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

The young solicitor was suddenly no longer young in his appearance; in a matter of hours Harker’s face had become lined and sallow, and Seward was ready to swear that the man’s hair had already turned gray at the roots. Without giving any explanation, or offering any comment on his actions to anyone, the outraged spouse had already exchanged his cane for a great curved kukri knife, an East Indian weapon from the big-game hunters’ collective arsenal. He now carried this knife with him wherever he went, and had begun compulsively whetting and testing the blade.

So far the Harkers were continuing to occupy the guest suite on the upper floor of the asylum. A sufficient number of spare rooms were available there to accommodate the rest of the party, and for the sake of convenience and solidarity Lord Godalming (to his friends still Arthur Holmwood), Van Helsing, and Quincey Morris had already moved in, or were planning to do so within the day.

All of the men besides Harker had managed to get a few hours of fretful sleep. None could be granted more than that, because of the urgency of the situation.

Van Helsing had undertaken to organize an expedition against Dracula’s remaining properties elsewhere in the metropolitan area.

One of these houses was considered by the professor to be of special tactical importance.

“In all probability,” the professor counseled his colleagues while standing in Seward’s office before a hastily tacked-up wall map, “the key of the situation is in that house in Piccadilly. The count will have deeds of purchase, keys, and other things. He will have paper that he write on, clothing, he will have his book of checks. There are many belongings that he must have somewhere; why not in this place so central, so quiet, where he come and go by the front or the back at all hours, where in the very vastness of the traffic there is none to notice?”

“Then let us go at once!” Harker cried. “We are wasting precious, precious time.”

The professor did not move. “And how are we to get into that house in Piccadilly?”

“Any way! We shall break in if need be!”

“And your police; where will they be, and what will they say?”

It was Seward, thinking in a practical mode, who suggested waiting until regular business hours, and then employing a respectable locksmith.

Harker, waving the huge knife he had adopted, urged: “Then in God’s name let us start at once, for we are losing time. The count may come to Piccadilly sooner than we think.”

“Not so!” said Van Helsing, holding up his hand.

“But why?”

“Do you forget,” he said, with actually a smile, “that last night he banqueted heavily, and will sleep late?”

Mina, who had come into the room to listen to the planners, struggled hard to keep her brave countenance; but the pain overmastered her and she put her hands before her face and shuddered.

It was plain to Seward, looking on, that Van Helsing had not intended to recall her frightful experience. He had simply lost sight of her and her part in the affair in his intellectual effort.

When it struck the professor what he had said, he was horrified at his thoughtlessness and tried to comfort her.

“Oh, Madam Mina! Dear, dear Madam Mina, alas, that I of all who so reverence you, should have said anything so forgetful. These stupid old lips of mine and this stupid old head do not deserve so; but you will forget it, will you not?”

She took his hand and, looking at him through her tears, said hoarsely: “No, I shall not forget, for it is well that I remember. Now, you must all be going soon.” Mina, having called upon reserves of strength, was evidently in control of herself, and of the situation—for the time being. “Breakfast is ready, and we must all eat that we may be strong.”

Midmorning found Seward, Quincey Morris, Lord God-aiming, Harker, and Van Helsing—all five of the men in fact—in London.

On the train going in, Holmwood had said to his companions: “Quincey and I will find a locksmith.” Looking at Harker, he added: “You had better not come with us, in case there should be any difficulty; under the circumstances it wouldn’t seem so bad for us to break into an empty house. But you are a solicitor and the Incorporated Law Society might tell you you should have known better.”

Harker, his figure today wrapped in a cloak to conceal the sheath of the huge knife he wore at his belt, protested that he wanted to share all the dangers and difficulties.

Godalming shook his head. “Besides, it will attract less attention if there are not too many of us. My title will make it all right with the locksmith, and with any policeman that may come along. You had better go with Jack and the professor and wait in the Green Park, somewhere in sight of the house.”

“The advice is good!” said Van Helsing. And the matter was so arranged.

At the corner of Arlington Street and Piccadilly, Van Helsing, Harker, and Seward dismounted from their cab and strolled into the Green Park. The day was gray but dry and mild.

Quietly Harker pointed out to his companions the house on which so much of their hope was now centered. The edifice, at 347 Piccadilly, loomed up grim and silent in its deserted condition, among its more lively and spruce-looking neighbors. The three sat down on a bench with a good view of the property and lit up cigars.

The minutes seemed to pass with leaden feet.

At length they saw a four-wheeler drive up to the house. Out of it, in leisurely fashion, stepped Lord Godalming and Morris; and down from the box descended a thickset workingman with his rush-woven basket of tools. Morris paid the cabman, who touched his hat and drove away. Meanwhile Lord Godalming was pointing out to the locksmith what he wanted done.

The workman took off his coat leisurely and hung it on one of the spikes of the railing near the entry, saying something to a policeman who just then sauntered along. The policeman nodded acquiescence, and the man kneeling down placed his bag beside him. After searching through it, he took out a selection of tools.

Then he stood up, looked into the keyhole, blew into it, and turning to his employers, made some remark.

Lord Godalming smiled, and the man lifted a good-sized bunch of keys; selecting one of them, he began to probe the lock, as if feeling his way with it. After fumbling about a bit, he tried a second, and then a third. All at once the door opened under a slight push from him, and he and the two others entered the hall.

The three watchers in the park sat still, Harker puffing furiously on his cigar while Van Helsing’s had gone cold altogether. They waited patiently while the workman, holding the door partially open between his knees, fitted a key to the lock. This he finally handed to Lord Godalming, who took out his purse and gave him something. The man touched his hat, took up his tools, put on his coat, and departed; and not a soul, save the three men in the park, had taken the slightest notice of the forcible and illegal entry thus effected.

As soon as the workman was gone, Harker, Seward, and Van Helsing crossed the street and knocked at the door. Quincey Morris immediately let them in. Quincey, too, was now smoking a cigar; because, as he explained, “the place smells so vilely.”

Keeping all together, in case of attack, the men moved to explore the house. In the dining room, which lay at the back of the hall, they found eight boxes of earth. With the tools they had brought the men opened these receptacles, one by one, and treated them to deny them as refuge to the count.

On the great dining-room table lay a little heap of keys, of all sorts and sizes—it was an easy assumption that they would be likely to fit the doors of Dracula’s other London houses.

Lord Godalming and Quincey Morris, taking from Harker’s own records accurate notes of the various addresses in the east and south, took the keys and set out to destroy whatever boxes they could find there.

The other three settled down, with what patience they could, to await their return—or the coming of the count. They paced the uninhabited rooms, or sat gingerly upon the edges of dusty chairs.

The time seemed terribly long while they were waiting. Dr. Seward, observing Harker, was again struck by the change in him. Last night Mina’s bridegroom had been a frank, happy-looking man, with strong youthful face, full of energy. Today he was a drawn, haggard old man, whose white hair (in certain lights at least it looked that color) matched the hollow burning eyes and grief-written lines of his face. His energy, however, was still intact; in fact the image that struck Seward was that of a living flame.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred