Blackwood Farm, page 33part #9 of The Vampire Chronicles Series
"IT WAS about nine a. m. when I called Stirling, and, unable to contain myself, spilled out all of the story of recent events, as I invited him to dinner to discuss them in greater detail. Perhaps I wanted him to know this was a loaded invitation. I thought it only fair.
"He surprised me. He insisted that we meet for lunch. He asked if it wouldn't be too inconvenient if we gathered at twelve noon. I went down to see Aunt Queen immediately. And finding her already awake, sitting up in her chaise lounge, watching a movie, saying her Rosary and eating strawberry ice cream, I was happy to have her agreement to lunch right away.
"Would Stirling come to Blackwood Manor? Of course.
"As Blackwood Manor was booked solid, we set up the small table in Aunt Queen's room, and her bed was dressed in its finest satin along with a broad collection of her red-cheeked boudoir dolls, all got up in the flapper attire that Aunt Queen herself so much adored.
"Stirling arrived promptly at five minutes before twelve, though his flowers, a huge vase of pink roses, arrived before him, and we gathered in Aunt Queen's room for Jasmine's finest veal scallopini and pasta and white wine. Nash, who offered several times to absent himself, joined us, and to my amazement Aunt Queen started right in with the 'strange tale' of Petronia and how she or he -- it varied during the story because at times Aunt Queen had seen Petronia differently -- had arrived at Blackwood Manor with the gift of the cameos, which were then produced for Stirling's inspection.
"Now this was the first time that I had seen these priceless pieces myself, and priceless they were. Because they were not cameos in the sense that we think of them, that is, ornaments carved from contrasting strata of shell or stone. They were portraits carved from gems, and in this case the gems were large amethysts and emeralds of Brazilian origin, and whereas amethysts are no longer very expensive gems, due to the discovery of such a supply of them in the New World, emeralds are expensive. And the carving of these small heads, each obviously of a particular Roman deity, was excellent if not absolutely magnificent.
"They were four in number, these gifts, and Aunt Queen had of course been incredibly grateful for this tribute, and then I had come home and pitched the gathering into confusion, as she was sure I was willing to explain.
"I did explain. I started at the beginning. I explained everything. I ate veal and pasta and guzzled white wine, forgetting to blot my lips before drinking and thereby going through two and three wineglasses before remembering, but I was passionately pouring out my tale, beginning with Rebecca and her visions and how they had driven me to the island, and what I had seen there in the moonlight, and how things had spun out from there, and how in a rage I had burnt the trespasser's books, and how he or she had come at me, and on it went. I left out nothing.
"Jasmine brought plate after plate of veal and pasta for me. I was happy to devour it.
" 'So there you see it,' I said. 'And then you have Goblin saying "Evil, Quinn," in my ear, and then that shock when I take Petronia's hand, that feeling of something like electricity that reaches out for Goblin and travels through Goblin to me! And this thing, this being, this creature, this interloper who threatens me, he can't see Goblin but he knows that Goblin is there. He knows Goblin can send showering glass at him, and for all his speed and strength, he doesn't want to be cut. ¡¯
"At last I came to a halt. I knew Aunt Queen and Nash were watching me. I knew they were watching Stirling as well.
" 'No,' said Stirling quietly. He had finished his meal in spite of many many pauses in which he had stared at me with rapt attention. 'It doesn't want to be cut. ¡¯
" 'Do you say "it," on account of her ambiguous sexuality?' asked Nash politely. There was some subtle tension between Nash and Stirling. I couldn't figure it.
" 'No, I don't think so,' said Stirling. 'I hope not. But who knows? Let me say, she does not want to be cut. ¡¯
" 'Do you believe my nephew?' Aunt Queen asked. 'Does all of this make any sense to you?' She was very kind in her tone. She sat to my right and pressed my shoulder softly as she spoke. 'My nephew is prepared for what you have to say. ¡¯
" 'Yes, I am prepared,' I said. 'I know you to be a frank and truthful person. Michael and Rowan respect you. Mona respects you. I know what I see in you. Tell me what you believe. ¡¯
" 'Very well,' said Stirling. He took another swallow of his wine and set the glass aside. 'Let me advise you first as if you were my son. Go away now. Take the trip with your Aunt Queen that she wants you to take. No, don't be upset with me. Let me explain. Mona Mayfair is sick. But she may get sicker. The time to leave Mona is now. You will obviously write to her, call her, stay in touch with her. And when and if she takes the turn for the worse, perhaps with your aunt's permission you can come home. ¡¯
" 'Oh, absolutely,' said Aunt Queen. 'I think that's a very sensible way of looking at it, and we can ascertain from Dr. Winn Mayfair whether or not he agrees. We can talk to Dr. Rowan Mayfair. And of course, Quinn, you'll speak to Mona herself. ¡¯
" 'Now, let me explain further,' said Stirling. 'I think you should leave on this trip at once. I think you should get away from Petronia. I think you should leave tonight if you can, and if not tonight then tomorrow, and if not tomorrow the day after that. But go. And go quickly, and in the meantime, have all the refurbishments done to the Hermitage on the island, exactly as the creature has insisted, but never, and I mean, never, have a workman on Sugar Devil Island after dark. ¡¯
" 'Well, that's no problem,' I said hastily. 'These guys come on at six a. m. and they want to be home in front of the television with a beer in hand by four o'clock in the afternoon. ¡¯
"But my speedy rejoinder hadn't taken the edge off Aunt Queen's response to this last remark on the part of Stirling, as I had hoped.
" 'You're saying that everything Quinn saw. . . happened?' she asked.
" 'Yes, I am saying that,' said Stirling. 'He's sane; if he testified in a court of law, I'd believe him. I believe him here and now. ¡¯
" 'Stirling Oliver,' said Aunt Queen, 'are you telling me that the swamps hereabouts are infested with vampires?¡¯
" 'No, I'm not telling you that, Mrs. McQueen, because if I did, you'd think me mad and disregard everything else that I told you. Let's just say that Petronia is a creature of nocturnal habits and accustomed to having Sugar Devil Island to herself. Now, one night when she thought herself to be alone, she was caught up short by the landlord, and consequently began a game of cat and mouse with him, and has been his enemy ever since. ¡¯
" 'You do believe all this,' Aunt Queen said.
" 'Oh, definitely. But the important thing is this. Do what the creature wants right now. Refurbish the Hermitage. And remove Quinn from the vicinity. Take the trip to Europe. And expect to have big long-distance phone bills in every hotel. This young man is very much in love with Mona Mayfair, that I know full well from what I saw with my own eyes. ¡¯
" 'I don't know what to say to you, Mr. Oliver,' Aunt Queen responded. She was discouraged. But I was overwhelmingly glad to be believed, though not to leave Mona for a moment.
" 'Mrs. McQueen,' said Stirling. 'It is best that Quinn leave here with you now, you know that. The refurbishing of the island can well take place without him, and if he never sees Petronia again, all the better for him, surely you agree. ¡¯
" 'Yes, I do. ¡¯
" 'Then forgive me for this, but I'm going to say something to you which is going to make it simpler for Quinn to come to his decision. Please believe that I use this power respectfully. ¡¯
" 'Which power is this?¡¯
" 'The same one Petronia claimed to have,' said Stirling, 'and when I came into this room today I used it, accidentally as always, unwillingly as always. But I couldn't help but know that your doctor had been here earlier, and he had told you that this trip to Europe would have to be your very last. ¡¯
" 'Oh, dear,' she sighed. 'I didn't want Quinn to know
" 'But I should know!' I said at once. I was chilled to the bone. 'Aunt Queen, we're going! I had no idea the doctor was here. I just have to discuss this with Mona; Mona will understand everything. ' My heart ached.
"Jasmine appeared out of nowhere at this opportune moment and declared with full authority, 'That doctor said there should be no trip to Europe, that's what he said! And then Aunt Queen said she was going and then that doctor said this trip had to be her last, that's what happened here this morning, I know because I heard!¡¯
" 'We'll go,' I declared. 'We'll all go together, and we'll stay as long as we can. ' Oh my precious Mona, what else can I do?
" 'It's the best thing,' said Stirling. 'You asked me to come here, to listen to these stories, and I tell you, based on all I've heard, including this unforgivable little mental eavesdropping, that you should take Quinn away from here, away from Petronia's temper and whims and go. You have a great prize to give your nephew in this trip. Give it to him while you can. And give it to yourself. You deserve to have this great gift from him. ¡¯
" 'Yes, that's so true, Aunt Queen,' I said. 'Stirling, you're a magician with words. You've teased out the truth of it. We're going. I only need to talk to Mona. ¡¯
" 'Well, I think this is a marvelous resolution,' said Aunt Queen, 'but I'm still left with questions. Stirling, you speak as if you know of Petronia --. ¡¯
" 'No, I know nothing of her. I've never heard her name. I was judging from your story. All the elements were there to drive me to my conclusion that her tastes were nocturnal. Why else would she have agreed to split the usage of the Hermitage with Quinn, he for day, and she for night, were she not fond of the swamp after dark when few people like it save those who hunt for alligators, I suppose? As for the rest of her habits, she seems vicious and violent, and Quinn showed an enormous amount of courage in confronting her. I would imagine she left here very surprised last night. ¡¯
" 'She looked triumphant,' I said. 'She'd made me out to be a lunatic. ¡¯
" 'But you're not a lunatic,' said Stirling.
" 'No, you're not,' said Aunt Queen. 'I'm immensely relieved. You're not. But Stirling, you speak of her as though she's a species of creature. ¡¯
" 'I didn't mean to do that,' he said. 'That was unwise of me. I meant to disclose a feeling of impersonality by using that word, I suppose. As I said, I was trying to judge purely from the things you told me. I believe she's a menace to Quinn and she'll keep toying with him if you remain here. The important thing is to go away. ¡¯
" 'Nash, what do you think?' Aunt Queen asked.
"Of course Nash demurred. It wasn't really his place to comment, but Aunt Queen pressed him, as he had met Petronia and he had witnessed some of what had gone on.
" 'Quinn seems more than sane,' Nash explained in his deep commanding voice. 'I have to agree. As to the trip to Europe, I think it's a marvelous idea. Now, Petronia, I must say that her theories on reincarnation gave me pause. She claimed herself to have lived in ancient Pompeii as we have discussed, and she spoke of witnessing the eruption of Vesuvius, and I must confess that I experienced a faint, what would you call it, a faint. . . ¡¯
" 'Disorientation,' I said immediately.
" 'Yes, exactly, I experienced a disorientation while she was talking, as though she were a hypnotist. It wasn't entirely comfortable. And it left me with a feeling of confusion that I didn't much like. I would never have mentioned it, except that you've asked me. But I can say in conclusion that Petronia seemed otherwise to be charming and perhaps, perhaps a little sly. ¡¯
" 'How so sly?' asked Aunt Queen.
" 'When a person hypnotizes a whole room, yet never acknowledges it, there is a slyness there,' said Nash. 'Don't you think?¡¯
"I was very impressed with these statements. I had expected Nash to claim neutrality, and I loved him now more than ever before.
"Lunch was concluded, but not before I had eaten all the veal and pasta on Goblin's plate, with his respectfully requested permission, and Jasmine and Big Ramona cleared away both dishes and table so that we could sit and talk.
"Aunt Queen made the necessary calls to set our plan in motion. Nash averred that his suitcase had never been unpacked. And tipsy as I was, I asked if I could drive Stirling around Blackwood Farm to show him the old pastures and a little bit of the swamp that one could see from the road. Before we would drive I would take him down to the cemetery to see the tombs and the old church.
"I could see that neither Nash nor Aunt Queen wanted me to be alone with him, but they couldn't very well object to it, and as soon as we were alone, headed down to the cemetery, I understood quite fully why.
" 'Listen to me,' Stirling said. 'I don't want to frighten your Aunt Queen or say things to her that will make her suspect my sanity as she now suspects yours. But I believe completely that you saw this creature dumping bodies in the swamp and I mean every word of it when I ask you to promise that you will never, never return to Sugar Devil Island at night. ¡¯
" 'You've got my promise,' I said. 'If it hadn't been for Rebecca's dream, I would never have been there in the first place. ¡¯
" 'That is a story unto itself,' he said, 'and for now I can't comment on it, but reaffirm your promise to me and never waver, and from now on, please keep in touch with me. Realize that I am your good friend. ¡¯
"We had reached the tombs and I showed him Rebecca's headstone. Of course he knew the full story. We went into the little chapel. I was distressed to see so many leaves. I would have to tell Allen to sweep it out.
" 'I'm the man of this place now,' I said, my voice echoing off the limestone walls. 'I'll have to run it from Europe. That won't be an easy feat. ¡¯
" 'I have another promise I want from you,' he said, looking out the door, as if to make certain no one was coming up on us. 'If you do see this creature again, try not to think of anything that she can read from your mind. I know this is obvious, but try to use definite techniques to cleanse your mind of anything important. You wouldn't want her finding out, for instance, as I have this very afternoon, that you have a new relation by the name of Tommy Harrison whom you've come to like -- if not love -- in a brief meeting yesterday morning. ¡¯
"I was shocked. I wasn't conscious of having thought of Tommy.
" 'You give that fodder to Petronia,' Stirling said, 'and she'll use it against you, the same way she might use Mona. And believe me when I tell you that it's a good thing Aunt Queen will soon be beyond her apparent reach as well. ¡¯
"I shuddered. 'Aunt Queen,' I whispered. Then I remembered the way that Petronia had taken her leave of Aunt Queen and the words she'd spoken: You've been very gracious to me. I won't forget it.
" 'I wish I had this gift for reading minds,' I said. 'I'd know what you're holding back. ¡¯
" 'It isn't such a great gift,' he said as we walked on up the slope towards the house again. 'You can't take Tommy to Europe with you, can you?' he asked.
" 'Oh, that would be splendid. I don't see why not. I bet Terry Sue would allow it. Not with Brittany of course. That's the little girl. She's the workhorse. But Tommy. Tommy's the dreamer who reads books in the woods. I'll talk to Aunt Queen about it. ¡¯
" 'Whatever you do, try not to do it after nightfall. If you must make plans, and certainly you must, do it in New Orleans. Do it perhaps at the Grand Lumini¨¨re Caf¨¦ in Mayfair Medical. That ought to give you time to see Mona. She'll be in the center all day today and into the evening. I'm meeting her and Michael and Rowan there for dinner myself. ¡¯
" 'You know, I like your outspoken manner but it amazes me, the ease with which you make your suggestions. Again, I know you're holding something back. ¡¯
" 'Know this, and I mean it from the heart. I hold back what I think I should hold back and nothing more than that. Take your Aunt Queen and Nash to dinner at the Grand Lumini¨¨re Caf¨¦ tonight. Heed my advice on that. ¡¯
" 'But why is it so important?¡¯
"I was dumbstruck. I couldn't quite imagine what he meant.
" 'She's a mind reader, no? And a trickster on top of it, wouldn't you say?¡¯
" 'Yes,' I answered.
" 'Take my word for it,' he replied. 'She'll never get within a hundred yards of Mayfair Medical. Rowan Mayfair would know she was prowling in an instant. So would Mona. ¡¯
" 'But what do you mean when you say they're witches, Stirling?¡¯
"We walked on to the Mercedes, which was parked in the shed. I opened the door for him and then came around to the driver's side.
"He waited for me to back the car out and head down the road. I crossed in front of the house, turned right and went down the long pecan-tree drive.
" 'A witch to those of us in the Talamasca,' he explained, 'is a mortal man or woman who can see spirits and manipulate them, bring up spirits and exorcise them, communicate with them and control them, talk to them and hear their talk. ¡¯
" 'Then I'm a witch,' I said, 'on account of Goblin. ¡¯
" 'Very much more than likely,' he said. 'Though I don't think you've experienced all the aspects I just explained. ¡¯
" 'No, I haven't. But I think that I could. And if Rebecca comes back, my powers of exorcism may be taxed. ¡¯
" 'I'll be here for you if you need me. I don't think Rebecca will tempt you anyplace but here. ¡¯
" 'Is that the way it is with ghosts?¡¯
" 'Some of the time,' he said. 'It depends on the type of haunting. Sometimes a person is haunted, sometimes a place. Do you yourself know whether Goblin's a spirit or a ghost?¡¯
" 'Oh, most surely a spirit,' I said. 'He knows nothing of where he came from or where he goes when he leaves me. There's no life for him except in my consciousness. He's probably with us right now. ¡¯
"I made an attempt to feel his presence, and I felt the answering grip of his hand on my shoulder and saw his face in the rearview mirror. He was very near me, of course.
" 'I love you, old buddy,' I said to him.
"I saw his poker face break into a childish grin.
" 'You don't know how much I've needed you, old buddy,' I said to Goblin. 'These last twenty-four hours have been mad. ' It was marvelous seeing that grin.
"During the rest of our time alone Stirling told me about the Talamasca, pretty much reinforcing what Mona had explained to me -- that they had existed for centuries, that they had vast libraries pertaining to the supernatural, that they had a huge history of Mona's family -- confidential of course.
" 'Ah, but you see, I am a Mayfair,' I said, 'am I not? Oncle Julien told me I was, remember?¡¯
" 'You have a good point there. But you don't have time for Mayfair history right now. You have your own adventures. You're going off on an odyssey. Have you made up your mind about little Tommy?¡¯
" 'I'm totally for it. Can't wait to ask Aunt Queen. But I have a question for you,' I said. 'What is your honest opinion of Nash?¡¯
" 'A wonderful man, brilliant, very well-read, very refined. He'll be a marvelous teacher and guide for you in Europe. Don't you think so yourself?¡¯
" 'Yes, but I sensed something between you, that you didn't like each other. Was I wrong?¡¯
" 'You were right to sense something,' he said. 'He doesn't like me. He suspects my motives. He doesn't understand the nature of the Talamasca, and not understanding our rules and our role he thinks me guilty of a brand of self-interest. When you come home, if you and I become friends as I hope we will, maybe he'll change his mind. For now, please don't trouble yourself about it. He's an extraordinarily nice man. ¡¯
" 'I know what you're talking about,' I said. 'He feels a lot of insecurity about being attracted to men. I don't really. ¡¯
" 'You don't?' he asked.
" 'I thought you could read minds,' I said. 'I hope that sounded agreeable. I meant it to sound agreeable. I've had an unusual life is what I ought to have said. I lost my virginity with Rebecca, then had fun in the shower with Goblin, then fell in love with Mona, and I'm not certain what's next. If Mona will marry me I'll be happy to my dying day. ¡¯
"He didn't answer me.
" 'What's wrong?' I asked. 'Do I sound too cavalier for your taste?¡¯
" 'No, you don't at all,' he said. 'I was just thinking about Mona, and whether or not to say what came into my mind. ¡¯
" 'Oh, please do say it. I wish I could read it. ¡¯
" 'If you marry her, it's likely to be until her dying day before yours. ¡¯
" 'No,' I said. 'No. That's not true. That's not true. Dr. Rowan Mayfair knows that's not true. They're working on it night and day. They'll reverse Mona's condition. I mean they'll halt it. They'll fix it. It's not going to be that bad. She'll probably even --' I broke off. 'I'm sorry,' I said.
" 'You owe me no apology. I owe one to you. I shouldn't have said what I did. I thought last night you'd understood what they were talking about. ¡¯
" 'I didn't want to understand,' I said. 'But I knew. ¡¯
"We talked some more about the Talamasca.
"Anytime I wanted to visit Oak Haven I was welcome. Now it was time for parting and I drove Stirling back to his car. It was a handsome brown Rolls-Royce with cream-colored upholstery. He said the Talamasca spoilt all its members with fine cars and fine furniture.
" 'And what do we do in return for it?' he asked rhetorically. 'Live like celibates and work like dogs. ¡¯
" 'I like you very much,' I said. 'Thank you for coming to lunch and thank you for standing with me. ¡¯
" 'I had no choice,' he said. 'Please call me when you can. Let me know what's happening. Here's a card for your shirt pocket and one for your jacket and one for your inside pocket too, and here, put this somewhere also. ¡¯
" 'Don't worry about me, Stirling,' I said. 'I know I'm much better off on account of your advice. I'm never going back out there at night, and I'm going to do what I can to get everyone out of this house before nightfall. ¡¯
" 'Yes, and something else too, Quinn. It's very tricky, fighting a being like Petronia, but something tells me that you've been wise in putting up a fight, in using Goblin as you've done, and I wouldn't hesitate to do that in the future. I hope you enjoy your trip to Europe. I hope you enjoy it immensely. ¡¯
"Very reluctantly, I told him good-bye, and I watched until the car had made its long slow journey down the avenue of trees and turned towards the highway. He seemed a wise man. And I wonder now if everything would have been different if I had confided in him more, trusted him more, not gone against him and everybody else in my pride and impetuosity. "