The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire

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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire (Chapter V.)

From the journal of Dr. Henry Armitage, assistant librarian at Miskatonic University (M.A. Miskatonic, Ph.D. Princeton, Litt.D. Johns Hopkins). September 30. London. — Received a letter this afternoon from Thomas Carnacki, a private investigator I met through a mutual friend, Edwin Jones of Malbrey and Jones, editors of The Bibliophile and Book Table. Carnacki begged a favor from me. He wrote that he was on a case and needed thorough research done by an expert. In exchange for my assistance, he promised to not only introduce me to the Dutch book collector Van Dyll, who has a copy of De Vigerere’s Traite des Chiffres for sale, but also the funds to obtain it. Hah! A De Vigerere would make Brady at Harvard covetous! But Carnacki’s request surprised me. He wanted everything known about vampires, vampirism, possible cures, and a history of Count Dracula of Transylvania. Fortunately, being in London, I have the greatest resource for research on this planet. How shabby it makes old Miskatonic’s library seem in comparison. October 1. — There is a heaven. I have been there. It is the British Museum. No matter how many times I have been in the Reading Room during this trip, I still find it hard to pull myself away from the British Library. Spent today buried in folklore and history. Impossible to list all the superstitions about vampires or ciohano as the Gypsies call them or tchovekhano as the Turks name them. Nearly every culture has a belief in the creatures. Interesting how superstition can spread perhaps through stories carried over caravan and shipping routes. The tales range from the ludicrous, such as the inability of a vampire to cast a reflection, to the bizarre, such as a vampire is compelled to count the straws of a broom if it is lain across his path. None of the folklore mentions a cure for vampirism other than providing a "true death." The best information on vampire legends was in Herbert Mayo’s On the Truths Contained in Popular Superstitions published in 1851. I was on firmer ground with Carnacki’s request for information about the Dracula or Drakul family with the help of Richard Knolles’ The Generall Historie of the Turkes published in 1603. I had known of the book because of its influence on Walpole, Johnson, Shelley and Byron. I do not know what kind of case Carnacki could possibly be investigating where this information is necessary, but it has been fascinating research. Spent some time putting my notes in order and sent a report on the Dracula family by messenger to Carnacki at the Hillingham Estate here in London. Carnacki had urgently wanted the information. October 2. — Finished the report on vampires. I’ll take it over myself tomorrow and make arrangements to obtain Traite des Chiffres. Carnacki seems like an honest fellow though somewhat unconventional with his interest in the occult. I’m also curious about his investigation. Have a book auction at Sotheby’s to attend tomorrow afternoon, but should be able to find time to visit Carnacki at Hillingham in the evening. October 4. — The events of yesterday do not make for a succinct journal entry. A Poe or a Hawthorne, not a librarian, is needed to capture the proper atmosphere of macabre horror that I endured. Most of the day was perfectly ordinary. At the auction of rare tomes, I had to balance the list of requests from Miskatonic professors to the sale prices of the volumes. The donation from the Drake Foundation to Miskatonic’s library was most generous, but it is not limitless, though it will be difficult to explain that to the department deans when I return to Arkham. After I left Sotheby’s at 6 o’clock, I took a cab to Hillingham. The estate, in a fashionable neighborhood, is hidden behind a wall and screened by hemlocks and oaks. I walked through the open front gates. As I approached the mansion’s front door, a breeze caught me and I shivered from the sudden chill. The swath of trees and wide lawn of the estate’s grounds that I had just admired suddenly made the place seem lonely. The sense of isolation increased as I pulled the bell rope for entrance. Minutes passed and no one answered though I heard the ringing from some distant quarter. I looked about me. The lawn needed cutting. I pulled the cord again. I had begun to think Carnacki had given me the wrong address when I noticed something overlooked at first: a smear of dried blood, as if a bloody hand had pulled the door shut. The rational action would have been to immediately leave and find a police officer. But I was born cursed with an insatiable curiosity. I opened the door and the creak of the hinges sounded loud in my ears. I called out, "Hello, is anyone here?" No one answered so I took tentative steps inside. Blood drops painted a clear trail across the highly polished marble down a hall. With hesitation, I followed and opened a door to an unimaginable outré mystery. Despite the flickering gaslights, shadows filled the room. I turned the lamps up to dispel the darkness and nearly jumped in surprise. In the center of macabre setting was a wooden crate half-filled with loamy dirt and in the midst of it a coffin rested. Strewn papers, smashed and overturned furniture and broken glass covered the floor. But the coffin held my attention. With apprehension, I walked slowly to the crate. I had to step around a toppled chair. As I glanced down, I noticed chalk-drawn symbols encircled the crate. With trembling hands, I stood over the lead coffin and reached down to open it. The lid shrieked metallically as I lifted it and looked inside at the corpse of a woman. Even in her deathly repose, her face had a wanton beauty. There was no hint of decomposition on her alabaster skin or bright red lips. Briefly I thought it must be a woman asleep in a casket. I touched her neck to feel for a pulse and pulled my hand away. No pulse throbbed under her skin. As I stared at her, a quote from Shakespeare came to mind: "Her beauty makes this vault a feasting presence full of light." I closed the lid and stepped back. If I had not lived most of my 35 years in fear-haunted Arkham, I might have fled the house at that moment. But I did not flee. Instead, I collected the scattered papers from among the debris on the floor. I took them out to the entrance hall and sat down on a settee. I told myself there was better light to read by there. Once I put the papers in order, I determined they were Carnacki’s handwritten notes of his investigation into a vampire named Lucy Westenra. The papers covered a range of topics. One titled "Re-Materialization of the Animate-Force through the Inanimate-Inert" appeared to be an effort to determine whether her ability to carry solid materials while noncorporeal was a form of teleportation. His notes showed a scientific mind exploring rational explanations for irrational phenomenon. I had to consider the possibility of his insanity. Back in the coffin room, I up-righted a chair and pulled it to the doorway to see if the vampire exited the coffin as he described. When she did not appear, I continued to read his notes. A clock’s chime marked the passage of time. Based on Carnacki’s notes recording the times of her emergence, the vampire was overdue. He had even written a question as to how she calculated the setting of the sun within the confines of her coffin. As time passed, my doubts grew. What did I know of Carnacki? Very little. Jones had described him as odd. Maybe Carnacki had gone mad in his search for esoteric knowledge and had even gone so far as to steal a corpse to place in the empty house and to imagine experiments with it. There also was the issue of the bloody handprint on the door. Violence had occurred recently in the house was a certainty. Hillingham’s isolation increased my apprehension. My growing fear acted as a counter to my increasing desire to leave. I grew hungry for I had missed not only dinner, but also lunch to assure myself a good seat at the auction. Yet the thought arose that fear, not hunger, made me want to depart so like a young fool I stayed. I walked out to the entrance hall to escape the gothic horror of the coffin room. I paced and heard my steps on the polished marble echoing in the vastness of the empty house. I explored the ground floor briefly and found a drawing room, a library with a high-vaulted ceiling, a study and a music room. The shrouds over the furniture gave the rooms a morbid appearance. Then I came to a guestroom that I took to be Carnacki’s. On a dresser was an ancient manuscript. I carried it back to the settee and skimmed through the yellowed, crinkled pages. Judging from the paper and the Hebrew writing, I dated the manuscript to the 14th century. The book covered protections against monsters and spirits. Fascinated, I lost track of time reading. Yet when the clock struck the witching hour of three in the morning, Carnacki had not returned, but my hunger had, fiercer than before, and I decided to search for a kitchen. Carrying a lit candelabrum in one hand and my walking stick in the other, I made my way down a hall that I suspected led to a kitchen. Instead, I found myself in a maze of hallways. When I turned to find my way back, I thought I heard a noise farther down one of the darkened hall. "Is someone there? Mr. Carnacki?" I called. No one answered me. The wind, I told myself. I hefted my stout walking stick. Fearful of getting lost in the vast warren of the mansion, I retreated the way I came. I heard another sound, like a step behind me in the dark hallway. A shiver ran up my spine and I whirled and cried out again, this time louder, "Hello?" I hurried to the now cozily familiar entrance hall. The well-lit room sheltered me from my imagination. But from the black void of the hallway I had just left, an eerie, drawn-out, shuddering moan shattered the silence. I backed away slowly, incapable of looking away from where the sound came. I reached behind me for the front door knob. Suddenly, I heard a rattle immediately behind me. Mr. Carnacki’s story – continued. "We left the Inspector’s home and took a brougham cab to the dock yard district of the East End. "Whilst I slept, Johnstone had telegraphed arrangements to meet two other detectives more familiar with the workings of the docks and in a short time we were at Lloyd’s shipping office. "Johnstone and one of the other detectives went up as a third departed to make arrangements with the Metropolitan Police steam launch and to round up a squad of constables. Left alone, I looked at the countless wharves and piers that are part of the beehive of the Thames. "‘We’re in luck,’ said Johnstone, stepping out of the office. ‘There is only one ship departing today for the Black Sea, the Czarina Catherine. She sails from Doolittle’s Wharf.’ "He turned and instructed the other detective, a man with a narrow face and bushy brows. ‘You are not to approach the suspect under any circumstances. But once you see he has boarded give the signal.’ "‘I still believe we should surround the area and nab him before he boards,’ Inspector Gregson said. "‘I’ve my reasons,’ Johnstone said. "‘Fewer witnesses?’ asked Inspector Maughan with a broad wink. "‘Something like that,’ replied Johnstone with a stony look on his face. "Maughan took up his position and we stepped from the dock to the deck of the launch, which already had its steam up. "Johnstone motioned and the boat’s pilot guided her down the Thames. Johnstone had the handful of constables gather around him for instructions. He told them to be ready to climb aboard at the first sign of trouble, but otherwise they were not to take any action. Inspector Gregson raised an eyebrow at this. Johnstone huddled close with him for sometime giving him further instructions. "I stared at the ship with its crew working to stow cargo onboard the deck and waited as the sun crept lower in the sky. "I thought of the innumerable steps that the Count could take besides going aboard that ship, but dismissed them from my mind. "Our reasoning was sound. Dracula was leaving, his words and his actions were in agreement on this. There had been no other indication of human confederates working with him to help him depart England from another port. If he had human allies, he would not have grown as desperate about Lord Godalming and Dr. Van Helsing on his trail. Allies would have been able to find new refuges for him to hide and would have attacked his hunters. The Count would want a ship for the Black Sea to shorten his necessary travel across land. "As I thought about the difficulties the Count had undertaken to come to England, the more convinced I became that Inspector Johnstone was right about the necessity of learning what had brought him to this unfamiliar land. "I watched the Thames flowing by and thought of Miss Westenra and my own mortality, of books I had not read and places I had not visited. "Inspector Johnstone interrupted my introspection, tapping me on the shoulder and pointing. "A thick fog had completely engulfed the Czarina Catherine. ‘Is it the Count’s doing?’ asked the Inspector, looking at the surrounding boat traffic on the river free of any fog. "I shrugged and in a low voice whispered that vampires could control the weather, according to some legends. We continued our lookout. Time flowed slower than the river. "‘There’s the signal,’ Johnstone said at last. ‘Dracula must be onboard. The ship will not depart until the next tide. We’ll wait until it does. I want him trapped in the middle of the river and not along the shore.’ "I nodded in wholehearted agreement. "The sun set. We waited for hours, speaking little, but watching the ship and the river traffic. Inspector Johnstone pulled out his deck of cards and we played whist with the other detectives. After midnight, the tide turned and the ship weighed anchor. "The Inspector slid onto the bench beside me. ‘The Count would have killed us if Miss Westenra had not caught him by surprise,’ I told Johnstone. ‘This man, this creature has the strength to rip our arms out of their sockets. He is capable of the most despicable acts of cruelty. I shot the Count three times in the chest and he didn’t even flinch. This man terrifies me. We might both be killed.’ "Johnstone also had read Armitage’s report and knew what we risked. The Inspector stared unwavering into my eyes and said, ‘Mr. Carnacki, you do not have to come aboard with me.’ "‘Yes, sir, I do,’ I said. ‘However, I was wondering about Miss Westenra. What will become of her if something were to happen to both of us?’ "‘Write a note to Van Helsing and tell him what we are about and that she is at Hillingham alone,’ he said. ‘Leave it with the patrol boat captain to deliver in the event we do not return.’ "I thanked him for his suggestion. I had meant to watch the patrol boat close in on the sailing ship, but even writing hastily I missed seeing the approach although I heard an exchange of vulgar words and threats. "I handed the note to the boat’s pilot. He nodded to me and thrust it into a pocket. I climbed up a boarding ladder with Inspector Johnstone following stiffly behind, his face masking the pain from his injured ribs. "The Czarina’s Captain, irritated by the police boarding his ship, stormed away in disgust, but a crewman offered to show us the way to the ship’s hold and handed us a lantern. "As we entered the hatchway to the dank recesses below deck, I heard the Inspector whisper a prayer: ‘Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, for we wrestle not against the powers of flesh and blood, but of principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness in this world. Amen.’ "The Inspector held up a hand. ‘Here,’ he said. He pulled out of his coat’s deep pockets two strands of garlic cloves and handed one to me. ‘The Missus picked these up for us at the market when we slept.’ He draped his over his bulldog-like neck and I followed his example. "‘Let me ask the questions,’ the Inspector said. ‘I’m more experienced at interrogations. We don’t want to anger him.’ Johnstone winked at me. ‘I’m rather attached to my limbs.’ "Then he laughed at his own joke. How the man could quip at such a time was beyond me! Without another word, we descended into the darkness; the hairs at the back of my head rose and my pulse quickened. My chest felt tight. I inhaled sharply and smelled the aromatic garlic. I took what comfort I could from the garlic. "At the bottom of the stairs, I held the lantern aloft. The hold was nearly full of boxes and crates. Johnstone stood next to me. My right hand rested on the hilt of the sheathed dagger at my side. "We listened to the groan of the ship as it rolled gently on the Thames. "The Inspector and I exchanged a glance with each other for a second then he spoke. I can remember the words that followed in that dark hold 20 years ago as if I heard them yesterday. "‘Mr. Dracula, I am Inspector Johnstone of Scotland Yard. I have a few questions for you.’ The cool blackness of the cargo hold swallowed his words. The Inspector’s manner was almost nonchalant, one hand behind his back, the other in his coat pocket. But I knew he gripped a weapon in each and there was a keen wariness behind his seeming casualness. "Rats scurried in the shadows. ‘Mr. Dracula, should any harm befall myself or my partner, I have left orders for the police to keep this ship in the middle of the river until daylight and search it for you,’ Johnstone said. ‘You cannot cross running water without assistance. You will be trapped here. My men will find you and end your existence.’ "A distance away, on top of a stack of crates, I saw a pair of scarlet eyes glowing in the darkness and heard a menacing, wolf-like growl. "‘However,’ Johnstone continued, ‘if you answer our questions you and the ship will be free to go on your way.’ "Then the vampire suddenly appeared before us at the edge of the circle of light cast by the lantern. ‘I am Count Dracula, crown prince of Wallachia,’ said the vampire, his long canines gleaming. ‘Take care! Take care how you address me and do not threaten. I have made nations tremble! My enemies have been legion, but they have turned to dust and I walk the earth. But I — who have ruled armies and my homeland and where all were safe from robbers and thieves — I know the importance of the law and authority. I grant you leave to ask your questions.’ "‘Then, Count Dracula,’ the Inspector said, ‘please explain why you came to London.’ "‘To visit your beautiful country,’ said Dracula, with a courtly manner. The vampire may have wore kid gloves and a top hat, but his garments, like his manners, were a thin veneer of civilization that could not mask the beast lurking within him. ‘It is as I told a young friend, I desired to see your land and to visit your great city.’ "‘I find it hard to believe that is your only reason,’ the Inspector said. ‘You are too experienced a soldier to operate so far from your home. I have read of your battles against the Turks. You were a brilliant tactician. Experienced commanders do not like to have bodies of water separating them from their base if they can avoid it. Yet you, a wise general, placed yourself at great risk in coming here for so little to gain.’ "Dracula smiled to himself. ‘Sometimes a soldier must do as he is ordered no matter how unwise the command may be,’ he told the Inspector. "‘You are the King of Vampires, the ruler of the Un-Dead,’ the Inspector said. ‘Who would dare order you?’ "‘There is one even I must obey,’ Dracula said. "‘And who is that?’ the Inspector asked. "‘She is Lilith, the queen of the children of the night,’ Dracula answered with a fiendish glint in his eyes. ‘I have lived centuries, but she has been since the dawn of time.’ "‘Why did she want you in London?’ asked the Inspector. "‘To serve her,’ Dracula said. "‘What does she mean to do?’ Johnstone asked. "‘You will have to find her and ask her that yourself,’ the Count replied. ‘She kept many things hidden from me. I fell out of her favor when I realized that she intends to hurt God in heaven. The Draculs have been accused of many things, but we have never betrayed our Lord. Our blood we shed for our Lord across many a battlefield against the infidel.’ "Dracula made a bow to dismiss us. ‘My young friends, how remiss I am for keeping you when you have so much to do to find her and destroy her,’ the Count said. ‘I have enjoyed your country of England, particularly her ladies, but my own land and people beckon to me. I long to return to my mountainside.’ "My eyes narrowed with anger at the implication of Dracula’s words. Beside me, I heard the Inspector exhale slowly and felt his iron grip on my forearm. I had not realized I had started forward until he stopped me. "When Johnstone replied, his polite tone of before was gone. Instead, he sounded like he spoke to the lowest of guttersnipes from Whitechapel. ‘I’ve seen your type before,’ Johnstone told Dracula. ‘There’s always someone in a gang who messes up the plans. You are not leaving because you disagreed with Lilith. Either Lilith ordered you to go or you had to flee to escape her wrath. With your sinister pursuit of Miss Westenra and the killing of the crew of the Demeter, you risked drawing needless attention to Lilith’s plan. Now you reveal Lilith’s identity to us because you see an opportunity to use us to strike at her, something you are too craven to do yourself.’ "Dracula’s aristocratic demeanor disappeared too, replaced with murderous fury. I remembered how Armitage’s report had described the manner Dracula had impaled men on long stakes to watch them die slow, agonizing deaths. Seeing his rage made it easy to imagine that as our fate. "But the Inspector coolly held up his left hand. ‘You are not going to attack us. If you should harm us, there will be scores of constables upon this boat. You will be slain for the last time, a true death, and the fires of hell await you. I should haul you down to Scotland Yard for further questioning, but I want you out of England. Your end draws near soon enough, I suspect.’ "With that, the Inspector turned on his heel and climbed up the steps. "Dracula growled, his fists clenched in rage, his fangs sharp and bright in the lantern light. I had never been closer to death than at that moment. But Dracula did not attack. The Inspector had correctly read his opponent. Yet standing near the monster, I had to resist the urge to tremble. I could sense his dangerous power. With my nerves tight, I followed the Inspector up the steps. "Wordlessly, we walked across the deck to the ladder and climbed down to the police launch. We sat down next to each other along the rail. We took off the garlic necklaces and stuffed them into our pockets. The constables watched us with curiosity. ‘Well?’ asked Inspector Gregson. "‘We got what we wanted,’ Johnstone told him. ‘Take the launch in and dismiss the men.’ He handed Inspector Gregson some money. ‘Tell the boys to go have a drink on me tonight.’ "We sat in silence, listening to the beat of the patrol boat’s motor. Johnstone pulled out a flask, took a drink and handed it to me. I noticed his hands trembled, too. "‘I’m sorry, lad,’ he said after a time. "‘You nearly got us killed,’ I said. "‘I know. I could not help myself,’ Johnstone said, taking another long pull. ‘I meant to ask the questions and leave. Dracula may have lived centuries, but he fell for one of the oldest of police tricks, the sympathetic detective.’ "He passed the flask of whiskey back to me. ‘But when I thought of what that scoundrel did to Miss Lucy,’ Johnstone said, ‘I wanted to antagonize him.’ "I took a long swallow from the flask. ‘Did we do right in not trying to kill him?’ "‘I hope so,’ the Inspector said. "The Thames rushed under us. The Czarina Catherine was no longer in sight. "‘In the back of my mind, I knew he would not risk a fight with us,’ the Inspector said. ‘He has had plenty of opportunity to kill Van Helsing, Lord Godalming and the others, but he has not. He ran instead of defending his precious crates of earth.’ "‘So Dracula is a coward?’ I said. "‘No. I do not think it is that simple,’ the Inspector said. ‘Look at it from his position. He has lived for centuries and could live for centuries more. The men hunting him, at most, will live for another 40 or 50 years. From his point of view he has more, much more, to lose. And he knows what awaits him when he dies for the last time, too. Eternal damnation.’ "I took another long drink of the whiskey. ‘If you knew it was safe, why didn’t you tell me?’ "‘Safe? Mr. Carnacki, that may have been the conclusion in the back of my mind. But more frightening thoughts were in the fore, I assure you. As I spoke to him, there was a voice inside my head telling me I would not make it home this time. When I was a boy, the other lads and me would dare each other to see who would skate closest to the thin ice. Even when I would hear the ice crack, I always knew my luck would hold. But tonight I was nearly certain I’d skated too close to the edge.’ "I stared at the Inspector in open admiration of his pluck. ‘You didn’t show it,’ I said. "Then in a quieter voice I asked, ‘If Lilith can have the evil Count as a lieutenant, what must she be like? What do we do now?’ "Johnstone shrugged. ‘It has been a long couple of days. I am going to go home, hug my children, kiss my wife and go to sleep,’ he said. ‘You should do the same.’ "I took another drink. ‘I don’t want to hug your children,’ I said, laughing. "He took the flask away from me and shook it. Not much remained. He finished it off and hammered his fist against my knee. ‘Then just go home and get some rest. We’ll decide tomorrow about what to do about Lilith.’ "We parted and I hailed a hansom cab for the trip to Hillingham. As I finished off my own flask, I looked at my watch. It was three in the morning as the carriage neared Hillingham. The horses stopped outside the gate and I paid the fare. "As I walked up the drive, I thought of Miss Westenra inside and hoped she had not grown anxious over my late return. I did not think she would worry so much for my safety as she would about being alone in Hillingham. With Dracula’s departure, I hoped to have more time to investigate the possible haunting of the previous nights. "Yet I had my own fright as I opened the front door and saw a figure before me. I leaped back in surprise. There, to my chagrin, stood my American librarian friend, Henry Armitage. "He seemed even more startled than me.


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