Blackwood farm, p.34

Blackwood Farm, page 34

 part  #9 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series


Blackwood Farm

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  "I HURRIED inside. There was much to do and I meant to do it quickly -- and was overjoyed to discover Aunt Queen and Nash already making plans for our European adventure.

  " 'Can Tommy go too?' I asked. 'I can have him back here in an hour with his birth certificate and all his clothes. ¡¯

  "Aunt Queen appeared to give it instant and deep thought for a long moment, and then, before I could make my legal case, inquired: 'Is he worthy of such a trip, Tarquin?¡¯

  " 'Just the word,' I declared. 'You have chosen it perfectly. He's worthy, and it will be so very right for him. You'll find him to be a delightful boy, I swear it to you. And if you don't, we'll line up a nanny for him, and he can be off on a day-by-day regimen of his own, but that won't happen. ¡¯

  " 'Well, then, I say, by all means, let's take him with us. ¡¯

  " 'Petty cash,' I replied. 'In case Terry Sue puts up an argument. ¡¯

  " 'You mean she'd sell the boy!¡¯

  " 'Aunt Queen,' I replied, 'it's to sweeten the deal. The boy's worth the ransom. Terry Sue is the merely practical mother of six hungry kids. ¡¯

  "I was soon furnished with the cash and rushing out the door. Goblin appeared at my side.

  " 'We've got to win this one, old buddy,' I told him. 'You agree with me? The child's brilliant. I can't leave him behind. ¡¯

  " 'You always know what to say, Tarquin,' said Goblin. 'But how can I go with you to Europe? Tarquin, I am afraid. ¡¯

  "I felt a sudden stab of sympathetic fear.

  " 'You're very happy, Tarquin,' he said. 'Don't forget me. Don't forget that I love you. Don't forget that I'm here. ¡¯

  " 'No, I haven't forgotten,' I pledged. 'I'll hold your hand; remember, I told you. All the way to Europe, I'll hold your hand. That's how we'll do it. You'll sit next to me on the plane. ¡¯

  "I doubled back into the house to make sure Aunt Queen understood this need for the extra first-class ticket for Goblin, to which she replied that she wouldn't dream of putting such an important member of our party in the coach section, and what sort of an aunt did I think she was?

  "Once again I was headed for the trailer, but Goblin, riding beside me, was still insecure.

  " 'Europe is far away, Tarquin,' he said.

  " 'That doesn't matter, old buddy,' I said.

  " 'Stirling said there were two kinds of hauntings,' said Goblin. 'Hauntings of a person and hauntings of a place. ¡¯

  " 'God, you hear everything, don't you?' I asked him.

  " 'Not everything, Tarquin,' he answered. 'I can't be in two places, and sometimes I wish that I could. I'd go to the Retreat House of the Talamasca, Tarquin, and learn from them about spirits, Tarquin, so that I'd be the finest spirit ever made. I know I need you to see me, Tarquin. I know that I love you. I know those things are true even when I hate you, Tarquin. ¡¯

  " 'That's never, Goblin,' I said sharply. 'You have your moods, that's all. But be quiet for now. I have to do this all-important job. ¡¯

  "I had reached the trailer and found that all was topsy-turvy, as Grady Breen's 'ladies' were moving 'everything' out to the new house in the Autumn Leaves development, on the outskirts of Ruby River City. How splendid that things were happening so fast! I had decreed it but not believed it. And who should come up to me but my nine-year-old self, with his black curly hair and in his navy blue Catholic school blazer?

  " 'Do you want to go to Europe tomorrow night?' I asked. 'I'm not kidding you!¡¯

  "He was speechless. And then in a white-faced stammer he shook his head and said, 'I can't leave Brittany. ¡¯

  " 'I'll make it up to her, I swear. And I'll tell her that myself. Okay? I can't take her from Terry Sue right now. You know that. ¡¯

  "I caught Brittany's arm as she drew close. She had heard what we had to say. 'I will make it up to you, sugar plum, I promise,' I said. 'Let me take him now on this trip, and I swear by God I'll see you get to go too sometime real soon. Cross my heart. I'll see that good things happen. ¡¯

  " 'Oh, that's okay,' she said. 'Tommy, you go on, you're the one that's always talking about books and things. ¡¯

  " 'Brittany, you're going to have fun in the new house,' I went on. 'You're going to have new playmates and a new school, and there's going to be a maid to do the work and a nanny to help with the children. ¡¯

  "She couldn't absorb it. I could see that plainly. But she was fascinated.

  "Terry Sue was headed our way with the baby on her hip. She was dressed up in a pink polyester suit and pumps, and her hair was washed and combed, and she was sporting a brand-new set of drugstore fingernails.

  " 'Why are you doing all this for us?' she asked. 'Pops never did it. ¡¯

  " 'Never mind. Just let me take Tommy to Europe. Let me take him now. All I need is his clothes and his birth certificate. I have to make it to the federal passport office in New Orleans before it closes. ¡¯

  " 'I don't have no birth certificate,' she said. 'Tommy, go get your clothes. Did you say "Europe," you mean, like in Europe?¡¯

  " 'Hurry up, Tommy,' I said. He ran for the trailer. 'I can get the birth certificate at the courthouse. Thank you, Terry Sue. Here's five thousand dollars. ¡¯

  "She stared at the envelope. 'What's that for?' she asked.

  " 'I was going to give you this if you argued. Seems you ought to get it since you didn't. ¡¯

  " 'You're crazy, Quinn Blackwood, just as Pops always said you was. He said you'd never come to nothing, but I tell you, you're sure somebody in my book!¡¯

  " 'Well, thank you, Terry Sue,' I said. 'That's really consoling. Someday you'll have to tell me everything else Pops said. By the way, that's not his baby, is it?¡¯

  " 'You're not getting any complaints from me, are you?' she answered. 'I don't know whose baby it is, hush your mouth. ¡¯

  "Tommy flew at me at a dead run, with all his books in one arm and a pillowcase of clothes over his shoulder. I backed up, laughing, and threw my arm around him.

  " 'You mind Tarquin now, Tommy Harrison, you hear what I say,' said Terry Sue. 'And you do your homework, too. ¡¯

  "I put my right arm around her and kissed her forehead. 'I'll take good care of him,' I said. 'I'll write the school board. Grady Breen will take care of everything just the way he said. ¡¯

  "Off we went.

  "Of course it was too late to make the passport office in New Orleans, but I did get the birth certificate from the courthouse in Ruby River City.

  "Then it was back to the house where I sat down with Allen and went over all the renovations that would be done to the Hermitage while I was gone. There was no doubt in my mind that I was doing this for myself. I loathed and despised the mysterious stranger! The vision of the Hermitage was mine.

  "Thanks to last night's written request, Allen had already gotten me paint chips and samples of marble, and I was able to choose the most appealing colors and tile for the new floors. As to the bronze stairs, I drew pictures, and we agreed on a 'baroque' look to things and that he would call the local architects Busby, Bagot and Greene, who presided over all the antebellum restorations, and they could advise on the design of the windows and the construction of the bathroom, which was something I really couldn't do.

  " 'Be fearless,' I said. 'You know my tastes, you see my drawings and my requests. Don't wait for my approval. It's more important to complete the task. And remember I'll be calling to talk to you. Forge ahead. ¡¯

  "I could see that he was delighted to have something so interesting to do. Nevertheless, he shook his head and said it would be difficult, he wanted me to know that, hauling all that marble out there, but he did know how to lay it and he wouldn't trust anybody but himself. As to painting, well, the hard work was the preparation, and again, that was hard, really hard, but he didn't trust anybody but himself.

  " 'You're my hero,' I said. 'You can get it done. Now comes the final warning: Never be there after dark. ¡¯

" 'Oh, you don't have to tell me that,' he said. 'We'll be out of there by three o'clock. ¡¯

  " 'Promise me,' I said.

  " 'You've got my promise. ¡¯

  " 'All right, you'll get your first call from me next week. ¡¯

  "And so the tasks of Manhood were done.

  "Around four o'clock the twilight anxiety came over me with unprecedented ferocity. I thought that the swamp was creeping up towards the house -- Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane -- and my desire to see Mona became absolutely uncontrollable.

  "In all this time I had never for one second forgotten about her, and how agonizing it would be to tell her good-bye. Why, I had not even told her I was going. Such pain lay ahead.

  "I tried to call her at Mayfair Medical but I couldn't get through. The switchboard said she couldn't take any calls, and my lack of knowledge of where she was and what was being done to her was unbearable.

  "I put on the laser disc of Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, and ran fast to the scene of Ophelia drowned under the glassy stream, and kept playing it back over and over again, switching between it and Gertrude's (Hamlet's mother's) description of how it had come about, haunted by the words:

  Her clothes spread wide,

  And mermaid-like a while they bore her up;

  Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes,

  As one incapable of her own distress.

  "And then finally as the darkness thickened outside and Stirling Oliver's warnings came down heavy on me, as I thought of Rebecca and her wiles, as I thought of Petronia -- I went downstairs to inform Aunt Queen, who was chatting away with Tommy and Nash, that we had to leave at once for New Orleans.

  "Jasmine had already packed Aunt Queen's bags, Nash was packed, Big Ramona had finished with my luggage as well and Tommy's humble and entirely temporary wardrobe had been put into one of Aunt Queen's many spare suitcases.

  "I announced that we must all head for the Windsor Court Hotel, book the finest suites available and then head for the Grand Lumini¨¨re Caf¨¦ for supper. As I could not get Mona on the phone, I was more or less bound to go, as, surely, based on Stirling's promises, she was expecting me.

  "Of course, I was hit with questions and objections. But I was adamant, and won out, finally, simply because everyone was so excited about our trip and the only thing preventing us from getting on the plane was the matter of Tommy's passport, which could be got with airline ticket in hand the following day.

  "In truth there was one other very important matter. It was the matter of who was to run Blackwood Manor in our absence. And it was a very important matter indeed. And after much commiseration on the subject, it had already been decided that Jasmine was going to do it, but to alleviate her fears, it was also decided that she need take no new bookings and only fulfill those already made, and maintain the house for those drop-ins who came to see the site of their engagements or weddings, et cetera, or merely to visit the pretty house about which they had read in the guides.

  "Now, Jasmine was very upset. She didn't feel up to it. But Aunt Queen knew that she could do it. And so did I, and most significantly, so did Big Ramona, and so did Clem. Jasmine had the education to do it. Jasmine had the smarts. Jasmine had the good English, and Jasmine also had the sophistication.

  "What Jasmine lacked was the confidence.

  "So we spent our last hour at Blackwood Manor trying to convince Jasmine that she was up to the task and once she got hold of it -- she was already doing ninety-nine percent of the work -- she would do fine. As to her pay, it was to be tripled. And Aunt Queen would have worked out a percentage of the profits, except that the percentage system frightened Jasmine, who didn't want to have to figure it out.

  "At last it was decided that our attorney Grady Breen would take over the bookkeeping and that Jasmine could devote herself entirely to supervising and to hostess work, and Jasmine seemed a good deal more calm. That way Jasmine could get her percentage without fearing she'd signed some sort of pact with the Devil. Meantime, all of us told her how beautiful she was, how polished she was and how overqualified she was, which did not help as much as we had hoped.

  "Clem and Big Ramona promised to back her up completely, and with kisses and embraces, as well as Jasmine's tearful farewell, we hit the road for New Orleans in Aunt Queen's stretch limousine.

  "When after a brief stop at the hotel to approve our fabulous digs we reached the Grand Lumini¨¨re Caf¨¦, Mona rose from the table and flew into my arms, making me the envy of every man in the place. She was wearing one of her big white shirts, complete with white ruffles and bows at her wrists, but I could see the intravenous port with its evil carbuncle of tubing and tape on the back of her inflamed right hand.

  "I sat down at the Mayfair table with her, and in an intimate voice told her of what the doctor had said to Aunt Queen, that this might be her last trip to Europe.

  " 'Oh, I approve utterly and totally of your going,' Mona said. 'You must, you absolutely must. I'm doing fine. My condition is stable. Look, I have to be wired up again tonight. ' She held up the bandaged hand. 'Do you want to come up to the room? It's not all that appetizing, I can assure you --. ¡¯

  " 'I'm coming,' I said. 'I never made love to anybody who was wired up. ¡¯

  " 'Good,' she said in a sweet whisper, 'because I have three or four baby quilts to ruin, and then we can read Hamlet to each other. I have a copy of Kenneth Branagh's version with all the screenplay directions, and we can pretend we're seeing it all over again. In fact, you can recite Gertrude's speech describing Ophelia's drowning, and I will lie as if dead on the pillow. I've already strewn flowers all over the bed. Oh, I am Ophelia forever,' she sighed.

  " 'No, my Ophelia Immortal,' I said, 'and that's the name under which I'll write to you from Europe, and the name under which I'll E-mail you on the computer, my Ophelia Immortal. I think it is the most splendid name I ever heard. ¡¯

  "I told her how that afternoon I'd put the film on the TV just to watch that scene of Ophelia underwater. 'I love you that you love it,' I said, 'but you'll be Ophelia Immortal because you'll never drown, you know that, don't you? We have to get that straight, don't we? That you're Ophelia in suspended animation, one most "capable of her own distress" and of her ecstasy, and born up forever on "her melodious lay. " ¡¯

  "She laughed and kissed me warmly. 'You really do know the words, don't you?' she said. 'Oh, I love you for it. And E-mails, why didn't I think of it? Of course, we'll E-mail each other from Europe, and write also. We have to print out our letters. Our correspondence will be as famous as that of H¨¦lo?se and Abelard. ¡¯

  " 'Absolutely,' I said with a little shudder. 'But nothing so long and chaste, my beloved; I'll be home and you'll be cured and we'll soon be in each other's arms. ' I laughed outright. 'By the way, you do know that for his love of H¨¦lo?se, Abelard was castrated, don't you? We don't want anything so dreadful to happen to me. ¡¯

  " 'It's a metaphor for your restraint, Quinn, and that we can't merge into the same person as Ophelia would have done with Hamlet if only his father hadn't been killed. ¡¯

  "I kissed her longingly and lovingly. ' "Oh, brave new world that hath such creatures in it," ' I quoted. 'What other fifteen-year-old in the world would know such things?¡¯

  " 'You ought to talk to me about the stock market,' she returned, her green eyes firing beautifully. 'It's perfectly egregious that Mayfair and Mayfair insists on managing my billions. I know more about stocks and bonds than anybody in the firm. ¡¯

  "Stirling had just come to join the table. I realized I hadn't said hello to the graceful Rowan and the stalwart Michael. I corrected all that, glorying in the warmth with which we all greeted each other, and I explained to Stirling hastily that the family had checked out of Blackwood Manor, that if Petronia wanted to find us she'd have to come looking at the Windsor Court Hotel.

  " 'And the little gentleman with the black hair over there, that's Tommy?¡¯

  " 'Precisely. Soon to become T
ommy Blackwood. We're leaving for Europe as soon as we get his passport. I'll have his name changed at the passport office if I can get away with it. We'll see what a little persuasion does. ¡¯

  " 'Let me know if you have trouble with that,' he said. 'The Talamasca can help. ¡¯

  "We didn't join tables for dinner. I felt it was best. I wanted Nash and Aunt Queen to continue to get to know Tommy, and Tommy was doing splendidly well. He wasn't shy or overexcited, and just as I had surmised when I met him, he was extremely bright. Literature and history were his loves, thank God. Math he couldn't understand very well but he inched along. He'd benefited tremendously from his Catholic education so far, and Nash and Aunt Queen were both finding him fascinating, which was what I had hoped.

  "After we had all had our 'egregious' desserts, I took Tommy over to be presented to the Mayfairs and to Stirling, and he comported himself with manners in keeping with the occasion, and then it was agreed my beloved family members would return to the hotel and I would go up with Mona to her room.

  "I threw my arm around Goblin and I said in his ear, 'Go back to the family. Stay close to them. And come to me if Petronia comes. ¡¯

  "He was surprised. But at once he nodded and disappeared.

  "Mona's room was a luxury suite just like the one which I had occupied, with a parlor adjacent to it and a big double hospital bed. Mona had covered the bed with white eyelet baby quilts, as she had described to me. Only now she gathered up all the wilted lilies and daisies, and, choosing great handfuls of fresh ones from the baskets all around the room, she covered the bed afresh.

  "Then she hopped up on the bed and leaned back on a huge nest of pillows, smiling playfully at me. And we both went into gales of laughter.

  "Dr. Winn Mayfair stood by solemnly watching all these proceedings, and then he said in his soft respecting voice, a voice that always commanded respect in return:

  " 'Very well now, Ophelia, are you ready for me to insert the line?¡¯

  " 'Go ahead, Doctor,' she answered. 'And be sure to understand, you can close that door afterwards. Quinn knows the line is the only thing that can be inserted, right, Quinn?¡¯

  "I think I blushed. 'Yes, Doctor,' I said.

  " 'Do you fully understand the risk, Quinn?' asked Dr. Winn.

  " 'I do, sir,' I replied.

  "It was hard for me to look at the needle in the back of her hand, at the redness of her skin and the tape that overlay it, but I felt I had to, I had to experience it with her as best I could, and my eyes moved up the transparent tubing to the plastic sack of clear liquid which hung from its metallic hook at the top. At some uncertain juncture a tiny computer generated numbers and beeps. A larger machine sat near, ready for some more complex connection, but fortunately none seemed to be needed just now.

  "There were so many questions I wanted to ask Dr. Winn Mayfair, but it wasn't my place to do it, and so I had to rely on Mona's assertion that her condition was indeed stable and I knew that I had to leave her the next morning with her word that Aunt Queen's health was what mattered at this juncture in my life.

  "Within moments after the doctor had left we were in each other's arms, overly conscious of the sacred wiring, and I was kissing her with all the drama I could effortlessly muster, calling her my eternal love and seeking only to pleasure her as she pleasured me.

  "It was a long night of tender kissing and lovemaking, and the quilts probably bear their testimony to this time.

  "Dawn had come, vague and pink as twilight over the city, before I said my farewell to Mona, and if anyone had told me then that I would never see her again -- this soft, drowsy child amid her lace and her flowers, and her gloriously disheveled hair -- I wouldn't have believed it. But then there were many things I would not have believed then.

  "And there were more good times to come.

  "I went straight from her hospital room, where I left her sleepy and beautiful and fresh as the flowers all around her in their moist baskets, to obtain the airline tickets, and from there to obtaining Tommy's passport, where Aunt Queen and I were both able to 'claim that we knew him as Tommy Blackwood,' and then we were on our way by plane to Newark, with Goblin strong and visible and in his own expensive first-class seat, and from Newark we flew out to Rome. "
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