Werwolves Chapter 09
WERWOLVES IN GERMANY
NO country in the world is richer in stories of everything appertaining to the supernatural than Germany. The Rhine is the favourite river of nymphs and sirens, to whose irresistible and fatal fascinations so many men have fallen victims. Along its shores are countless haunted castles, in its woods innumerable terrifying phantoms.
The werwolf, however, seems to have confined itself almost entirely to the Harz Mountains, where it was formerly most common and more dreaded than any other visitant from the Unknown. But of these werwolves many of the best authenticated cases have been told so often, that it is difficult for me to alight on any that is not already well known. Perhaps the following, though as striking as any, may be new to at least a few of my readers.
The Case of Herr Hellen and the Werwolves of the Harz Mountains
Two gentlemen, named respectively Hellen and Schiller, were on a walking tour in the Harz Mountains, in the early summer of the year 1840, when Schiller, slipping down, sprained his ankle and was unable to go on. They were some miles from any village, in the centre of an extensive forest, and it was beginning to get dark.
“Leave me here,” cried the injured man to his friend, “while you see if you can discover any habitation. I have been told these woods are full of charcoal-burners’ and wood-cutters’ huts, so that if you walk straight ahead for a mile or two, you are very likely to come across one. Do go, there’s a good fellow, and if you are too tired to return yourself, send some one to carry me.”
Hellen did not like leaving his comrade in such a dreary spot, alone and helpless, but as Schiller was persistent he at length yielded, and stepping briskly out, advanced along the track that had brought them hither. Once or twice he halted, fancying he heard voices, and several times his heart pulsated wildly at what he took to be the cry of a wolf—for neither Schiller nor he had no weapons excepting sheath-knives. At last he came to an open spot hedged in on all sides by gloomy pines, the shadows from which were beginning to fall thick and fast athwart the vivid greensward. It was one of those places—they are to be found in pretty nearly every country—studiously avoided by local woodsmen as the haunt of all manner of evil influences. Hellen recognized it as such the moment he saw it, but as it lay right across his path, and time was pressing, he had no alternative but to keep boldly on. He was half-way across the spot when he was startled by a groan, and looking in the direction of the sound, he saw a man seated on the ground endeavouring to bandage his hand. Wondering why he had not observed him before, but thankful to meet some one at last, Hellen went up to him and asked what was the matter.
“I’ve broken my wrist,” the man replied. “I was gathering sticks for my fire to-morrow when I heard the howl of a wolf, and in my anxiety to escape a conflict with the brute I climbed this tree. As I descended one of the branches gave way, and I fell down with all my weight on my right arm. Will you see if you can bind it for me? I’m a bit awkward with my left hand.”
“I will do my best,” Hellen said, and kneeling beside the man, he took off the bandages and wrapped them round again. “There,” he exclaimed, “I think that is better—at least it is the best I can do.”
The stranger was now most profuse in his thanks, and when Hellen informed him of Schiller’s condition, at once cried out, “You must both come to my cottage; it is only a short distance from here. Let us hasten thither now, and my daughter, who is very strong, shall go back with you and help you carry your friend. We are not rich, but we can make you both fairly comfortable, and all we have shall be at your disposal. But I wonder if you know what you have incurred by coming to this spot at this hour?”
“Why, no,” Hellen said, laughing. “What?”
“The gratification of two wishes—the first two wishes you make! Of course, you will say it is all humbug, but, believe me, very queer things do happen in this forest. I have experienced them myself.”
“Well!” Hellen replied, laughing more heartily than before, “if I wish anything at all it is that my wife were here to see how beautifully I have bandaged your wrist.”
“Where is your wife?” the stranger inquired.
“At Frankfort, most likely taking a final peep at the children in bed before retiring to rest herself!” Hellen said, still laughing.
“Then you have children!” the stranger ejaculated, evidently interested.
“Yes, three—all girls—and such bonny girls, too. Marcella, Christina, and Fredericka. I wish I had them here for you to see.”
“I should much like to see them, certainly,” the stranger said. “And now you have told me so much of interest about yourself, let me tell you something of my own history in exchange. My name is Wilfred Gaverstein. I am an artist by profession, and have come to live here during the summer months in order to paint nature—nature as it really is—in all its varying moods. Nature is my only god—I adore it. I don’t believe in souls. I love the trees and flowers and shrubs, the rivulets, the fountains, the birds and insects.”
“Everything but the wolves!” Hellen remarked jocularly. Hardly, however, had he spoken these words before he had reason to alter his tone. “Great heavens! do you hear that?” he cried. “There is no mistake about it this time. It is a wolf, or may I never live to hear one again.”
“You are right, friend,” Wilfred said. “It is a wolf, and not very far away, either. Come, we must be quick,” and thrusting his arm through that of Hellen, he hurried him along. After some minutes’ fast walking they came in sight of a neatly thatched whitewashed cottage, at the entrance to which two women and several children were collected. “That’s my home,” Wilfred said.
“And that’s my wife!” Hellen cried, rubbing his eyes to make sure he was not dreaming. “God in heaven, what’s the meaning of it all? My wife and children—all three of them! Am I mad?”
“It is merely the answer to your wishes,” Wilfred rejoined calmly. “See, they recognize you and are waving.”
As one in a sleep Hellen now staggered forward, and was soon in the midst of his family, who, rushing up to him, implored him to explain what had happened, and how on earth they came to be there.
“I am just as much at sea as you are,” Hellen said, feeling them each in turn to make sure it was really they. “It’s an insoluble mystery to me.”
“And to us, too,” they all cried. “A few minutes ago we were in our beds in Frankfort, and then suddenly we found ourselves here—here in this dreadful looking forest. Oh, take us away, take us home, do!”
Hellen was in despair. It was all like a hideous nightmare to him. What was he to do?
“You must be my guests for to-night, at all events,” Wilfred said; “and in the morning we will discuss what is to be done. Fortunately we have enough room to accommodate you all. There is food in abundance. Let me introduce you to my daughter Marguerite,” and the next moment Hellen found himself shaking hands with a girl of about twenty years of age. She was clad in what appeared to be a travelling dress, deeply bordered with white fur, and wore a most becoming cap of white ermine. Her feet were shod in long, pointed, and very elegant buckskin shoes, adorned with bright silver buckles. Her hair, which was yellow and glossy, was parted down the middle, and waved in a most becoming fashion low over the forehead and ears; and her features—at least so Hellen thought—were very beautiful. Her mouth, though a trifle large, had very daintily cut lips, and was furnished with unusually white and even teeth. But there was a peculiar furtive expression in her eyes, which were of a very pretty shape and colour, that aroused Hellen’s curiosity, and made him scrutinize her carefully. Her hands were noticeably long and slender, with tapering fingers and long, almond-shaped, rosy nails, that glittered each time they caught the rays of the fast fading sunlight. Hellen’s first impression of her was that she was marvellously beautiful, but that there was a something about her that he did not understand—a something he had never seen in anyone before, a something that in an ugly woman might have put him on his guard, but in this face of such surpassing beauty a something he seemed only too ready to ignore. Hellen was a good, and up to the present, certainly, a faithful husband, but he was only a man after all, and the more he looked at the girl the more he admired her.
At a word from Wilfred, Marguerite smilingly led the way indoors, and showed the guests two bedrooms, small but exquisitely clean. There was a double bed in one, and two single ones in the other. The bed-linen was of the very finest material, and white as snow.
“I think,” Wilfred remarked, “two of the girls can squeeze in one bed—they are neither of them very big—though it does my heart good to see them so bonny.”
“And mine, too,” Marguerite joined in, patting the three children on the cheeks in turn, and drawing them to her and caressing them.
Mrs. Hellen, still dazed, and apparently hardly realizing what was happening, stammered out her thanks, and the party then descended to the kitchen to partake of a substantial supper that was speedily prepared for them.
“Had you not better go and look for your friend now?” Wilfred observed, just as Hellen was about to seat himself beside his wife and children. “Marguerite will go with you, and on your return the three of you can have your meal in here after the children have gone to bed.”
Hellen readily assented, and kissing his wife and little ones, who tearfully implored him not to be gone long, set out, accompanied by Marguerite.
At each step they took, Marguerite’s beauty became more irresistible. The soft rays of the moon falling directly on her features enhanced their loveliness, and Hellen could not keep his eyes off her. The ominous cry of a night bird startled her; she edged timidly up to him; and he had to exert all his self-control, so eager was he to clasp her to him. In a strained, unnatural manner he kept up a flow of small-talk, eliciting the information that she was an art student, and that she had studied in Paris and Antwerp, had exhibited in Munich and Turin, and was contemplating visiting London the following spring. They talked on in this strain until Hellen, remembering their mission, exclaimed:—
“We must be very close to where I left Schiller. I will call to him.”
He did so—not once, but many times; and the reverberation of his voice rang out loud and clear in the silence of the vast, moon-kissed forest. But there was no response, nothing but the rustling of branches and the shivering of leaves.
“What’s that?” Marguerite suddenly cried, clutching hold of Hellen’s arm. “There! right in front of us, lying on the ground. There!” and she indicated the object with her gleaming finger-tip.
“It looks remarkably like Schiller,” Hellen said. “Can he be asleep?”
Quickening their pace, they speedily arrived at the spot. It was Schiller, or rather what had once been Schiller, for there was now very little left of him but the face and hands and feet; the rest had only too obviously been eaten. The spectacle was so shocking that for some minutes Hellen was too overcome to speak.
“It must have been wolves!” he said at length. “I fancied I heard them several times. Would to God I had never left him! What a death!”
“Horrible!” Marguerite whispered, and she turned her head away to avoid so harrowing a sight.
“Well,” Hellen observed in a voice broken with emotion, “it’s no use staying here. We can’t be of any service to him now. I will gather the remains together in the morning, and with the assistance of your father see that they are decently interred. Come! let us be going.” And offering Marguerite his arm, they began to retrace their steps.
For some time Hellen was too occupied with thoughts of his friend’s cruel death to think of anything else, but the close proximity of Marguerite gradually made itself felt, and by the time they had reached the open clearing—the spot where he had encountered Wilfred—his passion completely overpowered him. Throwing discretion to the winds, and oblivious of wife, children, home, honour, everything save Marguerite—the lustre of her eyes and the dainty curving of her lips—he slipped his arm round her waist, and pressing her close to him, smothered her in kisses.
“How dare you, sir!” she panted, slowly shaking herself free. “Aren’t you ashamed of such behaviour? What would your wife say, if she knew?”
“I couldn’t help it,” Hellen pleaded. “I’m not myself to-night. Your beauty has bewitched me, and I would risk anything to have you in my arms.” He spoke so earnestly and looked at her so appealingly that she smiled.
“I know I am beautiful,” she said, and the intonation of her voice thrilled him to the very marrow of his bones. “Dozens of men have told me so. Consequently, since there seems to have been some excuse for you, I forgive you, only——,” but before she could say another word, Hellen had again seized her, and this time he did not loosen his hold till from sheer exhaustion he could kiss her no more.
“It’s no use!” he panted. “I can’t help it. I love you as I never loved a woman before, and if you were to ask me to do so I would go to Hell with you this very minute.”
“It is dangerous to express such sentiments here,” Marguerite said. “Don’t you know this spot is full of supernatural influences, and that the first two things you wish for will be granted?”
“I have already wished,” Hellen said. “I wished when I was here with your father.”
“Then wish again,” Marguerite replied; “I assure you your wishes will be fulfilled.” And again she looked at him in a way that sent all the blood in his body surging wildly to his head, and roused his passion in hot and furious rebellion against his reason.
“I wish, then,” he cried, seizing hold of her hands and pressing them to his lips—”I wish every obstacle removed that prevents my having you always with me—that is wish number one.”
“And wish number two?” the girl interrogated, her warm, scented breath fanning his cheeks and nostrils. “Won’t you wish that you may be mine for ever? Always mine, mine to eternity!”
“I will!” Hellen cried. “May I be yours always—yours to do what you like with—in this life and the next.”
“And now you shall have your reward,” Marguerite exclaimed, clapping her hands gleefully. “I will kiss you of my own free will,” and throwing her arms round his neck, she drew his head down to hers, and kissed him, kissed him not once but many times.
An hour later they left the spot and slowly made their way to the cottage. As they neared it, loud screams for help rent the air, and Hellen, to his horror, heard his wife and children—he could recognize their individual voices—shrieking to him to save them.
In an instant he was himself again. All his old affection for home and family was restored, and with a loud answering shout he started to rush to their assistance. But Marguerite willed otherwise. With a dexterous movement of her feet she got in his way and tripped him, and before he had time to realize what was happening, she had flung herself on the top of him and pinioned him down.
“No!” she said playfully, “you shall not go! You are mine, mine always, remember, and if I choose to keep you here with me, here you must remain.”
He strove to push her off, but he strove in vain; for the slender, rounded limbs he had admired so much possessed sinews of steel, and he was speedily reduced to a state of utter impotence.
The shrieks from the cottage were gradually lapsing into groans and gurgles, all horribly suggestive of what was taking place, but it was not until every sound had ceased that Marguerite permitted Hellen to rise.
“You may go now,” she said with a mischievous smile, kissing him gaily on the forehead and giving his cheeks a gentle slap. “Go—and see what a lucky man you are, and how speedily your first wish has been gratified.”
Sick with apprehension, Hellen flew to the cottage. His worst forebodings were realized. Stretched on the floor of their respective rooms, with big, gaping wounds in their chests and throats, lay his wife and children; whilst cross-legged, on a chest in the kitchen, his dark saturnine face suffused with glee, squatted Wilfred.
“Fiend!” shouted Hellen. “I understand it all now. I have been dealing with the Spirits of the Harz Mountains. But be you the Devil himself you shan’t escape me,” and snatching an axe from the wall, he aimed a terrific blow at Wilfred’s head.
The weapon passed right through the form of Wilfred, and Hellen, losing his balance, fell heavily to the ground. At this moment Marguerite entered.
“Fool!” she cried; “fool, to think any weapon can harm either Wilfred or me. We are phantasms—phantasms beyond the power of either Heaven or Hell. Come here!”
Impelled by a force he could not resist, Hellen obeyed—and as he gazed into her eyes all his blind infatuation for her came back.
“We must part now,” she said; “but only for a while—for remember, you belong to me. Here is a token”—and she thrust into his hand a wisp of her long, golden hair. “Sleep on it and dream of me. Do not look so sad. I shall come for you without fail, and by this sign you shall know when I am coming. When this mark begins to heal,” she said, as, with the nail on the forefinger of the right hand, she scratched his forehead, “get ready!”
There was then a loud crash—the room and everything in it swam before Hellen’s eyes, the floor rose and fell, and sinking backwards he remembered no more.
When he recovered he was lying in the centre of the haunted plot. There was nothing to be seen around him except the trees—dark lofty pines that, swaying to and fro in the chill night breeze, shook their sombre heads at him. A great sigh of relief broke from him—his experiences of course had only been a dream. He was trying to collect his thoughts, when he discovered that he was holding something tightly clasped in one of his hands. Unable to think what it could be, he rose, and held it in the full light of the moon. He then saw that it was a tuft of white fur—the fur of some animal. Much puzzled, he put it in his pocket, and suddenly recollecting his friend, set out for the place where he had left him. “I shall soon know,” he said to himself, “whether I have been asleep all this time—God grant it may be so!” His heart beat fearfully as he pressed forward, and he shouted out “Schiller” several times. But there was no reply, and presently he came upon the remains, just as he had seen them when accompanied by Marguerite. Convinced now that all that had taken place was grim reality, he went back along the route Schiller and he had taken the preceding day, and in due time reached the village. To the landlord of the inn where they had stayed he related what had happened. “I am truly sorry for you,” the landlord said; “your experience has indeed been a terrible one. Every one here knows the forest is haunted in that particular spot, and we all give it as wide a berth as possible. But you have been most unfortunate, for Wilfred and Marguerite, who are werwolves, only visit these parts periodically. I last heard of them being seen when I was about ten years of age, and they then ate a pedlar called Schwann and his wife.”
As soon as Schiller’s remains had been brought to the village and interred in the cemetery, Hellen, armed to the teeth and accompanied by several of the biggest and strongest hounds he could hire—for he could get none of the villagers to go with him—spent a whole day searching for Wilfred’s cottage. But although he was convinced he had found the exact spot where it had stood, there were now no traces of it to be seen.
At length he returned to the village, and on the following morning set out for Frankfort. On his arrival home he was immediately apprised of the fact that a terrible tragedy had occurred in his house. His wife and children had been found dead in their beds, with their throats cut and dreadful wounds in their chests, and the police had not been able to find the slightest clue to the murderers. With a terrible sinking at the heart Hellen asked for particulars, and learned, as he knew only too well he would learn, that the date of the tragedy was identical with that of his adventure in the forest.
He tried hard to persuade himself that the coincidence was a mere coincidence; but—he knew better. Besides, there was the scratch!—the scratch on his forehead.
Moreover, the scratch remained. It remained fresh and raw till a few days prior to his death, when it began to heal. And on the day he died it had completely healed.