Title: Small Treasures
Author: N.J. Nidiffer
Genre/Rating: Gen/PG
Word Count: 4,062
Fandom: Dark Shadows
Verse: Gina Lee (# 12)
Summary: Barnabas contemplates Polly Logan, who is nothing like his dead sister Sarah. Yet, at the same time, she seems to inspire the same sort of affection from Willie that Barnabas had for his sister.
A/N: Nik took the Polly story and did Barn’s version of it. Barn hates everything, but he has a hard time hating Polly, much as he’d like to.

***

She was nothing like Sarah.

No. Nothing at all like Sarah, though her hair was long and dark, worn loose over her shoulders as only small children wore it, and her eyes were wide and sparkling when she was cornered and afraid.


But that was all. Those coincidental minutiae were the only traits that the gamine Polly Logan held in common with Sarah Collins, dead these hundred years—at least as far as Sarah’s surviving elder brother could see. That and the fact that the children, had they shared the same century, might have been of an age. Polly might prove a year or two younger on closer examination, but it was difficult to know for certain. She was so slight in stature, yet so bold in temperament, that she might be as young as six or as advanced as ten for all that Barnabas could tell. But Barnabas had never thought to ask Polly’s age, and Willie had never thought to tell him.

 

And why would I inquire after the brat? Barnabas thought, thumping his book shut across his lap. Polly Logan was nothing but a fisherman’s daughter, a child of the wharves born into untold generations of ignorance and squalor. Everything about her unfortunate circumstances announced themselves in her presumptuous person, even before she opened her mouth to insult the man into whose house she had trespassed. Barnabas didn’t have to inquire about her to know that.

 

There was her name, to begin with, a name that was as common as they came: Polly Logan. From what Barnabas understood, Polly was not even the diminutive form of the more elegant Mary or Pauline. It was her actual name, two short syllables that branded her forever as a working class woman of no great importance, no matter whom she might be fortunate enough to grow up and marry. Presuming, of course, that she ever did reach the age of consent. Even in these ‘modern’ times, when childhood scourges such as whooping cough and measles seemed to be largely under control, one could never predict if a child would survive to maturity. Accidents happened. Even to children belonging to such hardy stock as the Logan clan, who seemed to have the fecundity and resourcefulness of cockroaches.

 

Nor was Polly’s dress as modest as even a destitute child’s should be, comprised as it was of a cheap cotton blouse tucked into a short skirt that showed off her scabby knees. Barnabas supposed he could hardly hold such deficiencies as her name and her dress against her, since even the lowest parents were responsible for their offspring’s public state. But Polly’s scowl, once provoked, was entirely her own and entirely inappropriate to a child of her age. Barnabas thought it far too harsh an expression for a countenance that should carry nothing but the milky calm of innocence, as Sarah’s had borne until the day she died. By contrast, Polly’s sharp, down-turned brows, as fluid as raven’s wings flaring over black spinel eyes, made her appear as thorny as the crystalline gemstone she reminded him of—or as repellent as the kit of the wolverine that he knew her mother to be.

 

Sarah, as Barnabas recalled, running his thumb over the binding of his book, had never been so base in character as to scowl. She had pouted, yes, as all little girls did when thwarted in their infant desires. But Sarah had never stomped her foot or flashed her teeth in anger. She was far too gentle a soul for that. Not so Polly Logan, who was impulsive and ill mannered and worst of all, ill bred; nothing at all like the sweet-natured creature that Sarah Collins had been.

 

Still. Something about Willie’s mongrel child had affected his master’s judgment, whether he liked to admit it or not—and he certainly did not. Very much against his will, Barnabas had not stopped thinking of the brat since her mother had removed her from the Old House kitchen but a few hours before. She was like a burr in his mind, stuck to whatever other thoughts he might try to pursue, stinging him back to her memory like the needle-thin spines of a nettle.

 

The book went thump on the table. Barnabas took up instead the length of the pencil box from where it rested beneath the tent of his evening newspapers. A fine set of drawing implements, or at least they had been when they were new. Now the oily tips of the pastels were showing signs of wear, the octagonal wooden shafts nicked here and there through childish carelessness or hard use—it was hard to tell which. One was as likely as the other, Barnabas supposed, considering how the child seemed to treasure them. She was a child, and therefore disposed to carelessness, but when she had handed them over, a supplicant offering a sacrifice at an altar, she had done it gently, careful not to rattle the tin, as if to guard the points of the pencils nestled thick inside.

 

But who would entrust a child with such an expensive palette? Barnabas wondered, turning the box in his hands to hear the muted rumble the pencils made as they rolled against each other within their flat metal confinement. The child could always sharpen them again later if a point should chance to break. An artist of Sam Evans’ caliber might own such a set as this. But a child of Polly Logan’s age? Ridiculous! Who would give her such a thing?

 

That was obvious. Someone who loved her. Someone who loved her beyond all practicality, and who wanted her to have nothing but the best, the cost of the pencils be damned.

 

Someone like William H. Loomis, for example, though he hadn’t a dollar to his name.

 

A frown of disapproval tugged at Barnabas’ lips at his servant’s poor stewardship, until a memory rose, unbidden, to transform his censure into the suggestion of a smile. There, in a corner of his mind that he hadn’t visited in long weeks because its memories were too bittersweet for him to bear, was the recollection of his mother Naomi’s dismay at a present he had once selected for Sarah: a dainty silver jewelry box, crafted for an adult woman’s pleasure, not a child’s, but of such whimsical design and manufacture that Barnabas had known right away that Sarah would adore it. Sarah liked pretty things, and this jewelry box, with its smooth, carved panels and brilliant beryl lid, was a fairy maiden’s dream. Its velvety center was just the right size to hold the filigreed amethyst ring that he had given her for her birthday the year before—another tiny extravagance that had escaped their parents’ notice solely because their father had been in Boston on business, leaving their mother too distracted by Joshua’s absence to care what trinkets her daughter might be hoarding.

 

Barnabas knew he shouldn’t buy his sister the jewelry box. He realized even as he directed the shopkeeper to wrap it up in golden tissue that it was too costly a jewel to give to a child of nine. But he had purchased it for her just the same, and presented it to her one evening after supper when his father—a great disbeliever in the value of baubles, and Barnabas’ own personal ogre—was safely out of the room.

 

He had given it to her because he loved her. For no other reason than that. And that, he trusted, was a point that his mother, if not his father, would eventually come to understand.

 

Sarah had understood immediately, of course. Her delight in her elder brother’s gift was ample evidence of that, drowning out any protest that their parents might have made when they discovered the indulgence. Barnabas spoiled the child, they said. He gave her airs that were unattractive in so innocent a young lady. But Barnabas was deaf to their remonstrations, just as Sarah had been. The singular fact remained that he loved his sister. Loved her with all his heart, with all the devotion that a brother could bestow on a younger sibling. Nothing was too good for her. Not even a silver jewelry box that had cost him a week’s shipyard pay.

 

He thought now that it was a fortunate thing that he had not waited, as his mother had advised, until his sister was a year older to give her his gift, for if he had dallied but another few months she would never have possessed her treasure at all. In the end, he had buried her with it, just as he had buried her doll and her favorite cap and her pretty amethyst ring. That was tragedy enough. But if he had waited, he would never have seen that spark of joy his gift had kindled in her eyes. He would never have felt her rosebud lips on his cheek, kissing him her thanks. He would never have told her, one last time, that he loved her.

 

A hundred years later, Barnabas still did not regret the gift. On the contrary, he thought it cheaply bought for the pleasure it had purchased, both for him and his sister.

 

Someone must love young Polly, too, to give her a set of artists’ pencils when she was too small to know how to use them properly. Barnabas shook his head, unsure if his logic was as sound as he believed it was, but trusting in his instinct. That “someone” had to be Willie Loomis, though Barnabas had no way as yet to prove it, since he had not yet asked. He only knew that, as master of the house, no receipt for a pencil box had turned up in the monthly accounts, or he himself would have noticed it.

 

Had his manservant reverted to his earlier criminal tendencies and stolen the pencils from some shop in town?  Barnabas didn’t think so. Probably Willie had bartered for them, as servants in Barnabas’ own time had been known to do, trading some small service for a favor in kind. True, the service must have been of a significant nature to merit so expensive a payment in return—this was no pouch of tobacco or slip of straight pins, this was a set of pencils that any artisan would be proud to own. But grand as the palette was, its price was ultimately of no importance. The pencils in their black tin box represented no more currency than a mediocre bottle of wine. They had probably cost less than a box of beeswax candles. Less than a week’s worth of the greasy fodder that kept Barnabas’ manservant fed. Willie could have paid cash for them had he wished, and Barnabas might not have mentioned the expenditure, as long as Willie had remarked on it first.

 

Or perhaps not, Barnabas admitted to himself, shaking his head. He was right in that. I cannot fault him there. I would not have granted him the leeway, had he possessed the courage to ask for it. Not for that wolverine’s whelp, nor for any of her kin. He knew that I would not, so he found another way.

 

But where, then, did he obtain the money?

 

Demand the truth of him now? Or not?

 

Barnabas debated the question a moment longer as he deposited the pencils on the tabletop and let his hand drift back towards his book.

 

No, he decided. It was of no consequence. He would let the matter pass. If Willie had done some shopkeeper a service in order to gain the pencil box, the chore had taken little time away from his regular duties, or again, Barnabas would have noticed the lapse. There had been no complaint on the shopkeeper’s part, either, or Barnabas would have heard of it. No need to find trouble where there was none. Especially since the pencil box, in its own strange way, had caused so much trouble already.

 

She wanted to bring him a drawing, Barnabas mused. Nothing more complicated than that.

 

And Willie, simpleton that he was, had smiled as though someone had presented him with a sketch by the Italian master Michelangelo. He was proud of Polly’s drawing and happy that the girl had given it to him, even under the circumstances, which at the time had been dire indeed.

 

As everyone in the room had evidently realized, even Polly Marie. Why else would she be so keen to keep her friend Willie “out of the dog house,” as she put it? She might not have noticed the freshly peeled switch waiting on the table as her mother Gina had, but she had obviously known that something desperate was in order, and that it was a punishment that Willie dreaded in his heart. Why else, in her childlike way, would she attempt to intervene?

 

Yes, Barnabas thought. She understood the intended severity of Willie’s punishment. But did she understand the severity of the transgression that had warranted it—both Willie’s and her own? That was the real question, one that Barnabas hoped her mother, at least, would explain to her. Willie’s wasting of a few dollars on a child not his own could be overlooked in the grand scheme of things, but a trespasser lurking in the Old House after dusk was a breach of trust that Barnabas could not and would not tolerate.

 

The Old House’s daytime guardian had known this truth perfectly well when he had admitted Polly to the house only moments before his master was due to rise. Hadn’t Willie had enough practice in ejecting young David from the grounds before the sun slipped beneath the horizon?  Surely if he could manage David he could devise some similar measure for Gina Logan’s precocious slip of a daughter. But he had not, and that was a decision that Willie could in no way explain to Barnabas’ satisfaction. Nor could Polly apologize it away, because the ultimate responsibility was not hers, but Willie’s. Young ladies did not trespass where they were not invited. Not even if they had a gift to share, be it an apple pie with hard sauce or a pencil drawing of a man and a truck.

 

But if they did trespass, then Barnabas Collins’ manservant had no business in letting them in. And if Willie did not know that by now, then it was high time that Barnabas impressed it on him.

 

What if impulsive Polly—who apparently had no compunction about lying to her mother concerning her whereabouts—had taken it into her head to dash into the hallway as the basement door was about to open?  What if she had noticed the dust of the grave still clinging to Barnabas’ sleeve, or glimpsed the candles glowing in the basement’s depths? She might have taken such eccentricities as lures for future explorations when Willie was not there to prevent her—and disaster would surely have followed.

 

Willie understood all of these things, just as he had undoubtedly realized the consequences of his actions the moment Barnabas had entered the kitchen and found a snub-nosed waif bleeding on his countertop. That was why, gray faced and trembling, he had stepped between his master and the child. Willie had feared that Barnabas would dispose of the interloper with no one in the village the wiser. And Barnabas had to admit that he had been tempted. He had not yet fed that evening. The scent of spilled blood was strong in the kitchen, filling the vampire’s nostrils with the rich, scarlet spoor that meant feast.

 

But that was not to be, even as he stepped forward to thrust Willie out of the way. Barnabas could not decide if it was the god of good fortune or a demon of hilarity that had prompted Polly to pipe up at that moment, her little girl’s voice trilling decibels higher with indignation. “You’re the mean, mean boss,” she had shrilled from the imagined safety of Willie’s shadow. “Mama doesn’t like you, an’ I don’t like you.” And then she had scowled—that black, thorny scowl that was so unlike any expression that Barnabas could remember in his beloved, long-dead sister.

 

Even Willie had been astonished at the child’s audacity. Barnabas could see that much in the seconds before Polly’s impulsive defiance had dissolved into the more natural reaction of frightened tears. But in any event, Barnabas’ irritation at the girl’s impertinence had over-ridden his bloodlust, if not his anger at Willie’s ineptitude. He had ordered his manservant to take the brat home, then to return to the Old House at once, without delay.

 

Willie had surely understood what such an order meant, since he had blanched even whiter as he turned his attentions back to the sniveling child and her bloodied knee. But he had returned from his errand as directed, and in good haste, too. What other choice had been open to him? He hadn’t dared to try to escape his punishment, since Barnabas would have hunted him down and skinned him alive if he had.

 

I was tempted to skin him in any event, Barnabas thought darkly. His carelessness had certainly earned it.

 

But then came another knock at my door.

 

Another knock, and yet another trespass, as this time Barnabas had not only Polly, but her meddlesome mother to contend with, both within the space of an evening. One glance at Willie had shown that he could not believe it either. He was frightened for himself, and perhaps for whatever additional punishment this new intrusion might earn him, but he was far more frightened for the woman and her daughter standing hand in hand in the Old House kitchen, with the master of the house using all of his considerable noblesse oblige in striving to stay civil, when all he truly wanted to do was to pitch them bodily from the porch—perhaps with a draught or two less blood than they had come with, to compensate him for his trouble.

 

Don’t touch them, Willie’s eyes had said, his panicked face as pale as the streaks of white paint daubing his hair. He had evidently spent his day in industry, even if he was wasting his evening and his master’s playing games with the Logan clan. Don’t touch them, or I’ll . . . I’ll fight you. I will, Barnabas. I’ll fight you for them.

 

Barnabas had had no doubt of that, though fear had outweighed the bravery in Willie’s eyes. Frightened or not, Willie would be foolish enough to launch himself at his master if Gina Logan or her child were in immediate danger. He had proven that once before, shoving his master and striking him in the bargain, never mind that the Logans had not been present and had in fact been perfectly safe, though their house had been in ashes around them. Willie had fought for them and he would do it again if necessary. It would not occur to him that Barnabas could murder all three of them in the time it would take Willie to decide to act. Willie would do it. He was mortal and he was foolish and worst of all, he imagined himself the protector of the child if not the woman, when in reality, it was the child protecting him, had he but the wit to see it.

 

The child, with her long dark hair worn loose over her shoulders, and her wide black eyes apprehensive but brave, looking up at Barnabas Collins to offer him her most precious possession in exchange for removing her friend from this mysterious “dog house,” determined with all of her precocious, childish will that she should be punished instead of him.

 

“You can keep my pencils an’ I won’t be able to draw for a week,” she had said, offering up the tin that Barnabas had at first been too startled to accept. The expression on her gamine face, frightened and resolute and wounded all at once, said she was offering him something important to her. No. Not just important. Something vital to her. Something that would not merely inconvenience her, but pain her, for the duration of the week she would spend without her precious drawing pencils. “But you gotta let Willie out of the dog house, cause it’s my fault. I just came up to give him a drawing I’d made.”

 

A small addition, that final phrase, but a crucial one. The hammer, as Barnabas’ father Joshua might have remarked: the prime point in this playground version of political negotiations. A prisoner’s life would be ransomed for a pencil box rather than a chest of gold. A child’s treasure rather than a man’s. But why not?  Polly trusted that her offer would be taken seriously. That Barnabas Collins would hold to the trade and honor it, always assuming that he agreed to consider it a binding contract in the first place.

 

He would agree to it. She would see to that. Purely by the force of her innocent will.

 

Barnabas couldn’t help but shake his head at her audacity. Joshua had prided himself on his political skills, but Barnabas had an inkling that little Polly Logan might have taught him a thing or two, had they ever had the chance to meet over a haggler’s bench. She was sharp, that child. As sharp as her meddling mother, who might observe a great deal about matters that did not concern her, but who had thus far had the good sense not to act on those observations.

 

Gina Logan surely knew by now that Willie lived under less than ideal conditions at the Old House. That he was, in fact, nothing more than a slave there, who was occasionally beaten when his behavior warranted it. She had seen the switch waiting there on the table, hadn’t she? And surely she had witnessed bruises on Willie’s person in the past. Willie would have tried to explain them away, but the woman was far from stupid. She would have put two and two together. Barnabas was willing to wager that she already had.

 

But knowing what she knew, she had still kept her peace, an unspoken bargain that Barnabas had, in spite of himself, also agreed to honor. In return for Willie’s living conditions remaining as they were rather than deteriorating further, Gina would keep whatever thoughts she harbored about Barnabas Collins to herself. Perhaps Willie had impressed upon her that necessity, or perhaps she understood it without being told. Whatever the case, it was one of the reasons that she was still alive to come banging on the Old House door with her cocklebur of a brat in tow.

 

Barnabas doubted that Gina understood matters to that extent—that her own life was in jeopardy. She couldn’t, or she would never stay in Collinsport, where her children were at risk. But Willie certainly understood it. He understood it enough for both of them. And that, Barnabas reasoned, was enough. There would be no more impromptu visits to the Old House in the future. Not from Polly Logan or anyone else.

 

Willie would see to that.

 

Willie had better see to that.

 

Barnabas set his book to one side and stood up, taking the rattling square of the pencil box with him. He walked over to his desk and pulled open the top drawer, where he had informed Willie that he would store the pencils until the week was up, when they might be returned to their rightful owner. They would be safe within the desk until that time. No one would disturb them. Not even Barnabas himself.

 

The pencils were a treasure. A small but cherished treasure. A child held them dear.

 

The child was a brat, that was true. She was nothing at all like Sarah. But Barnabas would keep his word to her, nevertheless. Her pencils would stay safe, and Willie—a more fortunate man than little Polly realized—would stay “out of the dog house.”  At least for the time being.

 

Barnabas had given his word, and he would not break it. Not in spirit or intent.

 

He was a gentleman, after all.