In the next instant the great gray beast shape, slavering, leaped upon the bed, where Lucy, laughing, crooning, fiercely rejoicing, welcomed it with open arms.
Gripping the short fur of the huge head in both her hands, she pulled the wolf fangs hungrily against her body…
It was at almost the same moment that a carriage pulled to a stop in Great Russell Street, near the middle of London. In a moment the vehicle had discharged two passengers before the British Museum, the huge bulk of the building at this hour almost entirely dark.
Late on the previous evening, as usual, the endless book stacks of the reading room had been closed to ordinary visitors. But now, in the small hours of the morning, one of the museum’s elderly senior curators was soon guiding a pair of urgent seekers after knowledge through part of the vast building: one visitor was the curator’s old friend Abraham Van Helsing, and the second was the worried Dr. Seward.
The destination sought by the three men was a small and very private reading room, whose unmarked door the curator had to unlock with a private key to allow them access.
The door of the comparatively small room creaked in on rusty hinges. At once Van Helsing, muttering under his breath, plunged in urgently among the tall dusty stacks and shelves, immersing himself in the smell of old paper and old wood, while the curator muttered words of guidance, and Seward held a pair of lamps.
The professor was soon elated to discover the very book he had come looking for.
It was an old and heavy volume, fastened with a locked clasp, which the curator had to produce another key to open.
Eagerly Van Helsing blew dust from his find, then propped it on a reading stand and began turning the stiff pages. The bulk of the printed text, he saw without surprise, was in German, the rest in other languages from farther east, tongues far less commonly understood in London. But most of them the professor could read, at least sufficiently to guide him in his search.
With Seward anxiously hanging over his shoulder, continuing to hold a lamp where it would be most useful, Van Helsing read, tracing lines of text with his finger, muttering to himself, translating scraps of information aloud into English.
“Here begins the frightening and shocking story of the wild berserker Prince Dracula. How he impaled people and roasted them and boiled their heads in a kettle and skinned people and hacked them to pieces and drank their blood.”
Grim satisfaction grew in the old man. What he was reading confirmed what he had all along suspected. It gave him a better grip upon the fantastic and yet sobering truth.
But neither of the physicians realized that the knowledge they were gaining came too late to do their patient any good.
That battle was already lost.
Sunrise had come to Hillingham, on the morning after the final monstrous assault on Lucy. Everyone in the house—except perhaps Mrs. Westenra, from whom the bitter defeat was still concealed—knew by now that the long, agonizing weeks of struggle for the young woman’s life were finally drawing to their grim conclusion. The ugly truth seemed to hang in the air, though no one voiced it openly, and almost no one had any real understanding of its nature.
Among those who had fought to save the girl, only one man, Van Helsing, had any real comprehension of the horror that menaced her. And for him that knowledge was very hard to act upon successfully, not least because it was almost impossible to communicate to others. How, without himself being confined as a madman, to convince the skeptical moderns of these last years of the enlightened nineteenth century? Indeed, there were hours when the professor almost despaired of ever being able to convey the truth.
Quincey Morris had suffered no serious injury from his mysterious assailant. On recovering his wits to find himself sprawled on the dewy lawn, a trifle bruised but otherwise unharmed, the Texan had become an enthusiastic convert to Van Helsing’s announced view that a great beast of some kind must be responsible for Lucy’s condition—a beast that was somehow devilishly immune to Winchesters. On that point Morris now stood ready to offer personal testimony.
To no one’s surprise, Arthur Holmwood’s father, Lord Godalming, had passed away during the night, in his ancestral home at Ring. Very early this morning Arthur had received the news by special messenger. Now, struggling to cope with his father’s death—long expected but no lighter a burden for that—Arthur was trying to catch some sleep on a sofa in a room near Lucy’s.
At a little before six in the morning, Van Helsing came in to relieve his younger colleague, and bent over the patient for a close examination.
As soon as the old man got a close look at Lucy’s face, Seward could hear the hissing intake of his breath.
“Draw up the blind,” the professor commanded. “I want light!”
Seward hastened to comply.
Van Helsing now removed the garlic flowers, and a silk handkerchief Lucy had been wearing about her throat.
“The devil’s whore!” he murmured, in a despairing tone.
Seward hastened to look for himself, and as he did a queer chill came over him.
The wounds on the throat had absolutely disappeared.
For fully five minutes Van Helsing stood looking at the young patient, with his face at its sternest. Then he turned to Seward and said calmly: “She is dying; it will not be long now. Wake that poor boy, and let him come see the last. He trusts us, and we have promised him.”
Seward accordingly went to the nearby room where Holmwood was and awakened him, assuring Arthur that Lucy was still asleep, but conveying as gently as he could the opinion of both doctors that the end was near.
When the two returned to Lucy’s room, Seward noted that Van Helsing had been putting matters straight and making everything look as pleasant as possible. He had even brushed Lucy’s hair, so that it lay on the pillow in its usual bright ripples.
When Holmwood came into the room, she opened her eyes and, seeing her fiancé, whispered softly: “Arthur! Oh, my love, I am so glad you have come!”
He was stooping to kiss her when Van Helsing motioned him back. “No, not yet. Hold her hand. It will comfort her more.”
So Arthur, after giving the old man a questioning look, obediently took Lucy’s hand and knelt beside her, and she looked her best, with all the soft lines matching the angelic beauty of her eyes. Then gradually her eyes closed, and she sank to sleep. For a little bit her breast heaved softly, and her breath came and went like that of a tired child.
And then, insensibly at first, there followed the strange change that Seward had noticed before. Her breathing grew stertorous, the mouth opened, and the pale gums, somewhat drawn back, made the teeth look longer and sharper than ever.
In a sort of sleepwalking, vague, unconscious way Lucy opened her eyes, which Seward now perceived as being both dull and hard at once. She said again in a soft, voluptuous voice: “Arthur! Oh, my love, I am so glad you have come! Kiss me!”
This time Arthur bent eagerly over the woman he loved to kiss her; but at that instant Van Helsing, who, like Seward, had been startled by her changed voice, swooped upon him, and catching him by the neck with both hands, dragged him back with furious strength and actually hurled him almost across the room.
“Not for your life!” he said. “Not for your living soul and hers!” And he stood between the couple like a lion at bay.
Arthur was so taken aback that he did not for a moment know what to do or say; and before any impulse of violence could seize him, he realized the place and the occasion, and stood silent, waiting.
Lucy at first snarled—there was no other word for it, thought Seward—at Van Helsing when he intervened so forcefully, but a minute later, in a last softening of her appearance and her manner, she blessed and thanked him.
“My true friend!” she said in a faint voice, pressing Van Helsing’s hand hard with her wasted fingers. “My true friend, and his. Oh, guard him, and give me peace.”
Van Helsing dropped solemnly to one knee beside her bed. “I swear it!”
And then Lucy’s breathing became stertorous again, and all at once it ceased.
Shortly after sunrise, with Arthur Holmwood numbly still in attendance, Dr. Seward pronounced the patient dead, and within the hour had signed her death certificate.
By noon, Lucy, looking pure and lovely, lay peacefully on white satin in her glassy funeral coffin, in the great hall, surrounded by masses of lilies and roses.
Every hour, Seward mused privately, gazing at the figure under glass, seemed to be enhancing Lucy’s loveliness. It frightened and amazed him somewhat, and he was not surprised that Arthur should tremble, and finally be shaken with real doubt.