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

Even as the count spoke he stepped forward and himself took the cover off a dish, revealing an excellent roast chicken. There were also, as Harker soon discovered, cheese, and salad, and a dusty bottle of aromatic old Tokay.

Harker fell to at once. Conversation, while he ate and drank—rationing himself to two glasses of the enjoyable wine—ranged over some of the unusual things he had observed on his journey. Dracula remained standing beside the fireplace, evidently quite comfortable in that position. He listened with interest to Harker’s remarks and was able to explain some of the events and customs the Englishman had found puzzling.

As soon as Harker had finished eating, he arose and accepted a cigar offered by his host, then lighted it with a splinter of wood plucked from the hearth.

A faint sound from outside the window made the visitor turn in that direction, where he was able to observe the first dim streak of the coming dawn. To Harker there seemed, at this moment, a strange, fresh stillness over everything; but as he listened he heard once more, as if from the valley below the castle, the howling of many wolves.

His host’s eyes gleamed at the sound. Quietly the old man remarked: “Listen to them—the children of the night! What music they make!”

Harker, doing his best to be polite but feeling very sleepy, murmured something.

The count smiled knowingly at the young foreigner’s lack of comprehension. “We are in Transylvania; and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things. This ground was fought over for centuries, by my ancestors against the Saxon and the Turk. There is hardly a foot of soil in all this region that has not been enriched by the blood of patriots and invaders!”

He paused, then added in a quieter voice: “You may go anywhere you wish in the castle, except where the doors are locked, where of course you will not wish to go.”

“I am sure of it, sir…” Harker paused, his curiosity aroused, blinking away sleep. “Count Dracula, that face in the tapestry behind you… an ancestor, perhaps? I believe I detect a resemblance… ?”

“Ha, yes.” The old man turned his head and appeared to consider the figures in the tapestry with satisfaction. “The Order of the Dragon. An ancient society, pledging my forefathers to defend the Church against all enemies.”

Turning back to Harker, the count displayed white pointed teeth. “Alas, the relationship was not entirely… successful.”

Harker blinked at him, not sure that he had understood what the words and the wicked smile seemed to imply. “They were, I am sure, good Christians, even as you—”

“We are Draculas!” the count roared, and his eyes seemed to glow red. In the next instant he had snatched down one of the weapons from the wall, a curved Turkish sword.

He brandished the blade in his right hand. “And we Draculas have a right to be proud! Is it a wonder we are a conquering race? What devil or witch was ever so great at Attila, whose blood flows in these veins?”

He slashed the air with the sword, right and left, so that Harker, shaken, his cigar forgotten, recoiled. Then Dracula used the curved blade as a pointer, emphatically indicating the proud face of the warlord in the tapestry. “His glory is my glory!”

As abruptly as it had appeared, the burst of demonic energy faded. The old man’s shoulders slumped and he reached tiredly to restore the weapon to its sheath upon the wall.

Gazing into the distance, he said, in a much softer voice: “Blood is too precious a thing in these times. And the glories of my great race are as a tale that is told.”

Turning slowly, drained, saddened, no longer frightful, he approached Harker. He added: “I am the last of my kind.”

Harker bowed, somewhat stiffly following his shock. At least he was no longer having to struggle to stay awake. “I have offended you with my ignorance, Count. Forgive me.”

Dracula bowed in turn, accepting the apology. “Forgive me, my young friend. It is long since I have been accustomed to guests. And I am weary with many years of mourning over the dead.”

But already a relentless energy was driving back the appearance of age and weariness. A kind of smile returned to the count’s face.

“Your employer, Mr. Hawkins, writes most highly of your talents. Come, tell me more of the houses you have procured for me!”

Half an hour later, the conference between purchaser and agent had been adjourned to another well-lighted room, where a number of documents, including deeds and legal descriptions, had been set out on a broad table. Overlooking the table was a large-scale wall map of London and its vicinity; Harker had just finished pinning several photographs to this map, pictures showing some of the various properties Dracula had just purchased through his solicitors, and which were indicated on the map by red circles in ten locations.

Dracula, using an antique quill pen and a pot of ink, was just signing the last paper required of him.

As he did so he was saying: “I do so long to go through the crowded streets of your mighty London, to be in the midst of the whirl and rush of humanity, to share its life, its change—its death—”

On that final word he pushed the completed deed across to Harker, who folded it and applied a seal of hot wax.

“There. You, Count, are now the owner of the estate called Carfax, at Purfleet.”

Moving to the wall map, the young solicitor indicated one of the photographs he had just tacked up. This one showed an ancient house of stone.

Dracula nodded.

Harker turned back to the table, where some additional photographs, not yet mounted, lay mixed up with the other paperwork.

“I’ve also brought pictures of some of the other houses—forgive my curiosity, sir, but as your solicitor in London, it may be helpful for me to know—why purchase ten houses, distributed around the city? Is this some strategy of investment, intended to increase the market value of all the properties? Or—”

Dracula meanwhile had drawn closer to the table; and on happening to look down from the wall map, he saw something there, immediately before him, that froze him almost motionless.

A single spasmodic movement of his hand, involuntary reaction to tremendous shock, upset the inkpot, sending a great stain, reddish brown like drying blood, rushing across the table’s surface.

The count’s hand, pointy-nailed and abnormally hairy on the palm, moved much more swiftly than the spill, to rescue one object from the spreading ink and hold it up.

Harker, gazing into the man’s face, was astonished once again—it seemed to him for a moment that he was looking at a corpse. Such was the intensity of Dracula’s concentration upon the photograph now in his hand.

The count’s lips moved, and a whispering, altered voice came forth.

“The luckiest man who walks on this earth is one who finds—true love.” And now, at last, he raised his compelling blue eyes from the picture to gaze at Harker.

That young man, in some confusion over this latest turn of events, stared at the photograph in puzzlement, and then conducted a rapid search of his own inner pockets.

“Ah—I see you have found—Mina. I had thought she was lost, but somehow her picture must have got in among the other photographs. We are to be married, as soon as I return to England.”

Even as he uttered those last words Harker suddenly turned his head, squinting at the room’s open door, beyond which lay a dark hallway. For a moment it had seemed to the young man that he had heard, almost unimaginably faint, the rustle of feminine garments, the sound of women’s laughter.

But perhaps the sound had been only an illusion, a trick of wind, or of mice squealing and scampering in the old walls. Certainly Dracula gave no sign of being aware of any other presence. He set down Mina’s photo, carefully choosing a dry spot on the table.

Feeling the need to make conversation, Harker inquired: “Sir, are you married?”

The count was still staring at Mina’s picture, and the answer was slow in coming.

“I was… ages ago, it seems. Unfortunately she died.”

“I’m very sorry.”

“But perhaps she was fortunate. My life at its best is… misery.” Carefully picking up the photograph of Mina once again, he handed it over to Harker. “She will no doubt make a devoted wife.”

Harker, murmuring something awkward in the way of an acknowledgment, replaced the image where it belonged, deep in an inner pocket of his coat.

Dracula, briskly rubbing his hands together, was suddenly all business. “And now, my dear young friend, it would be good if you would write some letters. It will doubtless please your friends to know that you are well, and that you look forward to getting home to them.”

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred