Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Fred Saberhagen & James V. Heart

Mr. Bilder’s undoubted favorite among the animals was a huge gray wolf, called Berserker, more for its formidable size and appearance than for any actually demonstrated ferocity. On calm days, right after the wolf had finished feeding, the keeper would sometimes dare to scratch Berserker’s ears. The beast had been captured four years ago in Norway, then had come to Jamrach’s, a well-known London dealer in animals, and thence to the zoo.

Today Bilder, looking from a window of his cottage, took note of the oppressive atmosphere and the impending storm. He also heard several distant but penetrating howls and yelps suggesting that his animals were alarmed. Sometimes visitors did things to torment them. Grumbling to his wife, the keeper conscientiously decided to make an extra trip to the cages some four hundred yards away to examine the condition of his charges.

On arriving at the exhibit, Mr. Bilder observed that several wolves, in particular Berserker, were becoming increasingly excited by—as the keeper thought—the change of atmosphere. Given the ominous state of the weather, few visitors of any kind were present today, and none seemed to be bothering the animals.

Berserker on this particular afternoon happened to be alone in a cage, where he was restlessly trotting back and forth, howling and yelping almost continuously. Bilder spoke soothingly to the beast and tried to calm him—on this occasion, as the keeper later testified, he would not have thought of putting hand or arm inside the cage. But Berserker was not to be pacified, and Bilder, with other tasks demanding his attention, soon abandoned the effort.

Only moments after the keeper had turned away, the rain poured down, causing him to hasten his retreat in the direction of his cottage.

And only seconds after the onset of the rain, the storm’s first bolt of lightning to strike in the vicinity of the zoo came ripping and rending its way down through the cage’s iron bars and gate.

By great good fortune neither people nor animals were injured, but all restraints upon Berserker’s freedom had been instantly and violently removed, the bars of the cage left twisted and melted open. Seconds later the gray shape of the wolf was seen bounding out and disappearing into the rainy park.

Despite the downpour, Bilder turned back when the lightning struck and was among the first to see the blasted cage. He attempted for several minutes to pursue the escaped animal, but again his efforts proved completely futile.

At the time of the wolf’s escape in central London, the storm was still some minutes away from reaching Hillingham. This afternoon, Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra were seated together on a stone bench just below the formal garden, right along the border of the family cemetery, which formed a peaceful and familiar part of the estate’s enormous park like grounds.

The day had been sleepy and quiet, except for the occasional peacock’s cry. Early morning had been bright with sunshine, but since midday the sky had grown increasingly cloudy, until now the weather in the east seemed downright ominous. But at the moment neither young woman was paying much attention to the sky.

Lucy, drawing a deep breath, taking in the familiar scene, announced to her companion: “Oh, this is my favorite spot in all the world—”

Mina thought that she could detect a false note in this cheerful assessment. “But something is bothering you?”

“Not really. No.” Lucy’s gaze became remote. “It’s just that I’ve lately begun sleepwalking again—you know, as I did when we were girls. And, Mina, I have the strangest dreams!”

“You’re not having a sordid affair with a tall, dark stranger?”

Lucy smiled. “What a delicious suggestion—but no. The truth is that I love him! I love him! There, it does me good to say it. I love him and I’ve said yes!”

“Oh, Lucy, finally!” Mina’s happiness for her friend was tinged with jealousy. “You’ve made your choice, then. Is it to be the Texan with the big knife?”

Even as Mina asked her question thunder began a distant rumbling in the east.

Lucy shook her red curls. “No. I’m afraid Quincey’s now disappointed, just as Jack was. Arthur’s the one I’ve chosen. Oh, Mina, eventually Arthur and I’ll be Lord and Lady Godalming, and next summer you’ll visit us at our villa in France. You and Jonathan, I mean.

And of course you are to be my maid of honor—oh, say yes!”

“Of course I will, Luce… but I really thought you loved that Texas creature.”

Lucy looked around, surprised, as at a misunderstanding. “But I do—and I shall continue to love him.”

“And Dr. Seward also, I suppose.”

“Yes, brilliant Doctor Jack, who so nicely asked for my hand—why not? Don’t look at me that way, Mina. If, after I am married, the chance should arise for me to be with one of them… honestly you can be so naive about these things! So uncivilized. You’ve been an absolute bore ever since Jonathan went abroad—oh, I’m sorry, dear! Forgive me?”

Mina was suddenly weeping.

Lucy, her own affairs momentarily forgotten, was all sympathy and concern. “But you’re worried about Jonathan. Of course you are!”

“It’s just… just that I’ve had only two letters in all this time. One from Paris, and one from—where he’s staying. And his last letter was so unnatural, so cold. Not like Jonathan at all.”

There came a vivid split of lightning in the east, and thunder crashed again, louder this time. During the last few minutes the sky over the river had become quite threatening, and now a chill wind began to stir from that direction.

“Mina—are you sure you really know him?” Flash and crash in the sky again. “All men can be like that, you know, untrustworthy—”

Lucy’s last words were lost in thunder. By mutual consent the girls arose from the bench and began to move toward the house.

“Not Jonathan—” Mina was shaking her dark curls.

“Jonathan, too, believe me, dear.” Lucy nodded wisely. “But if he’s turning cold, it could be that you’re in love with the wrong man—”

The rain came drenching down, soaking the young women’s dresses as they ran. The storm with its unnatural power drove them helplessly before it.

Out in the Channel, the schooner Demeter, of Russian registration, had been for many hours running before the high wind under full sail. This apparent recklessness on the part of captain and crew, marveled at by some observers on shore who saw the vessel’s approach, was later partially explained in a most gruesome way.

The ship, after being driven violently into the mouth of the Thames, finally ran aground near Greenwich, and investigators on going aboard found all hands but the steersman missing. And that individual, later ascertained to be also the captain, was mysteriously dead, his hands lashed to the wheel.

In the corpse’s pocket was a bottle, carefully corked, empty save for a little roll of paper, which, when later translated—rather clumsily—by a clerk at the Russian embassy, proved to be an addendum to the ship’s log, the remainder of which the clerk also rendered into English. The translation created a stir when it was printed in several of the more sensation-oriented London newspapers.

Another twist to the Demeter’s most peculiar story, soon picked up by the newspapers, was provided by several witnesses of the grounding. These all agreed that a giant dog, springing up from somewhere below-decks, had been seen to leap ashore from the prow of the vessel the instant after she had struck the dock. A search was soon instituted for this animal, but it could not be found.

As for the dead man at the wheel, he was simply fastened by his hands, tied one over the other, to one of the spokes. Between the inner hand and the wood was a crucifix, the set of beads on which it was fastened being looped around both wrists and wheel, and kept fast there by the binding cords.

A surgeon, J. M. Caffyn, upon making an examination, declared that the man must have been dead for quite two days; and a coast guard declared it possible that the victim might have tied up his own hands, drawing the knots tight with his teeth. Needless to say, the dead steersman was soon removed from the place where, as the newspaper accounts described it, “he had held his honorable watch and ward till death,” and was placed in a mortuary to await inquest.

Of course the verdict at the captain’s inquest was an open one. Whether or not he himself, in a state of madness, might have murdered his entire crew, there was no one to say. Popular opinion held almost universally that the captain of the Demeter was simply a hero, and he was given a public funeral.

The cargo of the Demeter was found to consist almost entirely of fifty large wooden boxes containing earth, or mold. These had been consigned to a London solicitor, Mr. S. F. Billington, who on the morning after the ship’s grounding went aboard and formally took possession of the goods. Billington’s client, doing business by mail, had already paid him well, for privacy and efficiency, and instructed him as to where the boxes were to be shipped next. Most, though the newspapers never discovered this, were bound for an apparently abandoned estate called Carfax.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred