Josette leaned her head out the carriage's window as it rolled up the steep climb to the Collins estate. Her eyes were wide with giddiness as she took in the coast of what was then still a territory of Massachusetts. How starkly different from Martinique's sleepy, sunny beaches and lush palm trees was the colony's gray sky, thunderous waves, high cliffs!
Yet the young girl of twenty felt no fear or disappointment at the objectively more grim surroundings than that of her opulent and summery youth. No, what better setting than something seemingly out of the works of Madame Radcliffe or Monsieur Walpole? Yet this was no medieval domain stuck in antiquity, such as The Castle of Otranto—no, this was The New World.
And a New Beginning.
She felt under her lace glove her engagement ring, and smiled blissfully.
A dark cloud rivaling the ones above flitted across her face as she thought of her Secret—but never mind. Here, here, beneath the rough silver sky and in this untamed terrain, she and Barnabas Collins would make their life together. And she would forget her Secret and the shame and terror it brought her. Surely.
"Did you see that rabbit, Josette? Oh, I hope they don't make you shoot rabbits here!" A piquant little voice spoke from within the carriage, bringing Josette back from her musings.
She smiled indulgently at the small speaker. Stefan was just ten years old, as different in build from his father beside him, staring disdainfully out the window, as they were in character. Andre was stout, well-muscled, complexion ruddy with health. Stefan was willow-thin, so pale that one could see the blue veins of his eyelids, with that delicate, wistful beauty so unique to clear-souled children, a beauty that almost goes unnoticed, a beauty that only reveals itself in the mobile expressions on the face and in the eyes.
Josette loved them both ardently, and not for the first time wished her father could be kind to young Stefan.
Andre DuPres had fallen deeply in love with and married a Parisian lady named Marie in 1770. Five years later, in part for business and in part to dodge growing social unrest, they relocated to Martinique, their baby daughter Josette in tow. Andre acquired a large property of land, and quickly became one of the leading sugarcane producers on the island.
Andre doted on wife and daughter both, cherishing them with a fervor characteristic of one who treasures so mightily that which he considers his—indeed, how many landowners can truly cultivate their plot without a deep abiding love for it? Quite quickly it became apparent their daughter would inherit her mother's dazzling beauty, and with trade picking up, Andre basked in the security of having a beautiful, loving wife, a beautiful, loving daughter, and beautiful, loving land and prospects.
But when Josette turned ten years old, Marie found herself suddenly with child again.
As was usual even with affluent married couples then, Andre and Marie had had to face the periodic heartbreak of miscarriages and stillbirths over the years. However, Marie grew hopeful with each passing month that this time, this time, her babe would survive.
He did. However, by the time Stefan emerged screeching for life, it was clear to the doctor and nurses in attendance that Marie's time on Earth was limited. A fact that shook Andre DuPres to his core.
By nature he was a pompous but sunny man, optimistic and untroubled. He had heretofore led a vastly comfortable life, business and finances always coming to him easily. His precious, delicate little wife was with his daughter the most valued, intrinsic part of his life. The prospect of facing life without Marie—without her warm, slow hands on his shoulders as he worked in his study, without her tremulous alto singing silly but sad tunes at her needle, without her surprised laughs and serene smile—hardened something in the man. He looked at his infant son for the first time with something close to hatred in his eyes.
Marie, fading quickly, nonetheless saw that look and shuddered at it. Then she whispered to the nurse to bring her daughter in from the nursery.
Little Josette, in her dancing frock and toe shoes, stood wide-eyed at the doorway. Was…was that shrunken yellow-tinged creature languishing there really her mother? Her mother, the most beautiful and gorgeous woman in the world? The woman with all the strength, all the wisdom, all the knowledge any little girl need ever trust to?
Marie smiled calmly at her child and Josette was reassured. Mama is just a little tired, that's all. She ran to her mother and buried her face in her chest.
"Listen to me, my darling Josette," Marie whispered into her daughter's curls. "Listen to me very carefully, sweetheart. Look to your left: see that sweet little crib? Go, peek inside it."
Josette did. A pink and peach little baby slept there, eyes squeezed shut. "It is my brother, Mama."
"Yes, dear. He is. But he must be more to you now."
Josette frowned, not understanding. Her mother beckoned her forward. "You must know that I am soon going to pass away, Josette." She hushed her daughter's frightened protests. "What I am about to say is very important, Josette. Yes, I am going to pass away. And that makes your father very, very angry. He…he might be so upset as to not make the very best father to little Stefan. But that is not fair to the little fellow, now is it?"
At this Stefan emitted a content little mew that did indeed strike the young Josette's heart with its unaware vulnerability.
"Listen, Josette." Her mother stared emphatically at her: like she was an adult. "This child is your responsibility now. You must be his little mother. When his father is harsh, you must be gentle. When his father neglects him, you must tend to him. Above all, you must love him, as he will be all yours. You must grow up now, my sweet Josette. Grow up for him. That is my final wish." She kissed Josette weakly on the cheek.
Two days later she was gone.
And Josette took her final wish to her childish heart as seriously as a knight takes a sacred errand from his king.
She devoted herself to little Stefan, watching over him eagerly, sewing his first birthday suit, which was coincidentally the first full suit she ever finished. She taught him to read, to write. Taught him to ride. Taught him right and wrong. Taught him how to play the flute.
She adored him.
Andre, meanwhile, had fulfilled his wife's prophecy. That once sunny disposition now receded almost entirely, save for when with his daughter. He was snappish with his servants, terse with his business partners, and, most of all, cold and contemptuous of his little son. For not only was Stefan his own mother's murderer, but was also from an objective standpoint not what Andre would have wanted of a son: sickly and gentle instead of strong and thick-skinned. Thus, when he wasn't downright ignoring this walking reminder of his beautiful wife's demise, Andre was curt and dismissive. This treatment made Josette redouble her kind attentions to the boy.
As Josette grew more and more like her mother every day, that reserved well of gentleness inside Andre poured out onto her. He spoiled her, petted her, refused to treat her as anything but a little girl, a doll he refused to contemplate could grow up and leave him.
Thus a strange dichotomy sprang up in Josette's personality. On the one hand she reflected her father's fawning, patronizing treatment by developing a childlike, girlish side to her personality and bearing that showed in her charm and innocent coquetry. Yet on the other, she became mature and maternal for Stefan's sake, and forsook some of the vanities and casual cruelties other ladies of her class and age were unwittingly often guilty of.
And it was while she was in the very bloom of this most charming conflict in traits, innocent girlhood and wise womanhood, that Barnabas Collins first met her….
A jolt from the carriage as it rounded the corner roused her from her memories. Her heart leapt to her throat as there, just outside the property with a group of servants by his side, holding his wolf-headed cane in one hand while the other was placed firmly upon his hip as his black cape blew about his shoulders, stood the soon-to-be master of the estate and of her heart.
"Barnabas!" She cried out as she leapt from the carriage, without a regard for propriety.
His heartbreaking smile spread over his face, his eyes lighting up. "Josette," he said in that husky voice that could cut through the harshest storm cloud and reach her.
They were in each other's arms.
"My sweet," he whispered into her hair.
Josette reveled in this feeling she had grown accustomed to in Martinique and had missed in his absence: serenity. Perfect, warm serenity in his arms.
Her father's harsh cough interrupted them. Andre was squinting about him, taking in the vast manor from what he could see of it on the near horizon. He inwardly sneered at the house's colonial style with its tall columns and white paint, so cheap looking and modern compared to the Old-World grace of his former plantation's gray-stone gothic beauty. Yet this was all bitterness and self-loathing disguised on Andre's part; his plantation, after all these glorious years, was failing. Thus he had begrudgingly agreed to sign the necessary deed this interloper Barnabas Collins offered him and join in his new cannery business.
After all, this interloper was taking away his daughter. And Andre would stay near his daughter.
"Welcome to your new home, Monsieur DuPres," Barnabas announced with that insufferable pride, confidently striding forward with hand outstretched. He was as usual not in the least bit cowed by his prospective father-in-law, as Andre reasoned any respectable son-in-law should be. "How does the place look to you from this distance?"
Andre sniffed. "It will do."
"Papa," Josette scolded, embarrassed by her father's curt response.
Yet Barnabas responded as he always did in such situations, with a hearty laugh. "I hope it will! Here, let me show you around the grounds while the servants head up with your luggage"—
Andre dismissed the offer with an indifferent flick of his hand. "I must decline for the moment, Mr. Collins. Go ahead and take Josette and the boy, but I do not trust these rough Americans. I will oversee the handling of our luggage." And looking like a newspaper caricature of a war general, he re-entered his carriage with head high and hands crossed behind his back as the now nervous brood of servants tip-toed around him and into their own coach.
"Very well, Monsieur! My father and mother should be ready to receive you, and we will be with you shortly." Swallowing their laughs, Josette and Barnabas ushered Stefan through the fence and toward the lush pathway to the front yard.
Josette delighted in the imported rose bushes and camellias lining the path, while Barnabas assured Stefan that no one was forced to hunt who didn't wish it, and that Barnabas would find him a rabbit all his own to keep as a pet.
Soon the two lovers drifted nearer each other, smiling coyly as Stefan rapidly explained what he'd read about breeding rabbits and horses.
"Are you excited, my love?" Barnabas murmured.
"Mmm," Josette responded, closing her eyes and leaning her head on his shoulder. "At the moment I am content simply to be here with you…" Suddenly her eyes snapped open. "Stefan!" She called. "Do not wander off too far, darling! Come back from that sticker bush, dear, you might prick yourself!" She hurried after him.
This display brought back warm memories for Barnabas of the first night he knew he loved Josette DuPres.
As his father's only heir, Barnabas had borne the elderly Joshua Collins's insistence that his son should take part in the trade side of the business—meaning Barnabas was forced to leave behind the welcoming solitude of Collinwood's library and expansive fields perfect for early morning rides to travel abroad.
He put up with the temporary annoyance, in the hopes that his acquiescence would make his proposal to shift the family business toward canneries more palatable to his usually intractable father. Yet any annoyance at this state of affairs for Barnabas vanished when he arrived in Martinique and entered the home of Andre DuPres, and met eighteen-year-old Josette.
She was beautiful, enchanting. Her figure and countenance seemed plucked from the deepest pool of his subconscious fantasies, fantasies he did not know even existed within him until he saw her.
Yet Barnabas Collins was a steady-minded man of thirty-three then, not prone to falling for that false, age-old trap of "love at first sight."
No, while he was obsessed with her image, her charm, Barnabas would not admit himself in love, not with a mere wisp of a child like her. Not while he knew so little of her character. Not until the ball held at the plantation, a week after he landed in Martinique.
With a charming combination of girlish shyness and impetuous wantonness, Josette spent the majority of the evening hovering about this handsome stranger from untamed, tumultuous America, shooting impish glances through thick, bristly lashes, her lips curving into an ever-quivering smile. She laughed at his cynical offhand jokes, danced with him.
With Josette's other suitors, such tricks never failed. Yet Barnabas grew gloomier with each volleyed witticism, each pert rejoinder, each practiced blush.
He was on the verge of dismissing her as an empty-headed ninny, a beautiful but vain flirt.
When a small helpless voice screamed from within one of the bedrooms upstairs, startling those assembled.
"Josette! Josette! Come quickly! Josette! A dragon! A terrible dragon!" The little voice called out, tears and hysteria in his cries.
Barnabas recognized the voice of young Stefan.
Immediately Josette's face lost all signs of studied grace; she went white and her lips tightened with grim fear as she tore off upstairs without a word of apology, Barnabas and the ball forgotten.
Barnabas stood in shock. He heard murmured voices around him. "Well! She didn't even bother to make an excuse to her new beau before leaving him that way!" "The child is obviously just having a nightmare, it's sickening how that girl tends to him." "She'll never catch a husband in that way, not with that child always coming first."
Barnabas listened. Then he came to a conclusion of his own. He also made a decision. He strode across the ballroom, holding in tart words to throw back at the jealous ladies and disappointed suitors watching him.
Upstairs, Josette sat on Stefan's bed, smoothing his hair as he trembled. She listened attentively to his tale of horror. He had entered the dragon's den, only realizing he had forgotten his sword the instant the monster awoke.
"And oh, Josette! His eyes when he saw me! They were hard and yellow, like that awful snake Courage barked at in the yard the other day! Only twenty times bigger!"
"Oh, how dreadful, Stefan. You were a very brave boy to go in that den at all, you know."
"Josette, what if he comes back?" Tears spilled down his cheeks as he buried his face in her shoulder, throwing his arms around her neck.
She squeezed him reassuringly, laughing without the faintest hint of mockery. "My boy! There are no dragons here! Papa wouldn't allow such a lack of decorum."
"Dragons don't care at all about where they're allowed or not allowed! I was only trying to save you from him, but he was so angry! He'll come back, I know it, he will!"
A new voice spoke from the doorway. "Well, then, young sir, I and the other gentlemen had better stand guard."
Josette and Stefan turned in surprise. Josette's heart pounded and Stefan smiled happily through his tears. It was that Barnabas Collins who treated him like a grown-up! Barnabas Collins, who was quickly becoming the boy's hero, the boy's role model.
Yet Stefan showed none of the blustering embarrassment another youth might have when caught weeping in front of his hero. He wiped away no tears, put on no false face of bravery. He instead whispered rapidly, "Are you sure, Monsieur? Will you really fight off the dragon?"
With hands crossed behind his back, Barnabas entered the room with perfect dignity and composure, the look of a weathered general in his eye. "I have some military experience. I volunteered to help guard the beaches during the very last legs of the American Revolution when I was a lad in my teens and early twenties. Dragons are all smoke; they are no match for a good sword and pistol. Once he sees our ranks, he'll retreat like the coward he is." He nodded deferentially to Stefan. "You have my word of honor, sir."
Stefan sighed and leaned back on his pillows. "Good! Maybe…maybe I can sleep better now." His eyes widened. "Unless you need my help."
Barnabas held up his hand. "No, sir, you need to recover after your brush with danger. Rest now. I have everything under control."
He made eye contact with Josette. The light in their depths revealed everything.
Later as he bid her goodnight at the door, Josette stepped out into the moonlight and gave him her hand. "Monsieur, I thank you for guarding us from dragons."
He just barely kept back his smile. "Doing my bit for God and Country, ma'am." He looked at her intently. "I would like to thank you, too."
"For showing me genuine love and care can exist in this benighted modern world."
At these words, a glow appeared to encase her, shooting from her eyes all around her. However, it was not the heavenly light of poetry, but something more feral, more passionately dark—not an aureole, but a fire. Then she said something no young lady ever should at such a time, at such a place, in such a forward manner.
"Monsieur, I believe I am in love with you."
Barnabas felt his obsession with her beauty and charm and his reverence of her selfless nature collide, creating something deeper than obsession, deeper than reverence.
He squeezed her hand as he huskily returned, "I adore you, Mademoiselle. Adore you…."
Barnabas blinked, awakened from his reflections of Martinique by that precious hand slipping into his again as they neared his front door. "Our wandering boy is retrieved and unharmed," she announced, Stefan by her side.
"Much relieved," he replied.
Stefan, as with most sensitive people, was easily overwhelmed by new sights and sounds, but once the novelty passed, felt suddenly suffocated and plagued by doubts and insecurities, lost. He approached his landline, his sister, and quietly tugged on her skirt. "Josette?" He whispered.
As attuned to her brother's emotional state as she was to her own, Josette shifted her mood accordingly and addressed him seriously. "Yes, Stefan? What is it?"
"When…when you and Barnabas marry…will you still see much of me?" His voice broke at the end and he looked guiltily toward Barnabas, as if the young boy was afraid his future brother-in-law would think Stefan was besmirching him.
"Don't be silly, my darling!" Josette laughed. "I will see you as often as I possibly can!"
"Indeed, young man!" Barnabas added. He pointed with his cane to the house. "That is to be your new home! You will have lots of room to ride horses, and I have a cousin living with me named Daniel who is just about your age! Josette and I will be living only a little ways up that hill there! Come." He led the two to a clearing in the trees and pointed to the hill overlooking the estate. "See?" There stood an almost-finished house, workers dodging in-and-out carrying wood and tools amidst shouted commands and loud hammering.
Unfinished as it was the house looked grand, like it could engulf the current manor.
"That's the castle I'm whisking our dear lady off to, Stefan. And from here you can watch the sea and warn us of approaching pirates, or tell us when the mermaids are out singing."
Stefan's face brightened. "Really? Are they like the sirens in that book Josette was reading me, The Odyssey?"
Barnabas knelt down, considering the question seriously. "Not precisely. See, American mermaids are more"—
Josette listened apart from the huddled pair as Barnabas delved into detail, gesticulating out to the sea, his enthralling voice causing Stefan to forget at once all his doubts. Josette never felt such crushing love as she did in that moment, watching that reserved, aquiline face lit from within by a fatherly devotion to the child she would die for. She thought of the children they would have. She thought of the ghost stories he would tell them. She thought of sleeping beside him each night. She thought of growing old with him. She thought of—
The butler approached. "Excuse me, sir, Master Joshua and Mistress Naomi are prepared to receive our guests." He bowed to Josette.
"Excellent!" Barnabas stood. "Come, my love! Prepare to meet the warmest woman and the coldest man in Collinsport."
Josette, though usually self-possessed and sure of her manners, couldn't help but feel nervous as she crossed the Collins threshold to meet her beloved's parents, who carried with them weighty reputations and mixed reports from Barnabas.
She needn't have worried about how she presented herself. Instinctively, her well-ingrained sense of propriety kicked in, and it was a lively and sure young lady who shook hands with the beautiful Naomi Collins with her sad deep eyes and slow grace, and the rigidly unemotional Joshua Collins.
"Welcome to Collinsport, dear Josette," Naomi said in a low, musical voice. Josette felt unexpected tears sting her eyes. Mother! She thought in spite of herself. For indeed, the woman in front of her now and the younger Marie DuPres of Josette's memory had a similar comforting and loving aura, the same slow movements and warm expressions. Yet as Joshua Collins spoke, Josette could not help but note that there was a repressed melancholy about Naomi that her contented mother never had.
"Yes, welcome to Collinsport, Monsieur DuPres, Mademoiselle," the Collins patriarch said stiffly. His head seemed perpetually leaned back, as if to eternally look down on everyone in front of him. One nostril flared and a corner of his mouth turned down, giving the unpleasant impression of a sneer. "You are a pretty maid and will no doubt make a fine bride." His tone, surprisingly, was anything but complimentary.
He gestured carelessly behind him, to where a stony-faced young lad of around Stefan's age peeked out from behind the housekeeper. "This is our cousin Daniel, orphaned at a young age and living with us. He is a boy of quiet habits and will not be in your way." That concluded his introduction of Daniel Collins.
The boy looked at Stefan. Stefan looked back. The French boy's smile was his best feature. He gave it unreservedly to everyone he met, and when he did so his whole face became involved, his eyes gleaming trustingly to the recipient.
In spite of himself, Daniel smiled back—more reservedly, of course.
After a few more formal and restrained pleasantries between the DuPres family and the Collins family, Joshua turned to his son. "By the way, Barnabas, word came in while you were away that Nicholas is returning soon from Boston with the items you requested."
"Nicholas Blair, that valet of yours?" Andre asked contemptuously. He had been put off by the sly, sneaky looks of that man, who always seemed somehow to be underfoot while serving his master at the DuPres plantation.
"The very same loyal and irascible fellow," Barnabas said with a smile. "He's been with me for years, of course. Now! Let us commence with our tour of the house."
He took Josette's hand as the party headed toward the drawing room. So preoccupied was he, and everyone else, that Josette's pale face and drawn features escaped notice.
At the mention of Nicholas Blair's name, a knife seemed to stab through her happiness.
And she thought of her Secret once more.
Paul ceased pacing his room in deep meditation the moment he heard Elizabeth's voice call out in panic. "Roger! Roger!"
Paul crept silently out into the hallway and leaned forward on the banister, catching every word the brother and sister exchanged downstairs.
"What is it, Elizabeth, what is it?"
"She's gone, Roger. She's gone."
"Calm down, calm down. Who's gone? Carolyn?"
"Yes, Carolyn! I'd been looking for her everywhere, and there's no trace of her! And…and…."
"Slow down, slow down. And what?"
"I spoke to Mrs. Johnson. She…she thought she saw out the kitchen window Carolyn chasing after…after Willie…and that was hours ago! Hours!"
Paul went white and still. He didn't feel his feet move. He practically floated back to his bedroom.
He shut the door securely.
Rage unlike any he'd experienced before washed over him.
"Willie," he hissed.
Hands trembling with ire, he pulled out the crumpled piece of paper penned by Nicholas Blair.
A force greater than himself led his next actions. Now was the time to exact revenge.
A/N: Wow. Too long between updates. My sincere apologies. I'm also sorry if you think this first flashback was light on action and heavy on backstory. Hmm, I've apologized for that before, haven't I? Well, again, let me reiterate that...well...there may be a liiiittle more exposition coming down the hatch, but hopefully more than enough action to make up for it further on. I also really hope it won't be nearly as long before the next chapter's up, but have learned from past experience not to promise anything! But I do promise that I will update as soon as I can! Thank you!