by 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
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.
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
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. Ælfreda? 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. Ælfreda 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
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
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. Ælfreda
tomorrow evening. Hear what I dreamed last night. I dreamed I was
the werewolf — do not shudder, dear love, for 't was only a
"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
"'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
"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. Ælfreda
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. Ælfreda.
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 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
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.