Her first conscious response to this bold stranger was quite cool. “For lost souls I would suggest any of our many churches. And I believe that sixpence will purchase a street guide—good day.”
With that Mina began to turn away—only to realize that the stranger’s white-gloved hand was still in possession of her medicine. She turned back.
Once more he offered the dark liquid. “Laudanum, I see.” Though he had not really looked at the package. “Forgetfulness in a bottle. For a sick friend, no doubt?”
“That is hardly your business.”
The stranger managed to seem confident and contrite at the same time. “Now I have offended you. But I am only looking for the cinematograph; I understand it is the wonder of the civilized world.”
“If you seek culture, visit a museum. London is filled with them. If you will excuse me?”
He bowed politely, touching his hat’s brim, and courteously allowed her to pass.
But before Mina had walked many yards, she entered a patch of denser fog and encountered him again. How could he possibly have gotten ahead of her so fast on the crowded pavement?
Again he touched his hat. “A woman so lovely should not be walking the streets of London alone. I even fear it may not be safe.”
Mina walked on, ignoring him. She was astounded at the degree of effort that was required to do so.
He offered his arm, but the offer was ostentatiously declined. Undeterred, he fell smoothly into step beside her.
Mina, angry, stopped.
“I most certainly will not allow myself to be…” Inexplicably, as she met this stranger’s eyes, her anger weakened; lamely she concluded: “… to be escorted by any gentleman who has not been properly introduced.”
Or was he a stranger, truly? Certainly something about this man was exerting a tremendous attraction.
He smiled at her. “Such impertinence. I am really not accustomed to it. How refreshing! A quality that could cost you your life in my homeland.”
“Then I should hope never to visit.”
Dracula laughed appreciatively, delighted with her spirit.
“Do I know you, sir?” There was now a growing desperation in Mina’s attitude. “Are you acquainted with my husband? Shall I call the police?”
The stranger’s smile broadened at the sequence of questions; then it went away, leaving him quietly serious, perhaps even chastened.
He said: “Forgive my manner of rudeness. I am but a stranger in a strange land—you must not fear me.” The last five words were delivered softly but with great emphasis.
“Sir… I… perhaps I am the one who has been rude.”
“Please, permit me to introduce myself. I believe I can perform the ritual properly to your satisfaction. I am Prince Vladislaus of Szeklys.”
“What an… unusual name.”
“And what a meaningless title. I am sure your London is filled with princes, dukes, sheikhs, and counts. In fact I am your humble servant.” Taking off his hat momentarily, Dracula used it in a sweeping bow.
“Wilhelmina Murray…” Almost dazedly, Mina began a curtsy. A grip on her elbow, gentle but rock solid, kept her from completing the movement.
He was shaking his head. “It is I who am honored, Madam Mina.”
“You mentioned a husband.”
“Did I… ?”
Her hand—Elisabeth’s hand!—was on his arm as the two of them strolled away into the London fog.
Great bells—there, booming below the others, was the one they called Big Ben—beat in his ears. The exuberant life of the great city, the great world, surrounded him. On this day of joy all things seemed possible, even, perhaps, an ultimate reconciliation with life itself…
Lucy was ill; and whatever the thing was that had infected her, it was beyond Jack Seward’s power to diagnose. But it looked serious, damned serious in fact, all the more so because it had come upon the young woman so very suddenly.
Seward, summoned away from his interesting lunatics by a hastily written note from the worried Arthur Holmwood, could be sure of little more than that as he watched the woman to whom he had so recently proposed undergo a fitting of the dress in which she was soon to marry another man.
Though undeniably not well, Lucy seemed at the moment happy—with a kind of brittle excitement—and even energetic. Showing off the dress, she turned before a large mirror.
“Jack—brilliant Doctor Jack—do you like it?”
In fact, Lucy’s visitor had hardly glanced at the dress, except to note that a worried-looking seamstress was having to take it in. Lucy’s weight loss, just in the past few days, had been considerable. Her skin was now a chalky white, blotched with red at her lips and on her sunken cheeks. When she smiled, Seward could see how her gums had receded from the white teeth.
She swirled again. “So tell me, Doctor Jack—did Arthur put you up to this visit? Or did you just want me alone in my bed once before I’m married?”
He cleared his throat. “Lucy, Arthur is very worried about you. He has asked that I see you, as a physician. I realize this may be awkward for both of us, because there have been personal matters between us in the past. But that must not be allowed to… if I am to be your physician, I must have your complete trust.”
Lucy was shaking her head, refusing, denying something—not necessarily what the doctor had just been saying. Suddenly weak and giddy, she dismissed the seamstress with a wave of her hand and sank down on a couch nearby, fingering the black velvet choker she was wearing around her neck.
“What is it, Lucy?”
“Help me, Jack—please, I don’t know what’s happening to me. I can’t sleep at night. I have nightmares… I hear things I shouldn’t be able to hear—”
That caught at Seward’s professional curiosity. “What things?”
“It’s idiotic.” The patient tried to smile.
“Tell me anyway.”
“I can hear servants whispering, clear away at the other end of the house. I hear mice way up in the attic—my mother’s poor sick heart beating, in another room. And I can see things in the dark, Jack, as plain as day.”
“And I’m—starving—but I cannot bear the sight of food—please, help me—”
Lucy gasped, bending forward, clutching at Seward, who in alarm had hastened to her side.
An hour later Seward’s latest patient had been put to bed in her room, her ailing, worried mother comforted and deceived with some story about a slight indisposition. And now Seward, having concluded his preliminary examination, was walking in the great hall, conferring with Arthur Holmwood.
The prospective bridegroom, accompanied by Quincey Morris, had arrived at Hillingham a few minutes ago, both men in excellent spirits, wearing their hunting clothes. The good spirits did not last long. Holmwood in particular was naturally upset at the latest developments.
When he came out of Lucys room after a quick visit, he was even more upset. “Jack, what do you make of it? To me it’s frightening.”
The physician sighed. “There seems no functional disturbance, or any malady that I can recognize. At the same time I am not satisfied with her appearance.”
“I should think not!”
“So I have taken the liberty of cabling Abraham Van Helsing.”
Holmwood was vaguely impressed by this announcement, but uncertain. “You mean your old teacher, Jack, of whom you speak so often. The Dutch metaphysician-philosopher.”
“Yes. The point is that he is also a physician, and that he knows more about obscure diseases than any other man in the world.”
“Then do it, man, bring him here. Spare no expense.”
Mina’s planned return from town to Hillingham had been considerably delayed. Much against what would have been her better judgment—somehow the operation of that faculty seemed to have been suspended—she was on her way to attend the cinematograph with a man who had simply accosted her on the street. There was really no other word to describe the nature of their meeting.
Sunset over London was, as so often, filled with a wonderful smoky beauty, with its lurid lights and inky shadows and all the marvelous tints that come on foul clouds even as on foul water. As the red disk sank, the beauty it had produced faded into the late-coming darkness of spring. And Mina, clinging to the arm of her new escort, almost blindly, almost helplessly, had allowed him to bring her to an early, primitive motion-picture theater, the cinematograph.
The silent, black-and-white images currently on the screen, scratchy and jumpy, depicted a great gray wolf, which leaped repeatedly at the bars of its cage. Evidently the animal was being encouraged or tormented by some man who stood just out of the camera’s range; at intervals his arm and hand appeared on screen, caught at the termination of some violent gesture. The small audience included well-to-do folk, mingling with the lower classes, even as they might on the street. The theater’s customers stood or sat in a few rows of chairs, watching spellbound.