At nine o’clock Dr. Van Helsing, Dr. Seward, and I called on Messrs. Mackenzie & Steinkoff, the agents of the London firm of Hapgood. They had received a wire from London, in answer to Lord Godalming’s telegraphed request, asking us to show them any civility in their power. They were more than kind and courteous, and took us at once on board theCzarina Catherine, which lay at anchor out in the river harbour. There we saw the Captain, Donelson by name, who told us of his voyage. He said that in all his life he had never had so favourable a run.
“Man!” he said, “but it made us afeard, for we expeckit that we should have to pay for it wi’ some rare piece o’ ill luck, so as to keep up the average. It’s no canny to run frae London to the Black Sea wi’ a wind ahint ye, as though the Deil himself were blawin’ on yer sail for his ain purpose. An’ a’ the time we could no speer a thing. Gin we were nigh a ship, or a port, or a headland, a fog fell on us and travelled wi’ us, till when after it had lifted and we looked out, the deil a thing could we see. We ran by Gibraltar wi’oot bein’ able to signal; an’ till we came to the Dardanelles and had to wait to get our permit to pass, we never were within hail o’ aught. At first I inclined to slack off sail and beat about till the fog was lifted; but whiles, I thocht that if the Deil was minded to get us into the Black Sea quick, he was like to do it whether we would or no. If we had a quick voyage it would be no to our miscredit wi’ the owners, or no hurt to our traffic; an’ the Old Mon who had served his ain purpose wad be decently grateful to us for no hinderin’ him.” This mixture of simplicity and cunning, of superstition and commercial reasoning, aroused Van Helsing, who said:—
“Mine friend, that Devil is more clever than he is thought by some; and he know when he meet his match!” The skipper was not displeased with the compliment, and went on:—
“When we got past the Bosphorus the men began to grumble; some o’ them, the Roumanians, came and asked me to heave overboard a big box which had been put on board by a queer lookin’ old man just before we had started frae London. I had seen them speer at the fellow, and put out their twa fingers when they saw him, to guard against the evil eye. Man! but the supersteetion of foreigners is pairfectly rideeculous! I sent them aboot their business pretty quick; but as just after a fog closed in on us I felt a wee bit as they did anent something, though I wouldn’t say it was agin the big box. Well, on we went, and as the fog didn’t let up for five days I joost let the wind carry us; for if the Deil wanted to get somewheres—well, he would fetch it up a’reet. An’ if he didn’t, well, we’d keep a sharp lookout anyhow. Sure eneuch, we had a fair way and deep water all the time; and two days ago, when the mornin’ sun came through the fog, we found ourselves just in the river opposite Galatz. The Roumanians were wild, and wanted me right or wrong to take out the box and fling it in the river. I had to argy wi’ them aboot it wi’ a handspike; an’ when the last o’ them rose off the deck wi’ his head in his hand, I had convinced them that, evil eye or no evil eye, the property and the trust of my owners were better in my hands than in the river Danube. They had, mind ye, taken the box on the deck ready to fling in, and as it was marked Galatz via Varna, I thocht I’d let it lie till we discharged in the port an’ get rid o’t althegither. We didn’t do much clearin’ that day, an’ had to remain the nicht at anchor; but in the mornin’, braw an’ airly, an hour before sun-up, a man came aboard wi’ an order, written to him from England, to receive a box marked for one Count Dracula. Sure eneuch the matter was one ready to his hand. He had his papers a’ reet, an’ glad I was to be rid o’ the dam’ thing, for I was beginnin’ masel’ to feel uneasy at it. If the Deil did have any luggage aboord the ship, I’m thinkin’ it was nane ither than that same!”
“What was the name of the man who took it?” asked Dr. Van Helsing with restrained eagerness.
“I’ll be tellin’ ye quick!” he answered, and, stepping down to his cabin, produced a receipt signed “Immanuel Hildesheim.” Burgen-strasse 16 was the address. We found out that this was all the Captain knew; so with thanks we came away.
We found Hildesheim in his office, a Hebrew of rather the
Adelphi Theatre type, with a nose like a sheep, and a fez. His arguments were pointed with specie—we doing the punctuation—and with a little bargaining he told us what he knew. This turned out to be simple but important. He had received a letter from Mr. de Ville of London, telling him to receive, if possible before sunrise so as to avoid customs, a box which would arrive at Galatz in the Czarina Catherine
. This he was to give in charge to a certain Petrof Skinsky, who dealt with the Slovaks who traded down the river to the port. He had been paid for his work by an English bank note, which had been duly cashed for gold at the Danube International Bank. When Skinsky had come to him, he had taken him to the ship and handed over the box, so as to save porterage. That was all he knew.
We then sought for Skinsky, but were unable to find him. One of his neighbours, who did not seem to bear him any affection, said that he had gone away two days before, no one knew whither. This was corroborated by his landlord, who had received by messenger the key of the house together with the rent due, in English money. This had been between ten and eleven o’clock last night. We were at a standstill again.
Whilst we were talking one came running and breathlessly gasped out that the body of Skinsky had been found inside the wall of the churchyard of St. Peter, and that the throat had been torn open as if by some wild animal. Those we had been speaking with ran off to see the horror, the women crying out “This is the work of a Slovak!” We hurried away lest we should have been in some way drawn into the affair, and so detained.
As we came home we could arrive at no definite conclusion. We were all convinced that the box was on its way, by water, to somewhere; but where that might be we would have to discover. With heavy hearts we came home to the hotel to Mina.
When we met together, the first thing was to consult as to taking Mina again into our confidence. Things are getting desperate, and it is at least a chance, though a hazardous one. As a preliminary step, I was released from my promise to her.
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