Blackwood farm, p.36

Blackwood Farm, page 36

 part  #9 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series


Blackwood Farm

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  "CLEM AND JASMINE BOTH GREETED us at the airport and I burst into tears embracing them, so glad was I to see them; and never before had Clem looked so handsome in his chauffeur's black suit and official hat, and never had Jasmine looked so lovely in her tailored suit of gray wool and her signature blouse of white ruffled silk, her blond Afro full and shaped and her tears flowing freely.

  "Cheerful old Allen had also come to collect the luggage in the pickup and I fell to embracing and kissing him, but then came a moment of truth when Terry Sue appeared in a candy pink suit, much like the last one I had seen her wearing over three years ago, with a new baby on her hip (the last one had not been fathered by Pops); and Tommy ran to her, putting his arms around her and kissing her.

  "It took a moment for me to recognize the slender and beautiful teenaged girl beside her, and then I realized it was Brittany.

  "Tommy looked to us as to what to do, and I, drawing him aside, asked what I should have asked before we had come to this juncture: 'What do you want?' 'To stay with you,' was his answer.

  " 'I then went to Terry Sue and put it to her that Tommy wanted to finish out the trip with a spell at Blackwood Manor if only she would allow it, and I told her and Brittany how wonderful it was that they had come to the airport. I slipped Terry Sue all the twenties I had in my wallet, and that was plenty.

  " 'All right, you behave yourself, Tommy Harrison,' she said. And she gave him a big kiss.

  " 'Brittany, I'll call you tonight,' he said to his sister.

  " 'You've grown up to be a beautiful girl,' I told her.

  "Of course Aunt Queen was showering her with compliments, and had even taken off her cameo -- one of the new ones from the town of Torre del Greco -- and given it to her.

  "These tender emotions I had anticipated, and, tired as I was, I let them grip me, and was glad of them, but as we drove away in Aunt Queen's big car, as I sat back, exhausted from our long flight, and looked out the window, I was totally unprepared for the tremendous feeling that swept over me at the sight of the verdant grasses growing unkempt along the highway and the swaying oleanders in full bloom and the occasional oak trees, which meant we were truly home.

  "I felt Louisiana all around me, and I loved it. And by the time we had reached the pecan tree drive before the house I was so choked up I could hardly speak into the intercom to ask Clem to stop the car.

  "I got out and looked down the long vista at the house. It was inexplicable, the feeling in me. It wasn't happiness. It wasn't sorrow. Yet it was rendering me helpless and bringing only the sweetest tears.

  "Nash helped Aunt Queen from the car and she stood beside me. We both looked at the distant white columns.

  " 'That's your home,' she said. "It will be yours forever,' she continued. 'You must take care of it after I'm gone. ¡¯

  "I put my arm around her and I bent down and kissed her, realizing perhaps for the first time how very tall I was, and feeling awkward in my somewhat new body. Then I let her go.

  "As we continued up the drive, one aspect after another swept the same feelings of love and anguish over me, or maybe it was sorrow. I couldn't identify it. As the wash of childhood memories paralyzed me and humbled me, I only knew I was home.

  "Of course I thought of Goblin, but I felt nothing of his presence. And of course I thought of Patsy and I expected to see her by and by. But it was the very landscape itself that evoked these titanic emotions in me -- the sight of Pops' flower beds, the rolling lawns, the oaks leaning their dark elbows over the cemetery, the creeping swamp with its uneven wall of gnawing trees.

  "Things happened very fast after this. And my extreme exhaustion made the events of the day fragmentary and disconnected yet bright and clear.

  "I remember that there were no paying guests in the house because Jasmine had held all the bedrooms for Tommy and Nash and Patsy.

  "I remember that I ate a monstrous breakfast cooked by a tearful Big Ramona who chastised all of us ferociously for having been gone three and one-half years. I remember that Tommy ate with me and that he seemed as impressed by Blackwood Manor as he had been by castles in England and palazzi in Rome.

  "I remember that a darling little boy came in, a charming Anglo-African blending of blue eyes, distinguished African features and curly blond hair, who told me proudly his name was Jerome and that he was three years old, on both counts of which I congratulated him, wondering who in the world were his parents. I announced that I found him to be verbally very far advanced.

  " 'That's because he lives in this kitchen the way you used to do,' said Big Ramona.

  "I remember that Aunt Queen's doctor came and said she had to have bed rest for at least a week, and her nurses should be there round the clock. It was old age, he whispered to me. And once she properly recovered from her overexertions she should be right fine. Her blood pressure was a medical marvel.

  "I remember that I spent a desperate half hour on the phone trying in vain to reach Mona. Mayfair Medical would not even acknowledge she was there. And servants at the First Street house would give me no information either. At last I reached Michael, who would tell me only that Mona was sick; pray for her, yes, but to see her was out of the question.

  "It made me frantic. I was ready to go directly to Mayfair Medical and search for her, room to room, when Michael suddenly said, as if he could read my thoughts:

  " 'Quinn, listen to me. Mona has asked that you not see her. She's made us promise repeatedly that we won't let you in. It will break her heart if we break our word. We can't do it. It would be selfish for you to come. Don't you understand what I'm saying?¡¯

  " 'Good heavens, you mean she looks sick as well as feels sick? She's deteriorated. She's --. ' I was stymied.

  " 'Yes, Quinn. But don't give up hope. We are a long way from doing that. We're trying to build her back up. Her appetite is good. She's holding her own. She's got her books on tape. She's got her films. She sleeps a lot. That's to be expected. ¡¯

  " 'Does she know I'm back?¡¯

  " 'Yes, she does, and she loves you. ¡¯

  " 'Can I send her flowers?¡¯

  " 'Yes, you can do that, but be sure you put Ophelia Immortal on the card, won't you?¡¯

  " 'Why can't I talk to her by phone? Why can't we use E-mail?¡¯

  "There was a long pause and then he said,

  " 'She's too weak for it, Quinn. And she doesn't want to do it. She's sick to her stomach, son. But this won't go on forever. She'll get better. ¡¯

  "As soon as I rang off I ordered tons of flowers, baskets and baskets of Casablanca lilies and marguerites and zinnias and everything I could think of. I hoped they would fill her isolation chamber. Every card was to be writ large, to my Ophelia Immortal.

  "After that I remember that I drifted into the kitchen, light-headed with jet lag and grief, and I saw Tommy playing Scrabble with little Jerome and I thought how incredible that the little guy could play the game at the tender age of three, until I realized Tommy was actually just teaching him words like 'red' and 'bed' and 'web' and 'do' and 'say' and 'go. ¡¯

  "I remember drifting into the pantry and thinking the child was one of Jasmine's little nieces or nephews and asking her, 'Who are his parents?' and hearing her say, 'You and I are. ' I remember nearly fainting. But that's a figure of speech. She also said to me, 'His middle name is Tarquin. ¡¯

  "I remember going back out, feeling I was floating, and staring at my son and at my adopted thirteen-year-old uncle, and feeling myself utterly and totally privileged with these two generations, and when Jasmine appeared I put my arm around her and kissed her and she pushed me away, saying under her breath that there had been enough of that, and I ought to know it.

  "I was positively groggy as I made my way to Aunt Queen's bedroom, and she looked up at me from her chaise lounge, where she was already under one of her white satin quilts with her feathered negligee stirring hither and thither with the motio
n of the overhead fan, and said:

  " 'Darling boy, go to sleep. You're white as a sheet. I slept on the plane, but you didn't. You're staggering. ¡¯

  " 'Are you drinking champagne?' I exclaimed. 'You must, for we have something to celebrate. ¡¯

  " 'You come here to me!' Jasmine called out as she chased after me. But I wouldn't be deterred.

  " 'Champagne it is!' I said, discovering the chilled bottle in the ice, and an extra glass, and that Aunt Queen was already happily swilling.

  "What time was it? Who cared? I drank and then I told her all about Jerome, even as Jasmine dug her finely buffed fingernails into my arm and whispered curses into my ears to which I responded not one syllable.

  "Aunt Queen was overcome with happiness! 'Why, splendid!' she declared. 'And all this time, Tarquin, I thought you were a virgin! Bring this child to me. And Jasmine, you amaze me. Why on earth didn't you write to us and tell us! This calls for child support among other things. ¡¯

  "And so the handsome little infant was brought into the presence of the Queen, and groggily and happily I drank two more glasses of champagne before becoming totally incoherent. By then my son had been told that I was his father. And Tommy had received the news too, being advised by Aunt Queen that in this house we kept no secrets, a fact which would work to the betterment of all of us.

  "I remember staggering to Aunt Queen's bed, and someone, some very blessed individual, sweeping away her many fancy quilts and boudoir dolls so that I could fall facedown into the immaculate pillows, and that same someone, no doubt, pulled off my shoes, and I was soon under the heavenly weight of the quilts and in the chill of the air conditioner, fast asleep.

  "I dreamed a dream of Goblin. It was an awful dream that he was suffering and couldn't come to me. I saw him incomplete, a gaseous and hideous being, struggling to be solid, but without my will he was indistinct and loose and miserable. I knew myself in the dream as cold and cruel to him.

  "I danced with Rebecca. She said, 'I would not take you for my vengeance. You have been too good. ' 'Who then would you have?' I asked, and she answered me only with laughter. She went away and the music went with her. I opened my eyes.

  "Aunt Queen lay beside me. She wore her silver-rimmed glasses. She was reading her paperback The Old Curiosity Shop, which I had given her on the plane, and she said to me:

  " 'Quinn, Dickens is a madman. ¡¯

  " 'Oh to be sure,' I said. 'It becomes wilder and wilder, all the darkness surrounding Little Nell; just keep going. ¡¯

  " 'Oh, I will,' she said.

  " 'She snuggled up to me. The feathers of her negligee tickled my nose but I loved it. I loved her frail arm so close to mine. I could read the book in her hands if I wanted to. I smelled her sweet perfume. She could buy anything in the world and she wore drugstore Chantilly, and a sweeter scent in all the world there is not.

  "I remember seeing the violet sky through the windows.

  " 'Lord, it's almost dark,' I said. 'I have to go to the Hermitage! I have to see my Petrine masterpiece. ¡¯

  " 'Tarquin Blackwood, you will not go out in that swamp at this hour. ¡¯

  " 'Nonsense, I have to,' I said, kissing her forehead and then her soft powdered cheek. 'Both Mona and Goblin are denied to me, and of Goblin's loss I have nothing to lament, I confess it, but I must go out there and claim what I've done. ¡¯

  "I remember further protest, but I was deaf to it.

  "I hurried up the stairs and into my room and into my closet, and I knew myself to be light-headed still as I pulled on a new pair of jeans and a new shirt and new boots (all purchased for my new size by Big Ramona as soon as she knew we were coming home) and then I took my thirty-eight pistol from the nightstand and headed down and out of the house. From the kitchen I took a bottle of water and a big knife, and from the shed a flashlight, and then I went down towards the swamp.

  "Of course I was disregarding the terms of my bold and savage partner, but I had never agreed to them, had I? It was for myself that I had done the refurbishment and the renovation of the Hermitage. It was for me the fine furnishings that I would soon see. I had no fear of him, and if anything I felt a brooding curiosity to see him again and contend with him -- perhaps to have a decent conversation with him. Perhaps to discuss 'our' little house and to discover whether we did indeed have a bargain, since I had achieved all of the splendid renovations, not he.

  "That Goblin was not with me to help me did not matter to me. I would handle it. The Hermitage was mine.

  "As I passed the little cemetery going down to the landing I stopped for a moment near Rebecca's grave. I shone the flashlight on her tombstone. A frisson of the dream came back to me, and I heard her voice again in my memory as though she was near to me. 'Not your life,' she said. 'Whose life then?' I asked. And I felt a sense of foreboding, a dreadful sense of it -- as though life itself were full of nothing but misery.

  "Wasn't Mona sick unto death, nauseated and miserable, and here I was going out to the Hermitage with no thought of her? Mona wanted so badly to see the Hermitage. But what could I do but pray for Mona?

  "The sky was darkening. I had to go.

  "When I returned I'd go to Mayfair Medical. I'd search the wards. What hospital room doesn't have a window for nurses to peep inside? I'd get as close to Mona as I could. Nobody would stop me, but for now it was the Hermitage that beckoned. I had to go.

  "Into the pirogue I piled my gear, and, double-checking my gun for bullets, I set out. There was just enough light from the reddening sky to see the trees clearly and I knew the way now, and it soon became evident that the many pirogues of the renovation had plainly marked a trail. They had worn the way, one might put it. And I was soon speeding along.

  "In less than half an hour I saw the lights of the Hermitage! And as I pulled up to its new landing and tethered the pirogue, I saw the brilliantly lighted windows and the gleam of the white marble stairs. All around the little house were neat beds of flowers, and the wisteria vine came crawling splendidly over its high roof. The little building resembled a small Coptic church with its many arches.

  "In the doorway, facing me, indeed watching me, was the stranger, in his male attire, hair full and loose, neither beckoning me to come closer nor putting up his hand to forbid my coming ashore.

  "How was I to know this was the last day of my mortal life? How was I to know that all those random little things which I have described to you would mark the end of my history -- that Jerome's father, Tommy's nephew, Aunt Queen's Little Boy, Jasmine's Little Boss and Mona's Noble Abelard were about to die?"
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