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

The news seemed to relieve Harker of a tremendous weight. In a moment he appeared almost a new man. Reaching for his cane, he started to get to his feet, then sat down again, leaning forward to enter into earnest discussion.

“Doctor, are you sure?”

Van Helsing nodded emphatically. “I would not say so otherwise.”

Harker’s fist hit the table, rattling the cutlery. “Then thank God! I have doubted everything, even myself—especially myself. I was impotent with fear. You have cured me.”

The professor, muttering something soothing, nodded with satisfaction. Then his eyes under their thick sandy brows turned once more to Mina. “And you, my dear madam, are you cured as well?”

She tried to conceal the fact that the question made her acutely uncomfortable. “Cured of what, Doctor?”

Van Helsing’s voice was low and calm. He refrained from making any accusations. “Of whatever happened in those pages so carefully cut out of your diary.”

Mina stared at the old man defiantly; her husband, still reveling in his relief regarding his own condition, did not appear to have heard the question or grasped its implications.

The young woman remained silent, and for a moment Van Helsing appeared ready to let the matter pass. Then, producing an old gold coin seemingly from nowhere, in the manner of a conjurer, he tossed it on the white tablecloth directly in front of Mina.

When she raised her eyes from the yellow metal to stare at him, the professor calmly informed her: “Your husband has given me this. He found it, and others like it—there.”

The coin, lying among grease spots and crumbs on the white linen, had come up heads, and the young woman seemed unable to tear her gaze from the fierce profile of the youthful ruler on its face. In fact she found it horribly, unacceptably, recognizable.

Van Helsing, observing her reactions closely, remarked: “The ancient Prince Dracul himself. He died four hundred years ago—but his body was never found.”

Mina was startled from her renewed contemplation of the coin when Van Helsing slapped a piece of meat on her plate, a slice so rare in the center as to be still bloody.

The professor’s eyes bored into hers, evidently seeking to discover something. He urged her: “You eat like a bird. Eat. Feast! You will need your strength for the dark days ahead.”

Mina looked at her husband. Jonathan had commenced eating heartily now, and seemed stronger than he had been since their reunion in Budapest, much renewed by the good news about his own blood. Meeting his wife’s gaze, he smiled and extended his hand, and after an almost imperceptible hesitation she took it.

Still gripping Jonathan’s hand, she turned to ask Van Helsing: “Tell me, Doctor, how did Lucy die? I mean—I want to know what happened in the crypt, days after her death certificate was signed.

“I now know the terrible fact—Dr. Seward has told me something—but none of the details. She was my dearest friend, and yet no one has told me. Was she in great pain?”

Van Helsing was deliberately harsh. “]a, I would say so, at first. But after we cut off her head and drive a stake through her heart, she is at peace.”

Mina gasped.

It was the first time Harker had heard the horrifying details of Lucy’s release. He half rose from his chair, and his voice quavered as he intervened. “That’s quite enough, Doctor.”

The old man looked at him with sympathy, and his expression softened a trifle. “Enough, perhaps, for the moment. Now you, both of you, must understand why we must find this dark prince and do the same for him. And perhaps you see why there is little time.”

Harker slumped back into his chair. His face and voice had hardened. “Fortunately I know where the bastard must be sleeping. In one of the very London properties I helped him to purchase—probably Carfax. ”

“Ja, so I discover from your journal. At Carfax the black devil is Jack Seward’s neighbor!”

Pushing dishes, wineglasses, and bottles all aside, reaching impulsively across the table, Van Helsing brought all their hands together, forming a three-way bond.

He said: “We must find your undead count, cut off his head, and stake his heart so that the world may rest from him.”

Mina turned pale but said nothing. Van Helsing noted this reaction, though her husband failed to do so.

The handshake concluded, Harker with renewed energy brought out some documents.

He said: “We know that exactly fifty boxes of earth were unloaded from the Demeter, and I have already traced some of them to the nine additional properties Count Dracula has acquired in other parts of London. We—or someone—must visit those houses, and make sure the boxes in them are destroyed.”

The professor, groping in his pockets for his cigar case, nodded his head. “Dear Quincey, Jack, and Arthur still stand with us. It shall be done.”

“But the greater number of those boxes, more than thirty, went to Carfax. I assume they are still there.”

Van Helsing nodded again. “And for that reason must we go there. As soon as possible… By the way, a story of some interest is in the evening paper.”




Interview with the Keeper in the Zoological Gardens

… After many inquiries and almost as many refusals, I managed to find the keeper of the wolf department. Thomas Bilder lives in one of the cottages in the enclosure behind the elephant house, and was just sitting down to tea when I found him…

when the table was cleared, and he had lit his pipe, he said: “Now, sir, you can go and ask me what you want. I know what yer a-comin’ at, that ‘ere escaped wolf.”

“Exactly. I want you to give me your view of it. What you consider was the cause, and how the whole affair will end. Now, Mr. Bilder, can you account in any way for the escape of the wolf?”

“All right, guv’nor. I think I can; but I don’t know as ‘ow you’d be satisfied with the theory.”

“Certainly I shall. If a man like you, who knows the animals, can’t hazard a good guess, who is even to try?”

“Well then, sir, I accounts for it this way; it seems to me that wolf escaped—simply because he wanted to get out.”

From the hearty way both Thomas and his wife laughed at the joke I could see that it had done service before…

I was handing him the agreed-upon half-sovereign when something came bobbing up against the window, and Mr. Bilder’s face doubled its natural length with surprise.

“God bless me!” he said. “If there ain’t old Bersicker come back by ‘isself!”

He went to the door and opened it; a most unnecessary proceeding, it seemed to me. I have always thought that a wild animal never looks so well as when some obstacle of pronounced durability is between us.

After all, however, there is nothing like custom, for neither Bilder nor his wife thought any more of the wolf than I should have of a dog. The whole scene was an unutterable mixture of comedy and pathos. The wicked wolf that for days had paralyzed London and set all the children in town shivering in their shoes, was there in a sort of penitent mood, and was received and petted like a sort of vulpine prodigal son.

Old Bilder examined him all over with most tender solicitude, and said: “There, I knew the poor old chap would get into some kind of trouble; didn’t I say it all along? Here’s his head all cut and full of broken glass. ‘E’s been gettin’ over some bloomin’ wall or other. It’s a shyme people are allowed to top their walls with broken glass. This ‘ere’s what comes of it. Come along, Bersicker.”

Shortly after dusk of the same day on which the Harkers had dined with Professor Van Helsing at the Berkeley, a band of five men and one woman had assembled in the secluded grounds of Seward’s asylum. Overhead, stark, bare branches showed in lantern light, and dead leaves crackled underfoot; summer seemed to have vanished swiftly from the land.

The spot where the six had gathered was in sight of the window of Renfield’s cell, and also within sight of the stone wall, high but readily climbable, which separated the asylum’s land from that belonging to the adjoining estate of Carfax. The lightless, decayed bulk of the house at Carfax was not visible by night from where they stood, but its presence loomed in the mind of every member of the band.

Harker, who had put aside his cane for this night’s work, stood holding Mina’s hand while Van Helsing examined the equipment the others were bringing with them. All the men were dressed for rough work and armed with axes and shovels, as well as knives and revolvers, rifles, torches, and dark lanterns, the latter devices being lamps equipped with tight-fitting shutters that allowed them to be quickly dimmed or brightened. Van Helsing himself had brought a couple of the new portable electric lights, powered by heavy and ungainly-looking batteries.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred