The Lake Party.
The remaining guests were eagerly preparing for the planned festivity.
The entire lakeshore was illuminated by coloured lights and blazing torches.
Despite the promise of a light summer’s night, a large supply of sparklers, fireworks and lanterns was prepared in advance, since the moon, though bright, was rising late.
Small tents were erected for the rest and refreshments and a large dry piece of ground was cleared for the dancers, with several chairs and small tables surrounding it for those who wished to watch. Nearby a barrel of beer was hauled up on a platform and above it, several strings, decorated with small flags and Chinese lanterns were stretched all the way across the dance floor.
There were no invitations, and anyone was welcome.
To emphasise the informal atmosphere Harry and his friends decided to wear simple hunting costumes, though most of them were, doubtless, specially made for the occasion.
Since early morning, most of the younger guests were noisily getting ready for the party. Georges, completely recovered, wasn’t lagging behind.
Even Harry spent the better part of the morning trying on and inspecting his costume. He was unusually restless and loud, which of course, couldn’t escape Doctor Weiss’s eagle eye:
“Harry seems very anxious to me, it is as if he is waiting for something,” he said to James.
“Not something, someone,” grumbled James “that damned girl in the blue dress”
Later, James pulled Wright aside:
“Listen, I ask you, no I am begging you, don’t let Harry out of your sight tonight. I have such a heavy feeling... do you remember that night on the Amazon, when were crawling into the Indian camp? Would you believe me if I told you, that I felt easier back then? Every stone, every blade of grass could have concealed an enemy, but I knew then what the enemy was... and now? Mist and ghosts, damn it”.
The party is well under way. Huge crowds of people are walking along the shore. City women, in their light summer dresses, mingle with the village girls dressed in colourful folk costumes, and quite a few of the stylish ladies of fashion secretly envy thick dark braids or the beautiful complexion of some peasant beauty.
Two bands on the opposite sides play music without pause and dances follow one another. Only instead of the formal Black Lancier or Contra Danza, the night is ruled by the lively Hungarian folk tunes and the energetic czardas.
Men spin their ladies across the dance floor instead of leading them gently as if they were porcelain dolls, ready to break at any moment.
Dozens of garden benches, some at the edges of the clearing and some hiding in the darkness of the forest, offer a welcome rest for the tired, breathless dancers.
The entire lake, garlanded from shore to shore with coloured lanterns and lights, shimmers with all the colours of the rainbow. White water lilies look magical under pink and blue lights.
Large patches of open ground are bathed in moonlight and the play of light and shadow contrasts beautifully from the brightly lit dance floor to the dark forbidding pines of the forest.
Harry, dressed in a new semi-hunting costume, which is specially tailored to show off his muscular built, is polite and friendly to all, without showing preference. He is walking quietly from one group of people to another, as if searching for someone.
Wright is following him like a shadow.
At the other side of the crowd, James is trailing young Georges, but his task is a lot harder. The boy is having a great time, dancing without a pause, leading each new girl into the protective darkness of the pine trees, where he ambushes her with compliments, and, if the luck is with him, steals a kiss or two.
James is starting to get tired chasing after the boy and is beginning to wonder if he may have been wrong after all. ‘Perhaps Doc was right in calling me a fool’, he thinks and his desire to abandon his post grows with each minute. James is no longer as vigilant as before, his thoughts wandering.
‘Enough’, he decides looking instinctively in Georges direction for a last time.
Georges emerges from the forest with a new woman on his arm. She wears light, old-fashioned dress with a single red rose pinned to its bodice; her black hair is pulled up high and secured by an ornate comb.
Neither her dress or the hairstyle look exceptionally out of place, but the roses? James knows that there are no such flowers anywhere in the area, except in Harry’s private garden. Then, who is the woman? James hasn’t seen a girl like this among the servants, so she must have come from the city or the village, but then, where did she get the flowers from? Harry never allows them to be picked and keeps his private garden locked at most times.
“Well, maybe some of the youngsters stole them,” thinks James, but his tiredness and apathy vanish.
“I saw her before” he thinks, squinting in an uneven light, trying to catch a glimpse of her face “Yes, it’s her, the woman in the blue dress”, he says to himself.
Meantime Georges leads his lady across to the dance floor. They move to the lively music, several times passing close to James, so he can smell the familiar lavender fragrance.
“Definitely her” he decides, and, worried that he was seen, hides in the shade of tall pine trees.
The dancers stop and Georges, asks his lady if she would like to take a walk in the forest, which lies across the brightly lit clearing. The woman is reluctant.
“Aha” thinks James, “she is worried someone might notice she has no shadow”.
Georges is persistent. The woman looks around and seeing that nobody is watching them agrees and takes his hand. They cross the clearing quickly. And James, from his hiding place clearly sees Georges cast a long dark shadow while the woman next to him has none.
No matter how much he had believed himself prepared for this conclusion, for a split second James lost his ability to move.
In that moment, Georges and the woman vanished amid the dark trees.
James ran across the clearing, but the moment’s hesitation was enough for him to loose sight of them. Only the first few meters of the forest were lit with bright lanterns, the rest was dark.
James stumbles in the darkness, calling out Georges’ name.
There is no answer.
James runs out into the brightly lit area outside then realises that a vampire would lure their victim to an isolated spot, and rushes back in to the forest. The forest is dark, dense and eerily quiet. James could hear faint strands of the waltz reach him from outside.
“I will be too late” he is thinking, and rushes outside again, running to the manager’s tent demanding for a search party to be formed. He has forgotten that his actions could lead to panic, ruin the celebration and anger Harry.
“We will be too late!” he keeps repeating and without waiting for help, rushes back into the forest.
James thought that the forest rose uphill, all the way to the castle rock and was horrified at the thought of the search, but now, to his relief he saw that there was a moonlit clearing ahead of him that reached all the way to the foot of the mountain.
“Thank God I was wrong, it’s the other side of the lake, it would be easier to find them”, a thought rushes through his head, “oh, there they are”
He sees two figures approaching him across the clearing but as they come closer, he sees that they are both women. The first one, dark haired and lovely is undoubtedly Georges’ dancing partner, but who is the other one? Tall blonde in a light, old-fashioned summer dress.
They walk with their hands wrapped around each other’s waists, their eyes shining with a strange look of satisfied happiness, giving their beauty otherworldly mesmerizing form.
James had forgotten all about Georges, all he could think about are the two beautiful, seductive women. He feels the rush of blood and desire, but it lasts only a moment. His mind takes control of his young, passionate nature.
He no longer sees the shining faces of the women, but notices that both cast no shadow in the bright moonlight.
“The other one is also a vampire” a thought, oddly diffused passes his brain “What are we to do? There’s a whole nest of them”
As the women come closer, strange tiredness begins to overcome him.
“We are all doomed”, he thinks, feeling his legs buckle under him as he falls at the feet of the women.
“Death”, is the last though in James’ mind, before the darkness envelopes him.
Last strands of waltz are still heard above the calm lake, but the lights are starting to dim. Tar barrels and roman candles are burned out, besides, there is no more need for them, the dawn is already breaking and the sun will soon rise.
Most of the guests are already gone.
Harry, pale and tired is sitting on the shore of the lake, looking sadly at the remains of the celebration. Wright, frowning, is standing at his side.
“So, Captain, are you happy? Did you manage to catch a pretty fish? And where is James, I couldn’t believe he is still trailing skirts?” asks Harry tiredly.
“I am worried about James, no one had seen him” answers Wright.
“What is there to worry about, unless he was abducted by a mountain fairy”, replies Harry with a weak smile.
Suddenly Smith appears before them; he is as pale as a ghost and could barely speak:
“Mr Cardie, we have a tragedy. Young Mr Georges was found dead”.
“What?”, shouts Wright “and where is James, where is he?”, and without waiting for an answer he rushes away.
Servants arrive, quietly bearing Georges’ body. They lay him gently in the middle of the dance floor.
“Get the doctor,” shouts Harry, bending over the corpse.
The expression on Georges’ face is peaceful, even happy. There are no signs of a struggle, even the two red, slightly weltered roses are still tucked in the lapel of his hunting jacket.
“Who could have given them to him? These came from my garden,” asks Harry angrily, “have you forgotten, Smith, that I ordered for them not to be touched?”
“Have I ever dared to forget your orders, Mr Cardie?” replied Smith, “I even have the key to the garden here with me”, he added.
“Strange”, said Harry a little calmer, “but, what’s all that noise?”
A crowd has gathered close to the edge of the forest. Somebody screamed.
Suddenly people moved and several of them started to walk towards Harry, carrying something heavy, close to the ground. One more body.
Captain Wright, who was crossing the clearing, stopped dead in his tracks.
“Don’t let it be Jamie, my best friend! Only yesterday he was heaving a premonition, but he was worried about others, not himself”. Wright felt tears come to his eyes, and rushed across the tall grass.
The crowd meantime reached the dance floor and lowered second body on the rug next to Georges.
It wasn’t James.
The corpse was that of a young boy of about sixteen, and judging by his costume, a city artisan. No one knew who he was.
The crowd had gathered around the corpses, not knowing what to do.
Captain Wright was running across the grass towards them when he tripped on something and fell. He got up instantly, mechanically glancing on the ground, and stopped, unbelieving. James’ body was lying at his feet.
“Am I mad? James is here, and James is being carried to the dance floor?” he thinks, and bending down lifts James’s body across his shoulder and starts to walk to the dance floor, not thinking. There he gently lowers it to the ground without saying a word.
Someone in the crowd screams, the sound rousing everyone. People start to rush, getting into the carriages, saddling horses, or making the way on their own two feet. Panic sweeps everyone. In between hysterical screams, one could hear threats and curses towards Harry.
Soon Harry is surrounded only by few of his closest friends and even fever servants.
Warm rays of the sun light up a strange scene: luxurious carpets, bright flags and tinsel decorations. The ground is littered with ribbons, gold and silver stars. Half empty beer mugs, ladies’ fans and gloves lay abandoned on the tables.
Everything spoke of life and yet the three pale corpses lay in the midst of it!
All three are young, beautiful and lifeless. The features are sharp and the dead eyes are wide-open, staring unseeing in the rays of the morning sun.
Harry and his friends stand helpless, not knowing what to do, when a loud voice is heard in the distance. Doctor Weiss, who had left the party many hours ago, had arrived from the castle. Instantly he takes charge of the frightened servants:
“Hurry, hurry, maybe there is something we can do. Take them to my rooms, come on, move it!” he orders.
The servants move the bodies and the sad procession heads uphill towards the castle on foot.
Harry is gloomily silent, while Captain Wright could barely hide his despair.
Doctor Weiss was already in his room, having ridden up the road. He and Joe already prepared the examination table.
Georges and the young artisan were pronounced dead. Quietly, Doctor pointed to small wounds on the corpse’s necks, whispering:
“James was right, after all”, moving to James’s body he began by lifting his head, searching for the familiar wounds.
There was none.
The body bore no injuries, only the brilliant blue lotus tattoo on James’ left shoulder stood out brightly under the electric lights, its colours vivid, yet delicate, almost shimmering.
“He is in a deep coma, maybe some form of hypnosis”, said Doctor, “there is hope, help me, Captain”
After a long time and effort, James woke up.
He was put in a warm bed and Wright volunteered to watch over him.
Meantime panic was still reigning in the castle. The remaining guests and most of the servants were packing their belongings, in a hurry to leave the place before dark.
Smith was shouting and cursing in most of the European languages, vainly trying to get the servants to help him and get the bodies in a decent state.
Harry locked himself in his study without bothering to bid his guest a farewell.
James had recovered completely after several hours of deep sleep and asked to see Karl Ivanovich.
“Have you read it?” he asked as soon as he saw the old librarian in the doorway.
“Yes, Sir, I did, and it is so sad, it is hard not to cry. Poor mademoiselle Rita” replied Karl Ivanovich, lowering his head, “she was killed by a vampire and she was fully aware of her fate, and yet she could tell no one, and this was the horror of her situation”.
“Don’t waste your pity on her. She is a vampire herself and she murdered Georges. Now I know why her face seemed so familiar to me...I saw it before in the portrait gallery, she is the young Italian bride in the white gown with Catherine de Medici collar. It was that very collar that confused me, it gave her face a different expression. Now I am certain she is guilty of Georges’ death”, said James with conviction.
“I am afraid you are wrong, Sir. Mademoiselle Rita, she is such a sweet, tender creature...Let me read you her notes, they aren’t long”, offered Karl Ivanovich.
“Up until this moment my life was like a fairytale and I was a Cinderella who had found her prince. Only my Carlo is far more handsome, kinder, and wealthier than any prince in this world!
His castle, my castle, is built on a high rock, surrounded by a garden drowning in flowers, so many beautiful blooms, and among them my favourite red roses. Beautiful, perfect, I love them still, even though now I have many jewels. I want to wear only them.
And all of this is thanks to Carlo. He is so generous, sometimes I feel that he is going to buy the entire world for me.
Wonderful Carlo, if only you knew that I love you not for your gifts, but for you.
I am happiest when you hold me and I rest myself against your chest.
And last night had started so wonderfully. Carlo stood at my window for a long time and we both were looking up at the moon. I didn’t know that it was to be for the last time, and that nothing would ever be the same again.
What happened? I don’t know myself, but I am no longer the same and everything has changed.
During the night, cold wind blew into my window. Lucia and Francesca swear that the night was hot, but I know different. Cold wind blew into my room, stale, cold wind.
I wrapped my shawl around me and closed my eyes.
Soon I felt that I was no longer alone in the room, and unseen presence was there, and at the same time, I am unable to open my eyes.
Someone is coming closer, could it be Carlo, and then a strange thing happened,-through my closed lids, I see a man approaching my bed. It is not Carlo.
He is tall and lean, dressed in dark velvet, his eyes glisten and his thin, malicious looking mouth is closed in a cruel line.
Who is he?
I can see in his features the resemblance to Carlo’s ancestors, and yet, I have never seen him before. I know each and every portrait in the gallery and he is not among them.
The longer he stares at me, the colder I feel. My panic is rising and I hear, not with my ears, but in my heart: “You are my chosen one. I love you”
Terror overwhelms me and I loose consciousness.
Warm ray of the sun wakes me. Everything is silent and I am alone in the room.
The feeling of cold remained and my neck feels sore. I look in the mirror and see two small wounds. How could I have hurt myself? But then I remember the sharp carnelian pin.
At coffee, I wanted to tell Carlo my dream, but before I could open my mouth, I clearly heard: “Don’t you dare!” I fell silent, shocked, and then Carlo began pestering me with questions about my health, telling me that the nanny heard me moaning last night.
Before long, I was assailed with questions and advice and when I showed them the wounds on my neck, Carlo turned white as a ghost.
Why? Are they dangerous?
He and the others think I’ve caught a cold when I was in the crypt. It is true, it was quite damp down there and it was my own fault for leaning against a stone coffin, but the strange thing is, I felt as if the cold had left the stone and entered my body, taking possession of it.
It is as if it owns me.
And so from that wretched night I’ve lost my peace and happiness.
I am cold in daylight, and at night, especially if the moon is bright, I am filed with passionate longing. But what, whom, do I long for? At first, I didn’t know myself, but now I know, I know I am waiting for “him”.
Dreadful, black stranger. He orders me to call for him, telling me that then it is easier for him to come and I obey, yearning for him to appear.
I don’t know who he is, I fear him, hate him, and long for him.
He enters my room like a master, caressing me, whispering: “Your love gave me back my life, my youth”.
I see that he is right, he looks younger now, his skin is warm in colour, his lips are red...and I feel even more repulsed.
Everything around me sways and pulsates and I try to lie very still, but how it all ends and where he goes to, I don’t know.
I think I may be ill with some unknown sickness. Carlo wanted to call for a doctor but I couldn’t dare. “He” will be angry.
My wounds are not healing; instead, they are larger now and look horrible. I am forced to cover them with ribbons and lace.
The moon is young now and “he” hasn’t come to me for a few days.
It is as if I am waking from a nightmare, still unable to tell you what was a dream and what really happened to me.
I know one certainty: I am in danger. In danger from him, if he exists, or in danger from insanity, if he doesn’t.
I have to tell Carlo, and he is away in the city. Something has delayed him there.
I am calmer now, and my wounds are healing well.
I need to do something, and Carlo is still in the city!
Today I am so happy, I’ve found my prayer book, my precious little book. I though I lost it, and without it, the prayers left my memory.
Now I no longer fear you, black ghost!
Francesca promised to read evening prayers with me before bed. I told her I have been seeing a dark man, and she assured me that no ghost can withstand the prayers of Saint Anthony. I am happy now. I only wish Carlo would come home.
The moon is growing, soon it will be full.
My confidence and courage vanish and the yearning and longing for sweet pleasure grow stronger and stronger. The desire to be rocked in the moonlight is overwhelming me. Silver waves are streaming, streaming past you, you feel as if you are flying, and he is here, with you, both hated and desired.
Now, I will conquer myself, I will not give him the reason to come here!
My prayer book is at my side, all I need to do is control my nerves, haven’t I had enough of hallucinations?
Francesca sits with me on the bed every evening and we talk for hours.
Carlo came back. He is thinner and looks unwell, as if something is bothering him. Whatever it is, he doesn’t want to worry me. How can I add to his burden?
Besides, I am well now.
Carlo brought with him a funny old man, a friend of his father’s. He is so attentive to me, bowing and asking concerned questions, as if he were a lovesick knight!
He is so comical.
On his neck, he is wearing a funny little symbol on a black cord. When I asked him what it was he replied solemnly:
“It is a pentagram, madam. Against evil spirits”
I wanted so badly to ask him for it, but I couldn’t dare. I will ask Carlo to order the same one for me.
We are expecting a new guest soon; Carlo’s best friend is due to arrive from Nuremberg. The forest house is being prepared for him.
Carlo says that he is terribly learned and does not like company, especially that of females.
It’s a pity, I never saw forest house, though Carlo had prepared two rooms for me there, but now I wouldn’t be able to go there at all, Carlo would never allow his friend to be disturbed!
Everything is over.
The full moon came and he took my soul.
To my misfortune, Francesca had a headache and left me to go to bed. I have no strength to fight him. He is not a ghost, he is real. Real. He lies across my chest and quietly, oh so quietly drinks my blood, my very life. My wounds are open now, their edges white.
Again, I cannot walk away from under his control, cannot ask Carlo for help. He forbade me from caressing Carlo, he is terrible jealous. “There will be no wedding” he told me.
How will it end, what will happen?
Oh, horror, horror of last night!
We were all sitting in the garden and I felt him coming and hurried into my bedroom. In my haste, I forgot to lock the door to Francesca’s room.
He was soon here, sucking on my neck.
Maybe I moaned and Francesca came into my room.
I saw her rush at him, grabbing his shoulders. It was a terrible struggle!
Francesca fought for me as if possessed, her hair came undone, the shirt was torn off her body and yet she was unaware. But how could she have won, he is strong, so supernaturally strong, it is a miracle she lasted that long.
Maybe the blessed rosary that she wore on her breast helped her, for the moment the beads broke; she fell to the floor, dead.
Darkness swallowed me, for how long, I cannot tell.
I woke up and Carlo was holding me, Francesca’s body was gone...
They are trying to hide her death from me! It is even funny, if only they’d known...
Carlo wants me to move to the forest house. I don’t mind, why not?
Who knows, maybe this is the key to my salvation. If I go away from him, stop calling him, maybe, he will forget about me. Carlo’s ‘learned’ friend isn’t as old or grumpy as Carlo told me. He is welcoming me to “his” forest house.
I am doomed, finally doomed!
I wanted to find a shelter, an escape in the forest house and instead...I walked straight into his lair! My god!
His eyes were glowing in his hellish triumph! He was smiling his arrogant, evil smile...now he no longer needs me to call him.
It is his home. A single wall stands between us. And no one knows.
There is no salvation for me, goodbye Carlo, Farewell my happiness, my very life!
The time drags on and on, he is taking my life slowly, prolonging his pleasure, and I am forced to live not only through the horrible nights, but now even days!
Who could imagine that between my room and the one with his horrible portrait, or should I say him himself, there is a secret door...and no one knows of it save us both!
He can come and go as he pleases.
My end is close, pray for me. Soon...”
“Poor girl” said Karl Ivanovich softly.
Before James could answer, the door of his bedroom swung open and Harry stormed in, followed by Captain Wright, Doctor and Smith. Smith was pale and Harry was clearly enraged. He slumped into a chair and started talking so fast that James could barely follow him:
“What the hell is this?! Goddamned bedlam, that’s what! These backward fools are yelling that I brought death with me from America. Damned idiots, that’s all I think of them. How dare they attack my messenger and beat the hell out him? I will make sure these harebrained bastards pay for this.”
“Calm down, Harry, and tell us properly what happened” said James.
Harry swore again. Then he pulled out a cigar and lit it. After a few drags he calmed down and nodded to his manager:
“Smith, tell James what happened”
“This morning”, started Smith “Miller and I left for the city. After we bought provisions and collected parcels, I told Miller to go back with the cart. I left on the horseback to see a landowner to make arrangements about a horse that Mr Cardie wanted to buy. The man wasn’t at home and I hurried to catch up with Miller.
You can imagine first my shock and then fury when I saw the overturned cart, provisions scattered in the dust, parcels broken and contents lying in the dirt right in the middle of the village road.
I searched for Miller and saw him leaning against the wall of the hut. His face was bloody and he was surrounded by the screaming mob. The villagers were cursing and shaking their fists at him.
I rushed to his aid and as soon as the mob spotted me, they completely lost their minds:
“There he is, damned heretic, heathen American, he and his devil master brought death with them, kill him, kill him!”
They rushed towards me.
I lashed the first few with my riding crop and they pulled back. I got my revolver out and, pointing at the mob, said:
“The first one to move will die; I swear it by your God”
Cowards moved back even further.
“Now tell me, what are your grievances? What do you need, what are you complaining about? Isn’t your village flourishing since Mister Cardie moved here? Doesn’t he help your enough? Feeds your poor and looks after your sick? Come on, speak!”
“You’re right, Sir” said the old, grey peasant, “All that you say is true, with the arrival of your master we forgot all our troubles, but the calamity is, that, in these three months we have had more dead than in an entire year, all of them young. The sickness is strange, so strange, we’ve never heard of it. One day you’re fine, tomorrow your are dead. So the lads are thinking, maybe your master brought something form overseas. They say there is no God there and people live unbaptised”.
“Gentlemen, how can you think that?” I said to them “we are as much Christian as you are, pray to the Holy Virgin like you, and all death is simply God’s will”
They quietened a little. Some started arguing and whispering among themselves.
Quietly I pulled Miller up in the saddle behind me.
Suddenly a peasant woman came running, her hair dishevelled, dress torn, screaming:
“Help me, Christian people, my little girl is dead. The black Devil smothered her; I saw it myself, with my own eyes. All in velvet, he lay upon the child, and when he saw me, he ran, straight to the castle! I wanted to grab him and look what he did to me!” she was shouting, her words broken up with sobs and curses.
The crowd rushed towards me and, well, I thought it prudent to flee. Luckily, I was riding our ‘Peacock’, in few seconds he knocked over the first row of the villagers, the ones in at the back jumped away and Miller and I were on the open road. Of course, no other horse could catch him. Now the gates are locked. What are the orders?”
Harry’s rage returned and he stood up:
“I will level their damned village to the ground. How dare they, “Brought death with him?” Smith, telegraph Colonel, I need a detachment of soldiers. Tell him I will pay all the expenses beforehand.”
Smith was about to leave, when James stopped him:
“Please wait. Harry please listen to me, or rather, us” he said “We are all as good as a family and I consider Smith a loyal and honest member of staff, and I think it is necessary that he also hears this.
Yes, Harry, no matter how insane it may sound, the villages are partially right in blaming us”
“What, that we brought death with us?” asked Harry, his eyes wide in surprise.
“No we didn’t bring it with us but, how can I put it, unleashed it on them” replied James.
Harry looked at Doctor who clearly read the question: “When did he lose his mind?”
“James is fine, he is not insane. Listen to him and you will see why” replied Doctor.
James began telling Harry and Smith his theories. He started with Wright’s vision in the Hunting Lodge, the incident with Georges that Doctor mistook for sleepwalking, brought up the strange disappearance of a woman in a blue dress. He quoted Carlo’s letters and the diaries of Rita and insane schoolteacher.
James told Harry and Smith of his own observations concerning the deaths of Viscount Reno, Cornet Visē and, finally, that of young Georges. Lastly, he told of his fruitless attempt to destroy the vampire.
At first Harry was smiling suspiciously, thinking that his friends were playing a prank, but as James carried on speaking, Harry grew more serious, frowning and rubbing his brow.
When James finished, Harry rose up and paced the room back and forth, gathering his thoughts:
“I’d be damned if I know what goes on here, it’s like a tale from the Arabian nights, or something” he exclaimed “but, then, your words have a lot of truth in them. Bravo, Sherlock Holmes” he said, smiling at James
“I was also wandering about all the strange things going on here” he continued, “People are dying like flies, and we keep hearing about weird dreams and visions, and me, with my own adventures.”
“I didn’t want to tell you before, partly because I thought you’d laugh at me, and partly before I didn’t know myself...but now I can”, said Harry.
“The first time was still at the Hunting Lodge, on what night I cannot remember. I went to bed.
You all know that my bedroom was the third one down the passage, a little larger than the rest but still with only a single window, facing the garden.
This part of the grounds was very overgrown with lilacs and bird cherry. The branches, heavy with flowers, would push into my open window.
I couldn’t sleep.
I tried lying very still, tried, - on Doctor’s advice- to count slowly to a hundred, tried thinking about my plans for the castle.
Nothing would help.
My pillow felt unbearably hot, my straw mattress seemed as soft as down, which I cannot stand.
I was ready to get up, when, all of a sudden, I felt a pleasant cool breeze wash over me, as if thousands of unseen wings were beating in the darkness...
Vague shapes began to rise from the shadows and strange inexplicable desires filled my mind.
The shapes, formless and fluid, were unrecognisable at first, but as my eyes adjusted, their contours became clearer and clearer.
You’ve guessed it; the images were those of beautiful women.
But they weren’t real; I mean they weren’t modern women.
Their faces and bodies were dark, bronze in colour, as if their delicate soft skin was burned brown by the tropical sun. Glossy black hair were pulled up in an intricate coiffure, separated into hundreds of thin braids and decorated with bright feathers of tropical birds.
Instead of clothes, they wore leopard skins slung around their thighs, and for some the entire costume consisted of a single gold belt.
The images moved, shifted and merged like bits of glass in a kaleidoscope.
The air was filled with pleasant rustling sound, like beating of bird’s wings. Strong, aromatic fragrance that I never smelled before was making my head spin.
My pulse was hammering against my temples, I felt as if my soul wanted to leave my body.
“Find the talisman, give us life and be our master,” a wonderful woman’s voice whispered in my ear.
I couldn’t take it anymore and tried to rise from my bed and...woke up.
My blood is still ringing in my ears; my heart is beating like a hammer.
I get up, open the drapes, and push at the window frame. The moon is bright. Lilacs and Bird cherry are blooming and their scent fills the air, but it seems dead and unpleasant to me.
I want what I saw in my dream.
I want to hear the beating of unseen wings, want to see beautiful women...
But it is all in vain. Whatever it was, it is gone now.
I couldn’t sleep until dawn.
I decided to label my adventure a ‘dream’ and blame it on the old Tokay. Do you remember how surprised you all were when I stopped drinking my favourite wine?
Now, after most of us have seen dreams similar to mine, I mean something more than just a dream, more real, actual, I am inclined to believe that this dream and the others that followed were a part of the strange events happening around us”
“What, you saw more?” asked James, surprised.
“Yes, twice more. I will tell you,” said Harry taking several drags off his cigar “The second time was again at the Hunting Lodge, and again I cannot remember when exactly. I only know that Viscount Reno was already buried.
I went to my bedroom and dismissed Sabo.
I didn’t feel like sleeping.
I pulled open the dark curtains and opened the window. The moon is bright, just like the last time. Bird cherry and Lilacs are blooming again, only tonight their fragrance is pleasant to me.
I sit on my chair by the window.
Long branches, laden with flowers push into the open frame. At the slightest stirring of wind, they move and white petals fall on me and the floor at my feet.
Unconsciously, I follow them with my eyes... shadows of the branches cast an intricate pattern on the light- coloured floor and the white petals only increase the effect.
They seem to pull closer together merging into a single white spot.
But, what’s that?
The spot moves and I see an outline of a white muslin dress, humble an unpretentious. I can see a woman’s face, her thick golden braids and blue, bottomless eyes, spilling with sadness and grief. Her face is so pale, it seems transparent...
She looks like a typical German “Gretchen”.
Afraid of frightening the ghost I force myself to sit very still.
She moves closer to me, her movements unsure and cautions. She bends over me and her small delicate hands with their long, transparent fingers wind around my neck.
One more moment and we would be kissing.
Suddenly I hear the familiar beating of wings, except now it is hundred times stronger, the sound is deafening. It forces itself between me and my “Gretchen”. She moves back further and further, her image fades and vanishes and in her place, I see the spinning, writhing copper-red naked bodies.
Their dance is more violent, more passionate than before; the aroma of hot flesh is almost unbearable.
I hear a familiar voice: “Return the talisman, bring us back to life!”
In the morning, Sabo discovered me, close to unconsciousness, in my chair. I ordered him to keep quiet.
What could I say? I had no logical explanation for this. I couldn’t even blame the old Tokay”.
“Now, for the last one” said Harry, taking another drag “Today, you’ve mentioned an incident with the woman in blue, the one that came to our masked ball.
I must admit, I was quite infatuated back then.
Of course, I didn’t believe you when you insisted that she didn’t exist and the whole thing was a hallucination. I was convinced that she was real. I saw her, felt her and I had the carnelian pin she’d left behind to prove it. What else could I need?
If I was so diligent in making my past- ball visits, it was because I was hoping to find her. I hired two Jews to do the same. Nothing...not a trace, not a clue.
Finally, I lost all hope of ever seeing her again.
Do you remember my lousy mood back then? I was blaming it on the tiredness and being forced to make all those daily visits.
Then, when I wasn’t so much as beginning to forget her, as accepting my fate, I was walking alone, on foot, from the Hunting Lodge back to the castle.
Do you remember a small bright clearing in the middle of the forest? As I was approaching it, I saw something blue through the thinning leaves. I stopped, trying to focus my eyes.
A dress. The same fabric, the same light shade, the colour of the sky. It must be her. I can even glimpse her red roses through the leaves...it is her.
I didn’t even bother to think what she would be doing here, in the middle of the forest, in her evening dress!
“I’ve found her!” was all I could think.
I rush through the bushes, a moment more and I will be in the clearing and I will see her...
Something rushes past my face.
I can hear the familiar beating of wings, could smell the aroma of the heated flesh, though I cannot see anything.
“Our master, our master” the voices ring in my head. And then, nothing.
I am standing in the middle of the clearing.
Everything is quiet, the sun is bright. In the middle of the clearing, a large puddle from yesterday’s rain is reflecting the endless blue of the summer’s sky.
A single red poppy is growing at its edge.
I was almost ready to cry from disappointment. To mistake a rain puddle and a poppy for a woman, isn’t that ridiculous?”
Harry fell silent.
“Well, what happened next?” asked Doctor.
“Next? What do you think about this?” Harry answered Doctor’s question with his own.
“What do I think? I think that the Old Tokay isn’t the only culprit here”
“And you, Jamie?” asked Harry, turning to James.
James didn’t answer.
“What do you think?” asked Harry again.
“Forgive me if I don’t answer”, replied James “I have few facts, even less evidence. And what I do think is so far-fetched that all of you would be mocking me for the rest of my life”
Smith, who hasn’t uttered a single sound throughout the conversation, suddenly turned to Harry:
“I don’t know, Sir, if the gentlemen would be interested in hearing my dream...”, he asked, unsure.
“Of course.” replied Harry.
“A dream, but not a true dream” began Smith.
“I’d bet there were women involved, with roses or nenufares”, snorted Doctor.
“Oh no, Doctor... what women? Even peasant wenches in the village call me “The Red Devil”. I wish I were back in America, at least there the redheads are respected”
Everyone bowled over laughing, despite the seriousness of conversation. Once the laughter died down, Doctor, barely able to keep his face straight, asked with mock solemnity:
“So, Mister Red Devil, what did you dream?”
“It was the night before the masked ball. I was dead tired after spending the whole day going up ant down the stairs from the attic to the cellar I swear at least a hundred times. My head was full of the things that still needed to be done, but the moment it touched the pillow I was gone.
How long I was sleeping, I cannot tell.
I am in a cellar. Why did I come here? No, I am wrong, this isn’t our castle, I am some place different. Maybe it is an underground prison, but who could have put me there, and why?
And yet I know that I am deep underground. Everything is dead silent and a faint, almost undetectable smell hangs in the air.
“Oh, it must be our new Mexican mine”, I think and the fear and hesitation vanish.
I walk on. Strange, but our shafts, especially the lower ones are much narrower, with low ceilings, and here I cannot feel the stone around me. I reach towards the walls, trying to find the wooden scaffolding, but, to my surprise, my fingers touch a smooth, polished surface.
“Must be marble or granite”, a though flashes through my mind, and I keep walking. The passage seems to go on forever.
Soon I am able to distinguish vague shapes alongside the walls. I couldn’t tell what they are first, but as I walk further, I begin to see a little better. The walls of the passage have niches carved into them, each holding a coffin. I see shadowy female figures in the caskets; their long hair and clothes leave me in doubt of this.
I start to run, faster and faster, until I come to a closed door.
I push it open and stand frozen.
I cannot see anything.
The light is so bright it is blinding me.
Finally, I am able to see where I am; I am inside an enormous empty hall, its walls are made of running water, like a waterfall. Bright light is coming from somewhere; it is neither sunlight, nor electricity.
In front of me stands a tall golden structure, a throne, or maybe an altar. I hear, not from the depths of the room, but rather, from all sides a voice:
“Find the treasure, dig, and search, get up, get up!”
I realise that the voices are in my own head.
I am inside our castle cellars once more, but I am not sure which one. I can see faint light seep through one of the walls.
I feel something heavy in my hand. A pickaxe. I lift it, swinging...and wake up.
Miller is standing over my bed, shaking my arm:
“Get up, get up. Go find Mr Cardie, there is an urgent telegram from the plantation”.
The morning sun is bright in my room, blinding me.
I was thinking about this dream for a whole week”, continued Smith “Find, dig!”, maybe it was fate, a sign. The castle is old; perhaps there is a buried treasure.
Forgive me, Mr Cardie, but I couldn’t help myself, I tried to search in the cellars, everywhere. I even dug in the crypt. Nothing”, sighed Smith.
“And what happened next?” asked Doctor.
“Nothing. It was all a lie”
“So, gentlemen, lets here your opinions about this dream?” said James, straightening.
“Jamie, have mercy! To discuss every dream!” begged Doctor in mock horror “what couldn’t one dream about? Just a little overindulgence at supper and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a disaster. Last Sunday I decided to give a Russian dish a try. “Siberian Pelmeni”, that’s what it was called. And I swear to you, the blasted things were dancing and flying around me the whole night! I’d open my mouth and try to grab one, and it would be gone, returning a moment later to dance some more under my nose. I’d wait for it to come closer... snap! No luck. I suffered that night. In the morning I had to drink some Ricini”, added Doctor with a serious face.
Everyone laughed, except James, who waved his hand angrily at the ever-cheerful Doctor.
“All right. We need a battle plan”, said Harry once the laughter died down “At least this is more interesting than dancing and making visits”
“Firstly, Smith” he continued, “Tomorrow you will visit the village priest and ask him to hold a special Mass. Make it all sound as solemn as possible and tomorrow, all of us will go to church.
Then, a formal breakfast. We will invite the priest, the village headman, their doctor and about five or six leading figures. Let it be known that I blame today’s incident on the rowdiness of drunken youths and have, magnanimously, chosen not to pursue the culprits. Prepare a good donation for the village school, church and the sick-house. This I will hand over to the local representatives after the formal breakfast.
At the same time, deliver some festive food to the village. Find any excuse, tell them it’s my birthday or I have become a recipient of a new order, anything will do.
With this, we will temporarily shut up the loudest voices in the village and it will give us necessary time to deal with our unwelcome housemates.
Now, the first question: you’ve told me that you went into the new crypt and found it empty”, continued Harry, “I was the one who ordered for the coffins to be removed”, he opened his walled and pulled out a small piece of pink notepaper. Even without the smell of lavender that accompanied it, one could easily guess that it was written by a woman. Harry read aloud:
“Every knight, before he can posses his lady, must perform a great feat, or fulfil a whim of hers. It would be desirable for the coffins of Frederick and Maria Dracula to be moved into the common crypt, before tonight. Reward awaits you at the Lake Party. You will recognise me by my blue dress and the roses”
“I found this note lying on my desk” added Harry “new burial place of the couple is well known to Smith”, he finished.
Getting up Harry stood silent for a moment, then spoke again:
“The second question is, if she, or should I say “it” is trying to posses me, how come I am not only alive, but even my neck is still in one piece?”
“Good question. We’ve been following you for a while now, and are wandering why she’d left you alone”, interrupted James “Wright and I have been keeping watch every night”
“Is it true, my friends?” said Harry, touched and embraced both James and Wright.
“What’s so strange? Haven’t we all swore to watch each other’s backs?” said James simply.
“Thank you again, friends,” repeated Harry “Do you know what? I am starting to believe that Carlo, the previous owner, knew about his dangerous neighbours and took precautions. Now I understand his passion for the sign of pentagram, you know what I am talking about, two interlocked triangles. The symbol is found everywhere in my rooms, on the headboards of my bed, on the fireplace, windowsills, door entrance. It is made of metal, carved into the wood or made into a mosaic. Even my riding crop and a walking stick are decorated with the same symbol. It all fascinated me to so much that I decided to start wearing it around my neck. Laughing I decided, let me be marked by the cabbalistic symbol along with the rest of my possessions
And now it turns out it has been protecting me”, added Harry as he unbuttoned his waistcoat, pulling out a thin gold chain with elegant pentagram pendant, set with diamonds.
“Smith, tomorrow you will order for the same signs to be made in silver for all of our servants and staff. And draw a pentagram above every door in the castle”, continued Harry “I trust that you will do it as inconspicuously as possible”
“Now, for the rest. Karl Ivanovich has told me we’ve read all that we could find on the subject,” said Harry, facing the librarian.
“Yes, sir, as I’ve already told Mr James, I even looked inside all the books, except the big bible, but I doubt there will be anything in it”
“I hear you. Nonetheless, Smith will bring it up to the castle tonight and we can take a look at it, as for now, friends, I would like to examine all of your papers myself. I need time to think”
James handed Harry a pile of papers.
“All right. Till evening”, said Harry, getting up.
In the evening, surrounded by his friends, Harry read aloud from the several sheets of paper he discovered between the pages of the large bible. Karl Ivanovich was barely able to contain his misery at having nearly missed such an important document. He was clutching his bald head in despair:
“I don’t know what came over me to think that there was nothing important in that bible!” complained crestfallen librarian.