It was on the dark side of twilight when we got to Bistritz, which is a very interesting old place. Being practically on the frontier - for the Borgo Pass leads from it into Bukovina - it has had a very stormy existence, and it certainly shows marks of it. Fifty years ago a series of great fires took place, which made terrible havoc on five separate occasions. At the very beginning of the seventeenth century it underwent a siege of three weeks and lost 13,000 people, the casualties of war proper being assisted by famine and disease.
Count Dracula had directed me to go to the Golden Krone Hotel, which I found, to my great delight, to be thoroughly old-fashioned, for of course I wanted to see all I could of the ways of the country.
I was evidently expected, for when I got near the door I faced a cheery-looking elderly woman in the usual peasant dress - white undergarment with a long double apron, front, and back, of coloured stuff fitting almost too tight for modesty. When I came close she bowed and said, "The Herr Englishman?"
"Yes," I said, "Jonathan Harker."
She smiled, and gave some message to an elderly man in white shirt-sleeves, who had followed her to the door.
He went, but immediately returned with a letter:
"My friend. - Welcome to the Carpathians. I am anxiously expecting you. Sleep well tonight. At three tomorrow the diligence will start for Bukovina; a place on it is kept for you. At the Borgo Pass my carriage will await you and will bring you to me. I trust that your journey from London has been a happy one, and that you will enjoy your stay in my beautiful land. - Your friend, Dracula."
4 May - I found that my landlord had got a letter from the Count, directing him to secure the best place on the coach for me; but on making inquiries as to details he seemed somewhat reticent, and pretended that he could not understand my German.
This could not be true, because up to then he had understood it perfectly; at least, he answered my questions exactly as if he did.
He and his wife, the old lady who had received me, looked at each other in a frightened sort of way. He mumbled out that the money had been sent in a letter, and that was all he knew. When I asked him if he knew Count Dracula, and could tell me anything of his castle, both he and his wife crossed themselves, and, saying that they knew nothing at all, simply refused to speak further. It was so near the time of starting that I had no time to ask anyone else, for it was all very mysterious and not by any means comforting.
Just before I was leaving, the old lady came up to my room and said in a hysterical way: "Must you go? Oh! Young Herr, must you go?" She was in such an excited state that she seemed to have lost her grip of what German she knew, and mixed it all up with some other language which I did not know at all. I was just able to follow her by asking many questions. When I told her that I must go at once, and that I was engaged on important business, she asked again:
"Do you know what day it is?" I answered that it was the fourth of May. She shook her head as she said again:
"Oh, yes! I know that! I know that, but do you know what day it is?"
On my saying that I did not understand, she went on:
"It is the eve of St. George's Day. Do you not know that to-night, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway? Do you know where you are going, and what you are going to?" She was in such evident distress that I tried to comfort her, but without effect. Finally, she went down on her knees and implored me not to go; at least to wait a day or two before starting.
It was all very ridiculous but I did not feel comfortable. However, there was business to be done, and I could allow nothing to interfere with it.
I tried to raise her up, and said, as gravely as I could, that I thanked her, but my duty was imperative, and that I must go.
She then rose and dried her eyes, and taking a crucifix from her neck offered it to me.
I did not know what to do, for, as an English Churchman, I have been taught to regard such things as in some measure idolatrous, and yet it seemed so ungracious to refuse an old lady meaning so well and in such a state of mind.
She saw, I suppose, the doubt in my face, for she put the rosary round my neck and said, "For your mother's sake," and went out of the room.
I am writing up this part of the diary whilst I am waiting for the coach, which is, of course, late; and the crucifix is still round my neck.
Whether it is the old lady's fear, or the many ghostly traditions of this place, or the crucifix itself, I do not know, but I am not feeling nearly as easy in my mind as usual.
If this book should ever reach Mina before I do, let it bring my good-bye. Here comes the coach!
5 May. The Castle. - The gray of the morning has passed, and the sun is high over the distant horizon, which seems jagged, whether with trees or hills I know not, for it is so far off that big things and little are mixed.
I am not sleepy, and, as I am not to be called till I awake, naturally I write till sleep comes.
There are many odd things to put down, and, lest who reads them may fancy that I dined too well before I left Bistritz, let me put down my dinner exactly.
I dined on what they called "robber steak" - bits of bacon, onion, and beef, seasoned with red pepper, and strung on sticks, and roasted over the fire, in simple style of the London cat's meat!
The wine was Golden Mediasch, which produces a queer sting on the tongue, which is, however, not disagreeable.
I had only a couple of glasses of this, and nothing else.
When I got on the coach, the driver had not taken his seat, and I saw him talking to the landlady.
They were evidently talking of me, for every now and then they looked at me, and some of the people who were sitting on the bench outside the door - came and listened, and then looked at me, most of them pityingly. I could hear a lot of words often repeated, queer words, for there were many nationalities in the crowd, so I quietly got my polyglot dictionary from my bag and looked them out.
I must say they were not cheering to me, for amongst them were "Ordog" - Satan, "Pokol" - hell, "stregoica" - witch, "vrolok" and "vlkoslak" - both mean the same thing, one being Slovak and the other Servian for something that is either werewolf or vampire. (Mem.,I must ask the Count about these superstitions.)
Excerpt from Possession
- A. S. Byatt
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