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The Ground on Which We Are Built

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He had decided that this was not the life that suited him best. Barnabas had been told of the grandeur of the Du Pres estate before he had arrived with his uncle in Martinique. While he couldn't deny that it had a certain fine elegance, it was also cramped to the brim with people. Everyone seemed to mill around at all hours of the day, running to-and-fro as they went about their innumerable duties. It wasn't uncommon for him to bound into some of these people. He always apologized quickly. The men mostly ignored him. The women giggled at him before scurrying off.

Oh how he wished he were back in Collinsport! The house was virtually empty except for his family and a few stray servants. If he chose, he could go days without seeing another living soul. It was the ideal life.

It was probably not a simpler life but the drudgeries of the shipping world were kept well hidden from him. Though his father insisted that he would one day take his rightful role in the family business, he dared not to involve the young man too much lest his inexperience potentially ruin them. And his mother, for her part, did her best to keep him away from such things. He was still her young, thoughtful boy and she insisted that he try to hold on to that part of himself for as long as he could. His father looked down his nose at his novel reading; it was his mother who lent him the books. It was his father who complained about young Barnabas walking around with his head in the clouds. His mother insisted that he never stop daydreaming.

It was during one such ill-timed daydream that he found himself wandering down a Du Pres hall towards his room. His eyes never faced forward as his thoughts sent him longingly back home. Suddenly, he felt a sharp twinge at his elbow and heard a definite thud behind him. He looked down to see a figure working frantically to place clothes back into a basket. "Oh my!" he exclaimed. "I'm terribly sorry. You see I didn't see you and..."

His voice trailed off as a pair of blue eyes shifted up and met his. The delicate brows above them twisted into a look of bewilderment. "Oh...I mean...Je suis désolé. Je..."

As with the other women, a small laugh drifted out from her lips and her face relaxed. "It is fine, Monsieur," she said. "I will manage."

"It is not fine." Barnabas shifted down to the floor and began to fill her basket. "I can help you."

"No, no. You mustn't let the mistress see you like this," she explained. "This is my error and I will correct it."

"But this task will move faster if both of us work toward completing it. No one will know."

"You do not know my mistress."

"She cannot be so bad."

"The Countess Du Pres suffers no insubordination."

It was then that Barnabas looked into his hands to see what he assumed where a lady's garments. He pushed the clothes into the hamper and stood up. Again, the woman laughed. To him, it sounded like tinkling bells. "It's not what you think they are! But never mind. The task is complete." She rose with the woven basket in hand. "Thank you for your efforts..."

"Barnabas...Barnabas Collins. And you?"

"I am ..."

"Angelique!" The Countess' voice ripped through the hall. The tinkling of her fashionable shoes began to reverberate in the floor.

"Oh! Pardonnez-moi, Monsieur," she murmured before rushing down the hall.

It was nearly a minute before he saw the Countess emerge from behind a corner. "Oh, Mr. Collins, " she said, her voice suddenly kind. "Have you seen my maid?"

"No, not at all my dear Countess."

* * *

"Oh, you should have seen her, uncle. You would have been stunned."

"Barnabas, now isn't the time..."

"Bee-stung lips and high cheekbones, divinely clear complexion...

"Barnabas!" insisted Jeremiah. "We will soon have a meeting with Andre Du Pres and I..."

"Her hair was blonde. Or, at least, I think it was. It was mostly covered by a cap."

"Her maid's cap"

Barnabas shot his uncle an awkward, almost vicious look before continuing. "But what really drew me in was her eyes. I can't remember ever seeing eyes so blue. They were like a clear sky after the storm had passed."

Jeremiah sighed. He wrapped a protective arm around his nephew and gently began to usher him toward the sitting room. "That's quite all right, Barnabas. But what would your father say if you came back from Martinique and bring with you a servant wife."

"I'm not talking about a wife, uncle, I am merely..."

"Merely what? Pontificating about a woman you have little chance of knowing better. You know that she's very pretty. But what of her constitution? What of her intellect? What of her disposition? Will you ever get the chance to know."

"One can never tell about these sorts of things."

"Fine!" Jeremiah walked ahead and opened the doors to the sitting room. Again, he walked back to Barnabas and wrapped his arm around his shoulders. "But that just brings me back to my first point. What would your father say?"

"Some things are not only up to my father."

"I believe that this is the sort of situation with which your mother cannot assist you."

"And you?"

Jeremiah sighed and stopped just within the sitting room. "My hands would be tied. Even if I grow to know, appreciate, and admire this woman as much as you would love her, I could not sway your father's hand. He would disown you and ask one of the New York Collinses to take over the family business."

It was now Barnabas' turn to sigh. He glanced around the room until his eyes settled on an overstuffed loveseat. He wandered over toward it and plopped down upon its velvet surface as a man defeated. "So I will be happily living my life as my father wishes me to do?"

"I wouldn't say it quite like that." Jeremiah joined Barnabas on the loveseat. "At this moment, I can't tell you anything that will satisfy you. You are infatuated. And there is nothing wrong with that."

"And yet you tell me..."

"Now let me finish. Again, there is nothing wrong with the occasional moment of infatuation. But a man cannot follow every shift in his fancy. This is especially true of a man from whom much will be expected. You will head the family one day. And every missed step or every slip of the tongue reflects upon all of us who brought you up."

"So my life is not my own?"

"You do not understand it now. It will all be much clearer for you when you're older."

Barnabas laughed. "You sound so much like my father right now."

"It is an unfortunate family resemblance." Jeremiah smiled and again wrapped an arm across his nephew's shoulders. "I know this doesn't seem fair at the moment. But I want the best for you. And I don't want you to trail off with one of your fantasies. This one might hurt you in the end."

"I will try to understand."

"Good!" Jeremiah’s ears perked up and he withdrew his arm from Barnabas' shoulder. "I think I hear Andre coming. Come along and let's meet him at the doorway."

"Like perfect gentlemen?"

"The very best."

* * *

"Tell me, Mr. Collins...do you like it in Martinique?"

"Oh, it is fine I suppose."

It was a poor answer. And yet Barnabas didn't seem to care. He was distracted by the smell. Impressive trees and flowers lined the narrow stone walkways. The aromas were distinctive and overpowering. Though he knew that they were miles away from the ocean, he still believed that he could catch a whiff of it wafting through the leaves. It was nothing like he had ever experienced. He didn't know if he would ever grow used to it.

Instinctively, he turned to his partner to ask how she had adjusted. But Josette had turned away from him. Her eyes had shifted toward a vibrant flower. He groaned and again faced forward. In any case, he was unsure of how much information he would have been able to get from her. The English she did know was excellent. The parts she was less certain of always managed to trip her up, forcing her into near silence. In those moments, she would appear like a doll, good for her fragile beauty but little else.

He would think such thoughts and then banish them from his mind in self-loathing haste. Her English was certainly better than his French. And it was his unofficial job to help fill in her English language gaps. As Andre had explained: he wanted her to travel to America in a few years. He was determined to use his contacts to help ease her in to society. Though Barnabas giggled at the thought of her aristocratic bearing attempting to manage in his seafaring home, he had promised to do his best to help her. It was, after all, better than sitting with Andre and Jeremiah as they discussed shipbuilding, cane production, and the minutiae of world politics.

He tried to speak with her again. "Tell me, Josette: how far have you traveled away from the plantation?"

"Oh," she began, her lips pursed as she searched for the next word. "Not far. I have only been farther south."

"But not north toward Saint-Pierre?"

"No...My father has visited but I was not allowed to go with him."

"Such a shame. My uncle and I had a brief stop there before heading south. It is a gem of a city."

"Ah! Could you see the mountain from there?"

"Pelée? I believe so. While talking with the locals, it came up that there had been an eruption there a few years ago? Is that so?"

"That is what I heard," said Josette with a nod. "We could not know about such a thing from here. They say...they say there was a mudslide near the Rivière Claire. Dreadful, yes?"

"For those who live in the area. But I suppose those are events one must deal with in such an environment."

"Perhaps. But I do not like it." Josette grew silent. Again, here eyes turned to the trees.

Carefully, he squeezed her arm and guided her around the corner. "Tell me, Josette: do I frighten you?"

"No! Of course not...Mr. Collins. I am not used to being with...of being alone with ...someone like you."

"An..."

"A man. I was very alone...no, I mean, I was very often separated from everyone when I lived in Paris. I am even more separated here. I do not quite know how to act."

"This is not a problem, Josette! We all have such problems. Now, you have me. And I am sure we will become the best of friends."

"Truly! How generous you are?"

"It is my pleasure."

Barnabas heard a rustle from the bushes. He looked up to see the blonde maid emerge. She offered him an inquisitive look before rushing off to the gardener’s shack. He felt a slight tugging at his arm and looked back to Josette. "What is it, my dear?"

"I was going to ask the same of you."

"I saw your aunt's maid run past."

"Angelique? She also helps me. She is...très amicale!"

"Yes. I can believe that."

* * *

"She is a bit full of herself, no?"

"The most beautiful hawk on the island?"

"Oh, you're both too cruel. I have learned so much from her. She certainly knows her medicinal herbs."

"On that we can all agree. Henri would have lost his sight if not for her quick thinking."

Barnabas frowned as he transcribed the maids' conversations into his notebook. Jeremiah had been right. He had little chance of learning about Angelique by asking her or anyone with whom she worked. He was a foreign guest: on object of intrigue and gossip. He could not expect them to open their thoughts to him. So he would have to learn about her through other means.

His French was only adequate and he did have issues understanding the local dialect. But he found that he was able to understand them better when he translated their dialogues into his notebook. Seeing the words spread out in black and white pointed out to him his misunderstandings and he was able to correct them quietly to himself.

The information that he learned was best described with one word: conflicted. To some, she was a ray of light who was always helpful and could do no wrong. To others, she was the snake in the Garden, full of duplicity and rotten to the core. There were no patterns to these judgments. Age, sex, and country of origin seemingly had no influence on whether they approved of her. It was all too confusing to him. Could he even trust their conclusions?

That didn't stop him from continuing his translations. Every morning, he liked to place himself just outside the main hallway. There was no end to the number of servants walking back and forth, talking all the while about their duties and fellow workers. Most of the information he gathered was useless to his needs. But every now and then, they would send a piece of gold his way.

"The moon is waning. Do you think she'll be in the garden?"

"She's always in the garden then. I don't know what would be so different."

Barnabas swooned over the information for days. Could he really have a chance to meet her away from prying eyes? Would he learn all he needed to learn? Of course, there were drawbacks. Would she reject him? What would happen if he were caught?

He decided he that he would take his chances.

* * *

It was easier to hide than he previously had believed. By nightfall, most of the garden was shrouded in darkness. The thick canopy of trees provided plenty of cover for someone who preferred not to be seen. Still, Barnabas began to grow anxious. He couldn't stand out there forever and he had already been waiting an hour. Had someone already realized that he wasn't in his room? Would they search for him? It was almost too much to bear. Perhaps he had mistranslated their conversation.

Suddenly, he noticed a sharp rustle in the distance. He moved to the edge of the canopy and peered out into the distance. A figure emerged from the shadows near the estate. Slowly, they crept off the walkway and into the grass. The edge of their thick cloak brushed against the tilting flowers as the figure delicately traipsed out into the open. Once they stop, hands emerged and swept the hood off their head. A smiling blonde figure emerged. "Ah," she said, relieved, "I am truly home."

But then she paused. With up-cocked eyebrow, she scanned the garden before letting out a lilting laugh. "Is that you?" she asked. "You should come out, Mr. Collins. I do not bite."

Barnabas hesitated. He wanted more than anything to join her. But could it all be a trick? He took in a deep breath to steady himself before walking out into the night. He did not clear the distance between them. "How did you know it was me?"

"Oh, just a feeling. And I have become privy to your little notebook. Henrietta noticed what you were doing. She took particular interest of how feverishly you wrote down a little note about my late-night escapades."

"You would not tell. It's all a bit...embarrassing."

"Not at all. And you shouldn't worry about any of the others who may know," she added. "They have no reason to tell anyone that you would meet a me in such a manner."

"They don't?"

"Of course not." Angelique carefully grabbed the hems of her dress and cloak and moved forward. He realized that if he wasn't going to meet her, she would come over and meet him. She stopped a mere foot away from him. "Most of us are not here by our own will. We have our own values. Our own rules. While we may not lead fully debauched lives, we will not speak ill of someone who uses a little cunning to discover what he wants to know."

"I see. You are not above cunning behavior?"

"No one is, Mr. Collins! And there was really no harm with what you did." She took another step forward. "It has allowed us to meet again."

"This is what you wanted?" he asked.

"Of course. You are quite interesting. No one else would have stopped to help a lady's maid, even if he caused her to fall. It was...what is the word... endearing?"

Barnabas smiled. "I will accept that."

"Is it all right if I move just a bit closer."

"By all means."

She smiled and took another step forward. She glanced up into his eyes, squinting as if she were gazing into a bright light. "I didn't get a very good look at you when we first met."

"And?"

"You have soulful eyes. They confirm so much about what I had come to believe about you." She glanced away before adding: "And you?"

"What?"

"Did you really think of me since the first encounter?"

He took a step forward, leaving less than a foot between them. "I thought of you from time to time."

"Just from time to time?" she asked, leaning forward.

"A gentleman should not reveal too much."

"Did I reveal too much for a lady?"

"I don't know but," he said and he leaned forward, "you told me much that I wanted to hear."

She smiled. "This isn't really the place for us," she said.

They were now so close that he swore he could feel her lips barely touch his as she spoke. "And where would the place for us be?"

"Anywhere but here. I know a place not far from here. It isn't much but I believe it will do for us." Her eyes fluttered back towards his. "Would you like to join me?"

"Anytime," he said.

"Tomorrow. I...I have work to do."

"Work?"

"Of course! My work is never done." She placed her hands carefully on his chest and pushed him back. "As I am sure they have led you to believe, this is the time at which I am busiest."

"Fine. Until tomorrow."

He ran away before he could hear her reply. His heart was already pounding in his chest because of her touch. He didn't dare to hang around to learn what he reply would bring forth. He stopped just outside the door to the estate. A small laugh emerged from him as he tried to catch his breath. Perhaps he had been wrong? There might just be more to this visit than he had expecting.