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.I know – of my own knowledge, as the lawyers say – that Count Mizukami killed at least one man in the Shantung Peninsula fourteen years ago, because I saw him do it.And I’m sure he had his bodyguard on the premises somewhere—’‘You know what I mean.’ The old professor leaned back in the deep-green velvet chair beside the hearth, folded the more mobile of his arthritis-crippled hands over the gnarled and frozen knot of the other.His dark eyes, far from the mocking tone of his voice, studied Asher with troubled concern.‘I know what you mean.’ Asher tightened his grip on his wife’s long, ink-stained fingers.After six weeks at sea together in the Royal Charlotte, she still wouldn’t wear her spectacles in Karlebach’s presence, and consequently – by the look of the cribbage board on the marble-topped table between them – was being annihilated at the game.Like a leggy, red-haired marsh-fairy in one of her astonishing collection of lace tea-gowns, and nearly blind as a mole, Lydia was unshakeably convinced of her homeliness and to Asher’s knowledge had only been seen wearing her glasses by himself, their tiny daughter Miranda, very occasionally by her maid Ellen.And by Don Simon Ysidro.He went on, ‘But I doubt Don Simon had anything to do with Miss Eddington’s death.She was strangled with Richard Hobart’s necktie, not bitten and exsanguinated.’‘It is death that the vampire feeds upon,’ retorted Karlebach darkly, ‘not the blood alone.This you know, Jamie.The energies released by the human psyche in death are what feed his ability to manipulate the minds of men.He was being careful.He knew he had been seen.’‘Yes, but in that case, why kill at all?’ Lydia moved over to make room for Asher on the arm of her chair.‘Why murder the daughter of the Assistant Trade Secretary, of all people, in a public place, when there were probably Chinese beggars asleep in some alleyway twenty feet from the spot? No one would make a fuss if they died.’Karlebach sighed deeply and regarded Lydia for a moment over the rims of his own spectacles, beneath a shelf of white eyebrows that seemed to curl with the strength of his vital personality.‘You defend him too, little bird?’Lydia looked away.Someone – probably Ellen – had, in the few hours that Asher had been gone, rearranged the parlor of the Ashers’ suite with all the small comforts that Lydia had brought from home to adorn their stateroom on the Royal Charlotte: small red-and-blue silk pillows had been added to the green velvet chairs, favorite books placed in the shelves and on the room’s central table.Even the familiar gold-and-sky-blue Royal Doulton tea-set was laid out, the pot gently steaming.Though Asher always felt bemused when he traveled with his wife and his wife’s staggering caravan of luggage, there was a good deal to be said, he reflected, for coming in from an icy foreign night to find all things exactly as they were at the house on Holywell Street in Oxford.‘Who knows why the Undead do as they do?’ Karlebach held up one crooked hand, as if to stop an argument that neither his former student, nor Lydia, made any attempt to pursue.‘The vampires cease to be human when they pass beyond the realm of the living.Their thoughts are not like ours.Neither are their motives anything which the living can fathom.’He lapsed into brooding silence, and Asher – who knew that Lydia tended to become absorbed in conversation, to say nothing of not being able to see across the table – fetched the teapot and refilled the old professor’s empty cup.Rebbe Solomon Karlebach had been old when Asher had first met him almost thirty years ago, an undergraduate already on his second tour of Mitteleuropa and eager to speak with one of the most respected scholars of the superstitions rife in the remoter corners of what had been the Old Holy Roman Empire.He had spent all that summer of 1884, and the following three, studying at Karlebach’s feet in that moldering stone house in the Prague ghetto, and had come to love the old man as a father.Only the previous year, however – some years after he himself had encountered, in Undead flesh, what he had long believed to exist only in legends – had it occurred to Asher to ask his teacher whether he, too, had had personal contact with vampires.Karlebach now plucked a sugar cube from the saucer Asher offered him, tucked it into his cheek behind its jungle of snowy beard, and sipped his tea through it, lost for a time in his own thoughts.‘And did he speak to you, this vampire of yours?’ he asked at length.‘Did he tell you of the Others? Of whether the thing that this Bauer woman found is the same as the creatures that haunt the crypts beneath Prague?’‘He did,’ replied Asher.‘But he could tell me nothing beyond what you and I already know.’‘Could tell you, or would tell you.’ The old man’s dark eyes glinted in the dim gleam of the shaded electric lamps.‘You cannot trust the vampire, Jamie.Even in the tiniest of matters, they deceive.It is their nature.’‘That’s as may be.But before the killing was discovered, Sir Grant Hobart told me that Dr Bauer has a clinic in a place called Mingliang Village in the Western Hills, about twenty miles from here.There are bandit gangs in the hills, to say nothing of the Kuo Min-tang – Republican fighters opposed to President Yuan and the Army.I expect we’ll need an escort.Hobart suggested his son,’ he added drily.‘But it doesn’t look as if that’s going to happen.’‘Beast!’ Lydia rapped his elbow with the backs of her knuckles as he returned to the chair arm at her side.‘Her poor parents – what a horrible thing! And poor Sir Grant! One would think, though,’ she added reflectively, ‘that if Richard Hobart had proposed to Miss Eddington in his cups, and truly couldn’t stick going through with it, he could simply have fled the country.’‘That depends on what he was drinking.If he was down in the Chinese city, it could have been anything.’Lydia winced, but nodded sadly.Despite the elfin features and her air, in company, of having never done anything in her life but attend dress fittings and Royal Flower Shows, Lydia had trained as a physician at a charity clinic in Whitechapel and had had ample occasion to observe the effect on human behavior of alcohol.She started to ask something else, glanced at Karlebach, and closed her mouth again; Asher guessed her question echoed his own thought.What, if anything, did Ysidro see?Evidently Karlebach guessed this as well.For later, when Asher walked him down the hall to his own small room, the old man brought up the subject of the vampire again [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]