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Title: The Werewolf
Author: Eugene Field
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0605671.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

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The Werewolf
Eugene Field




IN the reign of Egbert the Saxon there dwelt in Britain a maiden named
Yseult, who was beloved of all, both for her goodness and for her
beauty. But, though many a youth came wooing her, she loved Harold
only, and to him she plighted her troth.

Among the other youth of whom Yseult was beloved was Alfred, and he
was sore angered that Yseult showed favor to Harold, so that one day
Alfred said to Harold: "Is it right that old Siegfried should come
from his grave and have Yseult to wife?" Then added he, "Prithee, good
sir, why do you turn so white when I speak your grandsire's name?"

Then Harold asked, "What know you of Siegfried that you taunt me? What
memory of him should vex me now?"

"We know and we know," retorted Alfred. "There are some tales told us
by our grandmas we have not forgot."

So ever after that Alfred's words and Alfred's bitter smile haunted
Harold by day and night.

Harold's grandsire, Siegfried the Teuton, had been a man of cruel
violence. The legend said that a curse rested upon him, and that at
certain times he was possessed of an evil spirit that wreaked its fury
on mankind. But Siegfried had been dead full many years, and there was
naught to mind the world of him save the legend and a cunning-wrought
spear which he had from Brunehilde, the witch. This spear was such a
weapon that it never lost its brightness, nor had its point been
blunted. It hung in Harold's chamber, and it was the marvel among
weapons of that time.

Yseult knew that Alfred loved her, but she did not know of the bitter
words which Alfred had spoken to Harold. Her love for Harold was
perfect in its trust and gentleness. But Alfred had hit the truth: the
curse of old Siegfried was upon Harold--slumbering a century, it had
awakened in the blood of the grandson, and Harold knew the curse that
was upon him, and it was this that seemed to stand between him and
Yseult. But love is stronger than all else, and Harold loved.

Harold did not tell Yseult of the curse that was upon him, for he
feared that she would not love him if she knew. Whensoever he felt the
fire of the curse burning in his veins he would say to her, "To-morrow
I hunt the wild boar in the uttermost forest," or, "Next week I go
stag-stalking among the distant northern hills." Even so it was that
he ever made good excuse for his absence, and Yseult thought no evil
things, for she was trustful; ay though he went many times away and
was long gone, Yseult suspected no wrong. So none beheld Harold when
the curse was upon him in its violence.

Alfred alone bethought himself of evil things. "'Tis passing strange,"
quoth he, "that ever and anon this gallant lover should quit our
company and betake himself whither none knoweth. In sooth 't will be
well to have an eye on old Siegfried's grandson."

Harold knew that Alfred watched him zealously and he was tormented by
a constant fear that Alfred would discover the curse that was on him;
but what gave him greater anguish was the fear that mayhap at some
moment when he was in Yseult's presence, the curse would seize upon
him and cause him to do great evil unto her, whereby she would be
destroyed or her love for him would be undone forever. So Harold lived
in terror, feeling that his love was hopeless, yet knowing not how to
combat it.

Now, it befell in those times that the country round about was ravaged
of a werewolf, a creature that was feared by all men howe'er so
valorous. This werewolf was by day a man, but by night a wolf given to
ravage and to slaughter, and having a charmed life against which no
human agency availed aught. Wheresoever he went he attacked and
devoured mankind, spreading terror and desolation round about, and the
dream-readers said that the earth would not be freed from the werewolf
until some man offered himself a voluntary sacrifice to the monster's
rage.

Now, although Harold was known far and wide as a mighty huntsman, he
had never set forth to hunt the werewolf, and, strange enow, the
werewolf never ravaged the domain while Harold was therein. Whereat
Alfred marvelled much, and oftentimes he said: "Our Harold is a
wondrous huntsman. Who is like unto him in stalking the timid doe and
in crippling the fleeing boar? But how passing well doth he time his
absence from the haunts of the werewolf. Such valor beseemeth our
young Siegfried."

Which being brought to Harold his heart flamed with anger, but he made
no answer, lest he betray the truth he feared.

It happened so about that time that Yseult said to Harold, "Wilt thou
go with me tomorrow even to the feast in the sacred grove?"

"That can I not do," answered Harold. "I am privily summoned hence to
Normandy upon a mission of which I shall some time tell thee. And I
pray thee, on thy love for me, go not to the feast in the sacred grove
without me."

"What say'st thou?" cried Yseult. "Shall I not go to the feast of Ste.
lfreda? My father would be sore displeased were I not there with the
other maidens. 'T were greatest pity that I should despite his love
thus."

"But do not, I beseech thee," Harold implored. "Go not to the feast of
Ste. lfreda in the sacred grove! And thou would thus love me, go
not--see, thou my life, on my two knees I ask it!"

"How pale thou art," said Yseult, "and trembling."

"Go not to the sacred grove upon the morrow night," he begged.

Yseult marvelled at his acts and at his speech. Then, for the first
time, she thought him to be jealous--whereat she secretly rejoiced
(being a woman).

"Ah," quoth she, "thou dost doubt my love," but when she saw a look of
pain come on his face she added--as if she repented of the words she
had spoken--"or dost thou fear the werewolf?"

Then Harold answered, fixing his eyes on hers, "Thou hast said it; it
is the werewolf that I fear."

"Why dost thou look at me so strangely, Harold?" cried Yseult. "By the
cruel light in thine eyes one might almost take three to be the
werewolf!"

"Come hither, sit beside me," said Harold tremblingly "and I will tell
thee why I fear to have thee go to the feast of Ste. lfreda tomorrow
evening. Hear what I dreamed last night. I dreamed I was the
werewolf--do not shudder, dear love, for 't was only a dream.

"A grizzled old man stood at my bedside and strove to pluck my soul
from my bosom.

"'What would'st thou?' I cried.

"'Thy soul is mine,' he said, 'thou shalt live out my curse. Give me
thy soul--hold back thy hands--give me thy soul, I say.'

"'Thy curse shall not be upon me,' I cried. 'What have I done that thy
curse should rest upon me? Thou shalt not have my soul.'

"'For my offence shalt thou suffer, and in my curse thou shalt endure
hell--it is so decreed.'

"So spake the old man, and he strove with me, and he prevailed against
me, and he plucked my soul from my bosom, and he said, 'Go, search and
kill'--and--and lo, I was a wolf upon the moor.

"The dry grass crackled beneath my tread. The darkness of the night
was heavy and it oppressed me. Strange horrors tortured my soul, and
it groaned and groaned gaoled in that wolfish body. The wind whispered
to me; with its myriad voices it spake to me and said, 'Go, search and
kill.' And above these voices sounded the hideous laughter of an old
man. I fled the moor--whither I knew not, nor knew I what motive
lashed me on.

"I came to a river and I plunged in. A burning thirst consumed me, and
I lapped the waters of the river--they were waves of flame, and they
flashed around me and hissed, and what they said was, 'Go, search and
kill,' and I heard the old man's laughter again.

"A forest lay before me with its gloomy thickets and its sombre
shadows--with its ravens, its vampires, its serprents, its reptiles,
and all its hideous brood of night. I darted among its thorns and
crouched amid the leaves, the nettles, and the brambles. The owls
hooted at me and the thorns pierced my flesh. 'Go, search and kill,'
said everything. The hares sprang from my pathway; the other beasts
ran bellowing away; every form of life shrieked in my ears--the curse
was on me--I was the werewolf.

"On, on I went with the fleetness of the wind, and my soul groaned in
its wolfish prison, and the winds and the waters and the trees bade
me, 'Go, search and kill, thou accursed brute; go, search and kill.'

"Nowhere was there pity for the wolf; what mercy, thus, should I, the
werewolf, show? The curse was on me and it filled me with hunger and a
thirst for blood. Skulking on my way within myself I cried, 'Let me
have blood, oh, let me have human blood, that this wrath may be
appeased, that this curse may be removed.'

"At last I came to the sacred grove. Sombre loomed the poplars, the
oaks frowned upon me. Before me stood an old man--'twas he, grizzled
and taunting, whose curse I bore. He feared me not. All other living
things fled before me, but the old man feared me not. A maiden stood
beside him. She did not see me, for she was blind.

"'Kill, kill,' cried the old man, and he pointed at the girl beside
him.

"Hell raged within me--the curse impelled me--I sprang at her throat.
I heard the old man's laughter once more, and then--then I awoke,
trembling, cold, horrified."

Scarce was this dream told when Alfred strode the way.

"Now, by'r Lady," quoth he, "I bethink me never to have seen a sorrier
twain."

Then Yseult told him of Harold's going away and how that Harold had
besought her not to venture to the feast of Ste. lfreda in the sacred
grove.

"These fears are childish," cried Alfred boastfully. "And thou
sufferest me, sweet lady, I will bear thee company to the feast, and a
score of my lusty yeoman with their good yew-bows and honest spears,
they shall attend me. There be no werewolf, I trow, will chance about
with us."

Whereat Yseult laughed merrily, and Harold said: "'T is well; thou
shalt go to the sacred grove, and may my love and Heaven's grace
forefend all evil."

Then Harold went to his abode, and he fetched old Siegfried's spear
back unto Yseult, and he gave it into her two hands, saying, "Take
this spear with thee to the feast to-morrow night. It is old
Siegfried's spear, possessing mighty virtue and marvellous."

And Harold took Yseult to his heart and blessed her, and he kissed her
upon her brow and upon her lips, saying, "Farewell, oh, my beloved.
How wilt thou love me when thou know'st my sacrifice. Farewell,
farewell, forever, oh, alder-liefest mine."

So Harold went his way, and Yseult was lost in wonderment.

On the morrow night came Yseult to the sacred grove wherein the feast
was spread, and she bore old Siegfried's spear with her in her girdle.
Alfred attended her, and a score of lusty yeomen were with him. In the
grove there was great merriment, and with singing and dancing and
games withal did the honest folk celebrate the feast of the fair Ste.
lfreda.

But suddenly a mighty tumult arose, and there were cries of "The
werewolf!" "The werewolf!" Terror seized upon all--stout hearts were
frozen with fear. Out from the further forest rushed the werewolf,
wood wroth, bellowing hoarsely, gnashing his fangs and tossing hither
and thither the yellow foam from his snapping jaws. He sought Yseult
straight, as if an evil power drew him to the spot where she stood.
But Yseult was not afeared; like a marble statue she stood and saw the
werewolf's coming. The yeomen, dropping their torches and casting
aside their bows, had fled; Alfred alone abided there to do the
monster battle.

At the approaching wolf he hurled his heavy lance, but as it struck
the werewolf's bristling back the weapon was all to-shivered.

Then the werewolf, fixing his eyes upon Yseult, skulked for a moment
in the shadow of the yews and thinking then of Harold's words, Yseult
plucked old Siegfried's spear from her girdle, raised it on high, and
with the strength of despair sent it hurtling through the air.

The werewolf saw the shining weapon, and a cry burst from his gaping
throat--a cry of human agony. And Yseult saw in the werewolf's eyes
the eyes of some one she had seen and known, but 't was for an instant
only, and then the eyes were no longer human, but wolfish in their
ferocity.

A supernatural force seemed to speed the spear in its flight. With
fearful precision the weapon smote home and buried itself by half its
length in the werewolf's shaggy breast just above the heart, and then,
with a monstrous sigh--as if he yielded up his life without regret--
the werewolf fell dead in the shadow of the yews.

Then, ah, then in very truth there was great joy, and loud were the
acclaims, while, beautiful in her trembling pallor, Yseult was led
unto her home, where the people set about to give great feast to do
her homage, for the werewolf was dead, and she it was that had slain
him.

But Yseult cried out: "Go, search for Harold--go, bring him to me. Nor
eat, nor sleep till he be found."

"Good my lady," quoth Alfred, "how can that be, since he hath betaken
himself to Normandy?"

"I care not where he be," she cried. "My heart stands still until I
look into his eyes again."

"Surely he hath not gone to Normandy?" outspake Hubert. "This very
eventide I saw him enter his abode."

They hastened thither--a vast company. His chamber door was barred.

"Harold, Harold, come forth!" they cried, as they beat upon the door,
but no answer came to their calls and knockings. Afeared, they
battered down the door, and when it fell they saw that Harold lay upon
his bed.

"He sleeps," said one. "See, he holds a portrait in his hand--and it
is her portrait. How fair he is and how tranquilly he sleeps."

But no, Harold was not asleep. His face was calm and beautiful, as if
he dreamed of his beloved, but his raiment was red with the blood that
streamed from a wound in his breast--a gaping, ghastly spear wound
just above his heart.



THE END



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