Van Helsing’s pressing of the wafer to Mina’s forehead, a gesture meant as benediction, had instead an effect that caused him to instinctively recoil. Her soft skin seared at the touch, as if the Sacrament had been a red-hot iron.
Mina, her forehead now branded by a scarlet mark, reeled back screaming.
“I am his!” she cried out. And a moment later she lay on the cold ground, gasping.
Van Helsing, moving on instinct, hastened to reinforce his sacred ring with holy water that had almost frozen in its flask.
When the flask was empty, he, too, collapsed, muttering to Mina: “I have lost Lucy. I will not lose you.”
Dracula’s women, prowling baffled outside the circle, hissed at him: “None is safer from us than her. She is our sister now!”
Raising his head and shoulders, the professor summoned up enough energy to curse them. “Bitches of the devil! Satan’s whores! Leave us, this is holy ground!”
Enraged and frustrated by his defensive measures, the three vampire women rushed at the horses. The horses whinnied and cowered, and moaned in terror and pain as humans do—but they could not escape. Van Helsing had to watch them being torn to bloody bits while all the time the women laughed. They took a long time with their sport, killing the four horses as painfully as possible, and he looked on helplessly until his senses failed him.
The professor awoke a little after sunrise, shivering with cold even inside his several layers of fur. For a long moment he did not know where he was, or what he had been doing; then the nightmarish reality of his position returned to him.
Mina, he saw to his vast relief, was sleeping quietly, decently and warmly wrapped in her furs, and still within the circle of protection. Slowly, stiffly, the old man got himself erect, brushing snow from his furs. Very carefully Van Helsing approached Madam Mina, bent over her as she slept, and reached out a hand to put back the fur hood, and her own dark hair, from her forehead.
Yes, it was as he had feared.
In the place where the Host had touched her skin, the devil’s mark now burned, scarlet as sin itself.
The professor thought that she, contaminated with the vampire’s blood, would not be able to pass out of the holy circle unaided now, any more than those three women had been able to pass in.
Those three were out of his sight and hearing now. They had retreated, as he had expected they would have to do, with the coming of the sun. And Van Helsing knew, from Harker’s account of his experiences in the castle, exactly where they must have gone. And he knew what he himself must do now—the terrible things he had come here to do.
Well, last night’s perils, culminating in the sadistic slaughter of the horses, had nerved him for the effort—if indeed his determination had needed any reinforcement.
Moving on cramped limbs, slow and numb with cold, he built up the fire, which was almost dead. For once the thought of food disgusted him, but he knew that he would need his strength.
Averting his eyes from the mangled bodies of the horses, Van Helsing went to the wagon and from the wrapped-up stores it contained got bread, and dried meat, and a flask of brandy.
Mina still slept, curled in her warm wrappings. As far as the professor could see, it was a natural sleep—if it was not, well, he could do no more for her than he had done already.
Having eaten, forcing down distasteful food, and taken a little brandy as a stimulant, Van Helsing picked up his bag—the one containing the special tools that he was going to need. Then, with a trembling inner anticipation, feelings he fought against acknowledging to himself, he began the steep climb to the castle’s forbidding bulk.
He glanced back only once, before he had climbed very far. Mina would be all right while he was gone; she would simply have to be. He had no choice but to leave her here, unprotected, for a daylight hour or two. Van Helsing thought the worst thing that could happen to her would be an attack by wolves—real wolves, beasts of nature. But as to that she would have to take her chances. Though there might be danger to her body, yet her soul was safe! What he had to defend against was something terribly worse.
It was an hour later, and full daylight, when Van Helsing emerged from the gloomy castle gateway. He was staggering with fresh exhaustion, barely able to move. Cradled in his hands, against the newly blood-soaked fur of his outer coat, he was carrying the three vampire women’s freshly severed heads. With hoarse cries the professor hurled the grisly objects, one by one, over the nearby precipice, so that they fell into the river far below.
As sunset drew near, Van Helsing, having slept and eaten again, was somewhat restored; and so, to his great relief, was Mina, who on awakening seemed almost normal. When she stared, as if puzzled, at the blood on his coat, he muttered a few words suggesting that it had come from the dead horses. She did not pursue the matter further.
Shortly after Mina had awakened, and the professor had cajoled her into drinking some hot tea, the two of them by mutual agreement moved from their overnight campsite to a nearby promontory from which they could better overlook the nearest road. This was the way along which, if all their calculations as to routes and times were right, Dracula and his pursuers must approach.
Of course, if their calculations should be wrong… then the men Van Helsing was counting on might be already dead, and the vampire prince victorious after all.
Mina had been staring into the distance along the road for what seemed like hours. Now suddenly she announced: “He comes!”
Van Helsing squinted in the same direction, but was at first unable to discern any movement. When he took up a pair of field glasses, he was at last able to see something that made him cry out.
“They race the sunset—they may be too late—God help us!”
The howling of wolves rose from the dusky forest clothing the nearby hills and the mountains’ lower slopes. In the distance, now readily visible with the glasses, a wagon and its mounted escort of Gypsies was racing closer at top speed. And—the professor’s heart rose at the sight—four men on horses were in close pursuit of the wagon. A minute later Quincey Morris’s unmistakable rebel yell was clearly audible on the crag where Mina and Van Helsing waited.
Puffs of smoke, followed by the faint crackle of rifle fire, announced that the Winchesters had been brought into action.
Some important idea had suddenly occurred to Mina; or perhaps she had heard a call, though her companion had heard nothing of the kind. For whatever reason, she had turned her back suddenly on the chase so plainly visible below and started to climb, with renewed energy, toward where the castle towered against a darkening sky.
The professor stared, then cried out: “Madam Mina! Wait!”
But she gave no sign that she had heard him. Van Helsing, worried anew, lumbered after her as best he could.
The wagon, following the road, traveled a longer course than the people who climbed on foot. Still, it was moving much faster than Mina and Van Helsing were able to negotiate the rough terrain between the loops of road. The vehicle went roaring and clattering past the man and woman as they climbed. Both could see it lurching on ahead of them, the driver whipping the exhausted horses, still escorted by a handful of Gypsies riding horseback.
And after them the hunters galloped.
The great leiter-wagon was almost at the castle when the four pursuing riders overtook it and did their best to force it to a halt. With gunfire, sabers, and huge knives, three Englishmen and an American fought their way through the fanatical defense put up by Dracula’s remaining escort.
Harker leaped from his saddle onto the wagon, and its driver lashed at him with his whip; but Quincey Morris shot the man down.
The wagon, accompanied by its remaining escort and pursuers, all intermingled now, thundered through the tunnel and into the castle’s courtyard.
Mina and Van Helsing, making the best speed afoot that they were able, followed. He could not manage to catch up with her, and lacked the breath to call to her.
Wolves were still howling all around them.
They stumbled into the courtyard only in time to see the conclusion of the fight.
Dr. Seward ran a Gypsy through with his saber, protecting Mina and Van Helsing.
Quincey, slashed in the back by another Gypsy, went down fighting.
Holmwood fired his pistol and finished off Quincey’s assailant, the last of Dracula’s allies.