The note had not been delivered until well past midnight, and by then Mina was almost a full day along on her trip by train to Budapest. She was following the route taken months ago by her beloved Jonathan; from London, via Dover, to Paris, and thence eastward.
Once more she opened and reread the letter from Budapest, concentrating now upon its closing sentences.
P.S. My patient being asleep, I open this to let you know something more. He has told me all about you, and that you are shortly to be his wife. All blessings to you both! He has had some fearful shock—so says our doctor—and in his delirium his ravings have been dreadful; of wolves and poison and blood; of ghosts and demons; and I fear to say of what. Be careful of him always that there may be nothing of this kind to excite him for a long time to come; the traces of an illness such as his do not lightly die away. We should have written long ago, but we knew nothing of his friends. He came in the train from Klausenburg, and the guard was told by the stationmaster there that he rushed into the station shouting for a ticket for home. Seeing from his violent demeanor that he was English, they gave him a ticket for the farthest station on the way thither that the train reached.
Be assured that he is well cared for. He is truly getting on well, and I have no doubt in a few weeks will be all himself. But be careful of him for safety’s sake. There are, I pray God and St. Joseph and Ste. Mary, many, many happy years for you both.
While Mina Murray rode ever farther into the east, at Hillingham the bitter struggle went on, day after day, night after night. There were afternoon hours when Lucy seemed on the road to recovery, times in the morning when she appeared to linger at the point of death. One day Mrs. Westenra, tottering in to see her daughter when the doctors were absent, was offended by the rank smell of garlic and ordered Van Helsing’s daily crop of small white garlic flowers thrown away; a loss that caused the professor great consternation when he discovered it.
Three days after the first transfusion of blood, another became necessary; this time Dr. Seward was the donor. Taking his turn in the chair at Lucy’s bedside, he thought that no man could know, until he experienced it, what it was to feel his own lifeblood drawn away into the veins of the woman he loved.
And in another three days, a fresh deterioration in the condition of the patient required a third transfusion, this time from Van Helsing’s veins.
And almost a week after that, on Sunday, the eighteenth of September, when Arthur Holmwood was in attendance at his father’s deathbed, the operation was yet once more repeated, and Quincey Morris became the fourth man to contribute blood to Lucy.
On the night of the next day the Texan, a trifle pale but maintaining that he had regained sufficient strength for any kind of action, was cradling a Winchester rifle in his arms as he walked beside Jack Seward down the stair into the great hall of Hillingham.
Quincey was saying to his old hunting comrade: “Jack, you know I love that girl same as you.”
“I have no doubt of it, old fellow.”
“That ol’ Dutchman really know what he’s doin’? How much blood have we given her, and where’s it all goin’?”
Seward shook his head wearily. “I learned years ago that I’m not wise enough to question Van Helsing’s methods… Frankly, Quincey, I’m at my wit’s end.”
Quincey rubbed his arm, still sore from the professor’s needle. “Well, he could outspook a Borneo witch doctor, if ya ask me. Know what this reminds me of? I had a fine mare down in the pampas once, and one of those big bats they call vampires got at her in the night. What with the bat feeding and the vein left open, there wasn’t enough blood in her to let her stand up, and I had to shoot her. Damn fine animal.”
Van Helsing, putting on his coat in preparation to go out, joined the two men at the front door. If he had heard Quincey’s comments, he gave no sign of any reaction to them.
The old doctor said: “Jack, hurry, man, I have much to tell you—and important things I must learn for myself tonight.” He shifted his gaze to the other. “Guard her well, Mr. Morris!”
“Reckon I will. ” Quincey’s tone and manner made it plain that he did not care much for this old man.
Van Helsing laughed, oblivious to what the Texan thought of him. The professor, despite the setbacks and the protracted struggle, was still caught up in the joy of battle, the elation of discovery. “If we fail, your precious Lucy becomes the devil’s whore. I advise you, rely more on the garlic and the crucifix than on your rifle.”
Quincey, now ready to punch the old man out, moved forward half a step. “You’re a sick old buzzard—”
Van Helsing sobered. “And I suppose that you are sane men, both of you. If so, hear me out! The truth, as I have tried repeatedly to tell you, is that Lucy invites the beast into her bedchamber! She suckles the beast’s own diseased blood, and it must transform her, make her what it is!”
The Texan, feeling helpless, taken aback by the earnest intensity with which the old man made this monstrous assertion, looked to Seward for counsel, but got none.
Van Helsing laughed again, a sound containing more than a touch of hysteria, while the two younger men now stared at him as if both of them were paralyzed.
“Into the coach, Jack,” his mentor ordered, recovering from his emotional fit. “We must talk. And I must go where I can learn. What we have done for our young Miss Lucy so far is not enough.”
“Where is that, sir—where you can learn?”
“I have had word from an old friend. In the British Museum there is a room where he will allow me entrance, where certain secrets may be made known to me, if I know where to look. I do not want to waste an hour. We go now!”
Arthur Holmwood’s father still clung to life, in another sickbed in another house, at Ring. Meanwhile, tonight, Arthur was watching at the bedside of his beloved Lucy. Aware of Van Helsing’s warnings, though far from understanding them, Holmwood kept his vigil with a brace of loaded pistols handy on the table, beside the vase holding the old professor’s daily crop of garlic flowers.
But on Arthur the long days of futile struggle against he knew not what, of bitter grief as both his father and the woman he loved lingered at the point of death, had taken their inevitable toll. He was having trouble staying awake.
And now, even as Arthur dozed off, Lucy suddenly awakened. The young woman’s eyes were open in an instant, and she experienced a surge of joy and demonic energy. She scarcely glanced at the figure of her fiancé nodding beside her bed. But she still lay quietly—because she knew—knew with a deep, unholy happiness—that there was no need to move.
Her vampire lover was approaching, and he would certainly find her, as he had so many times before. No watch set by ordinary men, no barriers they might put up, no scheme they might devise, could keep him out.
Quincey Morris had at last been persuaded by the old man’s repeated references to a bloodsucking beast. It was for this reason that the Texan tonight had taken up his lonely, self-appointed vigil on the grounds. Quincey—most often with Seward and Holmwood as his companions—had hunted large predators from Sumatra to Siberia, and it was a game he well understood.
Or so he had thought.
It was a quiet night, though a trifle windy now—no sign of any intruders on the grounds. Of course there never was. And yet, no matter what kind of defenses were arranged, it seemed that the enemy—if there was a real, predatory enemy, and Van Helsing was not a lunatic—somehow, one way or another, got through.
Quincey, lost in contemplation of the seemingly unresolvable problem, was yet alerted by his keen hearing, or by some hunter’s instinct. He turned, in time to glimpse the onrushing presence of a shadowy, inhuman figure. In the next instant he had snapped up his rifle and fired at it—accurately, his instinct told him, yet without effect.
In the next moment Quincey Morris had been knocked down, and knocked out, by some superhuman embodiment of force that rushed on past him in the direction of the house.
The leaping form of a wolf came smashing straight in through the glass of Lucy’s French window. The shock and noise of crashing glass instantly brought Holmwood wide-awake in his bedside chair; but Arthur’s awakening came too late, and in any case he was ill prepared to take any effective action. In a moment he had been hurled aside by the same force that had struck down Quincey, and crumpled unconscious in a corner of the room.