Werwolves Chapter 12
THE WERWOLF IN SPAIN
WERWOLVES are, perhaps, rather less common in Spain than in any other part of Europe. They are there almost entirely confined to the mountainous regions (more particularly to the Sierra de Guadarrama, the Cantabrian, and the Pyrenees), and are usually of the male species. Generally speaking the property of lycanthropy in Spain appears to be hereditary; and, as one would naturally expect in a country so pronouncedly Roman Catholic, to rid the lycanthropist of his unenviable property it is the custom to resort to exorcism. Though they are extremely rare, both flowers and streams possessing the power of transmitting the property of werwolfery are to be found in the Cantabrian mountains and the Pyrenees.
And in Spain, as in Austria-Hungary, precious stones—particularly rubies—not infrequently, and often with disastrous results, attract the werwolf.
The following case of a Spanish werwolf may be taken as typical:—
In the month of September, 1853, a young man, one Paul Nicholas, arrived from Paris at Pamplona, and took up his abode at l’Hôtel Hervada.
He was rich, idle, sleek; and the sole object of his stay at Pamplona was the pursuit of some little adventure wherewith he might be temporarily employed, and whereof perchance he might afterwards boast. Well, in the hotel there had arrived, a day or two before Monsieur Nicholas, a young and beautiful lady, the effect of whose personal attractions was intensified by certain mysterious circumstances. No one knew her; she had no one with her—not even a servant to be bribed—and although eminently fitted to shine in society, she went neither to the opera nor the dance. As may be readily understood, she was soon the sole topic of conversation in the hotel. Every one talked of her rare beauty, elegance, and musical genius, and immediately after dinner, when she retired to her room, many of the guests would steal upstairs after her, and, stationing themselves outside her door, would remain there for hours to listen to her singing.
Paul Nicholas’s head was completely turned. To have such a neighbour, with the face and voice of an angel, and yet not to know her! It was enough to drive him wild. At last, to every one’s surprise, the mysterious lady, apparently so exclusive, permitted the advances of a very commonplace, middle-aged gentleman with hardly a hair on his head and a paunch that was voted quite disgusting.
The friendship between the two ripened fast. In defiance of all conventionality, the lady took to sitting out late at night with her elderly admirer, and, with an absolute disregard of decorum, accompanied him on long excursions. Finally, she went away with him altogether. On the occasion of this latter event every one in the hotel heaved a sigh of relief, saving Paul.
Paul was disconsolate. He stayed on, hovering about the places she had most frequented, and hoping to see in every fresh arrival at the hotel his adored one come back. His pitiable condition gained no sympathy.
“Silly fellow!” was the general comment. “He is desperately in love! And with such a creature! What an idiot!”
But Paul’s patience was at length rewarded, his devotion apparently justified, for the lady returned, unaccompanied; and so great was the charm of her personality that within two days of her reappearance she had completely won back the hearts of her fellow-guests. Again every one raved of her.
Meanwhile, Paul Nicholas became more enamoured than ever. He bought a guitar, and composed love lyrics—which he sang outside her door, from morning till night, with all that wealth of tenderness so uniquely expressible in a human voice—but it was all in vain. For the lady, whose name had at last leaked out—it was Isabelle de Nurrez—had yielded to the attentions of another stout, middle-aged gentleman, with whom in due course she departed.
This was too much even for her most ardent admirers. Every guest in the hotel protested, and petitioned that she might not be readmitted.
But mine host shook his head with scant apology. “I cannot help it,” he said. “The lady pays more for her rooms than all the rest of you put together, so why should I turn her out? After all, if she likes to have many sweethearts, why shouldn’t she? It is her own concern, neither yours nor mine. It harms no one!”
And some of the guests, seeing logic in their landlord’s views, remained; others went. As for Paul, he was immeasurably shocked at the bad taste of his adored one; but he stayed on, and within a few days, as he had fondly hoped, the fickle creature returned—and, as before, returned alone. It was then that he resolved on writing to her. With a crow-quill almost as fine as the long silky eyelashes of Isabella, on a sheet of paper whose border of Cupids, grapes, vases, and roses left little—too little—space for writing, he indited his letter, which, when completed, he sealed with a seal of azure blue wax, bearing the device of a dove ready for flight. And so scented was this epistle that it perfumed the entire hotel in its transit by means of a servant (well paid for the purpose) to mademoiselle’s room. Again—this time for an endless amount of trouble and expense—Paul was rewarded. When next he met mademoiselle, and an opportune moment arrived, she looked at him, and as her lovely eyes scanned his manly, if somewhat portly figure, she smiled—smiled a smile of satisfaction which meant much. Paul Nicholas was in ecstasies. He hardly knew how to contain himself; he sighed, radiated, and wriggled about to such an extent that the attention of every one in the place was directed to him; whereupon Mlle de Nurrez turned very red and frowned. Paul’s expectations now sank to zero; for the rest of the day he was almost too miserable to live. But Mlle de Nurrez, no doubt perceiving him to be truly penitent for having so embarrassed her, forgave him, and on his way to dinner he received a note in her own pretty handwriting giving him permission to make her acquaintance without any further introduction. The way thus paved, Monsieur Paul Nicholas, overjoyed, lost no time in seeking out the lady. She was singing a wild sweet song as he entered her sitting-room, and her back, turned to the door, gave him an opportunity of observing, as she leant over her guitar, the most exquisite shoulders and the prettiest-shaped head in the world. With graceful confusion she rose to greet him, and her long eyelashes fell over eyes black and brilliant as those that awakened the furore of two continents—the eyes of Lola Montez. She was dressed in white; her rich dark hair was held in place with combs of gold; her girdle was of gold, and so also were the massive bracelets on her arms, which—so perfect was their symmetry—might well have been fashioned by a sculptor.
Monsieur Paul Nicholas, with the air of a prince, escorted her to the dining-room; and over champagne, coffee, and liqueurs their friendship grew apace. Some hours later, when ensconced together in a cosy retreat on the terrace, and the fast disappearing lights in the hotel windows warned them it would soon be prudent to retire, Mlle de Nurrez exclaimed with a sigh:—
“You have told me so much about yourself, whilst I—I have told you nothing in return. Alas! I have a history. My parents are dead—my mother died when I was a baby, and my father, who was a very wealthy man—having accumulated his money in the business of a cork merchant which he carried on for years in Portugal—died just six months ago. He was on a voyage for his health in the Mediterranean, when he formed an acquaintance with a young Hindu, Prince Dajarah who soon acquired unbounded influence over him. My father died on this voyage, and—God forgive my suspicions!—but his death was strange and sudden. On opening his will, it was found that all his property was left to me—but only on the condition that I married Prince Dajarah.”
“Marry a black man! Mon Dieu, how terrible!” Paul Nicholas cried.
“You are right. It was terrible!” Mlle de Nurrez went on. “And if I refused to marry Prince Dajarah, he, according to the will, would inherit everything. Well, Prince Dajarah was persistent; he declared that it was my duty to marry him, to fulfil my father’s dying wish. It was in vain that I implored his mercy—that I told him I could never return his affections. And at last, finding that upon Prince Dajarah neither remonstrance nor reproach had any effect, I fled to a town some ten miles distant from this hotel, taking with me what money and jewellery I possessed.
“Alas! he soon discovered my whereabouts, and with the sole object of continuing his persecution of me, speedily established himself in the house—which, unfortunately for me, happened to be vacant—next to mine. My money is nearly exhausted, I have no resources, and unless some one intervenes, some one brave and fearless, some one who really loves me, I shall undoubtedly be forced into a marriage with this odious wretch. Heavens, the bare idea of it is poisonous! You remember the two men who paid such marked attentions to me a short time ago?”
Paul Nicholas nodded. His emotion was such he could not speak.
“They both imagined they were in love with me. They swore they would confront the black tyrant and kill him; but when they were put to the test—when I took them and pointed him out to them—they went white as a sheet, and—fled.”
“Why torture me thus?” Paul Nicholas cried. “Tell me—only tell me what it is you want me to do!”
“Do you love me?”
“More than my life.”
“More than your soul?”
“More than my soul.”
“Will you save me from a fate more horrible than death?”
“If I go to Hell for you—yes!” Paul said, gazing on a face lovely as a dream.
“You must come with me to his house to-morrow then! You must come armed. You must kill him.”
“Kill him!” Paul cried, turning pale.
“But it will be murder—assassination.”
“Murder, to kill him—a tyrant—a black man! Bah! Are you too a coward?” And she sprang to her feet, the veins swelling on her white brow, her cheeks colouring, her eyes flashing fire, as if she, at least, knew not the meaning of fear. “Sooner than let such a wretch inherit my father’s wealth,” she cried out, “I will kill him myself—kill him, or perish in the attempt.”
Paul Nicholas encountered the earnest gaze of her large, bright eyes, the pleading of her beautiful mouth, and the sweetness of her breath fanned his nostrils. A terrific wave of passion swept over him. He loved as he had never loved before—as he had never deemed it possible to love: and in his mad worship of the woman he believed to be as pure as she was fair, he forgot that the devil hides safest where he is least suspected. Seizing her small white hands in his, he swore upon them to do her will; and he would have gone on making all sorts of wild, impassioned speeches had not Mlle de Nurrez reminded him that it was past locking-up time.
She crossed the main hall of the hotel with him, and as she turned to bid him good night prior to ascending to her quarters, her eyes met his—met his in one long, lingering glance that he assured himself could only have meant love.
Next morning the guests in the hotel received another shock. Mlle de Nurrez had gone off again—this time with Monsieur Paul Nicholas—that good-looking, well-to-do young man, at whom all the matrons with marriageable daughters had in vain cast longing eyes.
Now, although Paul Nicholas had little knowledge of geography, he could not help remarking, as he journeyed with Mlle Nurrez, that their route was in an exactly opposite direction to that leading to the town which his companion had named to him as her place of residence. He pointed out his difficulty, but Mlle de Nurrez only laughed.
“Wait!” she said. “Wait and see. We shall get there all right. You must trust to my wit.”
Paul Nicholas made no further comment. He was already in the seventh heaven—that was enough for him; and leaning back, he continued gazing at her profile.
The afternoon passed away, the sun sank, and night and its shadows moved solemnly on them. Gradually the roadside trees became distinguishable only as deeper masses of shadow, and Paul Nicholas could only tell they were trees by the peculiar sodden odour that, from time to time, sluggishly flowed in at the open window of the carriage. Of necessity, they were proceeding slowly—the road was for the most part uphill, and the horses, though tough and hardy natives of the mountains, had begun to show signs of flagging. They did not pass by a soul, and even the sighs of astonished cattle, whose ruminating slumbers they had routed, at last became events of the greatest rarity. At each yard they advanced the wildness of the country increased, and although the landscape was hidden, its influence was felt. Paul Nicholas knew, as well as if he had seen them, that he was in the presence of grotesque, isolated boulders, wide patches of bare, desolate soil, gaunt trees, and profound straggling fissures.
Being so long confined in a limited space, although in that space was a paradise, he felt the exquisite agony of cramp, and when, after sundry attempts to stretch himself, he at length found a position that afforded him temporary relief, it was only to become aware of a more refined species of torture. The springs of the carriage rising and falling regularly, produced a rhythmical beat, which began to painfully absorb his attention, and to slowly merge into a senseless echo of one of his observations to Mlle de Nurrez. And when he was becoming reconciled to this inferno, another forced itself upon him. How quiet the driver was! Was there any driver? He couldn’t see any. Possibly, nay, probably—why not?—the driver was lying gagged and bound on the roadside, and a bandit, one of the notorious Spanish bandits, against whom his friends in Paris had so emphatically warned him, was on the box driving him to his obscure lair in the heart of the mountains. Or was the original driver himself a bandit, and the beautiful girl reclining on the cushions a bandit’s daughter? He dozed, and on coming to his waking senses again, discovered that the darkness had slightly lifted. He could see the distant horizon, defined by inky woods, outlined on a lighter sky. A few stars, scattered here and there in this tableau, whilst emphasizing the vastness of the space overhead—a vastness that was positively annihilating—at the same time conveyed a sense of solitude and loneliness, in perfect harmony with the trees, and rocks, and gorges. The effect was only transitory, for with a suddenness almost reminding one of stage mechanism, the moon burst through its temporary covering of clouds, and in a moment the whole country-side was illumined with a soft white glow. It was a warm night, and the breeze that rolled down from the mountain peaks, so remote and passionless, was charged to overflowing with resinous odours, mingled with which, and just strong enough to be recognizable, was the faint, pungent smell of decay. A couple of hares, looking somewhat ashamed of themselves, sprang into upright positions, and with frightened whisks of their tails disappeared into a clump of ferns. With a startled hiss a big snake drew back under cover of a boulder, and a hawk, balked of its prey by the sudden brilliant metamorphosis, uttered an indignant croak. But none of these protests against the moon’s innocent behaviour were heeded by Paul Nicholas, whose whole attention was riveted on a large sombre building standing close by the side of the road. At the first glimpse of the place, so huge, grim, and silent, he was seized with a sensation of absolute terror. Nothing mortal could surely inhabit such a house. The dark, frowning walls and vacant, eye-like windows threw back a thousand shadows, and suggested as many eerie fancies—fancies that were corroborated by a few rank sedges and two or three white trunks of decayed trees that rose up on either side of the building; but of life—human life—there was not the barest suspicion.
“What a nightmare of a house!” Paul Nicholas exclaimed, gazing with a shudder upon the remodelled and inverted images of the grey sedge, the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant, eye-like windows in a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre along the edge of the wood.
“It’s where he lives!” Mlle de Nurrez whispered.
“What! do you mean to say that it is to this house you have brought me?” Paul shrieked. “To this awful, deserted ghostly mansion! Why have you lied to me?”
“I was afraid you wouldn’t care to come if I described the place too accurately,” Mlle de Nurrez said. “Forgive me—and pity me, too, for it is here that Prince Dajarah would have me spend my life.”
“For God’s sake, don’t desert me!” Mlle de Nurrez exclaimed, laying her hand softly on his shoulder. “Think of the terrible fate that will befall me! Think of your promises, your vows!”
But Paul Nicholas did not respond all at once. His brain was in a whirl. He had been deceived, cruelly deceived! And with what motive? Was Mlle de Nurrez’s explanation genuine? Could there be anything genuine about a girl who told an untruth? Once a liar always a liar! Did not that maxim hold good? Was it not one he had heard repeatedly from childhood? What should he do? What could he do? He was here, alone with this woman and her coachman, in one of the wildest and most outlandish regions of Spain. God alone knew where! To attempt to return would be hopeless—sheer imbecility; he would most certainly get lost on the mountains, and perish from hunger and thirst, or fall over some precipice, or into the jaws of a bear; or, at all events, come to some kind of an untimely end. No! there was no alternative, he must remain and trust in Mlle de Nurrez. But the house was appalling; he did not like looking at it, and the bare thought of its interior froze his blood. Then he awoke to the fact that she was still addressing him, that her soft hands were lying on his, that her beautiful eyes were gazing entreatingly at him, that her full ripe lips were within a few inches of his own. The moon lent her its glamour, and his old love reasserting itself with quick, tempestuous force, he drew her into his arms and kissed her repeatedly. Some minutes later and they had crossed the threshold of the mansion. All was as he had pictured it—grim and hushed, and bathed in moonbeams.
The coachman led the way, and with muffled, stealthy footstep conducted them across dark halls and along intricate passages, up long and winding staircases—all bare and cold; through vast gloomy rooms, the walls and floors of which were of black oak, the former richly carved, and in places hung with ancient tapestry, displaying the most grotesque and startling devices. The windows, long, narrow, and pointed, with trellised panes, were at so great a height from the ground that the light was limited, and whilst certain spots were illuminated, many of the remoter angles and recesses were left in total darkness. Monsieur Paul Nicholas did not attempt to explore. At each step he took he fully anticipated a something, too dreadful to imagine, would spring out on him. The rustling of drapery and the rattling of phantasmagoric armorial trophies, in response to the vibration of their footsteps, made his hair stand on end, and he was reduced to a state of the most abject terror long before they arrived at their destination.
At last he was ushered into a small, bare, dimly lighted room. From the centre of the ceiling was suspended an oil lamp, and immediately under it was a marble table. Walls and floor were composed of rough uncovered granite. The atmosphere was fetid, and tainted with the same peculiar, pungent odour noticeable outside.
“This is the room,” Mlle de Nurrez said. “Prince Dajarah will be here in a minute. Have you your pistol ready?”
“Yes, see!” and Paul Nicholas pulled it out from his coat-pocket and showed it her.
“Have you any other weapons?” she asked, examining it curiously.
“Yes, a sheath-knife,” Paul Nicholas replied a trifle nervously.
“Let me look at it,” Mlle de Nurrez exclaimed. “I have a weakness for knives—a rather uncommon trait in a woman, isn’t it?”
He handed it to her, and she fingered the blade cautiously. Then with a sudden movement she leaped away from him.
“Fool!” she cried. “Do you think I could ever love a man as fat as you? The story I told you was a lie from beginning to end. I don’t remember either of my parents—my mother ran away from home when I was two, and my father died the following year. I married entirely of my own free will—married the man I loved, and he—happened to be a werwolf!”
“A werwolf!” Paul Nicholas shrieked. “God help me! I thought there were no such things!”
“Not in France, perhaps,” Mlle de Nurrez said derisively; “but in Spain, in the Pyrenees, many! At certain times of the year my husband won’t touch animal food, and if I didn’t procure him human flesh he would die of starvation, or in sheer despair eat me. Here he is.”
And as she spoke the door opened, and on the threshold stood a singularly handsome young man clad in the gay uniform of a Carlist general.
“Capital!” he exclaimed, as his eyes fell on Paul. “Magnificent! He is quite as fat as the other two. How clever of you, darling!” and throwing his arms round her, he embraced her tenderly. A few seconds later and he suddenly thrust her from him.
“Quick! quick!” he cried. “Run away, darling! run away instantly. I can feel myself changing!” and he pushed her gently to the door.
Mlle de Nurrez took one glance at Paul as she left the room. “Poor fool!” she said, half pityingly, half mockingly. “Poor fat fool! Though you may no longer believe in women you will certainly believe in werwolves—now.” And as the door slammed after her, the wildest of shrieks from within demonstrated that, for once in her life, Mlle de Nurrez had spoken the truth.