فصل 06

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فصل 06

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Chapter six

The Missing Link

That night Alfred and Ernest were too tired to go grave- digging. They decided, however, that they would keep a careful eye on Rodolfo. They felt that he, and in fact all three servants, were hiding something which might provide the key to the whole Dracula mystery. So, next morning they got up early, before the mist had risen, and slipped out into the castle yard to wait for Rodolfo to appear with his tray of food, as they believed he almost certainly would. About ten feet from the well, Gregory had parked the carriage with the Dracula coat of arms and the head of the vampire bat painted in gold on the side. They decided that this would be a good place to hide. Ernest looked at his watch.

“Do you think he’s not coming? We’ve been here for nearly an hour.”

“Perhaps he heard us come out and realised that we’re after him.”

“Well, let’s give him another fifteen minutes.”

They waited another fifteen minutes and were about to give up when they heard the kitchen door slam shut.

“I think it’s him.”

Sure enough, Rodolfo appeared carrying the same tray as on the previous day. But instead of stopping at the well, he walked straight to the carriage. Ernest and Alfred began to feel uneasy. However, when he reached the driver’s seat, he stopped and laid the tray on it. Then, he returned to the well and, using the thick piece of wood as a lever, pushed back the stone. He came back for the tray and, to their surprise, climbed into the well and disappeared. Alfred whistled to himself, “I think this is our opportunity. Let’s follow him.”

Alfred reached the well first. He could hear the sound of Rodolfo’s boots on the stone steps as he went deeper into the well. At some point, they seemed to just fade away. Alfred looked in, but all he could see was a black hole.

“I say, I don’t fancy getting in there. Looks like the way down to Hell!”

Ernest struck a match and held it over the hole. They could make out spiral steps built on the side of the well. There was nothing to hold on to, and the steps looked wet and slippery, so if either of them fell, he would almost certainly go hurtling down to a sure death. Ernest got into the mouth of the well.

“Be careful. The steps are all wet and slimy.”

Step by step they climbed down into the darkness, feeling their way as best they could by leaning against the well wall. Suddenly, Alfred saw Ernest fall. For a moment he thought he had seen the last of his friend and he expected to hear the fatal splash. Instead, he heard Ernest’s voice coming from the well. Then he realised what had happened. There was a large hole in the wall and Ernest had fallen into it and was now lying on the floor of what, by the looks of it, was a passageway, which led somewhere underground.

“Are you all right, old chap?”

“Well, just about. I thought I was on my way to meet the Count for a moment. Where the devil are we?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. The home of the vampire bat I should think. Hold on a tick. I can just make out a dim light at the end there.”

Ernest got to his feet and felt his way along the passage to a door, which was slightly open. Inside, they could hear Rodolfo’s voice and the grunts of some kind of animal. Ernest pushed the door slightly.

“There’s only one way to find out. Let’s go.”

He opened the door just enough to see what was happening. Rodolfo had his back to them and was facing someone sitting on a chair. He appeared to have a spoon in one hand, feeding a baby. The room was warm and comfortable, with expensive Persian carpets on the floor. Rodolfo got up to put more wood on the fire, revealing the ugliest creature they had ever seen. One side of its face was twisted and shapeless, and its arms and whole body were all bent and moving out of control. Uneaten food and meaningless sounds were coming out of its mouth. Alfred could not help exclaiming.

“Good heavens! What is that?”

Rodolfo was speaking to the creature as if it understood what he was saying, but could not reply. Alfred pulled Ernest’s arm.

“I think we ought to go.”

Rodolfo must have sensed someone was there because he let out a wild cry and started to run towards them.

“You devils! Father said I should trust you because you are English gentlemen, but everybody hates the Dracula name and you’re no different. You want a story for your newspaper. You don’t care about the great family Dracula. Well, I’m going to kill you.”

Rodolfo reached the two men and was about to lift Alfred into the air, when Ernest threw his bolas, which was made of thick string with three metal balls tied to the ends. The bolas went right around Rodolfo’s legs. Alfred was thrown into the air and Rodolfo fell forward onto the floor. Ernest threw the end of a piece of rope to Alfred.

“Here, grab the end of this and tie him up before he recovers.”

“Bravo, Ernest old fellow! Where on earth did you learn that little trick?”

“Didn’t I tell you I spent three months with the rebels in Argentina fighting the Dictator? I brought that little fellow back with me.”

Between the two of them, they managed to tie up the struggling Rodolfo. Ernest was afraid he was going to break the rope, but it soon became clear that it was too strong for him. When they had finally got him under control, Alfred started to speak.

“Now, Rodolfo, old fellow. I’m frightfully sorry to have to do this, but you simply must understand. We’re here to help you.”

“No, you’re just like the rest.”

“Look, old fellow, why do you think the Count asked us over here? Now I think you’d better tell us the whole thing.”

The creature in the corner let out an animal cry.

“I suppose it was he who was making the screams in the night. Who is he? I suppose it is a he?”

Rodolfo said nothing, just boiled with anger. Then he spoke.

“Well, you know now and I cannot kill you. So, I might as well tell you the whole story. That is the Count’s son.”

“The Count’s son?”

“Yes, he is forty-five years old. He should have died, but…

“Hold on a tick! Forty-five, but the Countess died forty- five years ago. You mean that she died giving birth to that… that gentleman over there?”

“Yes, Radu is the heir to the Dracula estate. He should now be Count Dracula.”

“Radu? That means ‘handsome’, doesn’t it? Rather ironical.”

“Naturally, the Count did not want the world to know about Radu. It would be a great shame for the family. But he felt great guilt for keeping him here in this… this hole. But Radu doesn’t know any better.”

“Well, it looks as if you’ve let the cat out of the bag, Rodolfo. But don’t worry. Your secret will be safe with us. I won’t even mention it in my article. I promise. Now, one thing puzzles us. Who is this Doctor Magorsky?”

“Doctor Magorsky is an evil man, but the Count was a naive man and trusted him. I think he killed her.”

“Killed the Countess?”

“By bleeding her. This is what he does, to make people better.”

“I see. Fascinating! Oh, and one last little question, old boy, now that we’ve got you in this… em… difficult position, so to speak. That was you we saw on the Count’s horse the other night, wearing his cloak and hood?”

Rodolfo was silent. Then hesitatingly he replied. “… No.”

“Are you sure you weren’t sleep-riding, old fellow? Because if it wasn’t you, I daren’t think who it was, unless it was the Count himself. Now you must trust us. We can work together and sort this whole nasty business out. Our job is to clear the Dracula name and that’s exactly what we will do.”

“All right. I will help you.”

“Oh, what a jolly good fellow! Did you understand that, Ernest? Rodolfo is going to help. I think we can untie him now.”

“Are you sure we can trust him? He could throw both of us into the well with one arm.”

“Well, perhaps you’d better keep your little handy just in case.”

They first unwound the bolas and then the ropes from around his arms. He made no attempt to attack them. Alfred sighed with relief.

“Well, I don’t know about you two, but I’m starving. How about breakfast?”

When Ernest and Alfred were having breakfast, Alfred was still unsure of the situation.

“There are still a lot of questions unanswered, aren’t there, old boy? I mean, who was that chappy on the horse? Now, we don’t believe in ghosts. Or do we?”

“I’m not sure we can trust Rodolfo. He may have been lying, or at least not telling us the whole truth. Might he still throw us down the well or something?”

“Oh, no, no, no. Rodolfo’s a fine fellow. I think we need to investigate the Doctor. All this bleeding! Nasty business!”

“Well, in that case, I suggest that after breakfast, we get old Gregory to pop us into the village so that we can get to the bottom of this Magorsky fellow.”

“Ah, Rodolfo, a superb breakfast as usual. I hope you didn’t just accidentally drop a few spoonfuls of cyanide into the coffee.”

Rodolfo did not reply or smile.

“Funny about foreigners. They can’t take a joke.”

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