WINE OF APE

..It was typical of my luck with women that the first girl I ever slept with turned out to be a vampire.
..I had known there had to be a catch, of course. Elizabeth Beaulieu-De Winter, in even the most absurd of universes, could never have taken me to her bed without there being some price to pay. She was out of my class in more ways than one. Tall and beautiful, with long glossy hair as black as midnight, offset by two streaks of purest white curving out from her widow's peak, she had a smile like sunrise reflected from a glacier and a laugh that made me feel the London Philharmonic had taken residence in my diaphragm. Moreover, like almost everyone else I had met at Adrian St.John-Hume's party, she was a scion of a very old and wealthy family. Indeed, social elevation was not merely her birthright but her profession; she was, she informed me, a researcher for the Almanach de Gotha, and was also working on a book of her own about the lives of the more peripheral offshoots of the European aristocracy in the modern world. That she could give her attention to me, Dennis Biggs, baseborn fool, defied belief.
..True, her initial interest in me had been based on a flagrant deception on my part. When she asked me, apparently by way of research for her book, about my own lineage, I did not have the courage to tell this exquisite creature that my only connection to the aristocracy was the strange kinship that had grown up between me and Adrian after he had immersed me in the Isis for using the word 'serviette' instead of 'napkin'. Instead, I had told her that I was a collateral descendant on my mother's side of the De Crevecouers, a noble line that I had heard Adrian speak of as having dwindled from chevaliers of the field of Agincourt to a single pallid and puling youth ceaselessly masturbating in a castle outside Dundee. This had seemed to delight Elizabeth excessively. "How marvellous," she had cooed, licking her full red lips and taking a step closer to me, bringing her alabaster bosom to within a distance from my rented dinner jacket that could only have been gauged by nanotechnology. Even my subsequent confession that I earned my living as a prose stylist for a publishing house specializing in D.I.Y. manuals had not diminished her enthusiasm.
..Still, that she should have spent the rest of the evening hanging on my every word and showing no inclination to move an inch from my side bordered on the fantastic. When the party eventually wound down and she suggested we go back to her place for some unbridled sex and maybe a coffee, my amazement was unparalleled. It could not be the mythical De Crevecouer connection that was the attraction, I told myself in the taxi; there were limits to how far a responsible authoress would go in the cause of research. It was when, as she led me by the hand into the bedroom of her tastefully appointed Cheyne Walk residence, I sheepishly admitted that I hadn't done this sort of thing before, and she rapturously exclaimed, "Darling, how wonderful! But that makes everything perfect!" - it was then, I say, that I started to wonder in earnest what the catch could be. I was fully prepared for, even cheerful about, the possibility that she would disclose a set of male genitalia, or else chloroform me and steal my kidneys for sale on the open market. So when, in the event, she revealed a set of overdeveloped and telescoping incisors and requested that she be allowed to bite my neck and drink a quantity of my blood before pleasure commenced, I was not really as surprised as I might have been. Nor, with Elizabeth lying naked on top of me, was I inclined to object very strenuously. I think a mumbled and distracted, "Yes, yes, whatever," was how I signalled my acquiescence.
..Afterwards, I vented my curiosity.
.."I thought you had to sleep in a coffin," I said, "rather than a futon."
.."It would be terribly uncomfortable, I should think, not to mention morbid."
.."Do you turn into a bat or anything?"
.."Only when I'm cross, dear."
.."Do you crumble to dust in the sun?"
.."No, although personally I try to avoid it. It gives you wrinkles."
.."Is it true you don't like garlic?"
.."Not on someone's breath, certainly."
.."What happens to me now? Do I have to start roaming the night looking for virgins?"
.."Not unless you want to. Sexually you weren't that bad. You're not going to be a bore and bang on about me being a vampire all the time are you? How dreary."
.."I'm curious. I mean, why does it have to be virgins whose blood you drain?"
.."It doesn't have to be."
.."You seemed pleased when you found out I was one."
.."It was rather a bonus. I mean, there are all sorts of terrible diseases around, aren't there? If the donor's not a virgin, one really ought to take a blood test first to be on the safe side, which rather takes all the spontaneity out of it."
.."I thought you were immortal?"
.."Oh, not quite immortal, I don't think. Just rather tough and plain old bloody-minded. But if one does drink bad blood one can be poorly for weeks."
.."So can you be killed?"
.."Oh yes, lots of ways, I can never remember them all. Daddy was killed by a frightful little anoraked vampire-hunter."
.."I'm sorry. How did he kill him?"
.."He ran him over in a Morris Minor traveller."
.."Does the make of car make any difference?"
..She gave me a pitying look. "I shouldn't think so, dear."
.."How are you made?"
..She gave me an even more pitying look. "A Mummy vampire and a Daddy vampire do what we did just now."
.."No, but, apart from that...I mean could you make me into a vampire if you wanted?"
.."Um, yes, I think there's a way, but it's a terribly involved and tedious process. My Uncle Felix had a book explaining how to do it, but he lost it."
  "How many of you are there?"
.."Oh, I don't know...me and Mummy and Grandfather and Uncle Felix and cousin Sebastian and his clan and...let's see, there was Grandfather's cousin Stas over in Carpathia - he fell on hard times and moved to New York and became an interior decorator and then married some frightful nouveau riche hag, we don't really talk to him any more. I expect there must be a few others, distant cousins and so forth, dotted around the place. I asked my grandfather once but he wasn't sure either. One loses touch so easily."
.."You're a bit vague about the whole thing, aren't you? I mean you don't seem to take it seriously at all. I must say as vampires you all sound rather crap."
.."Yes, I expect we are, darling, but we muddle through somehow. Please let's not keep harping on about it. I mean if you had some unusual hereditary condition I wouldn't keep reminding you of it all the time, would I?" Almost absently, Elizabeth sank her fangs into my chest and then extended her tongue and lapped at the blood that welled up. A thoughtful frown clouded her beautiful brow. "Speaking of heredity," she said, "are you absolutely sure your mother's people were descended from the De Crevecouers? This doesn't taste at all like De Crevecouer blood to me."
.."You mean to tell me," I said almost laughing, "that De Crevecouer blood tastes differently to ordinary blood?"
.."Of course, darling. You don't expect an old and noble bloodline like De Crevecouer to taste anything like bog standard Joe Bloggs O-negative, do you? Centuries of breeding, darling. It's far more refined, obviously."
.."So...you prefer to drink noble blood?"
.."I prefer not to drink anything else."
.."Isn't that a bit snobbish?"
..She blinked in surprise and innocent confusion. "I suppose one could go around biting into any old neck, or just go down to the blood bank and knock back whatever came to hand by the gallon, just as one could go around guzzling supermarket plonk or, or drinking meths from a brown paper bag. I mean, I'm not a fanatical bore about bloodlines like Uncle Felix or my grandfather, but one does try to cultivate a certain discernment."
.."Then that's why the job researching lineage. You're really on the lookout for something decent to drink."
.."Yes, it comes in handy."
.."So," I said slowly, "when I told you I had De Crevecouer blood, you couldn't wait to get your teeth into me?"
.."I should say so! It was as though you'd been dropped from heaven. Have you any idea how rare it is nowadays?"
.."Then I'm sorry to tell you," I said, "that I was lying. There isn't a fluid ounce of De Crevecouer in me."
.."Oh, dear! I thought not."
.."In fact, there isn't any noble blood whatsoever in my veins. I'm plebeian to the last drop."
..Elizabeth looked astonished.
.."Which makes the whole thing a complete waste of time for you, doesn't it?" I said somewhat bitterly.
.."Not a complete waste," she said frowning. "There was the sex as well, after all, and as I said for a virgin you were quite promising. But a slight disappointment, yes. I mean, imagine if you thought you were taking home a bottle of Mouton Rothschild '61 and it turned out to be a dreary old 2.99 LiquorSave Chateau Pinochet."
.."Oh. Cheers."
.."I'm teasing, sweetheart. Really, you know, your blood is unusually piquant."
.."Really?"
.."Yes," she said, reopening the chest wound and sucking up another mouthful. "It's sort of spiky yet...fruity, but not too rich...the most delightful little aftertaste...it's really very distinguished indeed. There's definitely some aristocratic strain in it."
.."There you're mistaken, I can assure you. My family have been tradesmen and...scullions all the way back to the Romans."
.."As far as you know. How far back can you trace your family tree?"
.."Two, three generations."
.."You see? You really don't know. I'm not wrong about this. There's something fine and noble there," she said licking up some more of my blood. "It reminds me of something I've had before...I can't quite place it...it doesn't help having all that dreadful punch of Adrian's inside you...if I could just have another little taste..."
.."Stop drinking my blood," I suddenly decided, taking hold of her and rolling her over on the bed. "I've just remembered a far more important use for it."
..Her eyes widened. "Darling! You may be a naive domestic without any breeding, but I'm amused by your presumption."

..After that she didn't call me for a week, and I didn't expect to see her again.
..Then out of the blue she rang me at work and said:
.."Darling! I think I've remembered what your blood reminded me of. It's Domberville. You've got Domberville blood in your veins."
.."Really?"
.."Yes, I'm fairly sure, although I only had it once and that was years ago. It's almost as rare as De Crevecouer nowadays. The thing is, Uncle Felix is an absolute bug on Dombervilles and it's his birthday coming up. Would you mind terribly running down to our place at the weekend and letting him have just a teensy sip?"
..Rather dumbfounded by the request and full of natural misgivings at first, I eventually allowed myself to be persuaded, spurred on by the prospect of seeing Elizabeth again.
.."I'm not used to great houses and grand people," I offered lamely as a last line of resistance. "I might let you down, you know, with etiquette and so on."
.."Oh, don't bother about that. Just remember to wash your neck."

..So the following Sunday we drove down to Elizabeth's family home.
.."How do you get on with the villagers?" I asked as we passed through the nearest hamlet.
.."Oh, by and large we leave them alone and they leave us alone, except when they get Mummy to open a fete or something."
.."I mean, doesn't the vicar ever come at you with a crucifix?"
.."I should think not. Grandfather got him that living in the first place."
..The house, set in acres of verdant and well-tended grounds, was an imposing pile, if not quite coach-tour stately. The door was opened to us by an impassive-faced, somewhat Rubensesque middle-aged female in a flowery dress and apron with, I noticed, a number of ragged strips of sticking-plaster adhering to her elbows and knees. This, I was informed, was Mrs. Bullivant the housekeeper; she responded to Elizabeth's introduction of me with a brief nod and a look of palpable disdain.
..Inside, the house was furnished in a style combining the ancient and the modern which I would have characterized, if asked, as Conran Gothic.
..Elizabeth's mother, I had been told, was currently in St. Moritz in the company of a pony-tailed busboy of dubious character, but Elizabeth's Uncle Felix greeted us in the hall. He was a short man, plump without being portly, and highly urbane and genial. He was dressed dapperly in a bow tie and waistcoat, and also a short black cape. His somewhat unruly black hair had a small shock of white around the forelock; he looked like a more polished yet ever so slightly dissipated version of the sports presenter Dickie Davies.
.."So this is the young man of whose corpuscles I have heard so much," he said taking my hand with a suave smile. "I am enchanted to make your acquaintance." He spoke with a flawless Claude Rains intonation.
.."Felix, you old naughty," said Elizabeth kissing him on the cheek, "I told you not to wear the cape."
..Felix's eyes twinkled. "I thought it only polite not to disappoint too many of the young man's expectations. Besides, I get so few opportunities to vamp it up nowadays."
..Elizabeth smiled tolerantly. "Give him the tour, Felix darling, I'm going to change," she said disappearing up the staircase.
.."Into an evening dress, I reassure you," said Felix to me mischievously, "rather than, say, a wolverine."
..Felix escorted me round the house with flawless courtesy, taking great pride in pointing out a couple of Hockneys and a particularly fine collection of Dizzy Gillespie LPs.
.."We're going to knock through here," he said while showing me a small chapel adjoining off a dingy hall.
.."Why?"
.."Sheer boredom, really, and the fact that I fancy having a large vaulted space in which to play my organ. Would you like to see it?" He took me into another room and played for me on his organ, a rather crappy Bontempi upon which, I felt, a certain amount of the grandeur and mystery of Bach was lost, especially when he demonstrated the Bossanova function. Then he took me down to the games room and, in between thrashing me mercilessly at ping-pong and Ninja Warriors II, quizzed me discreetly about my antecedents and prospects until Elizabeth reappeared. She was stunning in a blood-red cocktail dress and gave me a smile of radiant reassurance. The housekeeper manifested herself in the doorway moments later.
.."I am ready for the gentleman now, sir," she announced impressively.
.."If you would be so kind as to accompany Mrs. Bullivant," said Felix to me. "And Mrs. B? You will of course be sure to let the gentleman's blood breathe after it has been decanted."
.."Yes, sir."
..Mrs. Bullivant led me along to a small pantry, where she bade me roll up my sleeve and, armed with a hypodermic and various other pieces of medical paraphernalia, efficiently siphoned off around a pint of my blood into a crystal glass container.
.."Do I get a cup of tea and a biscuit now?" I wondered aloud as I rubbed the needle mark and rearranged my clothing.
..Mrs. Bullivant stared at me with stony disapproval. "Dinner will be served in a few minutes," she said icily.
..I rejoined the others. Felix murmured, "We are most grateful," and Elizabeth smiled kindly and touched me on the arm, and we went through to a baroquely-decorated yet moderately cosy dining room. Shortly after we had seated ourselves at the polished mahogany table Elizabeth's grandfather joined us. He was altogether a more impressive spectacle than Felix, and far closer to the full Bela Lugosi ticket: tall, haughty and imperious looking in spite of his white hair and wizened features, he wore, as if he meant it, a swirling, ankle-length black cloak, upon which, I noted, there were a number of red stains near the collar, which I suppose could have been, but probably weren't, ketchup. Introduced to me he responded with a deep scowl and a faint grunt.
..Felix rang a bell, Mrs. Bullivant bustled round with plates and then departed, and dinner commenced.
..There was rather an unusual entree.
.."Not eating your scabs?" Felix said to me in slight surprise.
.."I haven't, really, since junior school."
.."Pass them here, then. We cannot let them go to waste. Mrs. Bullivant has been throwing herself down steps all week to provide these." He chewed with evident relish. "Pure peasant stock, Mrs. Bullivant, but I don't know anyone else who coagulates so tastily."
.."Debased nobility in her line," said Elizabeth's grandfather authoritatively.
.."Oh, nonsense," said Felix. "Must you be a snob every day of your life? Mrs. B. comes of healthy British yeomanry, nothing more, nothing less. Her blood is straightforward, slightly stodgy, a little too salty - unacceptable as a beverage, but unbeatable as an hor d'ouevre or a snack treat."
..To my relief, the main course consisted of a plate of excellent, if slightly rare, roast beef, traditional vegetables, and a first-rate Yorkshire pudding. My blood was not served with the food, but would be consumed after dinner had concluded; possibly to give it a chance to breathe, perhaps to do it full justice, or more probably to avoid spoiling the meal if it did not come up to scratch. Instead, Felix had had a couple of bottles brought up from the cellar. He and Elizabeth drank glasses from one labelled 'Churchill '52'.
.."Sure you will stick with your water?" Felix asked me jovially.
.."Quite sure."
.."Each to his own." Felix put his nose to his glass and sniffed happily. "This is a sample from the great man himself," he said. "'52 was the last really acceptable year in my opinion. After that the grandeur fades somewhat, a certain cantankerousness and goutiness sets in." He took an appreciative sip. "A relatively young bloodline, of course, the Churchills. Still, it has a certain vulgar zest I find quite charming."
.."Pah," said Elizabeth's grandfather contemptuously. "American blood. I would as soon drink a Doctor Pepper." He had contented himself with a bottle of Rothschild - Jacob, by the label, rather than Mouton.
.."I suppose when you eat a fish course you drink the blood of anaemics," I said. It was my first and last attempt at a joke, for Uncle Felix merely raised an eyebrow and blandly replied, "Yes, of course, we are not barbarians."
..After the dinner plates were removed a sorbet was served to clear the palate. Finally Mrs. Bullivant brought clean glasses and the decanter filled with my blood - bearing it, I noted with a touch of idiotic pride, quite solemnly on a silver tray.
.."Well now," said Felix smiling at me after the housekeeper had withdrawn, "let us see if this haemoglobin of yours is everything it is cracked up to be."
..Elizabeth's grandfather snorted and glared at me. "This donkey can have nothing but cabbage-water and industrial effluents in his veins."
.."Grandfather," Elizabeth chided.
..Felix filled three glasses and passed them round. He held his glass up to the light and examined it, to his nostrils and smelled the bouquet, and finally to his lips and took a small, slow draught which he rolled around his tongue for some seconds before swallowing, closing his eyes as he did so. The others did likewise.
.."Well," said Felix at last, and looked at Elizabeth's grandfather, who nodded. "Well, well, well."
.."Remarkable," said Elizabeth's grandfather. They both took and savoured another sip.
.."Exquisite," pronounced Felix, "really very good indeed."
.."You see!" cried Elizabeth delightedly. "What did I tell you?" She reached over and squeezed my hand and glowed at me with a kind of proprietary pride.
.."Quite remarkable," said her grandfather, looking at me with a newborn respect, or something close to it. "Whoever would have thought it? It reminds me of the time I found a Romanoff working as a taxi-driver in Paris in 1921. Imagine, a genuine Romanoff! I'd only pounced on him in an alley for a quick swig before the Folies. I recognized at once that here was something to be savoured a sip at a time, but of course-"
.."Yes yes, he was a haemophiliac," nodded Uncle Felix impatiently. "I have heard this story a thousand times."
.."A haemophiliac, yes. Not only that, but he had unusually high blood pressure. Imagine! Probably the last genuine Romanoff left in existence and there he is gushing all over the pavement like a fire hydrant. I had to guzzle all ten pints of him in one go as one might shotgun a can of beer. Ach, the waste." He shook his head mournfully and consoled himself with another mouthful of my blood.
.."My congratulations, young man," said Felix to me. " This is really the finest blood I have tasted in a very long time." He took another slowly savoured draught. "It is not Domberville, however."
.."Oh dear," said Elizabeth, crestfallen. "Isn't it?"
.."No, not Domberville," her grandfather agreed. "By no means Domberville."
.."We really must educate your palate better, Elizabeth," said Felix. "There are certain superficial qualities reminiscent of a Domberville, true, but-" He shook his head.
.."Well what is it then?"
.."I am not sure," Felix admitted. He took another sip and frowned. "Beauchamp?" he suggested dubiously, glancing over at Elizabeth's grandfather, who made a face. "No. Stanhope?"
.."No."
.."Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby?"
.."Less sugary."
.."Yes, you are right. Dunsany?"
..Elizabeth's grandfather sipped and reflected. "Too much body."
.."Hmm. Montmorency?"
.."More nubbly."
.."Urquhart-Baines?"
.."Not so sly."
.."Yes. Pelham-Clinton?"
.."Hardly. Champion-De Crespigny?"
.."No."
..This went on for quite some time, Felix and Elizabeth's grandfather alternately sipping and relishing my blood and advancing and rejecting possibilities as to its heritage. Felix brought down a copy of Debrett's and a Burke's Peerage off a shelf, through which the pair of them flipped feverishly as they tasted. Presently Elizabeth yawned elaborately and rose.
.."Really, how tiresome you are," she said. "I'm going into the drawing-room for a lie down. Let me know when you reach a conclusion." She grimaced at me apologetically and left, barely noticed by the other two as they continued to sip and debate.
..Soon the decanter was empty.
.."I'm sure I was on the right track with Sutton De Dudley," said Felix, disconsolately draining the last droplets from his glass.
.."No, I was closer with Cochrane-Baillie," said Elizabeth's grandfather, who had gone so far as to dip his napkin into the very last dregs in his glass and suck on it. "Well, we shalln't pin it down now. Unless, of course..." He eyed me speculatively.
..Felix turned to me and smiled. "How about it, dear boy? Just a soupçon. You would not, I think, miss another half-pint, say?"
.."Er - no, I suppose not." I was a little dubious but didn't want to look like a piker. "Be my guest," I said as heartily as I could.
.."I'll get the kit," said Elizabeth's grandfather eagerly, racing out of the room. Felix murmured that he was much obliged and made some inconsequential remarks about the weather until the old man returned. "Here we go," the latter said, pulling the collar of my shirt aside and brandishing the hypodermic needle at me like an ice-pick. "You may feel a prick." .."Not the neck, you senile old fool!" snapped Felix. "You will hit the jugular, as always, and we will have to redecorate again! Take it from his arm, for the love of God!"
..Grumbling, Elizabeth's grandfather had me roll up my sleeve.
.."Hmm, good ropes," he said approvingly as he tied off my arm. "I could hit this kid's veins from across the room." He slid the needle in and drew off a half-pint or so.
..There was no nonsense about letting it breathe this time. They refilled their glasses and clinked them together merrily, and they were off again.
.."Butler-Bowdon?"
.."No, no, no, no. It is far more like a Doughty-Tichborne."
.."Mm, I see why you might say that, but aren't we looking for something a little more dry? How about Cholmondeley-Cavendish?"
.."No, no, it is far more reverberant, something along the lines of a Furnivall-Drax."
.."You know, there is a little voice that keeps saying 'De Courtenay' to me."
.."Ignore it. To me it has more of the Botreaux about it."
.."No, no, no, what do you use for a tongue?"
..This decanter lasted less than a quarter as long as the previous one. As they reached the end of it Felix was loudly stating his belief that my blood was a close relative to a Home-Purves-Hume-Campbell while Elizabeth's grandfather was equally vociferously asserting that it was a hitherto unknown grafting of a Mulholland onto a Forward-Howard. About all they could agree upon was that it was English, old, and made the blood of those no-mark arrivistes the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas taste like tomato soup by comparison.
.."Well," said Felix, picking up the empty decanter and the hypodermic, "better get a refill. You don't mind, do you?"
..Well, my mother always said my politeness would be the death of me. Before too long my arm was positively speckled with track-marks and not a word of protest had I uttered. When they drew off the third top-up, by which point they had anyway ceased asking my permission even in a token fashion, I jokingly suggested that they just stick a tap in my arm and have done with it, which Elizabeth's grandfather seemed to think would be a good idea; and indeed after the fourth withdrawal they simply left the siphoning-off apparatus sticking out of me.
.."Couldn't you make this one a spritzer?" I pleaded nervously then, for I was becoming increasingly dizzy from blood-loss. "Make it last longer?"
..Elizabeth's grandfather drew himself up and fixed me with a steely glare. "The quality of your blood notwithstanding, you are an oaf, sir."
..To my alarm, I realized that the more they drank the steadily more intoxicated they were becoming. This was first borne in on me when Felix, swaying unsteadily and failing to get the needle into my veins, suddenly punched me on the shoulder and giggled, "That's quite some motion-lotion you've got there, you son of a gun."
..Before long the idea that they were tasting the blood as connoisseurs was a hollow sham. From time to time they still kicked around ideas as to its provenance, but really they were just getting tanked now. They started to exchange stories about other rare vintages they'd stumbled across, mostly similar in nature to Elizabeth's grandfather's Romanoff anecdote and equally horrific, and various comic situations they'd found themselves in in the course of pursuing their hobby. Felix told of his run-in with the vampire-hunter who'd killed Elizabeth's father. "This buffoon came at me with a sun-lamp, for Christ's sake! There's me just back from two weeks on the beach at Cannes and he thinks a sun-lamp's going to make me crumble to dust! I could barely kill him for laughing." Throughout most of this I managed to keep up a ghastly rictus of a grin.
..Then the two of them started singing a vampires' drinking song, a rollicking tune with a refrain that ran as follows:

Drink, lads, be merry
While the blood is gushing
Bring on the dames with protruberant veins
And fuck Peter Cushing!

..Then Mrs. Bullivant came in and asked if they wanted anything else before she retired for the night and Felix grabbed her and groped her and giggled, "Yes, I want to sink my teeth into that delightfully steatopygous rump of yours! Come here, you little Jezebel! Always flashing those varicose veins at me! I love you, Mrs. Bullivant!" Mrs. Bullivant fled shrieking. "She wants it," Felix sniggered, flailing after her.
.."Enough!" Elizabeth's grandfather cried, making an effort to pull himself together. "We must isolate this blood type."
.."Agreed," said Felix sobering. The pair of them drank and concentrated.
.."Fauconberg," said Elizabeth's grandfather.
.."Hogwash! How about Ponsonby-Grey?"
..To my dismay, I noted that both the decanter and their glasses were virtually empty again. This was the fifth half-pint they had drawn off; by now my head was slumped on the table and waves of blackness kept threatening to overwhelm my vision.
.."Wait a moment...wait a moment..." said Elizabeth's grandfather, rolling the last mouthful from his glass around on his tongue. "I have it! It is absolutely, positively D'Ascoyne De Mauley."
..Felix slammed the table with his hand. "You ludicrous old monster! How can it possibly be D'Ascoyne De Mauley when the last Lord Belvedere and his heirs were killed in the war?"
.."Lord Belvedere, you say?" I said faintly, raising my head from the table with an effort ans struggling against the encroaching blackness. "That's funny."
.."What is?" Felix demanded.
.."Oh, it's just that my grandmother was a kitchen-maid or something on Lord Belvedere's estate," I said. "She left to marry my grandfather."
..The two vampires exchanged glances.
.."Lord Belvedere was the most notorious old goat in the county," said Elizabeth's grandfather slowly.
.."Well, well, well," said Felix with a spreading grin. He sipped and said, "It is rather D'Ascoyne De Mauleyish, isn't it?"
..I said, "Are you suggesting...You mean that you think...?" They looked at me with raised eyebrows. "You know," I said frowning thoughtfully, "now that you mention it, I do remember hearing family gossip to the effect that my father was conceived before wedlock, and may not even have been my grandfather's child...Well I never."
..Felix drained his glass. "Of course it is a D'Ascoyne De Mauley!" he cried. "How could I not have seen it before?" He reached for the decanter.
.."What a find," said Elizabeth's grandfather ecstatically, beating him to it.
.."You have my compliments," said Felix to me almost reverently. "Do you realize what a precious elixir fills your capillaries? You are a D'Ascoyne De Mauley!"
.."Terrific," I said, my head falling back onto the table with a thud.
..Elizabeth came in and gave a gasp of horror.
.."What have you done to him?" she cried. "Look at him! You've almost drained him to death! He'll need a transfusion!"
.."No, no!" cried her grandfather in alarm. "You must not think of it! Such blood must not be diluted!"
.."It would be a crime to do so," Felix assented gravely. He came over to where Elizabeth was struggling to support me. "Take great care of this young man, Elizabeth," he said solemnly. "Such a bloodline must not be allowed to die out."

..Well, after a few days bedrest I was right as rain, and the upshot was that Elizabeth ended up marrying me - at her family's instigation, I suspect, although she seemed quite amenable.
..All in all I suppose I have little to complain of. I gained a beautiful wife, wealth, status, several homes; although if ever I hear one of my old friends complain that his in-laws are bleeding him dry, I tend to give a hollow laugh.
..But no, I have little to moan about. Besides, if ever I grow tired of my life, I could always let them in on my secret. It is, I suppose, at least possible that some brand of noble blood or other has trickled down to me through the generations in some adulterated form. But to the best of my knowledge my grandmother was never anywhere near Lord Belvedere's estate. She was knocked up, by way of part-payment for an old washboard, by a rag-and-bone man by the name of Bernie Gamp.


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(Posted Spring 2000)