They were in a distant town, having been travelling on business, and were on their journey home when the transformation occurred.
"No... no..." The words were whispered, but Henry heard them, and was by her side immediately.
"What is it? Are you ill?"
His wife looked up at him with frightened eyes, and as he watched, they darkened from a brilliant ice blue to a brown that was almost black.
If he hadn't seen it, he couldn't have believed. Her eyes had gone first, then her face reshaped itself, the delicate features growing coarser. Her raven hair turned an unnatural shade of red. He caught her forearms, and they felt thicker, more muscular.
Whatever this was, it wasn't a simple shapechange. He felt it in his gut. He felt the woman he loved slipping away.
"Who are you? What did you do with Elaine?" he demanded.
A few hours later, the cleaners found him on the floor of his hotel room and got him to a physician. By the time he was well enough to pursue the woman who had stolen his wife, the trail was cold.
Henry didn't give up on finding his wife, but eventually his funds ran low. He returned home to work, to make money, to hire investigators. He put up notices and offered a reward. He even swallowed his pride and went to the de Veres to ask for their help. They turned him away coldly. Whatever scandal Elaine had gotten herself into now, it was no longer any concern of theirs.
Two nights later, a carriage stopped outside the door of the watchmaker's shop. The woman who stepped out of it swept inside imperiously, and for a moment Henry just stared in shock. It was Elaine's grandmother, the Dowager Viscountess Isabella de Vere.
"Lady de Vere, to what do I owe the honour...?" he finally said.
She interrupted him before he could get any farther. "My foolish son thinks you were only after her fortune, but if that had been the case, you would have come for money sooner. I can see that you are an honest man, and that you are in love with her."
"Your Ladyship does me no more than justice. I love Elaine with my whole heart." His voice grew thick as he spoke her name. Still missing. Still a hole in his very existence.
"What I am about to tell you must not be spoken of to another soul. I will have your word before I continue."
He was at a loss as to what she might say, but what choice did he have? If she might speak anything that could help, he had to hear it. "I give you my word. I will speak of this to no one."
"Then close up your shop and help me to a chair, young man," she said, her haughty manner suddenly softened. He hurried to obey.
"What you must understand is that she will return to you. It may be tomorrow, it may be a twelvemonth, but the one that holds her will grow weaker, and Elaine will return."
"I know because my husband, the late Viscount had the same curse," she said. "He taught me how to recognize the signs, how to lock him up before the change. The savage inside him was dreadful. Violent, but cunning. He tried many tricks to escape, until the one that finally worked. He had finally guessed what he was to me, why I kept him alive when I hated and feared him so. And so, he threatened to end his own life if I did not release him."
"I negotiated, because I knew my husband would wish it. Only myself and two trusted servants knew of the secret, and he wanted it to go no further. The savage agreed to stay far from the manor when he did anything that might invite scandal, and to keep enough money on his person to allow the Viscount to return home quickly once the transformation had reverted. I gave him funds to start with, and he was to write to me if he ever needed more."
Lady de Vere fell silent, trying to calm her breathing now that the secret was out.
"Your husband came back." Henry Stevenson finally said.
"Every time. We were married 53 years, and I bore him 8 children, 5 of whom still live. He died two years ago, and two years ago, Elaine began to show signs of... impropriety."
"You knew this was happening to her?"
She shook her head. "Not at the time. I had no reason to believe the curse belonged to anyone but the late Viscount, and girls of good birth have scandalized their families since time began. She ran away from her marriage, eloped with a tradesman who was after her money, and was promptly disowned. This was what we all believed, until you told your story. This is what everyone believes still."
"Except for you."
"Indeed. Both of the trusted servants were allowed to retire, with generous yearly sums paid, contingent on their silence. After you left, I went to see the one still living - a man of about ninety. I told him of your visit, and he admitted that there used to be rumours of a de Vere family curse. When he was a child, a great-uncle of my husband was subject to fits and frequent disappearances. When questioned closely, he thought perhaps that uncle died about the time that my husband began to show signs of savagery, though he could not say for certain. I think it is a family curse, and I believe that when the holder of the curse dies, it moves on to someone else."
There was a long silence here, as both parties dwelt on the implications.
Finally Henry said, "What do I tell her?"
"You tell her nothing!" Lady de Vere said with sudden anger. "You gave your word! I will not have my late husband's name scandalized by letting these rumours come to light again!"
"I do not understand. If you did not come here to help Elaine, then why tell me anything?" Henry asks helplessly.
"I did not come to help Elaine, at least not directly. I came to help you. Her knowing that her grandfather shared her curse does not help her in any way, but you knowing..." Lady de Vere sighed heavily. "The breach between her and her parents is too wide and too public to be healed. I do not want her rejected by the family she has left."
Four months later, Elaine returned, fearing her marriage was over. Henry soon put those fears to rest. He promised that he would always wait for her, always trust her, always believe in her fidelity, so long as she promised to always come home to him. He told her of the transformation he had witnessed, so that she would understand what happened in the missing parts of her life, but he kept his word to Lady de Vere. He never told Elaine about her grandfather.
Henry's word was his bond, and something he took very seriously. It was a heavy thought to know that one day he must tell his son, to warn him, in case he was the next one chosen by the curse. But so long as Elaine lived, he believed there was no urgency. It never occurred to him that the curse did not pass on at death, as Lady de Vere had conjectured, but was carried in the blood, and that Jake could be afflicted while his mother was still alive.
About twenty years after learning the secret, as Henry Stevenson lay dying of fever, he wrote to Lady de Vere and begged her to accept Elaine back into the family. In his last moments, he tried to give his son a warning, but he was growing delirious by then, and could not make himself understood.
Lady de Vere was able to use the death of Henry Stevenson as a plausible excuse to convince the family to forgive the prodigal daughter and welcome her back into the family for her son's sake. The thrust of her argument was that it was not fit that a young man of their blood, with good sense and impeccable manners, should be denied the benefits of education and advantages that he was entitled to by birth - and she carried her point. Elaine would have refused the offered olive branch had she considered only herself, but for the sake of her son, she returned to the family home. Jacob was well-liked and became a favourite of his great-grandmother, who seemed to lavish on him all of the attention and care that had accrued during the years of his mother's estrangement from the family.
When Lady de Vere died a few years later, all knowledge of the family secret died with her.