"My child, there is such an one if it were for your good. For myselfI could hold it in my account with God to find such an euthanasia foryou, even at this moment, if it were best. Nay, were it safe! But, mychild----" for a moment he seemed choked, and a great sob rose in histhroat; he gulped it down and went on:--
"There are here some who would stand between you and death. You mustnot die. You must not die by any hand; but least of all by your own.Until the other, who has fouled your sweet life, is true dead you mustnot die; for if he is still with the quick Un-Dead, your death wouldmake you even as he is. No, you must live! You must struggle and striveto live, though death would seem a boon unspeakable. You must fightDeath himself, though he come to you in pain or in joy; by the day,or the night; in safety or in peril! On your living soul I charge youthat you do not die--nay, nor think of death--till this great evil bepast." The poor dear grew white as death, and shook and shivered, as Ihave seen a quicksand shake and shiver at the incoming of the tide. Wewere all silent; we could do nothing. At length she grew more calm, andturning to him said, sweetly, but oh! so sorrowfully, as she held outher hand:--
"I promise you, my dear friend, that if God will let me live, I shallstrive to do so; till, if it may be in His good time, this horror mayhave passed away from me." She was so good and brave that we all feltthat our hearts were strengthened to work and endure for her, and webegan to discuss what we were to do. I told her that she was to have allthe papers in the safe, and all the papers or diaries and phonographs wemight hereafter use; and was to keep the record as she had done before.She was pleased with the prospect of anything to do--if "pleased" couldbe used in connection with so grim an interest.
As usual Van Helsing had thought ahead of everyone else, and wasprepared with an exact ordering of our work.
"It is perhaps well" he said, "that at our meeting after our visitto Carfax we decided not to do anything with the earth-boxes thatlay there. Had we done so, the Count must have guessed our purpose,and would doubtless have taken measures in advance to frustrate suchan effort with regard to the others; but now he does not know ourintentions. Nay more, in all probability he does not know that such apower exists to us as can sterilize his lairs, so that he cannot usethem as of old. We are now so much further advanced in our knowledgeas to their disposition, that, when we have examined the house inPiccadilly, we may track the very last of them. To-day, then, is ours;and in it rests our hope. The sun that rose on our sorrow this morningguards us in its course. Until it sets to-night, that monster mustretain whatever form he now has. He is confined within the limitationsof his earthly envelope. He cannot melt into thin air nor disappearthrough cracks or chinks or crannies. If he go through a door-way, hemust open the door like a mortal. And so we have this day to hunt outall his lairs and sterilize them. So we shall, if we have not yet catchhim and destroy him, drive him to bay in some place where the catchingand the destroying shall be, in time, sure." Here I started up for Icould not contain myself at the thought that the minutes and seconds sopreciously laden with Mina's life and happiness were flying from us,since whilst we talked action was possible. But Van Helsing held up hishand warningly. "Nay, friend Jonathan," he said, "in this, the quickestway home is the longest way, so your proverb say. We shall all act, andact with desperate quick, when the time has come. But think, in allprobable the key of the situation is in that house in Piccadilly. TheCount may have many houses which he has bought. Of them he will havedeeds of purchase, keys and other things. He will have paper that hewrite on; he will have his book of cheques. There are many belongingsthat he must have somewhere; why not in this place so central, so quiet,where he come and go by the front or the back at all hour, when in thevery vast of the traffic there is none to notice. We shall go there andsearch that house; and when we learn what it holds, then we do what ourfriend Arthur call, in his phrases of hunt, 'stop the earths' and so werun down our old fox--so? is it not?"
"Then let us come at once," I cried, "we are wasting the precious,precious time!" The Professor did not move, but simply said:--
"And how are we to get into that house in Piccadilly?"
"Any way!" I cried. "We shall break in if need be."
"And your police; where will they be, and what will they say?"
I was staggered; bu
t I knew that if he wished to delay he had a goodreason for it. So I said, as quietly as I could:--
"Don't wait more than need be; you know, I am sure, what torture I amin."
"Ah, my child, that I do; and indeed there is no wish of me to add toyour anguish. But just think, what can we do, until all the world be atmovement? Then will come our time. I have thought and thought, and itseems to me that the simplest way is the best of all. Now we wish to getinto the house, but we have no key; is it not so?" I nodded.
"Now suppose that you were, in truth, the owner of that house, andcould not still get it; and think there was to you no conscience of thehousebreaker, what would you do?"
"I should get a respectable locksmith, and set him to work to pick thelock for me."
"And your police, they would interfere, would they not?"
"Oh, no! not if they knew the man was properly employed."
"Then," he looked at me keenly as he spoke, "all that is in doubt isthe conscience of the employer, and the belief of your policemen asto whether or no that employer has a good conscience or a bad one.Your police must indeed be zealous men and clever--oh, so clever!--inreading the heart, that they trouble themselves in such matter. No, no,my friend Jonathan, you go take the lock off a hundred empty housesin this your London, or of any city in the world; and if you do it assuch things are rightly done, and at the time such things are rightlydone, no one will interfere. I have read of a gentleman who owned a sofine house in your London, and when he went for months of summer toZwitzerland and lock up his house, some burglar came and broke window atback and got in. Then he went and made open the shutters in front andwalk out and in through the door, before the very eyes of the police.Then he have an auction in that house, and advertise it, and put up bignotice; and when the day come he sell off by a great auctioneer all thegoods of that other man who own them. Then he go to a builder, and hesell him that house, making an agreement that he pull it down and takeall away within a certain time. And your police and other authority helphim all they can. And when that owner come back from his holiday inZwitzerland he find only an empty hole where his house had been. Thiswas all done _en regle_; and in our work we shall be _en regle_ too. Weshall not go so early that the policeman who have then little to thinkof, shall deem it strange; but we shall go after ten o'clock when thereare many about, and when such things would be done were we indeed ownersof the house."
I could not but see how right he was, and the terrible despair of Mina'sface became relaxed a thought; there was hope in such good counsel. VanHelsing went on:--
"When once within that house we may find more clues; at any rate some ofus can remain there whilst the rest find the other places where there bemore earth-boxes--at Bermondsey and Mile End."
Lord Godalming stood up. "I can be of some use here," he said. "I shallwire to my people to have horses and carriages where they will be mostconvenient."
"Look here, old fellow," said Morris, "it is a capital idea to have allready in case we want to go horsebacking; but don't you think that oneof your snappy carriages with its heraldic adornments in a byeway atWalworth or Mile End would attract too much attention for our purposes?It seems to me that we ought to take cabs when we go south or east; andeven leave them somewhere near the neighbourhood we are going to."
"Friend Quincey is right!" said the Professor. "His head is what youcall in plane with the horizon. It is a difficult thing that we go todo, and we do not want no peoples to watch us if so it may."
Mina took a growing interest in everything, and I was rejoiced to seethat the exigency of affairs was helping her to forget for a time theterrible experience of the night. She was very, very pale--almostghastly, and so thin that her lips were drawn away, showing her teeth insomewhat of prominence. I did not mention this last, lest it should giveher needless pain; but it made my blood run cold in my veins to think ofwhat had occurred with poor Lucy when the Count had sucked her blood. Asyet there was no sign of the teeth growing sharper; but the time as yetwas short, and there was time for fear.
When we came to the discussion of the sequence of our efforts and ofthe disposition of our forces, there were new sources of doubt. It wasfinally agreed that before starting for Piccadilly we should destroy theCount's lair close at hand. In case he should find it out too soon, weshould thus be still ahead of him in our work of destruction; and hispresence in his purely material shape, and at his weakest, might give ussome new clue.
As to the disposal of forces, it was suggested by the Professor that,after our visit to Carfax, we should all enter the house in Piccadilly;that the two doctors and I should remain there, whilst Lord Godalmingand Quincey found the lairs at Walworth and Mile End and destroyedthem. It was possible, if not likely, the Professor urged, that theCount might appear in Piccadilly during the day, and that if so wemight be able to cope with him then and there. At any rate we might beable to follow him in force. To this plan I strenuously objected, inso far as my going was concerned, for I said that I intended to stayand protect Mina. I thought that my mind was made up on the subject;but Mina would not listen to my objection. She said that there might besome law matter in which I could be useful; that amongst the Count'spapers might be some clue which I could understand out of my experiencein Transylvania; and that, as it was, all the strength we could musterwas required to cope with the Count's extraordinary power. I had togive in, for Mina's resolution was fixed; she said that it was the lasthope for _her_ that we should all work together. "As for me," she said,"I have no fear. Things have been as bad as they can be; and whatevermay happen must have in it some element of hope or comfort. Go, myhusband! God can, if He wishes it, guard me as well alone as with anyone present." So I started up crying out: "Then in God's name let uscome at once, for we are losing time. The Count may come to Piccadillyearlier than we think."
"Not so!" said Van Helsing, holding up his hand.
"But why?" I asked.
"Do you forget," he said, with actually a smile, "that last night hebanqueted heavily, and will sleep late?"
Did I forget! shall I ever--can I ever! Can any of us ever forget thatterrible scene! Mina struggled hard to keep her brave countenance; butthe pain overmastered her and she put her hands before her face, andshuddered whilst she moaned. Van Helsing had not intended to recallher frightful experience. He had simply lost sight of her and her partin the affair in his intellectual effort. When it struck him what hehad said, he was horrified at his thoughtlessness and tried to comforther. "Oh Madam Mina," he said, "dear, dear Madam Mina, alas! that I,of all who so reverence you, should have said anything so forgetful.These stupid old lips of mine and this stupid old head do not deserveso; but you will forget it, will you not?" He bent low beside her as hespoke; she took his hand, and looking at him through her tears, saidhoarsely:--