Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Blood is Thicker than Water: Abby at School

It had been a relatively easy thing for a cultured young lady like Dalia to find her way into Miss May Pettijohn’s School for Young Ladies. She half-controlled, half-charmed her way in with the delicate proprietress of the school who was delighted to meet her, and became a regular, although, like Abigail, she too did not plan on living at the school.

She had her orders from Marcus—find out what the young woman knew about them. Based on what she knew, Dalia could kill her, or do what she wanted with her. Marcus hinted heavily that he might rather have the niece killed, but he really couldn’t deny Dalia her play things. It had been that way since they were children together.

Dalia was glad that her brother had made her one of the undead. She wasn’t one of the ordinary undead, the night stalkers who buried themselves when the sun dominated the sky. No, she was one of the special chosen, whom Shalimar had made in her own image with a particular brand of sorcery. She was as lovely as she had been when she died centuries ago, perhaps better. She could function in the daylight for her mistress—a special servant. Just like Marcus, her brother. And Benjamin. And that annoying thug Marion. She hated Marion with a passion. He was so common. To think he actually thought it possible Dalia could love him! She shuddered at the thought.

Dalia thought she had an ageless beauty, matchless really. When she was a girl in sixteenth century Italy, artists called her cherubic. She and her brother Marcus were foreigners to Milan, and their blond hair and blue eyes caught the attention of the city. Marcus caught Shalimar’s attention. When she had recreated Marcus in her image, Marcus so loved his sister that he had insisted Dalia become one of the eternal undead as well. At first Dalia was reluctant. She did not wish to become a frigid creature, like she perceived Shalimar to be. But, she had to admit, Shalimar was well preserved for being a couple of thousand years old. Dalia herself did not want to pass into old age, obscurity, and death. So she drank the blood and killed her first victim, and Dalia embarked on a life of sumptuousness that surpassed even those marvelous days in Milan.

One thing that could be said for Shalimar was that she never traveled second class. Wherever she and her followers settled, there was the best of everything. The furniture was always fine wood. Blood was plentiful. Lodgings were majestic and luxurious. If any trouble arose from enemies, those enemies were immediately conquered by the lesser servants, or if need be, by the chosen. There had been the one time in New Orleans when they had fled, but now they had returned to settle that score. Shalimar always had time on her side—something the humans did not have.

Dalia interrupted her thoughts. She returned her attention to her quarry as she worked at her knitting. In the other room she could see Abigail studiously cross stitching. Dalia was glad today's task was not blood letting—as fun as that was, she hated to ruin a perfectly good toilette with a feeding. Perhaps Dalia could do more for Abigail than just give her the honor of being a victim. Maybe she could let Abby become a special servant, like herself. Then there would be someone to discuss the latest fashion trends with. Dalia enjoyed that prospect.


Abigail hadn't noticed Dalia in the other room. She was most diligently trying to make her mark on Miss May Pettijohn. Abigail had introduced herself formally to her teacher that morning. Miss Pettijohn was an older lady layered in perfume and lace. Her eyelids drooped like the heavy blossoms on a spring apple tree, and she exuded an aura of incredible femininity. She welcomed Abigail to her bosom gladly, complimented the girl on what a fine student her mother had been, and extended the invitation that Abigail should bring her young chaperone for tea. Then Abigail was left in the care of one of the young women who worked at the school, Miss Juliet Armstrong.

Abigail sat in front of the fireplace with Miss Armstrong. Juliet was a blond, her hair the color of shiny brass. Her blue eyes keenly concentrated on the embroidery under her pince-nez—a monarch butterfly. Juliet was English and had all the appearance of a governess in the Jane Eyre tradition She embroidered rapidly, her fingers guiding the needle swiftly, leaving no white spaces in her work. Abby envied her her skill. Cross stitching and needlework were activities Abby found excruciatingly dull. Abby poked her finger once more, and found the jab to be the straw that broke the camel's back.

“Rats!” When Abby cursed, she usually cursed with vehemence, but she was in polite company, so she lowered her voice so her exclamations would not reach the lady of the house upstairs with her French pupils. “I've messed up this pattern again!”

“Abigail,” Juliet's accent was crisp, “Miss Pettijohn does not approve of the word 'rats'.”

“Then let her do my cross stitch!” Abigail leaned toward Juliet. “Can you keep a secret?”

“Of course.”

“Between you and me,” Abby folded her cross stitch in half, “Miss Pettijohn can go hang.”

Juliet continued her work. “I know. Abby, you are incorrigible. Miss Pettijohn has had several letters from your mother about your behavior. That is why you have me as more or less a permanent mistress. Miss Pettijohn also mentioned something about a Yankee upbringing hampering your manners.”

Abigail started to get up. “Why, I'll tell that old biddy! I'm a Raintree! She can't—”

Juliet put out a restraining hand. “I must spring to Miss Pettijohn's defense. She did take you on. Many school teachers might have refused you because of your background. If I were you, I'd try to save what dignity you had left, and bide away your few years here in good behavior.”

Abigail thrust her cross stitch in a wicker work basket. “That's just typical. Placid cow! We sit and learn French, master basic geography, learn to sing and look pretty, learn when to bat our eyelids and flutter our fans, then poof! We're ready for society and young men.”

Juliet glanced at Abby over the pince-nez. “Are we a tad cynical today?”

“I had hoped someone would understand.”

“I think I do. A woman's lot in life is not always an easy one. But we do have ways to change it. Can I confide in you?”

“Why not.”

“Not all women have to be ornamental. You don't have to be destined for the life of a wife.”

“I know,” Abigail sighed, exasperated. “But I don't want to be an old maid like Aunt Polly.”

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