Coming To America by Ligeia
Paris, 1901 - Christmas.
Ghislaine, now almost two years old, all golden curls and white lace, toddled about the sitting room opening the prettily wrapped boxes, strewing paper and ribbons across the oriental rug and chuckling her baby laugh as each new wonder was revealed. She picked up a stuffed bear, obviously this year's favoured toy, and climbed, giggling, onto the vampire's lap where she snuggled happily as he stroked her hair.
Darla urges him once more to feed off the baby. 'What do you mean you can't?' She is angry now. Instinctively, he recognises this is as one of those crucial moments that affect everything that comes after. At this time and place, all the indecision and misery of the previous months has condensed, re-formed and solidified into the single fundamental question by which his future will be determined – will he or won't he? 'Prove yourself,' she says, strangely calm. Is she offering him a way out? A reason to leave? Or extending the most heartless challenge?
He squeezed her warm little body closer and tickled her until she shrieked with delight, wincing as she reached up and tugged his unfashionably long hair, making him laugh too.
'One of life's little ironies is the smaller the child, the louder the voice.' Ghislaine's mother stooped to take her from the lap of the handsome vampire but he shook his head and settled the child against his chest where she contentedly shoved one tiny thumb into her mouth.
He passes the child, swaddled in an ash-covered blanket and crying in fear, up to a middle-aged couple on the overcrowded boat about to put out of Shanghai Harbour. The man, a French missionary, reaches down to help the younger man aboard, but he merely shakes his head, turns and walks away, back toward the flaming backdrop of the city. Clutching the baby to her, his wife calls out their name. 'De Beauvais, Paris.' But he does not look back and she does not know if he has even heard.
When that same young man turned up at their home over a year later, the de Beauvais were at first anxious that he had come to claim his child but he quickly put their fears to rest, confirming that he had no idea who the little girl's dead parents were; even her nationality remained a mystery. He had wanted to be sure the child was safe. That was all. Their doubts stilled, he was welcomed and invited to stay, standing at the child's re- Christening as her Godfather. Her new parents, Adele and Matthieu De Beauvais, doted on her, this beautiful child miraculously brought to them when they could have no children of their own. Of course, he could not have known that at the time. Never the less, they saw him as the agent of their greatest earthly joy – their daughter.
'Will you tell her about me?' he asked. 'How she was found?'
'Of course. We shall tell her everything.'
He looked up sharply.
'One thing I learned from my travels in the orient,' Adele continued, 'is that it is ignorance alone that breeds fear and hatred. I will keep nothing from her. Including the knowledge of how good a man is her Godfather.'
He sighed and wondered if there was any point in the child knowing of him at all. Likely he would never see her again in any case.
Regret flows on a crimson tide of blood for the lives he has taken and he knows he cannot stay with Darla any longer. She is disgusted by him and makes this abundantly and painfully clear. His short absences from the vampire clan, most especially from Darla's presence, leave him feeling desperate and isolated and each time makes his way, grudgingly contrite, back to the fold. Each time, Darla's demeanour becomes colder and her treatment of him a little more cruel, the withdrawal of her affection and approval the least tangible but the most difficult to bear. He knows the time has come to choose another path, make a new life.
He quickly learned to like and trust the De Beauvais and they treated him almost as a son. In time, reluctantly and with great trepidation, he began to tell them the truth about himself and his unnatural existence.
The kindly Matthieu was at something of a loss – uncertain what form of spiritual comfort he could offer such a one as this child of the darkness and their discussions, which routinely lasted long into the night, often deteriorated on both sides into puzzled silence.
Adele, on the other hand, took a more practical view. As far as she was concerned the benefactor of their adopted daughter was no less a child of God than any other being that walked the earth, be it by night or day. No one was beyond redemption.
'Even the devil was originally one of God's own creatures,' she stated firmly. 'The bible speaks of his eventual redemption. Why not yours?'
In this, at least, Matthieu agreed and the vampire's heart finally began to feel a renewal of hope and purpose.
His emotions fluctuate wildly and he tries to suppress them but his mood swings sometimes hit him hard and at odd times. He feels swamped with feelings looking at the child and buries his face in her mass of golden curls. He thinks what another life might have brought; this child could easily have been his and Darla's. He is at a such loss now without her. He almost grasps the De Beauvais' offer to stay, make Ghislaine the centre of a new, better life. But that would be selfish. There is no bright future for him, only a grim darkness that she would inevitably be drawn into and eventually consumed by. He must leave it all behind. Start again.
A servant came to take the baby to bath and bed. It was growing late but he was loath to let her go. He stroked Ghislaine's fine blonde hair again, and kissed her chubby cheeks, warmed to roses by the heat of the fire and the excitement of the season.
'I must be going. My train leaves for Calais within the hour and I must be aboard ship before dawn.'
Adele rose with him and walked him to the coach waiting on the street outside. Kissing him on both cheeks, she pressed a small package into his hand.
'A gift from Matthieu and me. Remember, so long as we live, you will always have family here.'
He could only nod in reply.
'Pick your path, Angelus, and I'll pray for you.'
He hoped that will be enough.
[to be continued in part 2]
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