By Craig Hamrick • Story by Dan "Marilyn" Ross
© 2004 Craig Hamrick. This text may not be reproduced in any way without the permission of its author.
Based on characters created by Dan Curtis for the TV show Dark Shadows.
Dark Shadows © Dan Curtis Productions
In the book series, Dan wanted to solve one of the TV show's greatest mysteries -- the parentage of heroine Victoria Winters -- and he outlined a story he intended to flesh out into a novel.
However, when actress Alexandra Moltke left Dark Shadows, Victoria was written out of the TV show. At that time, the editors of the book series asked Ross to write her out of the books as well-without solving the mysteries surrounding her heritage.
Twenty-five years later, Dan shared his original outline with me. With Dan's permission and input, I used the outline as the basis for a novella called "The Secret of Victoria Winters," which was first published in the fanzine "Victoria Winters" in 1993.
Victoria Winters stared through the window into the blackness of the night. An ominous silence hung over Collinwood, sending chills through the young woman's body. During the nearly three years she had lived in the 40-room mansion by the sea, occasional storms had been commonplace. However, the radio weather reports she had listened to during this balmy August day had predicted one of the harshest storms in recent history. It had been building for nearly a week, miles off the coast of Maine, churning like a witch's cauldron, preparing to unleash its fury on the tiny village of Collinsport.
Throughout the day, huge waves had come crashing onto the rocky beach near Collinwood, mere hints of what was to come. Matt Morgan, the handyman employed by the Collins family, had spent the entire day securing the house, closing the shutters over every window and nailing them shut. As Victoria looked out the window in the drawing room, Morgan's surly face was suddenly framed in one of the panes, startling her. She gasped and stepped back quickly before realizing who it was. Then just as suddenly as he had come into view, Morgan stepped back and slammed the shutters into place. The thudding sound of him nailing a board over the shutters to hold them into place echoed in the still night.
Victoria couldn't shake the feeling that she was being nailed inside a coffin, and a feeling of claustrophobia seized her. Earlier in the day, Vicki had visited the other large house on the estate, hoping to warn its occupant, Barnabas Collins, of the impending storm. The huge, stone mansion, referred to by the family as the Old House, was not electrified and had no modern conveniences such as a television or a radio, so Vicki was afraid that Barnabas might be caught unaware by the storm. Her daylight visit was cut short, however, by Barnabas' surly, mute manservant, Hare. From his crude gestures, Victoria had been able to surmise that Barnabas was not at home. She had tried to warn Hare of the approaching danger, but she was answered only with a stern nod and a slammed door. In the past when Vicki had tried to visit Barnabas and not found him at home during the day, he had usually returned to the estate by nightfall. Hoping this would again be the case, and wanting to escape the oppressive atmosphere of Collinwood, she quickly decided she would try to warn Barnabas again.
Vicki moved to the foyer and slipped on her raincoat. As she turned toward the ornately carved front door, a stern voice reprimanded her from the stairway behind her.
"Victoria, where on earth do you think you are going?" It was Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the mistress of Collinwood.
Vicki turned toward her employer meekly. "I'm worried about Barnabas and Hare," she said quietly. "The last radio report said we have at least another hour before the storm reaches us, so I thought I would go to the Old House."
"You most certainly will not! I won't hear of it," Elizabeth said in her most commanding tone. The manner of the matronly, raven-haired woman was at once both commanding and affectionate when she ordered Victoria. The tone stirred something inside of Vicki as it often had before, making her wonder if this elegant, refined woman might be her mother.
When Vicki had taken the job as governess to Elizabeth's nephew, David Collins, the young woman had cherished a dream that she might learn the truth someday of her parentage. In her wildest dreams, she imagined that Elizabeth might be her mother, forced for some reason to abandon Victoria in the Boston foundling home in which she was raised.
For fourteen years, $20 a month had been mailed to Victoria in envelopes bearing a Bangor, Maine, postmark. When she was 19 years old, Vicki received a surprising offer of a job from Elizabeth, a woman she had never even heard of. Because Elizabeth's home in Collinsport was only 50 miles from Bangor, Vicki had hoped the job offer might lead to a discovery about her past. However, as yet, everyone in the Collins family-including Elizabeth's heavy drinking, woman-chasing younger brother, Roger; and Elizabeth's pretty, blonde teenage daughter, Carolyn-claimed to have no knowledge of Victoria's parentage. After three years with no clues, the young orphan had nearly given up any hope that she would ever learn the truth. Yet, at times, like now, Elizabeth seemed to show an almost maternal concern for the family governess. And on several occasions she had seemed on the verge of confiding a deep secret to Victoria. For this reason, Vicki remained at the sometimes eerie mansion by the sea.
The house held some fond memories for Victoria, because in it she felt more secure and "at home" than she ever had at the foundling home. In Carolyn, Vicki had found a close friend. And David, though slow to accept her presence, had even begun to be friendly toward her.
But, unfortunately, less pleasant experiences had also filled her time at Collinwood. On her very first night at the estate, before she even stepped inside the house, Vicki's life had been in danger. Ernest Collins, Elizabeth and Roger's cousin, had rescued her before she plunged to certain death in an abandoned well near Collinwood. In the weeks that followed, as she adjusted to her new surroundings, Vicki was the victim of a series of mysterious attacks, but found herself staying at Collinwood because she was falling in love with Ernest, the lonely, handsome concert violinist. She learned the sad story of Ernest's past: His young, beautiful wife had been killed in a auto accident. However, eventually Vicki learned that this story was only partially true. Ernest's wife had been in an accident, but it left her horribly disfigured, not dead. And it was she who preyed on Victoria, threatening her life.
After the secret-which even Ernest had not known-was revealed, and the disfigured, insane woman died, Vicki had been free to love Ernest. Then, while Ernest was on a concert tour, Vicki had received the horrible news: Ernest had died in a plane crash in South America. Now, his ashes rested in a brass urn buried at the edge of the woods near Collinwood.
The days, then months and years following the news of Ernest's death had been hollow for Victoria. She tried to move on with her life, but found it difficult. Though time should have healed her wounds, it only made her miss and love the dead violinist more. For a short time, she had believed she might actually end up with a happy life, married and living in Ernest's beautiful yellow mansion near Collinwood, raising a family of her own. Then that dream, like her childhood fantasies of being reunited with her parents, was brutally snatched away from her. Ernest's death had left her empty and even more alone than she had been before meeting him.
Elizabeth spoke again, moving down the narrow staircase. "You may as well take off your raincoat, Vicki. You're not leaving."
"But, Mrs. Stoddard," Victoria protested, "Barnabas doesn't have a radio or television. He'll have no way of knowing how severe the approaching storm may be!"
"If he was away from the Old House when you were there earlier, surely he was somewhere more modern, near a radio or television," Elizabeth pointed out. "In fact, he may have decided to remain wherever he was."
Vicki had to admit this was probably true, although she couldn't help feeling that Hare wasn't telling the truth and that his master was inside the house.
"Besides," continued Elizabeth as she reached the bottom of the stairs and joined the younger woman in the foyer, "that house has been through worse storms than this one, I'll wager. It's been around even longer than Collinwood."
Once again, Vicki was forced to agree, so she removed her raincoat and followed Elizabeth into the drawing room. The two women sat in overstuffed chairs, staring into the air between them, listening intently to the silence outside, which they expected to burst any moment with the fury of a raging thunderstorm. Victoria felt as though they were facing something horrible, like a firing squad.
Besides Matt Morgan, the handyman, the two women were alone in the huge house. Over twenty years earlier, Elizabeth had abruptly released the small staff of servants who had then worked at Collinwood, and since that day she had not stepped outside of the mansion for even a moment. Victoria-and everyone in Collinsport-thought this was very odd, but no one was brave enough to question the dark, serious woman about her motives. At the same time, her husband, Paul Stoddard, had left Collinsport mysteriously, and talk in the village linked his abrupt disappearance with Elizabeth's strange actions. Over her years at Collinwood, Victoria had decided that Elizabeth had been so distraught over being left by her husband that the proud woman had vowed never to again venture outside of her home. With her considerable wealth, Elizabeth could have anything she desired delivered to her, which made this existence possible. Still, Victoria could not begin to imagine never feeling the sun on her face, or not occasionally standing barefoot on the sand near the house with waves gently lapping at her ankles. It made her sad to realize Elizabeth would probably live the rest of her life without such simple pleasures.
Roger Collins was still at his office in Collinsport, and the mansion's other usual occupants, David and Carolyn, were away on a brief vacation in Washington, D.C. Vicki was glad they were safely inland during the storm, and now wished she was with them. When Carolyn was planning the trip, Vicki had considered joining them, but she had chosen to remain behind and enjoy the short break from young David. When Victoria had first arrived at Collinwood, David had tormented her daily with cruel pranks designed to drive her away. After a short time, however, she was able to persuade the sometimes-devilish 9-year-old that she was not leaving no matter what he did to her. Then, the dead rats and other things he had dreamed up stopped appearing in her room. He still had not reached a point where he seemed to enjoy the lessons Victoria shared with him, but he was exceptionally intelligent, which made teaching him both challenging and satisfying. She felt an empathy for the youngster, because like her, he was an orphan of sorts. Although he knew who his parents where, they were distant from him - either in actual space or emotionally. When David was an infant, his mother, Laura, had deserted her small family. Then, Roger moved from their home in Augusta, Maine, returning to Collinwood so his sister, Elizabeth, could help raise his difficult-to-manage son. A seemingly endless stream of governess had preceded Victoria, adding to the turmoil in David's life. But she had lasted longer than any of them, and he seemed to be starting to believe that Victoria was going to remain as a steady influence in his life. This had done wonders to calm him, but in recent weeks he had shown signs of returning to his previous restlessness and unruly behavior. For this reason, Victoria had suggested to Roger that a short break from his studies would be a good idea, and he had agreed to finance a trip to Washington for Carolyn and David. Roger would not have allowed his young son to actually take a full break from learning, but because Carolyn agreed to escort him to the many museums in the U.S. capital, this trip was permitted.
The absence of the two lively young people left Collinwood even more oppressive than it was when they were there. And now, with all sunlight and fresh air shut out, the house had an unnatural atmosphere. It was dark and gloomy on the best of days, and today it was quite eerie.
A loud crashing noise in the foyer made Vicki think for an instant that the storm had begun. Then she realized it was simply the heavy front door slamming shut. Footsteps echoed in the ominously silent hallway outside the drawing room. Vicki held her breath with anticipation. Then, abruptly, the dark wood double doors were thrust open and Roger, Elizabeth's regal-looking younger brother, stood framed in the doorway.
A nervous laugh escaped Victoria. "Oh, Roger," she said with the hint of a smile, "it's only you!"
"Well, that's a fine welcome," he said disgustedly, crossing the room headed toward the sideboard and the bottle of sherry stationed there. "Who did you think it was, the Phantom Mariner?"
His casual mention of one of the many ghosts long rumored to haunt the estate did nothing to calm Victoria. She studied her hands, which were resting on her lap. "It's just such a wicked night. I suppose my nerves are a bit on edge."
Elizabeth stood and moved across the room to stand by her brother's side. "Must you start so early tonight, Roger?" she asked, vainly reaching toward the crystal decanter he was tilting over a glass. "We may all need to keep our senses about us before this evening is over."
Roger pushed her hand away and continued filling the heavy glass. "If we're in for a storm, I need it more than ever," he said, his voice reflecting a joviality that wasn't within him. For the past several evenings, Victoria had noticed that he was visiting the sherry bottle earlier than usual. The previous night she had asked him if everything was alright. In a rare moment of candor, he told the young governess that he felt a strange foreboding -- a feeling that something was going to return from his past. When Victoria pressed for more details, the familiar vail of distance had returned to Roger's manner. Now she wondered if he was again haunted with the uneasy anticipation, but she knew it would be futile to ask.
"Why are you so late this evening, Roger?" Elizabeth continued to push at her brother.
"I had to oversee the securing of our fishing fleet, dear sister," he said, his tone slightly mocking. "All of the boats are safely moored, and the crew members are home with their wives. There will be no lookout group on Widow's Hill during this storm."
He took a long gulp of sherry. Almost immediately he refilled the portion of the glass he had emptied. Then he moved to the couch, across from Victoria.
The vigil process to which he referred was part of the tradition of the small, coastal town. When storm-tossed seas buffeted the coast and fishing ships were out, the wives of the boats' crews stood watch on the high cliff overlooking the sea near Collinwood, waiting for their husbands to return. Over more than 200 years, the town had weathered a countless number of storms. Many women had learned they were widows on that hill, as they watched their husbands' ships shatter on the rough rocks below. On some dark, shadowed nights, Victoria imagined she could hear the widows' mournful cries carried through time somehow. Even now, in modern times, if the Collins Fishing Fleet had boats out in rough weather, wives would station themselves on the hill, watching for their loved ones to return. However, during the three years Vicki had observed the process from the drawing room window, none of the wives had become widows.
Elizabeth returned to her chair, and the three of them sat in silence.
Suddenly, the storm exploded over the house. Thunder struck over and over, sounding like cannons fired inside the mansion. Lighting was visible through the small crack between the shutters covering the drawing room window, and rain splashed against the house in forceful sheets.
Victoria had hoped she would feel less nervous once the long-anticipated storm had started, but now she found herself even more anxious than before. She could tell its fury was going to be greater than anyone had imagined. The temperature within the house seemed to drop 20 degrees during the first moments of the storm, prompting Vicki to stand and move across the room to retrieve her sweater from the back of the desk chair where she had left it earlier in the day.
Behind her, Victoria heard Elizabeth speak, but the older woman's words were drowned out in a deafening clap of thunder. As Vicki turned toward her employer, she was startled to hear yet another explosive noise as a huge oak tree came crashing through the shuttered window near her. She screamed and moved away from the window, toward Roger and Elizabeth. With it, the downed tree brought the storm's fury into the house. Wind howled through the room, carrying torrents of water with it. The carpet beneath Vicki's feet was almost immediately water-logged. She continued backing up until she bumped into Roger, who, along with his sister, had also risen. He grabbed Victoria roughly about the shoulders, dragging the disoriented young woman from the room and into the foyer. There, side by side, he and Elizabeth struggled against the wind to close the double doors of the drawing room while a dazed Victoria watched. Finally they prevailed and the three were separated from the storm again.
"I'm going to find Matt Morgan," Roger said over his shoulder as he left the women alone in the foyer. "We've got to move quickly or the furniture and paintings in that room will be destroyed!''
Roger's family pride and desire to preserve the historical items in the great house were his two most admirable traits. Vicki watched him disappear through the hallway door which led to the rest of the house. She turned toward Elizabeth, but before she could speak there was another harsh crash of thunder and they were plunged into darkness.
"The electricity has been knocked out!" Elizabeth said, panic rising in her voice. "I had feared this might happen, so I made sure there were candles in the drawing room. Who could have known that room would be lost to us?"
Vicki was about to offer words of encouragement when something crashed against the front door. The house seemed to be coming apart, buffeted from all sides by the relentless storm. Then, the thudding on the door was repeated, this time in a discernible pattern. Someone was actually outside the house in the full fury of the storm! As she raced toward the locked door, Vicki quickly considered who could be there. Her heart leapt as she realized it could be her trusted friend, Barnabas, who might have been trying to reach the main house when the storm hit. Or, she thought, perhaps earlier they had wrongly assumed that handyman Morgan had made it inside.
She called over her shoulder, "Mrs. Stoddard, help me! We've got to open the door, but I don't know if I can close it again without your help."
"Open the door! Are you mad? Why would we open the door?" Elizabeth protested.
"Because someone is out there knocking!" Vicki spoke to the darkness, aiming her words at the spot in which she had last heard Elizabeth's voice.
When Elizabeth spoke again, she was at Victoria's side, at the door. "You're mistaken. It was another tree, crashing against the door. Now come away, we should--"
Then the rhythmic knocking was repeated.
"Did you hear it this time?" Vicki asked, her voice rising.
"Yes. Yes, you're right."
The two women leaned against the door to keep it from flying open as Vicki opened it. But the wind was more powerful than their combined strength, and they were both propelled backward as the door swung fully into the foyer.
Frigid, needle-sharp drops of rain pelted Victoria as she stared into the dark void where the door had been. Lightning illuminated the night, and the narrow doorway was lit up. Vicki could make out the silhouette of a man standing there, but she was certain it was neither Barnabas nor Matt. The mysterious figure moved into the foyer and struggled with the door, finally pushing it shut.
"Who's there?" Elizabeth asked harshly. "Who are you?''
As if in answer, the lights snapped back on as suddenly as they had been extinguished. Vicki screamed as she recognized the man. She was terrified, realizing she had finally come face-to-face with a ghost at Collinwood--the ghost of a man she had known. As she fell backwards in a faint, she spoke his name: "Ernest!"
The first thing Victoria noticed was the silence. Her most recent memory was of the deafening roar of the storm raging around Collinwood, but as she awakened, she realized that the storm must have subsided. A shade--outlined with sunlight--covered her window, so Vicki realized many hours had passed since she collapsed in the foyer.
Suddenly Victoria remembered what had caused her to faint. For a moment, at the height of the storm, she had thought that she saw Ernest, her dead fiance, standing at the front door of Collinwood. Now, in the calm light of day, she knew that she had to have been mistaken. Ernest had died in a plane crash and his ashes were buried near Collinwood. Frightened by the storm, she must have imagined that Ernest had returned to protect her. But now she realized his appearance had been a dream, and the time had come to face reality: She was an orphan--a woman without a past, alone in the world.
As Victoria glanced around the shrouded room, she realized that a dark figure was seated near her bed. For a moment, her heart leapt as she allowed herself to hope that it might actually be Ernest somehow miraculously returned from the dead. But when the figure spoke, Victoria realized it was Elizabeth.
"You're finally awake," Elizabeth exclaimed leaning toward the bed. "What a relief!"
"How long..." when Victoria tried to form a sentence, the words echoed inside her head and she felt a dull, throbbing sensation behind her eyes.
"You have been unconscious for nearly 12 hours." Elizabeth stood and walked to the window. She raised the blind and an overwhelming burst of sunlight flooded the room making the yellow walls glow and causing Victoria to squint. "You struck your head when you fell in the foyer. Dr. Reeves was here to look after you. He didn't think it was serious, but it is certainly a relief to see you awake."
Slowly, Vicki sat up in bed and her headache began to subside. "The storm is over," she said softly. "Everything must be back to normal."
Elizabeth nodded. "The hurricane has ended...but I would have to say that things will never quite be the same."
Victoria remembered the heavy oak tree crashing through the drawing room window and the sheets of icy rain pelting the antique furniture and oil paintings. "Oh, my," she whispered. "Was Collinwood badly damaged?"
"The structure can be repaired, and the furnishings can be replaced, but..." Elizabeth paused.
In spite of the seriousness of the situation, Victoria smiled to herself. The matron of Collinwood was sometimes prone to melodramatics--using large words and making dramatic turns as if she were on a Broadway stage. It had often made Vicki's stay at the ancient mansion more interesting. "What is it, Mrs. Stoddard?"
Elizabeth returned to her seat and held Victoria's hand in hers. "My dear, do you remember that someone came to the door shortly before you fell last night?"
"Yes." A frown crossed Victoria's pretty face. "For a moment, in the darkness, it looked like Ernest's ghost. But I know it couldn't have been..."
Elizabeth squeezed the girl's hand. "I'm not sure how to explain this to you when I don't quite understand it myself." She took a deep breath before continuing. "Ernest did return last night. But not in the form of a ghost. He is just as alive as you and I."
The throbbing pain returned to Vicki's head and she felt as though she might again loose consciousness. "What... what are you saying? Ernest is dead! I've come to accept that. It took me a very long time, but..."
"There's something else you must try hard to accept now, my dear. Ernest was not killed in that plane crash. He has been alive all of this time, and now he has come back to Collinwood to explain."
Conflicting emotions raged through the young woman. The only man she had ever loved was alive! And yet, for some reason, he had allowed Victoria to believe he was dead. She remembered the painful months of mourning, realizing now it had all been pointless. At a moment when she should have been overjoyed that Ernest was alive, she felt anger building within her. "How could he have done this to me?" she asked Elizabeth.
"As soon as you are ready, he can tell you himself," the older woman said. "It is an amazing story."
Victoria tried to swallow, but suddenly she felt like her mouth and throat were full of sand. "I...I'm as ready as I'll ever be..."
"I'll send him in." Elizabeth released Vicki's hand and left the room.
A few moments later there was a knock at the door. Vicki's voiced trembled when she answered. "Come in, Ernest." It felt strange to speak his name after such a long time.
The door swung open and even though she'd had a few moments to prepare herself, Vicki was once again startled to see Ernest. His handsome face looked familiar, yet something in it had changed. When Vicki had first met him, Ernest was a mourning widower and sadness had seemed permanently etched in his features. But as Vicki and Ernest had grown closer, he had begun to smile often and his face took on a gentleness that never failed to charm her. Now, once again a hardness seemed to have settled over him.
He wore a dark suit and a somber brown tie, and in his hand was his violin case. His dark hair was cropped shorter than Vicki remembered it, and he had grown a mustache. Silently, he walked into the room and Vicki noticed that even the way he moved seemed different; once he had carried himself with grace and self-assurance, but now he took short, halting steps and he slouched forward slightly. He paused behind the bed-side chair and seemed unsure whether he should proceed to Vicki's side.
After a moment of hesitation, he sat in the chair and placed the violin case on the floor.
"I... I'm just not sure where to begin." Ernest nervously fumbled with his tie for a moment then placed his folded hands in his lap.
The sound of Ernest's voice stirred old feelings of love and loss within Vicki's heart and for a moment she thought she might cry. However, she held her emotions inside and stared expectantly into Ernest's deep brown eyes. She reached out her hand and he tentatively cradled it in his. "Whatever you have to say, I promise I'll try to understand it," she said.
"Well, obviously I wasn't killed in the plane crash as you were told." He grinned sheepishly.
Victoria smiled softly and nodded. "Obviously."
"The plane did crash," he continued, "and everyone else on board was killed. Somehow, miraculously, I was spared."
"Then whose remains were sent to be buried?" Vicki asked.
"At the last moment, before the plane crashed, someone had rushed on board--a friend of the pilot's, I believe. So my guess is that when the bodies were counted, no one knew about the late arrival, so they thought everyone was accounted for. And the bodies were all so badly burned there was no way to identify anyone. The ashes sent back to Collinsport must have been the remains of the man who rushed on board."
Victoria tried to sit up farther in her bed, but her headache intensified so she lay still. "But, why didn't you call us? Why didn't you come back to Collinwood? How could you let us believe you were dead?"
Ernest scowled. "This is the part that's a little hard to believe," he confessed. "I know this sounds like something out of a soap opera, but I had amnesia! Until just two days ago, I didn't know who I was! When I looked in the mirror, I saw a stranger."
Victoria's heart leapt in her chest. She wanted so much to forgive Ernest and have him back in her life that she could believe almost any story. "How incredible!" she exclaimed. "Where have you been all this time?"
"At first, for nearly a week, I wandered through the jungle where the plane crashed. Then, I found a small village and the inhabitants called for a doctor-a man named Eric Lange. He's a medical doctor, but he was in South America on an archeological dig. He treated my injuries. Then, because I didn't know who I was or where I belonged, he was compassionate enough to let me work for him."
"You said you only recently remembered who you were?" she asked.
"Yes," Ernest replied excitedly. "Ironically, Dr. Lange and I moved to Bangor to work on a special research project. Of course I had been there before, so some memories started to stir within me. Then, suddenly two days ago, a melody began to haunt my mind. I couldn't get it out of my head. Dr. Lange is an amateur violinist, so he had a violin in his office. I picked it up and started playing. Then, in an instant, everything came back. I remembered Collinwood, you, my home--everything."
Vicki smiled. "What was the melody that haunted you?"
Ernest opened the violin case at his feet and extracted the instrument. Gently, as if he was handling a fragile, living creature, he placed the violin beneath his chin. "It was a piece I had composed in your honor before the accident," he said. "I was planning to return here to play it for you."
He picked up his bow, closed his eyes and slowly began playing the strains of a lovely tune. As its notes danced through the air in Vicki's room, Ernest's face reflected the love and passion he felt for Victoria.
After a few minutes the melody ended. Vicki felt tears streaming down her face because she was overwhelmed that something so beautiful had been composed with her in mind.
Ernest put the violin and bow away. He leaned toward Vicki and gently took her hand. "Darling, I love you. Even when I didn't know who I was, I somehow knew there was someone waiting somewhere for me."
He paused and took a deep breath. Then he continued. "When I wrote that piece of music, it was supposed to be the way I was going to propose to you. Now, after quite a delay, I was finally able to play it for you."
Vicki turned away. "Oh Ernest," she said sadly.
Ernest frowned. "Vicki! I'm asking you to marry me! Why do you seem so unhappy?"
"I know what you're asking me, Ernest," she said. "The problem is I can't marry you. I can't marry anyone."
Victoria was alone in her bedroom when she heard a soft knock at the door. "Yes?" she called out with as much enthusiasm as she could muster.
The door swung open and Carolyn peered tentatively into the room. "Vicki? May I come in?" she asked quietly.
Vicki sat up on the bed. "Of course you may. In fact, I could really use the company. I need someone to talk to."
Carolyn entered the room and pulled a chair closer to the bed. She was wearing a bright yellow, sleeveless mini dress very much like the one Victoria had on. The girls' taste in clothing was very similar, and sometimes it startled each of them to see how alike they had dressed without pre-planning. "I guess you had quite a time these past few days. Just leave it to me to be away from Collinwood one of the few times something exciting was happening!"
"I'd hardly call it exciting, Carolyn," Vicki said with a trace of sadness in her voice. "The storm was terrifying, and then..."
"The man you love practically came back from the dead! I'd call that exciting," Carolyn said dreamily. "It's so romantic, Ernest fighting for his life in the wilderness, struggling with amnesia, then finding his way back to you. I don't think anyone will ever love me that much."
"You do make it sound fantastic," Vicki admitted. "And of course I'm thankful that Ernest has returned, but.... It's all so eerie. When I saw him again, I was sure he was a ghost. And I still can't quite shake that feeling.''
Carolyn stood and walked to the window. Gazing out at the sea she said, "Is that why you've refused to marry him?"
Vicki followed her friend to the window. "No. It's just all so complicated. I can't marry Ernest, or anyone else, until I know who I am. And, Carolyn, I've made another decision, and I want you to be the first to know.''
The young blonde turned toward Victoria. "You make it sound quite serious. "
"It is." Vicki looked at the floor to avoid Carolyn's gaze. "I've decided to leave Collinwood. When I came here, I was certain there was some link between my past and your family, but now I'm not so sure. And somehow, I've got to find out who I am. I can't go on as a girl with no real past. You can't imagine how that feels."
Carolyn touched Vicki's shoulders and the young women locked eyes. "No, you're right, I'll never know that, but I do know that you're making a horrible mistake. You and Ernest love each other, and if you run away from him you'll never find happiness, no matter where you go."
"It's no use, Carolyn. I've made up my mind. I'm leaving Collinwood tomorrow!" Hot tears stung Vicki's eyes as she realized the gravity of her decision.
From the doorway, Elizabeth's stern voice interrupted the girls' conversation. "Vicki, if it's your past you are in search of, then you mustn't leave Collinwood. All of the answers you seek are right here."
Though startled, Vicki quickly spun to face the older woman. "What are you saying, Mrs. Stoddard? You do know who my parents are, don't you? You've known all along!"
Elizabeth sighed wearily. "Yes, Vicki, I have. But I thought it was best if you didn't know the truth. It may be more painful than you've imagined. ''
Carolyn spoke up: "Mother, don't tease us. If you know, you've got to tell Vicki! If you don't, she may really leave us forever."
"Come with me, girls. I have something to show you both."
The two young women silently followed Elizabeth to the stairway and down to the drawing room. Victoria's heart was beating so rapidly she thought it might pound its way out of her chest. A cold sweat covered her brow and made her palms moist. Finally, after 21 years of uncertainty, she was about to learn the secrets of her past! She couldn't believe it was actually happening. A nauseating mixture of emotions churned within her. She was elated to be so near the truth and at the same time angry with Elizabeth for keeping the details of her life a secret. She still hoped that she was about to find out Elizabeth was her mother, that Carolyn was her sister, and that Collinwood was her rightful home. But Elizabeth's words echoed through her mind: "It may be more painful than you've imagined."
The three women entered the damaged drawing room and Elizabeth motioned for the others to seat themselves on the couch. Matt Morgan had stretched clear plastic over the gaping hole where a window stood before the storm, and the tree and broken glass had been removed. The plastic was pushed and pulled by the strong breeze, resembling a rising and falling stomach filled with breath. It made the room seem strangely alive, giving Vicki an eerie sensation.
Elizabeth moved past the undulating plastic and turned a wall-mounted candelabra, twisting it to the right. When she did this, a square wooden panel in the wall swung back to reveal a dark hole. She reached into the secret compartment and pulled out a thin, leather-bound, black book and carried it with her to a seat facing the younger women. She placed the book flat on her lap and took a deep breath. Vicki couldn't take her eyes off the book. Could it hold the secret she had so long yearned to know? And it had been so close to her for nearly three years. Anger again welled inside her.
Elizabeth tried to muster a smile, but couldn't. The story she had to tell Vicki was one fraught with tragedy and sadness and she wished she didn't have to share it with the young woman. However, she realized the time had come for her to fulfill a decades-old promise.
"Vicki, I know you have suspected that I might be your mother," Elizabeth began, measuring her words carefully. It was a speech she had practiced in her mind for the past three years since finally finding Victoria. "And I can't tell you how proud I would be if that were true. You are a fine young woman, and I wish I could tell you that you are a Collins." She paused dramatically. "Unfortunately, that is not the case."
"Mother, you're making this unbearable," Carolyn cried out impatiently. "Just tell us!"
Vicki moved her eyes from the leather book to meet Elizabeth's strong gaze. "Yes. Please..."
"Alright. I'm sorry. It's just that..."
"Mother!" Carolyn shouted again.
"Alright! Vicki, your mother's name was Rose Barlow. She was my dearest friend in all the world."
Elizabeth handed Victoria the leather book before continuing. Vicki quickly opened it and discovered it was a photo album. The first page contained a picture she would have sworn was of her, except it was obviously from another time period. It was a black-and-white image of two young women -- Elizabeth and another, whom Vicki assumed was Rose Barlow -- her mother. How strange that word seemed to her now that she could associate a name and a face with it. She wore a light-colored, calf-length dress with a matching jacket, and her hair was long and dark, like Vicki's, but it was swept up into a style fashionable in the 1940s. Elizabeth's hairstyle and dress were similar to Rose's, and the two brightly smiling young women were standing on a porch with the ocean visible in the background.
Immediately, Victoria thought she recognized the porch in the photograph, but before she could speak, Carolyn put her suspicion into words. "That's Cousin Ernest's house, isn't it?"
Elizabeth nodded. "Yes. That's the house Rose grew up in with her parents. It's where you were born, Victoria, and where you spent your first year, with your mother and her father."
Victoria couldn't stop looking at the photograph, but she finally spoke. "Her father? What about my father?"
Elizabeth sighed. "I'm afraid that's one of the sad elements of the story, Victoria. Your father's name was Nathan Moore."
Vicki looked up. "He and my mother had different last names?"
Elizabeth glanced away. "Yes. They ... weren't married. I know very little about your father. I never even met him. All I really know is that he was a patient of your grandfather's. Dr. Barlow treated patients for a rare blood disease. One at a time, they would stay in his home while they were being cured. In fact, Rose once confided that quite often the patients used assumed names, to avoid the stigma attached to their illness. So, I suppose it is quite possible 'Nathan Moore' wasn't even your father's real name.... At any rate, Nathan, or whatever his name may have been, was staying at the house, and of course that's where he met your mother.''
"So, I was the product of a casual affair that my mother had with a sick man....'' Vicki sounded dejected. It was all so far from what she had envisioned over the years.
"No, Victoria, it was nothing like that. Rose and Nathan were truly in love. Nathan had been cured, and they were planning to be married. Then his illness returned, and he left Collinsport suddenly -- without a trace. He left a note for Rose, saying that he didn't want to force her to suffer along with him, or to stay with him out of pity.''
"Rose must have been very unhappy,'' Carolyn said.
"Of course, at first she was devastated at loosing the man she loved,'' Elizabeth nodded. "But then she discovered that she was pregnant. And even though, in those days, it was scandalous to have a baby out of wedlock, Rose was happy she was going to have part of Nathan with her for the rest of her life. Of course, she stayed inside her house during the latter months of pregnancy, and then when you were born, Victoria, she gave you a fictitious last name so no one in the village would realize you were hers. She chose Winters because that was when you were born. And no one in the village suspected. She had been such a innocent young girl that everyone believed her claim that you were the daughter of two of Dr. Barlow's patients.''
"Then why did she put me up for adoption?''
"She didn't, Victoria," Elizabeth said, emotion rising in her voice. ''She would never have given you up! She died of a vicious pneumonia attack, shortly after your grandfather died. With Nathan gone, you were truly an orphan."
Carolyn spoke up again. "Then why didn't you adopt Vicki? Why couldn't she have lived at Collinwood?"
"That was the plan. On her deathbed, I promised Rose I would look after Victoria. But on the day of Rose's funeral, Vicki was kidnapped."
"Kidnapped! This story is beginning to sound more like a soap opera than Ernest's tale," Vicki said.
"I know it sounds rather fantastic, but it is the truth," Elizabeth insisted. "An old Gypsy woman named Magda had lived with Rose and her father for many years. And on the day of the funeral she took you with her and left. She left a note saying you would be happier far from Collinwood -- and that you would be safer if Nathan could never find you."
Victoria stared at Rose's photograph in her lap, asking her long-dead mother the same question she now put to Elizabeth. "But why would I be safer kept away from my father?"
"No one ever quite understood that,'' Elizabeth admitted. "We speculated that the Gypsy's superstition made her want to keep you away from your father's illness, however we just didn't know for certain."
There were still missing pieces from the puzzle of Victoria's life. The questions were racing through her mind, and she released them rapidly at Elizabeth. "Why did I end up at the foundling home, then? And who sent the money for me each month? And how did you find me?"
"My dear, there are so many things that I can only guess about," Elizabeth said soothingly. "Over the years, I have thought about this many times. I remember a conversation I had with Magda when I was just a girl. She was totally alone -- she had no relatives. I asked her about that, and she told me that she lived under a curse. She said that anyone she loved would die. Of course, I don't really believe in curses, but perhaps she did. And perhaps she was afraid if she took care of you, she would come to love you and that then you would die. My theory is that she left you at the foundling home and sent money every month from a distance until she died. She was quite old when you were born. To me, it all adds up. ''
Victoria's mind was whirling. "Yes, I suppose it does. But..."
Carolyn interrupted. "You still haven't told us how you found Vicki."
Elizabeth nodded. "Yes, of course. For years, I searched for you, Victoria. I wanted desperately to fulfill my promise to Rose. I hired several different private investigators, but none of them had any luck. You and Magda had simply vanished. And so finally, after nearly 20 years, I gave up."
"But you did finally find her," Carolyn protested.
Elizabeth smiled. "Yes, I did. And it was quite by accident. Ernest was on tour, playing his violin in concert, in Boston when he got lost while taking a walk. He wandered into the foundling home where Victoria was teaching. Although he and Vicki didn't meet, he saw her working with a disturbed child there, and he asked her name. When he returned, he told me the name, because he knew I was searching for a tutor for David. I was stunned that after all that time I might have found her. But I still wasn't certain. So I offered her the job, and she came here." Elizabeth turned toward Victoria. "From the moment I saw you, I knew you were Rose's daughter." She pointed at the picture Vicki was holding. "As you can see, the resemblance is striking."
"Yes, it certainly is," Vicki whispered. She turned the pages in the photo album, and for the next two hours, Elizabeth led Vicki and Carolyn through the book she had saved for two decades. She told the young women dozens of amusing stories about her friendship with Rose, through childhood and adolescence.
Finally, Elizabeth stood. "There are many, many more stories I can tell you about your mother, Victoria. But we have a very long time for that. Because, you will be staying now won't you?"
"I...I don't know. This is all so shocking. This morning when I woke up I was an orphan, with no knowledge about my past. And now...I still have so many questions," Vicki rose and stood in front of Elizabeth. "And you haven't told me why you kept this a secret for so many years after you found me."
Elizabeth sighed wearily again, and sat back down. "Perhaps it was wrong of me, but I was not sure how you would react. I though perhaps it was best if you didn't know the full truth. Even today, although some women are having children without being married, it is far from respectable. And your father's desertion... and the kidnapping.... I just couldn't tell you. But then today, when you said you were leaving, I knew the time had finally come for both of us to face the ghosts of your past."
The three women walked out of the drawing room together, emotionally exhausted by all they had discussed. After they had left the room, another feminine presence stirred and moved from the shadows. In a voice as soft as the wind, the ghost of Rose Barlow spoke words her friend Elizabeth would never hear. "Thank you, dear friend. You told the story just as I planned it --just as completely as you know it. My darling Victoria knows all she needs to know now. But there is so much more...."
Victoria crossed the lawn and then stood staring at the huge, empty yellow house. Elizabeth had given her the key, but she was still unsure if she should enter the house that she had just discovered was her birthplace. There were so many questions racing through her mind, and from the limited amount of information Elizabeth had given her, Vicki realized she would probably never know all of the facts surrounding her birth. It was almost enough that she finally knew her parents' names. Yet she still wanted to know more about them, and now she longed to enter the home where her mother had grown into womanhood. But a cold, quivering feeling deep inside held her back. She wasn't sure if she was ready. Once she had dreamed that she and Ernest would live out their lives in the house, but now that she knew of the tragedies involving her family which had happened there, she didn't think that would ever be possible. For the years that she had thought Ernest was dead, the house stood as a silent, lonely monument to her grief. Now that he had returned she felt an odd mixture of emotions. She knew that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him, however first she had to face her newly discovered past.
Vicki was startled to feel a hand on her shoulder. She turned quickly and discovered Barnabas Collins standing behind her. "Oh my," she gasped. "You scared me. I wasn't expecting to see anyone here."
Barnabas regarded the beautiful young woman warmly. He felt very comfortable in her presence and was glad she had become his trusted friend during his visits to Collinwood. From their very first meeting in the foyer of the great house, he had felt that she was very much like him -- lost in a world of strangers -- and he felt a kinship to her.
Vicki was equally fond of Barnabas. In Collinsport, she had heard odd rumors about the aristocratic man, but her friendship had remained steadfast. The gossip centered on Barnabas' unusual habit of keeping himself secluded at the Old House during the day. Some superstitious villagers had labeled him a vampire, but when Vicki had asked her friend about the rumors, he had simply laughed and reminded Victoria that he stayed indoors during the day because that was when he preferred to work on the extensive Collins family history which he was writing. This was explanation enough for the young governess.
Now, standing in the growing darkness, Vicki quickly told Barnabas the amazing news about Ernest's return, however for a moment she didn't tell him why she was at the yellow mansion.
"There's something I need to do here," she said. "I would feel better to have some company. Would you come with me?''
"Of course." Barnabas took the key from Victoria and used it to open the door. "After you."
With Barnabas' help, the young woman proceeded to the attic, where Elizabeth had told her she would find a special memento. Without telling her friend what she was looking for, Vicki scanned the room, then noticed a stack of paintings. She looked through them and found it: a beautifully rendered portrait of Rose, with an infant on her lap.
She leaned it against the wall and Barnabas regarded it with her. Her eyes never left the painting. "Barnabas, this is my mother. This is a picture of my mother, and of me." Vicki stared at the painting and tears began to stream down her cheeks. "She was really very beautiful wasn't she?" she asked Barnabas.
"Yes," he said softly, "she was..."
Finally, Vicki turned away from the portrait of her mother and faced Barnabas. "There's something I need to tell you."
"What is it?" he asked.
"I've decided to marry Ernest," she said softly, averting her gaze from his. "I guess I really never stopped loving him. I could never really believe that he was gone."
Barnabas could barely conceal his feelings of happiness. More than anything he wanted Victoria to have a full, happy life. He quickly took her hand. "Victoria, I could not be happier for you! You and Ernest belong together. You both belong in this house. And it would honor the rest of the family for you to take the name Collins."
Victoria hugged Barnabas, then stepped back. "I have a favor to ask of you," she began. "You've been such a good friend to me..."
Late the next afternoon, Victoria stood in her bedroom before a tall mirror. Elizabeth and Carolyn stood on either side of her, helping make adjustments to the elegant lace wedding gown she wore. Vicki looked approvingly at the dress's reflection. After such a long delay, she and Ernest decided they could not bear to wait even another day before becoming man and wife, and with such short notice she had no opportunity to purchase a suitable wedding dress. Barnabas had made a wonderful suggestion: She should wear the wedding gown of Josette Collins, which had been preserved in a trunk at the Old House for over 150 years. At first Vicki had resisted, imagining that the gown would smell musty or would be wrinkled beyond repair, or be ridiculously outdated. But as soon as Barnabas showed it to her, she felt as if she had been born to wear it. Its high bodice and delicate white veil did seem to belong to a different time period, but so did so many other things at Collinwood, and Victoria felt that the dress was a perfect outfit for a wedding held there.
The exact time and place of Vicki and Ernest's wedding had also been suggested by Barnabas. Since the two had met under rather unusual circumstances on the front lawn of Collinwood, at night, Barnabas said he thought it would be romantic if they were married in practically the same spot and at dusk. Vicki agreed. It was a spot on which Ernest had literally saved her life, and now it was the ideal place for them to begin their new life together. The well which Victoria had nearly fallen into that night had long ago been covered over, and now the minister would stand on that cover, slightly elevated from the crowd, to conduct the ceremony.
"I'll bet you are absolutely the most beautiful and happiest bride Collinwood has ever seen," Carolyn said with a smile. Then she turned toward Elizabeth and laughed softly. "Well, maybe she ties with you, Mother."
Elizabeth's face shadowed for just a moment. "I'm sure she'll be a happier bride than I ever was..." she said. "Ernest will make a wonderful husband."
Vicki smiled. "Yes, I really think he will."
When the three women were satisfied with the appearance of the wedding gown and veil -- as well as Vicki's hair and makeup, Elizabeth pulled a slender black box from the pocket of her dark blue dress. "I have something for you, Victoria," she said.
Vicki blushed. "Oh, Mrs. Stoddard, you've done so much for me already. You shouldn't give me anything else!"
"Actually, it's not really from me," she said. "It's from .... your mother."
Victoria felt her stomach leap when the older woman used to phrase "your mother." She still hadn't gotten used to it. As she watched intently, Elizabeth opened the box and withdrew the gold chain and locket that Rose had given her in that very room over 20 years earlier. Without another word she moved behind Victoria and fastened the necklace around the young woman's neck.
"Rose made me promise to give you this locket on the day you married," Elizabeth said. "I've kept that promise, just as I tried to keep the promise to watch over you."
Victoria touched the locket softly and spoke to her mother's dearest friend: "Mrs. Stoddard, you did everything you could to find me, and when you did, you brought me here. What else could you have done? I'm sure my mother would be very grateful, and so am I!" She stepped toward Elizabeth and embraced her. Then she hugged Carolyn and the two Stoddard women left Vicki to spend the last moments before the ceremony alone, thinking about her future.
In just a few minutes, Victoria was stirred from her thoughts by a knock at the door. She moved slowly across the room. She had practically moved in slow motion the entire day, wanting to make it last and wanting to savor its every moment. She opened the door. Barnabas looked in from the hallway and gasped when he saw Victoria in Josette's wedding gown. For a moment he was too overcome with emotion to speak. Then he said simply, "My dear, are you ready?"
Victoria glanced about her bedroom for one last time. The past three years that she had lived at Collinwood she had truly found herself, and now she was leaving to begin a new life with the man she loved. Victoria turned her attention to Barnabas, who appeared quite dapper in his tuxedo. "You look marvelous," she said with a warm smile.
"I look like a peasant compared to your beauty," he said, offering his arm to the young woman and repeating his earlier question: "Are you ready?"
"Oh, yes!" Victoria said, placing her arm in his.
Together, Barnabas and Victoria moved down the hallway, then to Collinwood's main stairway, which was gaily decorated with yellow roses and white carnations. From outside, they could hear the beautiful strains of a harp playing the wedding march.
In the foyer, stood Victoria's friends: David Collins, who she had come to Collinwood to teach; Carolyn Stoddard, who had been like a sister to her; Roger, who had at times annoyed her, but who deep down she felt a special bond with; Maggie Evans, the first person she had met in Collinsport, a waitress at the Collinsport Inn who had agreed to take over her job as governess to David; Burke Devlin, the mysterious millionaire upon whom Victoria had relied for support after Ernest's death; and Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, who had changed Vicki's life forever.
As Victoria and Barnabas walked through the front door of Collinwood and onto the front lawn, the wedding party followed them. They made their way along a path illuminated with candles on tall brass stands. At the end of the path stood Ernest and the minister. Vicki and Ernest's friends and family members surrounded them in a circle and Barnabas and Vicki came to a halt in front of the man she loved.
The minister looked at Barnabas and Victoria, struck by how happy they both looked. He asked the first of several traditional questions: "Who gives this young woman away?"
Barnabas could no longer hold back his tears and they flowed freely down his cheek as he let go of his daughter's arm. "I do," he said.
Author's Note: As I'm sure you'll notice, there are some big differences between the TV world of Dark Shadows and the world created by Dan Ross. Many fans have mentioned to me that on the TV show, Barnabas was chained in his coffin at time Victoria would have been conceived in this story. This is true -- but in the Parallel Time that Dan Ross wrote about, Barnabas was never confined to his coffin. In order to free himself to write stories in many different time periods, Dan kept Barnabas unchained throughout the decades.
There are other substantial differences between the Parallel Time in the novels and the various storylines on the TV show. The books include several major characters that weren't on the show -- most notably Mark Collins (a.k.a. Mark Veno), the brother of Roger and Elizabeth; and Ernest Collins, their cousin and Victoria's fiancee. Also, while Barnabas and Vicki were a romantic "item" for a brief time on the TV show, this isn't something Dan explored in the books. In his universe, they were merely dear friends.
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