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."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-greataunt 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 devolved48around 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 honest49portrait 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 [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]