And Van Helsing assured the other men: “Be not afraid for Madam Mina; she will be my care, if I may. I am old. My legs are not so quick to run as once; and I am not used to ride so long or to pursue as need be, or to fight with lethal weapons. But I can fight in other way, and I can die, if need be, as well as younger men.
“I will take Madam Mina right into the heart of the enemy’s country while the old fox is tied in his box, floating on the running stream whence he cannot escape to land—where he dares not raise the lid of his coffin box lest his carriers should in fear leave him to perish. We shall go in the way where Jonathan went, from Bistritz over the Borgo, and find our way to the castle of Dracula. There is much to be done so that nest of vipers be obliterated.”
Harker, showing emotion more openly than he had in days, was aghast, “Professor, do you mean to say that you would bring Mina, in her sad case and tainted as she is with the devil’s illness, right into the jaws of his death trap?”
Van Helsing raised his chin as if accepting a challenge. “Oh, my friend, it is because I would save Madam Mina from that awful place that I would go. Remember, as she herself has warned us, if she is left unguarded, he may summon her to him.
“And if the count escape us this time—and he is strong and subtle and cunning—he may choose to sleep him for a century. And then in time our dear one”—here Van Helsing took the hand of Mina, who was staring at him hopelessly—”would come to keep him company, and would be as those others that you, Jonathan, saw.
“Forgive me that I make you so much pain, but it is necessary. My friend, is it not a dire need for which I am giving, if need be, my life? Be not afraid for Madam Mina. It is she who will protect me.”
For a moment Jonathan, now in hopeless confusion, only stared at the old man. Then the suffering husband gave a fatalistic shrug. “Do as you will. We are in the hands of God. And may God give him into my hands, just long enough to send his soul to burning hell!”
Relentlessly the pursuit continued.
Lord Godalming, by exercising to the utmost all the influence he possessed, both at the consulate and by telegram, had been able in the amazingly short time of a few hours to have the private car attached to another train. The party of adventurers got started for Galatz sooner than any of them had really dared to hope. Anxiously they pored over their maps, plotting the route by rail from Varna to that city. It seemed straightforward enough, though indirect, requiring a large jog through Bucharest—but to their consternation unforeseeable railroad difficulties in the vicinity of that latter city, in the early hours of the morning, caused them some delay, about which wealth and influence could do nothing.
Galatz, when they finally reached it on the morning of the following day, proved a more modern town than any of the travelers had expected. Electric lights illuminated portions of the waterfront, and many of the streets were paved. Immediately upon arrival, while the Harkers undertook to remove the baggage from the private car and establish rooms for the party in a hotel, the other men moved aggressively. It seemed futile to hope that Dracula would still be here within their reach, yet they dared not discount the possibility.
Lord Godalming and Professor Van Helsing soon prevailed upon Messrs. Mackenzie and Steinkoff, agents of the London firm of Hapgood, to allow them to go on board the Czarina Catherine, which lay at anchor out in the river harbor.
Captain Donelson of the Czarina, a Scot, had no objection to entertaining visitors. He told them, as if be were eager to recount the miracle to someone, of the amazingly favorable conditions his ship had enjoyed throughout the voyage from London.
Yes, the captain remembered very well the shipment in which his callers were interested: one large, coffin-like box. This item of cargo had indeed been aboard, but it had been unloaded hours ago, consigned to one Immanuel Hildesheim in Galatz.
Hildesheim, when located in his office, said he had received a letter from a Mr. de Ville of London, asking him to receive the box and give it in charge to a certain Petrof Skinsky, who dealt with the Slovaks who traded inland, by means of riverboats, to this port on the Black Sea.
Hildesheim had been paid for his work on behalf of his London client by an English bank note, which had been duly cashed for gold at the Danube International Bank.
The hunters sought for Skinsky, but were unable to find him. One of his neighbors said that he had gone away two days before, and this was corroborated by Skinsky’s landlord.
Even as the men were talking in Hildesheim’s office, another of the local people came running in and said that the body of Skinsky had been found in a nearby churchyard, and that his throat had been torn open as if by some wild animal.
The Englishmen and their Texan friend hurried away lest they should be in some way drawn into the affair, and so detained.
With heavy hearts they rejoined the Harkers at their new hotel in Galatz.
All the evidence, including Mina’s continued communications in hypnotic trance, and also the information gathered in Galatz, pointed to the same conclusion: that their quarry was even now continuing his journey by riverboat; but by exactly what route Dracula was traveling was still uncertain.
While the men took half an hour’s needed rest, Mina, examining the courses of the local rivers shown on the map, decided that either the Pruth or the Sereth would provide a possible route.
She was soon ready to deliver a report in both written and oral form. “The Sereth is, at Fundu, joined by the Bistritza, which runs up around the Borgo Pass. The loop it makes is manifestly as close to Dracula’s castle as can be got by water.”
At the next strategy meeting, their plans for the last phase of the pursuit were soon set in final form and put in motion.
A day or so later, Harker wrote one entry in his continuing journal after dark, by the light from the furnace door of the rented steam launch. He and Holmwood, according to plan, were headed up the Sereth, looking for the mouth of the Bistritza, as Mina had suggested.
Harker wrote: “We have no fear in running at good speed up the river at night; there is plenty of water to avoid running aground, and the banks are wide enough apart to make steaming, even in the dark, easy enough.
“Lord Godalming”—Harker, not long ago a mere solicitor’s clerk, still felt uncomfortable speaking of his social betters with informality—”tells me to sleep for a while, as it is enough for one to be on watch. But I cannot sleep—how can I with the terrible danger hanging over my darling, and her going out into that awful place… My only comfort is that we are in the hands of God.”
His journal continued:
31 October, Still hurrying along. The day has come, and Godalming is sleeping. The morning is bitterly cold. As yet we have passed only a few open boats, but none of them had on board any box or package anything like the size of the one we seek. The boatmen were scared every time we turned our electric lamp on them, and fell on their knees and prayed.
1 November. No news all day. We have found nothing of the kind we seek. We have now passed into the Bistritza, and if we are wrong about our quarry’s plans, our chance of overtaking him, on water at any rate, is gone.
We have overhauled every boat, big and little. Early this morning, one crew took us for a government boat and treated us accordingly. We saw in this a way of smoothing matters, so at Fundu, where the Bistritza runs into the Sereth, we got a Romanian flag;—three vertical strips, of blue, yellow, and red—which we now fly conspicuously, and since then have held every deference shown us, and not once any objection to what we ask or do. Some of the Slovaks tell us that a big boat passed them, rowing at more than usual speed as she had a double crew on board…
Even though the river flows directly below the castle (I shall never forget a detail of the geography of this damned place), it must be far too rough at that point, and for some miles downstream, for any boats. The count will have to travel overland on the last miles of his journey; so I cling to the hope that we can make our planned rendezvous with Mr. Morris and Dr. Seward, and that they will have with them the necessary extra horses.