In a different voice, more controlled, the count was saying to them: “Yes—I, too, can love. You yourselves can tell it from the past—you have all been my brides—and I shall love again.”
He gestured contemptuously in Harker’s general direction. “I promise you, when I have done with him—it is a matter of business—then you shall kiss him at your will.”
The youngest of his brides was pouting, sulking. “Are we to have nothing tonight?”
Silently, the tall, dark figure of their master pulled out a bag from under his cloak and cast it on the floor. There came to Harker’s ears a gasp and a low wail, as of a half-smothered child; and with that sound, horror overcame him utterly, and he knew no more.
Even now, weeks after the fact, Dr. Jack Seward’s thoughts were still more than half-occupied with the bitter knowledge that Lucy Westenra had refused to marry him.
It hardly helped to know that she had also turned down Quincey Morris, the wealthy Texan who had been Seward’s frequent companion in big-game hunting, or that Quincey was also hard hit by his rejection. In Dr. Seward’s case, his work, challenging intellectual work, seemed the only effective and honorable remedy for his bruised pride; and at least in the asylum there was work aplenty for the physician.
The asylum of which bright, still-youthful Dr. Seward had been given the superintendency was an old building in suburban London. It stood comfortably secluded amid its own extensive, wooded, walled-in grounds, as was only fitting for an establishment catering almost exclusively to a wealthy clientele. Once it had been a mansion, like Carfax, the long-deserted house on one of the adjoining estates. The asylum was old, though by all accounts not nearly so old as Carfax; and it had been recently remodeled, largely at Seward’s direction, into the architectural configuration required for a more or less efficient and humane hospital, meeting the latest medical standards of these last years of the nineteenth century.
At the moment Dr. Seward was halfway through his evening rounds. Around him, from behind one barred door after another, arose, as usual, the outraged and incoherent cries of the insane. Seward was accustomed to them, and heard them with only half an ear.
Lucy, Lucy! Not only was the young girl lovely, physically provocative enough to threaten a suitor’s mental health, but since she was the heiress to Hillingham as well, it was definitely understating the case to say that she was well-to-do.
When Lucy’s mother died—an event which, given the parlous state of the old lady’s heart, lay probably not very far in the future—Lucy ought to be in line to inherit…
But enough of that. The fact remained that Lucy Westenra had rejected him, a handsome and prosperous physician, rapidly making his way toward the top of his profession. She had tendered her refusal with a flattering suggestion of reluctance, but still very definitely. And who could blame her, when she had the chance to marry, in the person of Art Holmwood, a future earl?
Jack Seward had come to realize over the past few weeks that it was not really Lucy Westenra’s money or even her tantalizing body that he was going to miss the most. The hardest part, it seemed, was that he genuinely loved the girl…
Now the door of yet another cell clattered open, unlocked by the hands of an attendant. Seward’s professional interest quickened, temporarily driving even thoughts of Lucy from his mind. He had been looking forward to visiting this particular patient. Here, now, was a real oddity.
The single window of the small stone cell, like most of the windows in the house, was coarsely barred to prevent human escape—or intrusion. But this window was currently open to the outside air, even to the passage of sparrows and other birds. That some of these small winged creatures were frequently lured in was attested to by the fact that the floor was encrusted with bird droppings. In the corners of the cell substantial quantities of food intended for the patient’s nourishment had been deliberately crumbled and smeared, allowed to decay, in order to attract a multitude of flies.
The two attendants who tonight were accompanying Dr. Seward on his rounds—both of them powerfully built men—stopped and waited just outside the cell.
Seward himself stepped just inside the door, repressing an urge to gag at the smell. Perhaps in this case his favored policy of toleration for a patient’s eccentricity had been a mistake after all.
He said: “Good evening, Mr. Renfield.”
The cell’s sole human occupant looked up. He was a balding, sturdy man of middle age, dressed in the coarse shirt and trousers usually issued to male patients. His person, in contrast to his cell, was neat and clean. He was wearing thick-lensed eyeglasses and, at the moment, a pleasant expression. Turning to Dr. Seward, Renfield revealed that he was holding in his right hand a plate of insects, worms, and spiders. Seward had the impression that all the creatures were alive but somehow immobilized.
“Hors d’oeuvres, Dr. Seward? Canapes?” The voice was cultured, the manner calm.
“No, thank you, Mr. Renfield. How are you feeling tonight?”
“Far better than you, my lovesick doctor.” And the madman casually turned his back upon his visitor.
Carefully setting down his plate and its precious contents, Renfield squatted in a corner and deftly went about catching some of the many flies that swarmed about his bait of decomposing food heavily sprinkled with sugar. His strong, thick-fingered hands were quick and accurate at this task. Flies buzzed in protest as he carefully gathered them, alive, into one of his capable fists.
Lovesick. Well, of course attendants and servants would often gossip in front of the patients. Seward, so far on this visit, was managing to keep his own reactions scientifically neutral.
“Is my personal life of interest to you?” he inquired.
“All life interests me,” Renfield responded as he went blandly on with his self-appointed task.
Then, with a gesture as of one about to drink a toast, he brought his handful of flies to his mouth. Only one or two escaped as he popped them in. With evident relish he chewed and swallowed.
Tonight Seward was finding the scientific attitude very difficult to maintain. “Your diet, Mr. Renfield, is disgusting.”
The eyes of the former solicitor twinkled behind his glasses, as if to acknowledge a compliment. “Perfectly nutritious. Each life I ingest gives back life to me, augments my own vitality.”
He held up one more fly, large, blue black, and juicy looking, between thumb and forefinger for a moment. Then it went to join the previous handful.
Seward was struggling to maintain some objectivity. “A fly gives you life?”
As Seward’ had hoped, the patient tonight was willing, even eager, to discuss his theory. “The fly’s sapphire wings are typical of the aerial powers of the psychic faculties. Therefore the ancients did well when they typified the soul of a man as a butterfly!”
“Is this some philosophic insight that you gained during your recent visit to Eastern Europe?”
“I think”—Seward sighed—”I shall have to invent a new classification of lunatic for you.”
“Really? Perhaps you can improve upon the classification devised by your old mentor, Professor Van Helsing: zoophagous arachnopkile—a carnivorous lover of spiders. Of course that does not really, fully, describe my case.”
With a deft movement Renfield bent over the plate he had set down, caught up one of the spiders from it, considered the creature momentarily, and ate it.
“Yes, what about the spiders?” Seward was musing aloud, more to himself than to Renfield or the husky, impassive keepers who continued to stand by just outside the cell. “How do spiders fit into your theory? I suppose they eat the flies…”
“Oh, yes, spiders eat them.” Renfield’s manner suddenly became that of a teacher coaxing a bright student toward an answer. He nodded at Seward encouragingly.
The doctor was beginning to catch on—or so he thought. “And the sparrows?”
“Yes, the sparrows!” Now the patient’s excitement was growing rapidly.
“They eat the spiders, I presume.”
Seward nodded. “Thus we would come, by a logical progression, to… something… even larger, perhaps? Some creature capable of devouring sparrows?”
Renfield, his agitation suddenly building toward frenzy, threw himself on his knees on the stone floor.
He cried out, beseeching Seward in seeming desperation: “A kitten! A nice, little, sleek, playful kitten, that I can teach and feed and feed. No one would refuse a kitten—I implore you—”
The doctor, his eyes narrowed, took a step backward to be free of the man’s clutching hands. He could hear the pair of keepers behind him shifting their positions, ready to intervene if necessary.
Leaning toward Renfield, Seward spoke with calculation. “Wouldn’t you rather have a cat?”
Ecstasy! “Yes, yes, a cat!” Screaming! “A big cat. My salvation depends upon it!”
Renfield’s expression, his whole manner, altered. Something like calm returned.