If motion pictures were taken in the streets, a million details would confirm this as a city at war, from women traffic police officers to armed guards in butcher shops. To a man of his advanced years, many specifics reminded him of the Terror, the period thirty years gone when Britain had struggled under the yoke of the then Prince Consort. Commentators like H. G. Wells and Edmund Gosse argued the world war was the consequence of a job left undone. The Revolutionists of the '90s merely drove Dracula from the country when they should have hoisted the demon prince on one of his own stakes. By the second coronation of King Victor in 1897, there had been enough blood. Another civil war was narrowly averted when Lord Ruthven, the Prime Minister, persuaded Parliament to confirm the succession, cutting off his former patron, Dracula, from any right to rule.

Young Ashenden was patient with the crowds obstructing the car's way. As they idled, waiting for a Salvation Army band to pass, a rap came at the window. The driver looked out, quietly tense in what Beauregard recognised was a habit of their profession. A white feather puffed through the open crack of window and fluttered down.

'A penalty of serving in secret,' Beauregard said.

Ashenden put the feather in a tin box by the gears. Inside were a revolver and three or four more tokens of shame.

'You're accumulating plumage.'

'Not many chaps my age in mufti this year. Sometimes ladies converge on me like a pincer movement, competing to pass on the feathers.'

'We'll see what we can do about getting you a medal ribbon.'

'No need, sir.'

The Terror was the most vivid period of Beauregard's life. Nights of danger stayed fresh in the memory. His long-healed neck-bites troubled him. He remembered his companion of those nights, the elder Genevieve. These days, he thought more often of his wife Pamela, who had died before Dracula stirred from his Transylvanian fastness. Pamela was of the world of his youth, which now seemed sunlit and charmed. The world without vampires. Genevieve was the fall of twilight, exciting but dangerous. She had left her mark on him. He would have sudden intuitions and know what she was doing, what she was feeling.

Soldiers lifted the barrier to allow the car into Downing Street. The Prime Minister's guards were elders, Carpathians who had turned against the Impaler during Ruthven's revolt. They wore quasi-mediaeval cuirasses and helmets but carried carbines as well as swords. If Dracula came for Ruthven, these vampires would stand up to their former commander. They had no choice, for Dracula would try to kill them on sight. He was not a forgiving soul, as this war bore out.

Dracula had left England as he came, as flotsam. When the country turned on him, the Prince Consort surrendered and was put in the Tower of London. It was a ruse: the Tower's spidery master, the Graf von Orlok, loyal to his fellow elder, assisted a daring escape. Floating through Traitors' Gate in a coffin, Dracula gained the Thames, then the open sea.

When Dracula escaped, Genevieve insisted on guarding Beauregard's bed. She feared the Count would take the opportunity to avenge himself on them. They had struck the blow which began the end of the Terror. Evidently. Dracula had had more pressing business; he never bothered to strike them down. Genevieve was slightly peeved by this neglect. They had altered the course of history, after all. Or so they liked to think. Perhaps individuals could do little to change the tides.

The car halted outside Number Ten. A liveried vampire footman darted out of the doorway, an unfolded Daily Mail held over his periwig as a shield against the drizzle. Beauregard was ushered up the steps to the Prime Minister's official residence.

In Europe, Dracula drifted Lear-like from court to court, embarrassing and threatening, playing on his hosts' dislike of parliaments that sacked monarchs. His bloodline spread through houses to which he was connected by his marriage to the late Queen Victoria and by his long-diffused mortal get. After centuries, the crowned heads of Europe all counted Vlad Tepes among their noteworthy ancestors.

When giving up his overcoat, Beauregard noticed his boots were still liberally coated with the mud of France. That foreign wars were so close to home was a miracle of the modern era.

Though his old bones resisted, he had men like Ashenden and Edwin Winthrop whisked back and forth by air.

In Russia, Dracula turned thin-blooded Romanovs, whose shapes shifted catastrophically. Rasputin rose to power, claiming sorcery could assuage the raging lycanthropy afflicting the Tsarevich. Now, the holy charlatan was dead, dismembered by a upyr prince. The Tsar was imprisoned by the Bolsheviks. The Diogenes Club understood Dracula had personally arranged the smuggling of Lenin back into Russia in his egregious sealed train.

Number Ten had been redecorated again. The reception hall was a gallery of portraits by distinguished hands of the last three decades: Whistler, Hallward, Sickert, Jimson. To the despair of Cabinet colleagues, who viewed as suspect anything other than a nice Constable landscape, Ruthven now declared himself a passionate Vorticist. Beauregard looked in vain for paintings on subjects other than the current Prime Minister. The grey, sardonic face cast cold eyes from a dozen canvases. Ruthven's craze for himself even embraced works which depicted him in a less than idealised manner, like Wyndham Lewis's representation of his visit to the front.

In July of 1905, the Romanov yacht Stella Polaris had conveyed Dracula to the Bay of Bjorkoe, off the coast of Finland. He was transferred by rowing boat to the Hohenzollern, the elegant white and gold yacht of another of his great-nephews by marriage, Kaiser Wilhelm II. At the time, the Diogenes Club had intercepted communiques between Prince von Bulow, then the Kaiser's Chancellor, and Konstantin Pobedonostev, the Tsar's close adviser, couched in the usual royal European language of mutual distrust coated with cousinly diplomatic smarm. The Kaiser fervently wanted to believe the Dark Kiss would heal his withered arm. The Russians boosted the Dracula bloodline, concealing the state of the barking Tsarevich, to dupe Willi into taking on the burden of the former Prince Consort.

Beauregard signed the visitors' book and hurried through a corridor to the Cabinet Room. Carpathians armed with silver- tipped pikestaffs lined the passage. Kostaki, a rehabilitated elder whose fall in the Terror was now rewarded with a trusted position, touched his helm to Beauregard.

Assuming the title of Graf, Dracula became an ornament to the Imperial Court in Berlin. With all due ceremony, he turned Wilhelm. The Kaiser could at last straighten his hated arm and make a proper fist. The first thing Willi wished to do with his new fingers was sink them into the throats of fellow monarchs, to wrestle away their mastery of the seas, and sundry African, Eastern, Asian and Pacific dominions. Germany, he said, must turn vampire, and find its place in the moonlight.

British and French authors wrote novels in imitation of The Battle of Dorking, prophesying a coming war between Dracula's Germany and the Civilised World. Viscount Northcliffe serialised such yarns in the Daily Mail, achieving great success with William LeQueux's The Invasion of 1910. Paid-for strategists suggested the New Huns would favour lightning attacks on isolated outposts. Since there was little likelihood of increased circulation of the Mail in such hamlets, Northcliffe insisted the story feature invasions of every major town in the land. The citizens of Norwich and Manchester relished lurid descriptions of their fates when besieged by undead Uhlans. Beauregard remembered the Mail's sandwich men strutting about town in German uniforms, a foretaste of the imagined occupation.

The Diogenes Club noted the Kaiser's programme of industrialisation and naval expansion, though the intelligence little affected Ruthven's programme of gallery openings and society balls. German rails snaked across the continent, an aid to rapid mobilisation. Britannia's dreadnoughts ruled the waves, but Willi's submarines took command of the deeps. When Heath Robinson, England's engineering genius, took the lead in the development of aircraft, Dracula employed the Dutchman Anthony Fokker to sketch design after design for fighter and bomber aeroplanes.

Vampirism spread through the Central Powers. Elders who had cowered through nomadic centuries returned to live openly on estates in Germany and Austria-Hungary. The condition had run unchecked in Britain, but Dracula now insisted on regulating the turning of new-borns. Edicts forbade specified classes and races of men and women to turn. Wilhelm sneered that Britain and France elevated poets and ballerinas to immortality; in his domains, the privilege was reserved to those willing to fight for their country and hunt their own human prey.

In 1914, having occupied a succession of military and political posts, Dracula assumed the twin positions of Chancellor and Commander-in-Chief of the armies of the Fatherland. Beauregard wondered how the former Vlad

Вы читаете The Bloody Red Baron: 1918
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату