My name is Jennifer Sinclair. My journey is just beginning. I have arrived in the town of Collinsport, Maine, to be the governess to Michael and Lori Collins’ young son, Jasper. I have yet to see the big house on the top of Widow’s Hill, and have met none of the occupants. An accident has delayed my arrival, but a strange woman named Angelique has rescued me. She seems interested in the lives of the Collins family, and has a request for me…
“I don’t understand,” Jennifer muttered.
“You don’t have to understand,” Angelique replied. A small smile came to her lips. “Simply inform me if you hear anything about either Barnabas or Quentin Collins. I want to hear anything you find out about either man.”
Jennifer shook her head, trying to dispel the fog that seemed to be filling her mind. The room seemed abnormally hot, and was having trouble keeping her eyelids open. Had she been hurt in the accident, and not realized it until now? No, it was this woman, this Angelique. She was doing something to her. Hypnotizing her. But that was ridiculous. People don’t go around putting others under mesmeric influence. Jennifer felt so confused. If only she could get out of this house, away from the strange blond woman standing next to her…
Angelique snapped her fingers, and at once Jennifer’s head seemed to clear. She blinked her eyes, wondering how long she’d been lost in her thoughts. Angelique had been talking to her, and she’d been looking into the fire. Disorientated, Jennifer touched her face, as if to make sure she was really there, and not asleep. “I’m sorry,” she said. “My mind drifted. What were you saying?”
Angelique laughed lightly. “It’s all right. You’ve been through a lot this evening. I was just suggesting you check your phone again. You might get a signal now.”
Jennifer reached into her pocket and retrieved her cell phone. Sure enough, she had a signal.
Lori Collins walked down the hall toward her son’s room, listening intently for sounds of movement. The boy should be asleep, but he was a restless child, and often got up again after she’d tucked him in. Often, she’d check in on him, only to find him playing with his toy cars, or sitting in bed reading his favorite Dr. Seuss book by flashlight. Tonight, there didn’t seem to be any sounds coming from his room, but that didn’t mean anything. Jasper was a sneaky kid, and knew when to be quiet.
Reaching the end of the corridor, Lori stopped and put her ear briefly to Jasper’s door. She didn’t hear anything, but she turned the doorknob anyway, and opened the door as quietly as she could.
The room was dark, but she could just make out Jasper’s shape under the covers. He wasn’t moving, and she was fairly satisfied he was fast asleep. She stepped back and closed the door again.
Was Michael right in requesting they get a governess to look after Jasper? He’d gone to the town school for kindergarten and first grade and had done well. True, he was a withdrawn child who rarely engaged with other kids, but that was just a phase. Lori was sure of it. Jasper would come out of his shell soon.
Someone was coming down the hall. At first Lori could only see a long, looming shadow, but soon Carolyn Stuart came into view. Poor woman. Lori was amazed that the older woman kept her spirits up as she did, what with all she’d been through in her life. Carolyn’s first husband, Jeb Hawkes, had died young. Lori never did learn exactly how. And recently her second husband, Ned Stuart, had passed. Yet Carolyn soldiered on, and kept up with her studies on the supernatural. Carolyn was officially retired from academic life, but one would never know it from the amount of time she spent reading dusty old books with boring and sometimes unintelligible titles. Well, boring in Lori’s opinion.
Carolyn was wearing a nightgown, and looked like she was ready for bed. Her room was opposite Jasper’s, and she usually retired early, although Lori knew she read in bed for an hour or two before actually turning off her light. As they approached each other, Carolyn smiled. “Checking in on the little one?”
Lori nodded. “He was actually asleep. For once.” She noted the large book tucked under Carolyn’s arm. She couldn’t read much of the title. Something about lycanthropy. Whatever that was.
“I’m glad I caught you,” Carolyn said. “We heard from the new governess. Miss Sinclair. She had a little accident on the outskirts of town. She’s at the Collinsport Inn now, and Michael went to pick her up.”
Sighing, Lori said, “I almost had hoped she’d decided not to come after all. I’m beginning to regret letting Michael talk me into having a governess for Jasper. I think the town school is just fine for him. This way, he’ll miss out on the interaction with other kids his age.”
“I agree with you, but don’t tell Michael I said that. I don’t think he’s happy with me staying here at Collinwood as it is.” Carolyn held the old volume up so Lori could read the whole title. A Study in Lycanthropy. The author was T. Eliot Stokes. “He thinks I may dredge up all the old ghosts, reading stuff like this.”
Lori laughed, but she stifled it when she realized it was a little too loud. She didn’t want to rouse Jasper. “Growing up in Collinsport, I’d always heard that Collinwood was haunted. Everyone knew it, although they didn’t seem to like talking about it. And when I married Michael, I must admit I was a little scared to move here. I thought for sure I’d see a ghost every time I turned a corner. But the house happily disappointed me. Apart from a few creaks and bangs in the middle of the night, and the odd door opening on its own, it’s been spook free.”
Carolyn smiled. “It’s been quiet for a few years now, but don’t let that fool you. Collinwood has its downtime, but every now and then, just when you least expect it, it awakens again. Never let your guard down!”
“So, you believe in ghosts?” Thinking about the books Carolyn read, Lori realized the question might sound a little silly. Part of her had always thought it might just be a fascination with the unknown, but she had never actually discussed the topic with Carolyn. “I mean really?”
Carolyn’s face became serious. “I do. It’s not really a belief, either. I know they exist. Ghosts, witches, werewolves, even vampires.” Suddenly, Carolyn looked very old indeed. And a little sad. “I hope you never have to go through what I’ve been through, Lori. I hope for your sake that Collinwood stays quiet, and that all that stuff really is in the past.”
Jasper Collins threw down his covers and sat up in bed, listening intently. He could make out a muffled conversation in the hallway. He wasn’t sure, but he thought it was his mother and Great Aunt Carolyn. He ran a hand through his mop of long brown hair and looked over at the door, where his friend Sally was standing, her ear to the keyhole.
Sally seemed satisfied that the adults had moved on, because she straightened up and turned to Jasper. “The coast is clear,” she said in a whisper.
“What do you think they were talking about?” Jasper asked.
Sally shrugged. “I didn’t hear much of it. I think they were talking about your governess.”
Jasper made a sour face. “I’m not sure I want a governess. She’ll probably be old, and really, really mean. They always are in stories. Did you ever have a governess?”
A smile lit up Sally’s face, and she shook her head. “No. Servants don’t have governesses.”
Jasper tilted his head and watched Sally as she walked soundlessly over to his desk. What was she, sixteen? Seventeen? Really old, anyway. And she always wore funny clothes, almost always the same thing. Black skirt, crisp white apron. And that silly little hat thing. Sally had told him it was her uniform, and Jasper believed her, but he sometimes wished he could see her in something else. He had asked her once if she ever just wore jeans and a T-shirt, and Sally had laughed. “What would a chambermaid be doing wearing such things?” she’d replied.
Now, Sally was over at his window, looking down into the courtyard. It was dark outside, but Jasper could tell Sally was watching something intently. “What’s going on?” he asked.
“She’s here,” Sally said. “Your governess has arrived. Your father had just brought her in that contraption of his.”
“You mean his car.”
Sally pushed a stray strand of blonde hair back up under her cap. “If that’s what you call a car. Not like the machines we had in my day, I can tell you.”
“You always say that. ‘In my day.'”
Sally turned to Jasper, her face suddenly serious. “I’ve told you before, Jasper. My time was 1918. That was the year I died by ‘fluenza. And that’s why you can never tell any of the adults that you see me.”
Jennifer stepped into Collinwood for the first time and gazed about her in wonder. “It’s so…lovely. So grand. How many rooms does the house have?”
Behind her, Michael Collins was taking off his jacket. As he hung it on the coat rack, he said, “God knows. I tried counting them once, when I was a kid. There are so that are closed off, though, that I think I lost count. I got to seventy and gave up.”
Jennifer’s eyes ran over portraits on the walls and lingered over the huge grandfather clock. “So many antiques!”
“The trouble with antiques,” Michael said with a grin, “is that they can be expensive to keep in good repair.” He pointed at the clock. “That monstrosity has been here since the house was completed in 1795. We recently had it fixed–again–by a firm in Bangor. No one local could do it. Cost a fortune.”
Jennifer moved excited over to examine one of the painting adorning the walls. “This looks very old. An ancestor?”
“Joshua Collins, I believe. I could be wrong about that. I keep getting them all jumbled up. Looks pretty nasty, doesn’t he?”
“A little stern, perhaps.” Jennifer turned and saw another portrait, near the entryway. It showed a graven-faced man, rather handsome. “And this?”
“Ah. That one I know for sure. That’s Barnabas Collins.” Michael led Jennifer over for a closer look at the painting. “Barnabas Collins supposedly sailed for England at the end of the 1700s, but there are many tales that say otherwise.”
“Oh?” Jennifer was intrigued.
Michael’s eyes twinkled, and she realized her new employer had a mischievous streak to his nature. “Some say he died in 1796 or so, only to come back to life as a vampire.”
“I much prefer that version of his life,” Jennifer said with a chuckle. “Much more romantic.”
“Romance played a big part in the story, supposedly,” Michael told her. “Barnabas was cursed to eternal life by an evil witch, or so they say. She was a servant girl, and he threw her aside and fell in love with her mistress, one Josette du Pres. The curse warned that anyone who loved Barnabas would die a horrible death.”
Jennifer laughed. “Okay, I don’t like that part of the story.”
“Well, it’s just a tale to entertain the kiddies and keep them snug under their covers, I’m sure.” Michael turned as the clock began to chime the hour. Eleven o’clock. “I had no idea it was so late. And you’ve got no clothes or anything.”
“My suitcases are still in my car.”
“We’ll have someone retrieve them in the morning. In the meantime, I’m sure you can borrow some stuff from Lori.” Michael glanced up the staircase to their left. “I wonder if she’s still up. Will you excuse me a moment, Miss Sinclair? I’ll see if she’s awake.”
He mounted the steps, and Jennifer entertained herself by further examination of the artwork. There was one portrait which struck her, that of a young woman in an emerald dress. She was leaning in, attempting to read the artist’s signature, when there came the sound of someone knocking on the front door. Jennifer wasn’t sure how she should respond. It wasn’t her place, surely, to answer the door. She walked to the foot of the staircase and looked up. “Mr. Collins?” she called.
There was a butler, she knew. Michael had told her about the household on the drive from town. He would come and get the door, she assumed. But further knocks sounded, and no one showed. Jennifer decided if there was a third knock, she’d answer herself and see who was calling at such a late hour. Perhaps it was an emergency…
When the third series of knocks came, Jennifer went to the door and opened it.
Standing there was a man perhaps in his mid-thirties. He was handsome, with dark hair and eyes and he wore a long coat with an Inverness cape. In his hand was a cane, and Jennifer had the sense that she’d seen the man, and the cane, before. Of course. It was the cane from the portrait Michael had showed her. And while the man standing before her didn’t look exactly like the man in the painting, Jennifer still had the feeling that she had seen the man before.
“Yes?” she said tentatively.
“Forgive me for calling at such a late hour,” the man said. He had a lovely voice, very cultured. Did Jennifer detect the hint of a British accent, or was it just her imagination? The man continued. “I just arrived in Collinsport, and I’m afraid my train was delayed. I had hoped to get in long before now, but I wanted to stop by and see the family.”
“Mr. Collins just went upstairs.” Jennifer felt embarrassed, and she wasn’t sure why. Partly it was due to having been placed in the position of answering a door when it wasn’t her place to do so, but also partly because the man seemed to be examining her face intently.
The man realized he was being rude and explained. “I’m sorry, but you look so much like a woman I knew years ago.”
“I’ve just arrived at Collinwood myself,” Jennifer told him. “I’m the new governess.” She around, hoping the butler or one of the family would come and rescue her. Should she invite the man in? He had said he was family. “My name is Jennifer. Jennifer Sinclair.” Jennifer didn’t know what else to say.
The man bowed slightly. “What a lovely name. My name is Barnabas. Barnabas Collins.”