فصل 01

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فصل 01

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Chapter one

A telegram from Count Dracula

It was early autumn in the year 1895. Alfred Sackville-Jones and Lord Ernest Deboy were sitting in front of an open fire in Alfred’s apartment. On the table lay a heap of bones, all that remained of the meal they had just eaten. Licking a finger, Alfred got to his feet.

“Now after such a satisfying and filling meal, Ernest, my dear fellow, I suggest that we finish off with one of my very special wines.”

Alfred pulled the cork from a dusty bottle and filled a glass with dark red wine. His eyes lit up as he passed the glass under his nose.

“Perfect. Absolutely perfect! Maison D’ Armignac 1880. I’ve been saving it for a special occasion.”

“Special occasion? What are we celebrating, old boy?”

“First of all, my birthday, which, of course, you completely forgot. And secondly, the end of another successful adventure.”

Alfred passed the glass to Ernest, who raised it in the air with a smile.

“Sorry for forgetting your birthday, dear boy. I’ve got a hopeless memory. I’m not sure I even know my own birthday. What age am I, anyway? Twenty-eight or twenty-nine?”

“You’re thirty-three. And a liar. You have a brilliant memory. You know by heart everything about every bat that has ever existed.”

“Ah, now that’s different.”

Alfred, who worked for a newspaper called The Globe, and Lord Ernest had just returned from Norway, where they had solved an unusual case. A Count and his family had gone to live in an old castle that the Count’s uncle had loft him in his will. However, after a week, a strange figure without a head and dressed like a Viking began appearing at midnight. The Viking roared as loudly as he could, and scared everybody. Naturally, everybody in the castle was very upset, which was why they asked Alfred and Lord Ernest for help.

As he drank his wine, Ernest looked out through the window into the streets of London, but all he could see was smoke and fog.

“You know, Alfred, old chap I have to admit that this is jolly good wine. You don’t happen to have any more, do you, by any chance?”

Alfred poured more wine and Ernest made himself comfortable again.

“You know, I rather like this ghost-hunting business.”

Ernest began to laugh as he lit his pipe.

“What a hopeless actor that Viking was!”

“Quite terrible! I’ve seen better acting done by Great Aunt Agatha’s church drama group. He sounded more like a mouse than a monster!”

“What a devil! Imagine trying to frighten the family out of the castle so that he could claim it as his.”

“Well, we solved that case, which makes three so far this year. I think we’re becoming quite famous.”

Alfred went to his desk and picked up the newspaper and looked admiringly at the headline: ‘BRITONS FIND VIKING’S MISSING HEAD.’

Suddenly he looked very serious.

“Do you believe in ghosts, Ernest?”

“I’d like to, but I’m very much afraid they don’t exist. A pity really.”

“Well, I’m not so sure.”

Just then the doorbell rang, which made both men jump a little.

“Who on earth can it be at this time of night?”

A minute or so later, Alfred’s servant entered, holding a telegram.

Alfred tore it open. He disliked telegrams. His eyes moved quickly down the paper. A look of relief appeared on his face.

“You know, I think we’re in business again, my dear Ernest. It’s from… guess who?”

“Oh, come on! Don’t keep me in suspense!”

“Count Dracula of Transylvania.”

“Count Dracula… Dracula… the name rings a bell.”

“I believe you have got a bad memory, after all. Those pointed teeth, I’ll never forget them as long as I live. Enough to make your blood run cold.”

“Teeth. Yes, of course, a handsome pair, all right. Perfect for sucking blood, eh? And those bloodshot eyes. What a funny looking man he was! And what a frightful accent! He sounded like an old frog. Well, come on!”

Alfred held the telegram under the lamp and started reading:

“Dracula village 10th November 1895

Will always remember my visit to England and particularly meeting you and your remarkable friend who knows so much about bats. I have bad news. I am dying and badly in need of your help. I wish to clear the Dracula name before I leave this world. Please come quickly.

Yours,

Count Vlad Dracula.”

Alfred noticed the excitement on Lord Ernest’s face.

“How about it then, old chap? Can you pack your bags by tomorrow and be at the station by… em…? Let me see…”

Alfred took the train timetable from the shelf and looked up the departure times from Charing Cross to Dover.

“7.32?”

“a.m. or p.m., old boy?”

“Why, a.m., of course!”

“Thought so. You know how I hate getting up early in the morning.”

“I can always go without you.”

Ernest jumped up out of his chair.

“No, you will not! I wouldn’t miss this for the world!”

“All right then. Meet you at the station at 7.15. And don’t be late.”

Alfred took his friend to the front door and waited until a cab appeared out of the thick fog.

The next day, on the train to Dover, Alfred was reading an early morning newspaper. The headline on page three caught his eye.

“Ernest, look at this! ‘VAMPIRE COUNT DEAD.’”

Ernest half-opened his eyes and looked sleepily at his friend.

“What’s that?”

“‘Count Dracula of Transylvania died this morning in his castle near Vilcea, Transylvania, after a short illness.’ Oh, and look at this. It says, ‘A report from a reliable source says that before his death the Count had asked two British experts to clear his name.’ Good heavens, news travels fast.”

“Well, now that he’s dead, I suppose there’s no point in going on.”

The newspaper nearly fell out of Alfred’s hands.

“What are you saying? I’m certainly not going back. Ernest, think of what you’ll be missing. You might even get the chance to see the Transylvanian vampire bat, in person.”

Ernest’s eyes suddenly came alive.

“All right. You’ve persuaded me.”

“Wonderful, wonderful!”

Alfred lay back happily in his seat and allowed the rhythm of the train to send him to sleep. Suddenly he woke up with a start.

“Ernest! Do you think we’ve got everything we need?”

“You mean, passports and so on?”

“Well, no. I was thinking more of… em… protection.”

“Let me see. I’ve got my Derringer, my buffalo knife and some rope. That should do. And, of course, I was twice boxing champion at school.”

“Well, yes, but I was wondering whether we should have brought a cross with us, and em… maybe some garlic.”

“I had no idea you were religious, old boy. And, as for garlic, I didn’t know you had French tastes.”

Ernest burst into laughter, which made Alfred feel rather silly. So, he picked up his paper noisily and pretended to read.

Ernest just fell back to sleep, dreaming he was in a coffin and meeting the vampire bat.

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