Both Karl Ivanovich and the village headman were not present at breakfast. They left together for the village, Karl Ivanovich to resume his work in the archive and the headman to fetch the key to the castle from the church’s treasury.
Since Harry and his friends were going to use a different road from the one usually taken by the village folk, they arranged to meet up with the headsman at the castle gates.
Though the castle was very close to the Hunting Lodge, almost hovering above it, there was no direct path linking them across the valley, and the forbidding rock on which the castle was built was almost impossible to climb.
Harry and his guests had to walk through a forest from the opposite side to the village, but the incline was so mild, it was barely noticeable. As soon as they passed through the low bushes that skirted the ancient forest, they came face to face with the massive walls of the castle.
The colossal grey blocks, without any adornment or battlements looked unwelcoming.
Around the corner, the visitors saw the enormous oak gates, reinforced with thick metal bands. Both the gates and a small door nearby were locked and sealed.
Everyone settled in for a short wait.
Soon the headman was spotted coming up the road, walking fast. The road leading from the village was much shorter but less comfortable and hardly ever used.
Harry gave a sign and the headman took off the locks and forced the creaking side gate open.
Everyone filled behind him into the courtyard.
Long time ago the yard was paved, but now the weeds grew everywhere, every corner was filled with heaps of rubbish blown in by the wind, leaves floated in the puddles left by yesterday’s rain completing the picture of total neglect.
The garden was in an even worse state. Everything was overgrown and chocked with weeds. The paths and alleyways disappeared completely and there was no longer even a hint of any flowerbeds. Ponds became rubbish dumps.
The garden terraces were in a much better state.
One of them, on the very edge of a cliff, offered a breathtaking view of the valley bellow, the blue waters of the lake in the far distance, and, on the right, the gleaming white column of the village bell tower. The clear evening air carried a faint sound of the church bells.
“Don’t you think this terrace is identical to the one described in the letters to Alf?” asked James Watt, the young hunter who had arrived with Harry from America. Despite his impressionable character and overflowing energy, he was also serious far beyond his years and loved to get to the bottom of things. He was the most attentive of all of Karl Ivanovich’s listeners.
“Look. Here’s a cliff and a pile of rocks. Right next to it would have been the famous wall of creeping hops...This is of course the Western side, you could see the sunset, and if we look closely, we should find the guardhouse of the “Red Eyed American”, he continued.
“Damn it, Jamie, I think you are right”, exclaimed Harry “if you find the infamous guardhouse then the mystery is solved and we’ve found the place of action. Bravo, Sherlock Holmes!”
Everyone started searching, pushing aside the overgrown branches, but nothing was found. While Harry and his guests were looking for the guardhouse, the village headman and the locksmith were busy with the castle doors. Finally, the old man straightened and called out:
“The doors are open, please come in, gentlemen”.
As soon as the beautiful front doors of dark oak swung open, a gust of wind rushed into the hallway, rising up a cloud of decades-old dust, enveloping everything and everyone in a grey shroud.
The guests who came in from a bright light could see nothing and hurried into the next room.
Harry motioned for the windows to be opened and the situation repeated itself, with bright sunlight, the wind entered the room and a thick cloak of stirred dust rose again.
“It feels like a grey robe of a ghost” shuddered Georges.
The servants shut the window once again and Harry decided not to repeat the experiment, forcing the guests to explore the rooms in semidarkness.
Many of the windows were made of stained glass, and those that were not, were so dusty and dirty that very little light could pass through them. Most of the furniture was covered with protective sheets. Nothing seemed out of place, everything was stacked and packed away with care. It appeared that the previous inhabitants had left the castle calmly and not fled like they did in the Hunting Lodge.
Most of the many rooms on the first floor were single bedrooms reserved for guests, their furniture was plain and uninteresting, and the guests explored them quickly on the way to the staircase.
The second floor appeared to have been abandoned much later than the first. There were many everyday objects left lying around or scattered on the floor, as if forgotten by their owners.
A ridding crop, an open book and a pair of gloves were left on a table, and close to it, on the floor was a blue silk ribbon.
Ever curious, James picked up the book and read aloud the title:
“It is Latin. “History of the Lamias and other bloodeaters”. Harry, once the castle is officially yours, would you mind if I borrow this book?”
“Of course, Jamie. You could keep the book then”
“Look Harry, a smashed mirror”, said James, pointing to the dark frame of polished wood.
Guests passed through several rooms, finally arriving at a large hall whose walls were lined with family portraits.
Harry and James were in the next room, away from the rest.
“Look Harry. This door obviously leads to a balcony, so in the next room you would have found the infamous portrait of the old man. Of course, its place should be empty now”
Doctor Weiss overheard James from the next room and laughed:
“Enough, you botched sleuth, no matter how hard you try to find it, there is no empty space on the wall. Just look at that gorgeous girl over there. Does she look anything like the infamous “Horrid Portrait?” Think logically, if this is the castle described in the letters then how did the letters get here? Was the author mailing them to himself?”
James refused to give up:
“But the castle was built on a mountain and the locals tell many odd tales about it”
Doctor cut him off:
“There are many castles atop mountains and even more odd tales about them”
While arguing, James and Doctor came up the portrait that Doctor had called a “gorgeous girl”. For once, they both had to agree on something. She was slender with delicate complexion and luminous black eyes. Her dark hair was swept up from her brow and covered with a pearl net that was tucked under a high tortoiseshell comb. The carved edge of the pearl encrusted comb rose behind her wavy hair like a crown. She wore a white silk dress, embroidered with silver thread in the style fashionable in the court of Catherine de Medici. The close fitting bodice clung to her slim waist and a starched lace collar, adorned with real gems framed her beautiful neck. She held a bouquet of red roses.
There was another matching portrait of a young man opposite hers. Blond and well dressed he seemed to be admiring and adoring his beautiful companion from his picture frame.
“Lovely. A beautiful couple” approved Doctor “but we better hurry, the guests are waiting for us”
Everybody gathered in front of colossal double doors.
Made of solid iron, the massive doors were covered in delicate gilded bas-relief that gave them strangely light appearance. Judging from the two large crosses that decorated each side, the doors led to a chapel. A small wreath of tiny dried flowers hung on the door handle, and it crumbled to dust at the first touch, before anyone could tell what the flowers were.
Despite the best efforts, the doors refused to budge and upon a closer inspection, it was revealed that both the lock and the doorframe were filled with some kind of molten metal.
The guests moved on.
Most of the third floor was occupied by the servant’s quarters and a long narrow staircase led from there directly into the garden.
The eastern half of the gardens was as neglected as the western. The guests made their way to the very end where the castle rock rose at an angle forming a natural overhang that was completely covered with creeping plants as if hung with a drape.
James spotted a pair of dark columns between the leaves. The plants were pulled aside revealing a little Greek temple with columns of dark porphyry and a small frieze. There was no door and several wobbly and crumbling steps led to a niche with a beautiful statue of a goddess.
Doctor, the lover of art, at the risk of breaking his neck, climbed up the ruined steps and begun to examine the statue:
“Beautiful marble. Italian craftsmanship...wait, here’s an inscription....”May your body find peace, while your restless spirit....”
Doctor cried out as he tumbled down the stairs. While trying to decipher the badly worn letters, he absentmindedly leaned against the statue which toppled instantly as if waiting to do so for years and stuck Smith on the head before breaking into several pieces.
Only the beautiful head rolled away on the moss, undamaged.
Smith got up, swearing and kicked it.
Angry at his outburst, Harry ordered Smith to carry the statue’s head with him to the Hunting Lodge.
Quietly Smith passed the order to one of the workers.
Poor Doctor was teased and mocked without mercy.
He knew very well from the past experience that it will be a long time before the jokes stop and decided to restore his standing somewhat by finishing the rest of the inscription that had cost him so many bruises.
He climbed the stairs once more and, leaning over the pedestal, triumphantly announced:
“Let’s see who is laughing now. I’ve uncovered a secret. The pedestal is hollow. It has a trapdoor with a ring attached. Remember, Harry, a third of any treasure found is mine. Let’s see you laugh, gentlemen, when I get a sack of gold or a handful of diamonds!” he laughed.
Two workers easily lifted the trapdoor.
“It is an underground chamber”, reported Doctor to the men gathered bellow “Pass me a rope. I will lower Joe down first and he can tell us if the stairs are still sound”
“What’s the matter? Afraid of some bruises? “, yelled someone from bellow, but the rope was nonetheless passed.
Joe, Doctor’s young and agile assistant tied the rope around his waist and began his descent down the steps.
“The steps are in excellent condition”, reported Joe “the room is large, but very dark and I cannot see very well. Hold on, I think I have some matches...” he continued.
A second later, he screamed and in one single leap not only flew up the stairs but jumped back into the garden.
He was pale and his lips were trembling. He was assailed with questions:
“What’s the matter? What’s down there?”
“I am not going back there. There is a corpse”.
“What corpse, coward, explain properly” scolded Doctor
“Doctor, Sir, I am explaining myself properly, there is a corpse. How many times have I seen a human skull before?”
“I though so. A skeleton and not a corpse, you fool. Tell me one thing, are the steps sound?”
“Very sound Sir, they will support not only you but an elephant as well”.
“Shut up now” grumbled Doctor, and huffing, and puffing began to descent narrow steps.
Everyone grew silent. Tension mounted.
Finally Harry couldn’t take it any longer and, getting up the stairs shouted down the dark opening:
“Are you alive, Doc?”
“Of course. I’ll come up and tell you in a minute”.
A few minutes later, he emerged from the trapdoor and Harry helped him down.
“Order for the door to be closed again, there is nothing remarkable down there, no gold or diamonds and I give up my rights to the third of the find in favour of the local cemetery”, he said pulling out a cigar and lighting it with deliberate slowness.
The youngsters could not contain their curiosity:
“What is down there?”
“Is there a skeleton?”
“Where is it?”
Doctor started puffing on his cigar:
“You lot can wait. You are too quick to mock your elders, and I bet none of you would have had the guts to go there alone”, grumbled Doctor.
“We solemnly swear never to laugh at you again. You can fall down as many times as you like, you proved your valour once and for all,” laughed the youths.
“All right”, Doctor said, finally satisfied “there is a room, completely bare. On the wall that is opposite to the rock face there is a marble plaque with an inscription, “Here rest Frederick and Maria of the ancient and illustrious Dracula Family”.
“Where’s the corpse?”
“Be patient and you will get your corpse”, replied Doctor, “On the side that, I think, faces the lake, there is a crack in the wall. The crack lets in light and is large enough for a man to squeeze through, of course not someone as fat as me or as big as Captain Wright. Next to this crack, on the floor, is a male skeleton sitting with his head resting against the wall. The skin on the face is gone and, judging by his teeth, he was young. His hair has also disappeared, either shaved off or eaten by some species of moth. The clothing is half perished and it is impossible to identify either fabric or style. It seems to be some sort of a dressing gown or a robe. That’s it” finished Doctor.
“How did he get there?” asked Georges.
“It is hard to tell now. Perhaps willingly, or maybe not. He could have come down through the trap door which closed accidently or deliberately. He could have squeezed through the crack in the wall and for some unknown reason didn’t have the strength to climb down the mountain again, but this makes even less sense. The climb itself would have been strenuous enough so why didn’t he go back the way he came? One thing is certain, the crack must have appeared after the room was constructed, otherwise why would a builder leave it unrepaired?”
Doctor finished his tale and the guests started their usual speculations. Everyone had his own theory or explanation and yet not a single one of them withstood close examination.
“It is more customary to construct a crypt beneath a chapel and this one is in such an unusual spot”, remarked James.
“It isn’t so much a crypt as a double burial, since there are no other inscriptions”, added Doctor.
The find dampened the mood and any further exploration was called off.
The visitors came out into the yard and, passing abandoned stables and servant quarters, left through the small side gate. The village headman locked the gate once more and attached a new seal.
It was still two hours before sunset and Harry and his friends decided to visit Karl Ivanovich in the village archive.
The road to the village was very steep and badly worn with time. Nobody spoke.
No one noticed that the headman was missing.
He appeared again at the entrance to the village and with a deep bow invited Harry and his friends to his house:
“I have cold beer in my garden, brewed by my own daughters”
The invitation was eagerly accepted. The though of a cold beer after a long walk on a hot day was more than tempting. While the guests made themselves comfortable in the shade of a large blooming tree, the headman’s two pretty daughters arrived bearing kegs and mugs. Glasses were emptied and refilled again and again. Only Doctor refused the beer and asked the girls for a glass of well water:
“I never touch it. The villagers always add thorn apple seeds to their brew,” he replied to the teasing of his friends, and, turning to Georges, added “And you, young man, you should also stay away from it, since you are already seeing beautiful girls in your dreams”
George laughed and instead of replying emptied his mug in a single gulp.
“To the health of local beauties!” He exclaimed jauntily bowing in the direction of headman’s daughters.
“To our lovely hostesses!” echoed young men.
The girls blushed with both pleasure and embarrassment. They were young and beautiful, aged about sixteen and eighteen, dressed in bright folk costumes. Both had thick braids and fresh complexions that would have rendered them attractive to more worthy suitors than our bored rascals.
When Harry, accompanied by Doctor and the headman got up to leave, the rest of guests refused to budge.
“Leave them”, laughed Doctor to Harry.
Slowly they made their way to the village church.
The door was open and the watchman let them through without a word. They made their way to a small storeroom crammed with old books, priest’s vestments and other religious paraphernalia.
A large wooden cross, made from mosaic-like pieces caught Harry’s attention.
“What kind of wood is this?” he asked the guard.
“It is mistletoe and it was made by one of the watchmen before me”
The village headman interrupted him:
“My grandmother told me about him. He was very old and had many peculiarities. He was obsessed with making crosses, all different sizes and gave them out as presents to the villagers. He only used mistletoe and whenever somebody asked why he wouldn’t try oak or some other type of wood; he’d give them a sly smile and mumble with his toothless gums “It doesn’t like mistletoe. Makes it afraid”, explained the headman, flattered by Harry’s interest.
While they were talking, the Headman led Harry to the archive.
The room was small and dark. Karl Ivanovich was sitting on the floor, surrounded by piles of yellowed papers. He was so lost in his work that he did not hear Harry and the Headman arrive and but as soon as they called him, he rose from the floor with agility of someone much younger than his sixty-five years.
Smiling broadly, he handed Harry a piece of paper.
It was a burial record of the ancestor of the line of Counts Dracula-Cardie, stating that the man’s remains were reinterred in the family crypt, in presence of several witnesses.
“May I congratulate you as the official owner of the castle and the estate?” asked Karl Ivanovich as soon as he saw that Harry finished reading.
As his guests cheered and congratulated him, smiling Harry took off an expensive ring and handed it to Karl Ivanovich:
“In memory of this day”.
Once all the congratulations and well wishes were done and the church watchman, whose luck was to be present on this day, was given a gold coin, Harry remembered to ask Karl Ivanovich if he had managed to uncover something more about the fate of the village schoolteacher.
“I haven’t found the continuation to the diary, but I haven’t given up hope”, answered the old man “There are quite a few bundles over here”, he said pointing to a large heap of papers. He picked up a thick blue notebook and, handed it to Harry.
“Take a look at these notes, Sir. They are so called “Bereavement Pages” from the local hospital. There are notes about a patient, a lunatic named Peter Dorich, a village schoolteacher. I think that he and the author of the diary are the same man. In the diary, I noticed a monogram of the entwined letters P and D. the fact that both are schoolteachers and other small details point to the same conclusion”.
Harry came close to a window and began to read.
“On this date, under Doctor’s orders, I have started documenting the case of village schoolteacher, Peter Dorich, despite the fact that he hasn’t been admitted here.
On the third of this month Doctor Brace and I were invited by Madame Dorich to asses her brother, Peter, whom she believes to be insane.
She complained of strange changes in her bother’s behaviour. She said that they started a while back, but she was not alarmed at first as he was acting normally during the day and the strange behaviour was only occurring in the evening and at night, especially when the moon is bright. He becomes agitated, refuses to answer her questions and locks himself in his bedroom.
She also noticed that he often leaves the house in the evening, something that he has never done before.
In the past few days, his behaviour escalated and he seems to get more and more restless at night. At sundown, he locks himself in his bedroom and does not come out until the following day. Madame Dorich attempted to look through the keyhole and saw her brother walking around his room with his arms spread, as though flying, wearing something resembling a crown on his head with ladies’ shawl around his shoulders. Suddenly everything grows quiet in the room as if he is no longer there.
Often his boots are mired with dirt, but where he goes to Madame Dorich was unable to find. His door is always locked.
She is most alarmed by his rapid weight loss. He is pale and weak and refuses to eat.
She visited Doctor Brace at the clinic and asked him to come to her house as if it were a normal social call and talk to her brother. Doctor Brace requested that I accompany him and that I must start keeping the ‘Bereavement Pages’.
Last evening we visited the Dorich family.
The brother was home and greeted us hospitably. He is very thin and looks exhausted.
We were given tea in the garden, and everything was pleasant and cordial.
Closer to sunset our host grew restless. He kept getting up, paced the garden, refusing to answer questions, as if he didn’t hear us at all, his eyes were darting. Finally, he grabbed his hat and cane, mumbled something and left.
Doctor prescribed bromide and advised Madame Dorich to follow her brother the next time he leaves.
The patient is taking bromide without questions or complaints.
The patient grows more dispirited daily.
Where he goes to is still a mystery though one thing is certain, - he is climbing out of his bedroom window.
Today he was admitted to the hospital.
His sister tried to stop him from leaving through a window and he attacked her. God only knows what he could have done to her. Luckily, he became tangled in a ladies’ shawl that he had taken to wearing and fell down.
He was restrained, brought here and given morphine.
In the daytime, he is very calm, but has no appetite and a weak pulse.
In the evening, he had another fit and was given morphine again.
Morning: the patient is calm.
He stole Doctor’s paper and ink and is writing something. Doctor told us to let him be.
In the evening, we gave him morphine as a precaution.
He is sleeping peacefully.
The rest of the week spent in the same regime.
Patient gained some weight.
He is growing more restless.
Doctor is thinking that approaching full moon may have negative effect, and ordered the windows barred.
We increased morphine dosage.
His agitation is mounting and morphine is no longer as effective as previously.
The patient is having fits of rage. His head was shaved and he was put in a straightjacket.
While struggling with him it seems that we had injured his neck, I have no idea how this happened. The wound is very small but the bleeding is profuse. We rubbed the lesion with zinc ointment. He lets us do that, without complaint, all the while smiling strangely.
His fits always happen in the second half of the evening and at night.
The days are quiet and peaceful.
We are almost force-feeding him.
Doctor Brace and Madame Dorich are preparing to move the patient to a larger hospital in town. Here we have no equipment, not even the right room for this type of patient. And morphine seems to be helping less and less.
Morphine is given at night.
In the morning, the patient was missing.
The window was found open and one of the iron bars nailed across it on Doctor’s orders was pulled loose from one side. The nails are gone.
Searches all around village lead to nothing.
We found some footprints, thanks to last night’s rain, leading in the direction of the lake.
Lake area was searched but no body was found.
At dawn, we will search the forest.
Nothing. No traces.
We passed his description in the surrounding areas.
While cleaning the room, in the stovepipe we found some papers. His handwriting is appalling and the soot damaged the rest but the following can still be read:
.......Dark forces surround me............fight on..........great dragon with the power of his witchcraft confused me and I fell.............be calm, my beloved, I will come to you................will come...............they keep telling me, you are in a hospital, this gentleman is a doctor, fine, fine, I do understand, oh so clearly, it is all a lie, a ruse............your husband imprisoned me here, he thinks that it is possible to imprison a spirit! Ha! I am a spirit! A Spirit..and...I feel... a hour is near, golden threads are reaching towards me, stabbing my brain, my heart..........heavy. God, how heavy. I will come to you, come to.....
This spot on my neck, where you love to kiss me, it burns, and they keep putting salve on it, they think they can fool me!
Your prince, your beloved will come to you soon.
I was right, I am in prison!
They are no longer hiding it, they nailed an iron grill to the window. Ha!..........I understand now............it isn’t your husband, it is Beelzebub! He stings me with his tail and then he steals my heart and my mind, and I must search for them.
.............Today I found it in the pipe
...........All right every knight has suffered for his lady.
.............they are bribing me. They dressed me in the toga of a Roman Emperor and cut my hair in readiness for the crown.
......fools they do not see, the nails are gone.........no crown no mantle can hold me back!............I know the way and I will come to you....
.............Last night he stole my heart again.............but I realised, guessed and tonight I will hide it under my pillow, and will feign sleep...........wait for me............the happiness is close.............quiet.................all asleep.
Schoolteacher hasn’t been found. Doctor thinks that he must have wandered deep into the forest and fell asleep under the influence of morphine and perished from either wolves or foxes.
His clothing was not recovered.
Today we are holding a funeral service for him. May his soul rest in peace.
Feldsher Fritz signed this.
“Strange, all of this is very strange”, mumbled Harry, passing the notebook to Doctor.
Once Doctor finished reading Karl Ivanovich said:
“I found a note of death in the church archive for a local schoolteacher, Peter Dorich. The cause of death is stated as unknown. The church books are very odd in this way....For example in the same year your relative was reburied, there seems to have been an epidemic of sorts. Most of the victims were young, some children and in all the cases the cause of death was either “unknown” or the “heart failure”, which is as good as unknown.
Then, fifteen years later, it happened again, another epidemic, also unexplained”, finished Karl Ivanovich and removed his glasses.