Interview with the vampi.., p.5
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       Interview with the Vampire, p.5

         Part #1 of The Vampire Chronicles series by Anne Rice
 
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Chapter 5

 

  "You ask that with such innocence," said the vampire. "Yes, I suppose I certainly did. Only, by candlelight I always had a less supernatural appearance. And I made no pretense with her of being an ordinary creature. 'I have only minutes,' I told her at once. 'But what I have to tell you is of the greatest importance. Your brother fought bravely and won the duel=but wait. . You must know now, he is dead. Death was proverbial with him, the thief in the night about which all his goodness or courage could do nothing. But this is not the principal thing which I came to tell you. It is this. You can rule the plantation and you can save it. All that is required is that you let no one convince you otherwise. You must assume his position despite any outcry, any talk of convention, any talk of propriety or common sense. You must listen to nothing. The same land is here now that was here yesterday, morning when your brother slept above. Nothing is changed. You must take his place.

  If you do not, the land is lost and the family is lost. You will be five women on a small pension doomed to live but half or less of what life could give you. Learn what you must know. Stop at nothing until you have the answers. And take my visitation to you to be your courage whenever you waver. You must take the reins of your own life. Your brother is dead. '

  "I could see by her face that she had heard every word. She would have questioned me had there been time, but she believed me when I said there was not. Then I used all my skill to leave her so swiftly I appeared to vanish. From the garden I saw her face above in the glow of her candles. I saw her search the dark for me, turning around and around. And then I saw her make the Sign of the Crass and walk back to her sisters within. "

  The vampire smiled. "There was absolutely no talk on the river coast of any strange apparition to Babette Freniere, but after the first mourning and sad talk of the women left all alone, she became the scandal of the neighborhood because she chose to run the plantation on her own. She managed an immense dowry for her younger sister, and was married herself in another year. And Lestat and I almost never exchanged words. "

  "Did he go on living at Pointe du Lac?"

  "Yes. I could not be certain he'd told me all I needed to know. And great pretense was necessary. My sister was married in my absence, for example, while I had a'malarial chill,' and something similar overcame me the morning of my mother's funeral. Meantime, Lestat and I sat down to dinner each night with the old man and made nice noises with our knives and forks, while he told us to eat everything on our plates and not to drink our wine too fast. With dozens of miserable headaches I would receive my sister in a darkened bedroom, the covers up to my chin, bid her and her husband bear with the dim light on account of the pain in my eyes, as I entrusted to them large amounts of money to invest for us all. Fortunately her husband was an idiot; a harmless one, but an idiot, the product of four generations of marriages between first cousins.

  "But though these things went well, we began to have our problems with the slaves. They were the suspicious ones; and, as I've indicated, Lestat killed anyone and everyone he chose. So there was always some talk of mysterious death on the part of the coast. But it was what they saw of us which began the talk, and I heard it one evening when I was playing a shadow about the slave cabins.

  "Now, let me explain first the character of these slaves. It was only about seventeen ninety-five, Lestat and I having lived there for four years in relative quiet, I investing the money which he acquired, increasing our lands, purchasing apartments and town houses in New Orleans which I rented, the work of the plantation itself producing little. . . more a cover for us than an investment. I say'our. ' This is wrong. I never signed anything over to Lestat, and, as you realize, I was still legally alive. But in seventeen ninety-five these slaves did not have the character which you've seen in films and novels of the South. They were not soft-spoken, brown-skinned people in drab rags who spoke an English dialect. They were Africans. And they were islanders; that is, some of them had come from Santo Domingo. They were very black and totally foreign; they spoke in their African tongues, and they spoke the French patois; and when they sang, they sang African songs which made the fields exotic and strange, always frightening to me in my mortal life. They were superstitious and had their own secrets and traditions. In short, they had not yet been destroyed as Africans completely. Slavery was the curse of their existence; but they had not been robbed yet of that which had been characteristically theirs. They tolerated the baptism and modest garments imposed on there by the French Catholic laws; but in the evenings, they made their cheap fabrics into alluring costumes, made jewelry of animal bones and bits of discarded metal which they polished to look like gold; and the slave cabins of Pointe du Lac were a foreign country, an African coast after dark, in which not even the coldest overseer would want to wander. No fear for the vampire.

  "Not until one summer evening when, passing for a shadow, I heard through the open doors of the black foreman's cottage a conversation which convinced me that Lestat and I slept is real danger. The slaves knew now we were not ordinary mortals. In hushed tones, the maids told of how, through a crack in the door, they had seen us dine on empty plates with empty silver, lifting empty glasses to our lips, laughing, our faces bleached and ghostly in the candlelight, the blind man a helpless fool in our power. Through keyholes they had seen Lestat's coffin, and once he had beaten one of them mercilessly for dawdling by the gallery windows of his room. 'There is no bed in there,' they confided one to the other with nodding heads. 'He sleeps in the coffin, I know it. ' They were convinced, on the best of grounds, of what we were. And as for me, they'd seen me evening after evening emerge from the oratory, which was now little more than a shapeless mass of brick and vine, layered with flowering wisteria in the spring, wild roses in summer, moss gleaming on the old unpainted shutters which had never been opened, spiders spinning in the stone arches. Of course, I'd pretended to visit it in memory of Paul, but it was clear by their speech they no longer believed such lies. And now they attributed to us not only the deaths of slaves found in the fields and swamps and also the dead cattle and occasional horses, but all other strange events; even floods and thunder were the weapons of God in a personal battle waged with Louis and Lestat. But worse still, they were not planning to run away. Vice were devils. Our power inescapable. No, we must be destroyed. And at this gathering, where I became an unseen member, were a number of the Freniere slaves.

  "This meant word would get to the entire coast. And though I firmly believed the entire coast to be impervious to a wave of hysteria, I did not intend to risk notice of any kind. I hurried back to the plantation house to tell Lestat our game of playing planter was over. He'd have to give up his slave whip and golden napkin ring and move into town.

  "He resisted, naturally. His father was gravely ill and might not live. Ire had no intention of running away from stupid slaves. 'I'll kill them all,' he said calmly,'in threes and fours. Some will run away and that will be fine. '

  "'You're talking madness. The fact is I want you gone from here. '

  "'You want me gone! You,' he sneered. He was building a card palace on the dining room table with a pack of very fine French cards. 'You whining coward of a vampire who prowls the night killing alley cats and rats and staring for hours at candles as if they were people and standing in the rain like a zombie until your clothes are drenched and you smell like old wardrobe trunks in attics and have the look of a baffled idiot at the zoo. '

  "'You've nothing more to tell me, and your insistence on recklessness has endangered us both. I might live in that oratory alone while this house fell to ruin. I don't care about it!' I told him. Because this was quite true. 'But you must have all the things you never had of life and make of immortality a junk shop in which both of us become grotesque. Now, go look at your father and tell me how long he has to live, for that's how long you stay, and only if the slaves don't rise up against us!'

  "He told me then to go look at his father myself, since I was the one who was
always'looking,' and I did. The old man was truly dying. I had been spared my mother's death, more or less, because she had died very suddenly on an afternoon. She'd been found with her sewing basket, seated quietly in the courtyard; she had died as one goes to sleep. But now I was seeing a natural death that was too slow with agony and with consciousness. And I'd always liked the old man; he was kindly and simple and made few demands. By day, he sat in the sun of the gallery dozing and listening to the birds; by night, any chatter on our part kept him company. He could play chess, carefully feeling each piece and remembering the entire state of the board with remarkable accuracy; and though Lestat would never play with him, I did often. Now he lay gasping for breath, his forehead hot and wet, the pillow around him stained with sweat. And as he moaned and prayed for death, Lestat in the other room began to play the spinet. I slammed it shut, barely missing his fingers. 'You won't play while he dies!' I said. 'The hell I won't!' he answered me. 'I'll play the drum if I like!' And taking a great sterling silver platter from a sideboard he slipped a finger through one of its handles and beat it with a spoon.

  "I told him to stop it, or I would make him stop it. And then we both ceased our noise because the old man was calling his name. He was saying that he must talk to Lestat now before he died. I told Lestat to go to him. The sound of his crying was terrible. 'Why should I? I've cared for him all these years. Isn't that enough?' And he drew from his pocket a nail file, and, seating himself on the foot of the old man's bed, he began to file his long nails.

  "Meantime, I should tell you that I was aware of slaves about the house. They were watching and listening. I was truly hoping the old man would die within minutes. Once or twice before I'd dealt with suspicion or doubt on the part of several slaves, but never such a number. I immediately rang for Daniel, the slave to whom I'd given the overseer's house and position. But while I waited for him, I could hear the old man talking to Lestat; Lestat, who sat with his legs crossed, filing and filing, one eyebrow arched, his attention on his perfect nails. 'It was the school,' the old man was saying. 'Oh, I know you remember. . . what can I say to you. . . ' he moaned.

  "'You'd better say it,' Lestat said,'because you're about to die. ' The old man let out a terrible noise, and I suspect I made some sound of my own. I positively loathed Lestat. I had a mind now to get him out of the room. 'Well, you know that, don't you? Even a fool like you knows that,' said Lestat.

  `You'll never forgive me, will you? Not now, not even after I'm dead,' said the old man.

  " I don't know what you're talking about!" said Lestat.

  "My patience was becoming exhausted with him, and the old man was becoming more and more agitated. He was begging Lestat to listen to him with a warm heart. The whole thing was making me shudder. Meantime, Daniel had come, and I knew the moment I saw him that everything at Pointe du Lac was lost. Had I been more attentive I'd have seen signs of it before now. He looked at me with eyes of glass. I was a monster to him. 'Monsieur Lestat's father is very ill. Going,' I said, ignoring his expression. 'I want no noise tonight; the slaves must all stay within the cabins. A doctor is on his way. ' He stared at me as if I were lying. And then his eyes moved curiously and coldly away from me towards the old man's door. His face underwent such a change that I rose at once and looked in the room. It was Lestat, slouched at the foot of the bed, his back to the bedpost, his nail file working furiously, grimacing in such a way that both his great teeth showed prominently. "

  The vampire stopped, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter. He was looking at the boy. And the boy looked shyly at the table. But he had already looked, and fixedly, at the vampire's mouth. He had seen that the lips were of a different texture from the vampire's skin, that they were silken and delicately lined like any person's lips, only deadly white; and he had glimpsed the white teeth. Only, the vampire had such a way of smiling that they were not completely revealed; and the boy had not even thought of such teeth until now. "You can imagine," said the vampire, "what this meant.

  "I had to kill him. "

  "You what?" said the boy.

  "I had to kill him. He started to run. He would have alarmed everyone. Perhaps it might have been handled some other way, but I had no time. So I went after him, overpowering him. But then, finding myself in the act of doing what I had not done for four years, I stopped. This was a man. He had his bone-handle knife in his hand to defend himself. And I took it from him easily and slipped it into his heart. He sank to his knees at once, his fingers tightening on the blade, bleeding on it. And the sight of the blood, the aroma of it, maddened me. I believe I moaned aloud. But I did not reach for him, I would not. Then I remember seeing Lestat's figure emerge in the mirror over the sideboard. 'Why did you do this!' he demanded. I turned to face him, determined he would not see me in this weakened state. The old man was delirious, he went on, he could not understand what the old man was saying. 'The slaves, they know. . . you must go to the cabins and keep watch,' I managed to say to him. 'I'll care for the old man. '

  "'Kill him,' Lestat said.

  "'Are you mad!' I answered. 'He's your father!'

  "'I know he's my father!' said Lestat. 'That's why you have to kill him. I can't kill him! If I could, I would have done it a long time ago, damn him!' He wrung his hands. 'We've got to get out of here. And look what you've done killing this one. There's no time to lose. His wife will be wailing up here in minutes. . . or she'll send someone worse!"'

  The vampire sighed. "This was all true. Lestat was right. I could hear the slaves gathering around Daniel's cottage, waiting for him. Daniel had been brave enough to come into the haunted house alone. When he didn't return, the slaves would panic, become a mob. I told Lestat to calm them, to use all his power as a white master over them and not to alarm them with horror, and then I went into the bedroom and shut the door. I had then another shock in a night of shocks. Because I'd never seen Lestat's father as he was then.

  "He was sitting up now, leaning forward, talking to Lestat, begging Lestat to answer ham, telling him he understood his bitterness better than Lestat did himself. And he Was a living corpse. Nothing animated his sunken body but a fierce will: hence, his eyes for their gleam were all the more sunken in his skull, and his lips in their trembling made his old yellowed mouth more horrible. I sat at the foot of the bed, and, suffering to see him so, I gave him my hand. I cannot tell you how much his appearance had shaken me. For when I bring death, it is swift and consciousless, leaving the victim as if in enchanted sleep. But this was the slow decay, the body refusing to surrender to the vampire of time which had sucked upon it for years on end. 'Lestat,' he said. 'Just for once, don't be hard with me. Just for once, be for me the boy you were. My son. ' He said this over and over, the words, 'My son, my son'; and then he said something I could not hear about innocence and innocence destroyed. But I could see that he was not out of his mind, as Lestat thought, but in some terrible state of lucidity. The burden of the past Was on him with full force; and the present, which was only death, which he fought with all his will, could do nothing to soften that burden. But I knew I might deceive him if I used all my skill, and, bending close to him now, I whispered the word,'Father. ' It was not Lestat's voice, it was mine, a soft whisper. But he calmed at once and T thought then he might die. But he held my hand as if he were being pulled under by dark ocean waves and I alone could save him. He talked now of some country teacher, a name garbled, who. found in Lestat a brilliant pupil and begged to take him to a monastery for an education. He cursed himself for bringing Lestat home, for burning his books. 'You must forgive me, Lestat,' he cried.

  "I pressed his hand tightly, hoping this might do for some answer, but he repeated this again. 'You have it all to live for, but you are as cold and brutal as I was then with the work always there and the cold and hunger! Lestat, you must remember. You were the gentlest of them all! God will forgive me if you forgive me. '

  "Well, at that moment, the real Esau came through the door. I gestured for
quiet, but he wouldn't see that. So I had to get up quickly so the father wouldn't hear his voice from a distance. The slaves had run from him. 'But they're out there, they're gathered in the dark. I hear them,' said Lestat. And then he glared at the old man. 'Kill him, Louis!' he said to me, his voice touched with the first pleading I'd ever heard in it. Then he bit down in rage. 'Do it!'

  "'Lean over that pillow and tell him you forgive him all, forgive him for taking you out of school when you were a boy! Tell him that now. '

  "'For what!' Lestat grimaced, so that his face looked like a skull. 'Taking me out of school!' He threw up his hands and let out a terrible roar of desperation. 'Damn him! Kill him!' he said.

  "'Nor' I said. 'You forgive him. Or you kill him yourself. Go on. Kill your own father. '

  "The old man begged to be told what we were saying. He called out,'Son, son,' and Lestat danced like the maddened Rumpelstiltskin. about to put his foot through the moor. I went to the lace curtains. I could see and hear the slaves surrounding the house of Pointe du Lao, forms woven in the shadows, drawing near. 'You were Joseph among your brothers,' the old man said. 'The best of them, but how was I to know? It was when you were gone I knew, when all those years passed and they could offer me no comfort, no solace. And then you came back to me and took me from the farm, but it wasn't you. It wasn't the same boy. '

  "I turned on Lestat now and veritably dragged him towards the bed. Never had I seen him so weak, and at the same time enraged. He shook me off and then knelt down near the pillow, glowering at me. I stood resolute, and whispered,'Forgive!'

  "It's all right, Father. You must rest easy. I hold nothing against you," he said, his voice thin and strained over his anger.

  "The old man turned on the pillow, murmuring something soft with relief, but Lestat was already gone. He stopped short in the doorway, his hands over his ears. 'They're coming!' he whispered; and then, turning just so he could see me, he said,'Take him. For God's sake'

  "The old man never even knew what happened. He never awoke from his stupor. I bled him just enough, opening the gash so he would then die without feeding my dark passion. That thought I couldn't bear. I knew now it wouldn't matter if the body was found in this manner, because I had had enough of Pointe du Lac and Lestat and all this identity of Pointe du Lac's prosperous master. I would torch the house, and turn to the wealth I'd held under many names, safe for just such a moment.

  "Meantime, Lestat was after the slaves. He would leave such-ruin and death behind him no one could make a story of that night at Pointe du Lac, and I went with him. As before, his ferocity was mysterious, but now I bared my fangs on the humans who fled from me, my steady advance overcoming their clumsy, pathetic speed as the veil of death descended, or the veil of madness. The power and the proof of the vampire was incontestable, so that the slaves scattered in all directions. And it was I who ran back up the steps to put the torch to Pointe du Lac.

  "Lestat came bounding after me. 'What are you doing!' he shouted. 'Are you mad!' But there was no way to putout the flames. 'They're gone and you're destroying it, all of it. ' He turned round and round in the magnificent parlor, amid his fragile splendor. 'Get your coffin out. You have three hours till dawn!' I said. The house was a funeral pyre. "

  "Could the fire have hurt you?" asked the boy.

  "Most definitely!" said the vampire.

  "Did you go back to the oratory? Was it safe?"

  "No. Not at all. Some fifty-five slaves were scattered around the grounds. Many of them would not have desired the life of a runaway and would most certainly go right to Freniere or south to the Bel Jardin plantation down river. I had no intention of staying there that night. But there was little time to go anywhere else. "

  "The woman, Babette!" said the boy.

  The vampire smiled. "Yes, I went to Babette. She lived now at Freniere with her young husband. I had enough time to load my coffin into the carriage and go to her. "

  "But what about Lestat?"

  The vampire sighed. "Lestat went with me. It was his intention to go on to New Orleans, and he was trying to persuade me to do just that. But when he saw l meant to hide at Freniere, he opted for that also. We might not have ever made it to New Orleans. It was growing light. Not so that mortal eyes would have seen it, but Lestat and I could see it.
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