REVELATIONS by Lorraine----------November 1999
Author's note: This story was written about what might have happened if neither Vicki Winters nor Barnabas had gone back to the 1795-96 period after Vicki returned from her first sojourn there.
Summer, 1807. . . An elderly gentleman wrapped in a plaid flannel blanket sat in his favorite chair, close by the hearth in his parlor on this rather chilly summer's morning. He rested his head against the winged backrest of the Queen Anne chair, and gazed into the fire.
At first he seemed to be dozing off--- at least that's how he appeared to the handsome young man who had just walked into the parlor. The younger man was not worried that the older man was dead--- the latter breathed noisily and deeply, though not snoring. However, the man in the Queen Anne seat HAD many health problems of late, and the younger man was concerned about the attitude in which he'd found him.
"Father Joshua, Father Joshua," he whispered urgently, "Are you feeling worse?"
"No, no, dear Daniel," the elder replied. He turned toward the young man, and smiled vaguely. His faded blue eyes didn't appear to be focussed, gazing as they were, beyond his companion, to the doorway.
"You had Alwick summon me," Daniel said. "Or have you forgotten? If so, we can leave off until you remember---"
"I NEVER forget, my dear boy. Sometimes that is good, and sometimes, like today, it's not---" When Joshua said this, the young man looked uncomfortable.
"Father Joshua, if this is about my engagement to Harriet, I'm sorry, but I AM going to wed her. I'm of age. I will soon be receiving my inheritance, which you cannot with-hold from me under these circumstances, and I don't see why you should. You've known Harriet and her family all your life, and I have known and loved her for almost half of mine. She's quite suitable to become a Collins bride---"
"Daniel, I am NOT objecting to your betrothal. Harriet Blake seems to be a nice, sensible girl, and her father, Quentin, is a most respected tradesman who built his business from the ground up, just like some of my ancestors. Besides, it's time a Collins married other than a cousin or--- or some corrupt, lower-echelon European noble woman, or a servant. Harriet is NONE of these. New blood can only IMPROVE our stock. Marry her with my blessing."
"Then why did you let me go on about it, and why did you have me awakened so early in the morning? The sun's only just come up!"
"A delaying tactic--- I have put off this talk so long, and yet would STILL put it off."
"What talk, Father Joshua?"
"Daniel," Joshua Collins began, "I fully intended to discuss with you, important, private, even secret family matters, around your twenty-first birthday. But then, I had my little stroke, and couldn't talk at all for a couple of months, though I was STILL fully aware of what I wanted to say. Even if I had dared to commit these secrets to paper, my writing hand was useless. And to be truthful, you WERE a bit of a wild boy, perhaps not ready to deal with anything in a mature manner. Well, it's been two years since then, you've settled down nicely, and, in any case, I NEED to do this before another, more debilitating, possibly even fatal ailment befalls. I'm sorry this falls so close to your forthcoming wedding, but your future children, and THEIR children, and so on and so forth, will be affected by these matters--- possibly forever!"
"What could possibly make you so grave in the advent of such a happy occasion?" Daniel asked, a little fearfully. "Is--is there a family disease that might show up in my children? Father Joshua, I know that you are really my second cousin once removed,who adopted me when I was but an orphan... With only my poor, mentally-unbalanced older sister as my guardian, when your own family had died or disappeared. I AM grateful for that, and I DO love you, Father---" The young man's eyes welled up and he hugged the old man in the chair. Joshua reached up with his good arm to return the embrace.
"But," Daniel continued, "is there something in my OWN branch of the family, either from my father or my mother's side, to worry about? I KNOW you've always blamed Millicent's problems on her marriage to Nathan Forbes, but really, they weren't married very long before Nathan---damn him!---disappeared. Yet I know Millicent was a bit soft in the head prior to our arrival here, and she became VERY ill for a long time after Nathan left. THAT event should have made her HAPPY! Is this some latent inherited weakness that will attack when we least expect it?"
Joshua replied, "NATHAN wasn't ALL to blame for your sister's collapse, Daniel. But before I go into detail, we must wait for Ben Stokes."
"Old Ben, the farmer who supplies our house? The former convict? Really, Father Joshua, you said this was private---"
"Ben was more deeply involved in the story I am about to tell, than even I was, at least until the bitter end---" At this, Joshua gave a dry but anguished sob. "Besides, I do not believe that I would be ABLE to go through this without Ben. Thank God he still lives, and remains true to our family!"
As if on cue, there was a thunderous knocking at the great oaken doors of Collinwood. Daniel strode quickly to answer it, cursing the noise, which reverberated in the large, stonework foyer. After all, he thought impatiently, just because WE are up, that was no reason to disturb his sister upstairs, or the hard-earned rest of the servants who did not have to be on duty at that hour of the morning. Daniel tried to imitate Joshua's mellowed attitude towards the household help. The former stern master was now liked if not loved by the servants due to his increasing benign tolerance and fairness over the last decade.
As expected, Ben Stokes, fully suited, including a starched white shirt and his best neck-cloth, stood on the thresh-hold. He was only in his early fifties, but looked older, due to weight gained from the meals served by his wife, who had been the head cook at Collinwood (and still helped out when there was a large party expected for dinner at the mansion.)
In spite of this, Ben wasn't soft--- over eleven years of running his own farm on the outskirts of the estate left little time for idleness. His bulk was solid and sturdy as an oak. And when Ben WAS idle, he happily spent the time with his lively eight-year-old son Amos. In fact, his first words were an excuse mingled with resentment, both his and his son's.
"Mornin' to ye, Master Daniel--- sorry to be late, but Amos rose soon as he heard me gettin' ready to go abroad at this hour. The boy thought I was goin' out fishin', without him, until he saw I was puttin' on my goin'-to-chapel cloze. Had to promise him a fishin' trip tomorrow to keep him from tattlin' on me to his Ma--- God bless Margery's honest soul, she hates it when I wear this stuff too offen, and it's hot. Makes extra work for her to clean and starch it again."
"Well, Ben, Father Joshua was putting off his momentous revelation until your arrival. I'm glad that we can proceed solving this little mystery with dispatch, but why DID you need to be dressed in your best?"
Ben glanced into the drawing room parlor, and caught Joshua's eye. The farmer replied with dignity, "From respect, Master Daniel, on account of where we three'll be headed this mornin'."
"What?" Daniel almost forgot himself, barking this confoundment. "WHERE are we going, and why wasn't I told to dress 'respectfully'?"
"You look QUITE well-dressed for this hour of the morning, Daniel", Joshua replied evenly, eyeing the younger man's newest outfit--- a blue that matched Daniel's eyes, so like his own, when young and unfaded. "Fancy dress is such a habit with you, you are not even aware of it. Ah, well, a few years of family and business responsibilities, and you will be cured," the old man sighed wistfully. "As for myself, I AM prepared--- I was hiding this under my blankets."
Joshua waved the other men away as he slowly rose with the help of his cane, and the sturdy wing of the Queen Anne chair. The plaid blanket fell from him, and, frail-looking and feeble as he was, Joshua appeared quite elegant in a finely-tailored, if subdued, suit in the style he had favored a dozen years earlier.
In fact, Joshua owned no other style of clothing--- it was as if a part of him was frozen in that time period. Daniel had often wondered why this should be so, but then bits and pieces of unpleasant memories of that era would come back to haunt him. The young man suspected that he was about to learn the truth about that unhappy epoch. "Where are we going?" Daniel asked again. He WAS afraid...
"Eagle Hill Cemetery," Joshua replied firmly.
"Eagle Hill--- Father Joshua, we NEVER go there, even with all our family and friends buried there. I could never go back there after--- after that horrible friend of Nathan's tried to kill me, and Miss Winters---"
"Silence, until we get there," Joshua declared. "That is part of all I must tell you, but only at Eagle Hill will there be sufficient privacy. I AM sorry Daniel, but it's the only way. Ben, is the cabriolet ready?"
"Told the stable hands to ready it up as soon as I was on the estate. Told 'em I would be drivin'," Ben said.
Daniel had always wondered why Ben, who wasn't even an official family retainer, should have such authority over other Collinwood servants, even the most senior. But Joshua had willed it so, nearly a dozen years earlier--- Ben was a major domo of sorts, when not running his successful little farm, the farm Joshua himself had granted to the ex-convict from Collinwood's vast property. Well, perhaps this trip would also shed light on whatever favor Ben had done to merit such a boon.
A whinny of horses could be heard from the direction of the door. Daniel and Ben both supported Joshua as they walked him to the small carriage and lifted him into it. Soon, Ben had the sleek young horses trotting briskly, the three miles to Eagle Hill cemetery. Save for his terse, tongue-clicked directions to the horses, he and his two passengers WERE silent during the ride.
Soon, the cabriolet stopped along the quiet lane near Eagle Hill Cemetery's wrought-iron gates. From the gates, the three men could see the Hill itself, and the large white Collins mausoleum built into it. Though Daniel was full of trepidation due to his traumatic memories, he kept it hidden well as he again helped Ben half-carry Joshua through the cemetery. It became plain that the mausoleum was their destination.
Though it was hot under the summer sun, once Ben had unlocked the black, wrought-iron, twining-vine-patterned gate to the mausoleum's outer chamber, Daniel was surprised to feel how cool it was within the marble and granite portico. The last time he'd ever been there, it was night and he was trembling from terror as much as cold.
Daniel recognized the three large marble sarcophagi in this room, lit by a grated window. The center one belonged to his other distant cousin, Joshua's wife Naomi, who had perished eleven years earlier, of what Joshua had called "an enlarged heart." To the right, was the equally large tomb of Naomi's and Joshua's youngest child, ten-year-old Sarah, who had predeceased her mother by only a few weeks.
"I remember them so well," Daniel muttered. "Cousin Naomi was goodness itself to me. I loved her nearly as much as my own mother. She really stood up to that wretched minister--- what was his name again? Oh, yes, TRASK. And Sarah, Sarah--- if not for her, I would never have met my Harriet."
Ben asked, "How could that be?" Then he glanced at Joshua, lest the latter object to pursuing this irrelevancy. But the Master of Collinwood chimed in, perhaps to be distracted from the inevitable. . .
"I well recall, Daniel, when your cousin Barnabas insisted on taking both yourself and Sarah to watch our horses get shod at Quentin Blake's smithy," the old man said, again with that wistful note in his voice. "How irritated both I and Naomi were that he wanted to bring his little sister into such an environment. But that was my son--- so full of modern ideas about showing children how everything was made."
Daniel's own voice became buoyant as he began to recount the happy memory. There WERE, after all, so FEW in that era. "But, Father Joshua, it was fascinating, wonderful fun--- even Sarah was amazed by how red the horseshoes got in Mr. Blake's furnace, and how he hammered them into shape until they were quite black again. And all the tools and kitchen things he made for our house! Then, when we were both quite hot, Harriet brought us cool drinks under their elm tree. She and Sarah played together as if they did it every day of their lives, then Sarah teased Harriet into kissing me!"
"And to think, Daniel, that when I had you and Millicent come to live with us, it was with an eye to your future marriage with Sarah!" Joshua said, bemused. "Millicent was intended for my younger brother Jeremiah. All undone. Undone by that--that WITCH!"
The brief moment of peaceful reminiscing had passed; it was as though a dark cloud had suddenly covered the bright sun outside the mausoleum. Ben said, "Mister Joshua, we better get on with our business... INSIDE. Won't be long till other folks are about, visiting THEIR loved ones. We should be long gone before then, sir."
"You are most sensible, Ben Stokes," Joshua sighed. "I pray that when I am gone, Daniel here will also rely upon you as I have. It's the only way--- Open the secret door, Ben."
Daniel watched as Ben reached up and yanked on a ring in the mouth of an iron lion's head set on the wall overlooking Naomi's tomb. He knew what would happen next. A heavy groaning of rusty hinges, as the wall itself seemed to vanish... "Father Joshua, that's not secret, to ME, anyway. I KNOW you had that room built into the hill to hide firearms and soldiers during the Revolution. That's where Miss Winters and Mr. Bradford hid when he got her out of the gaol, until Noah Gifford brought me here, to kill me--- Oh, God, and for that, they hanged both Miss Wickes and Mr. Bradford... Because you sent me away that night, and I couldn't tell the judges..." Daniel recalled the powerless child he had been, and sobbed a little.
"I HAD to keep you safe, boy," Joshua said consolingly, "YOU were all I had left, save for Millicent, and she didn't seem likely to last long at that point... There was no help for your governess and her lover, and then, something strange happened--- Anyway, this room IS secret to all but the three of us, a couple of workmen whom I paid to go to France, where the secret would mean nothing even if they could speak French, and one OTHER... Step inside."
Ben led the way, pulling a box of flints from his pocket, and lighting some candles on a tarnished candelabrum that stood at the head of a coffin. Daniel gasped, not so much at the sight of a coffin--- this WAS a mausoleum, after all--- but at a mass of heavy chains that were twined around it like the thorned brambles around Sleeping Beauty's castle. He thought, "No Sleeping Beauty here, that much is clear."
Joshua gazed on the casket with the saddest expression Daniel had ever seen upon his countenance. A tear slid down the old man's furrowed cheek.
"Father--Father Joshua," Daniel whispered. Then he heard a sickening sound--- The stone door was closing on them!
"As you might recall from your early experience," Joshua said. "The door has a secret latch and spring. And there is more than enough ventilation, just in such subtle places you would never know where to look, unless you saw the plans for this room. I intended for soldiers to hide here as well as weapons. How Miss Winters learned about it, well, that is part of the truth we refused to listen to until it was too late." He fell back into staring at the coffin, even stroking it where it wasn't covered in chains. Seeing Joshua falter, Ben held him up.
"Whose casket, Father?" Daniel demanded. "Why CHAINS? Dead men don't--don't--- unless it's someone who fell to foul play, and you don't want anyone to open it and find out--- Is THIS the secret?"
"In a way, Daniel," Joshua finally replied. "Ben, set me on the steps, and begin to open the locks as I speak." He reached into his coat pocket and handed Ben a sizable ring of keys. Once settled on the step, Joshua began, "Almost twelve years ago, when you first came to live with us, Daniel, you recall there was to be a wedding."
"Kind of--- there was the dark-haired girl, Josette, who had that mean red-headed aunt who snapped at Sarah and myself for making too much noise, almost the same way Cousin Abigail did--- oh, I'm sorry, Father Joshua, I know Abigail was your sister, but you remember how things used to be. Josette--- her picture's still in the Old House that's boarded up all these years. Why is it there, and not in our house?"
"I cannot bear to look at it, nor my son's, nor my brother's, either," Joshua sighed. "There was yet another portrait I am glad I don't see--- God only knows where THAT one is, but I'm ahead of myself. Anyway, this Josette--- her father was the youngest son of a French count, and her snappish aunt the widow of one--- was set to wed my eldest and only surviving son, Barnabas. Unfortunately, my son, for all his fine qualities, and he had many, inherited from his mother, God rest that sweet, patient--- anyway, my son had NOT inherited two things from ME. One was business sense. The other was moral rectitude--- which I believe YOU have finally learned the value of."
"In what regard?" Daniel asked, somewhat offended.
"Daniel, have you ever lain with a woman? And just say yes or no, and don't worry about Ben here. He understands everything."
"No! I admit, I've been close a time or two with some of the village girls, and sometimes I've had to make bawdy jokes to keep in step with the fellows... But I WANT to be true to Harriet, and keep only unto her once we are married."
"May she feel that way about YOU, my boy. I was the same," Joshua said. "Once I was told that my cousin Naomi was my destined bride, I KEPT my vows, before, during, and after our marriage. I couldn't love her as she wanted me to, but I did the next best thing, at least I thought it was. I WAS faithful, even the face of temptation. Alas, Barnabas was not as strong-willed. Perhaps, again, like his mother... You remember, she took to drink, at least until the witch trials roused her courage. Then there was one more drink in store for her...
"I had arranged for Barnabas to travel to the tropical island of Martinique to arrange a business partnership with this Andre DuPres, who owned an immense sugar plantation. He also had a marriageable daughter who would inherit the lot. I knew nothing more about her, save that she was very young, and a Papist to boot, but THAT didn't seem to matter much to them. I believe there's something in the tropical air that indulges spiritual sloth--- at any rate, this DuPres was said to be willing to accept a Protestant son-in-law--- if the fellow was pleasing enough to his daughter. Barnabas was in his late twenties already, and had a girl or two along the way, but nobody who would produce suitable Collins heirs. So I recommended that he court this Josette. I WAS a mercenary fool in those days!
"Well, the result was more than I had hoped: Barnabas not only got engaged to this young lady, but was enamored and enthusiastic as well. His vapors were a bit much for me to listen to, but the end result was all that counted. UNTIL the girl arrived with her aunt and her maidservant in tow. The maid was, even I noticed, the most dazzling creature I had ever seen; her young mistress paled and faded in comparison, though Josette WAS beautiful. All the more reason to keep the beguiling maid in her place. You remember her--- Angelique."
Daniel protested, "Barnabas married HER, not that Josette."
Joshua countered, "That's because Angelique turned out to be a witch trained in voodoo arts, concentrating her skills upon my son. I couldn't understand it at first--- voodoo was an African rite, and she was golden-haired and fair as a lily, with aquamarine eyes, but that was deceptive. There WAS some African blood in her, from a few generations back. Perhaps Satan gave her an aspect that would enable her to rise in society--- we shall never know. Anyway, we found out later, she had cast spells, first on Ben here---"
Ben asserted, "I STILL feel it, Mr. Joshua! That's how I know she ain't really dead!" He was still working furiously on the locks. Most of them were on the floor, already.
Joshua mused, "Perhaps she isn't, but so long as she stays away... To continue, Daniel, Angelique then made ME disappear for a WEEK--- there are those who say she turned me into a mysterious cat that lurked about the house, then vanished in a puff of smoke. While I believe in most of what she did, THAT seems a bit much, but it's true that I don't recall anything from that week.
"This gave her the chance to incite an elopement between Josette and my brother Jeremiah, once the shyest man alive. He had a terrible tragedy, ten years earlier--- his wife and infant daughter had perished in a mysterious fire, which made him so averse to the thought of another marriage, that he balked at wedding your gentle, if giddy, sister, whom he had known since she was a child!
"Yet, there he was, running off to some low roadside inn with a woman he'd only known for a week, the fiancee of his own nephew! To avenge this offense, Barnabas and Jeremiah dueled, and my son, who couldn't bear to kill an insect, shot his unwitting rival dead! When she had recovered from the shock and grief, it appeared that Josette might reconcile with Barnabas. Then, Angelique made Sarah ill, almost unto death. It was to get a cure that Barnabas finally capitulated and wed her, though he did not realize immediately that the treacherous slut had made his sister sick in the first place."
The old man concluded bitterly, "And ALL because, just prior to meeting Josette, he'd encountered this enchanting woman on a beach somewhere, and, without a thought of the consequences, or learning substantial about her, began a foolish, hellishly costly affair! Angelique couldn't get over him, and that eventually led to-- to this." He pointed to the coffin, now relieved of its many fetters. "Open it, Ben."
Daniel had an involuntary, utterly natural reaction. "NO, DON'T! HOW HORRID! I DON'T want to see a long-dead CORPSE!" He retreated to the farthest corner of the small room, and averted his head.
Ben ignored the younger man, and heaved up the coffin lid with a tremendous grunt. What HE saw within made him quail, though it was pretty much as he'd expected, even after all these years.
Joshua whispered, "Ben, help me up. We two MUST make Daniel face the reality. And I must see--see HIM again, one last time, ere I die!"
Ben lifted Joshua as easily as he might have lifted the cat his former master had been transformed into, a dozen years earlier. Half-carrying the older man, they both forced Daniel to turn around. Ben pushed the younger man toward the open casket with his free arm. Daniel averted his eyes until his body brushed against it.
The first thing Daniel noticed was the absence of the stench of decomposition. There WAS a odor emanating from the coffin, musty and tinged with an unidentifiable pungency, but not the nauseating fumes one might expect would escape after being sealed in for so long.
As for the second thing, once Daniel dared to glance inside--- "SWEET CHRIST!" he cried. "COUSIN BARNABAS!" Turning to Joshua and Ben, he whimpered, "Please, tell me he's only just died recently, and that there's some wonderful chemical that kept him preserved on the voyage home from England, and that the chains were to keep his body from being robbed of those medallions! He CAN'T have been here long!"
At this, Joshua lost his composure, and wept openly. It was for Ben to utter the truth. "NAY, Master Daniel! Mister Barnabas has been in this here casket, sealed up in this here tomb, for the whole of eleven years already! And for yer information, he was NEVER given ANY embalmin'--- We buried him too quick for such as that, as his death was to be kept secret. He is as he was the minute he died, because he's one of the Undead."
"What-- what the HELL does that mean?" Daniel asked incredulously. "Undead? Isn't that a superstition of the lower orders without education, of African slaves, of degenerate Central European peasants?"
Joshua said, sobbing, "May God forgive me, Daniel, but that is what I always believed as well, until it happened to my son! THIS is Angelique's final revenge for Barnabas's inability to love her, revenge for his attempt at vengeance upon HER for the misery she brought to our family! He nearly killed her, but she summoned a huge bat of Infernal origin to bite him and infect him with the fatal syndrome. He died during the day, but that very night, rose as a Vampire, with a unslakable thirst for the blood of living beings, conscienceless as any animal, though with his human intellect and memory still intact. By dawn, though, he needed to return to his coffin to rest as one truly dead, as you see him now."
"How came he to be imprisoned here at last?" Daniel asked, calmer now.
Ben took over this part of the story. "It was sort of Barnabas's last request, Master Daniel, though with a twist... He had been through the wringer, he HATED what he'd been forced to become, make NO mistake on that! He who was the gentlest man I ever knew, the kindest master, had killed and killed again, and couldn't help it! Sometimes, he did it to people who mebbe deserved it--- Trask for one, but that backfired on him. Mr. Barnabas got him to sign a confession that he'd made a mistake persecutin' Miss Winters as a witch, but the judges wouldn't believe it without Trask himself to back it up...
"Mr. Barnabas scared Mr. Joshua's sister Abigail to death, more or less the same reason--- Angelique had fixed it so Miss Winters seemed to be the one causin' all the trouble, and Miss Abigail had bought it hook, line, and sinker. SHE brought Trask into it, and they BOTH paid for their stubbornness, but at Miss Winters's and Mr. Bradford's expense! He even killed your brother-in-law's first wife, and THAT backfired too, since it left that damn Nathan free to wed your sister. In the end, though, he DID get Nathan as well...
"To make matters worse, if THAT was possible, he started in on bitin' family members--- Miss Josette, your sister Millicent--- THAT'S why she lost her wits for so long a time, at least until we got Mr. Barnabas under lock and key. Miss Josette killed herself when she realized what Mr. Barnabas was tryin' to make of her--- and I feel partly to blame for that, since he had me building them matching caskets and all..."
"WHY would you help such a creature, Ben?" Daniel gasped.
"Simple enough--- he THREATENED me, though I guess the fact that I proved m'self to be putty in Angelique's hands made me extra weak to resist another creature of the Devil! I HATED it, and for a time, HATED him for what he did, as well---"
Daniel asked, "WHY did you not try to destroy him? There ARE ways to destroy a Vampire, even I've heard about that!"
Ben protested, "I TRIED to! He BEGGED me to! And I showed up at the tomb at the crack of dawn, with a stake and hammer, then what should happen, but that WITCH shows up, and uses the last of her power on me, to keep her sweetheart goin' as a foul beast of Satan forever!"
Joshua finally found his voice. "I initially tried my best to cure my son. Angelique was far too powerful, even in a non-corporeal form. She destroyed the 'white witch' I had employed to remove the curse. I was desperate to save Barnabas, in spite of all he had done, because he was ALL I had left by then... The sight of him coming back to his tomb with blood on his lips frightened his beloved sister into running away in a cold December rain... Sarah died in his arms, but of pneumonia. And as for his mother--- when I told you Naomi died of an 'enlarged heart', Daniel, it wasn't from disease, it was from pain no mother should have to bear... She was already heartbroken over the deaths of Sarah and the others, and from the futile effort to save Victoria Winters, when that fiend Nathan set her up to witness Barnabas attacking your sister..."
"That 'final drink' you spoke of, Father Joshua?" Daniel whispered, suddenly understanding.
"Poison. Naomi committed suicide, as Josette before her, because the truth was unendurable. She forgot about me, she forgot about you and Millicent... But I could not blame her. I have often longed for death since that time, but caring for you and Millicent kept that longing at bay... For that, I DO thank you, my son. But that also left ME with the last sad task of dealing with Barnabas. Like with Ben, he also, in his unbearable guilt over his mother's death, pleaded with me to put an end to his, and our misery. I had the means to do so with minimum effort and contact--- I had some silverware melted down by Quentin Blake, to form five silver bullets. He NEVER questioned my need for them, which is one of the reasons I have accepted your relationship with his daughter. I never feared blackmail... But an unspoken feeling of gratitude...
"Anyway, I repaired to the mausoleum with Ben, fully intending to do away with the monster who had once been my child. Then the ENORMITY hit me, the things Barnabas had said to me, the LOVE he revealed toward me, who had often neglected him in my pursuit of greater wealth, which I believed was for his benefit... I wondered how Naomi would feel if she knew... How Sarah would feel--- they had both died because of his curse, yet without blaming him for his situation. I looked upon him, and saw, once more, the shy, happy, affectionate little boy and young man--- I had never been like him in my life, as he had never been like ME. Maybe if I had a bit more understanding, he wouldn't have trod the path that led to his downfall.
"I knew then, I could not do it--- I did not need Angelique's spirit to stop me. So I had Ben deal with the coffin as you saw when we first entered this room. As you can see, there's a silver Crucifix bolted to the inside of the lid over Barnabas's heart--- At first, it was laid upon his chest, but one night about a year after the casket was sealed with chains, Millicent had a terrible nightmare, wherein she screamed and wept that her hands were on fire! Of course, there WAS no REAL fire, but Ben here got the idea that Barnabas still had some influence on Millicent because he hadn't been exterminated outright."
Ben said, "So early the next morning, me and Mr. Joshua rode hard to this place with those keys, and when we finally got the box opened, sure enough, the Cross had somehow slid onto Mr. Barnabas's hands. Apparently he'd had a wakeful moment in here, and jostled about."
"How horrible, to wake for even a moment, only to realize that one is still imprisoned in a coffin," Daniel said sympathetically.
"And he knew it, all right," Joshua sighed. "There were tracks of tears on his face. BLOODY tears," he added, weeping afresh at the memory of his son's suffering.
"How does he still exist, without any sustenance, then?" Daniel wondered.
Ben answered, "We don't know, 'zactly. Mr. Joshua and me read tons of books. What a nasty way to practice the reading Mr. Barnabas tried so hard to teach me! But from what we were able to glean, so long as the vampire is kept unconscious, he or she--- I guess there must be some female vampires somewheres--- is like in a catalepsy. You've heard of those sad folks, they just fall into a trance or whatever, and look and feel like dead for weeks, sometimes. A lot of the time, they get buried alive, and suffocate for real. Or if they ain't buried, I guess they COULD starve after a while. But because vampires are of Satan, HE keeps 'em from dying of starvation in that state, and certain of them don't get buried for some reason or other--- They'll always find someone to help 'em in each generation they live through, send 'em signals of some kind."
"And THIS prospect doesn't worry either of you?" Daniel demanded. "After all, my sister is still alive, and not even very aged--- she's but ten years my senior, and still pretty enough to whet a vampire's appetite, at least for a while! And what of Harriet, and the other village girls--- or even some of the weaker village boys?"
"Of COURSE we worry, Daniel," Joshua replied wearily. "But you've heard it from Ben himself--- Angelique, wherever she is, will surely appear in a heartbeat if there's some threat to Barnabas's continued existence. I guess she really doesn't care that he's not at large, or she would have found a way to release him long ago. Who knows what she's about? I used to think she was after our family's money--- Yet, I tried to buy her off, and she wouldn't go. When they both insisted on wedding, I cut my son off, yet Angelique STILL married him. They didn't have a child from their old affair, which excuse even I would have had to accept, but she HAD to be with him anyway.
"When she first brought the curse upon Barnabas, it was an impulsive act of desperation after he had confronted her with her crimes, and tried to kill her when she threatened Sarah again. Yet, by the end of the day, she was horrified by its effects, and TRIED to halt the process, but apparently she wasn't experienced enough. She even tried to exterminate him the first night, a foolish move, since he was bound to waken."
"I was with them," Ben said. "He killed her body, but her spirit got loose, and lost what little conscience it still had. Worse, it must have gone down to Hell for a while, and learned even meaner tricks. So Mr.Barnabas remains here, and will have to remain so, until that spirit changes her mind, or is brought down somehow."
"I don't know if I can keep with that policy," Daniel faltered. "SOMEBODY, SOMEDAY, will surely discover this tomb, and, perhaps, try to knock off those chains to see what's hidden in there. Maybe they'll think it's a buried treasure... I need PROOF that he cannot be destroyed under any circumstances. Then I will keep this secret, and pass it only to my most trusted heir."
"Very well," Joshua replied. "Something told me it would come to this. Ben, run and get the special equipment." Ben slid a brick on the steps to reveal a small switch, which somehow made the huge door open once more. He dashed out, but not before shutting the door. In five minutes he was back with a small, black leather valise Daniel had not noticed before in the carriage.
"We'd better be hurryin'," Ben warned breathlessly. "I saw some wagons and such goin' up and down the road. Won't be long before someone stops by and wonders about what we're up to in here." He opened the case, to reveal a heavy mallet and stake.
Joshua said with an air of resignation, "Daniel, take those items, and position them in the appropriate manner."
The younger man did so--- He held the stake firmly over his reposing cousin's heart with his left hand, and held the mallet in his right hand, at such a height as to bring it down with the most devastating blow. He would surely drive the stake through Barnabas, directly through the upholstery, contacting the wooden casket floor below!
"Do it," Joshua taunted feebly.
"Mr. Joshua, how can you--" Ben gasped. "HE ain't under influence of a witch, or a father's love---"
"Silence! I have a feeling. Go ahead, Daniel, remove this threat to your sister and your fiancee!"
Daniel brought down the mallet, but just as it would strike the stake, it flew from his hands. Undaunted, he picked it up. He held it over Barnabas's chest yet again, when the rippling peal of a woman's contemptuous laughter echoed in the secret chamber.
"Do that," a softly-accented voice wheedled, "and your sister shall suffer!"
"NO! If I do this, Millicent will recover fully for the first time in eleven years!" Daniel shouted into the air. He rested the mallet atop the stake, and pressed a little. Was it his imagination, or was Barnabas beginning to squirm with discomfort? Then, the "dead" man's eyes opened and stared at the younger man. Barnabas's pupils were black, with a thin ring of hazel-brown. Daniel's own blue eyes were momentarily locked in a return gaze.
He wondered how much Barnabas actually SAW. The young man's heart pounded, joining a similar cadence that grew steadily louder until it seemed to fill the room.
At that moment, there could be heard, even within the stone room, a blood-curdling female scream. "MILLICENT!" Daniel cried, and frantically clawed at the brick that concealed the switch that opened the door. More screams were heard as he operated the switch under Ben's direction. Daniel almost wept with relief when he saw the huge door start to move. As soon as it was open just a foot, he was squeezing through it.
Ben and Joshua followed slowly. "Guess you WERE right, after all, Mr. Joshua," Ben whispered.
Daniel ran around to the side of the mausoleum. At the foot of Eagle Hill, where the building joined the earth, there lay his older sister Millicent. She was still in her nightgown; her blonde hair, lightly streaked with grey, covering her face. An unsaddled horse, light foam flecking its lips, stood panting nearby. Obviously, it had been ridden hard, and had thrown its rider, due as much to sheer exhaustion, as to the need of escape from further abuse. But now, Millicent made no further noise, and Daniel feared the worst.
"Millie, Millie," he crooned. He breathed a prayer of thanks when his sister opened her small, violet-blue eyes.
"Oh, Daniel," she whimpered, as she struggled to rise. Daniel lifted her carefully to her feet. Save for some bruises, she appeared to have escaped more serious injury. "Daniel," she repeated. "You didn't kill Him, did you?"
"Kill WHOM, Millie?" Daniel said in as light a tone as he could manage. "This is a cemetery, everyone here is dead, save for Father Joshua and old Ben there. And I CERTAINLY wouldn't kill THEM!"
"Don't joke," Millicent said with some dignity. "I KNOW what you were going to do--- I could FEEL it here!" She pointed to the exact spot over her own heart, which corresponded to where Daniel would have staked Barnabas. "It made me fall off poor Aeolus over there!"
Joshua shambled over. "How did you get out and get the horse, Millicent?" he asked in a stern but gentle tone.
"Oh," she said in a childishly playful manner, "We all started to wake up early 'cause of all the noise downstairs this morning. I just KNEW I had to come here, so I snuck away while Nurse Emmons was getting my breakfast. Then I tippy-toed into the stable. Aeolus is my favorite horse, and doesn't he know it, 'cause I bring him lots of apples! And I KNOW how to ride--- I used to ride bareback a lot back at our home in New York. Mother would have died if she knew--- Oh, but she DID die!" Millicent began to weep. "It's all my fault---"
"No, no, Millie." Daniel held the sobbing woman. "Mother died of a bad fever. Father died from a heart attack a year later. In any case, neither death was anyone's fault!"
"Still," Millicent sobbed, "that doesn't mean I don't have a duty to keep you from hurting-- hurting--"
"Hurting whom?" Joshua prompted.
"Barnabas, that's it! He never really went away, you know," Millicent informed the three. "He used to visit me, and kiss my throat--- even Nathan didn't--- I don't care 'bout NATHAN anymore, he was mean, but Barnabas--"
Joshua said, soothingly, "It was a bad dream, that led you here, darling. Just like the one you had years ago, when you said your hands were burning. They didn't really burn then, did they? Well, I just had a letter from Barnabas saying that all was well, he was newly married and happy. Perhaps he will return to us one day, better than ever."
"All right, Cousin Joshua. If you say so. But how come you never show us Barnabas's letters?" Millicent regarded Joshua with a look of anxious puzzlement.
"I will soon, dear. Now, Daniel will help you into the carriage. Ben will seat me with you, and then he and Daniel will just be a moment more. We were just putting some flowers on Naomi's and Sarah's tombs. Daniel will get Aeolus, and Ben must lock the gate."
Millicent accepted the instructions docilely. Once Joshua was with her, she rested her head on his shoulder and quickly fell asleep. Joshua stroked her hand, feeling sure that Angelique's power would cause the memory of the incident to quickly fade from Millicent's easily distracted mind. That, and Daniel's compliance, would ensure the survival of Joshua's son for another generation.
Daniel, meanwhile, accompanied Ben into the tomb to have a last look at Barnabas.
The vampire cousin's eyes had closed, but another bloody tear
had trickled onto the satin pillow in the coffin. "I am heartily sorry about what I almost did," Daniel whispered, more to the man in the casket than to Ben.
"Aye, now ye know the power of the witch," Ben replied as he shut the coffin and began to re-attach the many chains. "Heed it well, even if Miss Millicent should pass away ahead of ye--- your future wife and future children may depend upon the witch's sufferance! As I feel my family does--"
"And so, THAT'S how come Father Joshua gave you that farm, Ben."
"Mr. Joshua WAS grateful for how I served Mr. Barnabas, before and after his, uh, 'death'."
"There's only one question I have left. Miss Winters was blamed and condemned for Angelique's deeds, but was also executed for killing the man who would have killed ME. Why did Father Joshua let her be sacrificed, and Mr. Bradford, when I could have vindicated them both?"
Ben replied, "At that trial, I had testified that about what I knew of Angelique, and that she was dead. I had even buried her! Well, she must have ordered up a new body from Satan--- She strutted right into that courtroom and made of fool of me and mincemeat of Miss Winters. Mebbe Mr. Joshua thought the judges wouldn't believe YOU 'cause you were so young, or that Miss Winters had put a hex on you to lie for her. That bastard Nathan, who had been her friend but turned on her for reasons I still don't understand, would doubtless have put such ideas in the judge's heads. I, for one, am GLAD Mr. Barnabas took care of HIM, at least!
"By the time Miss Winters was brought back to gaol for shootin' Noah Gifford, Mr. Joshua had done everything shy of tellin' about what had happened to Mr. Barnabas, to get a reprieve, at least. Mebbe he thought he could help Miss Winters escape again, though she wouldn't have left without that Peter Bradford, I guess. Far as Mr. Joshua was concerned, though, anything more would have exposed Mr. Barnabas. By then, he'd lost his whole family save for you and your sister. But as a father, his first duty was to his son, wretched as he was." Ben clicked shut the last of the locks.
"So Miss Winters died to save--- to save this?" Daniel touched the coffin.
"Not 'zactly. Somehow, at the last minute, when she was hooded and the hangman gave her the last yank, the dead woman they cut down turned out to be the lady who was to have been your REAL governess--- some poor fool named Phyllis Wicke. Of course, this REALLY convinced the law that Victoria Winters had been a witch, but it just as easily coulda been Angelique's doin', though why save someone who was takin' the blame for ye? Anyway, it was all hushed up between the judges and the Collinses. There was once even a picture of Angelique, but when the painter came by, whining that he hadn't been paid for his work, I slapped it into his arms, and never saw it again."
"And all of this, because a man took unto himself a woman in a manner not sanctioned by God or society?" The younger man asked sadly.
"It's happened to the best and worst of us, Master Daniel," Ben sighed as the two stepped up and out of the mausoleum for, hopefully, the last time in their lives. "Though I don't think ANYONE was punished as severe for it, as was Mister Barnabas. Just goes to show, don't ever cross a woman, I guess, 'cause you never know. Even with Margery, sometimes..."
"Ben, does Margery KNOW?" Daniel asked anxiously.
"I've told her nuthin' outright," the older man said. "But Margery's been a good, faithful, Godly, and watchful wife, who lived in Collinwood during the worst of those days. She knows more than she lets on, but keeps the peace, and keeps our little fella safe, because she DOES believe in the witch, and I know she don't mean Miss Winters, or even poor Miss Wicke. If you're worryin' about your OWN Miss Harriet, well, it may be too risky to drop a hint here'n'there, just to see how she nibbles--- unless, God forbid, there's an emergency. But, say the years go by, and nothin' happens... Mebbe when you're both old and grey, and she's proven herself... But, like I said, if she's a GOOD wife, there's a lot you won't NEED to tell her. So keep it under your hat, so to speak."
The marble door groaned shut. "Back to the land of the living, Master Daniel," Ben concluded as he walked to the carriage, and the Collins heir veered off to bring the horse Aeolus around. The tired animal, Daniel noticed, had also lost a shoe--- Millicent must have ridden him along a rough path or back road, so as not to get caught! Aeolus allowed himself to be hitched to the carriage without protest.
Daniel wedged himself in (the the tiny cabriolet was really only meant for two passengers), and, as the others were silent, was soon lost in thought over the revelations of that day. He fretted that he would never be able to share this secret with his bride-to-be, though he didn't comprehend the possible toll this might take on the trust necessary for their future wedded life. He wondered that all this tragedy and its aftermath of seemingly perpetual suffering should have ensued from a mistake in judgment about love and lust. He vowed that he and Harriet would NEVER have cause to make each other so unhappy that it would lead to such destruction.
"We won't EVER come to such a pass," Daniel thought. "We WON'T...."