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Quincey Morris: Vampire

Chapters 5-6

by P.N. Elrod

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Chapter Five

Snow coated my shoulders and caked the thick muffler I’d wrapped snug around my head and hat, nearly blocking my sight. I brushed impatiently at it and pressed on against the wind. I kept moving steadily despite the drifts, not daring to go invisible yet lest the strength of the gale sweep me back to the castle. The storm was easier to fight in solid form, taking less out of me. When I got to the shepherd’s hut I might need all my reserves for whatever I found there.

A whole inactive day had passed since I’d last seen my friends. 

Anything could have happened to them.

I carried along such small items that they might need for survival: a dry box of Vespas, a flask containing the local plum brandy, and a freshly killed rabbit I’d acquired from the castle cook. How I might introduce these to my friends without revealing myself I did not know, but it seemed best to be prepared. 

If they still lived.

For my own aid I had a compass and consulted it frequently to hold my direction straight. The hut lay exactly west of the castle, easy enough to find in good weather, but a needle in a haystack in this storm. A few yards left or right and I could completely miss it.

Once released from my daylight stupor, I’d hurriedly departed the castle without seeing my host. After last night’s extraordinary revelation I did not feel up to talking with him yet. I’d stumbled across something that was doubtless extremely private that gave me much to think over. 

Maybe far too much for my sanity.

That Dracula had bred with the wolves had shocked me to the core, but reason told me that it was not my place to make judgments. Though he had once been a man in centuries past and still retained a man’s form and manner of thought he was yet something altogether different. He’d already stated that he’d given a part of himself—his soul, I would guess—to obtain powers beyond the mortal. The rules were different for him; I must never forget that.

The method of it I did not dwell on, but the why had me puzzled and full of furious speculation. How could he be fertile with wolves, yet not indulge in the equivalent of the same activity with a woman? He’d said that the sharing of blood with them was the only expression of love left to him, and I’d no reason to doubt his statement. But perhaps as a wolf he was able to embrace the fullness of living again, in all its aspects. That gave me a wry smile. I suppose if that was the only other outlet left to him, then of course he would take it.

As for his progeny. . . well, that would account for their unnatural intelligence. It might also be the explanation for all those old legends about werewolves. If Dracula could make himself into a wolf, could they in turn become men? My mind reeled with the implications, but in my heart I knew these were questions I could never voice to him. Had he wanted me to know he’d have told me by now. I’d encroached enough.

At least now I understood why his grief for the dead she-wolf had been so great.

The cold wind drew false tears from my eyes which froze on my face under the muffler. I rubbed them away and tried to get my bearings. I’d found a clearing that seemed familiar, but no sign of a path. The snow covered all and changed all and continued to do so with every icy blast. Drifts filled in valleys and leveled hills. If I found Jack and Art in this it would be due more to luck than my skill as a woodsman.

The hut was not too very distant from the castle, but the hard going lengthened my journey fourfold. I took that into account for my reckoning, and after an hour of travel began to cast about in hope of spotting the structure. I cared nothing about leaving tracks at this point, the snow would cover them fast enough.

After another hour of it I was close to despair and feeling the cold creep into my bones with a vengeance. The changes within could not protect me forever.

I picked out an especially large tree for a landmark, paced fifty feet straight west, and trudged in a broad circle around it. When I found my own trail again, I walked another fifty feet out and made another circle, looking all the time for some sign of the hut.

Twice more I did this before finally stumbling upon it. The snow was piled so high on one side that it was nearly buried to the roof. I’d been looking for the three horses, but they were no longer there. That gave me a leap of hope for a second or two, thinking my friends might have left. Not possible, said the voice of common sense. By all the signs the storm had raged steadily through the day; they would never have been able to depart in it. My guess was they’d brought the horses in with them to add their body warmth to the shelter.

And so it proved when I vanished and sieved inside.

Again, I was grateful for the respite from the endless wind, but it was quite crowded within; I hardly knew where to carry myself to be out of the way. The animals quickly became aware of my presence and began to stir unhappily.

“What is it?” Art called out, his voice high with strain and louder than necessary for such small quarters.

“It’s all right, the horses are just restless,” Jack calmly replied. “Go back to sleep.”

“With that row? I doubt it.”

They still lived. Thank God. 

“What’s gotten into them?” complained Art, peevish.

“Not pleased with the cramped accommodations. A word to the management is in order.”

“One good kick will bring the walls down on us.”

Jack got up and made hushing noises at the horses while I floated toward the fireplace and hovered next to the ceiling to get away from them. It must have worked; they finally settled down. I kept utterly motionless and in silence rejoiced that all was well, or reasonably close to it.

“God, look at the time,” said Art, still in a complaining tone. “I’ve slept all day.”

“You needed it. Besides, we’re neither of us going anywhere for awhile.”

“Is it still snowing?”

“Yes, unfortunately. In all my life I’ve never been so bored with the weather. I hope to heaven it blows itself out soon.”

“Our supplies—”

“I wasn’t going to bring up that sore point, my boy, so don’t bother yourself.”

“This is my fault.”

“The storm? Thank you, I was wondering who to blame.”

“It’s hardly a joking matter.”

“We can do little else. Here, this will put you in a better mood and warm you up.”

A pause as Art partook of what I presumed to be a sip from Jack’s brandy flask. “We could be days here, you know.”

“I know.”

“Jack Seward, you can be damned annoying.”

“So some of my patients have informed me in one way or another.”

“Meaning I’m becoming a lunatic?”

“Well, it would give us both something to do to pass the time.”

Art snorted.

“That’s better. We’ve been in worse spots than this before and come out all right. Odds are we’ll do it again.”

“That, or we’re overdue for a comeuppance.”

“Are you hungry?”

“I can wait. We might need it later. I was a fool to just take the tails. Should have carved some meat from the last one.”

If I’d been capable of such an expression, I’d have given a shudder just then. Knowing what I did now, had Art cut away a haunch of that she-wolf for his supper I had no doubt Dracula would have not let himself be distracted from killing him. He’d have torn Art to ribbons.

“We’ll get along without,” said Jack.

“I could probably find the body. It’s not that far.”

“It’s on the other side of the world and hidden by drifts. Let it go.”

“I’ve gotten us killed and there you sit—”

“We’re not dead yet, Arthur, so hand me the brandy and light yourself a cigarette. If we’re going to die we might as well be civilized about it. Besides, we’ve still got the horses, so let’s not worry about starvation for the time being.”

Neither spoke for awhile. I conjectured they were most likely to be staring into the fire as men do when there’s nothing else to occupy their attention. This seemed an appropriate moment to take a chance.

Carefully, so very, very carefully, I began to resume form, the barest whisper of form, just enough to allow me to see them. It seemed to take forever to emerge from the grayness. I held myself perfectly still, lest movement draw their eye or disturb the horses.

As gradual as the circuit of a minute hand, the inside of the hut took on shape and form. I saw light from the fireplace first, then made out the figures of two men seated cross-legged before it directly below me. They were so near I could have reached out a ghostly hand and brushed the crowns of their hats. Once more did I feel a vast ache in my heart for these, my lost friends, so close and so far; yet the temptation to re-enter their lives remained firmly at bay. I was not in such desperate need of their company as to selfishly forget my responsibility toward them, but how I longed for a glimpse of their faces.

Tearing my gaze away, I surveyed the tiny interior. They’d organized everything neatly enough, out of habit and necessity. The horses took up nearly the whole of the room; not much space remained for anything else. I couldn’t see what remained in the way of supplies, but noted that their store of firewood wouldn’t last through the night. The presence of the animals might keep them from freezing or starving to death, but they would have a damned miserable time of it. If the storm continued on indefinitely—and I had no reason to think it would not linked as it must be to Dracula’s rage—they would surely die.

“I say, Art.”

“Eh?”

“If we do get out of this, would you be adverse to going home?”

“Home?”

“Yes, back to England, not just to the nearest village for more hardtack.”

“But the hunt—”

“See here, I’ve been patient, but enough is enough. If we survive this, I would like to leave. The others must be worried sick about us with no word after all this time. You wouldn’t want to cause Mrs. Harker any undue concern, would you?”

“Of course not, but I intend to finish what I’ve started.”

“And I’m all for that. My suggestion is only that we break it off for now and come back in the spring for the finish.”

“The wolves might be gone by then.”

“Packs tend to stay in one area. Quincey told me so. Learned it from some red Indian he’d met once.”

For the life of me I couldn’t recall who Jack might be referring to, then it dawned that he was being less than truthful with Art in order to bring him around. Clever fellow.

“They’ll all be here after the spring thaw, and we can pick up the trail then. Maybe hire some local help as guides. The herders here would probably be glad for the culling. It’ll be like the old days when you and I and Quincey went tramping about. A more fitting memorial to him than freezing to death. What do you say?” 

“You can leave if you like, I want to stay until I’ve got them all.”

“I’m damned before I walk off and leave you on your own in this wasteland.”

“I can look after myself.”

“Yes, but—”

Art snarled something splenetic, obviously in one of his sulks. 

Jack waited a moment, smoking. When he resumed, his manner was as serious and level as I’d ever known before. “Arthur. You know Quincey wouldn’t want us to die on his account.”

He got a short grunt for that one.

“What do you think he’d say if he knew of this? I’m sure he’d applaud the sentiment, but point out the impracticalities of our present circumstance.”

I’d have said something more on the lines of them being crazier than a pair of drunk bedbugs for sticking it out, but Jack had come close enough.

“For the sake of his memory—” he continued.

“All right! I’ll concede, but only until the spring.” 

Art sounded grudging, but I got the impression that his protests had been more about saving face than an unshakable determination to finish out his hunting. He could be stubborn when he wanted, but Jack invoking my name and likely wishes—which were indeed entirely correct—had allowed Art an honorable way to yield to sense. 

With much relief, I made myself safely invisible again and went outside. I had to fight to hold in place long enough to materialize, and then the roaring wind was such as to scatter my thoughts as easily as the flying snow. God, but I was tired. I’d been in such a hurry to get away from the castle I’d neglected to feed before leaving. After the activities of the previous night and the strains of this one I was extremely weary, but it was less from hunger so much as a slowing of thought. I had to struggle to focus on my friends’ plight.

Dealing directly with them was out of the question. Even muffled as I was and pretending not to understand English I could never pass as a Szgany close up, and returning to the castle to persuade one of the servants to act as my proxy Samaritan was impractical. Odds were he’d be shot for his trouble. I’d have to improvise something else for my friends.

First get them warmth. They could last days without food, but not fire. I cast about the surrounding trees, locating a dead one that would suit. Here did my extra-normal strength come in very handy as I broke off several whole branches, one as thick around as my leg. The wood was wet, but might dry out once inside the hut. I gathered enough to get them comfortably through the night and all the following day. Chopping it up was unnecessary; Jack was in the habit of carrying a hatchet for just such camp work.

I dragged the ungainly load around to the hut’s door—only its top half was visible—and tried to arrange the wood to look as though it had been blown there by chance. Beneath the heaviest branch I placed the body of the rabbit. My friends could then give thanks to a thoughtful Providence Who not only sent them fuel, but had conveniently bludgeoned some dinner for them as well. I left behind tracks, but the wind was filling them in.

Hoping they would choose to accept the bounty without question or looking around too much, I grabbed one end of a branch and cracked it smartly against the side of the hut, making plenty of noise, then retreating a short distance upwind to hide behind a tree. With the snow blowing straight in their faces they’d be less likely to spot me.

Very shortly after the sudden commotion the door was pulled open and the both of them stood on the threshold, each holding a gun. Art had a Colt six-shooter I’d given him years back in Texas, and Jack held a Winchester at ready. As one they stared at the wood in disbelief and tried to pierce the darkness for an explanation. With a short, excited cry Art pointed out the dead rabbit.

Perfect. As I vanished and let the wind carry me east they were joyfully breaking off branches and tossing them inside. Even without the extra Vespas and plum brandy they could fend for themselves for the time being. Now it was up to me to see that they had a chance to get away for good.

# # #

With the wind tossing me like a tumbleweed, my trip back to the castle was considerably shortened if a bit wild. I concentrated on keeping myself low to the ground lest I be caught up and carried so high as to never come down again. The mad charge ended when I blundered one time too many against yet another tree trunk. Instead of flowing around it, I gave up, went solid, and had a look to see how far I’d come.

The tree turned out to be the rocky base of the castle, and it was just as well for me to stop there. Fifty yards farther and I’d have gone over the edge into that near-bottomless valley. I slogged through the drifts to the courtyard entry and took myself immediately to the stables to refresh my strength, for I was quite dizzy. Whether it was a result of that peculiar mode of travel or lack of nourishment I couldn’t say, but a deep drink of a milk-cow’s blood soon restored me.

Once inside, I went to the library, but Dracula was not there, nor had any of the kitchen servants seen him. This was not unusual, as they rarely crossed paths with their master if they could help it. Not that he was a cruel man to them; it had less to do with their natural fear of what he was than the fact he was a boyar and they his peasants. For all the enlightenment of a modern world, the ancient class barriers still held sway here. Democracy was something out of history that had to do with the long dead Greeks. Amid the expressive shrugs to my simplified question, one of the men paused at lighting his pipe and pointed upward expressively, rattling something off that was beyond my limited vocabulary. I thought I understood, thanked him, and left.

Emerging from the trap door in the high tower I found Dracula standing near the western edge of the roof, arms crossed, brooding over God knows what. Though the air was bitingly cold, there was no wind up here, which struck me as very strange until I reminded myself that the storm was not normal. The proof of this was driven forcefully home when I joined him at the edge. Above us the stars cut the deep blue sky in their bright, stately circle; below, thick dark clouds roiled, tormented by the moaning wind, completely hiding the ground. We stood on a small stony island suspended exactly between chaos and order.

Dracula barely acknowledged my presence and continued to gaze out over the clouds. There was a heaviness of manner about him, as though any movement would be too costly an effort. His hair and long mustache were pure white now, and he bore many more lines on his face than when I’d last seen him. A combination of grief and not feeding, I suspected. It imparted an unexpected humanity to him.

“This is my work,” he murmured with a slight lift to his chin to indicate the storm.

“I thought it must be.” The scent of fresh snow drifted up to freeze the inside of my throat.

“It seemed a good way to discourage your friends.”

That he knew the man he’d attacked had a companion and the identities of both were no surprise. “I’m sorry about the deaths in your pack.”

He favored me with a long, steady, and quite expressionless look. “You understand how . . . important they are to me.”

“I do.” He also apparently knew of my presence in the crypt the night before, but I wasn’t about to explore the subject. “If you sent the wolves far away—”

“That has been done.”

“My friends thought they were avenging me, my disappearance. That’s why they were hunting.”

“So I surmised.” There was a cold light in his eyes. “In using them to save you I never thought they would be placed in danger. Though I can accept your friends’ desire for revenge, it will stop now.”

“I won’t allow you to kill them.”

Dracula made no reply, only continued to regard me steadily. I dared not look away. Do that with a wolf and he attacks. 

“Allow,” he said. His eyes narrowed slightly. He seemed . . . amused. And it was not at all reassuring.

I knew how to fight him and win. There were plenty of old but usable weapons scattered about the castle, mementos of past wars. Any one of the pole arms would serve as a stake, and the swords still looked sharp enough to easily remove a man’s head. And though he might be nearly invulnerable at night, same as me, my advantage over him was the fact that I could yet hold a cross. Toward that end, I’d made one some time earlier: two humble pieces of wood tied together with string that I’d prayed over, asking again and again for guidance.

“The ploy with the storm worked,” I said. “They’re ready to leave.”

His stare sharpened.

“I only looked in on them and listened. They never saw me.”

He gave a short nod. “Most wise of you.”

“Will you let them depart in peace?”

No reply. He turned back to the west, his features dropping into a frown. 

“Will you?”

“A moment, Mr. Morris.”

Dracula closed his eyes, lifting his head toward the clear sky. He let his arms relax to his sides, but raised his hands to waist level, fingers spread, as though holding an invisible ball close to his body. He held this pose for a very long time before gradually rotating his hands so his palms faced away from his body. Only then did I see he was under some kind of peculiar strain. Every inch of him trembled from it, though his hands were rock steady. There was an oddness about them, or rather the space between them. 

It was like looking into a hole and finding another hole on top of it. I couldn’t say that I saw anything, but something was there—or wasn’t there. Maybe the more sensitive Harker would have been able to see what my eyes couldn’t pin down. What I knew for certain was that every hair on my body stood on end from whatever it was, and I wanted to put distance between us. I stayed, though, curiosity overcoming instinctual fear.

The wind below took on a deeper moan. Had I given myself over to fancy, I could have sworn there were words in it, not a language I spoke or ever wanted to learn, but words all the same.

Was he making the storm worse? That’s what it looked like. Bad enough to start with, but if it became more violent the frail hut would certainly collapse.

I stepped toward Dracula and damn the consequences, but a blast of wind caught me in the chest like a giant’s fist. It knocked me flat and sent me skidding on my back across the slick wood of the roof to fetch up against the low rise of the opposite wall. I half turned, throwing an arm around it to save myself and found I had a sick-making view of that black valley stretching straight down into hell. All was clear there for the shrouding clouds parted around the tower and rose sharply to shred themselves to nothing in the high distance.

The force that struck me slacked off, allowing me to stand. Though still strong, this wind was bearable. Quite normal, in fact. No unearthly voices. I cautiously approached Dracula. 

He was bent forward, hands resting on the wall to hold himself up, his head drooping with fatigue. He tiredly looked at me.

“Such elements,” he murmured.

I ventured to cast an eye to the west. The clouds were gone. For as far as I could see the snow lay thick, silent, and trackless under the crystal bright stars. “What about the elements?”

“Easy to summon when you have the rage of ages to fuel it, not so easy to disperse.”

He did seem utterly exhausted. The skin pressed close to his skull; his tiger-green eyes were now dark pits. Though I’d grown used to the age on his face this was the first time I truly perceived him to be old.

“Your friends shall find their going will improve some five miles away in whatever direction they choose to take when they depart.”

Relief flooded me. “Thank you.”

“You kept your word, I keep mine. What they have done was done in ignorance. I’ve stopped them. It will have to be enough.”

I wisely did not enlighten him about their intent to return in the spring to finish the job. “The futility of retribution?” I asked, recalling what he’d said about the deaths of his mistresses.

His eyes sparked. “Indeed. For all my years . . . it is still the hardest of wisdoms to grasp, for sometimes retribution is not always a futile action.”

I grunted agreement; it seemed the right thing to do.

He slowly straightened. “Which gives me one question I will ask of you, Mr. Morris.”

Only one? In our conversations he usually had dozens to ply.

“Have you decided whether or not you will conclude your own portion of the hunt and kill me?”

Did he know how to read hearts and minds as well as conjure up a storm? I tried to hide my startlement and alarm, but doubted my success. “I don’t know wh—”

He made a throwing-away gesture. “Do not bother with such prevarication. I am not insulted by your intentions, whatever they might be. I assure you that I completely understand such debts. You would take my life in payment for that of Lucy Westenra and the sullied honor of Mrs. Harker. Is that not true?”

There seemed no point in denying it. “Yes. How did you know?”

“Because you so carefully avoided such subjects throughout your stay here.”

True. Partly because he didn’t want to talk about either lady, but I also steered around any general mention of revenge whenever the topic surfaced. To him I must have been as clear as glass.

“By misadventure or on purpose, I have visited much misery upon you and your friends, your desire to avenge them is not easily pushed aside. So I ask again: what will you do?”

Why did he wait until now for this? Having just shown mercy to Art and Jack did he think I’d look more kindly upon him? He was smart enough for that kind of manipulation, but I’d come to know him fairly well; such an obvious ploy was beneath him.

Then there was his very evident weariness. Of all times, this was his most vulnerable, perhaps the best and only opportunity I would ever have of fighting him and winning. Why would he give me such an advantage?

Because this way he will get an honest answer from me.

He was taking a hell of a chance, courting an instant fight to the death or getting peace of mind. My reply would settle things forever with him, one way or another.

I could also respect a brave man. An honest answer he would get.

“We’ve both lost those whom we’ve loved,” I said. 

There was no need to mention the wolves. Or his three companions. They were here, anyway. They were all on the tower with us, along with Lucy’s ghost, who hovered just over my left shoulder.

“Nothing will be served by more death,” I continued. “The way I see it, things are even between us.”

Though I’d made a sacred promise to Mina Harker, and another to myself to the memory of Lucy, I’d come to realize the heavy burden involved in the keeping of such oaths. In my heart I knew it was not one I was up to carrying for the rest of my life.

“My decision is to do nothing,” I said.

I could not tell if he was relieved or disappointed. For the odd mood he seemed to be in either one would have equally suited him. Dracula gave a single slow nod, and that was that.

“The year is turning,” he observed after awhile. “The solstice will soon be upon us, with its endings and beginnings.”

Solstice? I’d been mulling over what to do about Christmas, having the idea it was a holiday he had reason not to observe. “I think my time here is ended as well.”

He made no argument against it. “Indeed. You’ve learned all you need to survive and probably much more than you ever wanted to know.”

That raised a rueful smile from me.

“Then fare you well, my so-young friend, if I might call you that. Our time together has been most . . . instructive to me.”

“For us both, sir.”

We stood for sometime after that, each looking out on the snow blanket, listening to the wind and trees whispering to themselves. Doubtless he understood more of their language than I . . . but that was all right with me. 

It was one of those things I really didn’t want to know about. 








Chapter Six


Paris, January 1894


My return to Western Civilization was neither straightforward nor easy. Traveling is a difficult enough activity, but more so when one is unconscious during the day. I had to trust my inert, helpless body to the tender mercies of shipping clerks, baggage clerks, porters, and lord knows who else. Just getting to Buda-Pesth was such an ordeal that I was tempted to forgo the rigors of another train trip in favor of hiring a wagon and team and driving myself at night.

That would have been foolish, but I did consider it the evening I awoke to find the box I slept in smothered beneath a hoard of other boxes. The whole ungainly mess was locked into a railroad car left on a remote siding and apparently quite forgotten by those in charge.

Once I emerged to make my way to the station, it was no small task to sort things out, especially since I hadn’t enough of the language to be understood. Fortunately, someone there knew French, and that helped to speed things, but I was told nothing could be done about my baggage until the morning, of course. It took some considerable persuasion on my part, along with a sizable bribe, to turn things in my favor.

No wonder Dracula had traveled by sea. 

He’d suggested it from the first as being more convenient. I’d taken the opportunity to ask him about the deaths of the Demeter’s crew. An interesting story that proved to be, for he managed to tell it in such a way as to cast him in a less villainous light. I wasn’t sure if I believed him, but like everything else, the business was past and done. I had more pressing concerns.

I decided against a sea voyage because of the unpredictability of the winter weather, choosing instead to retrace the overland path Harker had taken last May. Dracula had one of his Szgany drivers take me as far as the Borgo Pass and from there I was put aboard the diligence that ran from Buknovina to Bistritz. In addition to a grip carrying such useful personal items as I might need, I was hampered by the necessity of keeping close watch on a three-foot-square box that was my daylight sanctuary. In it was a store of Transylvanian soil bundled up in canvas sacks. Heavy for the handlers and doubly so whenever I was asleep within. The accommodations were cramped for one of my height, but in this instance my daylight oblivion was a boon, sparing me from awareness of discomfort.

My chief worry was that while in this state some accident might befall that would cause my apparently lifeless body to be discovered. Dracula tried to assure me of its improbability, and even if something untoward happened, I would, with my new abilities, be able to easily talk my way out of it. Comforting thought, but for the fact I knew virtually no German.

After the delay in Buda-Pesth, things became thankfully less exciting. Harker had taken note of the irregularity of train schedules the farther east he traveled and not exaggerated. I rejoiced the passing of each mile that took me west. The days were nothing, but the nights were wearying in their length. I avoided contact with people, easy to do when one is more or less confined to the baggage area.

I did venture forth in the early part of the evenings, using my new talent for vanishing to sieve my invisible way into the passenger areas. I was soon challenged by a conductor to produce a ticket, which forced me to test my command over hypnosis. As the man’s English was nonexistent, his French dismal, and my German just as poor, I again fell back on the universal language of bribery to make my presence agreeable to him. It is amazing what miracles may be accomplished by cash in hand.

As for money, it was a happy discovery for me that my wallet had been left untouched on my person upon my death. My friends had apparently bundled me snug in that blanket without any thought of it, and I was very grateful for the omission. In our journeys across the continent I’d collected several kinds of paper currencies and a possessed a generous letter of credit, thus sparing me from having to further indebt myself to Dracula. My traveling papers were also there and in order, and I could trust that my name would raise no eyebrows on this side of the channel.

Once I reached England, that might change.

Dracula had plied me with questions about my plans, and I’d truthfully answered that I would anonymously pitch camp in Paris. Again, he admonished me to avoid contact with my friends. On that point—for the time being—we were in complete agreement. I had no wish to see anyone. I wanted to test my wings and get used to this new life first.

My arrival in that great city took place sometime in the afternoon, and by means of careful planning, my box was delivered to one of the better hotels. I awoke in a sort of cellar storage room. The box was on its side, leaving me in a jumble with the earth bags on top, but I slipped out easy enough and no harm done.

Taking a room, I arranged for the box to be moved upstairs. One of the young fellows who accomplished this task also inquired if I might wish to have feminine companionship. I thanked him and said maybe later and got rid of him before he could come up with further suggestions. The journey had tired me, mentally, if not physically. I wanted some settling-in time, and a parcel of solitude in a non-moving room was just the thing so I could recover and think.

I spent much of my first night simply standing before my tall window on the third floor looking down on the street. Unlike other cities, Paris is just as active after dark as in the daylight, but the sorts of business that thrive in the shadows are usually not considered respectable by most folks. I’m not most folks, though, and had always found Paris to be one of the more admirable of the world’s metropolises. You can stroll its lanes and choose a wide variety of entertainments at the most ungodly hours. 

You also have to be wary of the local predators, but they’d never bothered me much. Most ruffians think twice about going after a fellow of my size, especially when there’s a shooter strapped to his hip. I was once stopped by a Parisian lawmen who took exception to my Colt. As soon as he understood I was an American, though, he broke into a big grin and all but dragged me into some Frenchy saloon to toast my health. We had a fine jaw-wag about Buffalo Bill and Kit Carson, whom he assumed I knew. Wonderful people, the French.

When I got tired of watching the street below, I ordered some English papers brought in and caught myself up on the world. Strangely, very little held my interest. I used to be as addicted to the news as any opium eater to his pipe, but now the parade of events seemed dull and pointless. Whether it had to do with my changed condition or the fact I’d been holed up in that Transylvanian backwater for over a month I did not know. Dracula possessed a distinct sort of aloofness from outside goings on; perhaps some of it had rubbed off on me. I did not share his passion for battles of the past, though. I didn’t have much of a past yet. Maybe I’d partaken of a few little traveling adventures, but that wasn’t much compared to being a prince and leading whole armies against invading hoards. Well, he’d never held the lack against me, so that made him all right. When he had a mind for it, he was a polite fellow.

I left instructions with the hotel clerk not to be disturbed during the day. My chief worry was that some curious chambermaid might discover me when she should be changing the linens. Against that possibility, my traveling box was firmly nailed shut. Upon awakening and slipping out, I was relieved to find all was as I’d left it upon retiring. I had picked the right place to camp.

My second night in Paris found me rousting out one of the bell men to determine from him the location of a gentleman’s haberdashery that was still open. I was told it was quite impossible to find any open so late, but I slipped him a few francs and smiled, and asked him to apply himself. 

Have you ever noticed that poor people are crazy and rich people are eccentric? He decided I was yet another eccentric American and from that point on there wouldn’t ever be enough that he could do for me.

It cost extra, but soon a tailor and his assistant marched up to my room with their books, measuring tapes, and fabric samples. I ordered several suits so as to be outfitted like a fine European gent. They were not so fancy in cut as those worn by some of the fellows strutting about, but would be of good quality, from boots to topper. No one on the ranch or perhaps even in London would recognize me, not at first glance, which was what I most wanted.

I had a hankering to get my face neatened, but having to do without a mirror was a powerful inconvenience. The hotel barber became the first man I tried my hypnotic talent upon.

Despite the lateness of the hour he cheerfully bustled in with his kit on a wheeled cart. I told him how I wanted my beard, namely clean off the scraggle under my jaw and trim the rest to be even, with just a little wax to train my mustaches. He went to work and not long after held a mirror up for me to inspect the results. We had a bit of a mild set-to when—standing as he was behind me with the glass—he saw only the reflection of the chair I was in but not me. It flustered him pretty bad until I gave him a good look in the eye and told him to calm down.

Damn if it didn’t work like Dixie.

His eyes went a little dead, but he stopped jabbering and stood by quiet as a church on Monday.

So this was what Nora had done to me all those years past. I could see that it promised to be a very handy ability, but with a built-in temptation for abuse. I’m not the sort of man to take advantage of anyone, but the idea of being able to win every argument from now on was quite a pleasing one. I could also see that any lady I wanted to pass time with could be likewise persuaded to my will with a just look and a word or two. On the other hand, that was a talent I already possessed, if I can declare such without sounding boastful. Only poor, sweet Lucy had ever really turned me down, but then a marriage proposal is a serious enough step that a man wants a truthful answer. As for the rest of the ladies in the wide world, well, I’m not in the habit of forcing myself upon women. My ma and pa taught me better manners than that.

I wasn’t wholly without a sense of mischief, though. I asked the barber to stand on one leg and cluck like a chicken—which he did without batting an eye—before telling him to ignore my lack of reflection. He readily agreed to that, too, then I woke him up to go about his business. I paid him generous enough for the liberty.

Feeling very well pleased with myself, I decided to stretch my legs. Fresh-shaved and in a fine mood for distraction, it would be a shame to keep so dandy a sight as myself hidden from the French ladies.

Walking stick in hand, I took a long, slow stroll that evening, tipping my hat to people along the way, and being likewise acknowledged in turn. I knew I cut a fine figure. My chief regret was being unable to sip coffee at one of the cafes or hoist a good whiskey at the infinite number of saloons. Nearly every kind of society the world over conducts it business and pleasures over food and drink. I’d always known that, but until now had never truly realized it. Everywhere I looked people seemed to be eating. I felt quite left out.

Yet there were places where I might go my unrefreshed way without drawing notice. Paris had plenty of entertainments where a man need only purchase a ticket without having a waiter hovering around. I would not want for amusement in this town, but I did long for company.

There were places for that as well. In the past, Art and I had discovered a few of the high class establishments where a man might indulge himself. There was a price to pay, but seeing as how I wasn’t spending any money on food, I would well afford the best.

And so I took myself to such a place. It was time I discovered the carnal side of my new nature.

Now there is a lot of talk about what a French whorehouse is like. Rumors tend to fall short of the reality for some, for others it’s all they have to offer. There are as many different kinds of houses as there are restaurants. A man willing to look can find many to suit his taste and pocketbook. I have been to ones grander than any palace, loaded down with gilt, velvet, paintings, and mirrors, the women there dressed—or undressed—fancier and more beautiful than any empress. That’s fine when one is in the mood for it, but this night I was more interested in plain home-cooking, if I might call it such.

I knew of a house that would do. It was located on one of the less traveled fares, a thin, modest building hunched between others of its kind, built some fifty years ago. The madam was a sensible woman and stern as a greengrocer about the care of her goods. Her charges were well-fed, cheerful, and healthy.

The big doorman, who might have been the madam’s husband, answered my knock, and ushered me straight to a sitting room where I could have a look at the girls. That was something else I liked about this place, they didn’t put up with time-wasting frills like a bar or gaming tables. They had a business to run and respected the fact that the single-minded customer might not want to be kept waiting.

The madam seemed not to remember me from past visits, but it had been awhile, and I’d changed a bit. She gave a friendly greeting and invited me to take my pick from the half dozen girls available. Here I hesitated. They all looked mighty fine to my starved sight, but I now had other particulars to consider. I quietly conveyed to the madam my preference for sobriety. Being a good woman of business, and having probably witnessed just about everything human nature had to offer, she gave no reaction to my modest request and readily pointed out two likely prospects. With their dark hair and pale eyes they looked enough alike to be sisters; I chose the sturdier-looking of the two, paid my fee, and we went upstairs.

Things began well enough and in the usual manner. I’m a man of simple tastes when it comes to achieving my own satisfaction. When trying to please a lady, though, I’m more lavish in my attentions. In this instance I was free to indulge either way. The girl smiled, offering compliments and encouragement, but I could tell by the steady beat of her heart that she was just doing that which was expected. I could go ahead with matters for myself, and it would make no difference to her.

But something in me balked at that. I’d not been with a woman in a very long time. Maybe I was paying for a service, if I could involve her more fully the enjoyment would be that much better. Toward that end I fixed my eye on hers and whispered a few words such as to send her heart racing.

Oh, my. What a difference it made to have her suddenly giggling and clutching me like a wildcat. Falsely induced her happy mood might be, but it certainly broke the dam for my own passion to come forth. How we made that bed creak and groan.

My own excitement took over; I was aware my corner teeth were extended, responding to a different kind of body hunger. My desire now was how to culminate things to accommodate my new nature. Memories of Nora guided me there as I nuzzled this sweet little gal’s pale skin. I was in her and plowing away, with her holding on for dear life, gasping in time to our dance. She was caught up in it, of that I had no doubt, and verging on fulfillment. I was more than ready myself, and when the time came it seemed the most natural thing in the world for me to bite down on that pulse-spot in her throat.

She let out a suppressed shriek and bucked under me, legs kicking and thrashing. For an instant I feared it was from pain, but she held me all the tighter as her blood welled onto my mouth. With its first taste I felt an explosion of pleasure such as I’d never known before, and rather than fading, it only built up more intense as I fed. It was different from when I’d been on the giving side of things, better, darker, more solid. I could stay here for hours and not find its end. Nothing I’d ever experienced could match this.

Her breath came fast and short, and in between she whispered endearments. Her reactions gradually slowed, though. I understood what that meant, knowing it well enough. Her body could take only so much before the pleasure exhausted her. Nora had been kind to me and had drawn away at such times. I did the same, shifting my weight from the girl, and allowing us both a good long interval to rest.

Not moving a muscle, she went straight to sleep. When I recovered enough to take notice of things I made a careful examination of my partner’s throat. The damage was alarmingly visible: two seeping wounds, the surrounding skin blotched and red. Not good. Nora had been much more careful. I was going to have to practice at this, it seemed. Not that I was in any way adverse to more of the same.

Except for the blood, my sign on this girl might be mistaken for an overly enthusiastic love bite. Well, I could instruct her to hide the damage with a scarf or something. As for the remaining seepage, I found myself kissing it away, and that was enough to make me want her all over again.

She woke up, and from her expression, she’d fallen in love with me. An unwise thing for a whore to do with a customer. I once more fixed her with a look and managed to ease things back to normal business again, at the same time telling her not to remember my drinking her blood. Sweet as pie, she accepted it without demure along with a bit of extra money that I felt she deserved for the extra service. We parted company on very good terms.

I dropped back in the tangled sheets, stretching wide, feeling mighty pleased with myself, and suddenly grateful to the incomparable Nora Jones. She’d not warned me of what lay ahead, but hands down, lying here all sated in a French whorehouse sure beat the hell out of a cold grave in the Transylvanian earth. Perhaps when I got to England I would make an effort to find her again and thank her.

Someone knocked softly on the door. The other sober gal, the one who looked like the first one’s sister, entered, smiling. I’d asked for her to be sent up.

I grinned in turn, anticipating what was to come, and invited her into the bed.

As I said, it had been a very long time.

# # #

My stay in Paris continued for several weeks, during which I managed to adjust quite well to the limits of my condition and did my utmost to fully enjoy its advantages. Most of the latter had to do with frequent visits to professional establishments. I’d never been such a Hedonist before, but it struck me that now would be my best opportunity to perfect my skills in the fleshly pleasures available on this side of my empty grave. It cost a pretty penny, but as I wasn’t spending my money on meals three times a day, the expenditures at these houses worked out to be nearly the same amount.

Dracula had said I couldn’t live on love for very long, and certainly focusing on one lady all the time would make that true. One woman could not supply enough sustenance for me without danger to her health, but I was supping from many women on a nearly nightly basis. My need for animal blood remarkably decreased. In all that time I’d fed, truly fed, only twice.

As for the reports of my death, I had quite a tangle to unsnarl. The letters I’d written from Transylvania had arrived only just ahead of me. Unfortunately, Jonathan Harker had been at work a month earlier, conveying the sad news of my demise in a distant land to my lawyers and banks. I was forced to send a number of cables to Galveston and eventually make an appointment with one of the local bank officers, hoping to provide myself with an agent to look after my daytime concerns. The man was a stuffy sort and unimpressed with my accounts. He took no pains to hide the fact that my odd wish to speak with him well after business hours was most inconvenient. 

As the fellow had imbibed in some cognac prior to my arrival at his home, hypnotizing him turned out to be difficult. Had I been in a hurry, it might well have been impossible, but I kept at it, and brought him around to my side of things before an hour had passed. The effort made my head hurt like the morning after a Fourth of July rip, but was worth it. I had created a valuable ally whom I could utterly trust to carry out my orders without question. Over the weeks he proved his worth sorting out my affairs and getting me declared alive without letting on to Harker or any of the others.

At last I was ready and able to go to England. 







Chapter Seven



England, February 1894

As with Paris, my arrival in London took place during the day, but this time the porters managed to keep my box upright. I should say boxes, as I now had a separate trunk holding all my new continental clothing and a few other souvenirs. I had instructions for both to be left until called for. Claim ticket in hand, I wafted from my small sanctuary to solidify in the dim recesses of yet another huge store room full of similar shipments. To my right came the clamor of great activity and the smell of the river. I struck off in that direction, eventually finding the right office and arranging to have my property delivered to my hotel.

As it was very bitter out, I hired a coach. For all the snow I fought in Transylvania and even Siberia, there is nothing quite like England for true winter cold. It’s got damp in it, which burrows down into your bones and even in the warmest room it is reluctant to depart. Though fairly immune to the low temperature, I felt it, mostly because of the sharp wind tearing through the bleak streets, making things more miserable.

For all that, there was no shortage of people out and about. It was yet early in the evening; the gas lamps glowed steadily, and brave crowds bustled in and out of shops and public houses. The constant traffic slowed my carriage’s progress, but that was to be expected. I’d never once seen a main thoroughfare in London that wasn’t always choked with conveyances. Their noise and that of the people within and without was a welcome assault to my sensitive ears. Loud they may have been, but it was in my own language, albeit with all those distinct accents, some of them nearly as hard to understand as German.

The visual cacophony was just as welcome as I was carried past street vendors of all kinds, shouting their wares to a largely deaf multitude. Those buildings that were not given over to residences—and some that were—sported broad advertisements for everything from tooth-pulling to hot cocoa the Queen herself favored.

And there were ladies, my God, but this city was full of women of every description. Why had I never noticed them before?

Because of Lucy, a soft inner voice told me.

Abruptly, I sat back from the coach window onto the chill leather seat, sharply reminded of why I’d come to leave England the first place. My mourning for her had by no means ended. Perhaps it never would. I had loved her. Her bright smile, her utter sweetness and honesty of spirit and so much more had captivated me in a way I’d never known was possible. I had done my best to woo her with charm and humor, telling tales of my life on the ranch and of my travels, but throughout it all I had the dark feeling that none of it had really touched her. It had been a grievous day for me when she turned down my proposal.

Jack Seward—also rejected—and I had drowned our sorrows somewhat and played the good sports in congratulating Art on his luck, but there was a sad sting to it. Art barely noticed, being too stunned with his own happiness. We made a good party of it, though, the last we had together before she took sick. The last we would ever have, apparently.

Arriving at the hotel in a dour mood, I paid my driver, and went in to confirm the reservation I’d made by cable. They’d received it in good time so all was well. I went straight up, literally, by means of a new elevator, to the fourth floor. These digs were on the fancy side, but I could indulge myself. Later, after I figured out a few things, I might find a flat or a house to rent. Until then, I wanted the sort of privacy one achieves by being lost in a great crowd.

Once my baggage arrived and one of the hotel men had unpacked the trunk and put everything away, I found myself at a loose end. I’d been pretty engrossed on the getting here, and had only a vague idea of what to do next. At some point I would seek out my friends and see how they fared, but tonight seemed too soon to begin such business, yet sitting in my room held no appeal.

I changed into one of my evening suits, determined to track down some entertainment. Perhaps London was not as lively a town as Paris, but was still full of distraction, even on so cold a night. 

Top hat in place, stick in hand, I ventured forth into the turmoil.

I’d hardly gone fifty steps before a youngish woman caught my eye and gave me a regal little nod and wink. For an instant I thought I might know her, then realized she was merely looking for custom. Some of her Parisian sisters were more obvious in their approach; I’d have to adjust myself to the change.

As it seemed only polite to return her greeting, I did so. From there, things proceeded as one might expect, but more slowly than on the Continent. The English can be mighty round about in their ways, so it took awhile before we determined what sort of arrangement to agree upon. She dressed up what should have been a fairly simple business into something fancier with all her pretty flirting, but I wasn’t so impatient as to not enjoy playing along. Keep the lady happy, and the gent always benefits a thousand-fold.

She said she had a room just around the corner, which struck me as odd. This was not the East End, after all, with doors opening right onto the street. Curious but eager, I escorted her as she directed, finding myself in a narrow byway off the main thoroughfare. 

Now I may yet be young, but in these matters I’m no greenhorn. The instant I left the gaslit walk I suspected I might be in for something disagreeable.

The lady did not disappoint. Had my eyes not been so well suited to the dark, I might have taken a bad turn then and there when her partner darted out of the shadows, club in hand.

A few months back and I’d have given him a first hand show of my boxing skills. You don’t grow up where I did and not learn how to account well for yourself. But that was changed. With hardly any thought behind it, I vanished quick as a music hall magician. And just in the nick. I felt the rushing intrusion as his club came down, whistling harmlessly through what had once been my solid body. To him it was empty air, and the force he’d put behind the blow must have overbalanced him; from the sound of it, he stumbled.

The woman let loose with a good hollering screech. Up to a second ago I had firm hold of her arm, so I couldn’t blame her for getting spooked. I was none too happy with either of them, but the fear-filled questions they shot at each other over what had just happened had me laughing, or close to it. In this form, without breath to draw or lungs to put it in, it’s a little difficult to express oneself, but the feeling was strong.

Funny as they were I didn’t feel right in just letting them go. There would likely soon be another gent come into their clutches, and he’d not do so well by himself as I.

While I thought things over, they searched the area, arguing the whole time over the impossibility of my strange escape. When the woman suggested ghosts I got my idea.

Floating some three feet off the ground, I began to cautiously resume form. It was by no means easy to keep myself light enough to float, yet dense enough to speak. I wavered, like a tightrope walker having difficulty with his balance, slowly rising and falling as I swam in the air.

“Gor, Prudy, lookit that,” said the man, staring at me. 

She blurted another shriek, clutching him.

I pointed at them both in a grand way, summoning up my memories of a fire and brimstone preacher who had been a great favorite of my mother’s.

Prudy shrieked again, but was too rooted in place to think of running.

“I serve the Angel of Death!” I boomed, loud as I could manage. My voice came out all hollow, though in this case it seemed to be an advantage. “Change your ways or suffer the Wrath of Hell for Eternity!” How that preacher man had scared me as a boy.

“Bosh,” said the man, nonplused. “Yer jus’ one o’ them stage fellers swingin’ on a wire.”

He must have been drunk, making such a sight as myself normal. Though his reaction was disappointing, I had a ready answer and swooped right at him, arms spread wide. I passed through them both, with Prudy screaming her head off. She was now of a mind to escape, but her man had a good grip on her.

“Never you mind ’im, old girl. If ’e’s nowt but a ghost, ’e can’t ’arm us.”

I had an answer for that as well and went fully solid, landing light on my feet. The man turned around to face me, but not as fast as he should. I dropped my cane hard on his lower arm. He released his club with a howl. Next I put a fist into his belly. He doubled over, staggered back, and fell on his seat. So much for my being a ghost.

Rounding on the woman, I let myself shoot up in the air again to tower above her. She fair cowered, her eyes fit to pop. I pointed right at her face. “Repent, sinner! Repent or be damned to the Lake of Fire forever!”

“Eeeee!” she cried.

“Repent or be doomed! Go thy way as an honest whore and never thieve again so help you God!”

“Aaaaaah!” she screamed, covering her face as I dove upon her, vanishing at the last instant. I wrapped about her like a blanket, knowing she could feel my cold touch. Dracula had once said the effect for them was like being in an ice bath. She lurched up and stampeded toward the main street, still making a fine hysterical racket. I let her go, figuring I’d made my point.

“Repent!” I bellowed. 

Her partner gave one hell of a jump, for I’d materialized right behind him to deliver this order. He now looked ready to abandon his theories about magicians and ghosts.

“Repent or be damned!”

Whether he’d come around to my way of thinking I could not tell. What he did show was a remarkable fleetness of foot in his own howling retreat.

I laughed myself into a coughing fit after that. Once I’d settled down my chief regret was not having Art or Jack around to have seen the show. How they would have loved it.

Perhaps in time, I thought, as I followed the path my would-be attackers took and resumed my explorations. Henceforth, I promised myself to seek fleshy entertainment only at whorehouses and ignore the temptations of the street. I might not be so lucky again. I was no coward, but I’d turned into enough of a dandy to not want my fine new suit ruined by common rough-house on its first wearing.

The rest of the evening I whiled away at one of the city’s many musical theaters. Art had first introduced me to them years ago, and a rare treat they were and remained. Back in Texas we had nothing to compare with them, and rarely had enough acts to properly fill up the whole evening. Here they had dozens of performers doing all manner of high-jinks, from little songbird gals in pink tights to jugglers to dancing dogs that could count out your age by barking. Paris had similar halls, but naturally I enjoyed myself more hearing the jokes in English.

I sat in one of the upper boxes and roared laughter, applauded, or sang along with the rest of the audience until the last curtain, then purchased a new ticket to see the second show. In the interval I studied the program, picking out familiar names of favorites I’d not seen since last summer. 

What a long while since then. Lifetimes. I’d lost a good-sized parcel of living for my sojourns in Transylvania and France, and I felt vaguely cheated for the gap. I wanted the time back to do things over, to change things for the better.

That put me in another slump. Lucy had been alive then, engaged to my best friend, but still smiling and happy despite her mysterious “illness.” Throughout all those weeks she’d shown a loving face to him . . . and yet at night she allowed Dracula to pay his special kind of court to her. I couldn’t see it. It was almighty indecent. How could she have done that and been the same sweet, innocent girl?

Dracula’s words about none of us knowing her true heart came back to me yet again, and I wondered at the truth of them. He’d had no reason to lie. From the first he’d been in charge and could have killed me whenever he wished for he had no need to curry my favor. He was a man—and I could just about call him that now—who absolutely did not give a tinker’s damn what anyone thought of him. I’d met that kind many times, and had ever found them to be truthful, often brutally so.

The orchestra began its overture, then curtain came up again. I was able to lose myself in the show and was thankful for it. I had troubling questions for which there were no satisfying answers this side of the grave. Best to leave them alone.

One of the presentations was a bit of what I would call serious acting, being the dueling scene from Hamlet. The otherwise rowdy audience in the stalls held still for it, too, which astonished me. I thought it a wonderful thing how Shakespeare could reach just about anybody, until I took a closer look at the actors. They were all women.

Well, that sat me back in the box, and got me to paying attention. What a remarkable performance it was, and once I got over the shock, I came to see that they were doing a rare good job of acting, female or not. The girl playing Hamlet was more full of fire than even the great Henry Irving, or so I imagined. I could judge that this lady looked better in leg tights than he ever would. She sure knew how to dance around on stage with that sword, as though she’d been born a duelist.

The program book listed them as the Ring Players. It sounded vaguely familiar, but only because Ring was the name of Art’s family estate.

I looked more closely at the woman playing Hamlet. Her voice and form struck me anew, but I still couldn’t place her. The program did not list the names of the actors, only their company.

At the end of the scene, after they bore Prince Hamlet away, the curtains drew shut to great applause and a certain amount of hooting. It seemed half approved of the novelty of an all-female company and half did not. I was for it, so I cheered.

The curtain rippled as someone behind it tried to find the middle opening, then Hamlet stepped out and bowed—not curtsied—to more mixed reaction. She held her hand up for silence, and by God she got it. The lady was small but had a tremendous commanding presence. She loudly thanked them for their kind reception, (hoots and cheers) then announced that a performance of the entire play would take place as a matinee next Saturday. I resolved to attend, then grimaced as I remembered the impossibility. This was the first time I had reason to regret the limits of my condition. Determined to find out more about them, hoping there might possibly be an evening show sometime, I quit my box.

Outside by the stage door I found I wasn’t the only one wanting to pay my respects to the ladies of the theater. The narrow alley was crowded with other men like myself in evening dress along with more ordinary johnnies in less formal attire. Some hopefuls carried flowers and boxes of chocolates. I pushed my way past them to present my card to a weary doorman.

“I hain’t ’ere to run no herrands,” he said, by way of a rebuff.

“Nonetheless, sir, I’d be much obliged if you would take this to whoever is in charge of the Ring Company.” Along with the calling card, I put a shilling in his hand, and fixed him with a look. It was enough. To the astonishment of those next to me the man went inside.

“Bloody Americans,” someone muttered. I shouldn’t have been able to hear but for my changed condition. I pretended to be ignorant of his feelings, and waited.

More astonishment when the doorman returned and told me I alone was welcome to enter. Amid additional jealous mutterings, I pushed my way up the steps into the cavernous dark of the backstage area.

We were separated from the stage by at least one wall, but I could clearly hear the orchestra merrily booming away. The doorman signed for quiet and led me along a dim passage to the dressing rooms. Here things were still somewhat hushed, but there was a great deal of activity as people bustled to and fro, fanatically urgent to make their cues. The brightly costumed players were a strange contrast to the chilly, drab surroundings.

Our trek ended at an open door where women in various stages, types, and eras of fantastical dress were gathered. Some were changing clothes right in the hall, despite the presence of a number of stage hands walking about. From the sound of things, the room itself was too crowded. I tried not to stare, but none of them seemed to mind and a few called greetings and endearments to me as though we were old friends. When gathered together in such a pack women can get downright bold

The doorman was apparently well used to the sight of half-naked females and went inside, calling for “Miss Bertie.” I wondered if that was the name of the lady I sought. Moments later he emerged.

“She’s on ’er way,” he said, then left.

I thanked his back, thinking it was the best shilling I’d ever spent. Of course it helped to be able to get my suggestions across so well. What a wonderful thing is was to have people truly listen and do as they’re asked.

“Mr. Morris?”

I recognized the voice of Hamlet and turned, hat in hand. A pretty lady she was indeed, of an age with me. She’d worn a short blond wig on stage, but had removed it, revealing a heavy knot of dark hair.

“Mr. Quincey P. Morris?” she said, holding my card. She fair gaped at me for some reason. “You’ve a beard now, but how the devil . . . ?”

I was all set to bow a greeting, then got a good close look at her and froze awkwardly in mid-motion. “Oh, my God. Lady B—”

Her eyes—and they were remarkable orbs, all blue fire—flared hot. “Not here, you muggins! Not one more word or I’ll murder you.”

“Uh. . .but L—”

She clapped a hand over my mouth. It smelled of greasepaint and some sort of rare spice. “I said not one word!”

She grabbed my arm and dragged me away. I was yet too startled to think to resist. 

Thus did I unexpectedly renew my acquaintance with Lady Bertrice, Art Holmwood’s black sheep sister.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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