The doors opened slowly, a sealed peace pouring across the threshold as shuttered doors creaked on humid hinges.
The abbess appeared against that perfect darkness, her wrinkled skin lit by a sole candle, her hair shrouded by the veil of her order. She stood against the night as though she stood against the gates of Hell, holding the estate fast from its encroaching grasp.
The abbess regarded the young woman who stood on that doorstep. Whose evening gown slipped from beneath her cloak, whose diamonds dripped from her décolleté, whose lips appeared pressed with crushed rubies. Her skin was porcelain and fair, her ebony hair combed into an elegant knot, and in her arms was held a portrait of the Virgin Mary weeping.
She stood framed between the tall colonnades of that darkened plantation, her eyes glistening like midnight hills flecked with sapphires, her breath held like captured secrets yet untold. Her countenance so still and poised she could have been a portrait, painted against a backdrop of that wild paradise, tropical palms falling into the frame with abandoned intention.
Within the shadows of the leaves, there stood a gentleman we admit to be of questionable character. He wore a black hat and a cloak that rustled in an imperceptible wind as he stepped forth to greet the abbess. “Here is Madame St. Vincent,” he said, indicating the woman before him. “Delivered to the care of her husband, Monsieur le Propriétaire of the Estate St. Vincent.”
The elegant woman on the doorstep took a breath, the diamonds shuddering against her neck as she did so. She could smell the scent of frankincense and myrrh falling from within, touching her with its solitude. It mingled in her lungs and, for a moment, that held breath transported her to another life. One far and away from this one. She shivered at some recollected memory. Some past unreckoned with.
The abbess saw clearly the woman who stood before her and the shadow that touched her, and she welcomed both into the darkness within. ”Bienvenue,” she said simply into the night. “Monsieur le Propriétaire is nearing the hour of his death, I would that Madame hasten to greet him.”