Blackwood farm, p.7

Blackwood Farm, page 7

 part  #9 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series

 

Blackwood Farm
 



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Chapter7

 

  7

  "CHILDHOOD FOR ME INVOLVED two distinct polarities -- being with Goblin, and listening to adults talk.

  "Goblin and I were the only children here at Blackwood Manor because the tourists who came almost never brought children with them, and so I soon learned the vocabulary of adults and that it was fun to play in the kitchen and listen to their endless storytelling and arguing, or to tag after the tour guides -- my great-grandfather Gravier and later my grandfather Pops -- as they went through the house detailing its riches and its legends, including the gloomy tale of Manfred, the Great Old Man.

  "Great-grandfather Gravier was truly the very best at this, having a deep sonorous voice and being a dignified man in a black suit with a white silk tie to match his white shirt, but he was very old when I was little and he went away to a hospital and died there, before I was five I think, and I have no clear memory of his funeral. I don't think I went to his funeral. But he had made an indelible impression upon me.

  "And he at once became a famous family ghost apparently, on the sole authority of my having come down the stairs one morning and seen him standing by the front door, smiling at me placidly and waving his right hand. He was gone in an instant.

  "Everybody told me to stop telling such stories, Great-grandfather Gravier was in Heaven, and I must certainly know that, and we ought to light a candle for him before the Blessed Virgin on the little altar in the kitchen, which we did -- which made a total of ten-odd candles burning on the little altar for various ancestors, rather like the altars one sometimes sees in Chinese laundries. And furthermore, it was said I shouldn't try to scare people.

  "Nevertheless, during every house tour ever given by anyone at Blackwood Manor, the whole world of our paying guests was told about my having seen Great-grandfather Gravier.

  "Pops, Gravier's only son and my grandfather, took up the job of guide with gusto after Gravier's death, and though Pops was far more plain-spoken and rough at the edges, he was a grand storyteller, nevertheless.

  "Gravier had been a man of considerable accomplishment, in that he had practiced law for years and even served on the bench as a local judge. But Pops was a rural man who had no ambition beyond Blackwood Manor, and if that meant he had to talk to the guests, he did it.

  "My grandmother Sweetheart sometimes was recruited, much against her will, as she was always up to her elbows in flour and baking powder, but she knew all the family legends, and, heavy as she was, looked very pretty in a fine black gabardine dress with a purple orchid corsage on her left breast and a string of pearls around her neck. She was one of those women who, inclined to embonpoint, have round smooth wrinkleless faces until they die.

  "And then there was Jasmine, our beloved black housekeeper, whom you've met, who could in a twinkling change from her kitchen clothes to a swanky black skirt and leopard-skin blouse, along with spike heels of which Aunt Queen would have been proud, to take everyone from room to room, very properly adding to the concoction of tales that she herself had seen Great-great-grandfather William's ghost in his bedroom, front right, or across the hall from us, as well as the ghost of Great-great-great-aunt Camille tiptoeing up the attic stairs.

  "I don't know that you noticed Jasmine in her fancy red sheath tonight, but Jasmine has the figure of a model, rail thin with strong shoulders, and, with closets of loving cast-offs from Aunt Queen, she cuts a beautiful image as a tour guide, her pale green eyes positively flashing as she tells her earnest ghost stories and sighs before the portraits, or leads the expectant guests to the attic stairs.

  "It was Jasmine's brilliant idea to include the attic in the usual tour, that is, to take the tourists right up and into it, instructing them to notice the delicious smell of the warm wooden rafters as they stood there, and to point out the fine steamer trunks and wardrobe trunks from earlier times, some open and heaped with furs and pearls rather like props for A Streetcar Named Desire, and the wicker wheelchair in which Great-great-grandfather William had spent his last days on the lawn. The attic was -- before my own inevitable raid upon it -- a wilderness of rare and antique wicker, and tales devolved around it all.

  "Let me return to the big picture.

  "The bed-and-board guests were always company and a bit of an inspiration to me, because they were often friendly and attractive -- I tend to see most people as attractive until someone comes along and points out to me that they're not -- and these people frequently invited me into their rooms, or wanted me to sit down at breakfast with them at the big table and chat about the Manor House, as we so pretentiously called it, and I warmed to all this friendship, and Goblin found it interesting because whenever I spoke to or of him, which was all the time, these guests thought Goblin the most intriguing thing in the world.

  " 'So you have a little spirit friend!' one said triumphantly, as though she had discovered Confederate gold buried outside. 'Tell us about your little ghost,' said another, and when I petted or stroked Goblin while talking of him, he was very happy, indeed. He would flash on solid for a long time, and only sadly go transparent and then dissolve when he had to.

  "I couldn't have done better had I been a paid performer whose sole occupation was to increase the mystery of Blackwood Farm. And I loved it. And then the guests kicked in their support of the mythology gratis, as I've explained, with all their sightings of the Old Man, Manfred, scowling in a mirror, or sweet Virginia Lee, roaming from room to room in search of her orphaned children.

  "I learned from all this, from the endless variety with which the tales of our house were woven, and I learned from adults how to think and feel like an adult, and Goblin fed off the easy way in which he fitted into everything. And I came to think of myself from early on as being a maverick like the Old Man.

  "Manfred, the Old Man, had come out to these parts in 1881 with a new bride, Virginia Lee. He had started out as a saloon keeper in the Irish Channel but gone on to make a fortune in merchandising in New Orleans, but could find no locale suitable to his visions of splendor and so was drawn north across Lake Pontchartrain to this open land.

  "Here he found a parcel of real estate that is composed of high ground on which he could build a fabulous mansion, with servants' quarters, stables, terraces and pastures, plus two hundred acres of thick swamp in which he could hunt, and a charming abandoned cemetery with its shell of a stone church, a tribute to those whose families had long ago died out or decamped.

  "Manfred sent his architects to the fine homes of Natchez to choose the very best of attributes for this mansion, and he supervised its Greek Revival style, circular stairs and hallway murals himself.

  "All was for the love of Virginia Lee, who had a particular affection for the cemetery and sometimes went to the empty little stone church to pray.

  "The four oak trees that guard the cemetery now were already well grown at that time, and the proximity of the old graveyard to the swamp with its greedy hideous cypress trees and endless tangles of Spanish moss no doubt added to, and adds to, the overall sense of melancholy.

  "But she was no sappy Victorian girl, Virginia Lee. She had been an educated and devoted nurse to Manfred in a New Orleans hospital where he suffered a severe bout of Yellow Fever and, like many an Irishman, almost died of the disease. It was with great reluctance that she gave up her vocation to nurse the sick, but Manfred, being much older and very persuasive, successfully enchanted her.

  "It was for Virginia Lee that Manfred had the portrait of himself painted, which is now hung in the parlor, and always was, as far as I know. He was in his forties when the portrait was painted, but he had already come to resemble a bulldog in some respects, with heavy jowls, an up-thrust obdurate mouth and large mournful blue eyes. He had thick gray hair by that time, circa 1885, and he still had a full head of it when Aunt Queen had her strange meeting with him some forty years later, when he gave her the cameos before he disappeared into the swamp.

  "He doesn't look like a mean man in the
portrait. In fact, I've always found the picture strongly compelling, and the man himself must have been lacking in vanity, that he allowed such an honest portrait of himself to be hung in his house.

  "Virginia Lee was undeniably pretty, as you saw from her portrait in the dining room, a girlish woman with pale blond hair and intense blue eyes. She was said to have had a quick sense of humor and an eternal but gentle sense of irony, and to be utterly loving to William and Camille, the two surviving children she bore before she died. As to those which she lost to lockjaw and influenza, Isabel and Philip, nothing could ever take her mind off them.

  "Galloping consumption is the disease that took Virginia Lee, who had also become quite sick from malaria, and only after a valiant struggle during which she dressed herself completely and independently every day, including the Saturday on which she died, at which time she had carried on amusing conversation, with her famous good cheer and self-deprecating humor, in the front parlor, lying on the sofa, until she took her last breath around noon.

  "She was buried in the sky blue dress that she wears in her portrait. And if our house has a family saint, it's Virginia Lee. I'm not above praying to Virginia Lee.

  "It was said that Manfred went out of his head when Virginia Lee died. He roared and mumbled. Not being able to endure the sight of a grave for Virginia Lee in the little cemetery -- and it probably wasn't legal to bury her there in his own backyard anyway -- he bought a huge crypt for the entire family in the new Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans, which is where our family are buried to this day.

  "I've seen the mausoleum twice -- when Sweetheart died and when Pops died. I presume little Isabel and Philip were uprooted to the crypt from wherever they'd been buried, but frankly I never asked.

  "It's a small rectangular chapel of marble and granite, this Metairie Cemetery tomb, with two five-foot, well-carved granite guardian angels beside its bronze gates, and a stained-glass window in back. Three coffin slots lie on either side of the little aisle.

  "You know how those tombs work, I'm sure. Coffins are placed in the slots until all the slots are full, and then when someone new dies, the oldest coffin is opened up, bones dumped in the vault below the ground, and the coffin smashed to pieces and discarded. The new coffin is given the place of honor above ground.

  "It's where I always thought I'd be buried when I died, but now it doesn't seem that destiny will allow me that luxury or the long adventure I once contemplated to take me to that end. But who knows? Maybe my mortal remains could somehow be secreted into that crypt on some future occasion, after I have the courage to put an end to my own life.

  "But let's return to Mad Manfred, as those around the parish began to call my unfortunate ancestor, who took to going out into Sugar Devil Swamp alone and muttering and cursing, and sometimes not returning for days at a time.

  "There was a general commotion to it because all knew that Sugar Devil Swamp had never been logged and was damned near impenetrable for a pirogue, and legends already existed as to bears that habitually hunted there, and cougars and bobcats, and even worse creatures which howled in the night.

  "That Manfred was snake-bit more than once and survived it was part of his growing reputation, and it was said he fired on a stranger he'd seen out there some distance from the house, and brought back the wounded poacher and heaved his body on the bank with oaths and vicious warnings to his workmen that this ought to be a lesson to anyone who dared to come into his swamp or onto his land.

  "Soon it became known that there was an island out there, and it was to this island that Manfred went, pitching a tent for himself and shooting what he needed for food.

  "You can just picture this guy tearing birds apart with his teeth.

  "He made no secret of his island sanctuary, only warning again that no one must ever attempt to follow him to his 'lair,' as he called it, threatening open season on trespassers and boasting that he had shot and killed several bears.

  "Rumor had it that the island was cursed and Manfred was cursed, and that his gold was ill-gotten from gambling, if not worse vices, and that his name, Manfred, he had taken from the play by Lord Byron, with the intent to signal other Demon Worshipers of his own ilk, and that he had sold his soul to the Devil long before he had ever laid eyes on the humble and sweet Virginia Lee, and that she had been his very last chance at salvation.

  "As for their little children, William and Camille, it was Jasmine's ancestors who brought them up -- Ora Lee and Jerome are the famous names -- both of them Creole people of color with French accents, and something of a distinctive history, their parents having been free artisans before the Civil War.

  "For Ora Lee and Jerome, Manfred built the bungalow out back to the far right, a real Creole-looking building, with a deep porch and rocking chairs, and two stories of good-sized rooms.

  "Members of the clan have broken off all along to go to college and enter professions, but there are always some who stay in the bungalow, and they have their own vegetable and flower gardens and their own company whenever they choose.

  "When I was a kid they still had their own cow and some chickens, but now it's too easy to go to market for anything a person needs.

  "It's a charming house, a kind of tropical mansion in its own way, full of treasured antiques and various displays of needlework done by the women and furniture made by the men. It's also full of cast-offs from the big house, and Aunt Queen is famous for refurnishing the front room and giving all the old items to Jasmine, as if Jasmine had a warehouse rather than a family home. It's on a human scale, Jasmine's house. Blackwood Manor was built for 'giants in the earth. ¡¯

  "Because African and Spanish and French and Anglo-Saxon genes were all scrambled in the lineage of Jasmine's people before they came, and down through the years by marriage to other people of all colors, Jasmine's family are all different shades of yellow, red, brown and black.

  "Jasmine's dark, as you saw, with the fabulous green eyes. She bleaches that close-cropped Afro of hers and something happens with that yellow hair and those green eyes that's magic.

  "Her older sister, Lolly, can pass for Spanish or Italian, and then there's Jasmine's brother, Clem, who has very dark skin and African features. He drives Aunt Queen's car and takes care of all the fleet, including the black Porsche I bought in imitation of you and your adventures in the Vampire Chronicles.

  "Little Ida, Jasmine's mother, was very black with exquisitely fine features and tiny black eyes. She married a white man when she was pretty mature, and, after his death from cancer, she came back here with Jasmine and Lolly and Clem. She was my nurse or nanny till she died, Little Ida, sleeping with me till I was thirteen, and then dying in my bed.

  "What I'm telling you now, this story of the Blackwood family, is what has come down to me from Jasmine and Lolly and Little Ida and Big Ramona, who is Little Ida's mother, as well as from Aunt Queen, or Pops or Sweetheart. Jasmine has an eye for ghosts, as I've said, and I'm always afraid she's going to realize I'm not really alive, but so far it hasn't happened. And I hang on to my family like a pit bull.

  "But to return to my story, if it hadn't been for the fabled Ora Lee and Jerome, little William and Camille might have drowned in the swamp or starved from inattention.

  "As to salaries for his hired help, Manfred couldn't be bothered with any such thing, only heaving fistfuls of money into a big bowl in the kitchen. Jerome had to see that the man wasn't robbed, and the keep of William and Camille and all the farmhands was provided for.

  "The farm had its own chickens and cows in those days, and horses of course, and a fine carriage or two parked right beside the new automobiles in the back shed.

  "But Manfred never bothered with anything but one black gelding, which he sometimes came ashore to ride back and forth across the broad lawns and pastures of Blackwood Farm, shouting and murmuring and cursing to himself, and declaring to his groom (most probably the versatile Jerome) that he was never going to die and join Virginia
Lee, not until centuries had passed, that he would roam the earth, shivering from her death and honoring her memory.

  "All this I learned by rote as you can tell.

  "One spring day several years after Manfred had become a widower, carpenters and lumber were brought to the property, and the slow process of building the mysterious Hermitage on Sugar Devil Island began.

  "Nothing but the finest kiln-dried cypress was seen to go off by pirogue into the swamp, in one small load at a time, along with a great quantity of other materials, including an iron stove and a great amount of coal, and only workmen from 'away' went out there to build, workmen who would go 'away' when the work was done, which is what those workmen did, solemnly afraid of uttering a word as to the location of the island, or what had been their specific tasks.

  "Was there really such an island? Was there really a hermitage upon it? As I was growing up, who was to say that it was anything more than a legend? And why was there no swamp tour to take our tourists out to search for this mysterious Sugar Devil Island, for surely everyone wanted to see it. It was a regular feature of life to see the tourists down at the landing, hankering to wade in the bog. But the swamp, as stated, and it can't be stated enough, is almost impassable.

  "The great silent groping cypress is everywhere, along with the wild palmetto and the rankest water. And one can still hear the roar of cougars and bears. It's no joke.

  "Of course Pops and I fished in Sugar Devil Swamp and we hunted. And in my boyish ignorance I once killed a deer in the swamp, and lost my taste right there for all hunting as I watched it die.

  "But in all our exploits, including trapping crawfish by the pound, we never went deeper in than some twenty feet from the shores. And even at that distance, it's hard to see one's way back.

  "As for the legend of the Hermitage on Sugar Devil Island, Pops put no stock in it, reminding the curious tourists that even if such a building had existed, it might have long ago sunk into the muck.

  "Then there are the stories of poachers who disappeared without a trace, of their wives gone crying to the local sheriff to please search, but what could the sheriff hope to find in a swamp infested by roaring bears and alligators?

  "However, the most evil omen that hung over this odd, private jungle was the disappearance into the swamp of Mad Manfred himself in the year 1924, as Aunt Queen has already described to us, to which our tour guides would invariably add that the Old Man dressed in his tailcoat and white tie and boiled shirt and fine leather shoes before that last excursion, and ranted and raved at himself in the mirror for an hour before bolting out the door.

  "Yes, people searched, as the Old Man had been convalescent for two years before this bizarre and desperate flight, but they never found any island, and they had to shoot many a gator just to survive, and came back with the gators to sell for their hides, but not with Manfred.

  "And so it was that the idea took hold that there was no real island. And that the Old Man had simply drowned to put an end to his wheezing and choking misery, for he was surely at death's door when he bolted for the pirogue and headed out as if to cross the River Styx.

  "Then, some seven years later, when his will was finally opened, there was found contained within the strong exhortation that no Blackwood or anyone belonging to the Blackwood household was ever to fish or hunt beyond the mud banks of Sugar Devil Swamp, and the admonition, in Manfred's own hand, that Sugar Devil Island was a danger not only to flesh and blood but to a being's immortal soul.

  "A very good copy of these pages of Manfred's Last Will and Testament, all notarized in the year 1900, is framed and mounted on the living room wall. Guests adored it. I remember my teachers, Nash in particular, just howling with laughter when they read it. And it did certainly seem to me, as I was growing up, that the lawyer, the notary and Mad Manfred were all poets in Byronic cahoots with one another when they wrote this.

  "But it doesn't seem that way to me now.

  "Let me continue. Of William, Manfred's only surviving son, and Camille, his only surviving daughter, there are huge portraits in the parlor, very handsome paintings if nothing else, and the current tale that William has often appeared to family and guests, rummaging through a desk in the living room, is true.

  "The desk is a beautiful piece, Louis XV, I believe, with inlaid wood, cabriole legs and ormolu -- you know, the works -- and I have myself glimpsed him once hovering near it.

  "I have no doubt of what I've seen with my own eyes, but I will get to that when I return to the account of me and Goblin. It's enough to say right now that I never found anything in the desk. There are no secret compartments or documents.

  "Camille's ghost is almost always seen on the attic stairs, a woman with tastefully coiffed gray hair, and in an old-lady black dress and old-lady thick-heeled shoes, with a double strand of pearls around her neck, ignoring those to whom she appears and vanishing at the attic doorway.

  "And then there are the rushing feet of little children in the upstairs hall, these ascribed to Manfred's little daughter Isabel, who died when she was three, and his son Philip, who didn't live even that long.

  "When it came to the rest of the family, it was simply a matter of elegantly painted portraits -- Gravier's is especially fine, but then I did see Gravier, didn't I? But his wife, Blessed Alice, a lovely portrait subject, and Pops and Sweetheart, who reluctantly posed for their portraits, though it wasn't their nature, have never appeared to anyone. So far. . .

  "Then there's the living legend of Aunt Queen -- Miss Queen to all those of this parish -- and of her heroic travels crisscrossing the globe. The guests were delighted to hear that she was 'presently in Bombay' or 'celebrating New Year's Eve in Rio' or 'resting in her villa on Santorini' or 'engaged in a major shopping spree in Rome. ' It proved as exciting to them as any ghost story.

  "That Aunt Queen was a great collector of cameos was also well known, and in those days, the public days, there was a dainty glass case in the parlor, perched on spindly legs in the corner, which held a display of her finest pieces.

  "Bed-and-breakfast guests at Blackwood Manor never stole things, I'm relieved to report -- I think they're far more interested in homemade biscuits, jam and architecture -- and I was the one who periodically changed the display of Aunt Queen's cameos. I grew to like them. I could see the variations. Sweetheart had no real interest in them. And Pops was the outdoor man.

  "Aunt Queen can be said to have been a living haunt, or a protective spirit, which was a remarkable thing to me when I was a child, because I felt safe merely thinking about her, and her visits were like the apparitions of a saint.

  "Others died in this house. An infant born to Gravier and Blessed Alice; there are times when I swear I can hear a baby crying. Guests used to hear it too, and sometimes they would remark on it rather innocently.

  "Gravier had a younger brother, Patrick, who fell from a horse and died of the concussion in the middle upstairs bedroom. His portrait hangs in there over the fireplace. His wife, Regina, lived out her life here, much beloved by the Kitchen Gang, of which she was a baking, frying, slicing, dicing bonafide member. Their only daughter, Nanette, moved away long years ago to New Orleans.

  "There, in a cheap French Quarter boardinghouse, Nanette drank a whole bottle of bourbon and ate a whole bottle of aspirin and died of the result. I don't know any more of it than that. If her ghost walks, it doesn't do so at Blackwood Manor. Patrick too seems to be resting well in the family crypt. So is his wife, Regina.

  "Professional ghost hunters came once and found evidence of multiple hauntings, and made a tantalizing presentation to the guests who had gathered for the Halloween weekend, and so the tradition of the Halloween Weekend came to be.

  "The Halloween Weekend was always marvelous fun, with huge white tents on the terraces and on the far lawns, with chilled champagne and Bloody Marys. Tarot-card readers and palm readers, fortune-tellers and psychics were hired for the event, and the climax was a costume ball
to which people came from all the parish around.

  "If Aunt Queen happened to be at home, which was seldom, a great number of old friends of hers joined the festivities, and the costumes were wonderfully lavish, the place being full of princes and princesses of all description, elegant vampires, stereotypical black-hatted witches, sorceresses, Egyptian queens, moon goddesses and the occasional ambitious mummy, dripping with white gauze.

  "I loved all of the Halloween Weekend, you can tell by the way I dote on it. And it won't surprise you to learn that the expert ghost hunters never once took notice of Goblin, even when Goblin danced around them in a circle and did the abominable trick of stretching his mouth.

  "Of course Goblin isn't the ghost of a living person, but these experts were very good at declaring that poltergeists were working their subtle activities in the kitchen and pantry, accounting for pings and pongs of noise that one could scarce hear, or the sound of a radio devolving from music into static; and poltergeists are pure spirits as far as I know.

  "This was my life growing up -- this and the Christmas banquet of which I've already told you, with the caroling and the singing on the staircase and of course the huge dinner of roast turkey, goose and ham along with all the usual trimmings, and the weather outside being sometimes cold enough for the women to wear their old fur coats that smelled of moth balls, and the gentlemen joining in the singing with full hearts.

  "It seemed at times that the men singing the Christmas carols made me cry. I expected the women to sing, it seemed natural, but for the men to join in, men of all ages, and to do it with such stout hearts, that seemed especially reassuring and wonderful. I cried every year. It was that and the purity of the soprano who sang 'O Holy Night,' and 'What Child Is This?' Of course I joined in the singing myself.

  "And lest I overlook it, there was the Spring Festival, when the azaleas planted all around Blackwood Manor were blooming, in pink and white and red, and we would have a huge buffet, almost like that of a wedding, outside on the lawn. There was always an Easter Buffet as well.

  "Then I suppose I should throw in all the weddings again and the commotion they brought, and the fascinating waiters I would meet in the kitchen, who to a one felt the 'vibrations' of spirits, and the brides becoming hysterical because their hair was not done right and the hairdresser had already gone, and Sweetheart, my darling Sweetheart, portly and ever solicitous, huffing and puffing up the stairs to the rescue and snatching up her electric curling iron and doing a few excellent tricks she knew to make everything right.

  "There was Mardi Gras too, when, even though we're an hour and a half from New Orleans, we were booked solid, and we decorated in the traditional colors of purple, green and gold.

  "Sometimes, a very few times, I went into the city to see some of the Mardi Gras parades. Sweetheart's sister, Aunt Ruthie, lived on St. Charles Avenue, which you know is the main parade route. But she wasn't a Blackwood, and her sons, though probably normal, appeared to me to be monsters with too much body hair and overly deep voices, and I felt uncomfortable there.

  "So Mardi Gras didn't penetrate to me very much except for all the gaiety out here at the house, and the inevitable costume ball we held on the night of Fat Tuesday itself. It was amazing how many revelers came back at sunset from New Orleans, after hours of watching Zulu, Rex and the interminable truck parades, to drink themselves sick at our festive bar.

  "Of course I did very occasionally encounter other children here -- at the Halloween party and at the Christmas party in particular, and sometimes at the weddings -- but I didn't take to them. They seemed to me to be freaky little people. I have to laugh at myself for thinking such a thing. But as I've said, my world was made up of spirits and adults, and I just didn't know what to do with children.

  "I think I feared children as treacherous and even a little dangerous. I'm not sure why exactly, except that Goblin didn't like them, but Goblin really didn't like me to be with anyone very long.

  "I hung with the adults by natural inclination and strong choice.

  "I can't think about the weddings now, as we talk together, without thinking of something ghastly that I have to confess to you -- something that happened far from Blackwood Manor, and on the night I was made a Blood Hunter. But the time will come for that, I know.

  "That's the family history, as it came down to me when I was innocent and protected by the umbrella of Pops and Sweetheart, and Aunt Queen, who was ever like a fairy godmother, dipping down to Earth only now and then with her stacked heels and invisible wings.

  "There are other family members -- connections of William's wives -- he had two, the first of whom was the mother of Gravier, and the second, the mother of Aunt Queen, and of Gravier's wife, and, of course, connections of Sweetheart's. But though I've seen such cousins from time to time, they are not part of this story, and they had no impact on me whatsoever, except perhaps a feeling on my part of being unordinary and hopelessly strange.

  "It's time now for me to move on to the tale of me and Goblin, and the account of how I got educated.

  "But before I do, let me trace the Blackwood lineage, for what it's worth. Manfred was the patriarch, and William was his son. William begat Gravier. Gravier begat Pops. And Pops, late in life when he and Sweetheart had despaired of having a child, begat Patsy. At age sixteen, Patsy gave birth to me and named me Tarquin Anthony Blackwood. As to my father, let me state now plainly and unequivocally that I don't have one.

  "Patsy has no clear recollection of what was happening to her in the weeks during which I might have been conceived, except that she was singing with a band in New Orleans, with fake identification to get her into the club where the band was playing, and she and a whole mob of musicians and singers were hanging together in a flat on Esplanade Avenue, 'with plenty of weed and plenty of wine and plenty of company. ¡¯

  "I've often wondered why Patsy didn't seek an abortion. She certainly could have managed it. And I'm tormented by the suspicion that Patsy thought that if she was a mother she would be an adult, and Pops and Sweetheart would give her freedom and money. She didn't get either one. And so there she was at sixteen, with a baby brother of a child, and obviously no notion of what to do with me, as she went on with her dreams of becoming a country-western singer and of having her own band.

  "I have to remember all this when I think of her. I have to try not to hate her. I wish I could stop feeling pain every time I think of her. I'm ashamed to say it again but I would like to kill her.

  "Now on to the story of me and Goblin and how I was educated and how I educated him. "
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