Blackwood farm, p.28

Blackwood Farm, page 28

 part  #9 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series


Blackwood Farm

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  "THE NIGHT HAD too many hours, and surely the following morning would be an agony, or so I thought. Aunt Queen, Nash and I parted at about ten o'clock -- after more insubstantial and agonizing conversation about the Mayfairs -- with my promising to consider the European trip even if Mona's family wouldn't allow her to go, and my promising that if I remained behind, I would accept Nash as a new teacher.

  "That part was easy for me. I liked Nash completely, and I believed his firm assurances that he would be entirely happy at Blackwood Manor if we were meant to stay there.

  "When I went upstairs I found Big Ramona awake and the window open near the fireplace and a brisk breeze blowing through the room. Now, it was our custom to sleep with the air-conditioning on during warm nights such as these, so I was a bit surprised by this, and by the fact that Big Ramona climbed out of bed and came a-whispering to me as soon as I closed the door.

  " 'It's Goblin!' she said. 'He opened that window! I'm telling you, it's the God's truth. I shut it twice and he opened it twice. He's down there! Look at the screen on your computer. See what he wrote!¡¯

  " 'You saw the keys move?' I asked her.

  "The words were 'COME DOWN. ¡¯

  " 'The keys move! Boy, I saw the window open and shut, are you listening to me! Do you see what's happening to you with Goblin? He's getting stronger and stronger, Quinn. ¡¯

  "I went to the window and looked down over the east lawn. I saw him standing in the glow of the floodlights on the side of the house. He was dressed in a long flannel nightshirt, as was my custom by this hour, but I, of course, was still in my pants and shirt.

  " 'Quinn, you go to Confession,' said Big Ramona. 'You tell the priest what you've done with this ghost! Don't you realize he's from the Devil? Now I know he was the one who broke all that glass. ¡¯

  "I didn't bother to argue with her. I went downstairs and out to him by the cemetery where he was wandering barefoot like a lost soul.

  " 'You go to Europe with Mona, you leave me,' he said. His lips were scarcely moving, but I could see his hair mussed in the breeze.

  " 'I won't leave you. Come with me,' I said. 'Why can't you? I don't understand. ¡¯

  "He didn't answer.

  " 'I'm worried about you,' I said aloud and under my breath, 'worried about your feelings. You've become closer to me ever since you attacked the mysterious stranger. You've learned more things. ' Again there came no response whatsoever.

  "I tried to hide my fear, reminding myself that no matter how sophisticated he had become and how at odds with me he might be, he couldn't read my mind.

  "As for me, I was restless and only partially focused on him. I was too in love with Mona to be focused on him. It was so wicked! After all these years. Did he know it?

  " 'Come on, let's walk out of this light,' I said to him.

  "I walked on back past the shed and onto the west side of the property, where the wicker patio lay in its own bath of electric light. He followed me, and when I glanced over to him, when I slipped my left arm around him, I saw that he had become my duplicate in clothing again. It seemed such a simpleton thing.

  " 'Will you try to take me with you?' he asked. 'When you go to Europe? Will you hold my hand?¡¯

  " 'Yes,' I said. 'I'll do it. You'll be right next to me on the plane. I'll hold tight to your hand all the way. ' With all my soul I meant it but I was speaking to a faded love when it was my blessed Ophelia to whom my soul belonged. I was her Hamlet and her Laertes and perhaps her Polonius as well. But I must not forget my Goblin, and it was not fear of him but loyalty that goaded me now.

  "I had other things on my mind too. The Hermitage, for example, and how I meant to reclaim it from its wilderness neglect. I had already spoken to Allen, the supervisor of the craftsmen among the Shed Men, about running electricity out to it, and there were other things I meant to do.

  "Of course the mysterious stranger was a real problem, more real than the Shed Men knew. But I was drawing pictures in my mind of how splendid I could make the place. And of how wonderful it would be to take Mona to the island, and how exciting it was that Mona wanted to see it and wasn't afraid.

  "Dreaming of all this, conniving and planning, dreaming of Mona tomorrow and whether we could escape to Europe, I struggled to be true and faithful to Goblin, when quite suddenly he stiffened and, squeezing my hand, said in his telepathic voice:

  "Be careful. He comes. He thinks I don't know him and he means harm.

  "At once he vanished. Or at least he was gone from my vision, and at the same time the floodlights went out as if someone had tripped the switch. I found myself plunged into relative darkness.

  "Instantly, an arm came up and hooked around my neck and a hand grasped my left arm behind my back tightly. I struggled but it was useless. My free right hand couldn't do a thing against either grip, and the voice of the stranger spoke in my ear softly.

  " 'Call for help and I'll kill you. Turn your spirit friend loose on me and I'll kill you. You and all your dreams will be gone. ¡¯¡¯

  "I was in a rage. 'I fought you once,' I growled. 'I'll fight you again. ¡¯

  " 'You're not listening. ' His voice was low. It had no sound of menace. 'If your familiar strikes out at me again, you'll die here now. ¡¯

  " 'So what's holding you back? Why don't you break my neck now?' I was furious.

  " 'Really,' he said in my ear, 'you are the thinking man's victim. ¡¯

  " 'I'm nobody's victim,' I responded.

  " 'Of course not, because you're going to do what I want. ¡¯

  " 'Which is what?' I asked. Remembering some advice from long ago, I tried to turn my head to one side so he wouldn't have full pressure on my larynx, but he only tightened his grasp on both my neck and my arm. I was in pain.

  " 'Stop fighting me and listen,' he said in the same calm near-caressing voice. 'I'll leave you like a broken dove on the ground here for your Aunt Queen to find in the morning. ' He went on in his reasonable way, just above a whisper. 'You know she comes out for a stroll before dawn, don't you? Old people don't sleep well. They don't need the full hours of the night. She comes with Jasmine and Jasmine is still dopey, but they make their little constitutional while the stars are still clear. ¡¯

  " 'And you're watching,' I said. I was horrified. 'What do you want of us?¡¯

  " 'You're going to be enormously impressed with my generosity, but I have been eternally known for my generosity and my cleverness. ¡¯

  " 'Try me,' I said. I was almost too angry to talk sense.

  " 'Very well,' he said. 'I've done a great deal of thinking about you, and this island which we both claim. I've come to the conclusion that I want to share the Hermitage with you. That is, I'll allow you to use it by day and I shall use it by night as has been my custom. ¡¯

  " 'By night? You come there only by night?' This was almost unendurable.

  " 'Of course. Why do you think you found the candles, and the ashes in the fireplace? I have no use for it by day, but I don't want others troubling it ever. I'm to find no evidence of others when I come. Except for evidence of you. Your books, your papers, things like that. Now for the most important part of the bargain. You're to improve the Hermitage. You're to take it to a new level of excellence. Do you follow me?¡¯

  "He had loosened the grip just a little. I could breathe without it hurting. But he had me as firmly as ever, and my left arm, my good arm, was aching. I was paralyzed with fury.

  " 'The improvements are key,' he said. 'You're to take care of them, and then we will both enjoy it happily. You'll never know I'm there perhaps. Oh we can share the books we read. We can grow to know each other. Who knows, we may come to be friends. ¡¯

  " 'What improvements?' I said. Obviously the creature was insane.

  " 'First off I want it thoroughly cleaned,' he said, 'and the gold on the sarcophagus, it has to be cleaned and polished. ¡¯

  " 'Then it is gold,' I

  " 'Most assuredly,' he responded. 'But you may tell your workmen it's brass if you like. Indeed, tell them anything about the entire island which will keep them away. ¡¯

  " 'But who was the grave intended for?¡¯

  " 'You need never concern yourself with that, and never open it again either. ' The voice came soft as breath. 'Now let's return to the Hermitage. You're to have electric wiring installed throughout the place. ¡¯

  " 'You've been reading my mind, haven't you?' I asked.

  " 'Then I want glass fitted in all the windows, glass that opens and closes. I'm not particular as to the design, just so that the night can be seen and felt and the rain kept out of the interior. The flooring should be laid both in the first and second story-something of marble tile like the tile in your entranceway would be most excellent, though I think that it should be all white with a dark grout. ¡¯

  " 'Good God,' I said, 'you have been reading my mind. Who are you?¡¯

  " 'Have I? I do have a gift for it. And handsome lamps should be purchased as well as marble tables such as that which is there already. And fine gold chairs in the Roman style, and couches. You know. I leave it to you, the taste of such things -- you've been born to and bred on fine things -- and you shall see that it's all correct. ¡¯

  " 'This is a game to you, isn't it?' I asked. I was breaking into a cold sweat.

  " 'Not entirely,' he said. 'I want these improvements. And I want the privacy afterwards. I want it all from you. ¡¯

  " 'And you're serious. ¡¯

  " 'Well, of course I am,' came the low, hushed voice. 'Now what else do I propose? Ah yes, a better fireplace, don't you think, for the bitter cold Louisiana nights in winter of which outsiders know so little. ¡¯

  " 'How did you manage to spy on me? From what vantage point?¡¯

  " 'Don't be so sure that I did. I'm cunning. You wanted to reclaim the place. I know the style in which you live. I want to be friends with you, don't you see? It's nice having my arms around you. I offer peace if you do these things. If you needed wealth for it, I'd oblige. ¡¯

  " 'And your part of the bargain is to leave the place entirely alone by day?¡¯

  " 'Yes,' he said, 'and not to kill you. That's the most impressive part -- that I'll let you live. ¡¯

  " 'Who are you?' I demanded again. 'What are you? Were those human bodies I saw you dumping in the swamp? They were, weren't they, and the chains on the second floor. Did you never ask yourself what had happened with those chains?¡¯

  "I struggled. He tightened his grip.

  "There came a dark slow laugh from him, a laugh I'd heard before though I couldn't place it. Or could I? Was it only in the swamp that night when I had seen him in the moonlight? I was too caught up in his strength and in my own sense of peril to know for certain.

  " 'You can take away the chains if you like,' he said. 'Have it all cleaned as I told you. Have made a new stairs from first floor to second. Have it made of bronze. And caution your workmen not to speak of the place. Caution them to frighten others away. If and when they hire outsiders, let them choose from those at a distance rather than from those who are close at hand. ¡¯

  " 'Like it was in Manfred's time,' I said.

  " 'Like you tell it on your tours of the house and property,' said the voice. 'Now, I have a piece of advice for you. ¡¯

  " 'What piece of advice?¡¯

  " 'You can see spirits and you've become enamored of a spirit named Rebecca. ¡¯

  " 'How do you know?¡¯

  " 'Suffice it to say that I do know and I'm warning you against her. She wants a vengeance from you against those who have harmed her, and she'll settle for your life. You're a Blackwood and that's what matters to her. Your happiness fascinates her. It gives her strength. It causes her pain. ¡¯

  " 'You've seen her yourself?¡¯

  " 'Let me humor you on this score. I have made myself privy to those dreams of yours in which she visits. And through those dreams I have come to know her tawdry desires. ¡¯

  " 'She was tortured in the Hermitage,' I said. 'She was tortured with those chains. ¡¯

  " 'You defend her to me? What is that to me? Allow me to suggest you remove the chains and put them with the casket of her remains which you've buried in the cemetery. ¡¯

  " 'You spy on me night and day,' I said, my teeth clenched with anger.

  " 'I wish I could,' he answered. 'Now I'm going to let you go and you can turn and you can look at me just as you please, and you keep your part of the bargain and I'll never hurt you or your family or your darling love with the red hair or her clan of witches. ¡¯

  "His arms were removed. I spun around. He stood back.

  "He was as I remembered. Six feet in height. Thick jet black hair pulled back from a square forehead with high temples and big black eyes with dark eyebrows that gave him a determined expression, and a long line of a smiling mouth, all very impressive, and a square jaw. Eyes positively flashing in the light. He was dressed in a fine black suit, and for one instant I saw all of him, and then he was turning, sporting the long thick black ponytail of hair -- and gone as surely as if he'd dematerialized like Goblin.

  "Goblin was immediately by my side, and Goblin said aloud, 'Evil, Quinn, evil. He doesn't disappear. He uses speed. ¡¯

  " 'Hold my hand, Goblin!' I said to him. 'I knew you were near but you heard his threats. ' I was shaking violently.

  " 'Had I come between you, Quinn, he would have crushed you. He was too ready for me, Quinn. He wasn't afraid. ¡¯

  "I turned, still trembling so badly that I could scarcely stand upright, and I saw the inevitable lights in Aunt Queen's window. It was the lurid flare of the television.

  "I embraced Goblin and then told him we must go to Aunt Queen. I was crazed with excitement.

  "I rushed into the kitchen, across the back hall, and banged on her door. I found her in her chaise lounge as usual with her champagne, and some champagne sherbert, concluding the marathon drinking bout that had begun at dinner. Jasmine was fast asleep under the covers. The Scarlet Empress with Marlene Dietrich was on TV.

  " 'Listen to me,' I said, pulling up a chair. 'I know I'm fast losing my reputation with you as a sane person. ¡¯

  "I pulled out my cotton handkerchief and mopped the sweat from my face.

  " 'That's quite all right,' she rejoined. 'You have a powerful reputation as my great-nephew. ¡¯

  " 'The stranger attacked again. It was just outside. He got me in a choke hold. ¡¯

  " 'Good Lord, Jasmine --. ¡¯

  " 'No, wait, don't call anyone. He's gone, but before he left he told me just what he wanted. He made a list of demands, all having to do with the refurbishing of the Hermitage, and he proposed that after the renovation we share the place -- that he would use it by night and I would use it by day. And if I didn't agree to his plan he'd kill me. ¡¯

  "She was aghast. She said nothing. Her small blue eyes gazed fixedly into mine.

  " 'But Aunt Queen, this is the strange part -- not that he crept onto our land, not that he made the floodlights go off on the west side of the property, not that he got me in a choke hold -- all that's normal stuff more or less. It's what he wants done to the building!¡¯

  " 'What do you mean?¡¯

  " 'The refurbishing. It's all precisely what I want! It's as though he read it in my mind. He did read my mind. The electricity, the new marble floors, the glassed-in windows, the new bronze stairs inside. He asked for nothing that I hadn't already thought of. I'd even mentioned it to you, mentioned it to the men, that they should remember the route to the place because I wanted to put in electricity. He read my mind, I tell you. He played with me on it. The creature's not human. He's some sort of spirit or ghost like Goblin. Only he's a different species, Aunt Queen, and I have to go to Mona, because Mona will know and so will Stirling Oliver. ¡¯

  " 'Quinn, stop, be still!' she said. 'You're raving! You're in a tirade. Jasmine, wake up. ¡¯

" 'Don't bring her into this, she'll be a nuisance,' I said.

  "Jasmine was already awake and sitting there silently passing judgment.

  " 'I'm going up to write out a complete plan for the renovations, then I'm going to rest before I go to Mona,' I said.

  " 'Darling, it's midnight. You must talk to me before you leave to see Mona,' said Aunt Queen.

  " 'Vow to me that you'll allocate the funds for the Hermitage. It's nothing compared to the money we spend all the time on Blackwood Manor. Oh, I can't wait to see the Hermitage redone. But then I myself have the money, don't I? I forgot that. I can afford it. How amazing. ¡¯

  " 'And this splendid reinvention of a place you mean to share with a man who dumps bodies to alligators?' she responded.

  " 'Maybe I was wrong. Maybe something else was happening. I only know that it won't hurt to carry out my own scheme for renovations and now he's no obstacle, don't you see? An hour ago he was a giant stumbling block to all I dreamt of for the Hermitage. He was an invader. Now he's part of the scheme. He asked for nothing that I didn't want already. Aunt Queen, he watches us. He knows you walk around the house in the morning. You need the guards with you. He's cunning. ¡¯

  "The expression on her face was dreadful. I think I had taken all the bubbles out of the champagne and all the alcohol out of it also. Sober and miserable, she stared at me. Then she slowly ate a spoonful of sherbert as though it were the only thing keeping her alive.

  " 'Oh, my darling boy,' she said. 'Jasmine, are you listening?¡¯

  " 'How could I not listen?' said Jasmine. 'Someday, when I'm old and gray, we'll have Quinn's portrait on the wall, and I'll be shuffling in front of the tourists talking about how he disappeared into the swamp and never came back --. ¡¯

  " 'Jasmine, stop it!' I declared. 'Aunt Queen, I'm going up. I'll kiss you good-bye before I take off to see Mona. I won't go till tomorrow afternoon. I know I can't drive in this condition. Besides, I have work to do. ¡¯

  "Goblin and I ran upstairs together.

  "I turned on the computer, in spite of Big Ramona sound asleep in the bed, and fortunately, as I clicked away, she never woke up.

  "Goblin took his chair beside me. His face was blank, and he didn't try to touch the keyboard. He watched the screen as I worked.

  "I didn't speak to him. He knew that I loved him. But he knew as well that I was yielding to the blandishments of an ever broadening world.

  "Yes, I feared the stranger, but now the very devil had potently excited me. I was going mad.

  "I wrote up a total renovation proposal for the Hermitage, going into detail as to how everything was to be done and spelling out the fine points as best I could, depending on my memory. I assumed Allen and the Shed Men would be doing everything, bringing in outside contractors only when they had to, so I went into greater detail possibly than they would need.

  "I chose Roman red paint for the exterior, with dark green for the trim on the window and doors, and the finest veined white marble tile with black grout for the interior floors and for the front stairs descending to a broad terrace of white marble which should go down to the landing-and indeed, they should build a proper landing-and ordered a new bronze stairway to go between the stories and up to the cupola as well. This would be a gorgeous and costly retreat when I finished. But it would be more in keeping now with the strange gold tomb.

  "As for the furnishings, I would order them from the same catalogs we used for Blackwood Manor, and of course I'd go over to Hurwitz Mintz in New Orleans to check their fine stock for choice pieces. I wanted torch¨¨re lamps everywhere and marble-top tables galore, as I had dreamed and as my strange and cunning partner had directed.

  "When I thought this over, when I caught myself in the very act of calling him a partner, I paused and reflected, and I remembered that moment in the moonlight, and I knew what I had seen. There was no mistaking it. And then there came back to me the memory of his earlier attack on me, and of the letter he had written. And how he had just held me helpless only a short time ago. He had told me that he would kill me if I didn't follow his instructions. Did I believe him?

  "Of course I hated him. And I feared him. But not enough.

  "I should have been far more cautious. I should have backed away from the venture. I should have loathed him. But what I had told Aunt Queen was true. I wanted these renovations. I wanted this rebirth of the Hermitage, and one of my greatest problems had been solved, and that was how to deal with the mysterious stranger. I didn't have to battle the man for the place. We now had a partnership. And so I proceeded. Was I half in love with this monster? Was that the secret truth?

  "I even remembered the man's advice to discourage hired workmen from going to the island, or rather to put a wreath of mystery about it, and I wrote this into the scheme.

  "Lastly, I wrote about what must be done first -- the cleaning and polishing of the mausoleum, and wrote out the solemn stricture that it must never be opened again.

  "Finally I finished my written plan for the renovations.

  "I printed out the requisite copies. Then I drew a clean design for a sumptuous granite bathroom to be built onto the back of the round Hermitage, occupying no more width than one window, and, copying this four times by means of my fax machine, I finished my official plans.

  "At this point Goblin spoke: 'Evil, Quinn,' he said. 'Quinn Goblin will die in any direction. ¡¯

  "I turned and looked at him and saw in his face a cold hard expression much as I'd often seen in him for the last few days. There was none of the old love or warmth or playfulness.

  " 'How do you mean Quinn Goblin will die?' I asked. 'We won't let that happen, old buddy. We won't. I'm pledging that to you. Can you understand my words? They come from my heart. ¡¯

  " 'They all want you,' he replied in his monotone. 'Mona wants you. Rebecca wants you. Aunt Queen wants you. Nash wants you. The stranger wants you. Any direction and Quinn Goblin dies. ¡¯

  " 'We'll never be separated,' I said confidentially. 'Perhaps they simply don't know how strong the bond is between us. But we know. ¡¯

  "His expression remained cold, and then very slowly he dissolved.

  "I had the distinct impression that he had dissolved of his own accord, not because he had to, and that he wanted me to know this, that he had withdrawn, and indeed I did feel the sting of it.

  " 'It's true what I told you,' I said. 'Only you can make us die, only you can divide us, and that would be by leaving me. ¡¯

  "Whether he was near or far, whether he had heard what I said, I had no clue. And I was too madly excited to care about him.

  "I hurried downstairs to place a copy of my scheme with Aunt Queen, who received the work agreeably enough, and then I went out to find Allen's mailbox in the shed, and I put a copy in there for him. Allen was the head of the craftsmen, as I've indicated. He'd see that the work was done. I put a copy in Clem's box as a courtesy, as Clem was actually the boss, and then I headed back to the house.

  "As I crossed the back terrace a wave of giddiness came over me. And when I look back on that moment -- when I remember the starlight and the warm air, and the light streaming out of the kitchen door to greet me, when I remember the feeling of charged excitement, I remember how very alive I felt, how in love with Mona and how foolishly excited I was by the mysterious stranger, and how I held myself to be invincible even in the face of strong evidence that I was not.

  "Goblin's strange words meant nothing to me, absolutely nothing. In fact, I even suspected him of the most base jealousy, and all of his recent behavior seemed cause to doubt his love. Yes, I was drawing away from him. Yes, Goblin Quinn was going to die. It had to happen because Manhood was going to make it happen.

  "And on the battlefield of Manhood, Mona was my Princess and the Mysterious Stranger a dark knight riding near me or even against me in a joust of which I was only just learning the rules.

  "We would come to know each other, the dark knight and myself. W
e would talk together in the Hermitage. I would penetrate the illusion of the bodies being given over to the dark waters. I would discover that it had been a sort of dream. Anything so very bad had to be a dream. Take Rebecca for instance. Rebecca came in dreams.

  "What more could I do for poor Rebecca? Of course I could not give her 'a life for a life, a death for a death. ¡¯

  "I went back upstairs. The windows were closed. The air-conditioning hummed. No sign of Goblin. I went to the window and looked down on the west lawn. I could see in the distance the dim white shapes of the cemetery in the moonlight. I said a prayer for Rebecca, that her soul was in Heaven with God.

  "Very reluctantly I lay down to sleep beside Big Ramona, and when I woke it was to the murky dawn, and I had the heavy tasks of Manhood upon me. "
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