Home > The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(2)

The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(2)
Author: L.J. Smith

There was little excitement and adventure. What there was - and what I was thankful for - was routine. The job was much like what I'd been doing in my youth in Virginia, back when Father had been priming me to take over Veritas Estate. I bought livestock, oversaw the horses, and mended anything that might need fixing. I knew George approved of my work, and we were even going into London tomorrow to discuss the finances of the farm, a true sign of his trust in me. In fact, the entire Abbott family seemed to like me, and I was surprised to find how much I liked them. I knew in a few years I'd have to move on, since they'd soon notice that I wasn't aging as they were. But I could stil enjoy the time I had left.

Hastily, I pul ed on a merino-wool jacket, one of the many items of clothing George had given me in the few short months I'd been at Abbott Manor. Indeed, he often said he thought of me like a son, a sentiment which simultaneously warmed and amused me. If only he knew that he was actual y a few years younger than me. He took his position as a father figure seriously, and although he could never replace my real father, I welcomed the gesture.

Not bothering to lock the door to my cottage, I strode up the hil to the house, whistling a nameless tune. Only as I got to the chorus did I realize its origin - it was "God Save the South," one of Damon's favorites.

Grimacing, I mashed my lips together and practical y ran the remaining steps to the rear door of the manor. After twenty years, any recol ection of Damon was as sharp and abrupt as a clap of thunder on a dry, hot summer day. I stil remembered him - his brooding blue eyes, his lopsided smile, and his sarcasm-tinged Southern accent - as vividly as if I'd only seen him ten minutes ago. Who knew where he was now?

He could even be dead. The possibility sprang into my mind out of nowhere. I uneasily shook off the thought.

Arriving at the house, I swung open the door. The Abbotts never kept it locked. There was no need. The next house was five miles down the road, the town another two beyond that. Even then, the town only consisted of a pub, post office, and train station. There was nowhere safer in al of England.

"Stefan, my boy!" George cal ed eagerly, striding into the foyer from the sitting room. Giddy and already a little drunk on pre-supper sherry, George was flushed and seemed even more rotund than last week.

"Hel o, sir!" I said enthusiastical y, glancing down at him. He stood at only a little bit above five feet, and his bulk seemed to be his way of making up for his short stature. Indeed, sometimes I worried for the horses when it struck George's fancy to go for a ride in the woods.

But even though the other servants occasional y mocked him for his unwieldy body and fondness for drink, I saw in him nothing but friendliness and goodwil . He'd taken me in when I had nothing, and not only had he given me a roof over my head, but he'd given me hope that I could find companionship with humans again.

"Spot of sherry?" George asked, pul ing me out of my reverie.

"Of course," I said amiably, as I settled into one of the comfortable red velvet chairs in the sitting room, a smal and homey space with Oriental rugs covered in dog hair. Gertrude Abbott had a soft spot for the farm dogs, and would let them inside the Manor whenever it rained - which was nearly every day. The wal s were covered with portraits of Abbott relatives, identifiable by their dimples. That made al of them, even a stern portrait of Great-uncle Martin, who stood watch over the bar in the corner, seem almost friendly.

"Stefan!" A lisping voice shrieked as the two Abbott boys tumbled into the room. First came Luke, devious and dark-haired, with a cowlick that simply wouldn't behave no matter how much his mother pushed it down against his forehead. Oliver fol owed, a seven-year-old with straw-colored hair and skinned knees.

I smiled as Oliver threw his arms around my legs. A stray piece of hay from the barn was stuck in his hair, and his freckled face was smudged with dirt. He'd most likely been out in the woods for hours.

"I hunted a rabbit! He was this big!"Oliver said, breaking away and holding his hands several feet apart.

"That big?" I asked, raising my eyebrows. "Are you sure it was a rabbit? Or was it a bear?" Oliver's light eyes grew saucerlike at the possibility, and I stifled a smile.

"It wasn't a bear, Stefan!" Luke interjected. "It was a rabbit, and I was the one who shot it. Oliver's bul et only scared it."

"Did not!" Oliver said angrily.

"Daddy, tel Stefan! Tel him I shot it!"

"Now, boys!" George said, smiling fondly at his two young sons. I grinned as wel , despite the pang of regret I felt stabbing into the core of my being. It was such a familiar scene that I knew played out in houses al over the world: Sons squabbled, rebel ed, and grew up, and then the cycle repeated al over again. Except in the case of me and my brother. As children, we'd been exactly like Oliver and Luke. We were rough-and-tumble and unafraid to knock each other down, because we knew that our fierce, undying loyalty would spur us to help each other back up moments later.

Before Katherine had come between us and changed everything.

"I'm sure Stefan doesn't want to hear you boys bickering," George added, taking another swig of sherry.

"I don't mind," I said, ruffling Oliver's hair. "But I think I need to enlist you to help me with a problem. Mrs. Duckworth said there's a fox in the forest who's been stealing the chickens from the Evanses' coop, and I know that only the best hunter in al of England wil be able to bring down the beast," I invented.

"Realy?" Oliver asked, his eyes growing wide.

"Realy." I nodded. "The only person who can possibly take him down is someone smal and quick and very, very clever." I saw interest flicker across Luke's face. At nearly ten, he most likely felt too grown-up to take part, but I knew he wanted to. Damon had been similar at that age - too sophisticated to be caught enjoying the games that we'd al play down by the creek, yet terrified of missing out on anything.

"And maybe we'l take your brother," I said in a stage whisper, winking as I caught George's eye. "The three of us wil be the best hunting party this side of London. The fox won't stand a chance."

"Sounds like a fine adventure!" George said grandly as his wife, Gertrude, walked in. Her red hair was pul ed back, emphasizing the widow's peak on her fair forehead, and she was carrying their four-year-old daughter, Emma, on her hip. Emma had fine blond hair and enormous eyes, and often looked more like a fairy or a sprite than a human child. She flashed me a large grin and I smiled back, feeling happiness radiate from the center of my being.

"Wil you come, Daddy?" Oliver asked. "I want you to see me hunt."

"Ah, you know me," George said, shaking his head. "I'd only scare the fox into the bushes. He'd hear me coming from a mile away," he said.

"Stefan could teach you to be quiet!" Oliver lisped.

"Stefan's already teaching this old man to run his farm," George laughed rueful y.

"Sounds to me like we're al tel ing stories tonight," I said good-naturedly. Even though the work was demanding, I truly enjoyed the time I spent on the farm with George. It was so different from how I'd felt at Veritas, working under my own father. Back then, I'd resented being kept on the farm, instead of being al owed to go to the University of Virginia. I'd hated feeling like my father was constantly judging and appraising me, wondering if I was worthy of taking over the estate. But with the Abbotts, I felt like I was appreciated for the man I was.

I took a deep sip of sherry and leaned back into the chair, shaking off the final unsettling images from my earlier nightmare. Katherine was dead. Damon might very wel be, too. This was my reality now.

Chapter Two

The next morning, George and I were settled in a lavish train car on our way to London. I leaned back in the plush chair, alowing waves of nausea to ride over me. I knew from past experiences that cities could be too loud, too heavy with the scent of unwashed bodies, too tempting. So in preparation, I'd drunk the blood of a skunk and a hare, and now felt sick. But better sick than starving, especial y since I wanted to put my best foot forward when we met with George's solicitor. I knew it was an honor for him to invite me to meet his associate, a man who'd look over the numbers from the farm and advise us if there was anything we needed to do differently when it came to staffing and purchasing.

And yet, I simply couldn't shake the image of Katherine from my nightmare. So instead of talking, I merely nodded as George wondered aloud whether or not we should lease out our horses to the mine at the other side of Ivinghoe. It was impossible to shift from life and death to the minutiae of human existence. In another twenty years - ten even - none of it would matter.

The velvet curtain of our compartment opened, and a porter popped his head in.

"Tea or newspaper?" he asked, holding out a silver tray piled high with scones and teacakes. Mr. Abbott eyed them hungrily as the porter placed tea and two raisin scones on pristine china plates and then passed one to each of us.

"You can have mine," I said, handing the plate over to Mr. Abbott. "We'l take the newspaper as wel ."

"Right, sir." The porter nodded and passed me a copy of the Daily Telegraph.

Immediately, I pul ed out the pages I enjoyed, handing George the features he loved while I kept the sports and society pages for myself. It was an odd combination, but it had been my habit for the past twenty years, whenever I found myself in a city, to read the society news. I wanted to look for any mention of Count DeSangue, the name that Damon had used in New York. I wondered if he'd given up his airs and grandiose posturing. I hoped so. The last time I saw him, his showiness had nearly led to our demise. It was far better for us both to go under the radar.

Bram Stoker and Henry Irving open new play at the Lyceum . . . Sir Charles Ainsley invites guests to his West End House . . .

Samuel Mortimer rumored to be running for London Councillor . . . dashing Count DeSangue seen out on the town at the supper club the Journeyman with lovely lady of the stage Charlotte Dumont.

I felt my stomach clench with recognition. It was exactly as I expected. Seeing the words was a clear sign that Damon was stil haunting me; a sign I couldn't attribute to my dream, an overactive imagination, or too much sherry the night before. Because even though Damon hated me more than anything, it didn't change the fact that I was his brother. I'd known him my whole life. As children, I could sense that he'd have a fight with Father even before it happened. There would be tension crackling in the air, as evident as clouds before a storm. I could tel when he was angry, even if he was smiling at al our friends, and I always knew when he was frightened, even though he'd never, ever say it. Even as vampires, something deep within me was stil connected to his moods. And whether he knew it or not, he was in trouble.

I scanned the rest of the column, but that was the only mention of Damon. The rest was about lords and dukes and earls, which must have been Damon's newest set. Not that I was surprised. London, with its endless parties and cosmopolitan atmosphere, had always struck me as a place Damon could end up. Human or demon, he'd always cut an impressive figure. And whether I liked it or not, he was my brother. The same blood ran through our veins. If I felt a pul toward England, wouldn't it make sense that he would, too?

I glanced down at the paper again.

Who was Charlotte Dumont? And where was the Journeyman? Maybe, if I had time in London after the solicitor's appointment, I'd head out on my own to find it. It would at least lay my uneasy feelings to rest. After al , I was sure he was drinking Charlotte Dumont's blood, but if that was the extent of Damon's misbehavior, who was I to say anything? And if he was doing something worse, wel . . . I'd cross that bridge when I came to it.

Across from me, George was stabbing his knife into the pat of butter. What he had in wealth and land, he lacked in table manners. But instead of repulsing me, his boorish behavior yanked me out of my head. Our eyes caught, and I sensed George appraising my grass-stained blue shirt and black slacks. They were the nicest clothes I owned, but I knew they made me look like a laborer.

"I think while we're in town, I might take you to my tailor. Have some suits made," George mused.

"Thank you, sir," I mumbled. We were getting closer to the city, and the scenery had changed from wide expanses of open land to clusters of low-roofed houses. "But I'd actual y like to explore the city on my own after the meeting. You see, I have some relations in London. If it's al right with you, I'd like to take a few days to see them. I'l be sure to mend that fence at the far end of the pasture as soon as I return," I lied. I'd never asked for days off. If George showed an ounce of hesitation, then I wouldn't go. But if he gave me his blessing, it was almost as if Fate was forcing me to find my brother.

"Wel , why didn't you say something earlier, boy?" George boomed. "I was worried about you, al alone in the world. It's always good to have relations, even if you don't get on with them. Because at the end of the day, you share a name; you share blood. It's good to know what they're up to."

"I suppose, sir," I said nervously. We were treading into dangerous territory. I'd never given him my real last name. Instead, he knew me as Stefan Pine. I'd chosen Pine not only because of its simplicity, but because I privately liked the idea of comparing myself to a pine tree: ever unchanging. It was a personal concession to my true nature. And so, I suppose, was Damon's personal choice of sobriquet.

"Take a week," George said.

"Thank you, but that won't be necessary on any count. I'm only planning to cal on my relatives for tea. And that's only if I can find them. But I do thank you," I said awkwardly.

   
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