Interview with the vampi.., p.6
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       Interview with the Vampire, p.6

         Part #1 of The Vampire Chronicles series by Anne Rice
 
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Chapter 6

 

  "Now, as for Babette, I had visited her once again. As I told you, she had scandalized the coast by remaining alone on the plantation without a man in the house, without even an older woman. Babette's greatest problem was that she might succeed financially only to suffer the isolation of social ostracism. She had such a sensibility that wealth itself mean nothing to her; family, a line. . . this meant something to Babette. Though she was able to hold the plantation together, the scandal was wearing on her. She was giving up inside. I came to her one night in the garden. Not permitting her to look on me, I told her in a most gentle voice that I was the same person she'd seen before. That I knew of her life and her suffering. 'Don't expect people to understand it,' I told her. 'They are fools. They want you to retire because of your brother's death. They would use your life as if it were merely oil for a proper lamp. You must defy them, but you must defy them with purity and confidence. ' She was listening all the while in silence. I told her she was to give a ball for a cause. And the cause to be religious. She might pick a convent in New Orleans, any one, and plan for a philanthropic ball. She would invite her deceased mother's dearest friends to be chaperones and she would do all of this with perfect confidence. Above all, perfect confidence. It was confidence and purity which were all-important.

  "Well, Babette thought this to be a stroke of genius. 'I don't know what you are, and you will not tell me,' she said. (This was true, I would not. )'But I can only think that you are an angel. ' And she begged to see my face. That is, she begged in the manner of such people as Babette, who are not given to truly begging anyone for anything. Not that Babette was proud. She was simply strong and honest, which in most cases makes begging. . . I see you want to ask me a question. " The vampire stopped.

  "Oh, no," said the boy, who had meant to hide it.

  "But you mustn't be afraid to ask me anything. If I held something too close. . . " And when the vampire said this his face darkened for an instant. He frowned, and as his brows drew together a small well appeared in the flesh of his forehead over his left brow, as though someone had pressed it with a finger. It gave him a peculiar look of deep distress. "If I held something too close for you to ask about it, I would not bring it up in the first place," he said.

  The boy found himself staring at the vampire's eyes, at the eyelashes which were fine black wires in the tender flesh of the lids.

  "Ask me," he said to the boy.

  "Babette, the way you speak of her," said the boy. "As if your feeling was special. "

  "Did I give you the impression I could not feel?" asked the vampire.

  "No, not at all. Obviously you felt for the old man. You stayed to comfort him when you were in danger. And what you felt for young Freniere when Lestat wanted to kill him. . . all this you explained. But I was wondering. . . did you have a special feeling for Babette? Was it feeling for Babette all along that caused you to protect Freniere?"

  "You mean love," said the vampire. "Why do you hesitate to say it?"

  "Because you spoke of detachment," said the boy.

  " Do you think that angels are detached?" asked the vampire.

  The boy thought for a moment. "Yes," he said.

  "But aren't angels capable of love?" asked the vampire. "Don't angels gaze upon the face of God with complete love?"

  The boy thought for a moment. "Love or adoration," he said.

  "What is the difference?" asked the vampire thoughtfully. "What is the difference?" It was clearly not a riddle for the boy. He was asking himself. "Angels feel love, and pride. . . the pride of The Fall. . . and hatred. The strong overpowering emotions of detached persons in whom emotion and will are one," he said finally. He stared at the table now, as though he were thinking this over, was not entirely satisfied with it. "I had for Babette. . . a strong feeling. It is not the strongest I've ever known for a human being. " He looked up at the boy. "But it was very strong. Babette was to me in her own way an ideal human being. "

  He shifted in his chair, the cape moving softly about him, and turned his face to the windows. The boy bent forward and checked the tape. Then he took another cassette from his brief case and, begging the vampire's pardon, fitted it into place, "I'm afraid I did ask something too personal. I didn't mean. . . " he said anxiously to the vampire.

  "You asked nothing of the sort," said the vampire, looking at him suddenly. "It is a question right to the point. I feel love, and I felt some measure of love for Babette, though not the greatest love I've ever felt. It was foreshadowed in Babette.

  "To return to my story, Babette's charity ball was a success and her re-entry in social life assured by it. Her money generously underwrote any doubts in the minds of her suitors' families, and she married. On summer nights, I used to visit her, never letting her see me or know that I was there. I came to see that she was happy, and seeing her happy I felt a happiness as the result.

  "And to Babette I came now with Lestat. He would have killed the Frenieres long ago if I hadn't stopped him, and he thought now that was what I meant to do. 'And what peace would that bring?' I asked. 'You call me the idiot, and you've been the idiot all along. Do you think I don't know why you made me a vampire? You couldn't live by yourself, you couldn't manage even the simplest things. For years now, I've managed everything while you sat about making a pretense of superiority. There's nothing left for you to tell me about life. I have no need of you and no use for you. It's you who need me, and if you touch but one of the Freniere slaves, I'll get rid of you. It will be a battle between us, and I needn't point out to you I have more wit to fare better in my little finger than you in your entire frame. Do as I say. '

  "Well, this startled him, though it shouldn't have; and he protested he had much to tell me, of things and types of people I might kill who would cause sudden death and places in the world I must never go and so forth and so on, nonsense that I could hardly endure. But I had no time for him. The overseer's lights were lit at Freniere; he was trying to quell the excitement of the runaway slaves and his own. And the fire of Pointe du Lac could be seen still against the sky. Babette was dressed and attending to business, having sent carriages to Pointe du Lac and slaves to help fight the blaze. The frightened runaways were kept away from the others, and at that point no one regarded their stories as any more than slave foolishness. Babette knew something dreadful had happened and suspected murder, never the supernatural. She was in the study making a note of the fire in the plantation diary when I found her. It was almost morning. I had only a few minutes to convince her she must help. I spoke to her at first, refusing to let her turn around, and calmly she listened. I told her I must have a room for the night, to rest. 'I've never brought you harm. I ask you now for a key, and your promise that no one will try to enter that room until tonight. Then I'll tell you all' I was nearly desperate now. The sky was paling. Lestat was yards off in the orchard with the coffins. 'But why have you come to me tonight?' she asked. 'And why not to you?' I replied. 'Did I not help you at the very moment when you most needed guidance, when you alone stood strong among those who are dependent and weak? Did I not twice offer you good counsel? And haven't I watched over your happiness ever since?' I could see the figure of Lestat at the window. He was in a panic. 'Give me the key to a room. Let no one come near it till nightfall. I swear to you I would never bring you harm. ''And if I don't. . . if I believe you come from the devil!' she -said now, and meant to turn her head. I reached for the candle and put it out. She saw me standing with my back to the graying windows. 'If you don't, and if you believe me to be the devil, I shall

  die. ' I said. 'Give me the key. I could kill you now if I chose, do you see?' And now I moved close to her and showed myself to her more completely, so that she gasped and drew back, holding to the arm of her chair. 'But I would not. I would die rather than kill you. I will die if you don't give me such a key as I ask. '

  "It was accomplished. What she thought, I don't know. But she gave me one of the ground-fl
oor storage rooms where wine was aged, and I am sure she saw Lestat and me bringing the coffins. I not only locked the door but barricaded it.

  "Lestat was up the next evening when I awoke. "

  "Then she kept her word. "

  "Yes. Only she had gone a step further. She had not only respected our locked door; she had locked it again from without. "

  "And the stories of the slaves. . . she'd heard them. "

  "Yes, she had. Lestat was the first to discover we were locked in, however. He became furious. He had planned to get to New Orleans as fast as possible. He was now completely suspicious of me. 'I only needed you as long as my father lived,' he said, desperately trying to find some opening somewhere. The place was a dungeon.

  "'Now I won't put up with anything from you, I warn you. ' He didn't even wish to turn his back on me. I sat there straining to hear voices in the rooms above, wishing that he would shut up, not wishing to confide for a moment my feeling for Babette or my hopes.

  "I was also thinking something else. You ask me about feeling and detachment. One of its aspects, detachment with feeling, I should say, is that you can think of two things at the same time. You can think that you are not safe and may die, and you can think of something very abstract and remote. And this was definitely so with me. I was thinking at that moment, wordlessly and rather deeply, how sublime friendship between Lestat and me might have been; how few impediments to it there would have been, and how much to be shared. Perhaps it was the closeness of Babette which caused me to feel it, for how could I truly ever come to know Babette, except, of course, through the one final way; to take her life, to become one with her in an embrace of death when my soul would become one with my heart and nourished with it. But my soul wanted to- know Babette without my need to kill, without robbing her of every breath of life, every drop of blood. But Lestat, how we might have known each other, had he been a man of character, a man of even a little thought. The old man's words came back to me; Lestat a brilliant pupil, a lover of books that had been burned. I knew only the Lestat who sneered at my library, called it a pile of dust, ridiculed relentlessly my reading, my meditations.

  "I became aware now that the house over our heads was quieting. Now and then feet moved and the boards creaked and the light in the cracks of the boards gave a faint, uneven illumination. I could see Lestat feeling along the brick walls, his hard enduring vampire face a twisted mask of human frustration. I was confident we must part ways at once, that I must if necessary put an ocean between us. And I realized that I'd tolerated him this long because of self-doubt. I'd fooled myself into believing I stayed for the old man, and for my sister and her husband. But I stayed with Lestat because I was afraid he did know essential secrets as a vampire which I could not discover alone and, more important, because he was the only one of my kind whom I knew. He had never told me how he had become a vampire or where I might find a single other member of our kind. This troubled me greatly then, as much as it had for four years. I hated ¡១nd wanted to leave him; yet could I leave him?

  "Meantime, as all this passed through my thoughts, Lestat continued his diatribe: he didn't need me; he wasn't going to put up with anything, especially not any threat from the Frenieres. We had to be ready when that door opened. 'Remember!' he said to the finally. 'Speed and strength; they cannot match us in that. And fear. Remember always, to strike fear. Don't be sentimental now! You'll cost us everything. '

  "'You wish to be on your own after this?' I asked him. I wanted him to say it. I did not have the courage. Or, rather, I did not know my own feelings.

  "'I want to get to New Orleans!' he said. 'I was simply warning you I don't need you. But to get out of here we need each other. You don't begin to know how to use your powers! You have no innate sense of what you are! Use your persuasive powers with this woman if she comes. But if she comes with others, then be prepared to act like what you are. '

  "'Which is what?' I asked him, because it had never seemed such a mystery to me as it did at that time. 'What am I?' He was openly disgusted. He threw up his hands.

  "'Be prepared. . . he said, now baring his magnificent teeth,'to kill!' He looked suddenly at the boards overhead. 'They're going to bed up there, do you hear them?' After a long silent time during which Lestat paced and I sat there musing, plumbing my mind for what I might do or say to Babette or, deeper still, for the answer to a harder question-what did I feel for Babette? After a long time, a light flared beneath the door. Lestat was poised to jump whoever should open it. It was Babette alone and she entered with a lamp, not seeing Lestat, who stood behind her, but looking directly at me.

  "I had never seen her as she looked then; her hair was down for bed, a mass of dark waves behind her white dressing gown; and her face was tight with worry and fear. This gave it a feverish radiance and made her large brown eyes all the more huge. As I have told you, I loved her strength and honesty, the greatness of her soul. And I did not feel passion for her as you would feel it. But I found her more alluring than any woman I'd known in mortal life. Even in the severe dressing gown, her arms and breasts were round and soft; and she seemed to me an intriguing soul clothed in rich, mysterious flesh. I who am hard and spare and dedicated to a purpose, felt drawn to her irresistibly; and, knowing it could only culminate in death, I turned away from her at once, wondering if when she gazed into my eyes she found them dead and soulless.

  "`You are the one who came to me before,' she said now, as if she hadn't been sure. 'And you are the owner of Pointe du Lac. You argil' I knew as she spoke that she must have heard the wildest stories of last night, and there would be no convincing her of any lie. I had used my unnatural appearance twice to reach her, to speak to her; I could not hide it or minimize it now.

  "'I mean you no harm. ,' I said to her. 'I need only a carriage and horses. . . the horses I left last night in the pasture. ' She didn't seem to hear my words; she drew closer, determined to catch me in the circle of her light.

  "And then I saw Lestat behind her, his shadow merging with her shadow on the brick wall; he was anxious and dangerous. 'You will give me the carriage?' I insisted. She was looking at me now, the lamp raised; and just when I meant to look away, I saw her face change. It went still, blank, as if her soul were losing its consciousness. She closed her eyes and shook her head. It occurred to me that I had somehow caused her to go into a trance without any effort on my part. 'What are you!' she whispered. 'You're from the devil. You were from the devil when you came to met'

  " 'The devil!' I answered her. This distressed me more than I thought I could be distressed. If she believed this, then she would think my counsel bad; she would question herself. Her life was rich and good, and I knew she mustn't do this. Like all strong people, she suffered always a measure of loneliness; she was a marginal outsider, a secret infidel of a certain sort. And the balance by which she lived might be upset if she were to question her own goodness. She stared at me with undisguised horror. It was as if in horror she forgot her own vulnerable position. And now Lestat, who was drawn to weakness like a parched man to water, grabbed her wrist, and she screamed and dropped the lamp. The flames leaped in the splattered oil, and Lestat pulled her backwards towards the open door. 'You get the carriage!' he said to her. 'Get it now, and the horses. You are in mortal danger; don't talk of devils!'

  "I stomped on the flames and went for Lestat, shouting at him to leave her. He had her by both wrists, and she was furious. 'You'll rouse the house if you don't shut up!' he said to me. 'And I'll kill her! Get the carriage. . . lead us. Talk to the stable boy!' he said to her, pushing her into the open air. .

  "We moved slowly across the dark court, my distress almost unbearable, Lestat ahead of me; and before us both Babette, who moved backwards, her eyes peering at us in the dark. Suddenly she stopped One dim light burned in the house above. 'I'll get you nothing!' she said. I reached for Lestat's arm and told him I must handle this. 'She'll reveal us to everyone unless you let me talk to her,' I whispere
d to him.

  "'Then get yourself in check,' he said disgustedly. 'Be strong. Don't quibble with her. '

  "'You go as I talk. . . go to the stables and get the carriage and the horses. But don't kill!' Whether he'd obey me or not I didn't know, but he darted away just as . I stepped up to Babette. Her face was a mixture of fury and resolution. She said,'Get thee behind me, Satan. ' And I stood there before her then, speechless, just holding her in my glance as surely as she held me. If she could hear Lestat in the night she gave no indication. Her hatred for me burned me like fire.

  "'Why do you say this to me?' I asked. 'Was the counsel I gave you. bad? Did I do you harm? I came to help you, to give you strength. I thought only of you, when I had no need to think of you at all. '

  "She shook her head. 'But why, why do you talk to me like this?' she asked. 'I know what you've done at Pointe du Lac; you've lived there like a devil! The slaves are wild with stories! All day men have been on the river road on the way to Pointe du Lac; my husband was there! He saw the house in ruins, the bodies of slaves throughout the orchards, the fields. What are you! Why do you speak to me gently! What do you want of me?' She clung now to the pillars of the porch and was backing slowly to the staircase. Something moved above in the lighted window.

  "'I cannot give you such answers now,' I said to her. 'Believe me when I tell you I came to you only to do you goad. And would not have brought worry and care to you last night for anything, had I the choice!' "

  The vampire stopped.

  The boy sat forward, his eyes wide. The vampire was frozen, staring off, lost in his thoughts, his memory. And the boy looked down suddenly, as if this were the respectful thing to do. He glanced again at the vampire and then away, his own face as distressed as the vampire's; and then he started to say something, but he stopped.
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