On the Rocks
The castle was a great, echoing place for all the faded and decaying clutter of the ages scattered around its halls and galleries. Jonathan found it simultaneously fascinating and repellent. He had been deeply unnerved by the events of his journey here and the castle itself had hardly been comforting to a wary traveller far from home. However, it had at least been reassuring to find that his host was a civilised man. A little odd in some ways, particularly his nocturnal habits and propensity to talk overlong about his ancestors with an edge of the fanatic, but he was otherwise always polite – charming, even, on occasion.
Jonathan found the Count a difficult man to describe. He had, after two nights there – and he had already come to think in nights rather than days, as if the Count’s ways were catching – sat down and tried to do so in a letter to Mina, but had failed. Dracula seemed, in contrast to the mouldering medieval splendour of his home, a modern man. He was well-versed in many fields of study and able to engage Jonathan in conversation that often went beyond Jonathan’s more superficial understanding of the subject. At the same time, he was flatteringly happy to listen to Jonathan’s talk of England – of the place he hoped to visit. Jonathan was to arrange the details of leasing a property for him, Glebe House, in Whitby (coincidentally also where Mina’s dearest friend, Lucy, lived).
And yet, thought Jonathan. And yet… There was something that made him hesitate in declaring the Count to be a likeable fellow, for all his civility. One felt there were depths under that pleasant surface that might not bear being plumbed. And yet, thought Jonathan again, and yet one almost wanted to try, just out of curiosity, to see if it would explain the enigma of the man.
The Count also maintained that they were alone, but Jonathan often heard noises in the darkness that he could not ascribe to rats or mice, or even bats. It bothered him until he had to go and look, to venture outside of his rooms on his own at night, as he had been told not to. He dared to explore, as it seemed he always had been destined to – and there he found the three women, and terror and wonder that altered him forever. He knew the answer to all the castle’s mysteries, suddenly, and it was too large by far to sit inside his head. The only sure thing was that now he knew the Count indeed: he was his Master, and that was everything.
Jonathan longed for his Master’s favour now – the life that the Count had given them, Jonathan wanted for himself. Why would he not give him that? Why? Yet he could not argue with his Master, could not yet even beg, even when the craving was forever present in his heart and mind.
He eschewed all the food he had been eating before and chased insects, mice, or rats for sustenance. He wondered sometimes about larger beasts, but knew somewhere inside his mind that he was not ready. He must work his way there, life by life, until his Master would grant him that ability to take all the life he wanted from his fellows, not the lesser creatures of the earth.
The three women returned sometimes. Jonathan still found them unnerving. He understood now only too well their hunger for the life in his veins. It could have been an answer to his need, but he rejected that thought: it was his Master he wanted. He must be Master’s; he must belong to him in every way possible. Yet he had no resistance left against any of them. If the blonde woman met him on the stair, he would fall into a trance even as he tried to pull away. How could he do otherwise when he knew his Master breathed through her? If that were only him, he thought, sick with longing. If he had the strength, he could have dashed her against the stones of the castle in his dark envy, but so little had been left to him.
Then again, at times, the black girl might lure him deeper and deeper down into the depths of the castle, and then the last of the three might call him back again – a game between them since their Master forbade them anything more.
He is mine, Dracula had said to them, of Jonathan, and they still held back under that prohibition, but Jonathan could feel how easily they might slip over the line in obeying their nature. Sometimes he almost wished they would; it might be less than he wanted, but it would yet be a doorway into the strange new life that he craved.
Jonathan slept by day now and, when he did, he dreamed – sweet, dark dreams, such as he had never known. They left less and less room in his mind for any thought or memory of Mina. He had loved her, but what was she when compared to his Master? He groaned a little only to think of that name, of his Master’s power, the terror and the beauty of him. Mina, after all, was merely human.
When waking, Jonathan waited for Dracula’s call in his mind, straining in readiness to hear it and watching for his appearance, whether he arrived in his room by the door, or through the window in the form of a bat.
Only now and then did he awake more fully, as the people who had known him before might term it. Jonathan saw it now more as slipping back into his former dullness, in danger of losing the wonders he had seen here. When he did, however, something of the horror crept through his skin and encroached into his mind. At such times, he felt unsure he wanted to be changed – to die – and felt briefly the utter wretched loneliness of his position, so far away from Mina and everything he knew. Then the moment would pass and such thoughts would seem incomprehensible. There was no horror, there was no loneliness: he had found his Master and all he lacked now was that one last boon.
“I have work for you.”
Jonathan merely nodded obediently, always dazed and entranced in his Master’s presence. He wondered that it was possible that he could help this being, who was genuinely so high and mighty – so far above Jonathan. He thrilled to the idea of it, though. It wasn’t the favour he had been longing for, but if he must serve first before he received his reward, that would only make it all the sweeter when it came.
The Count gave a faint, old smile, as if he knew Jonathan’s thoughts and had been here before. As if there had been other servants, other favoured pets. Jonathan’s heart twisted a little in jealousy, but then the Count spoke again and drove even that from his weakened mind.
“You have already helped me greatly,” he said. “But you can do yet more – and you will.”
“Yes,” said Jonathan. “Oh, yes.” What else could he say?
The Count stretched out a hand towards Jonathan but stopped short of touching him. Instinctively, Jonathan leaned into it, his cheek against Dracula’s fingers, and his eyes closed momentarily in bliss.
“We are going on a journey,” said the Count. “We will travel to your country, and there you will assist me.”
“Master,” said Jonathan, acquiescing utterly. “I’ll do anything you say, I promise. Anything.”
Even to Jonathan, the sea voyage was one of fear. It had not been at first – he had revelled in the demonstration of his Master’s power in the fog that had wrapped itself around the ship, even as the crew members vanished one by one. Somewhere underneath his enchanted state, however, a human reaction still existed at such darkness and death: a chill at the back of his neck, a creeping of his flesh. Deep inside him, the fundamental need to snatch life back from death had not yet been entirely smothered, even if he couldn’t quite recognise or act upon it.
He could not, however, think of his Master as an evil, a monster, or as a source of death, rather than that other life and something in Jonathan’s mind begin to turn and crumble at the irreconcilable truths battling against each other within him. The body count turned him cold as nothing in the castle had. Even while he praised his Master still, a sliver of icy fear seemed to have stolen into his heart, as cold as the fog that embraced him everywhere on board.
That, though, was nothing to what happened next. The Count left them, the fog slowly clearing. He had gone. Gone, gone, gone. Jonathan had been abandoned on a ghost ship, cold and alone, and his Master was no longer with him. He could not bear it.
Jonathan felt something in his mind crack even as the ship itself did. He was alone, lost, set to drown here, and if he did, he would perish unbitten, unblessed and only fall down into the waiting bitter hell of the waves that lashed greedily against the rocks.
Jonathan screamed out, although he was barely aware of the fact. He hardly even registered his fall into the water, or his rescue from it. He knew only that he had been abandoned; that he was lost – a miserable, frozen and drowned rat of a creature. He hardly looked at the men, but he saw that up on the cliff above him there was a church. It was mocking him, underlining his loss in its representation of everything that stood against his Master. He shouldn’t have had the strength left, but he railed wildly at it, causing the men trouble to restrain him from capsizing the lifeboat, or falling headlong into the stormy sea. Jonathan was oblivious of them, focusing on the building as it flashed in and out of view. Whether that was his vision failing, or it being illuminated only momentarily by lightning or the clouds briefly revealing a moon, Jonathan was no longer in a state to say. It hated him, that was all he knew. He hated it in return.
They got him to the Infirmary and he also hated it there. It was too bright, too clean, at least on the surface. Somewhere, he could feel there were other servants of his Master – rats and pests. Yet he still could not sense the Count or hear his voice in his mind and it drove him to a frenzy. He attacked the doctor who tried to attend him, and threw anything they brought near him, frightening the nurses and the orderlies. It ended as it must, with temporary, merciful blackness brought on by their sickening drugs.
When he came round, dazed and weak but not much calmer, there was a different doctor there. Jonathan found him entirely uninteresting. What use were doctors? This one listened to his cries, but only asked, stupidly, “Who has gone?”
Jonathan wanted to laugh. What good was someone who didn’t even know the answer to that? He wanted to let go and scream and rage again, but the rest must have done him some good, for a small sense of self-preservation awakened in him and he did his best to answer until he grew too tired to speak again. He was groggy from their clumsy medicine and exhausted both from the voyage and continued lack of sustenance. When he closed his eyes, he only relived the terrible journey. In the face of that, what did one doctor or another matter?
Perhaps he should have paid attention after all, for when he recovered and managed to control himself a little, the orderly told him with some relish, that the other doctor hadn’t belonged to the hospital at all, but a far grimmer institution. He’d sort him out, he told him. It was only what he expected, shouting and screaming and attacking people and not even knowing his name. He’d be locked up, safe, as he ought to be.
Jonathan only closed his eyes again in response. He didn’t know his name, but he remembered his Master. His Master would come for him; he felt somehow sure of it again. He had told him there was work to do and he would not desert him on this strange shore.
When they came for him, Jonathan gave no further struggle: until his Master returned to claim him, as he soon would, he must give the others no cause to suspect; he must play with the humans as nicely as he could.
And then, he thought, in his new cell, looking to the barred window, then they would all pay. He laughed.
Dr Seward was used to being woken at odd hours. It was only to be expected when one was in charge of a lunatic asylum. He dragged himself out of sleep with a muffled grunt into the pillow, and then sat up. There was a knocking at the door, which didn’t seem about to cease, so he regretfully climbed out of bed and opened the door.
“There’s a message from the Infirmary,” Mrs Hoskins told him. “From Dr Marshall. He’s got a patient he wants you to see. It seems it’s an emergency, or I wouldn’t have disturbed you.”
Dr Seward put a hand to his head. “It sounds somewhat irregular. What time is it now, Mrs H?”
“Just gone nine o’clock,” she said, and, as he let slip a dismayed sound at the lateness of the hour, she added. “I know, sir, but since you had been up till three in the morning, I thought it best to leave you a little longer.”
He gave his housekeeper a reluctant smile; half-reproachful, half-grateful. “Yes, yes, I see. Thank you. I shall be down in only a few minutes more.”
“There’s tea waiting,” she said as she marched away down the corridor.
Dr Seward forced a quick smile and thanked her again, before closing his door and setting to work on getting washed and dressed as quickly as he could. Whatever was it Marshall wanted in such a hurry?
“You heard about the wreck last night?”
Dr Seward nodded, as he followed Dr Marshall down the hospital corridor. He had been busy at that time with a patient, so he hadn’t been able to join the crowd of townspeople but even if he hadn’t heard the storm, he could hardly have missed it, as it was inevitably the chief subject of conversation in Whitby this morning.
“Well, my man is the sole survivor. He’s in a state of some agitation and we don’t have all of your resources to restrain him. I’m not sure what the fellow might do next. We gave him a sedative, of course, but he’s growing restless again.”
Dr Seward turned with a slight frown. “But if the circumstances were as you describe – if he is the only survivor of last night’s wreck – that terrible storm – surely his distress and shock is understandable?”
“I am certain it goes deeper than that,” said Dr Marshall. “Fellow doesn’t even know his own name and he flew out wildly at us when we brought him here.”
Dr Seward gave a faint grunt, accepting that, but he couldn’t help feeling dubious. Such an horrific incident might induce odd behaviour in anyone and was hardly a reliable indicator of insanity. Dr Marshall should know better. He should observe the patient’s progress for the next day or so and only then try to have the poor chap committed to an asylum.
“Here we are,” said Dr Marshall, pausing outside the door of a private room. He glanced at Dr Seward. “You’ll be careful, won’t you, Seward?” he added before opening the door for him, and letting him go in first.
Dr Seward stepped inside, curious despite his irritability (no doubt primarily due to his own broken night). The patient was sleeping on the bed, white-haired, pale and thin, the hospital nightgown he’d been provided with seeming too large for him. He looked a pitiful sight.
The man stirred at Dr Seward’s arrival. He turned over. “He’s gone,” he said, his voice dry and cracked, probably from his wildness last night, if Marshall’s tale was true. “Gone! He was with us – but then he left. And now you see me – cast upon the waves, dashed against the rocks.”
“Who has gone?” Dr Seward asked, keeping his voice calm and conversational. He sat down on a nearby wooden chair.
The man ignored him, shifting his gaze back to stare at the wall opposite, even though there was nothing there, only painted bricks in a typical institutional green shade. “Better that than to live on like this, perhaps.” He pulled himself up, weak though he was and looked at Dr Seward. “What do you think?” Then the light died out of his eyes and he sagged back into the pillows. “No, no, you shan’t know any of it. Too great a matter for you.”
Dr Seward was beginning to see what Marshall had meant. It was hard yet to put a finger on why precisely, but something about this stranger and his words and manner made his skin crawl. He forced himself to ignore such unkind and unprofessional thoughts, and persisted in his questioning. “What happened to the others? The crew, I should say.”
“Gone,” he said, and then directed a sideways glance at Dr Seward. “All of them. Dead. One by one. Only I was left. I am special – favoured –”
Dr Marshall, standing by the door, now moved forward. “How did they die? We have retrieved only two bodies, but they seem to have been dead before the wreck – they were not drowned at least.”
The man took no note of Dr Marshall whatsoever, staring now at the ceiling and shivering.
“How did they die?” said Dr Seward.
The man laughed until his hysteria turned to dry sobs. “He did it. Who else could? No one else has the power he has.”
Dr Seward was used to dealing with all manner of things from his patients in the asylum, and had faced one or two who might even be termed dangerous (although most, poor souls, must be restrained for their own sake above anyone else’s), but he found himself nevertheless recoiling in horror from the weakened wretch in front of him. Did he mean himself, when he talked of ‘him’? Such things had been known. Could he have killed the rest of the crew?
“Good God,” Dr Seward said under his breath, before he caught himself slipping into such unscientific lines of thought and gave himself a brief shake.
The man merely continued to weep, and such dark thoughts seemed entirely ridiculous again. Dr Seward shook himself.
“He’s badly undernourished, too,” said Dr Marshall, lowering his voice. “I’ll put together a recommended diet for him. Goodness knows what he’s been existing on for the past few weeks.”
“Rats,” murmured the patient, as if in answer. He sat up again, and this time was eerily civil. “Only rats as yet, but one has to start somewhere. Wouldn’t you agree, gentlemen?” Then his face twisted into a sneer that hardly seemed natural to it. “Doctors, I mean; doctors, not gentlemen.”
Dr Seward rose from his seat and followed Dr Marshall out of the room. “I see what you mean,” he murmured. “I shall see what can be done – I’ll have a word with the Board. I think, though, it would be better if you approached the magistrate on this occasion. I believe the wretched fellow thinks I’m out to line my pockets any time I make a committal.”
“Yes, yes, as long as we can put him somewhere he won’t do any more damage to anyone,” said Dr Marshall, with unprofessional relief he couldn’t keep from showing. “I know I shouldn’t say such things – but I wish you joy of the devil, Seward!”
Dr Seward raised an eyebrow. “No, you shouldn’t,” he agreed, but not without humour. He had to admit, he found he was wondering himself just what had been washed in on the tide and what would come of it.
They called the man 34, after his room number, there being little else by which to identify him. He was a decidedly odd case, but less trouble than had seemed probable in that initial meeting. He often slept more in the day than in the night and had an unappealing habit of using his food to lure in flies, which he would then at times eat. Since it was difficult to get him to eat sufficient of what they gave him, Dr Seward allowed him to have what he asked for. If he was permitted meat or sugar as bait from time to time, he would at least make an effort to eat more of his bread or his gruel in return.
The first time Dr Seward had been alerted to these practices, he had watched 34 closely, first from outside and then from inside the cell. Eventually, he asked him why – was there something wrong with the food that the institution provided? They could, Dr Seward had told him, try to get him something else if he particularly wished, at least once in a while.
The man had merely laughed. “It’s dead,” he said, poking at a remaining bread crust with his finger. He was sitting on his bed and sounding almost sane for once. “All of it, you see. Dead, dry, nothingness. My little friends are alive. And they know – they know –” He stopped short, and gave a sudden leer. “Life, that is what is lacking, doctor. Do you have someone you would volunteer as a substitute?”
“No, I do not,” said Dr Seward, failing to keep his tone neutral in his disgust. “You, I am persuaded, could not truly wish for that, either.”
34’s face closed in. “No, you don’t understand. I thought for a moment you might.” Then he became unpleasantly civil again; it was too thin a veneer, Dr Seward felt, to be genuine: “Thank you for your concern, doctor, but I do very well with what you provide. Why should I complain?”
It was difficult after that to get 34 to even admit to his odd dietary habits, or to return to his talk about consuming life, and what he had meant by that. Sometimes Dr Seward found his mind turning to unhelpful, sensationalist thoughts that were not his wont: was the man a cannibal? Could he have killed and eaten, or tried to eat, some of the lost crew?
The man was still so thin and weak, however, that such an idea was a mere nonsense. A man who had been devouring human flesh would hardly be in such a pitiful state. Dr Seward put a hand up and rubbed his temple to ward off an impending headache. He must keep to the facts and not indulge in the worst sort of superstitions that others held about the poor souls in his care or he would never be able to help his patient.
Dr Seward’s methods and questions had as yet brought back nothing of 34’s history. The man had on two or three occasions now recalled a fleeting impression of his past, but nothing that could identify him. Yesterday, however, he had seemed a little clearer and had mentioned a woman in a blue dress, before he had recanted and denied all knowledge of such an association.
Dr Seward meant to try again today, although he was later than he had intended, a thought that caused him to glance at his watch, giving a slight mutter of annoyance on finding that it was almost seven already. He had been detained by a tiresome meeting with a sceptical member of the Board, who wanted to question him over the number of inmates and whether or not they all needed to be there, expenditure that he wanted to see decreased, and other equally trying issues.
34 was sitting on his bunk, his half-eaten food in the corner, probably still gathering flies. Dr Seward bit back a sigh, and then crossed to repeat yesterday’s line of questioning. “I think,” he said, after a relatively civil and calm conversation, “that you mentioned a lady. Someone you were fond of perhaps? She wore blue.” When 34 said nothing, he probed a little. “Could she be mother – sister – wife?”
34 looked up and Dr Seward thought for a moment that he was going to get an answer, when the man launched himself at him. He was surprisingly strong for someone who had been so ill-fed and taken so little care of himself, despite the best efforts of the orderlies at the asylum, Dr Marshall’s dietary recommendations, and Dr Seward’s good intentions.
Dr Seward had the breath knocked out of him as he hit the ground, taken aback by the man’s fury; so unlike anything they had seen since his arrival. He was also hampered by a wish not to hurt the fellow if he could help it, but he had his work cut out merely trying to keep 34 from further violence. The patient was suddenly pulled back and Dr Seward hastily scrabbled to his feet, gathering up his notes from where they had fallen, to find that Jenkins had entered the room.
“Heard the shouting, doctor,” the attendant said. “I was just going to see to 36.” He then had to pause, as 34 was struggling again wildly.
It took three of them to subdue him and get him into a straight-jacket and he was wild all night. Dr Seward was at a loss to account for the sudden change. 34 had shown no obvious signs of distress at his questioning, and his only previous acts of violence had been at the hospital when he had been newly brought in from the wreck and no doubt in shock from the terrible experience.
The next day, Dr Seward intended to cautiously attempt to try and find some explanation of the man’s behaviour, but 34 seemed exhausted by his nocturnal outburst and spent most of the day drowsing, barely even waking for meals. And in the evening, as the first hints of dusk began to creep in, he changed again, needed to be restrained once more. It was baffling and disturbing.
“What is troubling you?” he asked a still weary 34 on the following day. “A bad dream perhaps?”
34 said nothing.
“Is it someone here? Or something?”
34 roused himself to reply. “No, no. It is nothing – a lapse. I’m well again now, doctor. It won’t happen again. You’ll let me out, won’t you? That’s all I need – a walk out in the cool evening air. I expect it was the hot weather, doctor. Only let me out for a little to see the sunset and I shall be no trouble at all. To feel the breeze on my face – you wouldn’t deny me that, not for one small lapse?”
Dr Seward found it hard to entirely bury a certain sense of disgust for the man, misplaced as such emotion was. It was odd, for he rarely felt so towards any of his other patients. He coughed and shook himself. “I’ll see,” he said. “If you’re still feeling better in the morning, I don’t see why not – as long as you are calm tonight.”
“No, no – now!” said 34. He moved forward and caught at Dr Seward’s sleeve. “He’s out there – waiting. Let me go – let me go to him!”
Dr Seward would have liked to ask who, but it was clear that it was time to make sure the fellow was safely restrained before he tried to knock anyone about again. “Ask me in the morning, and we shall see,” he said, heading for the door.
“Oh, in the morning,” said 34. “If, perhaps – your words mean nothing!” Even as Dr Seward slipped out through the door, he heard something hit it, the plate probably, judging from the noise as it struck the metal. And, after that, to his unwilling pity, the soft, sorry sounds of the man sobbing.
Dr Seward made up his mind: he must write to Professor Van Helsing about 34. The fellow’s behaviour was inexplicable and rapidly deteriorating – and if there was anyone who might have a hope of getting through to him, it was Van Helsing.
Lucy Weston walked along the path by the church on the East Cliff, heading towards the family vault, heedless of the growing lateness of the hour until the rapidly fading light reminded her that she had promised her mother she would be home before dusk. Oh dear, she thought, for even with the coachman waiting below it would take her a little while to descend the steps and cross town back to the West Cliff.
“Not a recent loss, I trust?”
Lucy started at the sudden approach of a stranger behind her, and turned, clutching her hand to her chest. “Oh! No, no. You must forgive me, sir. I didn’t see you there.”
“No, indeed,” he said with a smile. “It is I who must beg your forgiveness for disturbing you.”
Lucy watched him surreptitiously. He was not young, but then again, he was not especially old; neither tall nor short, and he had an odd accent and wore a cloak that made him look more in keeping with the ruins of the Abbey behind them than the Whitby Lucy knew.
“I do trust, however,” he continued, “that I have done no harm – and have not offended you?”
Lucy should perhaps have made an effort to end the conversation, for he was a stranger and they were alone here, but she was curious, and she hated to be unfriendly. “Of course not, sir. And the loss is not recent – although my mother and I still miss Father greatly. However, I am afraid I have stayed here too long – you must excuse me.”
He gave an odd, formal little bow. “Of course, Miss Weston.”
Lucy shot a surprised look at him, unable to work out how he could know her name, and worried for the first time.
“Forgive me,” he said again, with a brief, more apologetic smile and gestured towards the fault. “You said your father and I see the name written there – is that not how it is said?”
Lucy gave a laugh. “Oh! Oh, of course. How silly of me.”
“And since I know your name,” he said, “it is only fair that you should know to whom you are speaking. I am Count Dracula. I should not have approached you – I have contravened your English rules of etiquette, I fear, but I am new to this town and I could not pass up the opportunity to make such a delightful acquaintance.”
Lucy gave another smile, but she could not stay in conversation here. A foreign count, though was indeed a considerable novelty in the North Riding and would, she thought, be something of note to tell Mina in her next letter. “Thank you, sir,” she said, “but I really must return home now.”
With that, she hurried back down the many low steps to the town. Halfway down, she paused to wonder if she had been indiscreet, and she glanced back upwards, but to her relief, the Count had not followed her.
The next evening, Count Dracula arrived unexpectedly at the Westons’ house. He had found, he told Mrs Perkins, that after Miss Weston had left him in the graveyard, that she had dropped an earring behind her. He apologised that he had not returned it sooner, but his health did not permit him to move about freely in daylight and it had taken him a little while to discover where Mrs and Miss Weston might live.
Lucy’s mother had invited him in – it was too uncivil to keep the poor gentleman out in the hallway when he had been so kind.
“Thank you,” said Lucy, hurrying over as soon as he walked in through the door. “I had no idea where I had lost it – I thought I should not see it again, and it was my grandmother’s. I am in your debt, Count!”
The Count gave a faint smile and held out his gloved hand, the tear-drop shaped pearl earring resting in his palm. “Oh, no, no,” he murmured. “I think not, Miss Weston.”
Lucy took the earring from him, her mouth going dry. She couldn’t explain it, but there was something about the Count that confused her, as if some charge had passed between them at the touch, even through the fine leather. She laughed a little to cover her nervousness and stepped backwards, glancing downward. She had been feeling rather neglected of late – first her dearest friend Mina had gone away to marry Jonathan Harker, and while that had been in part compensated for by Lucy’s own engagement to John Seward, now her fiancé seemed inclined to ignore her in favour of one of his more difficult patients. It was a noble calling, she knew, to want to care for such people, but sometimes she wished John was not quite so devoted to his work.
The Count’s smile grew and he gave her a small, old-fashioned bow.
“As I said,” she told him, raising her head again and hoping she sounded as usual, although she feared she was betraying a certain breathlessness, “I really am most grateful to you, Count.”
He watched her, still looking amused. “The pleasure is all mine, I assure you, Miss Weston.”
Lucy found herself unwilling to move or look away from him. It wasn’t a very comfortable feeling, even if it also intrigued her. The moment was soon broken, however, as Mrs Perkins ushered Dr Seward in.
“John!” Lucy said, and flew to him, catching at his hands in sudden relief at his timely advent. She felt immediately guilty to see the surprised pleasure in his face at her enthusiasm. “It seems far too long since we saw you. I do wish they could spare you more often from the asylum.”
“It was only the other day I was last here,” John reminded her, but he was still smiling at her.
The Count gave a polite cough.
“Oh, John,” said Mrs Weston, “we have an unexpected guest. Count, this is Dr Seward, who is engaged to be married to my daughter. John, Count Dracula is visiting the town from – where did you say it was again, Count?”
The Count gave Dr Seward a nod and fractional bow in greeting. “Transylvania, dear lady. It is a pleasure to meet you, Dr Seward. I hope you will permit me to say that I think you are a very lucky man in your fiancée?”
The words were unremarkable and civil in themselves, but there was something almost condescending in the Count’s manner and tone – dismissive, perhaps. Lucy supposed that someone as aristocratic as the Count might perhaps turn up his nose at a provincial doctor. She felt, however, as if he had taken something from them with it, or tarnished it perhaps – and then she shook herself, feeling instead angry on John’s behalf. She tightened her hold on her fiancé’s arm.
“Er-hm, yes,” John muttered, shifting his stance awkwardly, evidently also sensing the implied slight. “Glad to have made your acquaintance, Count. Will you be staying long in Whitby?”
“I am not yet sure – but some time, I hope. I have business to attend to here and have taken a house. Glebe House, I believe it is called. Perhaps you know it?”
John could not conceal some annoyance, at least not from Lucy, who knew him well. “Yes, I know it,” he said. “It is very close to the asylum where I work.”
“Ah, yes,” said the Count. “An estimable institution, I am sure. I hope you will allow me to call sometime, Dr Seward. I take an interest in such things – purely as an amateur, of course, but I flatter myself I am well-informed on the subject.”
John nodded. “Of course, if you wish,” he said, his hands behind his back.
The Count made his excuses at that point and would not stay longer, even though Mrs Weston pressed him. She escorted him out into the hallway, however, giving Lucy a moment alone with John.
John took her hand and would perhaps have kissed her cheek, but Lucy pulled away.
“I wish you would come more often,” she said. “After all, the other day you were merely here to see Mother and hardly stayed any time at all.”
“I’m sorry. I’m afraid I have been rather distracted of late.”
Lucy gave a laugh. “Yes, by all your horrid patients! It isn’t very flattering, you know.”
“You must forgive me,” he said, stiffening rather than unbending at her teasing. “One of my patients has been particularly bad of late and I am at a loss to understand why.”
Lucy was instantly remorseful, catching at his hand and ushering him over to the nearest chair. “Oh, dear. Poor John! And you have been working too hard, worrying over him. Is it 32 again?”
“34,” he said and then looked uncomfortable. “But you mustn’t trouble yourself with him, poor fellow.”
Lucy kissed his head. “But if you will worry, then I must, since it is my business to be concerned about you now.”
“Lucy,” he protested, but not with any conviction, even before he laughed and squeezed her hand.
They were interrupted by her mother’s return, and the talk moved onto other things, but Lucy couldn’t help feeling her spirits dampened by the idea of constantly having to worry by proxy about an institution full of such pitiful and alarming souls – and no doubt becoming inured to the smell of carbolic soap and worse. She let her mind turn instead to the Count, whose title conjured up a storybook idea in her mind of elaborate foreign palaces where all the nobility met on grand occasions, or perhaps ruined, Gothic castles full of mystery and darkness. Certainly, there was no carbolic soap involved whatsoever.
Such disloyal thoughts were shameful, however, as Lucy told herself the next morning. She determined to do better, and in a fit of enthusiasm for her self-improvement, called on John at the asylum itself. She was rewarded, inevitably, by John being not available. Left alone in the drawing room by Mrs Hoskins, she sat there for nearly three minutes, before she decided she would explore the place for herself.
The attendants knew who she was and let her alone when she told any of them she encountered that Dr Seward had said it was quite all right. He would be pleased she was taking an interest in his work, she reasoned, so it was not truly a fib. She thought that Mina would disagree, but walked on down the corridor anyway. It smelt not of carbolic soap but of cabbage, and it was painted a relentless institutional green.
She should, of course, only have tried to find John, or perhaps to visit some poor soul who would benefit from conversation, but having begun this, a spirit of adventure took hold of her. After all, she could do no harm in merely looking, and she felt sure that John could not be angry with her for long, if he was at all. So, she made her way down into the lower reaches of the asylum, finding at the end of the long corridor, rooms that were more like cells.
Lucy found herself holding her breath, not having expected it would be quite like this, and walked along more cautiously, until a sound from beside her made her turn and she realised to her shock that someone was watching her from the other side of the secure door, peeking through an eyehole.
“I’m thirsty,” a voice said. “Tell them I want some water.”
Lucy put her hand to her mouth, but then stepped forwards. It must be John’s pet patient, she began to realise, the one who kept stealing him away from her. She swallowed, her throat dry suddenly.
“I don’t know where everyone is,” she said, “but I shall find someone and tell them, I promise.”
The sound of movement on the other side of the door ceased and the eye pressed nearer against the hole. “You’ve seen him,” he said, a tingle half of wonder, half of envy colouring his voice – and there was almost something oddly familiar about that voice, although Lucy could not imagine how that should be. “I can feel it. He spoke to you – touched you. He wants to favour you.”
“I don’t understand.” Lucy took an involuntary step back, wishing now that she had stayed in the drawing room as Mrs Hoskins had instructed her.
The madman was smiling; she could hear it when he spoke. “It will all become clear – you’ll see. You’ll be one of us – one of his!”
Lucy thudded back into the wall opposite in her alarm. He was mad, she told herself to try and stop the rising panic. Of course he would say strange things that made no sense – what else should one expect? But he was still laughing on the other side and she felt a sudden, deep fear that his words were a curse or a prophecy that must come true; that she would spend too much time in this place and become as mad as its other inmates. She gave a sharp cry and tore herself away, back down the corridor, heedless of what anyone might say; almost in tears at the idea. She would not be a lunatic – she would not!
She came to a halt before she reached the end of the corridor, catching her breath and her reason again; her heart still thudding violently. She glanced about her, hoping no one else had seen, but she was alone. She let out a breath in relief, and her cheeks grew warm with embarrassment at her folly.
Back upstairs, she rang for Mrs Hoskins and told her, somewhat incoherently, that she was very sorry, but she found she could not wait after all.
There was something at her window that night, disturbing her sleep, which had already been broken by dreams of the unseen lunatic and his horrid words. Lucy lay awake and shivered. And she wondered, in the darkness, how she could ever face John again.
Since John called to see her mother the very next morning, it turned out to be not as impossible as she had feared. As soon as she saw him, everything felt quite rational and normal again, and she was ready to laugh at her fears of the night. It was a professional visit, but he had clearly been concerned by her message left at the asylum on the previous day.
“How is Mother?” she asked him, as he left her mother’s room and he turned, seemingly grateful for the opening.
He took her hand. “She is doing well. You know, however, that it is serious? I am sorry, Lucy.”
“Yes,” she said. He hadn’t told her as plainly before and she had hoped it was otherwise, but she could not be surprised. The gravity of his expression when he attended her mother was too obvious to miss, even when he tried to mask it. “But you will do everything you can, I know.”
“Naturally,” he said, taking both of her hands now in his earnestness. “There is little anyone can do, I fear – but you will be able to help. Make sure she rests as much as she can and is kept easy in her mind. Above all, she must not be excited by anything.”
Lucy nodded, blinking away tears, turning her face away a little in an attempt to prevent him from seeing her moment of distress. She removed her hands from his. She would do everything she could for her mother and not begrudge any of it, of course, but suddenly it suffocated her – being caught between an elderly, ailing mother and a future tied to an insane asylum. Then she shook herself again, chasing away such selfish thoughts.
“I shall do my best,” said Lucy. “And Perks watches over Mother like a fierce mother hen, so she will have everything she wants. Oh, and I have invited Mina to visit us – Mina will help! She is always so sensible and kind, and Mother is very fond of her, almost as much as I am.”
John gave a smile. “That will be a good thing. Although,” he said, a faint shadow crossing his face, “I take it that there is still no news of Mr Harker?”
“No,” said Lucy, shaking her head, seeing his concern mirroring hers, and closing the gap between them again. “Isn’t it dreadful? Poor Mina! She is as brave and cheerful as she can be in her letters, but I know she feels it terribly. I wish we could offer her more entertainment when she arrives, but then, we have always contrived to keep ourselves amused.”
“I know you will cheer her,” he said.
Lucy moved forward and caught at his arm, stretching up to kiss him on the cheek. “Thank you. Oh, I do wish, though –” She hesitated and looked at him. “Is it very selfish of me to wish we could go out a little more often?”
“No, only natural,” he said, and his forehead creased again in worry. “I am sorry, Lucy, but your mother –”
Lucy nodded again. “Oh, yes. Do not think for a moment that I –”
“Well,” said John suddenly, breaking into her sentence, as if for once his thoughts had been elsewhere. “It would not be much – but I could give a small dinner party for you.”
Lucy brightened immediately. “Oh, yes, do!” she said, and then laughed. “At the asylum?”
“Yes,” he said, laughing a little himself. “I’ll send an invitation round as soon as I return home.”
Lucy squeezed his arm before she released him. “If you do, I am sure we shall accept. Oh, and John, you must invite the Count! He knows nobody else here, and Mother and I can hardly be company for him.”
“That fellow?” said John. “I mean to say – I could, if you like.”
“I think it would be kind,” Lucy said, affecting to be stern. “Poor Count! I think that he has little to amuse him, and he was terribly interested in the asylum.”
John had not moved, but he was suddenly more remote somehow. “Of course, since you put it like that, I shall, but – well – what do you know of the fellow, Lucy?”
“Very little, I suppose,” she said. “But if you invite him to dinner you may question him all you wish. It cannot do any harm – after all, should he prove dangerous, you can call on all your attendants and have him locked away!”
“Lucy!” he said, but could not keep back some amusement at her teasing, but also added, grudgingly, “I don’t know what you see in the fellow, though.”
Lucy had to glance down to hide a sudden, almost uncharacteristic feeling of triumph. Why, she thought, John was jealous! It was nothing to be proud of and quite ridiculous in any case, but it was a new, exciting feeling; the thought of the two of them, vying for her. As was the thought of the Count and all the unknowns he represented. Lucy gave a slight shiver.
“I must go,” John said, cutting into her thoughts. “I shan’t forget to send the invitation.”
Lucy looked up again, the moment having passed and leaving her ashamed at herself. How selfish and unkind she was growing to be! It was as well that Mina was coming to stay, for Mina would be sure to set Lucy right again; she always did.
John bent in to kiss her briefly in farewell; the polite, chaste kiss of a gentleman. Lucy felt almost disappointed, vaguely wishing for something more. Her thoughts strayed again, as she wondered what it would be like to deal with someone who would take advantage of one?
She shut the door behind John and leant against it and felt a tremor of fear and anticipation pass through her, as if somehow, soon, she was going to find out the answer to that question.
Mina had packed her trunk and was now ready to leave in the morning. It would be good to see Lucy again, she thought as she readied herself for bed. She had been far too much alone here, left waiting for news of Jonathan. Lucy would cheer her as no one else could. Even to think of her friend caused Mina to smile for the first time that evening.
There was one thing that she had been trying to avoid addressing all day, as she had closed up the house and folded clothes, and packed all the necessary items into her trunk. It was this lurking conviction: if Mina believed that there was a chance that Jonathan would walk in through the door any day now, she would wait here forever.
So, if she was going away, then she had at least in some sense accepted that he had truly gone – that something terrible must have happened to keep him from her for so long. It made her a traitor who had given up on him in her heart, and she didn’t know what to do with such an alien feeling.
She hadn’t, not truly, she tried to tell herself as she lay down in the bed and pulled the covers over her. She’d tried to be as strong as she could and she would not yet give Jonathan up for dead, but she had to admit that she feared now, wherever he was, he was lost to her. Mina turned over, facing away from her cases, and wept into her pillow, alone.
Van Helsing studied John’s letter with interest. A fascinating case, he thought. Of course he must go. Closer observation would no doubt prove most informative. This odd habit that John described, for instance, of his patient for eating insects – a wish to devour life, as he had expressed it. Zoophagus, one might say.
It also reminded Van Helsing in certain details of some of his more esoteric studies. No doubt he had been letting himself grow too obsessed with such subjects; he must not assume that it could be so. But, just in case, he added two more leather-bound volumes to his case and dug out a folder full of papers to join them.
Yes, he thought, it all sounded quite fascinating. He was looking forward to studying this mysterious patient of John’s. Poor fellow, he added more absently, as an afterthought. All being well, he might even be able to help him, but if not, at least the poor man would add a little to the sum of human knowledge.