Coming to America
Angel: The Lost Years series
Summary: Angel's adventures in the early 1900's.
Disclaimer: Joss owns all.
Feedback: Feedback is welcome! ligeia_angel(at)yahoo.com.au
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.
February 7th, 1902 - aboard the S. S. Celtic bound for New York.
It was the start of the third week of the voyage from Liverpool and although the nights were bitterly cold, the immigrants travelling below decks made the most of the opportunity to come up for a few hours to take in the brisk sea air. Discouraged from fraternising with the 'better' classes, most spent the day below in the crowded and unsanitary confines of steerage, lounging on narrow bunks with little to do but sew or share their dreams with other hopefuls seeking to improve their circumstances or make their fortunes in that almost fabled land of the free - America. So, each evening while the First and Second Class passengers were in their cabins or at dinner, a colourful, garrulous river of humanity streamed upwards into the comparative freshness and openness of the rear decks.
Tonight the weather was even more inclement than usual, the decks frosty and slippery with ice and spindrift, but Angelus welcomed the cold. At least it was something he could feel - something physical - to divert his mind from its continual cycle of optimism and depression. Most evenings he shunned the company of the other First Class travellers. Here, among the steerage folk, no one approached him and he was free to take up his sketch pad or just to sit on one of the heavy wooden deck chairs and think. The night had begun clear and many of the immigrants had lain on their backs, bundled warmly, looking up into the starry sky, perhaps wondering if those they had left behind were doing the same, but towards midnight a storm came up, washing the decks with stinging spray and foam.
Suddenly, a child standing by the rail was swept overboard, his father's desperate cries alerting crew members standing about twenty metres away who hurried to lower one of the lifeboats into the swell. Another ran to the bridge to have the ship's progress halted while a rescue was attempted. Passengers who had remained above to brave the weather crowded to the rail, watching helplessly as the boy's white face blurred into the darkness as the ship ploughed on through the choppy seas. The ship's wash began to buffet the boy and it became apparent that he was failing fast; each time he was submerged by the frothy wake, it took longer and longer before he was able to struggle to the surface.
Angelus threw off his overcoat and dived into the water. Letting the wash of the ship's passing carry him away from the stern, it still took him long moments to reach the boy, now limp and floating just under the surface.
The lifeboat hit the water heavily, almost capsizing, then righted itself. The crew, augmented by the boy's frantic father, quickly came alongside and Angelus was able to hoist the child up to their waiting arms. As he climbed aboard he saw, with relief, that the boy was now lying on his side in the bottom of the boat, coughing and gasping as the salty water drained from his lungs.
Back on deck someone threw a blanket around Angelus's shoulders. Many hands patted him on the back amid a jumble of murmured thanks. Gathering up his coat, and without a single word, he shoved his way through the pressing crowd and quickly walked away.
The following evening found the Celtic on the final leg of the journey. Less than a week out of New York and spirits were high amongst poor and wealthy alike. Angelus came to the aft deck as always, but stood a little further off than usual, knowing he would be recognised because of the events of the previous night but not wanting to appear too accessible.
Maggie had noticed the tall, quiet figure many times; he often came and stood by one group of migrants or another, silently sketching, but never initiated conversation. She thought he looked lonely but, as he was obviously a gentleman, the flame-haired Irish lass had never dared speak to him.
Tonight, however, she had good reason.
Wrapping her shawl tightly around her shoulders, fortifying herself as much against her natural self-consciousness as against the cold, she left her small group of friends to stand beside him at the rail. When, after several minutes, he did not acknowledge her, Maggie screwed up the last of her courage and put out her hand.
'My name's Maggie Gormly,' she said boldly, 'what's yours?'
Unable to ignore so direct an approach, Angelus turned and took her small hand in his. Bowing courteously, he gave the name on his passport.
'I saw what you did last night,' the girl continued. 'It was very brave.'
He shrugged but said nothing.
'The Tibaldi's are friends of mine. At least, I've made a friend of their niece during the voyage. They're very grateful.'
'Is the boy recovered?'
'Yes. Or at least he will be by the time we get to New York. He has a chill but we don't think that will stop the family from being accepted, given the circumstances.'
One of the worst fears for the immigrants on board was that they might be turned away because of illness or infirmity, before even setting foot in their new homeland. Angelus said he hoped that would not be the case for the little Italian boy and his family.
'Oh, and I have something of yours.' Maggie reached under her shawl and withdrew a slightly battered sketch pad. 'You dropped it when you dived overboard to save the boy.'
'Thank you.' Angelus put out his hand but Maggie seemed reluctant to hand over the book.
'I hope you will excuse me,' she began, blushing slightly. 'But I couldn't resist taking a look inside. It's just that they are such lovely pictures.' She opened the book at one of the many portraits featuring a beautiful woman, apparently not much older than herself, with upswept blonde hair and an unreadable expression. 'She's lovely. Your wife?'
He laughed, a little sadly she thought, and said, 'No.'
His smile faded slowly and he shook his head. Maggie turned to the top page. There was the drawing Angelus has been working on. Ghislaine.
'Why, she's an angel! Not yours though,' the Irish girl remarked, taking in his strong, dark features. 'There's nothing of you in her.'
'God, I hope not!' He said it so vehemently that they both began to laugh. 'Ghislaine's my god-daughter.'
'Back in Ireland?'
Puzzled, Angelus answered, 'No. In France. Why did you think she was in Ireland?'
'I thought I'd lost that long ago.'
He looked so surprised, Maggie started to laugh again, then added, 'There's a trace. And you wear the claddagh.'
He twisted the white gold ring on his finger. Heart, hands, crown. Symbols of a life - and a love - long lost to him.
They talked a while longer, Angelus sketching as Maggie chattered about her new life to come; she was seventeen years old and on her way to meet her fiancé in New Jersey. As unmarried women were not permitted to leave the immigration station unless accompanied by a relative, Maggie and her young man expected to be made to marry by the Kissing Post before they left Ellis Island.
'Not very romantic!' she laughed. 'But we hope to make up for that later.' A hand flew to her mouth and she blushed wildly as she realised the implication of her words. She noted her companion's wry smile.
'All done,' he said, holding up the completed sketch, gratified to see her face light up as she saw herself though his eyes.
'Oh, but you've made me much too pretty!' she protested.
'Well then,' he grinned, 'I'd better do another.' He tore out the first portrait and rolled it up for her to take.
'I've seen you up here most nights,' Maggie remarked. 'But tonight is the first time I've seen you smile. You remind me of my father in that way. He was stoic, too. Never showed his pain. Not because he didn't feel anything, but because he felt things too deeply.'
February 12th, 1902 - Two nights out of New York.
Conversations with the delightful Maggie became the highlight of Angelus's final few nights aboard ship. He actually came to enjoy spending the evening hours with her and her friends, who were equally charmed with his drawings of them. He had begun to feel that perhaps this voyage might prove to be the route to a new existence for him after all. Maybe leaving Darla half a world away might just be far enough.
Heading back towards the First Class accommodations after taking his leave of Maggie, he was halted by a soft throaty laugh coming from under a wide external stairway leading to the crew area above.
A female vampire stepped out of the darkness under the stairs, delicately wiping away a little trail of blood with one red-lacquered fingernail, flicking the drops up with her tongue. Behind her, Angelus could just make out the white clad figure of one of the First Class stewards. The man groaned as he leaned against the bulkhead, holding a hand against his throat.
Recognition dawned on him. This was Nerida, one of Lorenzo's 'angels'. He spoke her name.
'I'm so pleased that you remember me,' she purred.
'How could I ever forget?'
She was, indeed, a memorable vision; tall and slim, with raven hair and eyes like polished jet - heavy, dark and cold. Not European; the cheekbones too high, eyes a little too feline. Something more exotic, probably - or more ancient. This night she wore the latest in Parisian fashion, yellow silk with matching kid gloves, now being slipped back onto long pale hands, and a dainty hat. Not a drop of blood marked silk or skin. The last time he had seen her, she had worn considerably less.
Nerida stepped forward and kissed him. Tasting the blood on her lips, in his own mouth, after so long without it, Angelus felt himself begin to change. He dropped the sketch pad and put his hands up to push her away.
'I don't remember you being so... fastidious... before, Angelus.'
'And I don't remember you being so...' he pulled away and resumed his 'human' face, rubbing a hand across his suddenly-warm cheeks, '... clothed.'
The vampire Lorenzo kept a mansion in Venice that Angelus had visited some decades before; a casino on an island in the bay that for several centuries provided a haven of sorts for vampires and a Mecca for humans... of a certain persuasion. Notable among the guests were such worthies as the Marquis de Sade, Lord Byron and other men and women with a penchant for new sensations. It was, Lorenzo said, a 'free house' where nothing was forbidden; no perversion of the mind, no abomination of the body was foreign to those gilded and perfumed halls. The richly decorated bedrooms and rooftop gardens nightly rang with the indistinguishable sounds of pleasure and pain.
The one rule of the house was - no killing.
Darla and Angelus's welcome there was soon eroded.
A sound from the shadowed stairwell drew their attention; a slight scuffle then a muffled exclamation, followed by silence. From out of the dark appeared another, more familiar figure. Robin stepped out, wiping blood from his moustaches with a white silk handkerchief.
'Ill met by moonlight and all that, eh, old fellow?' Robin ran a hand through his red-blond hair, cut short now and curling thickly over the ears and at the neck, and pointedly adjusted his cravat and jacket.
'What the hell are you doing aboard?'
Could Robin have been on the Celtic all this time without him knowing? Angelus was stunned. Of course he could. Angelus spent almost no time among the passengers in his own area of the ship, while Robin and his companion had no reason to stalk the Third Class cabins; people were so tightly packed in there that night predations would not go unnoticed. Apparently, not all the recent illness amongst the wealthier travellers could be blamed on seasickness.
'Now, is that any way to greet your only surviving sibling?' Robin asked, seeming genuinely surprised at the lack of welcome from his erstwhile clan-mate. 'We are brothers after all... under the skin.'
'You're no brother of mine, you bastard!' Angelus lunged at Robin but Nerida, still gripping his arm and strong from her recent meal, easily held him back.
'Why so peeved, old chap?' Robin continued, brazenly. 'I thought you'd be pleased to see a familiar face so far from home.'
'We had to leave Paris because of you.'
'Oh dear. Still not out of sorts with me over that little incident, are you? Good God, old man, that was just a prank!'
'A prank? We were almost lynched! Not that you stayed around to find out.'
'How is the little family, by the way?' Robin continued cheerfully. 'I hear our sweet William bagged himself a Slayer. Who'd have thought he'd have the bottle to pull that off, eh? Not me, certainly. Still, I'm very impressed. You must be so proud. And our dear Mama; how is the lovely Darla?' He raised a pale eyebrow. 'The two of you not travelling together these days?'
Angelus said nothing, but a low growl rumbled deep in his chest.
'Oh-ho! Don't tell me! Is it over now? You found the balls to leave her at last! Good show, old boy! That'll teach her!' he snickered. 'Or was it her idea after all? Hmm? Did Mama tell you that you weren't her favourite any more? Did she make you cry? Shatter your illusions of love?'
Angelus took another swing, taking Nerida by surprise and catching Robin sharply on the chin. He staggered back against the stairs, stumbled, swore, then tripped over something in the dark, revealing the white-trousered legs of the crewman, now dead. Robin righted himself then stepped forward to grasp Angelus by both lapels.
'Steady on, old fellow.' Robin's voice was low and menacing now, all affectations dropped. 'Calm down, won't you? It wouldn't do to be found here with the left-overs, in flagrante dilecto, as it were, now would it?' He stepped back, smoothing Angelus's rumpled collar. 'We'll be landing in Manhattan tomorrow. Why not let bygones be bygones, eh? Come with us.'
Not waiting for an answer, Robin walked back into the space under the stairs. 'I'd better get this unfortunate fellow somewhere less public.' Then to Nerida. 'Do be a brick and try to talk some sense into him, will you, old girl?' adding in a stage whisper, 'Whatever it takes, duckie; you know what I mean.' He looked thoughtfully at Angelus for a moment and sighed. 'Ain't she just the prettiest little whore you've ever seen?' He moved off into the blackness, the steward's lower limbs following him into the void.
Angelus, momentarily tempted by the vision of a new family, considered what unlife with these two would be like. He could see himself with the exotic and cultured Nerida, but Robin, never... it would end in the death of one of them.
'He's a fool,' Nerida muttered once Robin was out of earshot.
'Then why do you stay with him?'
'Even in this brave new century, a woman travelling alone attracts too much attention. And besides, Robin can be quite charming when the mood takes him... and quite playful. He does knows such delicious games!'
Picking up the sketchpad from where it lay face down on the deck, Nerida saw that it had fallen open at one of the portraits Angelus had made of Maggie.
'Pretty little thing... but it's a dangerous game you're playing... and not only for the girl. If you care at all, you should keep well away from her. He'll kill her if he thinks it would hurt you.'
Nerida reached up to touch his face. He's so beautiful, she thought, especially when he's suffering. It made her smile.
'For what it's worth, I think you did the right thing. Leaving Darla, I mean. It doesn't do to let anyone have too much power over you. Rulers make bad lovers,' she offered. 'I should know, I've had many in my time.'
He knew it was true. But it was such a painful truth to admit. Darla had been queen of his nights for so long...
'But maybe Robin is right about this,' Nerida continued. 'You can't be a part of their world any more; they won't let you. And a vampire alone is vulnerable. In a way, it's worse for you; you're neither one thing nor entirely the other. I can sense it. You are still changing. Can't you feel it? You have to make a choice... and soon.' She paused for a moment. 'I'll tell him you'll see him ashore.' She smiled and turned to go. 'I'll miss you.'
As she walked away, Angelus tore the sketches from his book, one by one, and tossed them into the sea, watching the white swell of the ship's wake buoy the pages up for a moment, then pull them under.
February 13th, 1902 - The night before landing at Ellis Island.
The next evening found the ship buzzing with excitement; in the early afternoon of the following day, after three long and tedious weeks at sea, the First and Second Class passengers would disembark at Manhattan, while the steerage immigrants would be processed through Ellis Island just after sundown.
Angelus was amused and touched to see Maggie full of such high spirits, but was considering an excuse to take his leave of her. Nerida's cautioning words made him loath to be seen in Maggie's company for too long, lest it draw Robin's fierce attentions.
But no excuse was needed. An officer arrived on the steerage deck and asked all the third class passengers to return to their berths.
When Angelus asked what was going on, the officer seemed a little surprised to see a gentleman consorting with the steerage passengers, but touched the brim of his cap and said, 'I don't wish to cause alarm amongst the other passengers, sir, so I would request you to hold in confidence what I am about to tell you.'
He explained that two of the First Class passengers and a crew member were missing. One of the lifeboats had also been launched; a dangerous thing to do while the ship was underway. It was the general opinion of the captain and senior officers that the missing boat was a diversion; they suspected that the bodies of all three were concealed somewhere aboard the Celtic. A deck-by-deck search of the cabins was underway, starting with steerage, as blood had been found on the deck near the stairs leading below. Some items had been reported stolen from the baggage hold and from several First and Second Class staterooms. The officer respectfully asked Angelus to return to his cabin to see if anything was disturbed.
'Someone will be there soon, sir, to check that all is secure. And I apologise for the inconvenience.'
The sensation of foreboding that Angelus felt upon reaching his stateroom door was borne out by the scene that greeted him when he entered the room.
The missing steward was propped up in the swivel chair in front of his small writing desk, a red and white 'Not Wanted On Voyage' tag pinned to his lapel. His head was thrown back, his eyes sunken. Droplets of blood were spattered obscenely over the pure white uniform. In the greying skin of his hand was a note.
'Bon Voyage, old man! See you in the New World.' It was signed, 'Your little brother, Red Robin.'
Angelus quickly searched the desk drawers and the few items of luggage he carried with him. His passport was gone, along with the magnificent gold pocket watch that had been Adele and Matthieu's parting gift to him. His cash was always on him, the majority of notes sewn into the lining of his jacket - a habit of long standing. He had been forced to make too many quick get-aways to leave that behind. Of more immediate concern was a letter, sealed in a White Star Line envelope, which Angelus had written to M and Mme De Beauvais. It, too, was gone.
He gathered up a few personal items and left the room, heading down to the baggage hold to await for the following night.
February 14th, 1902 - Beside the Golden Door.
Angelus spent the final day of his voyage among the tattered but none the less precious belongings of two thousand potential 'New Americans'. Even these meagre possessions had not escaped Robin's attentions; several trunks, baskets and cloth bundles had been rifled, with various items - shoes, crockery, quilts, even an accordion - spilled out onto the floor of the hold.
Thinking he could do no further harm, Angelus changed his own expensive apparel, now inappropriate as the other First Class passengers had already left the ship, for rougher garments from a leather suitcase that lay open at the rear of the hold. He hoped the owner would not be too dissatisfied with the exchange. His own fine clothes if pawned, notwithstanding the torn lining, would probably pay for the other man's entire passage.
Eventually the door to the hold was opened and people began to file in by the dozens, then the hundreds, to find their belongings. It was an easy matter to step into the crowd and pretend to be looking for his own. At least until the sun went down.
The he saw Maggie.
Her happy surprise turned to concern once she got a good look at him.
'But why are you dressed like that? What's happened to you? Is everything all right?'
Her sweet, freckled face was tight with concern. Angelus forestalled further questions by asking one of his own.
'Maggie girl, do you trust me?'
The little redhead hesitated a moment then nodded. Half an hour later they left the ship together, the necessary tags fixed to their clothing, and boarded a barge, Angelus carrying Maggie's single piece of luggage.
After waiting almost two hours in the dark on a flat open-air barge, standing in the freezing cold with Angelus's arm protectively around her, they were finally allowed to cross the gangplank and set foot on Ellis. Hundreds of immigrants from the Celtic and several other ships in the harbour that night, gathered in the forecourt - a jostling, noisy, odorous throng in a motley of vivid costumes or dull workman's garb - milling about in front of the arched windows of the huge red and white brick building, waiting their turn to enter the Registry Room for inspection. At intervals the mass of bodies pushed forward as a few hundred more migrants were ushered into the great hall. There was a constant excited babble among those still waiting outside - questions were being asked of the immigrants before they were allowed through; some people were being rejected on the grounds of illness, illiteracy, even for having too little money in their possession.
Abruptly, Angelus turned to Maggie, handed her back her baggage and asked, 'Do you have enough cash?' Without waiting for an answer, he reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a handful of high denomination French currency notes which he pressed into Maggie's hand. 'Take this to the Money Exchange.' Then added, 'A wedding gift from me.'
'Anything can be had for money - except the things that really matter.' With tears in her eyes, she stood up on tiptoe to place a kiss on his cool cheek, and added, 'I hope you find those other things.'
Moments later, as the mob surged forward again, Maggie felt him let his hand slip from hers. She glanced around wildly, trying to pick out his tall figure from amongst the moving horde, but he was already gone, swallowed up by the multitude and the night.
From beside the piles of crates, steamer trunks and other baggage, Angelus watched the stream of humanity flow around Maggie as she stood, scanning the crowd for him, then, after a little while, went on alone.
Several Days Later.
On the train out of New York Angelus opened, for possibly the hundredth time since leaving France, a card which the De Beauvais' had given him at Ghislaine's christening. Inside were two black and white photographs, copies of which were fixed inside the front and back cases of the stolen gold watch. The first showed the family posed together at the photographer's studio dressed in their Sunday best; the second was a picture of the baby alone, seated happily among painted wooden blocks, a porcelain baby doll and a leaping hobby horse mounted on bicycle wheels. A note, in Adele's hand, had been slipped between the pages.
'For if Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light, how then shall you not be redeemed.'
- Finis -
Author's note 1: The S.S. Celtic (pronounced 'Seltic') did sail the route taken by Angelus at the time. Maggie was a real Irish girl who travelled to Ellis Island in 1900. Those readers who know me will understand why I chose her.
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