. That her power doesn't extend beyond the walls of the Old House."
"So who did call you to go over there?"
"I don't know, sir."
"How long have you been seeing your mother at the Old House, Bramwell?"
"Since just after we moved from there. I spend a lot of time there."
"And is she always with you when you are there?"
"I can't always see her," Bramwell told him. "But I can sense her. I feel safe there. Warm. As if nothing bad can happen to me."
Barnabas had received the same feeling during those moments at the Old House. "Go on back to your bed, Bramwell. And will expect you to remain there for the rest of the night."
"You do believe me, don't you, Father? I really have seen her."
"We'll discuss it tomorrow," Barnabas said. He placed a hand on the boy's shoulder. "And until we do, it would be best if you didn't mention it to your aunt."
"I won't," Bramwell assured him quickly, as if just the idea of discussing anything with the Countess troubled him.
"Good night, Father."
Barnabas went to the fire and was staring into it, thinking about what his son had told him when he heard the door open again and Angelique entered the room. She put her hand in his, let him draw her close. "You're shivering," she told him, her blue eyes wide as they searched his face. "What's happened?"
"Did Bramwell tell you where Ben found him?"
"At the Old House," she said. "I've known that he spends a great deal of time there," she told him. "I didn't see any harm in it. You know how much he loves that house. I haven't had the heart to insist he stay away."
"He has another reason for going there," Barnabas told her. "The Old House is haunted."
"Haunted?" Angelique questioned, her expression suddenly guarded.
"By Josette's spirit. I felt her presence there myself just this evening."
"You did?" Suddenly she became aware of the scent of jasmine on his coat. "Did you see her?"
"No. But she was there." His eyes searched her face. "You've no reason to be concerned, my darling. She meant me no harm. I sensed no malice, no evil. I think she's simply wants to protect anyone she cares about." He smiled at her. "I must admit that the very idea of anyone's spirit haunting a place is something that I never would have believed possible until last night-" had it really only been twenty four hours since he had discovered Angelique in the drawing room before the fire, he wondered. "But now-it's as if a whole new world has been opened up to me, Angelique. A world that I hope we can find a way to share." His hands clasped hers between them.
"I knew about Josette's spirit being at the Old House, Barnabas," she told him slowly. As his eyes widened in surprise, she explained, "Because I've seen her."
"When? And why did you not tell me this before now?"
Angelique moved away. "It was only once, Barnabas. The evening we moved out of the Old House. As we the carriage pulled away, I turned to look at the house, wondering what was keeping Bramwell's attention, and she was there, standing on the porch. I didn't say anything about it at the time because you wouldn't have believed me. And there hasn't been any time in the last day for me to tell you very much of anything."
He pulled her back into his arms. "No, I suppose there hasn't. And I wouldn't have believed you. I would most probably have been surprised that you believed in such superstitious nonsense."
"But now you don't think it nonsense?"
"No. Is there some way that we could contact Josette? Find out exactly why she's still at the Old House? Find out if she can help us discover who is trying to harm Bramwell?"
"That might not be a good idea, Barnabas. Calling
the dead is a dangerous business.
It's not a parlour game to be played by amateurs."
"I'm aware of that. But if we can help Bramwell-Do you know why he went out tonight?"
"No. He simply told me that he'd gone over there to think, that the Countess' visit upset him."
"He told me that he heard his mother calling to him, telling him to come to her. But when he got there, she told him that she hadn't sent for him, that she couldn't have, since her power apparently doesn't reach this far."
"She's-confined to the Old House?"
"That's what she told Bramwell. So now we have to discover who sent Bramwell to the Old House." He paced the room. "We can't risk it until the Countess returns to Martinique. We must be very careful that she doesn't discover what's happening."
"That won't be easy, Barnabas. The Countess may not appear to be very knowledgeable about such things, but she is. Living on the island tends to make one so."
"If she were to discover that Josette's spirit is still at the Old House-"
"She would see it as further proof that I somehow caused Josette's death. And we can't let her know that Josette's spirit is not at rest is because she-"
"Took her own life," Barnabas finished. "It's easier for me to say it now. I don't know why. But I think we must find out what is going on, Angelique. And find some way to give Josette some peace."
"Yes." She looked up at him. "Let's go to bed. It's late, and Rebecca will no doubt want my attention very soon."
Barnabas nodded absently. "Of course." He extinguished the candles and followed her from the room. As they climbed the stairs, Barnabas said, "At least now we know that when Bramwell wished he were with his mother last night, he didn't mean that he wished he were dead. Only that he wished he were at the Old House where he felt safe."
"We'll just have to make him feel just as safe over here, with us," Angelique said.
Neither of them heard the door below the stairs open, nor saw the figure that stood there, listening as they crossed the landing. Once they were out of hearing, Natalie du Pres came into the foyer, her eyes on the landing, and a speculative gleam in them. There was something over at the Old House, something that she thought she might find of great interest. Pulling her cloak around her, she started toward the door, only to stop as a voice spoke behind her.
"Going out at such a late hour, Countess?"
She turned to find Barnabas on the landing. "Barnabas. I-was unable to sleep. All of the uproar over Bramwell's running away has left me- unsettled. I thought I would take a walk-" she explained as he came down the stairs.
"It is easy to become lost on the estate if you are unfamiliar with it," Barnabas told her. "Especially at night. I would hate to have to send someone out to look for you. Why don't I have Cook prepare a toddy for you? That's what I was about to do."
The Countess hid her anger at being forced to change her plans behind a smile. "An excellent suggestion, Barnabas. You will have someone bring it to my room, if you don't mind?"
"Of course," he said, bowing slightly. "I will deliver it myself." He didn't say that he was entirely motivated by the desire to make sure that she would be in her room.
"Such gallantry," the Countess said. "Surely as master of such a great house, you could find a servant for such a mundane task."
"I would consider it an honor. Besides, most of the servants have already retired to their beds. I shall bring your toddy up as soon as it is ready."
Her lips thinned in anger, but the Countess had no choice but to climb the stairs, her back stiffly erect, under Barnabas' watchful eye. "I shall be waiting," she told him.
Barnabas watched her across the landing, and then went to turn the lock on the front doors and throw the bolt. He took a deep breath, forcing himself to calm down. The disaster had been narrowly averted for now. He wasn't certain why he had decided to come back downstairs instead of accompanying Angelique to their room. But something had warned him-some extra sense, perhaps, heightened now. He and Angelique would have to be much more careful where they spoke, if the Countess was determined to eavesdrop on private conversations.
Sighing, he turned toward the kitchen. Cook wasn't going to like being gotten out of her bed to prepare a toddy for the Countess du Pres.
Natalie du Pres' lips thinned in frustration as she listened to another interminable list of the advantages of living in New York from Sarah Redmond. Barnabas' sister had been constantly at her side for the majority of the day, effectively preventing the Countess from going to the Old House. She was almost certain that Barnabas had asked his sister to do precisely what she was doing to prevent such an occurrence. "Tell me, Sarah," Natalie asked, her voice dripping with sugary sweetness, "Have you traveled extensively since your marriage?"
Sarah shook her head. "Oh, no. I've never been farther away from Collinsport than New York, Countess."
"Then how can you possibly tell me that New York is the epitome of culture and art? Tell me that once you've visited Paris, or even London. Or Rome."
"Giles is planning a trip to London for next summer," Sarah informed her.
"Excellent. Then we shall talk about this after you return. Now," the Countess said, rising from her chair, "if you will excuse me, I think I should like to go for a walk."
Sarah bit her lower lip, at a loss for how to stop the woman. "Perhaps I could accompany you? You could tell me about London-"
"Anything I could tell you about that city would be seriously de mode," Natalie informed her. "I have not been to London in many years." She turned and left the house quickly, before Sarah could come up with another excuse.
Sarah drew a deep breath, and then crossed the room to climb the stairs. Angelique would know what to do, she reasoned, since Barnabas had been forced to go in to his office at the yards.
Deborah looked at Lucy with what amounted to admiration. "You're so good at doing everything, Lucy. And I'm such a fumble fingers. The Countess is forever telling me that I'll never be able to dress hair as well as Angelique-I mean Mrs. Collins was able to do."
Lucy smiled at the other maid in the mirror as she placed the final pin in Deborah's brown hair. "You shouldn't let her intimidate you, Deborah. She's just a woman-just like you are. The only difference between you is that she has money-"
"And the power to release me from my position," Deborah reminded her. "You really are amazing. Could you teach me how to do this?"
"Of course I could. If you would do a favor for me."
Deborah frowned. "A favor? Anything, Lucy, if it will help me to be better at my job."
"I need to get that letter that sent the Countess to Collinwood."
Deborah's eyes widened in fear and uncertainty. "I couldn't, Lucy. She keeps it with her-on her person at all times."
"Even when she's asleep?" Lucy asked.
"Well, no, but-"
"It's very important, Deborah, that Mrs. Collins find out who sent that letter to the Countess. That person is trying to cause trouble for Mr. and Mrs. Collins. Perhaps even deprive them of young Bramwell. Do you really think he would be better off in Martinique than at Collinwood?"
Deborah recalled her decision to stop the Countess from causing trouble. Now that the opportunity was presenting itself, she wasn't so certain that she could follow through. But as her eyes met those of Lucy's, she nodded. "I'll do what I can," she said.
"That's all I ask. Now. Shall we begin your lessons?"
The Countess was within sight of the Old House when she heard a noise behind her. Expecting to discover Sarah, she frowned to find Angelique there instead. "Angelique. Or, would you prefer I address you as Mrs. Collins? After all, you worked so long and hard to gain that title."
"I did nothing, Countess," Angelique informed her. "I was simply here when I was needed. If Josette had been a better wife to Barnabas, then I would have remained as her maid and nothing more."
"Come now, Angelique. You cannot expect me to believe that you stood aside and did nothing to create a wedge between Josette and her husband."
"I had no need to do anything, Countess," Angelique informed her. "Josette did everything-or perhaps I should say that she did nothing."
Neither woman saw the figure approach, a figure which paused to listen as they continued their conversation. "Having another child would have killed her," the Countess insisted. "Her fear of being intimate was natural under those circumstances, I should think."
"It was more than a fear, Countess. She was terrified of being too close to Barnabas. As if the simple act of his hand on hers could give her another child. She began to avoid him unless it was to discuss Bramwell. Even running that house-" she indicated the white columned building at the end of the path "was too much for her. Her days were spent in her bedroom, resting. I tried to convince her to leave it, to come out for a walk, to go call on her in laws, and she would plan to do so. But almost every time, she would fall victim to one of her 'headaches' or be too fatigued to go out."
"Did she see a physician about these spells?"
"No," Angelique admitted. "I tried to convince her to do that, just as Barnabas did, on several occasions. After a time, we realized it would do no good except to upset her further, and stopped pressuring her."
"Josette never mentioned anything in her letters that she was unhappy-"
"She wouldn't have," Angelique pointed out. "She wouldn't have wanted to worry you or her father. And I don't think she was truly unhappy. She had her son, and Bramwell was the most important thing in her life. Even more important than her husband and his happiness."
The Countess' eyes narrowed. "And what of you, Angelique? Surely you could have turned Josette's husband away when he came to you. Loyalty to Josette-"
"I will not discuss my feelings for Barnabas with you, Countess. But for too long I had stood in the background, watching him grow more bitter and more unhappy with every day that passed as Josette pushed him away. You cannot ignore Josette's responsibility for the failure of her marriage, Countess."
"You had no right-"
"I had every right," Angelique countered. "I think we should return to Collinwood-"
"I do not wish to return to Collinwood just yet, Mrs. Collins," the Countess informed her coldly. "You are free to do as you wish. I am sure that your baby has need of her mother's care-"
"Rebecca is asleep," Angelique told her. "And since I am free to do as I wish, I will remain with you."
The Countess looked toward the house again. "Very
well. But do not say that I didn't warn you of the foolishness
of your decision." She turned and walked away, down the
path that led to the front steps of the Old House. Angelique
relaxed her clenched fist, knowing that she was fighting impulses
that she had sworn never to act upon. With a deep breath to calm
her anger, she followed the Countess.