There came a moment when Holmwood leaned toward him and asked in a faint whisper: “Jack, is she really dead?”
The physician had to assure his friend that it was so.
Meanwhile Lucy’s invalid mother had collapsed upon being told the news; there was no way the bitter truth could be any longer kept from her. Mrs. Westenra was being attended to by her maids, and by her own physician, in her own room. Seward expected to hear at any moment that the mother had followed her daughter.
In the early afternoon, Holmwood and Quincey Morris, both near tears and unable to sleep, were sitting a vigil near the head of Lucy’s coffin.
Van Helsing and Seward, both grief-stricken also, had been conferring at a little distance. Now, after Van Helsing signaled Seward with a look, the two physicians turned away and walked into the conservatory, where it would be possible to hold a more private conversation.
The elder man said: “I know you loved her deeply. What I discovered last night came too late to save her life.” He paused. “But there is worse still to be feared.”
Seward could feel his own face twitching; he could only stare at his old mentor aghast. “Worse! In God’s name, Professor, what could be worse than what we have endured?”
“Jack, will you trust me?”
“To do what?”
If Van Helsing was bothered by the new lack of unqualified trust, he did not comment. His gaze had become remote; his mind was busy planning out his own agenda.
His voice, when he spoke again, was calm. “I want you to bring me, today or tomorrow, a set of postmortem knives.”
“Then must we make an autopsy?” Seward’s tone was almost despairing.
“Yes, and no. I want to operate, but not as you think. Let me tell you now, but not a word to another.” The philosopher’s voice was chillingly matter-of-fact. “I want to cut off her head and take out her heart.”
Seward uttered a wordless gasp.
“Ah, you a surgeon, and so shocked—but I must not forget, my dear friend John, that you loved her.”
“I did indeed.”
“Still, you must help me… I would like to do it tonight, but for Arthur’s sake I must not; he will be free after his father’s funeral tomorrow, and he will want to see his beloved again before interment.
“Then later, when she is coffined, whether in the vault or not, you and I shall come some night when all are asleep. We shall unscrew the coffin lid, and do our operation, and then replace all so that none know, save we alone.”
Seward had recovered somewhat from his shock, but was still depressed and puzzled. “But why do it at all, Professor? The poor girl is dead—why this mutilation? I see nothing to gain, no good to her, to us, to science, to human knowledge… ?”
Van Helsing’s attitude became one of great fatherly tenderness. “Friend John, I pity your poor bleeding heart. There are things you know not, but shall know—though they are not pleasant things.
“Were you not amazed, nay horrified, when I would not let Arthur kiss his love—though she was dying—and snatched him away by all my strength?”
“Frankly I was.”
“Yes! And yet you saw how she thanked me, with her so beautiful dying eyes, and she kiss my rough old hand and bless me?” Van Helsing held up the hand Lucy had kissed, and Seward saw that it was trembling slightly.
“Yes, I did see that.”
The professor continued: “And did you not hear me swear promise to her, so that she closed her eyes grateful?”
“Yes, I saw and heard all that as well.”
“Well, I have good reason now for all I want to do. Trust me, Jack. The best of reasons.”
Mrs. Westenra, as expected, survived by no more than a few hours the shock of the death of her only child.
Seward wrote in his journal that in a double funeral the old lady had been laid to rest, beside her daughter Lucy, “in the tomb of her kin, a lordly death house… away from teeming London, where the air is fresh, and the sun rises over Hampstead Hill, and where wildflowers grow of their own accord.”
Just before dawn on the edge of Hampstead Heath, a homeless urchin, dressed in rags and no more than seven or eight years old, was warming his chapped hands and bare feet beside a small fire of wooden scraps and scavenged bits of coal.
The lad was distracted from his chronic hunger and discomfort, his attention very much engaged, by the sight of a young, pretty, red-haired woman walking toward him from the direction in which the sun was soon to rise. The lady was quite alone at the moment, dressed all in delicate and frilly white, so that her unsophisticated admirer wondered if she might be a bride. She smiled graciously at the small boy as he stared, openmouthed, at the passing vision of loveliness.
Watching the woman disappear out of sight on her effortless but swift passage in the general direction of Hillingham, he murmured to himself: “Coo… wot a bloofer lady, she is…”
But moments later, looking back in the direction from which the apparition had come, the urchin caught sight of a motionless pair of legs no bigger than his own, protruding from some bushes.
Practical matters first. Approaching the apparently lifeless victim, the shivering child began to remove the shoes from the small feet, thinking that he himself had greater need of them. Whereupon the owner of the shoes stirred and sat up, crying feebly—it was another boy, perhaps a little younger than the first. His skin had been drained of color, and he was disoriented.
On his neck were a pair of tiny wounds, still fresh, each marked with a drop of blood.
Later that same day, Van Helsing, having been shocked by a newspaper account of this strange event, swore in German and muttered in Seward’s hearing: “So soon! So soon!”
Taking the paper, Seward read:
THE WESTMINSTER GAZETTE, 25 SEPTEMBER
A HAMPSTEAD MYSTERY
We have just received intelligence that another child, missed last night, was discovered late in the morning under a furze bush at the Shooter’s Hill side of Hampstead Heath, which is, perhaps, less frequented than the other parts. It has the same tiny wound in the throat as has been noticed in other cases. It was terribly weak, and looked quite emaciated. It, too, when partially restored, had the common story to tell of being lured away by the “bloofer lady.”
Within the hour the professor, accompanied by Dr. Seward, was in the charity ward of the North Heath Hospital. There the two visiting physicians, having quickly established their credentials with the doctor in charge, were shown to the bedside of a small patient who had been recently admitted.
Van Helsing began by presenting a candy. Then, deftly lifting a bandage, he looked at the wounds on the childish throat, making sure that Seward got the chance to see them also.
Then the professor restored the bandage and sat back in his chair. “Now, lad—I need your help. Dr. Vincent tell me it is his idea that some animal bit you. Maybe it was a rat? Maybe a bat?”
The boy shook his head. “It was ‘at bloofer lady.”
“A lady who was beautiful, you say, if I have understanding—yes?”
“Good. Well now, this lady’s hair was—gray, perhaps? Or was it black?”
The small head shook from side to side. The sweet had already vanished into the small hungry mouth, and Van Helsing, when prodded by Seward, offered another.
Speaking around the candy clenched in his teeth, the young lad told them firmly: “No, sir, guv’nor. She got ‘air all red. Bright. Like an angel. But she bit me, she did.”
A few minutes later Seward and Van Helsing were walking out of the hospital.
“Mein Gott!” the old man was murmuring to himself again. “So soon, so soon!”
Seward cleared his throat, and stated the one point in the whole affair he had been able to grasp firmly. “The small puncture wounds were exactly like poor Lucy’s. Presumably it is the same in the case of the other children also.”
His mentor’s eyes looked at him sideways from under their heavy brows. “Certainly they were alike. And what do you make of that?”
“Simply that there is some cause in common—the small holes in the children’s throats were made by the same agency that injured Lucy.”
“Then you are wrong. Oh, would it were so! But alas, no. It is worse, far, far, worse.”
Seward stopped in surprise, confronting his companion. “In God’s name, Professor Van Helsing, what do you mean?”
The old man made a despairing gesture. “They were made by Miss Lucy!”
It was on that same day that Jonathan and Mina Harker returned to England as man and wife, having been married at the convent hospital in Budapest. An additional time of convalescence, and the presence and attentions of his loving bride, had now restored Harker, at least as far as outward appearances were concerned, to something approaching a normal state of health. A pallor and a limp, the latter assisted by a cane, were the most highly visible remaining signs of his ordeal.