Authors: Barbara Hambly
With special thanks to Neil Gaiman
* All passages indicated with an asterisk are taken verbatim from Bram Stoker’s Dracula *
7 flies, 3 spiders
I’ve filled many notebook pages and scraps of paper with these daily reckonings. Sometimes I look at
them and they make no sense to me, nothing at all but scratchmarks. In more sensible moments, I think
the counting is just a sad form of mental mis-chief. It’s a way to avoid thinking about the truly essential
question, which is, of course, what does a single housefly mean?
Letter, Miss Mina Murray to Miss Lucy Westenra 20 May
My dearest Lucy,
I am writing this to you in the happiest of moods. Can you guess why? Yes, I’ve heard from Jonathan
today! He writes from Bistritz, the post-town nearest Castle Dracula-to receive a letter a mere two
weeks after it was posted is a miracle, for Transylvania. What a great thing it is, to be living so close to
the threshold of the twentieth century! He still has heard little con-cerning his client the Count, save that
he is rumored to keep not one but three beautiful wives. This may be proper form beyond the woods
and east of the Danube, but I know you will agree that it is two wives too many. I’ve always felt that I am
too trust-ing or too unimaginative to know the pangs of envy. Still, I must admit to a moment of jealousy,
and in my idle dreams these women cannot help but notice how fine a man my Jonathan is.
I know that it would be unreasonable of me to expect Jonathan’s business with the Count-the purchase
of property here in England somewhere-to be finished in more than a few days, yet already I begin to fret
that he has not outdistanced his own letter and arrived on my doorstep before it. I will write Mr.
Hawkins, Jonathan’s employer, that after Jonathan and I are married, when my husband must travel so on
company business, I must go with him. Naturally I will tell Mr. Hawkins that I can be of great benefit to
his firm with my record-keeping and skill at the typewriter, and further, that the company need not pay
me a shilling. I don’t know if I could bear another such separation, and I know that Jonathan surely feels
the same-when he can turn his thoughts from the Count’s captivating wives.
Well, dear Lucy, you mentioned that you will be having din-ner soon at Rushbrook House. I have not
met your Dr. John Seward, but you have written that he is handsome and quite out of the ordinary. I
should suppose so. No ordinary man would in-vite a young lady to dine at a madhouse.
Your loving, Mina
“Cook says, must she obey every order from that Mr. Blaine? Because if she does, she says she won’t
be able to get the chicken on the table in time.”
Dr. John Seward briefly closed his eyes and didn’t even try to imagine what contradictory order given
by the elegant butler Blaine-borrowed for the occasion from the local baronet, Sir Ambrose Poole-would
preclude Mrs. Davies having the chicken ready for dinner with Mrs. Westenra and her daughter.
Ordinar-ily, the maid’s question would have intrigued him. (Did he com-mand her to polish the borrowed
silver tureen that Sir Ambrose brought along with him? To fetch newer and fresher lettuce-leaves
wherewith to line the platter?) Now it represented yet one more minor monster tussling with his
trouser-leg as he prepared for the major encounter of the evening.
In the quiet, steady voice he’d perfected in a decade of deal-ing with the insane, he replied, “Please tell
Mrs. Davies to use her best judgment, and to refer Mr. Blaine to me if there seems m be a conflict. Tell
them both that getting the food on the table for dinner is my first priority.”
The housemaid Mary nodded, the expression in her eyes clearly proclaiming that there was some major
portion of Sew-a rd’s instructions which she hadn’t understood, and she darted back through the door of
the little pantry and clattered down the corridor to the kitchen. Seward wondered if he should go af-ter
her and ascertain what part of his instructions were going to be garbled in transmission this time, but the
chiming of the pantry clock claimed his attention like the salvo of a battle’s opening guns.
Dear God, they would be here any minute.
You’ve confronted cannibal savages in the South Seas on that round-the-world voyage with Lord
Godalming’s daffy brother, Seward reminded himself. You’ve faced of f against Comancheros in
Texas out to murder you and your friends for your boots. Can one respectable English matron out
to secure A Good Match for her daughter be worse?
O f course she can.
As he passed through the dining-room-its faded silk wall-papers and graceful proportions a reminder
of the house’s patri-cian origins-he encountered Dr. Hennessey, his night surgeon, pouring himself what
was clearly his third or fourth cognac of the evening.
“Cheer up, Johnny,” encouraged the older man with a rather hazy grin. “This girl-she has money, eh?
And she’s pretty? How about this mother of hers, then … She has money, too?”
Seward blenched at the thought of the fat-bellied and sweaty Irishman-the best that Rushbrook
Asylum could get for its rather limited funds-sidling up to Mrs. Westenra with proposi-tions of a double
wedding, and said, “I believe the money is all secured in an unbreakable trust,” a patent fabrication that
he hoped would hold for the evening. “As for Miss Westenra . . .”
The bell pealed and the attendant Langmore, bedight in liv-ery borrowed like everything else for the
evening from Sir Am-brose, strode through from pantry to hall, shouting, “I’m comin’, then, keep your .
Seward strode ahead of him, cutting him off at the hall door and preceding him into the small and
rather gloomy entryway that had been carved out of what had once been the house’s li-brary. All the
grand rooms in the main block of Rushbrook House had years ago been converted for the use of the
doctors and the patients: the original dining-room into a clinic with a dispensary in the pantry, the
drawing-room into a day-room for the quieter patients, the morning-room for hydrotherapy, and the
billiard-room-rather grimly equipped with several patent “tranquilizing chairs” and a Swing. Many of the
rooms of the wing allotted to the Staff had a tinkered-with look, where a side door had been given the
trappings of a main entrance and rooms originally spacious had been divided to approximate a normal
Mrs. Westenra was taking in all these alterations with a cold blue eye that missed not a halved window
nor a single square inch where brick had been substituted for marble. “How very cozy,” she said as
Seward escorted her and her daughter across the threshold, and through the hall into the rest of the
original library, now doing duty as drawing-room for the Superintende-nt, i.e. himself. “What a very
clever use of space.”
“I think it’s charming.” Lucy shrugged her wrap into Lang-more’s waiting hands, giving the
attendant-cum-footman one of those sweetly dazzling smiles that, even glancing, had won Seward’s heart
the night he’d first encountered her at a party at Lord Godalming’s. Then she turned the full brightness of
her eyes on him. “Are those hyacinths from the garden here at Rushbrook, Dr. Seward? I thought we
saw a garden, didn’t we, Mama, as we drove up?”
“You did indeed, Miss Westenra. Several of our patients enjoy working with plants and flowers. Not
only enjoy it, but seem to find it calming to their minds and nerves.” He took her gloved hand, and guided
her to a chair: a delicate girl, too thin for her medium height, her flaxen hair dressed in a feathery chignon
that further emphasized this ethereal quality.
Mrs. Westenra gave an exaggerated shudder. “I hope you didn’t have them coming into this part of the
house and arranging the flowers, too, Dr. Seward.” Like her daughter, she was a thin woman, her pallor
an exaggeration of Lucy’s alabaster del-icacy, her eyes the chill antithesis of her daughter’s hopeful trust.
She glanced pointedly at Langmore. “Or do you use them in your household? I daresay it would take
more courage than I possess, to live never knowing when I’d come through the door and find myself
face-to-face with a lunatic.” She turned as she said it, and drew back a little as Dr. Hennessey entered,
red–faced and swaying slightly, a now-full-again glass of cognac in his hand.
“Dr. Hennessey,” Seward introduced through slightly clenched teeth, “who is in charge here at night.”
And sleeps it off during the day. Hennessey was a relative of Lady Poole-upon whose husband’s
patronage Rushbrook House depended-and his em-ployment here owed as much to this fact as to his
willingness to work for what Seward was able to pay. Seward was familiar with such links. His own stint
of shepherding Lord Godalming’s brother, the erratic Harry Holmwood, through South America, Russia,
and the South Seas had resulted in his acquaintance and friendship with his patient’s nephew, the
Honorable Arthur Holmwood: the true prize, Seward knew, in the widowed Mrs. Westenra’s
And why not? he reflected, as Blaine entered to announce din-ner. The Honorable Arthur was as
handsome as a Burne-Jones engraving of Sir Galahad, curly-haired, square-chinned, unfailingly polite
(even to the pavement-nymphs they’d patronized in Tampico, San Antonio, Vladivostok, and Singapore),
and stood to inherit a very large fortune and the title of Viscount Godal-ming. Seward had watched his
young friend’s eyes at that party at the Godalming town-house and knew he adored Miss Westenra. The
only problem was that Seward adored her, too. Even at nineteen, she had the tact, taste, and vivacity to
make a perfect London hostess. But she also, Seward guessed, watching her as he seated her at his left
at the cramped dining-room table, had the instinctive empathy to be a doctor’s wife.
Even a mad-doctor’s.
As Blaine brought forth the fish course-a sorry turbot adorned with a half-lemon carved into a
crown-and Hennessey launched into a rambling Nietzschean toast, Seward reflected that it was going to
be a long evening.
It was Langmore, tiptoeing out of the pantry to whisper in his ear. The attendant’s livery was mussed,
his old-fashioned stock pulled askew.
“It’s the big new ‘un, sor. He’s scarpered.”
Mrs. Westenra was questioning Hennessey-since Seward’s answers had proven unsatisfactory-about
the number and vari-ation of patients represented at Rushbrook, turning every now and then to Lucy with
little cries of, “How horrible!” when the Dubliner doctor obliged her with a particularly bizarre example of
behavior. Unlike many private asylums, Seward had insisted, when he’d been hired, on treating all
prospective patients, not merely those who were easiest or least troublesome. Hennessey was regaling
the ladies with accounts of Mrs. Strathmore’s as-sault on Mrs. Jaimeson with the scissors, and Seward
only hoped he wouldn’t go on to detail the more revolting aspects of the notorious “Lord Spotty,” as the
attendants called him.
“Please excuse me,” said Seward, rising. “There’s a small matter that needs my attention. I’ll be back in
Dr. Hennessey, refilling his glass, didn’t even think to ask if help was needed. Probably, reflected
Seward, just as well.
As he was leaving, Mrs. Westenra said, “Those cries! Do the poor souls always howl so?”
Seward paused in his tracks, and reflected that he must be well-fitted to his business. It had been some
time since he’d even been aware of the howling.
Letter , R. M. Renfield to his wife
My beloved Catherine,
I hope this letter finds you in excellent health and the most congenial of spirits. I’m aware that it’s been
some time since I’ve written to you, and I beg both your understanding and your for-giveness. It’s been a
busy time for me, as I slowly grasp the changed nature of my life. I must accept new ways, puzzling
ways, sometimes inhuman ways-but toward what final design? I do not know.
I have barely a moment to myself each morning and again each night. That’s certainly not enough quiet
time for me to or-der my thoughts and compose such letters as deserve your at-tention. In fact, I was
hoping against reason that you would visit me this last week-end. We might have enjoyed some tranquil
time together, you and I, to speak or share the silent moments as we always did.
It’s spring and the air here is scented with honeysuckle, the sweetness of England for which I so longed
among the heavy perfumes of foreign lands. But these are not the flowers you tended so carefully, nor the
blossoms that cheered me nightly when I returned home from the City. Without you all things have lost
Please consider visiting next week-end, or the one thereafter. I will believe that you are arriving soon,
bringing with you every-thing that gives color and freshness to the dawn, and rest and comfort to the
twilight. And-I need not say this, I’m certain–please tell our precious Vixie that she will always be the joy
in my life wherever I go, howsoever we are separated, and that she (and you, my dear Catherine) will go
with me everywhere, always.
Please believe me,
Forever your most loving husband,
R. M. Renfield
A slanted coign of roof sheltered the rear door of the Staff wing of Rushbrook House. Beyond it, rain
that had started during the soup course pattered sadly in the darkness. Rushbrook House stood a few
miles from the last houses of Purfleet, and beyond the wall of the extensive grounds, the Thames marshes
lay as they had lain since time immemorial. Even the grounds, though planted with trees and crossed by
two or three drainage canals discreetly disguised as ornamental brooks, tended to squishy muckiness and
standing pools in the slightest rain.
“How long ago did he escape?” Seward shrank in spite of himself from the idea of a chase through the
morass in his single presentable evening-suit.