The next two hours passed in journeying even swifter than before—though this driver’s whip cracked much less frequently—and eventually it seemed to Harker that even wolves had probably have been left behind. The road, even narrower now and rougher than that the coach from Bistritz had brought him on, wound and switchbacked endlessly on and up among the mountains, sometimes skirting the edge of a precipice, sometimes plunging for long minutes into a tunnel of pines. Still the darkness on every side remained utterly unrelieved by any dot of illumination from farm or Gypsy camp.
And then, without warning, the edifice that Harker knew must be his destination came into view, already startlingly close on its high promontory; it was a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows issued no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the moonlit sky.
A scant minute later, the calèche was rumbling under a long, low roof of stone and emerging into an open courtyard of the ancient building, half fortress and half palace.
Only moments after having entered the courtyard, Harker and his baggage were being deposited at the foot of a flight of crumbling stairs leading up to a massive door, the lintel above which had been carved into a great stone dragon arch.
Scarcely had Harker’s trunk thudded down upon the moonlit pavement then the calèche was pulling away, the dark, mysteriously costumed driver snapping his whip as briskly as ever over the backs of still-energetic horses. The visiting Englishman found himself completely alone, and as bewildered as he had been at any time since leaving Paris.
Long moments passed in silence. Half-silvered by moonlight as it was, the courtyard looked to be of considerable size, and several dark ways led from it under great round arches. The door confronting the visitor showed no sign of bell or knocker, and Harker thought it unlikely that his voice would be able to penetrate through these frowning walls and dark window openings.
The time the visitor was forced to wait seemed endless, and vague doubts and fears came crowding in upon him. What sort of grim adventure, he demanded of himself, was this on which he had embarked? Was this a customary incident in the life of a solicitor’s clerk sent out to explain the purchase of London property to a foreigner?
Then, with a mental effort, Harker corrected himself. Solicitor’s clerk indeed! Mina would not like that unconscious reversion to his former humble status. He was a solicitor now, and would be a partner soon, if all went well and this business could be successfully concluded—
Harker’s head jerked around, as from somewhere in the ruined portion of the great castle there had reached his ears a sound as of a small rock falling. This clatter was followed by smaller noises, suggesting to the visitor that the stone might have been dislodged by the feet of a scurrying rat.
Enough of passive waiting.
The young solicitor had just, with some difficulty, gathered up his heavy baggage into his own hands, squared his shoulders, and set foot on the lowest stair, when, after a preliminary noise of rattling chains, and the clanking of massive bolts drawn back, the door at the top was suddenly opened, revealing a single figure, the shadow of a man outlined against faint interior illumination.
In a moment the man in the high doorway had raised in his right hand an antique silver lamp, whose flame burned without chimney or globe of any kind, throwing long quivering shadows as it flickered in the draft through the open door.
The figure now fully revealed was clad from neck to foot in a crimson robe. A mass of white hair was swept and combed back above a high forehead and an aged, clean-shaven face of deathly pallor. There was not a single speck of color about the head or face—except for the man’s eyes, which were a cold vivid blue.
“Welcome to my house!” the old man’s voice resounded. His English was excellent, though to Harker’s ears the intonation was somewhat strange. “Come freely, go safely, and leave some of the happiness you bring!”
With a grunt of relief, Harker set his heavy trunk down on the stair. “Count… Dracula?”
With a nimbleness that belied the wrinkled pallor of his face, the man in the red robe came down the steps to meet the arriving guest, offered him a courtly bow, and in the same movement snatched up the heavy trunk with incredible ease.
“I am Dracula, and I bid you welcome, Mr. Harker, to my house. Come in; the night air is chill, and you must need to eat and rest.”
Harker climbed the steps. Then, drawing a deep breath, he stepped in across the threshold.
Immediately upon entering Dracula’s house, Harker attempted to regain custody of his baggage.
But his forceful host would not permit it. “Nay, sir! You are my guest. It is late, and my people are not available. Let me see to your comfort myself.”
After locking and bolting the castle’s great front door, the white-haired count, carrying Harker’s heavy trunk easily in one hand, and still bearing the antique lamp in the other, preceded Harker up a zigzag stair of stone.
As the young man climbed he looked about him with wonder and appreciation. The interior of the castle, of this portion of it anyway, looked much more solid in its fabric, far better kept, than the ruinous appearance of the exterior had suggested. The wavering light of the lamp in Count Dracula’s hand, falling on strange statues, cast even stranger shadows on walls and ceiling, on faded tapestries and old paintings; and it drew faint gleams from mounted sets of medieval armor and edged weapons.
Once more Harker considered that as evidently no servants were available, he ought to assume the burden of his own baggage; but the manner of his host silently discouraged the attempt. Count Dracula, laden as he was, took flight after flight of stairs at a brisk, untiring pace, leaving the younger Harker puffing in an effort to keep up.
Presently, without breaking stride, the white-haired man turned his head and demanded cheerfully: “Come, tell me of the London properties you have procured for me!”
Harker, glad of his recent effort to review the business, did the best he could, while puffing.
“Well, sir, I believe the most remarkable is the estate called Carfax. No doubt the name is a corruption of the French term quatre face, as the house is four-sided, lined up exactly with the four points of the compass.”
His host glanced back while Harker paused for breath. Then the young man continued: “There are about twenty acres, quite surrounded by a solid stone wall. There are many trees on it, which make it in places gloomy, and there is a deep, dark-looking pond.
“The house itself is quite large, and of all periods back, I should say, to medieval times, for one part is of stone immensely thick. It has not been repaired for a large number of years.”
Count Dracula, who had considerately waited for him, nodded thoughtfully. They climbed on, now passing ancient Greek and Roman statues, all seemingly in perfect condition.
“I am glad that it is old,” the count remarked at last. “I come from an old family, and to live in a new house would kill me.”
The young visitor was much relieved to be shown at last into a well-lit room in which a table was spread for supper—there was only a single place setting, of golden plates and goblets along with covered serving dishes; antique work that, as Harker quickly estimated, must have been worth a small fortune. On this room’s mighty hearth a great fire of logs, recently replenished, flamed and flared, driving away the chill of the Carpathian night. Here, as in the other portions of the castle the visitor had so far seen, weapons formed a large part of the wall decorations.
The count closed the door by which they had entered from the corridor, then, crossing the room, opened another door, which led into a snug bedroom, invitingly well lighted and warmed with another log fire, which sent a hollow roar up the wide chimney.
Here he put down Harker’s bags and withdrew, saying: “You will need to refresh yourself after your journey. When you are ready, come into the other room, where you will find your supper prepared.”
The light and warmth of these rooms, and his host’s courteous welcome, had already gone far to dissipate Harker’s fears, and the young man realized that he was half-famished. He quickly did as he had been bidden.
On returning to the sitting room, he found Count Dracula leaning against the stonework of the great fireplace. Dracula indicated the table with a graceful wave of his hand.
“I pray you,” he urged his guest, “be seated and sup how you please. You will, I trust, excuse me that I do not join you; but I have dined already, and I do not sup.”