“He only remained a few nights and then vanished mysteriously with his manservant.”
It’s fall 1970, and the question on everyone’s mind is: what are we supposed to do with Quentin Collins? We’ve rebooted him, and jailed him, and sent him mysterious love notes, and still he remains as moody and Byronic as before, and as far as I know, nobody requested a Byronic Quentin. Moody and Byronic people are annoying and difficult to manage; even Byron was a pain in the ass.
It’s all the weddings, I think. Just this year, Quentin has been married to Angelique, Maggie and Samantha, a mixed assortment of nuts who keep hitching and unhitching themselves to him, dragging him down and saddling him with young sons that he hardly notices. He keeps struggling to separate himself from these crazy broads any way he knows how — strangle Angelique, chase Maggie out of the house, tell Samantha that he despises her — but then they keep living in the house with him for one reason or another, piling up in untidy heaps. What he needs is a good hard divorce, and one that sticks this time, and actually gets the wife all the way out of the house.
So it’s time for Quentin to get back to his woman chasing roots, and that’s why we’re spending the day reading another goddamn Paperback Library novel.
So far, I’ve written about five books in Paperback Library’s series of Dark Shadows-themed gothic romances, which littered the bookstores of paperback America from 1966 to 1972. By 1970, these Dark Shadows yarns were being foisted on the populace at a monthly clip, delivering a limited assortment of mild thrills for their core audience of housewives, shut-ins, and people who’d buy anything that says Dark Shadows on it.
Like the TV series, the romance novels initially focused on guileless governess Victoria Winters, as she poked her nose into the skeleton-filled closets of Collins House. People tired of that after five volumes, and in 1968, the series pivoted to tales of gentleman vampire Barnabas Collins, a more-or-less recognizable version of the television character, as he wandered gloomily through the twilight, fascinating countless young ladies with his gaunt, handsome face and mysteriously nocturnal schedule. That kept things moving for another year and a half, and in early 1970, the book series introduced Quentin Collins, a popular character that they absolutely refused to understand in any way.
It’s honestly not hard to get the gist of Quentin Collins — he’s a sexy, undisciplined rogue, a younger son who’s got a good heart hidden somewhere, but can’t resist a brandy, an unclaimed inheritance or the company of an attentive young lady. He’s done several things in the past that he’s come to regret, and he dodges the unhappy memories by constantly launching himself forward into another unwise intrigue. Any romance novelist should be able to dash off a hundred and fifty-eight pages starring Quentin Collins with their eyes closed, which is the preferred method in the industry.
But Dan “Marilyn” Ross just can’t get his head around the character. To start with, he botched the introduction in Barnabas Collins and Quentin’s Demon, where Quentin was cast as a pale, sensitive recluse with a vague passion for waltzes.
After that, the series turned Quentin into a wanderer through time, a shadowy figure who periodically turned up in Collinsport under an assumed name, and behind a pair of dark-rimmed eyeglasses. In Barnabas, Quentin and the Mummy’s Curse, he was an archaeologist traveling under the moniker Professor Herb Price, who showed up in modern-day Collinwood for no particular reason, and in Barnabas, Quentin and the Avenging Ghost, he returned to modern-day Collinwood with a new alias, Martin Wainwright. In both stories, he was a fairly incidental figure, a minor character who would get occasional dizzy spells, transform off-screen into a werewolf, and then disappear into the night, leaving the story by Chapter 11 and never returning. My suspicion is that Dan Ross had already planned those stories before the edict came down that Quentin was de rigeur, and he just took a random character in each story and turned that guy into Quentin.
But here we are, several books later, and they’ve found a starring role for Quentin at last. This is book #20 in the series, Barnabas, Quentin and the Witch’s Curse, and Quentin is front and center, playing a major role in the plot. He doesn’t actually act very much like the Quentin we’d prefer, but you can’t have everything.
So it’s August 1900 and we’re in Venice, and if that’s not what you expected, then too bad; you have to stay nimble with these Paperback Library stories. The “historicals” in the series used to begin with a modern-day character finding a diary or something, but that’s been dispensed with by book #20. Barnabas and Quentin are immortal characters, and they can appear whenever and wherever they want, and that’s all there is to it.
Quentin’s currently shacked up in the Castle Asariana, an enormous mansion with canal views and curbside appeal that he took possession of under mysterious circumstances. “And it was within this castle,” breathes the breathless narrator, “that the rich American expatriate Quentin Collins had set up the headquarters of a cult devoted to black magic which had become the scandal of this city of scandals!”
Now, I’d advise you not to get yourself too worked up over this black magic cult. The scares and scandals of Paperback Library novels are so tame as to be practically nonexistent, and this book is not going to break any new ground in that respect. “It was said that Quentin Collins truly possessed the evil eye,” Ross continues, “that his Black Masses to the Devil were the homage duly paid by a servant to his master.” This does not pan out in any way. Quentin does participate in several Black Masses to the Devil over the course of the story, with absolutely no results. He doesn’t even kidnap the heroine and try to sacrifice her on his skull-topped altar. He mostly just talks to her, saying he’d like her to join his scandalous black magic cult, and she says no thank you, there are other matters which require her attention.
Ross also lays this on you: “It was common gossip that the coterie of young women from many parts of the world who had joined him in the mansion as followers of his cult were the loveliest in the city of a hundred and fifty canals.” Now, it’s true that there’s a handful of luscious beauties who hang around in Quentin’s house for large chunks of the story, but they hardly do anything, especially the thing that you’re thinking of. They absolutely do not do that.
Today’s heroine is Anita Burgess, a dull young woman of no fixed abode. She’s currently on a grand tour of the continent with her brother Jeffrey, arguing their way through Venice.
“Anita was a small dark girl,” says the narrator, “with her hair rolled in buns at either side of her head. Not really pretty, she still had good even features with large, attractive dark gray eyes.” The narrator loves documenting how attractive people are. “Jeffrey was small like Anita,” he explains, “and handsome in the same restrained way.” That sounds good, but nine sentences later, Anita describes Quentin as “handsome and dignified”, and that’s the one that counts. There’s a “handsome” competition in this book, as there is in all Barnabas, Quentin and the books, and Jeffrey is not in the title.
Besides, he’s exhaustingly ill-tempered, the very person that you don’t want to be on a grand tour of the continent with, and going on this vacation trip is just the first of the many mistakes that the Burgess family makes in this book. If you didn’t spot this one, then don’t worry, there’s always another one coming up later in the chapter.
We find them in chapter 1 squabbling about an invitation to a masked ball at Quentin’s canal-side castle. The side-whiskered, attractive Quentin glimpsed Anita at a previous social engagement but didn’t follow through on first glance, and now he’s thought it over and he wants another turn. This makes Jeffrey cross, but then again, everything does. Here’s some sample Jeffrey dialogue, on the subject of Quentin’s party.
“It’s the last place I have any desire to go!”
“Surely you’ve heard of his shady reputation?”
“Don’t tell me you wish to join that harem he’s collected!”
“The man’s a shady character — an evil specimen who people enjoy meeting so they can gossip about him later!”
“The rotten heat isn’t enough, we have to have an argument over something like this!”
So that’s Jeffrey.
His sister responds to all remarks with the bland optimism of the Paperback Library heroine. “I haven’t thought about Quentin Collins as a person at all,” she says. “He is an American living here and holding a party. He’s asked us to attend and I can’t think of any good reason for us not wanting to go.” Anita only thinks of someone as a person when she has to.
Anita continues, “It’s to be a masquerade party. Isn’t that innocent enough?”
“Not the sort he’s liable to hold,” Jeffrey answers. “It could turn out to be a wild orgy. This Quentin is an evil man!” The party will absolutely not turn out to be a wild orgy.
We might as well pause for a moment to discuss the use of the word “evil,” which has already been used four times in the first four pages, and gets eight mentions in the first chapter alone.
Barnabas, Quentin and the Witch’s Curse is chiefly concerned with whether Quentin is evil or not, and if he is, to what extent. He’s described as an evil specimen (p8), an evil man (p8), as evil as people try to say (p11), the evil Quentin Collins (p68), the figure of evil (p70), still the same evil man (p94), strong in his evil (p129), and stranger and more evil than Barnabas (p123). He uses the evil eye (p5 and p11), he casts an evil spell (p78), he has brought his evil with him (p81), and he indulges in evil practices (p130) and evil doings (p136) by introducing others to his evil cult (also p130), and he has shadowed all of their lives with his pact with evil (p152).
Quentin is not actually that evil. Quentin is fine. The Burgess family should leave him alone.
Anita wants to go to the ball and Jeffrey doesn’t, so the tie is broken by Arnold Tenn, a pleasant young banker from Philadelphia who’s engaged to Anita, apparently, although all he does is give her a peck on the cheek and agree with everything she says. Here’s a sample, starting with a Jeffrey harangue.
“Our charming Anita has received an invitation to attend one of Quentin Collins’ parties and she wants to go!”
“We were both invited,” she pointed out. “And Arnold as well.”
Jeffrey came toward her and with a determined glance took the letter from her hand. He quickly scanned it. “As I thought! It has no mention of Arnold.”
The young banker smiled good-naturedly. “That makes no difference. You two can go without me. I’ll find something to do.”
So that’s Arnold, life of the party. Anita excuses herself after a while, and gondolas over to see her friend Dorothy Carr, an American who lives in Venice and knows all the gossip.
“I can see that you are taken with Quentin,” Dorothy said.
Anita blushed. “Not at all. I was only introduced to him. We barely exchanged a greeting.”
“That can be enough with Quentin,” Dorothy warned her. “Your brother could be right. You are engaged to marry. It would be unfortunate if Quentin should come between you and Arnold.”
“No chance of that. Arnold is very understanding.”
“Still, Quentin is a strange, sly person,” her friend said. “There was one girl who left her fiance to be with him. Apparently he didn’t encourage her to join his cult, or she discovered something about it of which she didn’t approve. A few weeks later her body was found in one of the canals.”
Anita frowned. “But should Quentin be blamed for that? It could have been the girl’s fault.”
And that’s pretty much the entire book in a nutshell, right there on page 12. The only thing anyone ever does in a Paperback Library book is gossip about people, and it’s the heroine’s job to give everyone the benefit of the doubt for as long as possible, up to and including murder attempts.
Dorothy lowered her voice. “The most scandalous of all the tales about him is that he is a werewolf!”
The other girl nodded. “Yes. They say that under a full moon when the Sabbath of the Witches has been held, they form a ring around him. Then he puts on a belt made of wolf’s hide and makes an incantation to the devil. In a twinkling he changes shape from man to wolf!”
“That’s too incredible!” Anita protested.
Her friend sighed. “There are people here in Venice who claim they have seen a wolf outside his castle on moonlit nights.”
“They don’t care what they say as long as they scandalize him,” Anita complained.
And so it goes, for the entire book; somebody suggests that something exciting is happening somewhere, and Anita throws cold water on them and tells them that it couldn’t be true. Paperback Library heroines are the most skeptical people that ever trod God’s soil.
So they all gondola to the party, Jeffrey moaning the whole time about how evil everything is, and that’s when we get our first look at Quentin.
Quentin Collins received his guests alone. He wore his mask, but it did not disguise his good-looking face. And his black side whiskers peeked out impertinently from under the wig.
When he took Anita’s hand he let her know he recognized her. In a warm voice he said, “My one hope for this evening was that you should be here.”
“Thank you,” she said with gentle amusement.
“I shall expect to dance with you,” he added. “And I have some things I’d like to discuss with you. I’ve been away from the United States so long I feel like a foreigner. You will be able to bring me up-to-date.”
“I’ll try,” she promised.
The good thing about all this is that Quentin is finally presented as attractive and charming, rather than the pale, weak specimen we met six books ago. “Good-looking” isn’t the highest compliment in this universe — “handsome” is the true coin of the realm, in the PBL — but it’s good enough. Quentin scores another “good-looking” a few pages later, plus an “attractive” the page after that. Somebody has finally given Dan Ross the memo that Quentin is ladybait, so at least we’re somewhere in the realm of Dark Shadows reality.
Dorothy dances with Jeffrey, taking him off our hands for a while, and Anita passes the time with pleasant young Arnold. Then Quentin approaches with a member of his cult — a girl named Mara, who appears to have amber cat’s eyes with an almost hypnotic gleam, so take that however you like. She swoops in on Arnold, and takes him off to the dance floor as if he were in a trance. That’s how Quentin gets people alone, he has hypnotic cat women to clear his path. Those are pretty convenient to have around, but to get one you have to start your own Venetian black magic lady cult, and it’s usually easier to do something else.
Quentin tells Anita that he’ll show her a little more of the house, and the first thing he does is lead her into a richly-furnished room that happens to include a black-draped platform with a human skull resting on it. Then he turns on the charm.
Quentin Collins had removed his mask and was smiling at her. “You mustn’t be alarmed. It will do you no harm. The skull plays a part in the ceremonies we hold in this room.”
She felt a small panic rising in her. “I’d rather not hear about what goes on here,” she said.
But the good-looking young man had much too strong a will to be put off by this. He held onto her arm and deliberately urged her farther into the room until they were standing just before the altar and the skull.
“It is to remind us of the swift passage of life and beauty,” he said in a low, odd voice.
So you know me, I’m generally in favor of the seductive power of David Selby in full flow, but there’s something off here. Quentin should be amazing at seducing people, but he just makes Anita feel uncomfortable. I’m not sure Dan Ross really understands Quentin, on a fundamental level.
Anita tried to avoid his eyes but couldn’t. They fascinated her; they bored into hers, and seemed to somehow paralyze her thoughts. She felt her resentment and opposition to him melt away. She wanted to react only in a way that would please him.
He was staring at her now, very serious in manner. “You are lovely enough to become one of our group,” he said in that low hypnotic voice. “I want you to think about it. I need you here. Forget about that young man you’re engaged to. And forget about returning to America. Stay here with us.”
It’s a sudden hard sell, and the word “us” is misapplied. There’s a lot of reasons why a girl might want to be hypnotized into dumping her fiance and taking up with a wealthy hypnotic dude who looks like Quentin. But in this breathless moment, she probably doesn’t want to be reminded that she’s being added to a packaged set. And then he follows up with an utterly baffling finishing move.
He guided her close to the platform and gently took her hand and brought it close to the skull. Then he pressed her fingers on the smooth, cold surface of the shining bony head. She should have screamed out her fear. But under his spell she didn’t. Not even when she watched with horrified eyes as a large ugly spider appeared on the skull near her hand and began crawling closer to it on ugly, hairy legs!
Oh, relax, nothing happens. This is a Paperback Library gothic, which always arranges for some kind of momentary spectral freakout at the end of the first chapter. Quentin releases her hand and then the spider just isn’t there anymore, apparently. It’s not clear whether it was hypnotic suggestion or if it was a trained spider or a trick of the light or maybe it was just a coincidence. It just doesn’t get mentioned again, and the spider is no longer a factor in the developing drama.
Meanwhile, Quentin continues to baffle.
Studying her with a sardonic smile, he said, “I’m sorry if I seemed needlessly cruel, but I wanted you to understand.”
She didn’t know what it was he wanted her to understand. She was too completely confused. And yet she was willing to accept what he said. It was as if she were two people, one Anita Burgess, the observer, watching coolly from the outside, and the other Anita Burgess, the compliant, willing to endure anything he asked of her.
So there’s two Anita Burgesses now, and neither one of them is doing anything interesting. She shakes it off, eventually, and returns to the party, with only a hazy memory of what happened to her. And that is the end of the seduction sequence.
Quentin brings her back to Arnold, who’s been similarly hypnodanced by Mara, and the two invite Anita and Arnold back to the house tomorrow for dinner. They accept, because of hypnotism and also the plot has to go somewhere. They agree to keep this from Jeffrey, which ordinarily would be a bad choice made under the influence of Quentin’s hypnotic sway, but it’s only Jeffrey, and I can’t imagine he’d do anything helpful anyway.
So we finally get to the first mention of Barnabas on page 22, in a sequence that begins with Anita demonstrating once again that she refuses to believe anything that anyone ever says.
Dorothy gave her a meaningful look. “Things do go on behind the golden door of that palace,” she said. “Things that are only whispered about.”
“No,” Dorothy said. “There’s so much smoke there has to be at least some fire. A few months ago Quentin had a cousin visit him here. A charming man named Barnabas Collins. He only remained a few nights and then vanished mysteriously with his manservant.”
“What is the point of that?”
“They claim this Barnabas didn’t approve of what he found taking place in the castle and so wouldn’t remain. As I’ve mentioned, he was very gentlemanly and nice.”
“I can’t believe his not staying as Quentin’s guest had anything to do with Quentin’s behavior,” she said. “There probably was a sound reason for his leaving.”
But as I said, nobody can talk sense to these gothic governesses. (Technically, Anita’s not a governess, but she might as well be.) And that’s it for Barnabas for the next several chapters; they mention him once more, and then we don’t actually see him until chapter 5. We have other things to worry about.
Anita and Arnold’s double date dinner at Quentin’s place is a grim affair. Arnold is fixated on Mara again, and as soon as they finish eating, she takes him away to the rear balcony to look at something. That leaves Anita alone with Quentin, which goes badly.
His face was distorted with anger. “I know what they say. That I came to this palace and caused the death of the old man who took me in as an honored guest. Am I to be held responsible because he was tired of life and took poison? Because he left me this place, am I to be pointed out as his murderer? Do you call that fair?”
Her hands were clenched and she fought to keep calm. “No, of course not,” she said, humoring him.
His eyes burned into hers. “Those gossips are crucifying me with their lies! Talking about my black magic cult! Sneering at the girls who have come here and are so devoted to me and the cause! Do you stop to think of the cause?”
So this is the issue: how are we supposed to feel about Quentin in this book? He’s supposed to have handsome-man hypnosis powers, which can be sexy if you do it right, but he’s not doing it right. He’s asking Anita to join his black magic cult, and he’s also presumably asking her for sex and/or romance, but he’s doing it too fast, all in a jumble.
He paid no attention to her. He was off on a harangue for his own satisfaction. “We are doing great work here. Black magic can be a science, a very exact science. One day it may rule the world! And what better place to begin than here?”
Now, call me a romantic, but I believe that a powerful seduction scene should involve the seducer paying attention to the seduced. That’s just baseline. Plus, if you’re doing black magic then you can’t go off on an “I will rule the world” rant, because that’s for mad science. Black magic people focus on the immediate, controlling one person at a time. Quentin needs to stay in his lane.
Anita decides she’s heard enough and wants to go back to Arnold and Mara, but Quentin makes another weird conversational pivot.
“Let me prove to you what a weakling this man you claim to love is. Let me tell you about the girl he’s found so interesting.”
“It’s not important!”
“I think it is,” Quentin gloated. “Mara is one of my flock. One of those dedicated to his Satanic Majesty!”
“I don’t care!”
“You will when you hear more,” he said. “You see her as a beauty and so does your husband-to-be. But does he guess the risk he is taking now in being alone with her? Does he guess that she is a monster?”
She gazed at his burning eyes. “You’re mad!”
“Don’t believe it,” he said. “Do you know what a Gorgon is?”
“Mara is a Gorgon! A killer of men! A daughter of Medusa!”
Yup, I bet you didn’t see that one coming. This is the weirdest dinner party on record.
“She bears a curse! A curse that brought her to be one of my coven of witches. They all bear the mark in one way or another or they wouldn’t be here. I need a priestess, pure and untainted! That is why I want you to join me!”
“Please!” She begged him to let her go.
“Mara came to me bearing the curse of Medusa,” he went on. “She is a Gorgon. And when the moment comes that lovely face of hers changes into a mutilated and distorted horror! A face so ugly that to look at it brings death itself!”
“No!” she protested.
So it’s not seductive, is what I’m saying. He apparently really does want her to join his cult, but he’s going about it all wrong. He’s not offering her anything in particular, and he’s telling her that everyone else in the group is a dangerous mythological she-beast.
And worst of all, he says that he needs her to join because she’s “pure and untainted,” which means he doesn’t want to have sex with her, and that is the entire point of Quentin.
So that’s the state of affairs as we slide into Chapter 3, alone in a Venetian castle with a Not-Quentin. They hear an eerie scream, and when they arrive at the scene of the crime, there’s Arnold, all piled up at the foot of a steep marble staircase, entirely dead. Anything to get out of this dinner party, I guess.
Mara says they were just walking down the stairs when all of a sudden Arnold stumbled and fell and broke his neck and died, which is a fishy story but at least she’s not claiming to be Scylla or Charybdis or something. Quentin’s response is to shoo Mara off to her room, and continue the sales pitch.
Quentin sat down by her, impulsively taking her hand. “Don’t let this tragedy come between us,” he said. “You’ll always regret it if you do.”
She stared at him in horror and drew her hand from his. “I know you can’t be trusted,” she told him. “You behaved like a madman and hurt my arm!”
“Because I’m so in love with you,” he said earnestly. “You are the type of person I need to help me here. I couldn’t bear to think of you going away. Don’t let Arnold’s death influence you. Remain here and be my wife and chief priestess. There is important work to be done!”
And then Jeffrey arrives for no particular reason, and Quentin claims that he has no idea what Anita’s talking about. He pretends that they didn’t see Arnold’s body, saying that Arnold and Mara went off somewhere together.
Anita screams that Arnold’s been killed, and Quentin gets cold and aloof and says that she must have imagined it. She leads Jeffrey to the spot at the bottom of the stairs where Arnold’s body was, but it’s not there anymore and there’s no blood, so he must have gotten tired of being dead and tidied up after himself.
So I don’t know. Do women like this kind of thing? I’m having a hard time understanding what the bored housewives of August 1970 were supposed to make of this. Quentin is clearly out of his mind, and not in an enjoyable way, and Anita isn’t interested in him. I guess it’s okay if they’ve just decided to have a lunatic villain who can’t keep his emotional throughline consistent for more than a page and a half, but Barnabas is going to have a lot of mopping up to do when he gets here.
Anyway, Anita and Jeffrey talk to the American consulate, and the police go and search the castle, but Arnold’s body isn’t there, and everyone says he must have gone away with Mara somewhere. Then a few days later, Anita receives a bouquet of roses from Quentin, and then Jeffrey finds out that they found Arnold and Mara’s dead bodies in the canal. Mara’s throat has been cut from ear to ear. It’s a weird book.
So fine, something’s actually happened in a Paperback Library novel, which is nice of them to arrange for. The police raid Quentin’s castle again, and find that he’s disappeared along with his coterie of luscious beauties, probably headed to America to skip out on the murder charges. Anita and Jeffrey decide that there’s nothing keeping them in Venice anymore, and they might as well bring Arnold’s body back to America and try to explain things to his family in a way that doesn’t involve Gorgons or imaginary spiders.
Before they go, Anita goes to say goodbye to Dorothy, and she gets sidetracked and ends up running into Quentin, ta-dah, who tells her that Mara committed suicide because she regretted her involvement in Arnold’s accident, and Quentin dumped the bodies in the canal and ran away because he didn’t want anybody to think he was to blame for anything. Then Quentin disappears again, ta-dah again.
So I guess the science of black magic hasn’t advanced to the world-ruling stage yet; it’s more in the area of doing something irresponsible and then running away.
Anita tells Dorothy that she just saw Quentin, and tries to behave like a regular human being for a minute.
Anita asked her friend, “Shouldn’t we try to get the police and have them go back there in search of Quentin?”
Dorothy shook her head. “Useless. He’s gone by now.”
“It means Quentin Collins is still in the city,” she pointed out. “The police should be told that.”
“I’d keep out of it,” Dorothy warned her. “It could end with your being asked to remain here and that would ruin all the plans Jeffrey has made for getting away in the morning.”
Anita shrugs and says okay, so that’s another bad decision to add to the growing tally. This entire book is one bad decision after another, including mine, to write about this book in the first place.
Dorothy tells Anita to just forget about Quentin Collins, go home and pretend nothing happened. Then Anita goes back to Jeffrey, for another depressing rehash that reaches the same conclusion.
“I think he wanted to have his say. Tell his side of the murders.”
“Of course he was lying again,” Jeffrey said angrily. “If we hadn’t all our tickets bought and passage booked on that ship I would take the risk of telling the police.”
“It probably isn’t worth it. He’s safely on his way wherever he’s going by now.”
So, sure, why bother to do anything about the lunatic stalker who just contacted you earlier today, and who knows where you’re going and clearly still wants to convince you to join his insane lifestyle?
On the boat back to America, Jeffrey does a little deckchair sleuthing.
“I’ve been wondering about Mara.”
“What about her?”
“If she was such a close colleague of Quentin’s I’m surprised that he was so careless as to allow her to suicide. I wonder if he didn’t find some unfortunate look-alike and have her murdered and her body placed in the canal to make it seem the girl was a suicide. They identified the body chiefly by clothing and jewelry.”
Anita was startled by this suggestion. “I’d never given such a possibility a thought.”
“It’s been bothering me,” Jeffrey said. “I can’t help thinking the girl may still be alive.”
So maybe it would have been nice to discuss some of this with the police. People invent their own criminology a lot in this book.
Several months pass and Anita does nothing of consequence, so we pick up the story, such as it is, in spring 1901. Jeffrey’s been making some inquiries, and he’s learned that Quentin Collins is now in Collinsport, Maine, having inherited the great estate at Collinwood after the untimely and non-suspicious death of his elder brother.
It turns out that Jeffrey has a plan to make Quentin pay for Arnold’s death. “I no longer am sure that vengeance is desirable,” says Anita, which wins the prize for the dialogue least like human speech in the entire book.
“Too late to have doubts,” Jeffrey says. “I’ve settled all the arrangements.” He means that he’s rented a guest cottage. It is not at all too late.
Jeffrey’s plan is to go and stay on the Collinwood grounds with Anita, so that Quentin can kidnap her or hypnotize her or whatever else he needs to do to move the story along. Jeffrey will pretend that they want to be friends with Quentin, and then kill him somehow. That’s about as far as the plan goes.
“Need you resort to becoming a murderer in the name of justice?” Anita asks, which is first-runner-up on that human speech competition. He says that he needs exactly that.
But there’s one piece of good news in this scenario:
“Quentin isn’t entirely surrounded by friends,” Jeffrey went on. “I hear his cousin, Barnabas Collins, is also visiting the estate. He is staying at what is called the old house. And the rumor goes that while he and Quentin maintain an outward politeness when they meet, they actually hate each other.”
You hear that, everybody? There’s hope after all. Barnabas is going to be in this book!
But not right away, of course, there’s still another character to introduce first. His name is David Benson, and he’s the new Arnold.
He’s a warm, intelligent young man with a broad, friendly face, which is fine if you like that sort of thing. If you’ve mislaid your pleasant young banker from Philadelphia, then you might as well take up with a pleasant young lawyer from Collinsport. He meets the poisonous pair on their trip from Boston to Collinsport, and they pump him for info.
“I understand that Quentin Collins has returned to head the family,” the young lawyer observed. (Ross keeps pointing out how young he is.)
“We heard the same thing,” Jeffrey said, giving Anita a knowing glance as he tried to get information from the stranger. “Just what sort of person is he?”
“I don’t know him too well,” the young man said. “I met him a few times about four years ago when he was home on a visit. He struck me as being rather secretive.”
“That’s interesting,” Jeffrey said.
Yeah, it sure is. This vengeance vacation is going great so far.
But then we finally catch a glimpse of the man we’re all here for.
They moved forward toward the waiting carriages not sure which one would be theirs. As they did so they caught a glimpse of a regal-looking man wearing a caped coat, watching the activity on the wharf from a vantage point in the shadows. He had a handsome yet serious face. When he realized they had seen him he turned quickly and vanished into the night.
At the same moment David Benson joined them and indicated where the man had been standing with a nod, and said, “That was Barnabas Collins watching from up above the docks just now.”
“We noticed him,” Anita said. “He’s very distinguished and handsome, but he must be terribly shy.”
So you see what I’m saying about the handsome? Barnabas has only been in the book for eight sentences, and he’s already scored two handsomes! In the last sixty pages, Quentin only had one handsome, plus a smattering of attractives and good-lookings, which don’t even count. There’s just no contest. Accept no substitutes; demand genuine Barnabas Collins for all your serial-rapist man-crush dreams.
Jeffrey and Anita squabble their way to their new cottage, and nothing much happens until Anita starts getting ready for bed and then suddenly THIS:
She went rigid with a monstrous feeling of unseen eyes being fastened on her. Malevolent eyes working some kind of evil on her! She glanced in the direction of the window and sure enough she could just distinguish the shape of what seemed a cowled head and shoulders against the pattern of small panes!
Someone was out there spying on her! Someone in a weird kind of black cowl! Fighting back her terror she forced herself to pretend to be starting across the room and then she quickly changed direction and rushed close to the window. The head and shoulders at once vanished but not so quickly that she couldn’t follow the veiled figure as it moved off into the haze of fog and was lost.
With fear written on her pretty face she pulled down the blind. Who had it been? She couldn’t even be sure whether it had been a man or a woman. But someone had been out there watching her and with a hatred so strong she had been able to sense it. Upset by this first unhappy experience she extinguished the candle on her dresser top and got into bed.
So there you have it, the three most baffling paragraphs ever written in the English language. I suppose linguistically the low moment is “the head and shoulders at once vanished but not so quickly that she couldn’t follow the veiled figure,” and the clever fake-out change in direction is difficult to forgive, but for sheer nonsense you can’t beat “she couldn’t be sure whether it had been a man or a woman, but someone had been watching her with a hatred so strong she had been able to sense it”. What on earth could that possibly mean? And why would you get into bed? Is it possible to go back and contact the Venetian police?
The next morning, Anita wakes up and guess what, she’s still related to Jeffrey, so this is going to be another in a series of difficult days.
“I saw a head and shoulders seeming to be covered by a black cowl,” she said with her brow wrinkled. “I’m sure it means bad luck. That we were wrong in ever coming here.”
“I disagree,” her brother said. “And I’d say your upset state gave you a kind of waking nightmare.”
Anita doesn’t comment on that, because her entire existence is a kind of waking nightmare.
She studied him across the breakfast table with solemn eyes. “I still say this is a mistake.”
“You’re wrong,” he told her. Then he drank the last of his coffee. “We’ll see who makes the first move.”
“It’s all very stupid!”
“Not if you remember Venice,” her brother said, a hard expression coming to his intelligent face.
I mean, at least now I understand how Anita could recognize a hatred so strong she’d been able to sense it. She sees it every day across the breakfast table, in both directions.
There’s a knock at the door, and who could it be but Quentin Collins, lord of the manor, who’s surprised to see them; he thought he’d dropped these boat-anchors back in Italy.
“I felt I wanted to see you again,” Jeffrey said casually. “Partly to confess that I have decided we weren’t fair to you in Venice. And to try and bring about some small friendship between us.”
“That’s extremely interesting,” Quentin said.
So this is the point where I realize that this book is actually trying to kill me. I mean, listen to this.
Quentin moved across the room to Jeffrey again. “I was leading a wicked existence in Italy. I had turned to Satan. My group of Devil worshipers were devout in their beliefs and loyal to me. And I revelled in my hold over those many lovely girls. I was drunk with my ability to sway them and anxious to use them to gain more power.”
“I know nothing of that,” Jeffrey protested.
“My vanity had betrayed me to the point of madness,” the young master of Collinwood confessed to them with a worried expression on his youthful side-whiskered face. “I did encourage my group to consider themselves a coven of witches and I did beg them to pay homage to Satan, Prince of Darkness.”
“There is no need to confess so much,” Jeffrey said. And she could tell that her brother was enjoying every minute of this and having a hard time concealing his triumph. His scheme was working much better than he’d hoped.
And the readers rise up and cry, IN WHAT WAY?
And it gets worse; we’ve got incoming.
“Are you living at the large house alone?” Jeffrey asked.
“No,” Quentin said. “I have an uncle and a cousin with me. Also a lady friend of mine, recently widowed; her husband was close to me in my several years in Boston; and a young woman friend of my cousin.”
It’s hard to tally up exactly how many people that’s supposed to be, but I’d say it’s somewhere in the region of six to ten. This is unusual for the Paperback Library; these books usually have one gaggle of terrible characters that they inflict on you all at once. Now we’re almost halfway through the book, and there’s a whole new recurring cast to adjust to. It’s not fair. I think it’s the young woman friend of my cousin that crosses the line for me; I could have stood it, if it weren’t for her.
Quentin makes his excuses, and then Anita finally has the nervous breakdown she’s been putting off for years.
When Jeffrey had closed the door on Quentin and waited long enough for him to walk away, he looked at her with a delighted smile. “We fooled him,” he said. “He believes every word of our story.”
“You’re mad!” she cried in despair. “Couldn’t you tell that he was making fun of you? Leading you on like some imbecile! He knows why we have come and he means to make us pay dearly for it!”
“You always disagree,” she said bitterly. “We’ll never leave here alive!”
Then she rushes outside and runs smack into a woman wearing a black heavy veil, who takes one look at her and scurries away. And that’s how you end a chapter in the Paperback Library.
Anita keeps on walking because what else is there to do, and she runs into old Jasper Collins, who’s played by Thayer David. She tells Jasper that her brother rented the cottage, and Jasper opens up.
Jasper Collins leaned on his cane as he studied her. “I took it for granted you were another one of his women friends.”
She frowned. “I don’t understand.”
The old man gave a sharp, curt laugh. “He’s got the house full of them. That widow who never takes off her veil, supposed to be here for her health. According to him her husband died a little while ago and was his best friend. So he’s trying to help her. And then there’s Laura Cranston staying here. She was a friend of my daughter’s and came to visit her but she’s staying on at Quentin’s invitation. And now she doesn’t seem to have time for anyone else.”
“You make this Quentin sound irresistible to women.”
The old man showed disgust. “My own daughter, Georgina, who should have rightly inherited Collinwood, was shunted aside because she’s adopted. The will did give us the privilege of staying on here as long as we liked. I would have packed and left the minute Quentin got here but for her. She thinks he’s wonderful and is staying on as a sort of glorified housekeeper!”
“You don’t approve?”
“I don’t approve of anything about him,” the old man snapped. “On top of everything else he brought along one of them Italian girls to take charge of the house. Name of Mirabelle, she don’t speak proper English and hardly any of the help knows what she’s talking about half the time.”
And so on and so on, for two whole pages of exposition, and Anita hasn’t even introduced herself yet. I guess this is what you have to do, if you’re wrangling a whole gothic’s cast of characters into half a gothic. Don’t feel like you need to take notes on this or anything, because most of these people are dramatically useless, especially Laura Cranston, who’s basically just here for ballast.
Pleasant young lawyer David Benson comes back onto the stage for a few pages, so Anita can recap and process and gossip about everyone she just met. He’s been talking to the villagers, who it turns out are superstitious and ignorant, go figure.
One of the village girls who was working as a maid at Collinwood found the room that Quentin was using for his Devil worship meetings, with dark cloaks and a skull on a black-draped pedestal, which would be stunning and horrifying except we already heard about it all the way back in Venice. Ditto the werewolf story, which comes up again even though we haven’t heard a single thing about Quentin turning into anything so far, and at this point it seems pretty unlikely. Quentin can’t even pull off a decent murder-suicide coverup without dumping everyone into a canal and fleeing the country. I think supernatural adjustments to his morphogenetic field are pretty far above his pay grade.
But look what happens when you let pleasant young lawyers into the house; they’re impossible to shake.
The young lawyer moved slowly to the door and then turned to say, “If you can get your brother to change his mind about staying you are welcome to come to my parents’ home as guests. We have the room and would be glad to have you. And you’d be far enough away from Collinwood that you’d be relatively safe.”
She smiled. “That’s a generous offer. I’ll tell my brother about it.”
David Benson stared at her with concern. “In our short acquaintance I’ve come to be very fond of you,” he said.
“You are too kind.”
“No,” he insisted. “It is my wish that we might become better friends. So this is now a personal problem for me.”
“Thank you, David,” she said.
“I’m going to worry about you as long as you’re here.”
He came close to her, concern strong in his eyes. “You must be very careful. Promise me.”
Oh, my god. Will he ever leave? Goodbye, David! For fuck’s sake. And then he kisses her.
So now we get to the core mystery of this book: what is so great about Anita? Literally every man in the book falls madly in love with her, including Barnabas, whenever he decides to finally show up. And yet she doesn’t have a single positive characteristic. How do you explain a thing like that?
I mean, I suppose the concept is that if you keep your heroine super bland and unremarkable then the reader can project her own image into the story, but if that was the case then why would the reader want to kiss David Benson?
I swear, these books are getting more weird and upsetting all the time, and you know how many more there are after this one? Fourteen!
Then there’s a dinner party at Collinwood, which means Anita has to meet all the new characters and find out who and what they hate. Every character in these novels is compelled to grouse about each other incessantly, and they have no jobs or life goals, so all they do is walk around and gossip with whoever passes by.
The one exception is Eleanor, the veiled woman in black, who Quentin explains was recently widowed and is suffering from a deep depression. I know just how she feels, I’m trapped in this book too. Eleanor doesn’t speak, she just sits there under her veil and nods, and therefore she is the book’s most likeable character.
Anita spends her time with dark-haired Laura Cranston, who Quentin referred to earlier as “the young woman friend of my cousin”. Laura isn’t actually friends with Georgina — she’s jealous of her relationship with Quentin, and thinks that Georgina didn’t deserve to inherit Collinwood because she was adopted — so I’m not sure how Laura got an invite in the first place. She also thinks that Jasper is dreadful and unreasonable, and Barnabas is an odd recluse who can’t be trusted. Laura Cranston is a typical Paperback Library character.
Dinner is just as awful as you would expect. Jasper announces that there’s a werewolf who’s murdered two people in the area. Georgina says that her father has been imagining things since he suffered a stroke. Jeffrey says something that Anita interprets as a challenge to Quentin, but I don’t know why. The book doesn’t mention the food at all; it’s possible that they just sat down at the table and argued.
After dinner, Quentin hits on Anita again, and Jasper tells her that Quentin’s a werewolf and Georgina is ungrateful, and finally she drifts out to the foyer to look at Barnabas’ portrait.
Even in the shadows she found the likeness to the man she’d seen the previous night startling. The same stern yet handsome face, the same deep-set understanding eyes that had made the man on the wharf remain vivid in her memory.
There was a slight sound of someone moving behind her and then a low pleasant voice asked, “Do you admire that painting?”
She turned in surprise to find herself looking up at Barnabas Collins!
So hooray, after six and a half chapters Barnabas finally shows up, scoring his third handsome of the book and sweeping Anita straight off her feet.
“It’s a lovely night outside. Why don’t we carry on our conversation out there?”
“I’d like that,” she said. “But I should let my brother know first.”
Barnabas smiled. “If you go back in there to tell him you’ll never get away.”
“I suppose you’re right,” she said.
“Be reckless,” Barnabas said, and he took her hand in his. She noticed that it was strangely cold but soon forgot about it.
And they go on a lovely moonlight stroll around the estate, heading for Widows’ Hill and the distant sound of waves on the shore. This is what the book is about, really, and it now occurs to me that this is why all the other characters are so quarrelsome and irritating. It’s such a relief to quietly slip away into the night with Barnabas, handsome and understanding and kind, and tell him all our troubles.
And it turns out he’s just as fed up with Quentin as Anita is.
“There were rumors that you didn’t approve of your cousin, Quentin.”
Barnabas gave her a quizzical glance. “Did you think the rumors sounded reasonable?”
She looked up at him. “Knowing Quentin as I do. Yes.”
“Then you are among that minority of young women who do not approve of my good-looking cousin?”
“I’m afraid I dislike him a great deal.”
“He was responsible for the death of my fiance in Venice,” she said bitterly, blurting out the truth she hadn’t intended to reveal.
He halted and gazed down at her with deep sympathy showing on his handsome face. “I’m sorry,” he said sincerely.
So there it is, that’s why Barnabas wins. He’s willing to listen to Anita, to understand her feelings and take her seriously. Everybody else in the book just wants to disagree with her and push her around. That is why we need the mega-handsome Barnabas Collins.
And then there’s this:
“It is going to be a struggle between the forces of good and evil here,” Barnabas said. “With you exposed to the attacks from either side.”
Anita asked him, “If you dislike Quentin so much, why did you decide to come back here?”
His deep-set eyes met hers. “My purpose is somewhat like yours. I want to find a way to destroy him.”
So it turns out that Barnabas is good and Quentin is evil, and all of the girls in America who like Quentin are misguided and allied with the powers of darkness. At the top of chapter 8, Anita gazes up into Barnabas’ stern, handsome face, which puts the current score at 4-1.
They chat about curses and vampires and werewolves, and establish that Barnabas is still writing that damn book that keeps him sequestered in the Old House all day. There’s some dialogue about how charming Barnabas is, and how everyone ought to like him, and he says, “Some of us are doomed to stand in the shadows,” which is the kind of thing the PBL readership eats for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Then Quentin charges up to them, full of fire and fury. Check out how suave our hero remains.
Quentin halted by them scowling. “So this is where you’ve been?”
“I trust this portion of the estate isn’t denied to us,” Barnabas said in a mocking manner. “Now that you control the place I’m never sure of what new rules you may make.”
Quentin clenched his fists. “It wasn’t a gentleman’s act to sneak into the house and take this girl off with you!”
“You make an interesting point,” Barnabas said.
“Jeffrey practically accused me of doing you some harm before I left the house a few minutes ago.”
“What a dreadful slander!” Barnabas smiled, “I don’t know how he could think of you in such a villainous role.”
That’s our cool ghoul, showing how it’s done. Quentin is dismissed, and Barnabas walks Anita back to the house.
“You’re so different from him,” she said. “If you are eccentric it’s a pleasant sort of eccentricity.”
“People may disagree with you on that,” he warned her.
“They’ll never make me change my mind,” she promised.
Barnabas sighed. “This has been a perfect night for me. I doubt if one as good will come soon again.”
He doesn’t have to worry; he gets a scene like this in every book, where the girl of the month falls gently in love with him. You know, everyone in this book is upset when Quentin attracts a young woman and persuades her to follow him blindly, but Barnabas is doing exactly the same thing but it’s okay this time. Really, the only difference between them is that Quentin has a skull altar and Barnabas doesn’t, which admittedly is a relevant difference.
So it just kind of goes on this way. Back at Collinwood, Quentin talks smack about Barnabas for a while, and then Anita and Jeffrey go back to their cottage and do a post-game recap on the dinner party. Jeffrey thinks that the veiled woman is Mara, if that helps at all, although it doesn’t make much of a difference either way. She’s got to be somebody; veils don’t walk around on their own.
Jeffrey doesn’t feel like explaining his ridiculous plan to Anita, so the next day, she’s left at a loose end, just hanging around with nobody to talk to and no way to further the plot. Eventually she washes up on the shores of the Old House, and she thinks about knocking on the door, but thinks better of it and strolls away.
Then she sees the veiled woman scuttling through the underbrush toward the cemetery, so Anita decides to stalk her for a while and see what happens. She sees the woman pause by a Collins family tomb and possibly go inside, but when she approaches the tomb herself, she’s approached by Quentin, who’s been following her. Everyone’s following everyone by now, the whole book is becoming a conga line of crazy stalkers, marching unanimously toward the grave.
Then there’s another Quentin/Anita confrontation that doesn’t break any new ground, but there’s a nice example of the “untouched by human editors” bloopers that are one of the few things this book has in common with Dark Shadows.
She said, “Why did you scare me so?”
“I had no intention of alarming you,” he said in his suave fashion.
She stood uncertainly by the door of the tomb. “I came down here and found this tomb interesting.”
“Yes. I know you came down here,” he said in his mocking fashion.
And then on the next page it says that “Quentin smiled at her in his overbearing fashion”. Dude likes fashion, I guess.
Inspired by the setting, Quentin relates a completely random legend of Collinwood, about the ghost of a sea captain attending his wife’s funeral. It goes on for three pages and has nothing to do with anything. It’s a little late to be introducing a new plot; we’d better just stagger through the next few chapters with the one we’ve got.
Then Quentin starts jawing about the ghost of Mara, which has apparently followed him here from Venice and still has the Gorgon face. This is a callback to a plot thread from seven chapters ago, which didn’t make any sense then and still doesn’t. Anita decides that the black-veiled woman is Mara, which is an idea that Jeffrey already brought up in the last chapter. They’re clearly running out of conversations, and there’s still 40 pages left.
Things get so dire that Anita starts asking questions that she already knows the answer to.
As they walked toward the open cemetery gates she said, “Do you have a room at Collinwood the same as you had in your palace in Venice? One with a skull and black drapes?”
Quentin gave her a smiling glance. “You’re asking me if I’m still dabbling in black magic?”
“Yes. I know you usually deny it. But surely you can be frank with me.”
“I have always continued certain of my investigations of the supernatural,” he said.
“And are the girls here, Georgina, Laura Cranston and your widow friend, helping you with your rituals as the young women in Venice did?”
Which yes, we already know that, thank you, that is something that we’ve known since literally the first page. Quentin has acquired a bevy of beauties that he takes into a room with a skull and black drapes, as discussed extensively in chapter 1 and chapter 6, and we’re currently mid-chapter 9 and the level of detail on this topic has not advanced one iota.
I mean, here we are with the good-looking and side-whiskered Quentin Collins, who casts a hypnotic spell over nine-tenths of the female cast and periodically takes them into a secret room to perform dark rituals, and nobody wants to tell us anything about the scandalous, naughty goings-on they get up to. I know that these books are written for a pretty tame crowd of bored housewives, but what is the point of giving Quentin a Satanic harem if all he’s going to do is awkwardly propose marriage to the heroine every two chapters?
Instead, they keep focusing on the skull and the black drapes, which in and of themselves are not very interesting. The room’s decor is not dramatically incandescent.
There’s not a lot left to do, so Anita spends the rest of the chapter moving from one gossipy character to the next. Laura is upset that Quentin is spending time with Anita, and Georgina is jealous that Quentin is spending time with Laura, which makes you wonder if maybe this black magic lady cult is even worth the trouble. I always thought having a harem would be fun, but apparently it’s just one headache after another.
Georgina complains to Anita about Quentin and Mirabelle and the veiled woman, and then passes her off to Jasper, who grumbles about Georgina and Quentin and Mirabelle and the veiled woman, and if Laura was around she’d probably gripe about Jasper and Georgina and Quentin and Mirabelle and the veiled woman, but she isn’t, so the chapter finally sputters to a conclusion.
Returning to the cottage, Anita gives the whole situation another once-over.
Quentin was growing more brazen in his admissions. He had not tried to deny to her that he’d already set up a black magic circle at Collinwood. In fact he’d even tried to enlist her in it as he had once before in Venice. He seemed sure that eventually she would weaken and join him in this Satanist worship.
The other young women he’d gathered around him were too hypnotized by his charm to question what he was doing. Just as those unfortunate girls at the palace in Venice had dedicated their lives to him so it was with Georgina and the rest. But there was one difference of which she was aware. There was jealousy between his supporters here. If she could find some way to use that, it could be of value in breaking up the cult and destroying Quentin’s power.
Which in my opinion would be a complete waste of time. Why do you need to break up his cult and destroy his power? He only has power over like three people and they hate each other. Who cares what happens here? Why don’t you just go home?
Then Jeffrey comes back from his trip to Collinsport, where he tried to question the populace.
“I asked the most pertinent questions I could think of.”
“Did you discover anything new?”
“Yes and no. They do feel something evil is going on here. And that Quentin is responsible.”
So, in other words: no, you did not discover anything new. Then he tells her that people think that Quentin is a werewolf, and that the maid saw his black magic room, and it had black drapes and a skull in it. For fuck’s sake!
The sun sets and Barnabas doesn’t show up, so Anita decides to go out on her own and look for him, which ordinarily I would say that’s a stupid move and puts her in danger, but the threat level in this story is so low that there’s nothing much that could happen to her. And that’s exactly what happens.
She ends up following a dark figure moving in the fog, thinking that it’s Barnabas, but instead she gets this:
She could see now that its back was turned to her. The only thing she could make out clearly was a long black cloak and a hood. This was not Barnabas.
A warning shock cut through her like pain. She halted and stared at this odd stranger who shared the murky night with her. Then in a swift movement the figure whirled around with the cloak thrown back to reveal a girl in a filmy white dress with a flowing skirt. But what terrified and sickened her was the unbelievable ugliness of the girl’s face. It was too horrible to note clearly with one eye lower than the other, the nose twisted, the mouth sagging and ending in a monstrously disfigured chin. It was like something a mad artist might have drawn!
And now the creature stretched out its hands and came slowly towards her. Anita gazed at the advancing horror and screamed and promptly blacked out!
So that must be Mara’s ghost, and she’s really dead, and she was really a Gorgon, unless it was a trick and it was somebody else in a mask, which it obviously was. Anita wakes up and Jeffrey helps her back to the cottage, and now we’re back where we started.
But then guess what, Barnabas arrives! which makes everything instantly better. Jeffrey finally gets to meet Barnabas, a thrill for everyone.
The two men shook hands and Anita could tell they would get on well. Barnabas moved on into the room and stood before the fireplace looking regal and stern. His eyes showed concern and his thin lips compressed as he heard about her meeting with the phantom.
“It was a mistake for you to venture out there on your own,” was the first opinion Barnabas offered.
Jeffrey spoke up. “I told her the same thing.”
Barnabas eyed her gravely. “You should listen to your brother’s advice.”
She shrugged. “I went out there looking for you.”
“That was stupid,” Barnabas said.
So great, now there are two of them. Barnabas and Jeffrey discuss Quentin’s evil cult, and the way he has made helpless puppets of them all. Anita says that Quentin is too strong for them to fight. I have no idea what any of them are talking about. Quentin hasn’t actually done anything, except live in a house and talk to people. They’re getting all worked up over nothing.
The boys psyche themselves up into going out and seeing if they can find the phantom and unmask her, leaving Anita in the cottage alone.
She was about to put another log on the fire when the knock came on the door. It couldn’t be Barnabas and Jeffrey. They would identify themselves.
Then she thought of David Benson, and some of her fear abated. It had to be David. She’d been hoping he might pay her another visit. She went cautiously over to the door and listened. There was no sound from outside. Then the knock was repeated.
“Is it you, David?” she called out.
The muffled reply she received sounded like yes. So she at once drew back the heavy bolt and opened the door. Then she stumbled back as she saw the monstrous greenish-gray wolf crouched there snarling!
So, hooray! Something’s actually happening. It turns out there really is a werewolf, and he’s a Dark Shadows werewolf, capable of knocking on doors and turning the lights on. This ought to be good, a big kickboxing werewolf fight sequence that makes all the waiting around worthwhile.
Anita races to her bedroom, shuts and bolts the door, and then stands there until the werewolf gives up and goes away.
Seriously, that’s the whole thing. The guys come back to the cottage having achieved nothing, and they find a shambles, with Anita hyperventilating in the bedroom. You can’t leave this broad alone for five seconds.
“The werewolf must have heard you coming and taken fright,” Anita said. “I expected it to assault my bedroom door again but it didn’t.”
“Quentin wouldn’t want us to find him here,” Barnabas said.
She frowned in disbelief. “You think it was he who threatened me just now? That snarling, mad animal was Quentin?”
Barnabas’s handsome face showed grim resignation. “If we are to believe the stories it had to be,” he said.
So that’s another handsome, bringing the score to 5-1.
Jeffrey asks if a bullet could stop the werewolf, and Barnabas says, “If it strikes a vital area it would kill him,” although that’s true for everybody.
“What do we do now?” Jeffrey asked.
“I have a rather audacious idea,” Barnabas said with a smile on his sallow handsome face. “I think your sister and I should pay a social call. A social call on Quentin at Collinwood.”
That’s 6-1 on the handsomes, they’re really ratcheting up the handsome for the climax. Unfortunately, his plan is not particularly impressive.
“I first want to find out if Quentin is at Collinwood. Then I’d also like to see how he receives us. Whether his nerves are at all shaken up. And we’d have an additional opportunity to see what is going on there.”
So this is what passes for nightlife in this book, visiting people and observing their nerves. Barnabas wants to hang out with Anita alone, so he tells Jeffrey that he should stay at the cottage, just in case there’s more cottage stuff.
Once they’re outside, we get the traditional PBL scene where Barnabas vaguely confesses that he’s a vampire, and the heroine refuses to believe him. There’s one of these in every book now, although this one is particularly brief and perfunctory.
“The people in Collinsport mistrust me.”
He gave her a knowing glance. “I’m sure you must have heard some of the rumors about me.”
“I’ve heard that you might be tainted with the vampire curse like your ancestor,” she said. “Quentin was the one who made a great deal of it. But I knew he was lying.”
“Even he occasionally tells the truth,” Barnabas said in a quiet tone.
She glanced at him as he walked with her in the heavy fog, his profile showing a sad expression. “You can’t mean there is anything in what he said?”
Once again Barnabas evaded answering her directly by saying, “No matter what, you can count on me as your friend.”
“I know that,” she said.
Phew, that’s over with, now we can move on. It actually doesn’t seem to matter whether Barnabas is a vampire or not, he hasn’t done any vampire stuff. Then Barnabas tells her that she ought to marry David Benson, if she can remember who that is.
Barnabas and Anita chat with Jasper a bit on their way into Collinwood, and then they sneak upstairs for the big sequence we’ve been waiting for — Anita and Barnabas confronting Quentin in the middle of his dark ritual! Don’t get your hopes up.
Barnabas whispered, “We’ll try opening the door slowly. It may not be locked.”
It wasn’t. He eased the door open a little at a time until they had a good view of the dimly lighted room. The veiled woman was at a small organ playing it while Quentin, in a dark robe, stood at the altar behind the table with the grinning skull. He was staring upwards and murmuring some unintelligible words to the accompaniment of the music. There were a half-dozen young women in similar black robes kneeling before him in a line, their heads bowed.
It sickened her to see this weird gathering. Quentin ended his incantation and stared down the room at them. Seeing them in the open doorway he left the altar and strode down to challenge them.
“Neither of you believe,” he said angrily. “Why have you intruded here?”
And that’s it! That is the beginning and the end of Quentin’s evil practices. He puts on a robe, looks upwards and murmurs. He’s not even looking in the right direction. And wait till you hear what the girls are doing.
In the background the woman wearing the veil continued to play on the organ in a mournful fashion. The others remained kneeling and seemingly not knowing there had been an intrusion of the ritual in the softly lighted room.
They haven’t even noticed! He’s got all these beautiful young women, and all they do is kneel down and go to sleep. This is the least evil evil ritual that I’ve ever heard of.
Barnabas is snide to Quentin for half a page, and has a brief chat with Jasper, and then he walks Anita back to the cottage, mission accomplished.
Now they were close to the cottage and Barnabas halted. “I won’t go in again. It would only lead to a long and pointless discussion with your brother. Like you and Jasper he would expect an instant solution for all this from me. And I can’t offer it.”
She looked up at him with a rueful smile. “You’re a very strange man.”
“And you’re a most lovely young woman,” he said in his low, charming voice. And with that he drew her to him and kissed her.
The kiss brought a look of surprise to her pretty face. When he let her go, she said, “What makes your lips so cold?”
“A long-time affliction,” he said. “I’ve gotten accustomed to it.”
So there you go, if you were waiting for that. It’s basically just another item on the PBL checklist as we head for chapter 12, and freedom.
Barnabas dumps Anita back at the cottage, but Jeffrey isn’t there and she doesn’t know what to do. They use the word “wait” five times on this page, including twice in two sentences:
There was no sign of her brother so she decided he must have gone to bed, having wearied of waiting for her. She waited a few moments and then went to the door of his bedroom and knocked on it.
But he’s not there, and she has no choice but to wait and wait and wait, which she does. She falls asleep and wakes up in the morning and has breakfast, and still Jeffrey doesn’t come home. This means that something exciting finally happened in this story, and we weren’t there to see it.
Actually, two things. First, David Benson comes to the door and tells Anita that the Collinwood maid who told the villagers about Quentin’s secret skull room was killed by the werewolf last night; apparently she didn’t know that you could just shut the door and the werewolf would give up and go away. Then Jasper arrives, and tells Anita that Jeffrey is dead too.
It’s a pretty sweet deal for Anita, really, having all the action happening somewhere else while she’s eating breakfast. She might as well stay in the cottage for the rest of the book, and have couriers bring her the latest updates.
So Jeffrey fell off the cliff is what happened, down and down to a messy death on the rocks below. A random stableboy walked by and apparently had Jeffrey’s dental records in his pocket, so he was easy to ID.
David Benson asked, “Did they move the body?”
“They’re doing that now,” Jasper said. “I guess they’re taking it to Collinwood to wait on this young lady’s orders.”
“So Quentin is taking full charge,” she said bitterly. “How kind of him after arranging Jeffrey’s death in the first place!”
“I’d be careful what you said to him,” the old man warned her. “At least until you have Barnabas around to back you.”
She was beginning to think she would faint. “Barnabas hasn’t done anything.”
“He will,” Jasper said. “You wait.”
So she does, she sits and waits some more, until she falls asleep. Personally, I would prefer to have a heroine who can bother to stay conscious from one scene to the next, but it’s too late for that now, I suppose.
After a while, they take Anita to Collinwood to view her brother’s body, and all of the malefactors are there, expressing sympathy. Quentin asks for a moment alone with her, and says, “You mustn’t blame me for this. They are spreading poisonous gossip about me. But I count on you not to believe any of it.” Dude actually still thinks this is going to happen.
Quentin offers to bury Jeffrey in the Collins cemetery and have her move in, but it’s too late, she’s seen how lame his cult is and she wants to go find a devil worshipper who knows enough to take his pants off once in a while.
David takes her back to the cottage, where she waits until sundown for Barnabas to arrive.
Barnabas embraced her and held her close to him. In a gentle voice, he said, “You can’t imagine the sadness and regret I felt on hearing about Jeffrey.”
“You can’t blame yourself,” she said. “Coming here was his decision. And leaving here last night was his own idea. They somehow tricked him into it. Quentin declares that it was the ghost of Mara who was responsible.”
The handsome face of Barnabas was grim. “That sounds like Quentin.”
That’s the final handsome of the book, so the score is Barnabas 7 – Quentin 1, another victory for the home team.
We’re getting close to the end, so Anita mentions that the villagers are upset about last night’s werewolf kill, and they’re coming tonight to kill Quentin and burn Collinwood down.
Barnabas frowned. “I would hate to see Collinwood destroyed. And to have it happen because of the disgrace Quentin has brought upon the family.”
“It may be impossible to stop them.”
He sighed. “That is true.”
“Have you any plan?”
“I’d like to set a trap for a ghost,” he said.
Um, okay, if that’s what you think would help. They seem pretty resigned to the destruction of Collinwood, so sure, let’s tie up the Gorgon ghost plotline.
Barnabas tells Anita to go walking alone in the forest until something terrible happens to her, which she does, and then the creature with the twisted nightmare face pounces on her again. But Barnabas is there, ta-dah, springing to her defense, and wrenching the mask off of — Dorothy Carr!
I’ll give you a moment to try to remember who that is.
Okay, time’s up. Dorothy was the American girl in Venice who danced with Jeffrey at the party, back in chapter 1. It turns out she was actually a dangerous psychopath, who followed Quentin to Collinsport and hid under a veil for the rest of the book.
Anita gasped. “So you were the veiled widow in black?”
The red-haired beauty looked at her sadly. “Yes. Quentin made me conceal my identity. This way I wouldn’t be recognized. But I didn’t kill Arnold. It was Mara who did that. And then because she was jealous of me and threatened to tell the police about the black magic circle, Quentin finished her.”
Anita asked, “Who killed Jeffrey?”
The other girl looked down. “I lured him out here. But Quentin sent him over the cliff to his death.”
The amazing thing about this denouement is that you could plug pretty much anybody’s names into those sentences and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.
“But I didn’t kill Arnold. It was Laura Cranston who did that. And then because she was jealous of me and threatened to tell the police about the black magic circle, Mirabelle finished her.”
“Who killed Jeffrey?”
Pleasant young banker David Benson looked down. “Jasper lured him out here. But Arnold sent him over the cliff to his death.”
So that was a not very revealing reveal. By the way, why would Quentin get upset if Mara told the police about the black magic circle? Everybody already knew about it, and it doesn’t do anything.
Suddenly, the villagers show up at Collinwood with pitchforks and torches, demanding to see Quentin.
Now the door opened and Barnabas emerged with Quentin. He looked thoroughly frightened. Barnabas tried to address the angry group but could not make himself heard above their shouts of rage. They were ready to mount the steps and seize one or both of the Collins men.
While she watched with bated breath a completely unexpected thing happened. One moment it was Quentin standing with Barnabas and the next it was a greenish-gray snarling wolf! The instantaneous transformation brought a momentary hush to the mob.
Yeah, I’m sure it did; this is the most successful mob of angry villagers in history. The werewolf takes off for the forest and Dorothy runs after it, screaming for it to wait for her. Villagers start shooting, and Dorothy is killed in the crossfire, and then the wolf jumps off Widow’s Hill and the book is over and everyone goes home.
The Satanic threat is finished now, and Georgina will inherit the mansion, unless Jasper or Mirabelle or Laura Cranston wants it, and Barnabas promises to say goodbye to Anita but he never shows up, so she’s stuck with David Benson as a consolation prize. They all live happily ever after, until next month when they’ll put out another ridiculous book, on and on for another fourteen months, until February 1971 and the end of all things.
Phew, that’s over with. I just have one remaining question for Barnabas, Quentin and the Witch’s Curse: who was the witch, and what was her curse? They never got around to explaining that.
Tomorrow: Look Who’s Walking.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Gerard’s watch fob changes between episodes. Yesterday, the watch fob was egg-shaped, and had a figure of a person on it. Today, it’s more of an oval, and it’s got a picture of a centaur. They’re very similar, but comparing screenshots side by side, it’s obviously a different prop.
After Barnabas says “Quentin is a fine man!” to Angelique, she pauses for a moment to remember her next line.
Angelique warns Barnabas, “Soon, you’ll find out the truth, and when you do, as usual, you will come to me for help.” Barnabas has turned to Angelique for help several times in the 1897 and Leviathan storylines, but Angelique in 1840 doesn’t remember any of those events. All she knows is the 1795 storyline, where Barnabas didn’t ask Angelique for anything. Barnabas did ask for help in the 1968 reprise of Vicki’s hanging, but I’m not sure this is still the same timeline, and that wouldn’t qualify for an “as usual”.
Daphne shows Gerard the note, saying, “It’s the most frightened one of all.”
Gerard tells Daphne, “I’m the only one you can count on,” and Daphne checks the teleprompter. Twenty seconds later, Gerard says, “I’m the only person you can count on.”
When Barnabas walks down the foyer stairs, we can hear someone whispering, and rustling through a script.
In the final act, after Gerard tells Gabriel, “He intends to revise the will all over again,” there’s a dramatic music cue and the picture starts to fade. Then it stops fading and goes back to normal, and then fades over again.
Tomorrow: Look Who’s Walking.
— Danny Horn