A Tale of Dark Shadows
Letter to Andre Dupres, October, 1795:
"My Dear Andre,
"I am happy to report that things are much calmer now than they were prior to my last letter. Paris is getting under control now that the beastly Robspierre has been dealt with by his own favorite device. Since I last wrote you, terrible tragedy has befallen me, as I am sure my father has told you.
How I wish I were back in Martinique with my family!
"However, I must put the past aside, and tell you about the most extraordinary man I met. He is an American, and is interested in doing business in Martinique. I do believe the two of you will get along, and I think you might also hide your lovely Josette from him, unless you want to marry her off, in which case, he comes with my highest recommendation. I only wish I could have made him tarry with me, but then, I have a new man in my life who is helping me over the loss of Alexandre. Well, enough of me. Let me tell you about this amazing American . . ."
Barnabas Collins found himself lost in the winding streets of Paris. He had come here with his uncle Jeremiah to look into the possibility of selling ships to the French government. However, upon arrival, both Americans were hard put to discover if a government existed in France. Mobs were everywhere, and bodies lying along the roads were not uncommon. Both he and Jeremiah kept loaded pistols in their pockets at all times, and a sword belonging to Barnabas' father Joshua hung between their beds at every inn along their route.
By early October, they had made their way to Paris, but the city held none of the romance ascribed to it by legend. It was a crowded, filthy city, full of terror and death. Discreet inquiries discovered that a directorate of five powerful men had seized the reins of power, and the two Collinses were making their way to the Tuileries Palace to meet with Paul Barras, apparent leader of the directors.
As the two Americans made their way by carriage down the cluttered streets, both noticed increasing crowds of citizens, some carrying weapons, travelling in the same direction as their carriage. Barnabas, somewhat alarmed, tapped his cane to get the driver's attention.
"What are these people doing?" he called.
"A new constitution was posted," the driver explained, weaving to avoid the press of bodies. "Not everybody is happy with its provisions. The people are marching to the palace to express their sentiments."
"Wonderful," Jeremiah grumbled, reaching across to grasp his brother's sword and buckle it on. "I thought the revolution was over."
"Remember, Jeremiah, we are still sorting things out at home, as well," Barnabas pointed out.
"Yes, but we're not rioting in the streets back home," Jeremiah reminded him.
"Listen," called the driver. "The crowd is too thick for me to proceed. You'll have to walk if you want to get to the palace."
"Well, we've come this far," Jeremiah stated. "Are you game, Nephew?"
"If we have to do business with gold in one hand and a pistol in the other, then so be it," Barnabas answered. "I wouldn't want to face Father after returning empty handed, would you?"
"You're right. Better the mob."
The carriage halted, and the two Collinses alighted. With some effort, they managed to make their way forward by staying at the outer edge of the crowd. Slowly, they walked down the Rue de la Convention, listening to the thousands of voices singing "La Marseillaise" and waving the red caps of the revolution. Barnabas noted with disgust that some well-dressed individuals were passing out free beer and wine to the mob, and the crowds were whipping themselves into a frenzy.
In the shadows of the massive Church of Saint Roch, Barnabas' gaze was drawn to an individual who stayed hidden, remaining a dark figure against the ancient stonework. This eminence grise seemed attuned to the rhythm of the crowd, as if he drew his energy from its growing excitement.
"That man," Barnabas indicated with the tip of his silver wolf's head cane, "he is up to something. What is his part in this chaos?"
"Better to worry about what is in front of us," Jeremiah snapped, pulling Barnabas around. "Look!"
Ahead of them, in precise array across the thoroughfare that fronted the Tuileries Palace and garden, were cannons. Behind those cannons stood soldiers, slow matches ready to light fuses, and grenadiers in tall shako hats brandishing bayonet-tipped muskets before their blue and white uniforms. Above the soldiers, sitting his mule with the air of a king, was their commander.
Barnabas looked at the man with a mixture of amusement and interest. The fellow wasn't very big, and the long hair flowing from under his bicorn hat would have given him a comic-opera air if not for the intensity in his eyes, eyes that blazed in his pale face. Barnabas knew that this man would not hesitate to order his men to fire.
"This is going to be a slaughter," Jeremiah was saying. "Who is that woman?"
Heading their way through the churning crowd was a lady, set apart from the women of the mob by her carriage and dress. While she could not be said to be truly beautiful, there was an alluring quality about her. Her face was a creamy oval, framed by cascading ringlets of shining auburn hair. Dark eyes looked about with apprehension as the crowd ebbed and flowed, and it was clear that she very much wanted to escape the general vicinity.
Barnabas looked to her, then turned to look again at the shadowy figure at the church. A white bejeweled hand with long fingers suddenly arced upward from the darkness, clenched spasmodically, and then jutted toward the palace. With a roar, the crowd seemed to erupt. Shots rang out. Surging like a human wave, the mob rushed the emplaced guns.
Barnabas' eyes went to the commander. His saber went high. Without waiting for it to descend, Barnabas moved toward the fleeing woman.
"Jeremiah! Get that man at the church!" he yelled as he ran.
Drawing Joshua's sword, Jeremiah plunged toward the church, while Barnabas used his speed to make a flying tackle, brushing the woman from her feet. Both went down in a heap, rough stones scraping their flesh. As they fell, cannons roared like angry thunder. Muskets crackled like burning sticks and Barnabas heard shot whistling around him. Screams replaced the roaring, loud enough to penetrate Barnabas' numbed ears.
Daring to lift his head, Barnabas saw figures falling like dominoes, twisting in agony as shrapnel tore their bodies. Hundreds of corpses choked the avenue, and the crowd faltered. Quickly, as the grenadiers kept up a covering fire, the gunners reloaded. Another cannonade tore through the Parisians, and this time it was too much. Even though thousands remained, more than enough to overwhelm the soldiers defending the palace, the mob was finished.
In confusion, harried by musket fire, the crowd fell back, leaving their dead amid a river of blood. As they departed, Barnabas felt it safe enough to examine the woman beneath him. For the first time, he noted the warmth of her body, and when he looked into her eyes, he saw that they were unafraid.
"Are you well, madame?" he inquired.
"Oui, monsieur," she breathed. "Though I may smother from your embrace."
"Forgive me." Putting an arm about her supple waist, he helped her to her feet. He was at once aware of Jeremiah at his side, and it saddened him to have to share this strangely magnetic woman.
"We must get around the corner," Jeremiah ordered. "They are bringing the cannons forward."
"What about the man?" Barnabas asked as they sought safety behind a building.
"Gone," his uncle admitted. "I saw only a figure in black, with a strange golden key flapping at his waist by a chain. I tried to hit him with my pistol, but the range was too great. You were always a better shot, Barnabas."
"Perhaps justice will catch up to him," Barnabas mused. "Certainly, he played a part in this massacre. He seemed like a puppeteer, waving his hand to make the crowd dance."
"You make him sound like a sorcerer, monsieur," commented the lady as she examined her dress for tears.
"Hmmm, I wonder," Barnabas said in a low voice. "Well, madame, perhaps we could escort you to your domicile. I am Barnabas Collins and this is my uncle Jeremiah Collins. We are from America." At this, Barnabas gave a courtly half-bow.
"I think perhaps I owe you my life," the lady pronounced, and a smooth hand went up to adjust her hat. I am Josephine, Comtesse de Beauharnais."
With practiced ease, Barnabas swept up her hand and placed his lips upon her knuckles, drinking in her heady perfume. Jeremiah followed suit.
"We must leave here," Jeremiah warned. "The soldiers may shoot us as rebels." Gunshots went up anew, and the creak of wheels denoted cannon being advanced. "My lady, we were going to the palace to beg an audience with Director Barras. Do you know him, perhaps?"
She gave a charming laugh, all the more intriguing for the fact that she did so without showing her teeth. "Know him? I know him very well. He and I, well, how can I put this without shocking your Puritan sensibilities? We co-habit. As a matter of fact, I was leaving the palace when this business began. Paul thought it would be safer for me if I left. I am upset over the fact that he could not spare me an escort."
"I find it difficult to think that any man could meet your standards, Countess," Barnabas observed. "Certainly, you are beyond mere mortals."
"My, what a silver tongue you have!" Josephine marvelled. "For that, I shall do you a favor. Come, let us hasten away from here."
They followed the unflappable countess through the strange cobbled streets until they came to a finely decorated house. Men in worn uniforms lounged outside.
"This is my house," Josephine explained. "Mine and Paul's, that is. I am sure you would not get to see him during this crisis, but I expect him to come home eventually. Perhaps you would care to take lunch with me, and then I can send a messenger to see how events are unfolding?"
"Lunch would be an excellent idea," Jeremiah agreed, giving Barnabas a knowing look. "We have been subsisting on inn food for several days, though I must admit it was better fare than we got aboard the ship coming over." Inwardly, Jeremiah was looking forward to seeing how the Parisian upper class fared after years of bloody purge. It had been ten years after the tragic events of his marriage to Laura, and he yearned for some gaiety in his life. Leave it to Barnabas to get the inside track with the countess. Well, maybe she had a friend.
The interior of the house took them both aback. Even though the Great House at Collinwood was an impressive mansion, this house, wedged among the many in Paris, was overflowing with extravagance. Its lavish rooms were plastered with baroque moldings, and fine wall papers competed with works of art that hung about. Silver and gold fixtures were everywhere, from candelabra that sat over a fireplace so massive that Barnabas thought it would hold a carriage, to gleaming silver tea sets and trays. The revolution had been good to some, it seemed.
A servant in livery finer than an American general took their cloaks, and the countess led them into a cozy sitting room, packed with overstuffed velvet-covered furniture. Dim oil lamps gave the room an intimate twilight atmosphere, softening the details of several paintings of nudes that hung on two walls. Josephine waved them to chairs, then curled upon a purple divan. At once, another servant brought in a tray of tea.
"This is quite amazing," Barnabas admitted, accepting a china tea cup from the servant. "You and the Director are very fortunate, Countess."
"He is fortunate," she said, bringing her cup to her lips. "I, on the other hand, have had little but misery until lately. My husband was killed as an enemy of the revolution. I would have suffered a similar fate if not for the intervention of Paul. He had a fellow eat the evidence against me."
"Eat the evidence?" Jeremiah started. "That was different."
"It kept me alive." Her dark eyes betrayed no hint of her ordeal as Barnabas gazed at them.
"So you feel you owe him," Barnabas stated, hoping he had not overstepped himself, but at the same time feeling a sense of ease around this woman. She seemed to exude a type of femininity mixed with determination that was genuinely attractive.
"And you think that is why I sleep with him," she returned bluntly. "It is not so simple. I also had some debts. You Americans see things so plainly. You think everything can be won by faith and hard work. I tell you that you must look out for yourself first. I came out of that prison with nothing but my two children, and Paul has given me something, and more than something. He will do, for now. But, well, I shouldn't be telling you all this drivel, but somehow I feel I can trust you. After all, you did save my life."
"What's this about saving your life?" came a male voice from beyond the sitting room. Stepping in was a tall man, his curling hair swept back from his high-domed forehead. He was dressed in short coat and lace cravat of his day, and carried a pistol stuffed in his belt.
"Paul!" Josephine exclaimed. "I did not expect you so soon."
"Since I find you entertaining two handsome young men, I would assume you did not," Paul Barras said with a slight smile. "The business was concluded after a few cannon volleys, though some diehards held out in the church until we blasted them out by firing through the windows."
"A whiff of grapeshot was all the mob needed to change their minds," came another male voice from behind Barras.
Paul advanced, and behind him came the man Barnabas had seen earlier commanding the soldiers. Even though he was the shortest person in the room, the man's presence seemed to dominate them all.
"Ah, permit me to introduce our savior," Paul continued. "This is General Bonaparte."
The general bowed and took Josephine's hand when offered. "I am always pleased to make the acquaintance of beautiful women," he remarked in accented French.
"General Bonaparte, I am wounded," Josephine said. "Do you not recall my son imploring you to allow me to keep my husband's sword after you had decreed that all arms were to be given to the Directorate?"
"Well, yes, madame, but I did not wish to embarrass you in front of the Director, or make it seem that I was remiss in my duty."
"Since it was Josephine who charmed you, you are forgiven," Barras noted. "Well, my dear, you still have not introduced me to your callers."
"Actually, they are your callers, Paul," she revealed. "This is Barnabas Collins, and his uncle Jeremiah. They are from America."
The two men rose at the sound of their names and shook hands with Barras. Paul then summoned a servant and requested lunch be prepared. As they waited, Barnabas and Jeremiah told their stories, ending with the events of the mob.
"So," Paul concluded, "this mysterious man with his gold key and many jewels seemed to play a strong role in arousing the mob. I imagine free beer helped."
"There were many agents," Jeremiah pointed out. "It was Barnabas' sharp eye that saw the leader. He fled before I could bring him down."
"Well, I am sure we can lay him to heels," Paul assured him. "I shall put my top police on his scent. In the meantime, I will have General Bonaparte make some inquiries. After lunch, that is."
"I am afraid I must decline," the general stated. "I must make sure that things are quiet. I will also make those inquiries, and report to you by supper, if my invitation will hold that long."
"Of course," Paul agreed. "Good hunting, my general."
With that, Bonaparte took his leave as the servant announced lunch. The party moved to an opulent dining room, overshadowed by a dazzling crystal chandelier.
"Your General Bonaparte seems to be all business," Barnabas commented as they were seated. Immediately, wine was poured in their goblets and consomme was presented before them.
"He is that," Paul admitted. "Napoleon has a mind like a calculating machine. He is always thinking. He would have been a tiresome eating companion, though. All he talks about is war, and he bolts his food as if someone were about to take it away at any moment."
"He needs a good woman to straighten him out," Josephine remarked between spoonfuls.
"Apparently there were none in Corsica," Paul revealed. "I think his large family makes up half the population."
The rest of the lunch went pleasantly, being a small array of cold meats, cheeses, and various mixed concoctions, supplemented by tough, yet tasty bread. Considering the variety of this luncheon, Barnabas wondered what supper would be like. Their meal done, the party returned to the sitting room, where brandy was poured for the gentlemen. Josephine excused herself while business was discussed.
The general thrust of the Collins' proposal went over well, but there was some concern over matters of politics. Presently, the American government, barely out of its infancy, was upset over the French habit of seizing neutral shipping when it suited them. Negotiations were proceeding slowly, and France no longer shared the special trade relationship that was a consequence of her aid to the colonists. Capitalism was looking to America's former master, England, as a source of lucrative trade.
Talks went on until dark, and would have continued had not Josephine returned with another woman. This lady was slender, with dark, sparkling eyes setting off a heart-shaped face that was framed by jet-black curls twining in tight circlets. Her dress was loose and flowing, seeming more a product of ancient Greece than modern France. All three men rose at their advance.
"Gentlemen, this is my good friend Theresia Tallien," Josephine introduced. "Paul is well acquainted with her, but I thought she would like to meet two Americans."
Both Collinses kissed her alabaster hand, entranced by her beauty as well as her feline grace. Madame Tallien was easily the equal of Countess de Beauharnais.
"I hope the lady will be joining us for dinner, as well as her husband," Jeremiah probed with a smile.
"No husband, I am afraid," Josephine revealed, "but, yes, she will be joining us."
No husband, thought Jeremiah. Well, things were looking up. The ladies excused themselves, and the gentlemen continued discussing matters until a servant announced General Bonaparte's return. He had freshened up his somewhat worn uniform, and was carrying a bouquet of flowers.
"A present for the Countess," he explained, handing the flowers to the servant.
"We await supper, General," Paul advised him. "Please sit down. I was becoming acquainted with these two gentlemen from America."
"America!" Bonaparte smiled. "Well, you showed those English dogs something. I was too young then, so I had to settle for pounding them at Toulon. Perhaps now I can go and deal with the Austrians, eh, Paul?"
"General Bonaparte's thirst for the enemy's blood knows no bounds," Paul related with a chuckle. "For the nonce, we shall satiate that thirst for the time with some wine."
Dinner was soon served, and true to Paul's description, Bonaparte wolfed down his meal. Jeremiah found himself seated by the charming Theresia Tallien, and was quick to start a conversation with her. Barnabas made himself content with a few covert glances at the Countess. After dinner, the conversation turned to the day's events.
"Your mystery man becomes more mysterious with each informant," Bonaparte explained. "I would have gotten little but blank stares if not for your description of that golden key. However, I must caution you that the possessor of that key is reputed to be dead."
"He stepped rather lively when I pointed a flintlock in his direction," Jeremiah snorted. "A few paces closer and he would have troubled you no more."
"Such bravery!" Madame Tallien exclaimed. "Are all Americans so bold?" As she spoke, she put a slim hand on Jeremiah's bicep, examining the solidness beneath his clothing. He did not remove the hand.
"Evil requires boldness to defeat it," Jeremiah said, a slow smile coming to his face.
"At any rate," Bonaparte interrupted, "this man with a key is reputed to be none other than Cagliostro himself."
"Cagliostro, the sorcerer!" It was Josephine's turn to exclaim. "He was denounced to the Inquisition and imprisoned. He died there."
"His death was not witnessed," Bonaparte allowed. "He had many followers of his sorcery, and his Egyptian Rite Masonry. It is not inconceivable that he escaped, and that the Vatican is concealing that fact as they search for him."
"If he is wanted, why would he return to France?" Barnabas asked. "One would think that it would be safer for him to flee to Africa or America."
"He wishes his revenge," Paul stated. "Count Cagliostro, or to use his real name, Giuseppe Balsamo, was an enemy of the revolution, since he was heavily patronized by the upper class and the Royal Family. If the Bourbons were again sitting on the French throne, and he were responsible, then he could count on immunity from the Inquisition."
"He was a fake, though, correct?" Barnabas inquired.
"He made many claims," Josephine informed him. "He claimed to have learned his arts in Africa, and that he was also a student of the Count St. Germain, another great sorcerer of this century. He travelled to London and Russia. In both cases, he was forced to leave under a cloud. Whether a real wizard or not, he is a dangerous man."
"I trust General Bonaparte can deal with him," Jeremiah spoke up.
"That is true," Paul agreed. "Now that we have heard from General Bonaparte, I would like to express my gratitude for your rescue of the Countess by offering lodgings here until your business is concluded."
"We must decline," Jeremiah refused politely. "Our baggage is at an inn on the outskirts of the city."
"I will not take no for an answer," Paul stated with finality. "Your baggage can be brought here and your bill paid." When Jeremiah would have protested, Paul held up a hand. "The streets are not safe after dark for two strangers such as yourselves. In the morning, I will see that you are given an escort out of the city."
"I bow to your graciousness," Jeremiah accepted. "Besides, I am in such pleasant company, I am loathe to depart."
The conversation went on long into the night, and General Bonaparte reluctantly departed to inspect his troops and make sure that the rebellion was finished. The day had been tiring, and Barnabas requested to be shown his room. A servant with a candelabrum led the way through the large manor, leading Barnabas to a chamber more suitable to a prince than an American businessman. As he examined his room, he saw with delight that his baggage had arrived and a nightshirt was laid out for him. Changing into this, Barnabas placed his cane beside a nightstand, and crawled into the fluffy canopy bed for a well-deserved rest.
His slumber was short-lived. He was unsure how long he had been asleep, but his repose was shattered by a woman's scream. Without hesitation, Barnabas leaped out of bed, pausing only to snatch up his silver wolf's-head cane. Faint moonlight guided him to the hallway, and there he found trouble.
It was too dim to make out who was screaming, but it appeared to be a slim white form that writhed against another shape. The woman's assailant appeared as a vague blob of darkness, enwrapping her like thick smoke. Heedless of danger, Barnabas charged in, swinging with his cane. It struck something solid, and there was a gurgling snarl of pain.
Barnabas struck again, and this time the blow caused a strange sizzling sound. Barnabas' nostrils became choked with a smell like burning hair. The woman managed to break away after this, but she did not flee. Instead, she snatched up a nearby vase and dashed it against her former captor. Dazed, it staggered into another room.
Barnabas followed, taking in the room's contents. It was another bedroom, and on the floor lay someone dressed in a nightshirt. His foe was making for an open window, where it had apparently entered the house. Unwilling to let another possible link to the day's events escape, Barnabas pulled back his arm and delivered a roundhouse blow to the head. His opponent shrieked violently, collapsing against the window sill. It did not move again.
Light suddenly blossomed behind him, and Barnabas turned to find a servant holding a single candlestick in a shaky hand. In its glow, Barnabas saw that the man on the floor was Paul Barras, a knot livid upon his forehead. A quick glance led Barnabas to believe that Paul was merely unconscious. An unfired pistol lay nearby, and Barnabas picked it up to hold it upon the form by the window.
"Bring me that candle," he ordered tersely.
The servant complied, and Barnabas held it high. What was revealed by its radiance caused him to gasp. The figure he had defeated appeared to be a man, but if so, it was a man long dead. Dirt and mold clung to his dark clothes, and his exposed flesh was mottled and withered. A dark streak showed across one hand, as if a hot brand had scored it. Barnabas' cane had dealt the worst blow to the skull, leaving an oblong dent coated with a fused mass of burned hair.
As he examined this creature, Barnabas became aware of a stench unlike the burning hair smell he was exposed to previously. It was a nauseating smell, like that of decay. Turning his foe around, Barnabas recoiled as he looked upon its features. The man's skin was drawn tight against his skull until the effect was like that of a living death's head, grinning with yellowed teeth.
"This thing will tell us nothing," he muttered. Turning to the servant, he returned the candle. "Have your fellows remove this creature. It apparently is somebody's idea of a joke. Enemies of your master must have tossed it through the window, and Citizen Barras must have knocked himself unconscious when he was awakened."
He hoped this story would allay any fears among the servants. How could he explain that this same corpse appeared to have been animated? Going out in the hall, he found the woman in white. It was Josephine de Beauharnais. She seemed little worse for her experience.
"You are unhurt?" he asked.
"I am fine," she confirmed. "I — Paul and I — well, this person fell upon us, knocking Paul out before he could use his pistol. I dodged past to the hall, but it followed and grabbed me. Oh, what a stink! Then, you came again, to save me. Who is our attacker?"
"Was is more descriptive," Barnabas said. "He is dead. I asked the servants to remove the body. It will tell us nothing." Suddenly, he was seized with apprehension. "What about Jeremiah?"
"His room is just down here," Josephine pointed.
Barnabas brushed past her and banged on the door she indicated. There was no answer. He tried the knob, calling Jeremiah's name, but it was locked from within. Drawing himself up, Barnabas prepared to throw his shoulder against the panel when he heard the lock disengage. The door came open a crack and Jeremiah's face appeared.
"Can't a man get some sleep?" Jeremiah grumbled.
"Are you well, Uncle?" Barnabas demanded.
"Fine," Jeremiah replied. "Is something wrong?"
"There was an attempt on Paul's life," Barnabas explained. "I killed the assailant."
"Is Paul hurt?" came a female voice behind Jeremiah. Barnabas blushed in confusion. Now he understood why his uncle was oblivious to the ruckus.
"He is fine," Barnabas assured the voice, assuming it to be Theresia Tallien. "You will pardon me. I will see that the house is secure."
With that, he turned, almost colliding with Josephine de Beauharnais. His confusion grew, and her voluptuous presence only added to his problems. Moonlight made her a diaphanous figure, like some Greek goddess.
"Will you help me put Paul back in his bed?" she asked. "I am sure he would sleep better that way."
Barnabas complied, assisting her in moving Paul back onto their massive canopy bed. The servants had collected the corpse, even going so far as removing any dirt. This done, Barnabas examined Paul's wound. It appeared to be a simple contusion, and he was certain that Paul would suffer no more than a bad headache when he awoke. Josephine ordered a servant to stand guard by his bed, then she accompanied Barnabas to his door.
"You Americans amaze me," she told him. "You should be acting as timid strangers in a foreign land, and yet you take charge. More than that, you brave cannons and walking corpses."
"Beautiful women have that effect on us," Barnabas admitted.
"And such flattery! One would not think you were a nation of Puritans."
"We are not all so puritanical. Certainly Jeremiah has shown that."
"And what of you?"
"I, well, I am a Collins, also."
"I hoped it would be so."
In a flash, her slender arms were about his neck, and she dragged his lips to hers. They were warm and inviting, and Barnabas had trouble pulling away from them.
"What about Paul?" he demanded. "I thought you and he — well —"
"He is nothing to me but a convenience. He keeps me afloat in a wonderful style, but he is not my final choice. I may have met that man, but it is not Paul. Now, aren't you tired of talking?"
* * *
Paul was still unconscious at breakfast. Barnabas and Jeremiah suddenly found themselves masters of the center of French government. Over a quick meal, they conferred with General Bonaparte about the night's events, naturally leaving out some of the more compromising details. Bonaparte took the more macabre aspects with typical Corsican superstition.
"Incredible!" he spat between bites of a roll. "A walking corpse! It is bad enough the living conspire against the revolution, but now the dead? What defense can I mount against spirits?"
"I think the silver on my cane caused the thing much damage," Barnabas revealed. "Its touch seemed to burn like fire. I would think that bullets or blades of silver would be equally effective."
"Well, a few less candlesticks, and we can overcome this foe," Napoleon smiled. "I shall have enough bullets for us produced forthwith. Our next move should be to arrest all of Cagliostro's known friends or hirelings. One of them will talk, I think."
"Whatever you think best, General," Jeremiah stated. "We shall keep an eye on things here."
After bolting his food, Napoleon departed, and true to his word, sent an adjutant later with a box of silver pistol balls. Jeremiah and Barnabas spent the rest of the morning loading every firearm in the house, and each went about armed with a brace of pistols. Paul awoke before noon, and was resting comfortably, still guarded by a servant.
It was just after lunch that a crowd formed. Barnabas sent word by a servant to General Bonaparte, but before help could arrive, the mob began to throw stones at the house. Fortunately, Paul was prepared for such an eventuality, and remaining servants produced a cache of muskets. A few volleys over the heads of the crowd dispersed them, and soldiers soon came along to clean up the rest. Barnabas and Jeremiah finally heaved a sigh of relief, only to have Josephine rush to them.
"Paul is gone!" she breathed. "The servant guarding him was helping you fend off the mob, and when I looked in on him, I found the bed empty, except for this note."
Barnabas snatched the sheet from her hand and quickly translated the crabbed French: "Director Barras is in my hands. The rest of the Directorate will surrender by midnight tonight, or Director Barras will become an example of what will happen to the rest of you king-murdering dogs. True order will be restored, or all the powers of Heaven and Hell at my command will destroy all rebels."
"Cagliostro talks big," Barnabas commented. "Well, he has all the cards at this point."
"Cards!" Josephine exclaimed. "Cagliostro is a sorcerer, so perhaps I can divine his whereabouts with cards."
"You mean fortune telling?" Jeremiah snorted.
"I mean tarot cards," she explained. "I learned them from an old friend of the family, Countess Natalie Dupres."
From a cabinet, she produced a deck of gaily designed cards and began to shuffle them. Skeptical, Barnabas and Jeremiah followed her to a table, where she laid out the cards.
"Here," she said, turning up the first pasteboard, which was the Magician, "is our object, Cagliostro. Next, his power." Here turned up the Devil. "Now, his objective." This card turned out to be the Emperor. "Apparently the heir to the throne, Louis XVIII. Finally, his base of operations." This card was the Tower, with its lightning bolt smashing into the masonry. "The symbol of ambition, built on false premises, with Divine judgement falling upon it. What could this represent?"
"Cagliostro's end," came a voice from without. Josephine then drew the King of Swords, and in stepped General Bonaparte. "If you are looking for a meaning to that card, I would suggest it is the scene of his great triumphs of chicanery, No. 1, Rue St. Claude," Napoleon related. "There has been some activity there of late, I am told. This was his lair before his arrest by the Inquisition. Countess de Beauharnais is probably familiar with the tales."
"How he would descend from the ceiling on a large ball, wearing not a stitch?" she returned. "His ceremonies were the talk of society. He claimed he could set fire to sea water. Here is his demand, General." The Countess handed over the note.
"King-murdering dogs!" Bonaparte ejaculated. "I like that. He was no lover of the monarchy, either. If he is in league with the Bourbons, it is because he has that fat fool Louis under his power. Well, I'll get a platoon and we'll storm the place."
"He would be sure to kill Paul," Jeremiah pointed out. "I think, perhaps, that a few bold men should slip in and try to get him out."
Josephine, still fiddling with her cards, then produced the Ace of Swords. "Conquest," she predicted.
"Yes, but who will conquer?" Barnabas wondered. "Uncle, I think you and I should pay a visit to No. 1, Rue St. Claude. We can go in after dark and see if we can find Paul."
"I will go also," Josephine informed them.
"The danger!" Barnabas protested.
"I am familiar with the layout of the building," she countered. "Besides, you two can protect me. General Bonaparte will be ready to come in when called, I think."
"I would charge Hades for you, Countess," he assured her, taking her hand and smothering it with kisses.
"I see that conquest has already been made," Barnabas observed with regret. "Well, the Countess has made a practical point. You will go with us."
Night had fallen quickly, and with it came an autumn cold, unwarmed by the slice of moon that hung over Paris. Barnabas, Jeremiah, and Josephine, all cloaked with hoods covering their heads, stole quietly to their destination, the hotel at No. 1, Rue St. Claude. The building was an imposing piece of stonework, half hidden by huge ancient trees. No lights shown in its high arched windows, but Jeremiah carried a bullseye lantern. Carefully, using a set of skeleton keys provided by General Bonaparte, Barnabas found the old servants' entrance and unlocked it. With pistols drawn, they stole within. The lantern provided a pencil-thin ray of illumination, and they followed Josephine's whispered directions until they stood in the grand salon.
The inadequate moonlight threw shadows everywhere, muting what was once one of the centers of Parisian society. Barnabas could make out elaborate carved scrollwork edging everywhere, and furniture lurked about like giant fungi in their dust-covered sheets. Galleries and landings soared overhead, lined with scores of paintings. Somewhere in this cavernous building was the goal of their quest.
"It would take days to search this building," Jeremiah complained in a hushed tone. "Cagliostro could hide an army in here."
"Let us pray he has not," Barnabas observed. "His living dead will trouble us enough. Perhaps it is time for another of the Countess' cards."
"But of course." Jeremiah held the lantern so that a beam no wider than a pencil emitted from it. The Countess produced her deck, and from it drew a card which was revealed to be the seven of cups. "Deception," she whispered.
"Yes, but how?" Jeremiah wondered, casting about the room.
"There," Barnabas pointed. Beneath a splendorous winding staircase was a sideboard. Sitting on its shelf were seven cups, the moonlight gleaming from their silver curves.
"This card reading is beginning to unnerve me," Jeremiah admitted. "Flesh and blood that I can come to grips with is one thing, but this smacks of sorcery."
"You begin to sound like that fool Reverend Trask," Barnabas chided him. "Just because it's something we don't understand, you want to put it down to deviltry. Let's examine this sideboard."
Using the lantern sparingly, they peered at the sideboard, pulling and tugging at sections. Finally, Barnabas' nimble fingers found a catch, and the whole piece slid to one side, revealing a black rectangle high as a man and twice as wide. Jeremiah's tight beam illuminated a set of steps.
"Into the lion's den," Jeremiah murmured, and both cocked the hammers of their flintlocks.Jeremiah went first, his light expanding to show that the steps led down straight to a wooden door. When the trio reached the bottom step, Jeremiah handed his lantern to Josephine and drew his sword. Barnabas removed his cloak.
"We need to test the waters and I will fight better without this," he explained. "I am going to try the door. If it opens, I will toss my cloak inside. Then, we shall see what occurs."
Cloak over one arm, Barnabas tried the brass latch of the door. It turned, and the door opened outward with scarcely a whisper. Beyond was a large room, but the details were indistinct. Barnabas grabbed his cloak by its hood and flipped it through the doorway. The reaction was immediate. The glittering crescent of a huge axe head came smashing down on the cloak, parting it with ease before striking sparks on the stone floor.
Immediately, Jeremiah rushed forward and put his boot down on the axe's haft. Josephine unmasked the lantern, and the trio found themselves facing a swarthy Turk, his evil face glowering beneath his turban. Without hesitation, the senior Collins drove his sword through the Turk's chest. The infidel grasped palsiedly at the steel blade, then fell backward as Jeremiah withdrew his weapon.
Lights came on in fitful bursts as torches were lit. If the upper rooms of the old manor were considered paradisiacal by past sycophants of Cagliostro, then certainly this secret cellar appeared to Barnabas as the bowels of Hell. Gothic arched ceilings were festooned with ropy cobwebs, and ancient instruments of torture lay all about. Against one wall, arms cruelly lifted by shackles until his toes barely touched the floor, was Paul Barras. He looked pale in the torchlight, and blood was caked on one side of his head.
Barnabas and his party were surrounded by half a dozen men of all descriptions, each carrying a smoky torch and a pistol. He and Jeremiah placed the Countess de Beauharnais between them, and prepared for the worst.
"You may put away your weapons," came a smooth, commanding voice from the shadows. "You would be unable to bring down half my men before they would pepper you with shot. Let us reason together like gentlemen, instead."
The man who stepped out into the light did not at first impress the Americans. He was a rather stout fellow, and the crown of his head would have just touched Barnabas' chin. His deep-chested body was clothed in opulent fashion, a blue silk coat with braided seams, stockings with gold buttons, and shoes with jeweled buckles. It was his face, however, which arrested one's attention.
It was not a handsome face, as faces go, with gross features and distended nostrils, but it possessed a set of huge eyes that seemed to glow with a mystic fire against his brown skin. All the other items that Barnabas had seen before were present, the rings, and the key chain with all its jewels and gold. Upon the man's powdered wig was a broad musketeer's hat festooned with ostrich feathers.
"All we want is the release of Paul Barras, Monsieur Cagliostro," Jeremiah stated. "Then we shall go, and leave you in peace."
"Ah, you know me," the sorcerer acknowledged, doffing his hat with a flourish. "Know this also. I am set upon a course, and will not be pried from it. I was betrayed by France to the Inquisition, and now France shall be mine. Who are you, then, who attempts to beard me in my den. The Countess I know, but you two are unfamiliar."
"I am Jeremiah Collins, and this is my nephew, Barnabas," Jeremiah introduced. "We have come for our friend, and that is all we have come for, your politics and sorcery be damned."
"I have been damned by such worthies as the Pope himself, so your petty curse has little effect, Citizen Collins," Cagliostro chuckled. "France will pay with blood for what it has done to me. The humiliation of prison, and then execution, it is too much."
"You seemed to have survived," Barnabas pointed out, "including your execution."
"They used the coward's weapon," Cagliostro explained. "Poison. However, it merely sent me into a coma. Loyal retainers found my body and revived me. You shall not be so lucky. Since you destroyed my undead servant, you two will replace him. The Countess I may save for other purposes."
"Who are you that you think you can accomplish this madness?" Barnabas demanded.
"I am he who is," Cagliostro replied simply. "I was cast adrift at an early age, and made my living on the streets. I developed my knowledge from the infidel, and honed them in Austria, at the court of the Count St. Germain. He taught me the secrets of life and death. From such wizards as Horem-Ku, Apollonius, Paracelsus, and others, he learned of the elixir vitae, and of a way to animate the dead. All those about you are my servants, gleaned from the piles of dead accumulated by this reign of terror."
"Totally under your control?" Barnabas inquired.
"Absolutely," Cagliostro confirmed. "They will make no move without a word from me."
"That is interesting," Barnabas commented. "They cannot act without hearing your voice."
Barnabas then pulled out his pistol and, with one smooth movement, aimed and shot Cagliostro in the head. The silver ball flew true, but it struck the wizard high and was padded by his wig. Still, it knocked him flat. Seeing this result, Jeremiah used his pistols to dispatch all the walking corpses that surrounded them. Torches fell and the light dimmed as each one returned to being a corpse, but soon thundering boots were heard on the stairs, and a dozen French militia burst in, bayonets at the ready. Behind them was Napoleon Bonaparte.
As the soldiers spread out, he rushed forward to take Josephine's hand.
"My dear, are you hurt?" he asked her.
"No, mon general," she assured him. "However, had it not been for the quick thinking of these gentlemen, I might have been a pawn of Cagliostro's."
"They will get medals, I promise you," Napoleon told her. "How is the Director?"
"He is chained," Barnabas stated. "We are also well."
"Allez!" the general commanded his men. "Free our Director. Now, where is that scoundrel Cagliostro?"
"I shot him," Barnabas confessed. "He is lying —" But when Barnabas pointed, the spot he indicate was bare.
"Again, Cagliostro has cheated death," Bonaparte said. "He must have come to and escaped by a hidden exit. Well, I am sure we will lay him by the heels before long."
"I wish I could be so certain," Barnabas commented drily.
* * *
"Parting is indeed such sweet sorrow," Barnabas Collins said as he held Josephine de Beauharnais' hands by his carriage. Daylight made the previous night's terrors seem like a bad dream. "How I wish I could spend some further time in dalliance with you, Josephine."
"It would be pleasant," the lovely countess admitted, "but I have other obligations. You are strong and brave, but my destiny lies elsewhere."
"With General Bonaparte, I presume," he chided with regret.
"I do not think he will remain a general long," she revealed. "The cards say his star will soar."
"For your happiness, I pray that is so," Barnabas told her. "I envy him. I hope he realizes what he would have with you by his side."
"I should hope so, also. Well, my brave American, I am not sending you away empty-handed. Here is a letter of introduction to a friend of my father's, a Count Andre Dupres. He has considerable wealth and commerce in Martinique. I think you and he may come to a mutual agreement concerning shipping. Besides, he has a very beautiful daughter."
"I wonder if she could be your equal," stated Barnabas with admiration.
"Go there and find out," Josephine urged. "The cards say that love for you is coming very soon."
"On that prediction, I shall say farewell." Barnabas took her in his arms for a passionate kiss and had to resist the urge to bear her into the carriage and steal her away. He finally released her, and mounted the carriage to take his place across from Jeremiah. Josephine watched until the carriage rounded a corner, then turned away with pain on her beautiful face.
"If only I could tell him what else the cards said," she murmured, half-aloud. "Pain, and heartache, and death. Oh, Barnabas! What a fate. Take care, my brave American, take care."
Excerpt from a letter to Count Andre Dupres:
"And so, that is how I met Barnabas Collins. His uncle Jeremiah will be going back to America to report their progress, so you will not have the pleasure of meeting him. I think, though, that after meeting the one American, you will readily admit he is unique. There is, I think, only one Barnabas Collins."