“And what of the princess?”
That made his blue eyes blink. “Princess?”
Mina looked out into the main room of the cafe. “It seems to me there must be always a princess. With flowing hair the color of… of… and the haunting eyes of a lustful cat. Long gowns, in a style that is—very old. Her face a…”
Something like an hallucination was stealing over Mina. This was more than merely vivid imagination. She knew that she was still here, in London, in Rule’s Cafe, and yet… another reality was also present.
“… a river,” Mina said clearly. “The princess is in a river—no, she is a river, all filled with tears of sadness, heartbreak…”
And then the spell, or whatever it had been, was gone. Not gone, but weakened sufficiently for Mina to see what a powerful effect her words had had upon the prince.
Raising her hands to her face, she said: “I must sound terribly foolish. The absinthe… I shouldn’t drink it. You think me ridiculous.”
“Never that, Elisabeth. Never that. You see, there was a princess.”
“You must tell me about her.”
And he was standing, holding out his hand in an invitation to the dance. The violin was singing somewhere, and the absinthe sang in Mina’s brain as she arose, only to be swirled away into a graceful waltz, among what seemed a thousand candles…
The mood of dreamlike exaltation lasted until early the next morning, when Mina, seated alone upon her favorite garden bench at Hillingham, counting the minutes till she might see her prince again, looked up to see an eager Hobbs approaching. In the butler’s hand a silver salver bore what could only be a letter. All the servants knew how desperately their young guest had been waiting for a certain message.
Trembling, Mina inspected the envelope; certainly not Jonathan’s writing, but coming from Budapest, it must bear news of him. With shaking fingers Mina ripped the message open. It was from Sister Agatha, of the Hospital of St. Joseph and Ste. Mary.
I write by desire of Mr. Jonathan Harker, who is himself not strong enough to write, though progressing well, thanks to God and St. Joseph and Ste. Mary. He has been under our care for nearly six weeks, suffering from a violent brain fever. He wishes me to convey his love…
Jonathan was alive. He was alive! Leaping to her feet, ignoring Hobbs’s murmured congratulations on the good news, Mina began to run through the garden, beside herself with joy, eager to share her happiness… but before she had run more than a few steps, her steps abruptly slowed.
How could she have forgotten, even for a moment, the one who in the past few days had come to be the center of her life?
“My sweet prince,” she murmured, almost inaudibly. “Jonathan must never know of us.”
In a moment her purposeful movement toward the house had resumed, though at a slower pace. There was no question but that she must go to Jonathan at once.
Climbing the steps briskly, approaching Lucy’s room, Mina encountered Dr. Seward on the terrace. He was deep in conversation with an older, distinguished-looking man she had never met.
The latter turned, regarded her with a pair of penetrating blue eyes, and with a small and almost military bow, succinctly introduced himself.
“Abraham Van Helsing.”
Mina was already thinking that this could hardly be anyone but Lucy’s latest doctor, of whom she had often heard Jack Seward speak.
The professor continued: “And you are Miss Mina Murray, dear friend to our Lucy.”
“How is she, Doctor?”
“Still very weak. She tells of your beloved Jonathan Harker and your worry for him… but today you have perhaps good news?”
“Yes, very good… a letter…” Here it was, still in her hand.
“That is excellent. I worry, too, for all young lovers.” To Mina’s surprise, the good doctor suddenly began to sing, and before she understood exactly what was happening or why, his arm—that of a gentlemanly dancing partner—had gone around her, and the two of them were waltzing on the terrace, under the bemused gaze of Jack Seward.
Abruptly the dance was over. Van Helsing, with something mesmeric in his eyes, was gazing directly into Mina’s. Softly he said: “There are darknesses in life, and there are lights. You are one of the lights, dear Mina. Go now, see your friend.”
Moments later, sitting down beside the bed in Lucy’s room, Mina took hold of the poor wasted hand. There was good news to relate, news that at least to its bearer seemed important enough to justify waking the patient.
Somewhere a door, escaping from some servants careless hand, banged shut. Outside in the great curve of drive, a horse’s hooves scuffed gravel. Presently Lucy stirred. Her eyes opened slowly, then focused with some difficulty.
Her voice was soft and tentative. “Mina, dearest… where have you been?”
“You’re freezing cold, Luce.” Mina, distracted from her own good news by Lucy’s sad condition, gently rubbed the cold hand she was holding, trying thus to encourage life.
Lucy pulled herself up a little in the bed and summoned up a trace of her old coquettishness.
“And you’re so warm. Did you know, dear, Jack Seward has been playing doctor with me?”
“Did you meet him? I’ve told him all about you.”
“Yes, I met Dr. Seward, Lucy. At the party, weeks and weeks ago, remember?” Mina reached to pull an untouched food tray closer on the bedside table. “He’s a doctor for lunatics, and you are not a lunatic. What you need is proper care. Now eat your porridge, Goldilocks.”
Weakly Lucy turned her head away, rejecting the spoon as if its contents were disgusting. She whispered: “I’m too fat. Arthur loathes me fat.”
Mina felt a chill as she contrasted those words with the fact of the almost cadaverous form before her. Gently but firmly, as if dealing with a baby, she got a spoonful of oatmeal into Lucy’s mouth.
The girl made a face, but swallowed. Then she squinted questioningly at her caretaker.
“What is it, Mina? You actually look happy for a change.”
Mina flushed slightly.
Lucy managed to produce a smile. “You’ve heard from Jonathan. Is that it?”
Mina nodded. Now her good news came pouring out in a rush. “Not exactly from him, but yes, he’s safe.
He’s been six weeks—longer, now—in a hospital in Budapest. A letter came just now from one of the good sisters who are caring for him. They say he needs me badly, and I must go to him at once—but I do so hate to leave you like this—”
Making a great effort, Lucy pushed herself further up in the bed to hug Mina with failing arms. Softly she murmured in Mina’s ear: “Mina—go to him. Love him, and marry him, right then and there. Don’t waste another precious moment of life without each other.”
Exhausted, Lucy fell back on her pillows. The two girls stared at each other in silence for a long moment, seeming to exchange important confidences without the need for speech.
Then Lucy pulled off her engagement ring. The diamonded gold slid easily from her wasted finger.
She held it out to her friend. “Take this, sister… Let it be my wedding gift to you—and Jonathan. Take it…”
Mina, overwhelmed and unable to speak, kept shaking her head, trying to refuse.
“Bad luck if you say no.” Lucy’s voice had fallen back into a terrible whisper. Her strength was obviously failing.
Again she rallied, briefly. “Tell Jonathan… oceans of love from me… millions of kisses…”
On the evening of the day of Mina’s departure Dracula, sitting impatient and alone in the private dining room at Rule’s Cafe, his sensitive hearing tuned to every opening of the street door of the restaurant, was brought a note by a waiter.
As he accepted the paper a shadow crossed the youthful face of the elegantly dressed man; he had not for a moment really expected that the woman he loved (and who, he knew, loved him, despite all her formal protestations about a fiancé) would temporize, play coy, and quibble about coming to him again. But perhaps some truly unavoidable circumstance had arisen—
Tipping the waiter with a common coin, he tore open the envelope to discover that as he had expected, it came from Mina. It was the content of the message that brought total shock.
My dearest Prince, forgive me, but I cannot be with you now or any other time. I have received word from my fiancé in Budapest. I am on my way to join him. We are to be married.
Forever your love,
Convulsively the prince’s hand crumpled the note. All thoughts of love and tenderness were gone, wiped out in an instant, in a collision with a red wall of rage and injury.
He could hear himself, and others outside his room of privacy could hear him, breathing with the sounds of a wounded animal.