Blackwood farm, p.30

Blackwood Farm, page 30

 part  #9 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series


Blackwood Farm

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  "IF EVER ANYBODY WAS more in love than me that day I should like to speak to that person and hear it proved from his or her lips. I was floating with happiness. I parked half a block away, so as not to be espied by an evil opposing Mayfair, and then, bouquet in hand (I had pushed back the florist paper to make a mere cuff of it) I approached the gate, coming along the fence beneath a great shrub of crape myrtles that were already wildly and beautifully in bloom.

  "In fact, the entire Garden District seemed fragrantly blooming and the streets so utterly deserted that I did not have to be subjected to ordinary individuals who weren't in love.

  "As for Goblin, when he appeared beside me I told him firmly that I had to complete this mission alone, and he was to leave me now if he ever wanted a civil word from me again.

  " 'I love you, I've told you that. Now give me my time with Mona,' I said crossly.

  "To my astonishment he gave me loving kisses on my cheek and whispered 'Au revoir' to me and obediently disappeared. An aftertaste lingered, a shimmering feeling of good will and deliberate generosity that was as palpable as the breeze.

  "Of course I had hoped that Mona would be waiting for me with backpack, suitcase and passport in hand.

  "But soon as I reached the wrought-iron gate a tall, elegant individual came to meet me, shattering my hope of escape with Mona utterly, though he had a most compassionate look on his vibrant face.

  "He was svelte, if not downright swanky, with prematurely white curly hair and quick inquisitive eyes. His clothes were positively dashing. They looked old-fashioned in cut, like something from a drama about the nineteenth century, but what part of that century I didn't know.

  " 'Come in, Tarquin,' he said with a French accent. He turned the brass knob, whereas Mona had used a key. 'I've been waiting for you. You're most welcome. Come in. Please. I want to talk with you. Follow me into the garden, if you will. ¡¯

  " 'But where's Mona?' I asked, being as civil as I knew how.

  " 'Oh, no doubt combing her long red hair,' he said with the most exquisite intonation, 'so that she can throw it over yonder balcony,' he pointed upwards to the iron railings, 'and lure you like Rapunzel did her forbidden prince. ¡¯

  " 'Am I forbidden?' I asked. I tried to resist his beguiling manner but it was difficult.

  " 'Oh, who knows?' he said with a world-weary sigh, but his smile was brilliant. 'Come with me, and call me Oncle Julien, if you will; I'm your Oncle Julien as surely as your Aunt Queen gave her embrace to Mona last night. And, by the way, that was a stunning gift, the cameo. Mona will always treasure it. May I call you Tarquin? I have already, haven't I? Do I have that much of your trust?¡¯

  " 'You invited me in, didn't you?' I replied. 'I thank you very much for that. ¡¯

  "We were walking now on a flagstone path beside the house, and to our right lay a great garden with an octagonal pattern of boxwood around its lawn. There were Grecian marble statues here and there -- a Hebe, I think, and a bathing Venus -- and beds of exquisite spring flowers and some small citrus trees, and one bearing a single lemon of monstrous size. I paused to look at it.

  " 'Isn't it charming?' he said. 'The little tree puts all its heart into the one lemon. If it had many, no doubt they'd be of regular size. You might say the Mayfair clan does something very similar. Here, come let's walk on. ¡¯

  " 'You mean with regard to the Legacy,' I said. 'They put everything into one Design¨¦e,' I continued, 'and she has to be guarded from intrigues with those who aren't marriageable and I've somehow been found wanting?¡¯

  " 'Mon fils,' he said, 'you have been found too young! There's nothing in you that's unworthy. It's only that Mona is fifteen and you are not yet a man. And I must confess a little mystery surrounds you which I will explain. ¡¯

  "We had gone up a few flagstone steps and were now walking past a huge octagonal swimming pool. Hadn't Aunt Queen said something about Michael Curry almost drowning in this pool? I was befuddled. Everywhere there was beauty. And it was so very quiet.

  "Oncle Julien drew my attention to the fact that the shape of the pool was the same as that of the lawn. And in each of the short pillars of the balustrade that octagon was repeated.

  " 'Patterns on top of patterns,' he said. 'Patterns attract spirits, spirits who are lost can see patterns, that's why they like old houses, grand houses, houses with big rooms filled with the touch of kindred spirits. I think sometimes that once a host of spirits have inhabited a house it's easier for other spirits to get in. It's an amazing thing. But come, let me take you into the rear garden. And we will escape the patterns to sit for a while beneath the trees. ¡¯

  "It was exactly as he had said. As we passed from the flagstones around the pool through a large open double gateway we found ourselves moving out across a loose lawn to an iron table and chairs beneath a huge oak, where the grass grew sparse and the roots were visible, and other young trees to our right -- willow, magnolia, maple -- were fighting to make a grove.

  "I could see the word 'Lasher' carved deep into the bark of the oak tree and there was a strange sweet fragrance in the garden, a perfumelike fragrance -- something that I could not associate with flowers. I was shy of asking what the scent was.

  "We sat down at the black iron table. It was set with cups and saucers for us and a tall thermal pitcher, which he lifted now to serve.

  " 'Hot chocolate, mon fils, what do you say to that?¡¯

  " 'Oh, marvelous,' I said with a laugh. 'How absolutely delicious. I never expected it. ' He filled my cup.

  " 'Ah,' he said, as he filled his own, 'you have no idea what a treat it is for me. ¡¯

  "We sipped, waiting for the temperature to become comfortable, and I saw there were animal crackers on the plate and the old poem by Christopher Morley came to me about this very repast:

  Animal crackers, and cocoa to drink,

  That is the finest of suppers, I think;

  "Quite suddenly, Oncle Julien recited the next two lines:

  'When I'm grown up and can have what I please

  I think I shall always insist upon these. ¡¯

  "We both laughed.

  " 'Did you plan it on account of the poem?' I asked.

  " 'Well, I suppose I did,' he responded. 'And because I thought you'd enjoy it. ¡¯

  " 'Oh, I'm so thankful. What a thoughtful thing to do. ¡¯

  "I felt high. I felt happy. This man wouldn't separate me from Mona. He would understand love. But I was forgetting something. I had heard the name Julien Mayfair, I was sure of it. It was in some connection, but I couldn't remember. . . Surely not from Mona. No.

  "I looked up and to the left at the long three-story flank of the Mayfair house. It was immense and silent. I didn't want it to shut me out.

  " 'Do you know of Blackwood Manor?' I asked suddenly. 'It was built in the 1880s. I know this house is far older. We live out in the country. But you have the charm and stillness of the country right here. ' I felt foolish for my candor. What was I trying to prove?

  " 'Yes, I know of the house,' he said, smiling agreeably. 'It's very beautiful. And my coming there was a macabre and romantic experience, which I wouldn't divulge to you in any detail, except that I must. It bears heavily upon your love for Mona. And so the light must shine in the dark. ¡¯

  " 'How so?' I was suddenly alarmed.

  "The chocolate was now at the perfect temperature. We both drank it at the same time. He sighed with pleasure, and then he filled our cups again. It was, as Mona would have said, perfectly egregiously delicious. But where was Mona?

  " 'Oh, please tell everything,' I said. 'What does it have to do with my love of Mona?' I found myself trying to calculate his age. Was he older than Pops had been? Surely he was younger than Aunt Queen.

  " 'It was in the time of your great-great-great-grandfather Manfred,' said Oncle Julien. 'He and I belonged to a gambling club here in New Orleans. It was secretive and fashionable and we p
layed hands of poker for bets that did not involve money so much as secret tasks to please the man who won. It was in this very house that we played, I well remember, and your ancestor Manfred had at home his son William, who was a very young bridegroom, and rather afraid of Blackwood Manor and all the responsibilities that it involved. Can you imagine such a thing?¡¯

  " 'That he was intimidated? Yes,' I said, 'I can imagine it though I don't feel that way myself. I'm the young master there now and I love it. ¡¯

  "He smiled gently. 'I believe you,' he said evenly. 'And I like you. I see travel in your future, great adventures, roaming the world. ¡¯

  " 'Not alone, however,' I was quick to answer.

  " 'Well, on this night in question,' he went on, 'when the gambling club was meeting here, it was Manfred Blackwood who won the hand and it was of Julien Mayfair whom he asked for the task to be done.

  " 'We rode out at once in his automobile to Blackwood Manor and there I saw your marvelous home in all its moonlit glory, the columns the color of magnolia blossoms -- one of those southern fantasies that nourish us perpetually in which northerners so seldom believe. Your great-great-great-grandfather Manfred took me inside and up the winding steps to an unoccupied bedroom and there he declared to me what I must do.

  " 'He produced an artful Mardi Gras mask and a rich red velvet cloak lined in gold satin, and he said that, clothed in this apparel, I must deflower William's young bride, for William himself, who soon appeared, had been absolutely unable to do it, and both Manfred and William had seen such masked trickery in a recent opera in New Orleans and they felt it would work here.

  " ' "But hasn't your wife seen the same opera with you?" I asked William, for I too had seen it at the opera house in New Orleans only a week before. "Yes," William responded. "Which is all the more reason why she will go along. "

  " 'Alors. Never one to turn my back upon a virgin and having only respect and compassion for a young woman so far cheated of a gentle and loving wedding night, I donned the mask and the cloak and went about the enterprise, vowing that I should wring from the young woman tears of ecstasy or count myself a damned soul, and suffice it to say that I emerged from the bedroom some forty-five minutes later a victor on the Stairway to Heaven, having achieved my highest goals.

  " 'Now from this union there came your great-grandfather Gravier. Do you follow my drift?¡¯

  "I was stunned into perfect silence.

  " 'Now, within a few months after the birth of Gravier,' Julien continued in the same affable and ostensively charming manner, 'William was able, at my suggestion, to commence his connubial duties by means of the mask and cape, and never was your great-great-grandmother ever the wiser as to the nature of the first encounter, and so on went their conjugal bliss, or so Manfred told me, the mild-mannered William very likely depending upon the mask and cape as long as fate required.

  " 'Now in time the young woman in question went to her reward in heaven, as we say, and William took a second wife, only to discover that he could not deflower her any more than he'd been able to deflower his first wife, and once again Manfred called upon me to don the mask and cloak, and so I did, becoming the father of the noble lady whom you call your Aunt Queen. Ah, such a blessed daughter --.

  " 'But my point is you are related to me and to mine by blood. ¡¯

  "I was speechless.

  "As I looked at him, as I sat there with the heat pumping in my cheeks, trying to fathom what he was saying to me, trying to evaluate what he was saying, some small voice inside said it was impossible, he couldn't be that old, he didn't look that old, the numbers weren't right for him to have been the father of Aunt Queen's older brother, Gravier, or of Aunt Queen herself, but maybe he was very young then, I didn't know.

  "But far louder than any voice that troubled me about years or numbers was the voice that said, 'Both you and Mona see spirits, Tarquin, and you are hearing an explanation of how that tendency came about. Oncle Julien's blood gave you those genes, Tarquin. His blood gave you the receptors which Mona also enjoys. ¡¯

  "As for the desk in the parlor of Blackwood Manor, the one round which William's ghost appeared to hover, I intended to go home and tear it apart.

  "Right then I sat there in total shock. I decided to drink the second cup of chocolate and I did. I grabbed for the pitcher and refilled my cup. Quietly he drank from his own.

  " 'It's not been my purpose to wound you, Tarquin,' said Oncle Julien, his voice very soft with affection. 'Far from it. Your youth and your sincerity appeal to me. And I see this lovely bouquet of flowers which you've brought to Mona, and this touches me that you want so desperately to love her. ¡¯

  " 'I do love her,' I said.

  " 'But we are a dangerously inbred family, Tarquin. And you cannot be with Mona. Even if you were both of age, my blood in your veins rules it out. Over time I have come to see that my genes in my offspring tended to dominate, and this has sometimes caused grief. When I was. . . when I was thoughtless and free and rebellious, when I hated time and was desperate, I didn't care about such things, but I care very much about them now. You could say I exist in a Purgatorial state of concern about them. That's why I must warn you that you can't be with Mona. You must leave Mona to her ghosts and you must go home to yours. ¡¯

  " 'I won't do it, Julien,' I said. 'I want to respect you and I do respect you, even though you deceived my ancestor, this shivering virgin whom you seduced in the very bed in which I sleep now. But I have to hear rejection from Mona's own lips. ¡¯

  "He took a deep swallow of his hot chocolate and looked away thoughtfully as though it comforted him to see the maple tree and the willow and the huge strapping magnolia that promised to dominate the little glen.

  " 'Tell me something, young one,' he said. 'Do you pick up a strange fragrance in this yard?¡¯

  " 'Yes, it's overpowering,' I said. 'I didn't want to ask about it. But I can smell it. It's sweet. ¡¯

  "There seemed a sudden change in his demeanor. He went from charming ease to fatality.

  " 'Once again, I must say it, mon fils, that you must absolutely never be with Mona,' he said. 'And you will forgive me that I brought you to this spot. ¡¯

  " 'What do you mean? Why do you say that to me? Who's to say that we won't be faithful to each other until we're grown? Three years from now, can't she make up her mind for herself? I'll hold her to my heart, I'll wear her hair in my locket of her and when the time comes I'll walk with her down the aisle. ¡¯

  " 'No, that can never be. Please understand how much I love Mona and how much I respect you and know you to be of fine character. But you can see spirits, mon fils, and you can catch the scent of the dead. You know that buried here in this spot are mutations who should never have been born to this family. Take my confidence, mon fils, that if you marry Mona your children may be these mutations as well. That you can catch the scent is proof of it, I must confess. ¡¯

  " 'Are you telling me you killed and buried Mona's child here?' I demanded.

  " 'No. Mona's child is living,' he answered. 'Its destiny is a different matter, I can well say. But there must be no more of such creatures, not by the name of Mayfair, and Mona will never have any other name. ¡¯

  " 'You're wrong!' I said.

  " 'Don't despise me, Tarquin, for your own sake,' he said. He seemed endlessly patient. 'I thought if I explained things to you it would be easier. And maybe it will be in the course of time. ¡¯

  " 'Tarquin!' I heard my name called. I turned to my left. In the broad gateway by the pool it was Michael Curry there who had called out to me and beside him stood Rowan Mayfair, and both were looking at me as though I had done something wrong.

  "I rose immediately.

  "They came towards me. They were both in casual, at-home dress. And Michael had a build on him in his blue work shirt that made my mouth water.

  "Rowan spoke first. She was kindly. 'What are you doing here, Tarquin?' she asked.

  " 'Well, I'm spea
king to Julien,' I said. 'We were just having hot chocolate and visiting here. ' I turned and gestured to the right but Julien wasn't there. I glanced at the table and then looked back to it. Except for my bouquet there was nothing there. No thermal silver pitcher, no cups, no animal crackers, nothing.

  "The breath went out of me.

  " 'My God,' I said. I made the Sign of the Cross. 'I tell you, I was speaking to him. I burnt my tongue on the second cup of hot chocolate. The pitcher, it was silver. He let me in at the front gate! He was telling me that I couldn't be with Mona, he said we were related. I . . . ' I stopped. I sank down in the chair.

  "Nobody knew better than me what had happened! Yet my eyes searched the garden for him. And again I stared at the empty table. I laid my hand on the bouquet. And where was Goblin? Why hadn't Goblin warned me? How impatient I'd been with Goblin, and Goblin had let me fend for myself!

  "Dr. Rowan Mayfair came behind me and put her hands on my shoulders. I felt soothed immediately by the way that she massaged me. She actually bent down and kissed my cheek. Rampant, comforting chills went through me. Oh, the pure sweetness of it. Michael Curry sat opposite and he took my hand and held it firmly. He was like the uncle I never knew.

  "God, how I loved them. How I wanted to be connected to them. How I wanted to love Mona with their blessing. Desperately, I needed their comfort now.

  " 'I'm going to be locked up,' I stammered. 'Julien Mayfair. Was he ever a real man?¡¯

  " 'He was real, all right,' said Rowan Mayfair in her patient and sincere husky voice. 'He's a legend in the Mayfair clan. He died in 1914. ' "
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