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

On reaching Van Helsing’s room, he found the professor already dressed and the door of his room ajar, as if he had expected some such call. The old man came to the Harkers’ rooms at once, and asked Mina if the others might come, too.

“No,” she said quite simply. “It will not be necessary. You can tell them just as well. I must go with you on your journey.”

Dr. Van Helsing was as startled as the lady’s husband. After a moment’s pause the professor asked: “But why?”

“You must take me with you. I am safer with you, and you shall be safer, too.”

“But why, dear Madam Mina?”

“I can tell you now, whilst the sun is coming up; I may not be able again. I know that when the count wills me, I must go to him. If you leave me here in England, and he tells me to come to him in secret, then I must—using any device to hoodwink—even Jonathan.”

With that last word, she turned upon her husband a look filled with bravery and love. Harker’s eyes filled with tears, and he could only clasp her hand.

“Madam Mina, you are, as always, most wise. You shall with us come; and together we shall do that which we go forth to achieve.”

The penetrating gaze of the professor lingered, and Mina returned it calmly. What she had just told him had been no worse than a half-truth; the full truth would have included the fact that she yearned desperately for reunion with her vampire lover. There were hours when she found herself shamelessly ready to abandon her husband, even her life, to be with Dracula.

It was on the morning of the twelfth of October that Dracula’s six pursuers at last left London, riding the boat-train that brought them to Paris on the same night, where they took the places they had reserved aboard the Orient Express.

Three days after leaving Paris, they were all aboard a private railcar jolting slowly eastward across Bulgaria toward the port of Varna on the Black Sea. Mina was now lethargic, sometimes even comatose, through most of the daylight hours. At dawn and dusk, when she could most easily be hypnotized by Van Helsing, her murmured comments still indicated that the count was progressing steadily toward his home by ship.

Today, on awaking around midmorning, she found that the train had stopped. That, she thought, was according to plan; they would be on a siding now, near Varna, waiting for the latest word concerning the movements of their quarry.

For the moment Mina and Jonathan were alone in the small private compartment they shared. He was staring out the window, and the only sound was the endless whisper of the whetstone with which he repeatedly stroked the curved steel of the murderous weapon he had adopted.

For a time she lay regarding her husband silently. This was a far different man from the young solicitor to whom she had once become engaged—that seemed a lifetime distant. She thought now that every day his hair, at roots and temples, was grayer than it had been the day before. The process must have begun from the moment when he had discovered her in her lover’s arms.

Suddenly, overwhelmed by her own feelings, Mina burst out: “My poor dear Jonathan, what have I done to you?”

Startled, Harker turned from the window. Putting down knife and whetstone, he was all tenderness and concern as he attempted to console his wife.

“No… no… no… I have done this to both of us.” And even as the young man spoke, his imagination continued to torment him with visions of the three fiendish, lascivious women, tempting and shaming him at the same time.

Fiercely he commanded himself to think of other matters, of anything instead of that.

He asked: “Where is he now?”

Mina closed her eyes. Her voice sounded both helpless and hopeless. “He is at sea—somewhere. I can still, whenever I am hypnotized by the professor, hear the waves lapping against his ship. The wind is high.” She paused, then added bleakly: “He calls me to him.”

Her husband swallowed, considering this. Then he made his wife a solemn pledge: “Mina. If you die, I will not let you go into the unknown alone.”

In another section of the same private car, a large central compartment that had been furnished as a kind of parlor or sitting room, Seward sat staring listlessly out a window into the gray gloom of the autumnal Bulgarian countryside, here on the edge of the city of Varna. Meanwhile Quincey Morris, in his cold-weather western garb, including a sheepskin jacket, busied himself with preparations for the last phase of the hunt.

At the moment he was using his bowie knife to sharpen several wooden stakes, each as thick as his wrist. This compartment, like most of the others in the car, was heated by a wood stove standing in one corner, vented by a metal chimney to the outside, and secured with taut wires to keep it from tipping. And in this stove Quincey had built up fire enough to char the sharp points of his stakes to the desired hardness.

Also near at hand, stacked in another corner of the compartment, stood four Winchester rifles, which the Texan had recently been cleaning and oiling, along with their supply of ammunition.

In the middle of the room space, a large table under a ceiling lamp held a spread-out map, along with train schedules, notes, copies of various cabled messages, and a pocket watch inexorably ticking away the hours.

A door opened and Lord Godalming came in, waving a copy of the latest cable that had just been brought to the train by special messenger from the British consulate in nearby Varna. Holmwood remarked: “We have reached Varna ahead of the Czarina Catherine and her devil’s cargo.”

At that Seward, who had been sitting tensely idle, snatched up and examined the contents of the telegram. He noted that the message was directed: “from Rufus Smith, Lloyd’s, London, to Lord Godalming, care of H.B.M. Vice-Consul, Varna.”

Harker, his kukri knife in hand as usual, now entered the compartment. When the others looked up to hear what news he might bring, he gloomily and tersely reported that “Mina is worse every day.”

The men, exchanging glances among themselves, murmured such expressions of sympathy as they could find.

Harker did not seem to hear them. “Even so,” he said, staring out the window, “I no longer fear this monster. I will kill him myself with the first blow.”

He sat down next to Quincey, near the window, and took out a whetstone to resume sharpening his knife.

No more than a few minutes passed before a messenger on horseback pulled up beside the stopped train. Soon Holm wood was opening another wire, this one quite disturbing, from his clerk at Lloyd’s.

This one Godalming read aloud, in a bitter voice, to his colleagues in the hunt. The news was that Dracula had, at least for the time being, outwitted and bypassed his pursuers, by causing the ship that bore him to sail past Varna in the night, to the port of Galatz, also on the Black Sea, but farther to the north and east.

Quickly the council of hunters—with the exception of Mina, who had not yet joined them today—regatfaered around the table spread with maps and schedules.

With stabbing motions of his forefinger, Harker indicated first Dracula’s presumed position now, near Galatz, and then their own, at or just outside the city of Varna. The two were at least two hundred English miles apart by mail.

Holmwood had ordered the latest messenger to stand by; now the English lord hastily began to write out the communications necessary to get their private car moving again, toward Galatz, as rapidly as possible. The journey would take them through Bucharest.

Meanwhile Harker, more haggard than before—Seward noted that his hair was now certainly beginning to turn white—said to the others with fierce energy: “Once we get to Galatz, we’ll follow the bastard upriver on horseback—cut him off. He must not be allowed to reach the castle!”

While a locomotive was found and connected to their car, and the next leg of their journey commenced, the group drew up their plans in considerable detail. When it should become necessary to leave the railway, Dr. Seward and Quincey were to carry on the pursuit on horseback while Jonathan and Lord Godalming hired a steam launch and took it up one of the rivers; Holmwood was experienced in such boating. Of course much might depend on their choosing the correct route.

The various contingencies under which the four men might later recombine their forces were considered.

Again, their final decision in this matter would depend upon what route Dracula, or those who carried him, might choose to take.

While these plans were being made, Mina joined the company, receiving, as usual, a courteous if subdued welcome.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred