Blackwood farm, p.31

Blackwood Farm, page 31

 part  #9 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series


Blackwood Farm

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  "THEY BROUGHT me into the house. It was dim and magnificent. They showed me the shadowy double parlor with its carved archway and shining floors and they took me through the handsome dining room with its murals of Riverbend Plantation, long ago sacrificed to the curvature of the Mississippi River as it changed its fickle path.

  "Rowan was the tour guide, pointing out details with a low-key simplicity, her voice warm, though her gray eyes were always cold. She was very shapely in her white shirt and pants and seemed at times to be ruminating in a dream.

  "Then it was in the sunlit kitchen that we settled at a glass table with brass dolphins as a base to it, and we were ranged in comfortable brushed-steel chairs. There was a cozy back stairs in the corner and a small gas fireplace for cold days, but this wasn't one of them, and beyond the French doors we could see the rampant jasmine and the banana trees that grew around the wall of the rear garden where I had sat with Julien, so oblivious to the real world.

  " 'But how do I know you're real?' I asked them logically. 'He seemed in those moments as real as anybody, except --. ' And then I had to admit it, the things that were wrong, that he had been a friend to my ancestor Manfred, a sheer impossibility in terms of his appearance, and then there was the matter of his old-fashioned nineteenth-century clothes.

  " 'Ghosts tip you off and then distract you,' I confessed.

  "Michael Curry nodded his head. I knew instinctively that he had seen spirits, plenty of them. And he was such a genial man, almost humble. Yet he gave an impression of incredible strength. He had exceptionally large hands and they looked gentle.

  " 'What did he tell you, son?' he asked. 'Can you share this information with us?¡¯

  " 'That he had sired my great-great-grandfather,' I said. I proceeded to recount for them the operatic drama and how it had been done. And that it seemed to mean that Mona and I both carried a sensitivity to see spirits and that was why we mustn't marry on any account.

  "It may have been utterly self-defeating to repeat these things to Michael and Rowan but I had no intention of holding them back. I thought they should know everything. They should know why Oncle Julien had interfered.

  "With my eyes opened now I told them of Oncle Julien's words, that he existed in a 'Purgatorial state of concern' about his genes dominating his offspring, and how he had asked me about the sweet scent in the backyard, and of how I could smell that scent and had not wanted to say anything until asked.

  "Both Rowan and Michael seemed fascinated by these confessions, and I went on to tell them that Oncle Julien had said that mutations were buried in the earth of the rear garden, but not Mona's child, Mona's mutated child was living, and this seemed to enthrall them and they asked that I repeat it and I did.

  "At this point I became so miserable, so certain that they would not let me see Mona, and so sure of failure in every regard that I began to cry. I begged them not to turn me away. I told them how much I wanted to be part of them. I had no shame in it. And perhaps in my own heart I felt I was worthy somehow.

  " 'I don't come as a pauper,' I said. 'I don't come as a beggar. I don't offer Mona a small cottage in which to live. ¡¯

  " 'We know that, son,' said Michael Curry. 'And forgive us if we seemed lacking in respect when we came to Blackwood Manor, but Mona has put us through some wild escapades and at times we forget our manners. Yesterday was one of those times. Believe me when I say we worry about Mona. ¡¯

  " 'But what is so very wrong with Mona being with me? Do you believe it's that we both see spirits?¡¯

  " 'No, it's not that in itself,' said Michael. He sat back comfortably in his chair as he addressed me. 'The fact is, there are medical reasons, good medical reasons that have to do with Mona's health. ¡¯

  " 'It's Mona who has the right to talk about the medical aspects of things,' Rowan said in her softly running husky voice, 'not us. But we can tell you that Mona isn't acting wisely and we are trying to guard Mona from herself. ' She was soft and sincere.

  "I wasn't sure what to say. 'I understand your problem,' I replied, 'because I can't divulge the things that Mona has said to me. But can't I see her? Can't you let her come down? Can't I tell her about the ghost of Oncle Julien? Can't I ask her what she has to say?¡¯

  " 'You do understand,' said Michael, 'that this was a powerful apparition. This ghost chose to intervene in a powerful way. Have you ever seen a ghost like this?¡¯

  " 'Yes,' I said, 'I have seen ghosts that strong. ¡¯

  "I told them both the whole story of Rebecca. And as I did so I knew I was being my own worst enemy again. But there could be nothing under this roof but frankness, or so it seemed to me. My love for them ordained that frankness.

  "I also told them about Goblin. As much as I thought right.

  " 'Don't you see that I belong with her?' I said finally. 'She's the only one who will ever understand me, and I'm the only one who'll ever understand her?¡¯

  " 'Son, you have your own ghosts,' said Michael, 'and she has hers. You have to move away from each other. You have to seek a decent normality on your own. ¡¯

  " 'Oh, God, that's impossible!' I said. 'We'll never achieve it. Besides, who's to say we can't achieve it better together if it's achievable at all?¡¯

  "I could see now they were pondering my words. I had made some incidental impression of intelligence on them if nothing else. They hadn't kicked me out of their house yet in any event, and now an overpowering urge to have hot chocolate came over me, a stupid, insidious desire to drink hot chocolate in large amounts.

  "And to my utter amazement, Michael rose and said, 'I'll fix it for you. I'd like some myself. ' I was stunned. They were a family of mind readers on top of everything else. I heard him laugh under his breath as he went to the pantry. Then came the noises and the deep delicious fragrance of the heated milk.

  "Rowan sat there solemnly and pondering, and then, very softly, she spoke. Her voice as usual was much gentler than her angular face, with its high cheekbones and blunt-cut wavy hair.

  " 'Tarquin, let me lay it out,' she said. 'Let me violate Mona's confidentiality. Let me make that judgment call. Mona has given me permission to do it, to tell you things about her, which really shouldn't be told. She isn't really old enough to give that permission. But let me go on. Mona endangers herself every time she has intimate relations with a man. Do you follow me? She runs the risk of hurting herself severely. We're trying to keep Mona alive. ¡¯

  " 'But we used protection, Dr. Mayfair,' I insisted. Nevertheless this was frightening news. I had dried my eyes by this time and was trying to behave like an adult.

  " 'Of course you did,' said Dr. Mayfair, raising her eyebrows slightly, 'but even the best of precautions can fail. There's always the possibility that Mona will conceive. And just the smallest miscarriage weakens Mona in ways that a normal woman does not have to worry about. It's all because of the baby born to Mona, the baby whom Oncle Julien mentioned to you in the garden outside. It left Mona vulnerable. And we're trying to keep Mona alive. We're trying to discover how to fix what's wrong so Mona won't be so vulnerable, but for that we need time. ¡¯

  " 'Dear God,' I whispered. 'That's why Mona was at Mayfair Medical the day I saw her. ¡¯

  " 'Precisely,' said Rowan. She was becoming a little more heated, but she sounded compassionate at the same time. 'We're not insensitive monsters,' she said. 'Really we're not. We're trying to get her to stop seducing her cousins and to cooperate with our regimen of blood tests and nutritional supplements so we can find out what's going wrong inside of her and why she so often conceives. Now, I've told you more than I should, and by the way, let me add that she is in love with you and she's stopped roaming since she met you; you have every right to know that, but we can't countenance her being with you. ¡¯

  " 'No,' I said, 'what you can't countenance is her being alone with me. Let me see her here with you present. Let me see her with a vow of celibacy. What could
be wrong with that?¡¯

  "Michael came to the table with the very silver pitcher I had seen in the garden and cups for us all. It was the same damned china. The hot chocolate was as rich and delicious as it had been in the vision and I was ready for a second cup almost at once. I wanted to tell them about the pitcher and the china, but I wanted even more to talk about Mona.

  " 'Thank you for humoring me on this score -- I mean with this chocolate,' I said. 'I don't know what's the matter with me. ¡¯

  "Michael refilled my cup for the second time. I drank deeply. It tasted better than anything known to man.

  "I sat back. 'I've been level with you,' I said. 'Can't you be level with me? Tell her that I'm here --. ¡¯

  " 'She knows that, Quinn,' said Michael. 'Her powers of clairvoyance are tremendous. She knew it when you came through the front gate. She's wrestling with the very things Rowan confided to you. The truth's coming full force on her. She's sick. And then there's the question of her lost offspring -- the one that Julien told you was alive. She heard that news when you did, and she was the one who came to us and told us to come down and welcome you in. ¡¯

  "I wanted to say this was a great consolation, which it was, but I wished they had told me before this time and I didn't want to complain. Also something else occurred to me. Why had they interrupted my conversation with Julien when they did? If they hadn't come, how much more would Julien have said?

  " 'That's a question to which we don't have an answer,' said Michael, having read my thoughts again.

  " 'But you stopped him. You stopped him from revealing family secrets,' I said. 'You thought it best. ¡¯

  " 'We did,' said Dr. Mayfair. 'We thought it best. ¡¯

  " 'Does it matter to you that I am one of you?' I asked in a sober voice.

  "Neither of them had an answer for me. Then Rowan spoke in the most dejected manner. 'If only Mona wasn't ill,' she said. 'If only we could find a cure. Then everything would be different, Quinn. As it stands now, what is the point of asking you to cast your lot with us? What is the point of asking you to be genetically tested as all of us are? What is the point of you taking on the weight of our history and our curses and all we suffer and know?¡¯

  " 'Genetic testing?' I asked. 'To see if I have a susceptibility to see spirits?' I drank down the hot chocolate. Michael poured me another cup.

  " 'No,' said Rowan, 'to see if you could produce the mutation in your offspring as Mona did. ¡¯

  " 'I want it,' I said.

  "She nodded. 'All right. I'll set it up at Mayfair Medical. You report in to Dr. Winn Mayfair. Call his secretary to arrange the time. ¡¯

  " 'And now, where are you keeping my darling princess?¡¯

  "I heard her from the top of the back stairs: 'Quinn!¡¯

  "I rose at once and ran up to her, jogging left then left again with the little stairway, and then throwing my arms around her as we came together on the second floor.

  " 'Remember my warnings,' came Rowan's voice from below.

  " 'I promise, no penetration,' said Mona. 'Now leave us alone. ¡¯

  "I picked her up off her feet.

  " 'Oh, my egregious boy!' she declared, her breasts hot beneath her snow white shirt, her red hair everywhere in my eyes and against my heart, her naked legs smooth and beautiful to my touch.

  "I carried her down the hallway. 'Where do we go, Princess Mona of Mayfair?' I asked. 'I have wrestled with angels and dragons to be with you!¡¯

  " 'To the very front of the house, Prince Tarquin of Blackwood,' she answered. 'There is my bower among the branches of the oaks. ¡¯

  "We passed up a short few steps, out of a narrow hallway, to a big bedroom and through it into a large hallway and on past a regal staircase to the very front where my beloved, my red-haired beloved, signaled me to make a left turn.

  "It was the very front bedroom, all right, and its two floor-length windows were open to the upper porch, and they seemed to be filled by the oak branches of the two trees which stood before the house.

  "We fell onto the bed.

  "I was all wound up with Mona's virginal white blouse and its voluminous sleeves and lace, and we were tumbling in her white pillows, and I pressed my hand against her hot wet panties, and with the pressure of my palm brought her to the finish with divine blushes that made me come.

  "Again we did it, and this time more slowly and playfully, and then again, and I was as always spent before she was, but I was in no mood to desert her in her need.

  "It must have been an hour that we lay together, and all the while the door was partially open and there came no sound of any intruding person in the house.

  "We were on our honor and on a small white lace baby quilt, which I had pretty much spoilt with my overspilled love. 'Entirely washable, and destined for the purpose,' said my Lady Love as she folded it and cast it away.

  "Now it was the season for kisses and for snuggling and for lying back against the pillows and looking out of the windows at the oak branches in which the lithe little brown squirrels tripped among the clinging green ferns.

  " 'I never want to leave you,' I told her. 'But awful things have happened to me since we were together,' I confessed.

  "I told her all about the stranger and his bizarre assault. I told her how he had read my very thoughts about the Hermitage. And how I had given the order for the renovations and he and I would be partners in it, but I was more sure than ever that I had seen him dumping bodies by the light of the moon.

  "She was fascinated.

  " 'Doesn't that scare you?' she asked.

  " 'Of course not,' I said. 'I'm more scared of Oncle Julien. ¡¯

  "She laughed.

  " 'Does Oncle Julien come any time you want him?¡¯

  "She looked sad.

  " 'No,' she said, 'it's more like he comes when he wants to come, and now you have to tell me everything that happened to you with him. I overheard your telling Rowan and Michael, I admit. I was an eavesdropper. But you have to tell me. Describe him. Describe how he acted. I have to know. I'm so ferociously jealous when Oncle Julien appears to anybody else. ¡¯

  "I recounted the whole experience for her. I described Julien's dapper clothes, his gentle manner. I described the flowered china pattern. She knew it. She said it was Royal Antoinette. She wasn't sure they even had it in his time. She said he had snatched the image out of the pantry. He was a clever ghost.

  "She was deeply affected by the fact that he had said her child was alive. That meant the world to her. I had a jewel there to give her in that simple intelligence.

  " 'But doesn't a ghost ever lie?' I asked. I went, in my mind, back over my experience with Rebecca. Perhaps she never lied to me. She only deceived me and there can be a difference.

  "I got up out of the bed. I went to the window and looked into the oak branches. It was so beautiful here. You'd never guess that you were in the middle of the city -- that the waterfront lay a scant eight blocks from here to the left, that St. Charles Avenue with its legendary streetcars was only three blocks to the right.

  " 'You know what I think?' I asked.

  " 'What is it?' she said, sitting up. She pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around her legs. Her hands looked beautiful in her big laced ruffles. Her hair fell down around her shoulders in a way I'll never forget.

  " 'I think I need you much more than you need me,' I said.

  " 'Quinn, that's not true,' she said. 'I love you. You're the first person I've ever fallen in love with. It came on me all last night after they brought me home. It hurts and it's splendid and it's real. I need you because you're fresh and vital and you're not part of us. ¡¯

  "She sounded so earnest.

  " 'But I am,' I protested. 'I told you what Julien told me. He took the place of my great-great-grandfather William, I told you. ¡¯

  " 'But you weren't brought up a Mayfair,' she said. 'And you come with a strong name and tradition of your own. You live in a manor house w
ith its own legends and grandeur! Besides, what does it matter? I need you and I love you, that's the point. ¡¯

  " 'Mona, was it true what Dr. Rowan told me, that every time. . . ?¡¯

  " 'Yes, it's true. They don't know why. But I'm constantly ovulating, constantly fertile; I conceive constantly and I lose the offspring, and every time it happens I'm weakened. More calcium is pulled out of my bones. Now, it is extremely possible -- totally possible actually -- that if they performed a hysterectomy on me, the problem would be solved, but then I'd never have children, and they're hoping that somehow they can solve the problem without that step. ¡¯

  "I was frightened by all this, frightened for her. That I had unknowingly hurt her terrified me.

  " 'If it means your life, Mona, you have to let them do the hysterectomy,' I said. 'You can't keep risking your very life. ¡¯

  " 'I know, Quinn, I think about it constantly,' she said. 'And so does everyone else. There will come a moment when they say that it's time to do it, and that time may be very soon. Think about that, Quinn. Does the Lord of Blackwood Manor want a bride that can never have a child?¡¯

  " 'I love you, Mona. I don't need children. In fact, I know of a child we can have. ¡¯

  " 'Just have?' she said, laughing. 'You mean just like that?¡¯

  "I told her about Pops, about Terry Sue and Tommy. Brilliant little Tommy sitting on the log with the book of paintings in his hand, and the black-and-blue mark on his face.

  " 'Wow, think of it!' she said. 'It would be like Cinderella! You could just change his entire life!¡¯

  " 'Yep. I intend to do that, no matter what happens. So don't think about me anymore when you think about this hysterectomy. I'm pretty sure that Terry Sue is open to bargaining where Tommy's ownership is concerned. I'm going to help Terry Sue with the whole passel of them, that's a done deal. But there's one thing I have to ask you. ¡¯

  " 'You already sound like the man of the house,' she said matter-of-factly. 'I'll do my best. ¡¯

  " 'No, I'm serious, Mona. ¡¯

  "I sat on the bed next to her and I kissed her.

  " 'Do Rowan and Michael know where your child is?' I asked.

  " 'No,' she said, 'I don't think that they do. Sometimes I think that they might -- Mayfair Medical is a world unto itself -- but no, they couldn't --. I can't stand that idea. I can't stand that they wouldn't tell me. But let's not talk about it, Quinn. Rowan is a cold calculating scientist in many respects, but Rowan has a conscience made out of pure gold. Let's just talk about us. ¡¯

  "I put my arms around her. Pure gold. The image struck me. Pure gold. I thought of the mausoleum and the mysterious stranger telling me that the mausoleum was made of gold.

  " 'There's no way in the world you could run off to Europe with me,' I said. 'You need the treatment that Dr. Rowan is giving you at the medical center, don't you?¡¯

  "She sighed. She nodded. 'It was a dream, running away. They're giving me hormone treatments and all kinds of nutrients, I don't know. I'm in and out all during the week. I'm wired up for two and three hours at a stretch. I don't think there's much progress. I wanted to fly away. It was wrong of me to involve you in my dream, to let you believe it with me for a little while. ¡¯

  " 'I don't mind,' I said. 'I don't have to go. In fact, I won't go. Not as long as we can see each other, and I think they trust us now. I think they know that I won't hurt you, and you know it too. ¡¯

  "There came a rap at the door.

  "Time for supper, and I was cordially invited to join them downstairs. In fact, they wouldn't hear of my not joining them, and after a quick call to Jasmine to report my whereabouts I appeared in the dining room to find Mona -- attired in another gorgeous white shirt with billowing sleeves, this time over a tropical print miniskirt-shorts combination that was, if anything, more sexy than her bare panties had been earlier -- and Michael and Rowan, somewhat formally attired.

  "Michael looked quite the gentleman in his seersucker three-piece suit, and Rowan wore a lovely simple navy blue dress with a bold triple strand of pearls.

  "Only on second glance did it register that Mona had put on Aunt Queen's cameo and that it looked beautiful at her throat.

  "To my utter amazement Stirling Oliver of the Talamasca had come to join us and in keeping with the mild late spring weather he wore a white three-piece suit with a lemon yellow tie. I remember that tie for some reason. I don't know why. I remember men's ties. His gray hair was clipped short, combed straight back from his temples, and he looked like a man in his sixties of excellent health.

  "They were all vivid impressive people and the house in no way overpowered them or diminished their easy charm.

  "I was very glad to see Stirling again and had a strong sense that Aunt Queen would be disturbed if she knew. As it was I had little choice in the matter and that felt very comfortable for me.

  " 'I saw your friend, Goblin, outside,' he said confidentially, as he shook my hand. 'He indicated you wished to be on your own. ¡¯

  " 'Are you serious?' I asked. 'Did you really see him and talk to him?¡¯

  " 'Yes, he was right by the gate. He was very strong, but you must realize my talents for such perception are, if anything, rather over-developed. For me the world's a crowded place. ¡¯

  " 'Was he angry or bitter?' I asked.

  " 'Neither,' he said, 'but rather glad to be seen. ¡¯

  "At this point Mona spoke up, taking our arms as she interposed, 'Why don't I invite him in? We'll make a place at the table for him?¡¯

  " 'No, not tonight,' I said. 'I want to be selfish. He has his moments. This is one of mine. ¡¯

  "The dinner went on swimmingly, with lots of conversation about whether I should in fact go to Europe, and Michael felt that there comes in each person's life a perfect time to go to Europe and one can go either too early or too late. I agreed with that heartily and then dared to ask if it was at all possible for Mona to go if Aunt Queen would agree to bring another female chaperone dedicated entirely to Mona, and I made it clear in euphemisms, which the august dining room seemed to require, that I would never risk Mona's health or well-being for cheap lust.

  "I hope I made half the potent figure that I tried to be. When only Mona consented to everything I said, Rowan went on to state matter-of-factly that Mona couldn't be away from Mayfair Medical at this time, it was simply out of the question, and that if it was at all possible she and Michael would take Mona to Europe so that Mona could have the experience again.

  "In fact, Mona went on to explain that it had been on her trip to Europe that her 'condition' had been discovered and the tour had been cut short for that reason and she had come home to undergo intense study at the medical center, plus injections of hormones and nutrients and other drugs as well.

  "Throughout, nobody mentioned Mona's mysterious child. And I didn't mention the mysterious stranger.

  "We went into the double parlor after the supper and there I drank more brandy than I should. But I fixed the situation with a call to Clem to come get me in Aunt Queen's stretch limousine, with Allen to drive the Mercedes home, which worked out very well, since Aunt Queen was 'entertaining' in her room.

  "Michael and Rowan showed no letup of interest in me, or if they did I was a perfect fool. Stirling Oliver was affable and curious as well. We talked about seeing ghosts and I told them all the entire story of Rebecca, again using all the appropriate euphemisms, which the parlor seemed to require. I had the feeling in my semidrunken pride that Mona was enjoying all of this.

  "Her eyes were glistening and she never once interrupted me, which struck me as amazing given how very brilliant I found her to be. When she did talk it was to bring me out for Rowan and Michael and Stirling, or to bring them out to me. Of the three, Michael was by far the more talkative and the more given to laughing at himself, though Stirling had a great sense of humor, but Rowan was modest for a doctor, and, as I had found her in the afternoon, her husky voice was much warmer and sweete
r than her finely angled face.

  "She had the sharp gray eyes of a beauty, and one could believe she was a neurosurgeon by the look of her long tapering hands. Michael was the older one, the rugged one, the one who had worked on 'this house' with his hammer and nails. He spoke of feeling its embrace and of loving its shining floors and its creaks and groans in the small hours. And all of these three alluded modestly and naturally to having seen ghosts.

  "Stirling talked of a childhood full of spirits in an English castle. And of discovering the Talamasca during his university years at Cambridge. Michael spoke of nearly drowning off the coast of San Francisco and being rescued by, of all people, Rowan, and of his having come through it with a power to know certain paranormal things through touch.

  "Mona told them all laughingly that Oncle Julien had ransacked the pantry for Royal Antoinette to serve me the hot chocolate, and I told them about the poem by Christopher Morley which I had loved so as a child, and about the cocoa and animal crackers, which I had altogether forgotten to tell any of them until then, and they were impressed with it, and we speculated as to how spirits make up what they do.

  " 'But it means God exists, doesn't it?' asked Mona. There was the most poignant tone in her voice.

  " 'God or the Devil,' said Dr. Rowan.

  " 'Oh, it would be too cruel if the Devil existed without God,' said Mona.

  " 'I don't think so,' said Rowan. 'I think it's entirely possible. ¡¯

  " 'Nonsense, Rowan,' said Michael. 'God exists and God is love. ' And with a very deliberate nod to Mona he cautioned Rowan, and I saw at that moment that Mona was looking anxiously away. Then Mona spoke up.

  " 'I guess I'll know soon,' she said, 'or I'll know nothing. That's the hard part. Blinking out like a burnt-out bulb. ¡¯

  " 'That's not going to happen,' I said. 'When you have your treatments at Mayfair Medical, is it tiresome? Can I come and sit with you? Is it possible we could talk or I could read to you? What is it like?¡¯

  " 'That would be lovely,' said Rowan, 'until you get tired of it, which would happen at some point. ¡¯

  " 'Rowan, for the love of Heaven,' said Michael. 'What's gotten into you?¡¯

  "Mona started to laugh. 'Yes, Quinn,' she said, laughing still, 'I have to be there for hours. I take the treatments intravenously, that's why I wear long sleeves, to hide the marks. It would be wonderful if you were with me. It doesn't have to be every time. And Rowan's right. When you get tired, I'll understand. ¡¯

  " 'I'm ashamed that I've never asked if I could visit you during these treatments,' said Stirling. 'We've had so many suppers at the Grand Lumini¨¨re Caf¨¦. Why, it never crossed my mind. ¡¯

  " 'And don't think that you have to,' said Mona. 'I watch the worst television imaginable. I'm hooked on vintage sitcoms. Don't give it another thought. ¡¯

  "I wanted to vow that I would never get tired. I would bring flowers, and books of poetry to read. But I knew that the realist among us would think all this very lame, and so I let it go for the moment, thinking that later, when it came time to leave, I would ask when I could see Mona again.

  " 'I know one thing,' Mona announced, quite suddenly. 'When it comes my time to die, I don't want it to be at Mayfair Medical. I still cherish my dream of going out like Ophelia, on a boat of flowers in a softly running stream. ¡¯

  " 'I don't think it works very well,' said Michael. 'I think the flowers and the floating part of it are wonderful, but then comes the drowning and it's not so peaceful at all. ¡¯

  " 'Well, then, I'll settle for a bed of flowers,' she said. 'But there has to be a lot of them, you know, and no tubes and needles and bottles of morphine and such things as that. I can imagine the water as long as I'm on a bed of flowers. And there are no doctors around. ¡¯

  " 'I promise,' said Michael.

  "Dr. Rowan said nothing.

  "It was an extraordinary moment. I was horrified. But I didn't dare to speak.

  " 'Come on, everybody, I'm so sorry I made it glum,' said Mona. 'Quinn, let me cheer you up. Have you ever read Hamlet? Will you read it to me sometime at Mayfair Medical?¡¯

  " 'I'd love to,' I responded.

  "We had all seen Kenneth Branagh's landmark film of Hamlet and we'd loved it, and of course I knew the Ophelia underwater scene so very well. It had been a still shot after Gertrude's long description, all of it beautifully done, due to the fact that Branagh is a genius, we all agreed. I wanted to tell them all about Fr. Kevin's warning about speaking to ghosts, based on what happened to Hamlet, but I wasn't sure how I felt about it so I let it slide.

  "The remainder of the evening was marvelous. We talked of so many things. Michael Curry loved books, the way that my old teacher Lynelle had loved them, and he thought it was fabulous that I had a new teacher in Nash Penfield, and he thought it perfectly fine that I had never gone to school.

  "Rowan agreed wholeheartedly that I had probably missed nothing, that except for a certain margin of affluent American kids who occupy a tiny portion of the classes in ultrafine schools, 'organized educational experience' was more painful and unprofitable than anything else.

  "Stirling Oliver thought it incredibly wonderful that I was getting such an intense education, wondering aloud what it would be like if so many others could have the same benefits. As for Tommy, whom I described to everyone, everyone believed that he and his brothers and sisters should be given 'every chance. ' It wasn't playing God to show them another world.

  "I was very surprised by all this, and in a very real way I did not want to go home. I wanted to live in this house with Michael and Rowan and Mona forever. I wanted to know Stirling forever. But in another way, I couldn't wait to go home. I couldn't wait to be 'me' again, because I had been so strongly accepted. I wanted to tell Nash and Aunt Queen about it. I wanted to set about my studies with Nash. I wanted to set up my visits with Mona. I wanted once more to postpone my trip abroad.

  "Now as to that -- postponing my trip -- Michael had a suggestion. Why not go for a couple of weeks? 'One can see a lot of Europe in that time,' he told me. 'And if you have to choose one country then let me suggest either England or Italy. Either one will send you back transformed. ¡¯

  "Everybody seemed to think it was a good idea. Stirling and Rowan also suggested Italy. I had to admit it was a good idea. It would quiet Aunt Queen's desires for me for a little while and Mona would be waiting, she vowed, to hear of all my adventures when I returned.

  "Meantime, Clem had come for me, and though the conversation was moving along fiercely, with Michael describing his own visit to Italy, I knew it was time to go.

  "Besides, I was really getting drunk.

  "On the front porch I took Mona in my arms, vowing to call her the next day and get the times during which she would let me visit with her at Mayfair Medical.

  " 'I spend my life there, egregious and beautiful boy,' she said. 'Pick a time, any time. ¡¯

  " 'When do your spirits flag?¡¯

  " 'Four o'clock. I'm so tired of it. I begin to cry. ¡¯

  " 'I'll come at two and stay with you as long as you allow. ¡¯

  " 'That will be till six,' she said. 'Then we have dinner in the Grand Lumini¨¨re Caf¨¦. ¡¯

  " 'You can dismiss me then or have my attendance, as you wish. I come with no strings attached. ¡¯

  " 'You really do love me, don't you?¡¯

  " 'Passionately and undyingly. ¡¯

  "Our final kisses were long and lingering, and drunkenly sweet.

  "Then Michael Curry saw me to the gate, which did need a key to unlock it.

  "He took me in his arms. He held me tight, and he kissed me, European-style, on each cheek. 'You're a good boy, Quinn,' he said.

  " 'Thank you, Michael,' I said. 'I really adore her. ¡¯

  "As soon as Goblin and I were securely in the back of the limousine I burst into tears.

  "On and on we drove, and I couldn't stop crying. And as we crossed the black waters of Lake Pontcha
rtrain, Goblin put his arms around me and he said in his low voice, rather like Ariel in The Tempest, 'I'm sorry, Quinn; if I were human, I would cry too. ' "
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