Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Fred Saberhagen & James V. Heart

A soft May breeze, laden with the scent of flowers, drifted in through Mina’s opened windows, stirring her raven hair as she sat thoughtfully at a table. Her room was of a good size, in keeping with the rest of the house, and cheerfully decorated. It had been quiet until a few minutes ago, but now the peace of the afternoon was broken by the rough, staccato sound of a primitive typewriter, driven by the fingers of an energetic if not yet truly expert typist.

9 May, 1897. I arrived today, and shall be staying with Lucy for some weeks. The life of an assistant schoolmistress is somewhat trying, and I have longed to be with my friend, where we can talk together freely, and build our castles in the air.

Mina paused to consider. Then she typed on.

Lucy and I have told each other all our secrets since I first tutored her at Mrs. Whitehill’s school. And now we dream of being married together.

Of course, when Jonathan and I are married, I shall be able to be useful to him, particularly if I can stenograph well enough to take down what he wants to say, and write it out for him on the typewriter at which I am also practicing very hard.

Having come this far with scarcely a hesitation, Mina allowed her energetic fingers to pause. Her smooth forehead creased in a slight frown, disturbing the classic beauty of her face.

“But,” she murmured to herself. “It ought to be more—realistic—more businesslike—yes, if I am to be of much help as a solicitor’s wife, I must strive to be businesslike!—if I type someone else’s words rather than my own.”

She considered a moment, looking about for suitable written or printed material, chewing her full red lower lip and frowning. Then, after a hasty and faintly guilty glance around the room, to assure herself that she was quite alone, she opened a drawer in her desk and took out a book: it was a special leatherbound edition of Sir Richard Burton’s The Thousand and One Nights.

The edition was special in that it contained a number of illustrations of a kind not openly distributed to the public; and the picture that happened to lie on the page where the book fell open caught at Mina’s attention forcibly enough to delay the resumption of typing practice.

Her dark eyes went wide, then narrowed. She was still holding the volume in her lap a minute later, and studying it with absorption, when she heard her name called behind her in a familiar voice.

Turning in startled confusion, Mina instinctively concealed the volume in her lap with a fold of her skirt. Then she relaxed slightly. “Lucy, you gave me a start!”

Lucy Westenra, redheaded, attractive, and pert, only a few months younger than her friend and guest, briskly entered the sitting room, raising both hands in a gesture of mock horror at the sight of the typewriter.

“Mina, really! Is your ambitious Jon Harker forcing you to waste a beautiful spring day learning that ridiculous machine instead of… of…”

The girl’s imagination flagged, but only momentarily. Impish humor suddenly appeared. “… when he could be, well, perhaps forcing you to perform unspeakable acts of desperate passion on the parlor floor.”

“Lucy!” Mina was genuinely offended, if only for a moment. “Really, you shouldn’t talk about my fiancé in such a way.”

“Oh, nooo?”

“No! There’s more to marriage than—carnal pleasures…”As Mina turned in her chair and gestured the book she had been holding in her lap slid to the floor.

Lucy was startled at first, then pounced on the volume. “So I see! Spiritual values!”

Both girls burst into laughter. In a moment they were sitting companionably together on the floor, skirts spread around them, investigating the strange book.

“Wherever did you find this, dear?” Lucy demanded.

“In the study, where you suggested I pass an hour—it was on a shelf behind some other books. It caught my interest.”

“Something of my late father’s, I have no doubt, or my uncle’s. What rogues they were. Well, I should think it might catch your interest—look!”

Lucy was pointing at another illustration. This one Mina had not had time to discover in her private reading, and it shocked her now.

“Lucy! Do you suppose that men and women—ever—really do—that?” The question was a serious one, though asked in a light tone.

Lucy shook her red curls pertly. “I did—only last night!”

“Fibber! You didn’t!”

“Yes, I did—in my dreams.”

Both girls laughed, though Mina did so only after a moment’s hesitation, and her expression quickly became thoughtful again.

Her companion took her by the hand, then questioned her in half-playful entreaty. “Jonathan—measures up, as a man, doesn’t he? Come on, you can tell Lucy.”

Mina’s eyes turned dreamy. “We’ve kissed, that’s all, Jonathan and I. Sometimes I… press up to him, and he suddenly grows shy and says good night.”

She smiled at her sympathetic listener. “He thinks he’s too poor to marry me. He wants to buy me an expensive ring, and I try to tell him it doesn’t matter.”

Lucy had given up teasing for the moment and was full of sincere admiration. “Mina, you’re the most splendid girl in all the world… Anyone would love you.”

Mina reached to squeeze her companion’s hand. “And you are the one with regiments of men all falling at your feet.”

“But not even one marriage proposal. And here I am almost twenty—practically a hag!”

The sound of a reserved masculine throat clearing, professionally discreet, made both girls look around. While Mina hastily closed the book Lucy got to her feet. “What is it, Hobbs?”

The butler’s face was imperturbable, that of a man who could not conceivably have any interest in what forbidden pictures young ladies might be looking at, or what they were discussing. Balanced on the fingers of one hand he presented a silver salver bearing a visiting card.

Hobbs announced: “A young gentleman, miss. A Mr. Harker, to see Miss Murray. He is waiting in the garden.”

Mina was astonished, pleased, and concerned all at once.

“Jonathan, here?” Murmuring something incoherent in the nature of an excuse, she hurried from the room.

From the wide side terrace of Hillingham an enormous stretch of lawn rolled in a gradual decline toward the broad Thames. The calm expanse of river today was marked with the distant sails of a few small pleasure boats. Much nearer at hand, a pair of peacocks stalked majestically upon the well-kept grass. A garden maze, contrived of tall yew hedges a century old and more, occupied a half acre below the terrace. Adjoining the maze, the family cemetery formed a pleasant and unobtrusive part of the view encompassing the entire parklike grounds.

A nervously energetic young man only a few years older than Mina, fashionably dressed as if for business in the City, was standing in the formal garden, attempting with much good humor but little success to catch a butterfly in his tall top hat. He turned expectantly at the sound of Mina’s footsteps hurrying toward him, and his handsome face lit up at the sight of her.

“Jonathan, what are you doing here?” she demanded in surprise, even as she ran into his waiting arms.

Upon being greeted with a proper kiss, she recoiled, though only slightly.

‘You’ve been drinking, in the middle of the day?” Mina knew that was not at all her fiancé’s habit.

Jonathan Harker threw his arms wide again, almost losing control of his tall hat in the process.

“Quite drunk, my love, but only with success! And that’s fine talk from a man’s wife-to-be. You’re in the company of a future partner in the firm of Hawkins and Thompkins.” With darting gestures he sketched an imaginary signboard in the air. “Hawkins, Thompkins, and Harker—that has a fine sound to it, don’t you think?”

“Jonathan! A partnership?” Mina’s red lips went round and wide. “How marvelous!”

Harker sobered a trifle. “The truth is that my erstwhile superior and rival for promotion, Mr. Renfield, has finally lost his greedy mind—and I’ve been promoted in his place.”

Only the fact of the promotion, and not the unhappy circumstance that had made it possible, really registered in the young woman’s thought. Again she flung herself into her fiancé’s arms.

“Oh, Jonathan, I’m so happy for you! Why, this means that we don’t have to wait. Doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? We can be married right away—I must tell Lucy—when shall we be married? When?”

Harker put on his hat, that he might have both hands free to hold her fondly by arms and shoulders. “As soon as I return.”

“Return?” Mina was startled anew. “From where?”

“I’m off, this very day, to exotic Eastern Europe. Some business Mr. Renfield’s illness prevented his concluding. ”

“Tell me all about it.”

Linking arms with Mina, Harker began to stroll with her about the garden. Their feet kept more or less automatically to the manicured paths, and from time to time he patted her small hand resting on his forearm. Peacocks screamed out eerie cries before them.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred