A/N: More LMM. Rather proud of this one as well- includes some subtler stuff than I normally go for, but don't worry your head over that. I adore The Blue Castle. I feel it deserves more addressing. In this one, Valancy passes the torch on to her youngest daughter, Camille.
Return to the Blue Castle
"May we eat now Mother?" Daphne Redfern asked, only slightly petulantly.
Valancy turned from the window she had been watching and grinned ruefully at her family. "I suppose we might. I don't think Camille is going to make it tonight." Her eyes only strayed to the window once or twice during the meal- she was used to Camille disappearing for spells when they were on the island but that didn't mean she had to like it.
Barney never worried about it, of course. He couldn't think of a safer place in the world than Mistawis and had ensured that each of his children had learned all the wonders- and dangers- of her forests at a young age. Valancy knew that Camille, more than any of the children, not only knew the woods, but could become part of them herself. While most were kidding when they called the youngest Redfern a dryad, her family knew it to be more true than not.
Later that night Barney came from changing to find his wife staring out the window once more. "She'll be fine."
"I know," she replied, but her eyes never shifted from the world beyond the pane. "I'd just hoped to have them all to myself for one evening. Adrian won't be here next year- he'll have to take a job once he graduates in the spring. Jocelyn is breaths away from being engaged, she'll probably be married by next year and she and Daphne will team up to convince me to leave Daphne with her. Even Gareth seemed reluctant to come up back this year- he'll insist on touring Europe or some such next summer. Camille's the only one that I really have left- and she disappears the second we get here!"
"I suppose," Barney whispered as he came up behind her, "that that leaves only us. Will you be so desolate with only your beloved to comfort you?" His arm had crept around her waist and now she placed her hand on it a moment, grinning at the pleasure and comfort of well-worn love.
Then she turned in his arms, the window of no concern for the moment and whispered back, "No, darling, I could never be desolate while I still have you. But even you must admit that you dread the day that they're all gone."
"It would be selfish of me to dread the day they go out and build their own existence out of the crude rudiments we've provided."
"It's acceptable to be selfish on occasion."
"And I dread the day as much as you." By now she was clasped to his chest, her head resting over the heart that beat as strong as hers, taking comfort in the smooth, concordant rhythms. He only disturbed her to whisper that Camille had come up the back pasture and was slipping in through the kitchen door as he spoke.
Only then, knowing that all her brood were returned to their proper nest could Valancy sleep.
Camille hadn't meant to miss dinner. She'd only intended to slip out for a bit to avoid the worst of the unpacking and to reacquaint herself with the wonders of the island. Mistwais was her favorite place in the world, much like her parents.
And Camille had seen a great deal of the world- every fall the Redferns went adventuring off somewhere new and exciting. Europe was a favorite destination- the Alhambra was a sentimental favorite of her mothers for no reason that Camille could discern. Gareth loved to wander the halls of Oxford and the Sorbonne, seemingly communing with the spirits of great intellectuals as much as Camille communed with the trees of Mistawis. Jocelyn and Daphne loved the shops of all of the world's cities and affable Adrian could enjoy himself anywhere.
But the Redferns did not restrict themselves to the totally respectable European tour. Camille had viewed the mysteries of the Orient, the wonders of the Amazon, the beauties of the Pacific islands and the sights of the Sarengeti. Yet to her, the most desirable place to be in the world was the podunk little backwater of Mistawis. Even Gareth, with his infinite appreciation of beauty in the world, found the proximity to Grandmother Amelia so grating as to overwhelm that appreciation. And Camille couldn't deny that Grandmother made quite the pets of Daphne and Jocelyn while not seeming to know what to make of her youngest granddaughter. But that was only a trivial concern when compared to the limitless beauty of Mistawis.
When she reached the room she shared with her sisters when they were up back, she found Jocelyn still awake, sitting on the window seat, looking out on the water. A letter lay in her lap, no doubt addressed to her beloved Richard, but her pen was stilled as she contemplating the gentle lapping of the waves. Camille couldn't have been quieter as she came in, but Jocelyn still heard and gave her a scornful look.
"Nice of you to miss dinner the first night on the island. Mother went half distracted looking out the window for you."
"I lost track of time. I was halfway across the island by the time I realized it was dusk."
"Well of course. And it's all you're fault that we're here in the first place- you realize you're the only reason they insist on dragging the whole lot of us up here, don't you? If we all five of us resisted they'd probably just come themselves. But instead they insist on the whole family coming together, because you want it that way. And then you disappear!" Jocelyn kept her voice low only in deference to the sleeping Daphne, but her anger translated anyway.
Camille was just as heated. "I am not the only reason we all have to come. Mother loves our month on Mistawis as much as I do, and so does Dad. I'm sorry that we've dragged you away from your beaus and parties and shopping for a bit, but I thought maybe you could like being a family once and a while. Or have you outgrown us like you've outgrown your dolls?"
Jocelyn's voice grew more enraged even as she grew quieter. "I am not as frivolous as all that. This entire family stereotypes me as shallow and vain and it's not fair. Just because I decided not to get some degree that would just languish on the shelf once I married, just because I like to have fun, just because people think I'm pretty- no one takes me seriously! Well, Camille, I am very smart, just as smart as you and the family genius, Gareth. So, if you would, stop talking about shopping!" By the end, Jocelyn's voice was pure venom.
Camille was stunned at the low fury in her sister's voice. Sure, jokes about Jocelyn's shopping were a family habit, but she never seemed to care much about them. She never seemed to care much about anything the family did lately, choosing instead to be dazzled by the whirling Toronto social scene. In the face of such emotion, she couldn't help but concede: "Jocelyn. I'm sorry. I know you're smart- or didn't you teach me all the geometry I know? But I love Mistawis and I hate that all the rest of you are so grumpy and begrudging about coming up here for a bit." By the time she finished she was completely deflated and the anger had drained from the room.
Jocelyn smiled now, lifting her hand, and Camille came to sit at her feet, Jocelyn threading her fingers through Camille's hair as she now addressed the window. "I loved Mistawis, too, when I was younger. I have wonderful memories of entire summers spent doing nothing but swimming and canoeing and hiking. But I have so many friends and things to do at home- and we travel so much that it seems like I'm away from all of them almost constantly. And now to be away from Rich for so long..."
Camille was transfixed by the look on her sister's face. "You really love him don't you? He's not just another of your silly conquests."
A solemnity appeared on Jocelyn's normally smiling face. "I do love him. I want nothing more than to marry him- and now I'm here for a month, while all the pretty girls in Toronto are before him. He's sure to forget me and find some one more stellar and luminous to replace me." Jocelyn really seemed to believe that could possibly happen.
Camille, so often lost in her own world of woods and fern, had not yet been in love, and the agony it was causing her oldest sister was both bewildering and enchanting. It seemed love might be as powerful and luring as her beloved Mistawis. "That's not possible. Richard is a good man and it'll take more than some shiny bobble to make him forget the radiant Miss Jocelyn Redfern!"
And she really was radiant. Camille was young enough to genuinely admire this without jealousy. While she certainly had a certain charm in her lustrous dark hair and delicate features, her looks were like that of her mother, more dependant on personality than reality. That was not the case with Jocelyn. While no one found her parents unattractive, it was a fact much remarked upon in Toronto that Jocelyn Redfern had far exceeded both of them in appearance to become undisputedly handsome.
Jocelyn smiled demurely at Camille's comment and sighed only slightly. "I suppose. I do hope you're right, I really do. Maybe by this time next year, I'll be married." This last year was only a whisper, as if she dare not speak it.
Camille said nothing, choosing to affirm Jocelyn's statement with her silence. They kept tryst with the night sky by the window a while longer before each slipped to bed without a word.
Camille made a point of attending dinner every day for the next week, even though she was out of the house by dawn every morning and sometimes only eked in the door moments before the family started eating. Thus she missed most of the discussion of The Party.
The Party- so undeniably important that she capitalized it in her head- was being held at the resort in Deerwood and was expected to be the best of the season. At dinner the night before, Jocelyn made clear in no uncertain terms that Camille was expected to attend with the rest of the family and she was expected to prepare properly.
Camille agreed but wondered mutinously in her head why Jocelyn was so excited about going to a party where she would flirt and dance with a whole troop of strange men if she was so hideously in love with her Richard.
Of course, the next day she woke from the lovely nap she was taking on a sun-warmed rock on the coast to find the sun dangerously low in the sky. It would take her an hour at least to get back to the house and by then the rest of the family would be leaving to get to the dinner that would begin the festivities. Jocelyn would kill her. She took off, as fleet as a deer through the verdant trees.
She was right. By the time she made it back, her sisters were all arrayed in their fanciest finery, her mother just as lovely, her brothers and father dressed in smart suits. If they didn't want to be late, they needed to leave and couldn't possibly wait for her to get ready. As she rushed up to the house she quickly told them to get along in the motorboat, she'd get ready, take the dinghy to the shore near the resort and meet them there.
Jocelyn accepted quickly, hustling the family towards the dock, only allowing Mother a moment to caution Camille to be careful. Then Camille was alone in the house, on the island. It was an odd feeling, as Camille, the baby of the family, had rarely been truly alone in the Mistawis house, but she couldn't feel truly alone surrounded by her lovely trees.
She got herself to the room she shared with her sister and found her best dress placed on her bed, a note from Jocelyn demanding that she "wear this or else." Jocelyn had apparently anticipated Camille's tardiness.
The dress looked lovely on, which was good, considering how much it had cost. She sat at the bureau where she found a necklace and earrings, along with two of Jocelyn's fancy combs and a picture from one of her magazines modeling a new fashionable hairstyle. Camille smiled ruefully and got to work. When she had finished, she looked frankly in the mirror for an honest evaluation.
Jocelyn had been right about the hair. With her hair curled about by the combs, her dark locks shone becomingly with a deep luster. The low swing of it softened her straight brows and contrasted with her lightly tanned skin. The earrings flattered her strong chin and the necklace drew attention to her slender shoulders. But her mouth was too large for current tastes and her nose was uncommonly strong. Her body was still very slight, having not balanced itself into womanhood yet. Jocelyn's figure was much admired and no dress, no matter how lovely, could even begin to make Camille's look anything like it, though this didn't bother her much.
She put on a heavy cardigan to keep off the night chill while she was on the water and went down to the shore.
She pulled the dinghy up to a slip close to the hotel, which belonged to a good friend of Adrian's. She would go home with her family and come with Gareth to retrieve the boat the next morning. It would only take her about fifteen minutes to get to the hotel from there. She would miss dinner but catch most of the dancing- not that she would have many offers, if prior experience was anything to go by. She slipped into the woods and began the trek to the party.
She hadn't gotten very far when she heard another pair of footsteps on the same path. It was probably nothing- maybe even another party guest- but, in case it wasn't, she stepped off the path, making as little noise as possible, and hid partly behind a tree a little ways off it.
When she saw her pursuer she stepped back out again. Dressed in a dapper suit, this man was clearly a lost party guest. "Hello. Are you lost?" she asked.
The man turned startled and peered into the darkness. "Hello? Who is that there?"
On closer inspection he appeared to only be about eighteen or nineteen. Certainly safe. "Hello. My name's Camille. Are you heading to the resort for the party?"
The man let our a sigh of relief. "My name's David. David Creighton. I'm staying at a rental house down the shore aways with some friends. They wanted to go down early and assured me I'd get there easily if I followed their simple directions. Unfortunately, it seems I botched it up, since I've been wandering around here for a least an hour now. In fact, I'm sure I've been in this exact spot before- though I'm sure I would have noticed if you were here the first time around."
She smiled. She couldn't blame him for getting lost, as the woods could be fairly confusing if one was unfamiliar with them. "You were actually heading in the right direction now. I'm heading that way too. I'll show you the way."
"So are staying at the hotel?" He asked amiably as they started down the path.
"No, we keep a house up back."
"Oh, so are you working at the hotel for the summer?" He seemed to have taken her reply and her bulky sweater to mean she was a local girl. It made her laugh.
They made it to the hotel in under fifteen minutes and David laughed ruefully when he realized how close he had been. "Well much thanks to you, young Indian guide, but I must be getting to my friends- they'll be worried I've fallen into the lake." They had entered the ballroom to little notice.
She laughed as she disappeared into the cloak room. He entered the ballroom to find his companions whom he quickly located over near the doors to the spacious verandah overlooking the lake. Kirby Ingles spotted him first and waved him over.
"David, my man, wherever had you gotten to and how on earth did you manage to run into young Camille Redfern while you were getting there?"
"I got completely lost following your directions," he started, chuffing the back of Kirby's neck before continuing, "And how do you know Camille?" He took a glass of champagne from a passing tray.
"Miss Redfern is also from Toronto." Kirby stated giving him a curious look.
David choked on his drink. "You mean she's not a local girl?"
"Well, certainly, in a sense. Her mother is from around here and the family owns a house out on Mistawis. But your Camille-"
Here David interjected. "Hardly my."
Kirby continued unperturbed. "Your Camille is the youngest daughter of Mr. Barney Redfern, heir to the Redfern Purple Pill fortune and famous in his own right for his writings under the name of John Foster."
"Oh my." David looked concerned.
"What, you didn't try with her thinking she was some naïve country chit with no one to speak on her behalf that would be unwise to try on a girl of social standing?"Kirby could be odiously convoluted in his syntax, but David took his meaning clearly.
And was a bit offended. "I'm hardly a lecher like Harrington." Their friend had a notorious reputation for dallying with non-society girls.
Kirby knew exactly of what David spoke and shook his head ruefully. "One of these days he's going to get himself in a load of trouble."
"Harrington? Never. He could talk his way out of a date with the devil," David scoffed.
"So, you though that girl was a local?" Kirby asked pointedly, watching as Miss Camille Redfern entered the room.
Seeing her in the soft glow of the room he realized the depth of his folly. Camille without her sweater looked lovely in a frothy party dress and curling piling up-do. "I don't know how I missed those hunks of diamond passing as earrings. You said she was the youngest daughter?"
"I know how you get when you're love-struck in the moonlight," David met this comment with another angry interjection, "And yes, I did. She has two older sisters. Jocelyn is twenty, a rampant flirt and nearly engaged to Richard Wallingford. Daphne is a year younger and more often than not overshadowed by her sister. And Camille is sixteen, just came into society last spring, and is, therefore, an unknown quantity. I ran in the same set as the older two and the older brother Adrian, but I've never spent much time with your Camille. Are you going to ask her to dance?" Kirby was a gossip and a matchmaker, though he would strenuously deny both charges.
"Stop calling her my Camille. And a young pre-law type like me, from a family of sinking status like mine doesn't stand a chance with a girl like that- with that sort of money."
"Oh, sure they have money, and everyone takes to them well enough, but they're hardly high class. Mr. Redfern was born dirt poor and his dad only made his money after Mr. Redfern was born and the mother died. They may have money but they're barely even considered nouveau riche. Mrs. Redfern actually had more status coming into the marriage; the Stirlings are big news around these parts, even if they don't mean much in Toronto. They don't put on much airs about the millions."
"Millions," was all David could manage to moan.
"Well, yes. Now go ask your Camille to dance. She's been glancing over at you curiously since she came in and no one else is going to."
"Because they all want to get one last dance in with her older sister before she becomes officially engaged." Kirby paused for a moment, and then added, "Plus she's shy. Now go." He finished by shoving David in her direction.
Given the proper momentum, David managed to cross the room to where Camille stood with an older girl who could only be her sister, more likely Daphne since she didn't have a pack of boys waiting on her.
" 'My name is Camille,' she said," he began, wagging a finger scoldingly, "Failed to mention a last name, mention who her people are." Camille had the grace to look a bit guilty about the omission. He continued.
"We seem to have had a bit of miscommunication, Miss Camille."
She smiled and looked even lovelier. "Well, it was your assumption and it's not polite to correct a stranger." She was shyly saucy, accompanied by a raised eyebrow.
"It's also not recommended to lie by omission."
"I will concede my error if you concede yours." Again archly, with all the apparent propriety undercut by the irreverent undercurrent.
"I will, of course, concede in deference to the ladies. And now, I remedy by making a proper introduction. My name is David Creighton. I just finished my first year at Redmond, but my family is from Ottawa." He offered a hand.
She took it. "Camille Redfern, of Toronto by way of the world. And this is my sister Daphne."
"Well, Miss Redfern may I steal Miss Camille from you for the honor of a dance?"
Daphne acceded instantly, very curious about the handsome young man seeking out her baby sister, but Camille hesitated a moment, seeming to listen to the song that was being cued up by the string quartet located in the corner. Finally, she breathed a sigh of relief and smiled widely, "I'm glad to accept Mr. Creighton."
He led her out to the floor and they paused in the proper position for a moment, each marking the counts in their head, before swinging into the waltz on the next first count. They whirled through the other couples silently for many measures, before David finally had to ask: "Why did you hesitate before agreeing to dance with me?"
She laughed while looking simultaneously abashed. "I was hoping who hadn't noticed that. I had to ensure it was a song I could dance to. I refused the etiquette lessons my mother offered last year, so I can only really get by with a waltz and a foxtrot. Daphne can dance like a dream though."
"I find it doesn't much matter for the girl, luckily for you. The man does all the work when dancing." They were switching directions and both concentrated on the movement of their feet for a few moments before Camille replied.
"And the woman does all the work the rest of the time." Again, there was a saucy spark in her eyes. Who could call this girl shy?
They talked about her family, his friends and school, Toronto, Ottawa and everything else under the sun as if they were old friends becoming reacquainted rather then almost perfect strangers. As the song finished, he reached for the dance card about her wrist, a callback still maintained at the resort's dances.
"What are you doing?" she asked, genuinely curious.
"Reserving myself two more dances," he replied, stating the obvious.
"That's hardly necessary. I'm hardly ever in high demand." There was not bitterness in her tone, as she stated it only as a fact of life.
"You will be tonight, I've seen the vultures eyeing their prey. Everyone will want to be dancing with the girl with the lovely laugh. I must stake out my territory early."
An unfamiliar thrill went down her spine to here him say this, but she strived valiantly not to betray herself. "Then why take only two?"
"Any more wouldn't be proper. After all we've just met," though she'd almost forgotten, being so comfortable, "Now, I've taken the last two of the night, so you can't go scurrying off early." His blue eyes twinkled as he released her wrist, and she felt its absence in the sudden coolness of the air on it.
"Jocelyn and Daphne would hardly allow it. Until our next dance Mr. Harrington." The proper façade had returned, but he could still see the unreserved laugh lurking not far under the surface.
He seemed to have cursed her with his prediction. She barely managed to sit out two dances between their first dance and the end of the night. Camille was desperately sipping some lemonade when David found her for the last two dances. The first was another waltz and they moved easily into the steps, though with less frenetic energy than before.
"I saw you danced with Kirby Ingles."
"Yes. Thankfully, I already know him a bit due to my sisters, otherwise I might have found it odd that he always referred to me as David's Camille." There was only the slightest accusation in her tone. He could have killed Kirby.
"Yes, thankfully you already know him a bit. He's one of my closest friends at Redmond." She decided to change the subject.
"I saw you danced with Daphne," she commented.
"You're right, she is a good dancer."
"But not with Jocelyn."
"Your sister was too expensive a commodity for any common Redmond student."
"What does it saw for me that I've danced with you twice now?"
"That I'm very lucky and you're very generous," he admitted without aplomb.
She mustered the energy to laugh again. The sound had been haunting him the entire evening, keeping her in his mind even as he danced with other girls. They danced awhile more in silence. Then the waltz was over and the band called out a slower song to end the night.
This dance belonged to him also, and he pulled her a bit closer, while still maintaining propriety, so they could now sway with even less effort. She seemed to be almost asleep on her feet.
"Now, will Miss Camille be needing some help home?"
"Oh no, my parents are here with the car and then we take the motorboat back over from our dock. Besides, it wouldn't be proper for you to escort me home. We've only just met." She was awake enough to echo back his earlier comment.
"I suppose it wouldn't be." He was disappointed. He had to see her again.
"Much more proper for you to come to lunch tomorrow. You can bring our dinghy back over from Edward Bindley's dock." She punctuated her comment with a yawn.
"I suppose I'll bring Kirby to skipper for me." He wanted to ensure she knew what she was saying.
"Not necessary, I did it myself tonight. But my sisters and Adrian will like it, so do invite him. We eat at noon." She was offhanded.
"From what your sister tells me, you rarely attend lunch." Daphne made it out as if Camille lived in the forest and he could believe it. He'd barely been able to make out her footsteps when they had walked through the forest earlier.
"I'll make an effort not to be halfway across the island at noon." He couldn't help but stare at her sleepy smile.
And she did. The next day, it was approaching noon as David and Kirby guided the dinghy to the small dock that stretched into the bay. After making sure it was properly moored, they headed up to the small house located just behind the tree line. It was warm, cozy, knacky looking place, not at all the summer house one would expect for a millionaire and his family. Lying in a hammock on the verandah was Camille, reading contentedly, though she looked up to greet them as they approached the front steps.
"It was so good of you to bring the dinghy, you saved me a trip. Mother's making cold sandwiches for lunch with some fruit and cheese, if that sounds all right." Her straight brows knitted together as she squinted into the sun to look at the visitors.
"It sounds wonderful," David agreed, grinning broadly.
"Yes, smashing, Camille. Thank you so much for inviting me, though I understand it wasn't entirely your idea." Kirby wagged a mock scolding finger.
She made a face at David. "I would have thought of it myself if I hadn't been so tired. And I'm very glad to have you now." Kirby smiled widely, appeased, and David smiled bashfully, knowing that Camille now knew he'd talked to Kirby about her.
"Camille!" came a voice from inside the house, "Are you going to offer our guests a drink? I'm sure they must be thirsty."
"Oh, Camille, you have a thing or two yet to learn about being a hostess, now don't you?" Kirby teased gently.
"I suppose. Thankfully, I have you to teach me, don't I, Kirb," she replied a bit waspishly as she closed her book and rose from the hammock. "Oh, come in, come in, follow me." She headed into the house. They passed though a wooden foyer and cushy den on their way to the kitchen.
Once there, Camille invited them to sit at the worn kitchen table as she went to get their drinks, passing Mrs. Redfern who stood at the sink washing apples. Once Camille placed their two glasses of iced water before them, she joined her mother at the counter and began to dry the apples her mother handed her.
"A bit of a pleasant change up from society girls too proud to enter the kitchen isn't it?" Kirby whispered conspiratorially.
"Yes, yes it is," David conceded. The two women before the sink were talking quietly among themselves, but at one point Camille glanced over her shoulder to smile at me. "A very pleasant change up."
"Oh, boy, are you doomed."
"Yes, yes I am. Very, very doomed."