Georges was sleeping peacefully on the couch.
In the next room, Doctor and James were talking softly.
There is no light.
Georges’ room is brightly light by the moonlight, his drapes are raised and the window is left open, while the Doctor’s half is dark, with only a tiny red star of James’s cigar glowing in the darkness.
Laughing softly, Doctor Weiss, already told James about his “hallucination” and his discovery of Georges’ sleepwalking habits.
James was listening silently his eyes fixed on Georges’ couch.
“So, what do you think?” asked Doctor.
“Wait, don’t talk” whispered James so quietly that Doctor could barely make out the words.
Eerie silence hung in the room. In a few minutes, James touched Doctor’s sleeve as if asking him to pay attention.
A silhouette of a woman appears in the window frame. She is sitting with her back towards them, her legs facing the garden.
“Which one of the servant girls can be so brazen?” thinks Doctor.
He looks closely, but her high intricate hairstyle doesn’t remind him of anyone he knows. The woman turns around, the moon shining on her face. “No”, thinks Doctor “no maid could be so beautiful”. In a moment, her legs are in the room and she slides off the windowsill in a single barely visible movement.
She crosses the room towards Georges’ couch. Wide skirts of her dress accentuate a slender waist, the fabric of her bodice clings to the curves of her high breasts, and she has several red roses pinned to her décolleté.
She leans over Georges placing her hand on his forehead, and the boy moans softly.
James rushes into the room.
The woman turned around, looking up at him and smiled. She rose from the floor and opened her arms, ready to embrace him. Her face shone with unearthly beauty, marred only by her bloody lips.
James was unable to move.
He rushed into the room expecting to give chase, but instead the woman is coming towards him, smiling. A moment more and she will kiss him with her bloody mouth.
James felt waves of fear sweep through him. He tried to move but his body refused to obey.
The woman, still smiling, put her arms around his shoulders, and then pulled away suddenly, her dark eyes wide with surprise and awe:
“Forgive me. I didn’t know. I wouldn’t have dared,” she whispers, swaying.
In an instant, she moved away, gliding towards the window. For a moment, her dress blocked the moonlight and then vanished.
Georges moaned once more, rising both James and Doctor from their stupor. They rushed towards his couch.
The boy was lying on his back with his arms outstretched. On his neck, two small wounds were still bleeding, staining his shirt.
Doctor wanted to wake Georges, but James stopped him:
“Why trouble him? He will sleep safely now”
James rolled Georges over on his side and covered him with a blanket.
“Now, what’s your opinion?” he asked, straightening.
“Judging by your behaviour I must conclude that we both had an identical hallucination”, answered Doctor, “it is an interesting phenomenon and I...”
“And this? Is this also a hallucination?” asked James mockingly, picking up a crushed red rose.
In the morning, James gathered his friends for what he termed ‘a war council’.
The ‘council’ consisted of Wright, Doctor Weiss, Karl Ivanovich and James himself.
Earlier that day, James told Wright about last night’s adventures and asked him for permission to tell the others about Wright’s incident at the Hunting Lodge.
The men gathered in Doctor’s rooms and after a brief introduction, James announced:
“Now, the question remains, what are we to do? The danger is real to all of us, and it is even more real for Harry, our friend to whom we all owe so much.”
“Jamie, you really gone overboard this time! What danger? Harry isn’t a hysterical woman to be terrified of a ghost dressed in sheets!” protested Doctor.
“What danger? The very basic one”, replied James, “Death”
“What nonsense!” mumbled Doctor.
Undaunted, James turned towards him:
“Did you examine wounds on Georges’ neck? What do you think could have caused them? Do you think them dangerous?”
“I must admit the wounds are unusual, but to deem them a sign of illness, even a minor one, forgive me, but I cannot,” answered Doctor.
“Do you remember Cornet Visē, the young man who died so suddenly the day after our ball? What would you say if I were to tell you that he had similar wounds on his neck? And if I were to add that our labourer in the castle as well as three hired harvesters in the village also had them?” continued James.
“And who examined them and told you about it?” asked Doctor.
“I did, together with Karl Ivanovich. This was the reason we went to the village, to confirm our theories”
“Mr Watt is telling the truth,” confirmed the librarian.
“So, what’s your conclusion?” asked Doctor.
“Our conclusion is that in all five instances of death the wounds were direct cause of it, and if we weren’t there last night poor Georges would have been dead as well”.
“Jamie, Have mercy!” exclaimed Doctor, rising from his chair.
“I maintain, do you understand, I MAINTAIN even more than that. Viscount Reno, the stonemason and the locksmith all died of the same cause. Unfortunately I didn’t examine their necks, but I am sure that the wounds were also present,” he concluded gravely.
Doctor crossed the room and with a look of worry on his face placed his right hand on James’s forehead, taking his wrist in the left one:
“No fever” he whispered, “and the pulse is normal”.
“Don’t worry, I haven’t lost my mind and I am not yet suffering from the delirium tremens”
Doctor grew angry:
“Well, if you say you are still sane, then stop beating around the bush and making fools of us all, damn you, and tell us what the matter is!”
“Sit down and listen,” ordered James.
“All right, Gentlemen. An epidemic seems to be raging in our area, and a strange one at that. People are dying, and they are, take note, mostly young and healthy. The deaths are sudden, rarely preceded by an illness and the only symptoms are two small circular wounds on the victim’s neck. Karl Ivanovich and I examined them and we could tell you that the wounds are deep, with white edges that look pale and bloodless. So our conclusion is that something or someone causes them and sucks out the blood of the victim”
Doctor twitched his shoulders angrily but stayed silent.
“Now the question is who is doing this?” continued James unfazed “we must look for an answer to the old diaries and letters that Karl Ivanovich red to us in the Hunting Lodge, the ones that we called the ‘fairy tales’ and had long forgotten about”
Doctor couldn’t keep quiet any longer:
“Jamie, I can’t take it! Haven’t you forgotten that the famous ‘Schoolteacher’s Diary’ was written by a lunatic! He even describes being put in the straightjacket!”
“You are right. He was a lunatic. Let’s leave him out. Now let’s turn to the letters”, agreed James “if you were to reread them carefully as Karl Ivanovich and I have done you would find that a similar epidemic happened before and that the owner of the castle names its source plainly. Vampires”.
Doctor jumped from his seat:
“Jamie, have mercy! Vampires, those medieval fairytales? In our twentieth century?
“Yes”, interrupted James coldly “I do. I believe that vampires exist in our twentieth century. And these letters are not medieval fairytales, but a testament to the awful, deadly truth”.
“Don’t you remember the discussion we once had about these letters? We concluded that they must have been sent here, otherwise how could they have physically ended up in the castle?” argued Doctor.
“And do you remember the last letter, where the author is preparing for his friend’s arrival?” asked James “the rooms in the ‘Forest House’ were being made ready for him , and that the house itself was situated at the foot of the castle rock, and finally, we found the letters here in our Hunting Lodge? Is it not logical that the friend simply brought the letters with him?”
Doctor couldn’t answer and remained silent.
“I think, or I should say I am sure that the signature “D” stands for “Dracula”, Count Carlo Dracula, the previous owner of the castle”, concluded James.
“And yet you were never able to find the famous “Stone coffin from America”. You’ve said so yourself” objected Doctor.
“So what? What about the second crypt, the one made for two occupants only, where Carlo says his parents were buried, don’t you think it’s as good as the American Coffin? And the precipice where you have the clear view of the lake and can hear the sound of the evening church bells? And what about lady’s rooms in the Hunting Lodge, prepared for the Italian fiancé? Do you remember ‘So long the dream and several thousand ducats’? And the Japanese jewel box, is it not the same as the one Carlo calls “Roman”? The one he bought for his Rita? It opens, when you push the apple into the bird’s beak; ask Wright, he will confirm it”.
Wright, surrounded by clouds of smoke from his cigar stayed silent.
Doctor, not finding any support, looked from one face to the next.
Karl Ivanovich broke the silence:
“In the church archive, in funeral books, I found records proving that this area had suffered similar epidemics twice before. In both cases, doctors couldn’t find the cause. The first time it happened was in the same year when young Countess Dracula died, and the second time happened fifteen yeas later.”
“And now this epidemic has struck for a third time. How and why is another question, but it is here, staring us in the face and we have to,-we must- fight it. We have to save Harry, ourselves and yes, even the local populace has a right to expect our help,” said James passionately.
“Wonderful, James, but who is the enemy?” asked Doctor.
“As I said vampires”
“And what is it, a vampire? Where do we find them, how we fight them, be my guest Jamie, I don’t know” admitted Doctor miserably.
James pointed to the old leather-bound volume he brought with him:
“The explanation can be found, to a degree of course, in this old book, dealing with the “Lamias” and the “Undead”.
“I remember this book, Harry gave it to you” interrupted Wright.
“That’s the one. Karl Ivanovich and I attempted to translate it. I say attempted because, I have to admit it was one hell of a job. The book is written in some weird form of Latin, complete with a whole host of specific terms and to top it all off it deals with a subject that we don’t understand. The ‘Undead’ as it calls them are something inexplicable and supernatural. But the fact that this book was found on the desk of the previous owner of the castle speaks for itself...”
Doctor Weiss interrupted impatiently:
“Come on, what did you find?”
“Just a moment” said James, shifting a few papers “as I said half of this book is still a mystery to me and the second half I could barely understand”
“Get to the point”, hurried Doctor.
“Ancient lamias, are a type of creatures”, began James, “or rather they are people who have died, but rose from the grave, can appear to the living and even take part in daily activities. In must of the cases, their involvement with the living is of the malevolent nature and brings disaster.
The “Undead” or vampires are a type of lamias. They also rise from the grave and feed on the blood of the living.
They could live for centuries, and the longer they live, the more powerful they become. With each new victim, their power grows along with new knowledge.
They can assume shapes of certain animals: cats, snakes and bats and so on. They could surround themselves with mist and even turn themselves into mist.
They love bright nights and could levitate in the moonlight, swimming in at as if it were a river.
They have long sharp teeth, strong long fingers with hard nails, enabling them to climb walls and rocks.
The stronger the vampire, the easier it is for him to put their victim to sleep with their stare or a touch. Even the strongest people cannot fight them; no amount of courage can save one from a vampire. A person falls asleep against their will, and once this happens, he or she is a sure victim.
Vampires kill their prey in one or two sessions, sometimes four or three. The first time is the hardest; the victim fears and resists their attacker. Afterwards it gets easier, the person starts to long for their tormentor, expecting and calling them.
Sometimes a vampire falls in love with his prey, and then the killing process takes longer, he is taking the life of his victim in little by little, prolonging their pleasure, keeping their loved creature alive as long as possible.
In these cases the victim turns into a vampire after death, in others it is rare.
Vampires kill indiscriminate of sex or age, though it has been notes that they prefer children and younger, healthier victims.
Vampires are most active at night, especially when the moon is bright, though they could easily live and kill during the day, but these are older, more experienced ‘Undead’.
Many animals obey them; all fear them, especially dogs and horses, it is as if these friends of man could sense the enemy instinctively.
The most powerful of the vampires can control weather to a certain degree. They can move clouds, create mist and wind and so on.
Their Achilles’ heel is that every one of them has to have his shelter, where he has to lie in his dead form for several hours each day. During this time, they are in turn completely helpless, and because of this, they always hide their shelters and have several of them if they can.
The shelter must be situated close to vampire’s hunting ground; otherwise, he is risking falling asleep on the open ground, which is extremely dangerous.
Old experienced vampires could project themselves into their own image, a portrait or something similar, but only for a very short period of time.
When vampires are successful, I mean when they have plenty of victims; they grow younger and more attractive, only their red tinged eyes and blood red lips spoil their appearance.
When a vampire for whatever reason is forced to hide and, shall I put it this way, ”starve” he grows pale and grey, immobile and irritable.
Despite this, he could remain bound to a place, thanks to a spell or a magic rite for many years and stay alive. At the first opportunity, he will slip away and kill again.
The time that the vampire has to spend in his shelter or a ‘vampiric sleep’ as the book calls it is a very murky subject. Either the author doesn’t know it himself, or Karl Ivanovich and I cannot understand him.
There are way too many explanations. Maybe different regions have different timetables, maybe it all depends on the power of the vampire, I am not sure. But from what I understood, the ‘vampiric sleep’ takes place around sunset and sunrise.
Vampires are subject to a form of hierarchy, they obey the strongest. But who are the ‘strongest’ is hard to tell, one passage is even speaking of the ancient gods that demanded human sacrifices.
Here is one passage I will translate directly: “Disobedience or theft of intended prey is punished.” But how and by whom it doesn’t say. I think that there was in the ancient times a race of the “Great Blood eaters”, and the vampires, lamias and other ‘undead’ obey them.
It is easier to recognise a vampire at night, especially if his presence is odd. For instance an appearance of an unknown woman in the man’s bedroom or wise versa. During the day it is almost impossible to spot a clever vampire, they are excellent at mimicking the living.
One of the telltale signs is their inability to eat and drink. A more observant person could notice that they do not cast a shadow in either sun or moonlight. By the way, vampires hate mirrors and always try to destroy them, the reason being that they don’t have a reflection, a dead give away.”
So, this is all, or almost all that we managed to find in the book.
There are a many examples of actual cases and author’s speculations, but all of it is, largely, irrelevant.
Two of the most important questions, the hour at which the vampires are at their most vulnerable and who or what they obey are also the most unclear.
James finished and fell silent.
“What are we to do?” asked Doctor Weiss.
“Well, if we all agreed that the vampires do exist, we have to find their shelter and, at an hour of their ‘vampiric sleep’ kill them. This is our duty,” replied James.
“That’s true, Jamie, but how?” asked Wright.
“We can look for clues in the old letters of the previous owner and some other papers, I’ve discovered since” added Karl Ivanovich.
“Jamie, you are our acknowledged “Sherlock Holmes”, so think and tell us what to do. I promise to listen,” said Doctor with unexpected obedience.
James smiled and bowed slightly:
“Thank you for your trust”
“All right, let’s see” he began after thinking for a moment “judging from Carlo’s letters we can conclude that his mother was a vampire and therefore was killed by one. Who killed her is hard to tell. Maybe it was the American servant, the one who vanished so mysteriously, maybe it was the dead grandfather. Remember she saw the old man in her dream on the night she first fell ill, so maybe it wasn’t a dream at all. Perhaps the snake played its role as well... Either way I am inclined to believe that the American servant and dead grandfather is the same person.
I am also very confused by the fact that we were never able to locate the great stone coffin described in the letters. Karl Ivanovich and I both went into the crypt and searched it top to bottom”.
“We also looked in the second crypt, the one for whose discovery we should thank you, Doctor. We found nothing”, he added.
“Are you referring to the crypt where I found the skeleton?”
“Yes. In the letter, it is called the ‘new crypt’ constructed especially for the Countess. Remember, Carlo mentions that it was carved into the castle’s rock.”
James paused for a moment, and then, extending his hand towards Doctor, said:
“Forgive me, but I also think that you are the cause of the reappearance of the vampire...”
“What rubbish!” exclaimed Doctor.
“Wait...Just think” insisted James, “everything was peaceful until your fall. We haven’t heard of a single death, let alone a mysterious one, but the very next day after you fell, it was as if someone had opened a nasty cornucopia. The stonemason, who carried the statue’s head was the first to die, next...”
“Hold on, hold on, are you saying that I’ve opened an entrance, perhaps guarded by a spell (I couldn’t believe the bloody nonsense I am saying myself) and let out a vampire? And yet, you forget, my dear friend, that the crypt wall had a crack in it, so large that a grown man squeezed through it, whose skeleton we found, let alone one of your mist-shrouded vampires. In the Schoolteacher’s diary we read about the ‘lake women” and since we”... doctor pulled a comical face “don’t believe in the ‘lake women’ but believe in the vampires, we can conclude that they were free to roam the countryside long before we’ve arrived”
“Don’t laugh, Doc”, answered James “the lunatic’s diary holds many valuable clues. I analyzed both the letters and the diary and came to conclusion that we’ve read them in reversed order. We read the diary first, and then the letters, while chronologically they are the other way around, first came the countess, then the schoolteacher. Old Petro confirms this.
Carlo mentions old Petro in his letters, mentioning that the old man left for a pilgrimage. If we were to suppose that he returned and found that, the young count and his fiancé or wife have already left the castle, perhaps fearing the vampires...
Karl Ivanovich wanted to add something but James wouldn’t even let him open his mouth, and continued talking, completely carried away:
“The castle was abandoned and old Petro become the church watchman, making crosses and growing garlic. This makes sense. I don’t think I am wrong in believing that the skeleton found in the crypt belonged to the insane schoolteacher, Peter Dorich. His diary ends with him going to meet his lady somewhere in the mountains and there is the note confirming the disappearance of a mental patient and the futile search for his remains.
The skeleton was dressed, as you’ve said yourself, in either a robe or some kind of a dressing gown, so we can conclude that it was a hospital robe. You’ve also told us that his hair was shaved, or some type of moth had eaten it, now we have no doubt that it was shaved, as with all mentally ill patients”.
“Harry shares your belief”, interrupted Doctor, “He ordered for the body to be buried under the name ‘Peter Dorich’”
James was pleased:
“Now you can see, it only confirms we are on the right track”
“Now for the rest...” he continued.
“Are trying to tell” interrupted Doctor again “that the poor man, in his delirium climbed up the mountain and squeezed into the crypt and possibly under the influence of opium fell asleep there, and later died from exhaustion, cold, hunger or possibly all three?”
“Not quite, I have a different theory: the schoolteacher in his delirium made his way to the crypt and there he had one moment of clear thinking... He realised not only the horror of his own position, but the danger facing his village. He sacrificed himself to the vampire, sealing the creature inside at the same time with some sort of a ritual that he could have easily learned from Petro, and then sat at the entrance as if to guard it”.
Doctor couldn’t let it pass:
“Damn, you are such a poet, Jamie!” he laughed sarcastically.
“This is only a theory, not proven fact” said James, a little embarrassed “it could have happened this way: Petro saw the teacher and followed him, sealing the crack. Both ways the result is the same, the exit was blocked and we, in our carelessness have opened another”.
“Now for the conclusion,” continued James “we’ve all agreed that the vampires exist, we know of it’s hiding place, we know it’s supposed hours of sleep, or should I say the hours of his helplessness, and we must kill it”.
“Yes, we must kill it”, they echoed.
Suddenly there was a loud crash and the sound of glass breaking. Everyone jumped to their feet:
“What was that?”
One of the panes in an open window facing the garden crashed into the wall of the building with the force great enough to shatter the glass.
“Must be the wind,” said Karl Ivanovich.
“If only, Karl Ivanovich, if only. There isn’t even a slightest breeze in the garden!” exclaimed James “and we were caught like stupid schoolboys, we were overheard. Well, no use crying over it now, we must hurry,” he added a little calmer.
“Tomorrow I will ride to the city and bring all the necessary equipment, and then, at sunset Wright and I will go down into the crypt and hammer a wooden stake through the Countess’ heart. Secondly. We must guard Harry and young Georges. The former I give in your care, Captain, with you Doctor, as his helper. The later I will watch myself. Sitting in the open window on a warm summer night is a pleasure anyway, and a few hours of sleep after the sunrise is good enough for me, but tonight, in my absence, I relinquish my post to Karl Ivanovich. All right, the fight is on, gentlemen”, he finished solemnly.
“We are with you”
“Be strong and we will prevail,” added James.
“What makes you so certain?” asked Wright.
“Sometimes, at night I hear a voice in my head that says, “Fight and I will help you”, replied James.
“And I hear a voice in my head that keeps repeating, “I am hungry! I am hungry!” said Doctor in all seriousness.
Everyone, including James laughed and the mood changed instantly.
The next day, after finding some excuse not to join in the hunt, James and his friends made their way to the garden crypt. It was one hour before sunset.
On the steps, at statue’s feet, they’ve picked up the tools James had left there earlier: a crowbar, two pick axes for breaking the bricks, iron pliers for unscrewing the coffin lid, aspen stake and a hurricane lamp.
The statue had been repaired and put back on its pedestal. James and Wright removed it with difficulty and after the even bigger struggle lifted the trapdoor.
James, lamp in hand, was the first to descend the narrow steps, with others following closely behind.
The crypt was in total darkness since the crack had been repaired. When James lit up the wall where he was expecting to see the white marble plaque with the inscription ‘Frederick and Maria of the illustrious Dracula Family” he stopped dead in his tracks. The plaque was gone and in its place, he could see only two dark empty niches.
The coffins were gone.
Doctor Weiss rubbed his eyes. Until this moment he viewed James and his friends as a couple of schoolboys out on some harebrained prank, but now, for the first time he felt as if a cold hand squeezed his heart. He saw the coffins with his own eyes, and now they were gone! Who could have taken them and for what purpose? Only the marble plaque was left behind, leaning against the wall in the corner.
“We are too late,” said James in a strangely hoarse voice.
Without saying a word, they climbed back up the stairs and tidied up. Everyone was feeling the seriousness of the situation for the first time and remained silent.
James was first to speak:
“Let it be a lesson for us, not to speak in places were we can be overheard. It’s best to discuss our plans at sunset, like right now. Things have become more complicated. We will have to search.”
“You know what’s strange? No one would have moved the coffins without telling Harry first, and he never kept secrets from us before. We always knew his plans and orders,” said Doctor in a quiet voice.
“And more importantly, if he did keep quiet, it would be tactless to ask him. Besides, how can we explain the fact that we were in the crypt in the first place?” added James.
Suddenly he brightened:
“Hold on, all of Harry’s orders go through Smith, and I will get the truth out of him” he said confidently.
James was wrong. It wasn’t that easy.
Smith was busy organising the lake party and was gone for days on end, and when James finally managed to corner him, he answered roundabout questions with jokes and vague replies, and when frustrated James asked him directly, Smith answered dryly:
“You must speak to Mr Cardie, I cannot tell you more”.
James reported his failure to his friends and all agreed to keep quiet for now.
Karl Ivanovich came into James’ bedroom carrying a pile of assorted papers. Some were large sheets covered with writing on both sides, others were little pieces of paper torn out of notebooks and some were folded into little triangles as people often did with the notes back in the old days.
“I’ve collected these from the desks in the Hunting lodge”, said the old man “judging by the handwriting they were written by the young Carlo, and I think were addressed to his friend in the Hunting Lodge. Most of them are trivial, invitations to a breakfast or tea, but some are very interesting. Take a look at this one, Mr Watt”, said the librarian, handing James a large sheet of paper covered with handwriting on both sides. There was no date.
James thanked him and began reading:
“First of all I would like to thank you and apologise, my friend, that instead of the promised holiday and peaceful work I dragged you straight into the middle of our drama. But what can I do?
Francesca’s tragic death affected us all, and Rita hasn’t slept properly since.
The old doctor suggested a change of scenery. So those rooms will come useful, after all! All I need to do is to send down the ‘inventory’, dresses, lace, ribbons and flowers. Please forgive me; I know that to a scientist a woman is nothing but an irritation.
I hope that the ‘great migration’ would be of short duration, and as soon as Rita is well again I will bring her back to the castle, to another room, of course, not to remind her of the horrors she must have witnessed.
I haven’t had the chance to ask you about all this. What’s your opinion?
The old man is blaming everything, predictably, on vampirism, but since you’ve set my head straight and proved him insane, I cannot agree...and yet, the whole story has something illogical, odd about it.
For instance, why was Francesca’s body found on the floor, next to Rita’s bed? Her hair was dishevelled, the nightdress torn and her face and chest covered with bruises and scratches. It appears as if somebody strangled or crushed her with supernatural strength as if she were a mere insect.
Have you noticed the look of horror in her dead eyes and the way her lips were clenched as if in determination? One could have used her as a model for a painting of a Christian martyr back in the Roman days.
If she died fighting, then why and with whom?
She took the answer to her grave.
I forgot to ask you not to question Rita about that terrible night. It is clear; she lived through something dreadful and doesn’t want to, or cannot talk about it. She trembles at the mere mention of that night.
Imagine if Francesca was ill and died in convulsions next to Rita’s bed. Even a stronger person than Rita could have lost consciousness.
I know I will never forget her scream when she woke up and saw a bloody corpse at her feet.
The old man is convinced that, despite everything being quiet in the area, Francesca was killed by a vampire.
He says that he killed her, literally killed her instead of drinking her blood. According to him, Francesca interrupted him enjoying Rita’s blood and possibly her love as well. He thinks that the poor girl had died defending her friend.
Of course, Rita could answer all these questions, but I have to ask you once again not to question her. We must let her rest first.
As for your own opinion on these matters, I would very much like to know it.
Please, order for the couch to be moved to the middle of the room and near it a small table for Rita’s books and flowers.
I already ordered for a bunch of fresh roses to be delivered to her each morning.
Her pet canary will also arrive shortly, but I promise you, this little songstress will disturb you more than my own poor fiancé. Rita is so quiet and sad. I don’t dare to mention the wedding.
I will be so lonely up here!
I will take solace in the fact that I will spend most of the day with you both. The mornings are crisp. Please order for the stoves and even the fireplace to be lit.
“Take a look at this one,” said Karl Ivanovich, handing James another piece of paper.
“Of course” began James “I couldn’t ever possibly begin to consider my conversation as stimulating as yours, you are, after all, a great scientist, and yet I cannot help but be annoyed when I see that Rita, my fiancé favouring you over me. You will have to agree, I am starting to look rather foolish!
While Rita was still living in the forest house, your relationship seemed natural, but now... maybe I am wrong, maybe there was nothing to see.
I don’t know what caused Rita to change so much...
She has a new whim every day; she spends three or four hours each day, usually at sunset, alone in her room, locking the door. She also refused to eat with us. She is served separately in her salon, and I often see that the meals are returned untouched. She refused to have Lucia live near her room, saying “having Cecilia around is bad enough”, without realising how much she’d hurt the poor girl’s feelings.
Yet, despite these eccentricities, Rita is feeling well again, her colour has returned and she is strong.
Even the succeeding deaths of both of her Italian footmen didn’t disturb her much. When told, she shrugged her shoulders both times and refused to attend the service or follow the coffins to heir final resting place.
And yet, when she is waiting for your visit or decides to go down to the forest house, she seems to come alive in anticipation!
When it comes to me, she is always coldly polite, despite the fact that I cater to her every desire. I even agreed to her most ridiculous caprice about the coffin, leaving it right in the middle of the chapel, when she asked me to. She is fond of it with some strange painful tenderness and goes to see it every day.
When she first awoke from her coma, I told her that, when we believed her dead, we decided to lock her rooms in the forest house and never visit them again...and that in our grief we forgot her canary, and now, when everything has turned out well, I must hurry and rescue the bird.
She answered coldly: “Why bother? Leave it”.
I can no longer understand her. If I didn’t know you so well, I would have suspected that something dishonourable had happened. But I do trust you and I trust...”
“There is no end,” said Karl Ivanovich, seeing James turning the page around. James put the letter down and picked up the next one:
“I am so sorry, that I cannot be with you both, today. Alf, please see to it, that Rita’s rooms are well heated and make sure that she does not take off her thick shawl. She is so weak and ill, my heart bleeds for her. Yesterday I didn’t even dare to ask her to sing for us. Her only answer to all of my worried questions is: “I am fine, but it is so cold up here in your mountains”. She is still refusing to see the doctor.
Oh, what a happy coincidence, just as I was about to send you this note a parcel had arrived from Paris, a beautiful warm cape. Wrap Rita in it...oh well, though it is already late, I will come tonight, even for a quarter of an hour. I do think that crimson plush will do wonders for Rita’s complexion and would contrast beautifully with her black hair. My deepest bow.
James finished reading and, turning to Karl Ivanovich, asked:
“So what do you think?”
“I think, Sir, that you’ve made a mistake in thinking that Count Dracula left the castle. I believe that his friend Alf was joined in the forest house by his fiancée, Rita. I think that mademoiselle Francesca’s death was the reason for the move. The Count himself remained in the castle and was very worried about his fiancé. In this pile of notes, I found repeated requests for the rooms to be heated, for the furniture to be rearranged, for new books and sheet music to be delivered, along with fresh flowers, and so on.
The rooms in question are undoubtedly the same ones that are still standing untouched in the Hunting Lodge. Even the red cape, the one you’ve read about in the last letter is still lying at the foot of the couch, the same couch that Count had ordered to be moved to the middle of the room”.
“You are hundred percent correct, Karl Ivanovich, I also gave up thinking that Count fled the castle. But what happened to him and the others? We know of Francesca’s death and that of the Italian footmen, so there was an epidemic raging, but it is hard to believe that everyone could have died.”
Karl Ivanovich answered a question with a question:
“Did you notice, in the letters, there is a mention of mademoiselle Rita’s coma?”
“This is something completely unclear to me,” answered James.
“If you were to read this pile of letters and notes several times over, as I have done, then you would come to a conclusion that the fiancé was moved to the Hunting Lodge and lived there for a while. She was ill and getting worse, finally falling in a coma, so deep that it was mistaken for actual death. She was dressed in her favourite outfit, laid in an open coffin and taken to the castle. The rooms where she lived were locked, never to be used again; especially the one she used most, her salon. The only door leading to it was blocked by a wardrobe.
In their hurry, they forgot the canary in her cage as well as a bouquet of field flowers. The red cape was left where it fell on the floor.
I suspect that mademoiselle Rita awoke while in the castle and from then on made an astonishingly rapid recovery. Carlo writes: “She is as fresh as the roses that she still loves to wear” and “Rita’s complexion had returned and she is no longer weak” and so on. Yet, at the same time, her character took turn for the worse. She became capricious, stubborn and, worse of all, became infatuated with her fiancé’s best friend.
Count grew terribly jealous and on numerous occasions let his friend know of his anger and hurt.
What happened next is hard to tell, it appears that Count and his friend had a falling out. The letters became progressively shorter, turning into dry notes, and then stopped altogether”, finished the librarian.
“Bravo, Karl Ivanovich!” exclaimed James, “I am so glad your theories agree with my observations. This is a sure sign that we are on the right path. But what do you think happened next?”
“I think that the times grew darker for the inhabitants of the castle”, continued Karl Ivanovich “death toll in the castle and the surrounding area increased. Castle’s income-expenditure books testify to that. Every page bears a note on funeral expenses, corroborated by the funeral service records in the church archive.
Mademoiselle Lucia also died, her funeral, as well as that of Francesca cost in an excess of a thousand guldens each.
Mademoiselle Rita’s coffin was even more expensive, though I’ve never managed to find the record of its purchase.”
“But what could have happened to Count, Rita and Alf, not to mention the others?” interrupted James impatiently.
“Unfortunately, these are the questions I have no answer to” answered the librarian “I read every piece of paper in the desks and cupboards in both the castle and the Hunting Lodge. I even opened every book, except the bible and turned over every scrap of paper,” he concluded.
Suddenly James jumped up from his chair:
“Wait a minute, there is something we haven’t read. I suspect it is Rita’s diary”
“Where is it? Why haven’t you told me about it!”
“Oh, I will get it for you, no problem, Harry has it. But, I think it is written in Italian,” he added with disappointment.
“This would not pose a problem. I know a little Italian and with the aid of a dictionary, I could make a translation for you. Tomorrow, when everyone has gone to the lake party I will have the entire evening to myself”.
James thanked the old man and went out to get the thin exercise book he first saw inside Japanese jewel box on the day of the masked ball. He was convinced that it was Rita’s diary.