Barnabas died last night. Died in my arms. And after forty years of happy marriage, he died with her name on his lips.
The grandchildren were so distressed, so concerned for me. I'm still not sure I've convinced them that it's all right. I understood when I married him that she had been the great love of his life.
And were it not for her, the family I love as my own would not exist...
Looking back after all these years, I can scarcely believe the things I did in my early attempts to win him. Fresh from the witch-world of Martinique and my mother's tutelage, I was a child playing with the dangerous toy of sorcery. Choking Barnabas, almost fatally, in a fit of pique; kindling passion between Josette and Jeremiah. I shudder at the memory...and at the thought of how close I came to attempting something even more perilous. Where, I wonder, might that have led?
I knew the brothers were quarreling that night - Jeremiah bent on leaving Collinwood and the temptation of Josette, Joshua equally determined to stop him. And I knew Jeremiah would not be dissuaded. I had conceived the mad idea of making Joshua disappear - actually transforming him into a cat! Causing a family crisis that would make it impossible for Jeremiah to tear himself away.
But I hesitated. I had seen spells of this sort cast in Martinique...but were my powers equal to the task? Even if they were, did I dare...?
I held back. One minute, two...
And Jeremiah began to scream.
I froze, paralyzed. I had done nothing, nothing!
Running footsteps echoed through the halls. Babbling voices... My ally, Ben Stokes, broke away and darted out of my room. I stumbled to the door and closed it, then swept my witchcraft paraphernalia into a drawer. Groped for a chair and sank into it, trembling from head to toe.
I was still sitting there - how long afterward, I have no idea - when Ben returned. "Angelique? Mr. Joshua's dead. A heart attack. Sudden-like, whilst he was arguin' with Mr. Jeremiah."
He waited for a reply, received none, started to turn away.
Then he looked back at me and said kindly, "You had nothin' to do with it."
I remember saying in a very small voice, "Thank you, Ben."
Of course I did blame myself. I had never meant to cause permanent harm to anyone...and I had caused this, however indirectly. But at least I had learned my lesson. I let my spells lapse. Never practiced witchcraft again.
Jeremiah also blamed himself. Devastated, he sought to ease his guilt by carrying out Joshua's final wish: within a week he proposed marriage to Millicent.
Millicent was elated; but news of the betrothal horrified Naomi and Barnabas. They knew that if Jeremiah rushed into a loveless marriage to an unstable woman, he would never find happiness. Nor, in truth, would she.
Barnabas and Josette had already postponed their wedding because of Joshua's death. Now Naomi asked them to delay it a full six months, so she could exert pressure on Jeremiah to observe the same "mourning period" before marrying Millicent. They graciously agreed. Andre DuPres returned to Martinique, while Josette stayed on, with her aunt Natalie as chaperone.
As the months passed, and Barnabas spent more and more time with the guests from Martinique...something happened that I could never, in my wildest imaginings, have anticipated. He realized, on his own, that Josette was not the woman for him! He never put the problem into words, then or later - to me or, I suspect, to anyone. He was too much the gentleman. But I think he came to see - as I always had - that for all her sweetness, Josette was bland and shallow. His life with her would have been relentlessly predictable, devoid of challenge. In a word, dull.
He might even then have gone through with the marriage...if he had not, unexpectedly, found his true love before his very eyes.
Natalie. At the time, that was harder for me to accept than it was even for Josette. Natalie, a woman old enough to be my mother? But I came gradually to understand. Natalie was fifty, several years older than Barnabas, but much nearer his age than Josette or I. He fell in love with her keen wit, her maturity, experience, worldliness...and yes, her beauty. As they drew closer, Natalie seemed to blossom.
Meanwhile, Jeremiah came to his senses and realized his union with Millicent would be a disaster. He broke their engagement as gently as possible.
And Millicent leapt to her death from Widow's Hill!
Poor, luckless Jeremiah. In misery again, tortured by guilt.
But...he was going through this just as Josette was becoming aware Barnabas had cooled toward her. They drifted together, found, to their surprise, that there really was a mutual attraction...
And at the end of that six-month "mourning period," two couples wed in a double ceremony. Barnabas and Natalie, Jeremiah and Josette.
Of all the family, only Joshua had truly wanted that grandiose new mansion. It was agreed Jeremiah and Josette would live there with Millicent's brother Daniel, for whom Jeremiah felt responsible. Everyone else remained in the original family home. And I stayed on as well, as Natalie's maid.
To everyone's surprise - except her own - Natalie soon became pregnant. Her blissful life with Barnabas grew even richer, their love deeper.
Yet I knew he was desperately frightened at the thought of her giving birth at fifty-one. Everyone was frightened, save Natalie herself. From the beginning, she had been serenely determined to bear this child - a healthy boy, as she was sure it would be, another Barnabas.
To her, nothing else mattered.
But I...for Barnabas's sake, I knelt in my room night after night and tried, for the first time in my life, to pray to the Christian God. That He would spare mother and child.
Perhaps I was the only one who prayed. God can be excused for ignoring me.
The infant lived and thrived. But Natalie was laid to rest on the anniversary of her wedding. And Barnabas was distraught...inconsolable. Many years later, he confessed that only his sense of responsibility to his son had kept him from taking his own life during those first hellish months.
Time heals, or at least makes grief easier to bear. I stayed on, of course, to care for the baby. And seven years later, Barnabas asked me to be his wife. He did love me, if not with the blazing passion of his love for Natalie.
Or mine for him...
Naomi lived to see Sarah happily wed to Daniel - a cousin, but a very distant one. By the time the matriarch died, Collins business interests in England had expanded sufficiently to require closer attention. So Barnabas moved our family here, and Collinwood now seems almost as remote a memory as Martinique.
Jeremiah and Josette had a happy marriage, but bad luck continued to dog him. Twenty years ago, quite by accident, he shot himself fatally while cleaning his gun. Josette died soon afterward - her death hastened, I think, by loneliness.
Strange...in all my years of trying, I never became pregnant. Josette conceived five times by Jeremiah, but was never able to carry to term. So of the three women who loved Barnabas, the least likely possibility - the middle-aged Natalie - was undoubtedly the only one who could have given him a child! For that child, and his children, I thank Natalie every day of my life.
I suppose Sarah will be leaving now, going home to Daniel. I'm grateful she came to be here during her brother's final illness. But she brought the oddest tales, of distorted versions of the family history circulating in Collinsport...
The simple facts are that Josette was betrothed to Barnabas, but wed Jeremiah instead. Years later, Jeremiah accidentally killed himself while cleaning his gun.
Long before that, Barnabas had moved to England for business reasons. And still earlier, Millicent had plunged to her death from Widow's Hill.
Somehow, that has been twisted into a legend that Barnabas and Jeremiah fought a duel over Josette! Jeremiah was killed, and the family gave out a false story of his having died of an accidentally self-inflicted gunshot wound. Barnabas left for England under a cloud - or in other versions, died of the plague(!) or by sorcery, his move to England another lie. And Josette committed suicide on Widow's Hill.