by Clemence Housman
The great farm hall was ablaze with the
fire-light, and noisy with laughter and talk and many-sounding
work. None could be idle but the very young and the very
old: little Rol, who was hugging a puppy, and old Trella,
whose palsied hand fumbled over her knitting. The early evening
had closed in, and the farm- servants, come from their outdoor
work, had assembled in the ample hall, which gave space for
a score or more of workers. Several of the men were engaged
in carving, and to these were yielded the best place and
light; others made or repaired fishing-tackle and harness,
and a great seine net occupied three pairs of hands. Of the
women most were sorting and mixing eider feather and chopping
straw to add to it. Looms were there, though not in present
use, but three wheels whirred emulously, and the finest and
swiftest thread of the three ran between the fingers of the
house-mistress. Near her were some children, busy too, plaiting
wicks for candles and lamps. Each group of workers had a
lamp in its centre, and those farthest from the fire had
live heat from two braziers filled with glowing wood embers,
replenished now and again from the generous hearth. But the
flicker of the great fire was manifest to remotest corners,
and prevailed beyond the limits of the weaker lights.
Little Rol grew tired
of his puppy, dropped it incontinently, and made an onslaught
on Tyr, the old wolf- hound, who basked dozing, whimpering
and twitching in his hunting dreams. Prone went Rol beside
Tyr, his young arms round the shaggy neck, his curls against
the black jowl. Tyr gave a perfunctory lick, and stretched
with a sleepy sigh. Rol growled and rolled and shoved invitingly,
but could only gain from the old dog placid toleration
and a half-observant blink. ‘Take
that then!’ said Rol, indignant at this ignoring of
his advances, and sent the puppy sprawling against the dignity
that disdained him as playmate. The dog took no notice, and
the child wandered off to find amusement elsewhere.
The baskets of white
eider feathers caught his eye far off in a distant corner.
He slipped under the table, and crept along on all-fours,
the ordinary commonplace custom of walking down a room
upright not being to his fancy. When close to the women
he lay still for a moment watching, with his elbows on
the floor and his chin in his palms. One of the women seeing
him nodded and smiled, and presently he crept out behind
her skirts and passed, hardly noticed, from one to another,
till he found opportunity to possess himself of a large
handful of feathers. With these he traversed the length
of the room, under the table again, and emerged near the
spinners. At the feet of the youngest he curled himself
round, sheltered by her knees from the observation of the
others, and disarmed her of interference by secretly displaying
his handful with a confiding smile. A dubious nod satisfied
him, and presently he started on the play he had devised.
He took a tuft of the white down, and gently shook it free
of his fingers close to the whirl of the wheel. The wind
of the swift motion took it, spun it round and round in
widening circles, till it floated above like a slow white
moth. Little Rol’s eyes danced, and the row of his small teeth shone
in a silent laugh of delight. Another and another of the
white tufts was sent whirling round like a winged thing in
a spider’s web, and floating clear at last. Presently
the handful failed.
Rol sprawled forward
to survey the room, and contemplate another journey under
the table. His shoulder, thrusting forward, checked the
wheel for an instant; he shifted hastily. The wheel flew
on with a jerk, and the thread snapped. ‘Naughty
Rol!’ said the girl. The swiftest wheel stopped also,
and the house- mistress, Rol’s aunt, leaned forward,
and sighting the low curly head, gave a warning against mischief,
and sent him off to old Trella’s corner.
Rol obeyed, and after
a discreet period of obedience, sidled out again down the
length of the room farthest from his aunt’s
eye. As he slipped in among the men, they looked up to see
that their tools might be, as far as possible, out of reach
of Rol’s hands, and close to their own. Nevertheless,
before long he managed to secure a fine chisel and take off
its point on the leg of the table. The carver’s strong
objections to this disconcerted Rol, who for five minutes
thereafter effaced himself under the table.
During this seclusion
he contemplated the many pairs of legs that surrounded
him, and almost shut out the light of the fire. How very
odd some of the legs were: some were curved where they
should be straight, some were straight where they should
be curved, and, as Rol said to himself. ‘they
all seemed screwed on differently.’ Some were tucked
away modestly under the benches, others were thrust far out
under the table, encroaching on Rol’s own particular
domain. He stretched out his own short legs and regarded
them critically, and, after comparison, favourably. Why were
not all legs made like his, or like his?
These legs approved by Rol were a little apart from the
rest. He crawled opposite and again made comparison. His
face grew quite solemn as he thought of the innumerably days
to come before his legs could be as long and strong. He hoped
they would be just like those, his models, as straight as
to bone, as curved as to muscle.
A few moments later Sweyn
of the long legs felt a small hand caressing his foot,
and looking down, met the upturned eyes of his little cousin
Rol. Lying on his back, still softly patting and stroking
the young man’s foot, the child
was quiet and happy for a good while. He watched the movement
of the strong deft hands, and the shifting of the bright
tools. Now and then, minute chips of wood, puffed off by
Sweyn, fell down upon his face. At last he raised himself,
very gently, lest a jog should wake impatience in the carver,
and crossing his own legs round Sweyn’s ankle, clasping
with his arms too, laid his head against the knee. Such act
is evidence of a child’s most wonderful hero-worship.
Quite content when Sweyn paused a minute to joke, and pat
his head and pull his curls. Quiet he remained, as long as
quiescence is possible to limbs young as his. Sweyn forgot
he was near, hardly noticed when his leg was gently released,
and never saw the stealthy abstraction of one of his tools.
Ten minutes thereafter
was a lamentable wail from low on the floor, rising to
the full pitch of Rol’s healthy
lungs; for his hand was gashed across, and the copious bleeding
terrified him. Then was there soothing and comforting, washing
and binding, and a modicum of scolding, till the loud outcry
sank into occasional sobs, and the child, tear-stained and
subdued, was returned to the chimney-corner settle, where
In the reaction after pain and fright, Rol found that the
quiet of that fire-lit corner was to his mind. Tyr, too,
disdained him no longer, but, roused by his sobs, showed
all the concern and sympathy that a dog can by licking and
wistful watching. A little shame weighed also upon his spirits.
He wished he had not cried quite so much. He remembered how
once Sweyn had come home with his arm torn down from the
shoulder, and a dead bear; and how he had never winced nor
said a word, though his lips turned white with pain. Poor
little Rol gave another sighing sob over his own faint-hearted
The light and motion of the great fire began to tell strange
stories to the child, and the wind in the chimney roared
a corroborative note now and then. The great black mouth
of the chimney, impending high over the hearth, received
as into a mysterious gulf murky coils of smoke and brightness
of aspiring sparks; and beyond, in the high darkness, were
muttering and wailing and strange doings, so that sometimes
the smoke rushed back in panic, and curled out and up to
the roof, and condensed itself to invisibility among the
rafters. And then the wind would rage after its lost prey,
and rush round the house, rattling and shrieking at window
In a lull, after one
such loud gust, Rol lifted his head in surprise and listened.
A lull had also come on the babel of talk, and thus could
be heard with strange distinctness a sound outside the
door—the sound of a child’s
voice, a child’s hands. ‘Open, open; let me in!’ piped
the little voice from low down, lower than the handle, and
the latch rattled as though a tiptoe child reached up to
it, and soft small knocks were struck. One near the door
sprang up and opened it. ‘No one is here,’ he
said. Tyr lifted his head and gave utterance to a howl, loud,
prolonged, most dismal.
Sweyn, not able to believe
that his ears had deceived him, got up and went to the
door. It was a dark night; the clouds were heavy with snow,
that had fallen fitfully when the wind lulled. Untrodden
snow lay up to the porch; there was no sight nor sound
of any human being. Sweyn strained his eyes far and near,
only to see dark sky, pure snow, and a line of black fir
trees on a hill brow, bowing down before the wind. ‘It must have been the wind,’ he
said, and closed the door.
Many faces looked scared.
The sound of a child’s voice
had been so distinct—and the words ‘Open, open;
let me in!’ The wind might creak the wood, or rattle
the latch, but could not speak with a child’s voice,
nor knock with the soft plain blows that a plump fist gives.
And the strange unusual howl of the wolf-hound was an omen
to be feared, be the rest what it might. Strange things were
said by one and another, till the rebuke of the house-mistress
quelled them into far-off whispers. For a time after there
was uneasiness, constraint, and silence; then the chill fear
thawed by degrees, and the babble of talk flowed on again.
Yet half-an-hour later
a very slight noise outside the door sufficed to arrest
every hand, every tongue. Every head was raised, every
eye fixed in one direction. ‘It is Christian;
he is late,’ said Sweyn.
No, no; this is a feeble
shuffle, not a young man’s
tread. With the sound of uncertain feet came the hard tap-tap
of a stick against the door, and the high-pitched voice of
eld, ‘Open, open; let me in!’ Again Tyr flung
up his head in a long doleful howl.
Before the echo of the
tapping stick and the high voice had fairly died away,
Sweyn had sprung across to the door and flung it wide. ‘No one again,’ he
said in a steady voice, though his eyes looked startled
as he stared out. He saw the lonely expanse of snow, the
clouds swagging low, and between the two the line of dark
fir-trees bowing in the wind. He closed the door without
a word of comment, and re- crossed the room.
A score of blanched faces were turned to him as though he
must be solver of the enigma. He could not be unconscious
of this mute eye-questioning, and it disturbed his resolute
air of composure. He hesitated, glanced towards his mother,
the house-mistress, then back at the frightened folk, and
gravely, before them all, made the sign of the cross. There
was a flutter of hands as the sign was repeated by all, and
the dead silence was stirred as by a huge sigh, for the held
breath of many was freed as though the sign gave magic relief.
Even the house-mistress
was perturbed. She left her wheel and crossed the room
to her son, and spoke with him for a moment in a low tone
that none could overhear. But a moment later her voice
was high- pitched and loud, so that all might benefit by
her rebuke of the ‘heathen chatter’ of
one of the girls. Perhaps she essayed to silence thus her
own misgivings and forebodings.
No other voice dared speak now with its natural fulness.
Low tones made intermittent murmurs, and now and then silence
drifted over the whole room. The handling of tools was as
noiseless as might be, and suspended on the instant if the
door rattled in a gust of wind. After a time Sweyn left his
work, joined the group nearest the door, and loitered there
on the pretence of giving advice and help to the unskilful.
A man’s tread was heard outside in the porch. ‘Christian!’ said
Sweyn and his mother simultaneously, he confidently, she
authoritatively, to set the checked wheels going again. But
Tyr flung up his head with an appalling howl.
‘Open, open; let
It was a man’s voice, and the door shook and rattled
as a man’s strength beat against it. Sweyn could feel
the planks quivering, as on the instant his hand was upon
the door, flinging it open, to face the blank porch, and
beyond only snow and sky, and firs aslant in the wind.
He stood for a long minute with the open door in his hand.
The bitter wind swept in with its icy chill, but a deadlier
chill of fear came swifter, and seemed to freeze the beating
of hearts. Sweyn stepped back to snatch up a great bearskin
‘Sweyn, where are
‘No farther than the porch, mother,’ and
he stepped out and closed the door.
He wrapped himself in the heavy fur, and leaning against
the most sheltered wall of the porch, steeled his nerves
to face the devil and all his works. No sound of voices came
from within; the most distinct sound was the crackle and
roar of the fire.
It was bitterly cold.
His feet grew numb, but he forbore stamping them into warmth
lest the sound should strike panic within; nor would he
leave the porch, nor print a foot-mark on the untrodden
white that declared so absolutely how no human voices and
hands could have approached the door since snow fell two
hours or more ago. ‘When the wind drops
there will be more snow,’ thought Sweyn.
For the best part of
an hour he kept his watch, and saw no living thing—heard no unwonted sound. ‘I will
freeze here no longer,’ he muttered, and re-entered.
One woman gave a half-suppressed
scream as his hand was laid on the latch, and then a gasp
of relief as he came in. No one questioned him, only his
mother said, in a tone of forced unconcern, ‘Could you not see Christain coming?’ as
though she were made anxious only by the absence of her younger
son. Hardly had Sweyn stamped near to the fire than clear
knocking was heard at the door. Tyr leapt from the hearth,
his eyes red as the fire, his fangs showing white in the
black jowl, his neck ridged and bristling; and overleaping
Rol, ramped at the door, barking furiously.
Outside the door a clear
mellow voice was calling. Tyr’s
bark made the words undistinguishable.
No one offered to stir towards the door before Sweyn.
He stalked down the room resolutely, lifted the latch, and
swung back the door.
A white-robed woman glided in.
No wraith! Living—beautiful—young.
Tyr leapt upon her.
Lithely she baulked the sharp fangs with folds of her long
fur robe, and snatching from her girdle a small two-edged
axe, whirled it up for a blow of defence.
Sweyn caught the dog by the collar, and dragged him off
yelling and struggling.
The stranger stood in
the doorway motionless, one foot set forward, one arm flung
up, till the house- mistress hurried down the room; and
Sweyn, relinquishing to others the furious Tyr, turned
again to close the door, and offer excuse for so fierce
a greeting. Then she lowered her arm, slung the axe in
its place at her waist, loosened the furs about her face,
and shook over her shoulders the long white robe—all
as it were with the sway of one movement.
She was a maiden, tall and fair. The fashion of her dress
was strange, half masculine, yet not unwomanly. A fine fur
tunic, reaching but little below the knee, was all the skirt
she wore; below were the cross-bound shoes and leggings that
a hunter wears. A white fur cap was set low upon the brows,
and from its edge strips of fur fell lappet-wise about her
shoulders; two of these at her entrance had been drawn forward
and crossed about her throat, but now, loosened and thrust
back, left unhidden long plaits of fair hair that lay forward
on shoulder and breast, down to the ivory-studded girdle
where the axe gleamed.
Sweyn and his mother led the stranger to the hearth without
question or sign of curiosity, till she voluntarily told
her tale of a long journey to distant kindred, a promised
guide unmet, and signals and landmarks mistaken.
‘Alone!’ exclaimed Sweyn in astonishment. ‘Have
you journeyed thus far, a hundred leagues, alone?’
She answered ‘Yes’ with
a little smile.
‘Over the hills and the wastes! Why, the folk there are
savage and wild as beasts.’
She dropped her hand upon her axe with a laugh of some scorn.
‘I fear neither man nor beast; some few fear me.’ And
then she told strange tales of fierce attack and defence,
and of the bold free huntress life she had led.
Her words came a little slowly and deliberately, as though
she spoke in a scarce familiar tongue; now and then she hesitated,
and stopped in a phrase, as though for lack of some word.
She became the centre of a group of listeners. The interest
she excited dissipated, in some degrees, the dread inspired
by the mysterious voices. There was nothing ominous about
this young, bright, fair reality, though her aspect was strange.
Little Rol crept near, staring at the stranger with all
his might. Unnoticed, he softly stroked and patted a corner
of her soft white robe that reached to the floor in ample
folds. He laid his cheek against it caressingly, and then
edged up close to her knees.
‘What is your name?’ he
smile and ready answer, as she looked down, saved Rol from
the rebuke merited by his unmannerly question.
‘My real name,’ she said, ‘would be uncouth
to your ears and tongue. The folk of this country have given
me another name, and from this’ (she laid her hand
on the fur robe) ‘they call me “White Fell.”’
Little Rol repeated it
to himself, stroking and patting as before. ‘White
Fell, White Fell.’
The Fair face, and soft,
beautiful dress pleased Rol. He knelt up, with his eyes
on her face and an air of uncertain determination, like
on a door-step, and plumped his elbows into her lap with
a little gasp at his own audacity.
‘Rol!’ exclaimed his aunt; but, ‘Oh, let
him!’ said White Fell, smiling and stroking his head;
and Rol stayed.
He advanced farther,
and panting at his own adventurousness in the face of his
aunt’s authority, climbed up on
to her knees. Her welcoming arms hindered any protest. He
nestled happily, fingering the axe head, the ivory studs
in her girdle, the ivory clasp at her throat, the plaits
of fair hair; rubbing his head against the softness of her
fur-clad shoulder, with a child’s full confidence in
the kindness of beauty.
White Fell had not uncovered
her head, only knotted the pendant fur loosely behind her
neck. Rol reached up his hand towards it, whispering her
name to himself, ‘White
Fell, White Fell,’ then slid his arms round her neck,
and kissed her—once—twice. She laughed delightedly,
and kissed him again.
‘The child plagues you?’ said
‘No, indeed,’ she
answered, with an earnestness so intense as to seem disproportionate
to the occasion.
Rol settled himself again on her lap, and began to unwind
the bandage bound round his hand. He paused a little when
he saw where the blood had soaked through; then went on till
his hand was bare and the cut displayed, gaping and long,
though only skin deep. He held it up towards White Fell,
desirous of her pity and sympathy.
At sight of it, and the
blood-stained linen, she drew in her breath suddenly, clasped
Rol to her—hard, hard—till
he began to struggle. Her face was hidden behind the boy,
so that none could see its expression. It had lighted up
with a most awful glee.
Afar, beyond the fir-grove, beyond the low hill behind,
the absent Christian was hastening his return. From daybreak
he had been afoot, carrying notice of a bear hunt to all
the best hunters of the farms and hamlets that lay within
a radius of twelve miles. Nevertheless, having been detained
till a late hour, he now broke into a run, going with a long
smooth stride of apparent ease that fast made the miles diminish.
He entered the midnight blackness of the fir-grove with
scarcely slackened pace, though the path was invisible; and
passing through into the open again, sighted the farm lying
a furlong off down the slope. Then he sprang out freely,
and almost on the instant gave one great sideways leap, and
stood still. There in the snow was the track of a great wolf.
His hand went to his knife, his only weapon. He stooped,
knelt down, to bring his eyes to the level of a beast, and
peered about; his teeth set, his heart beat a little harder
than the pace of his running insisted on. A solitary wolf,
nearly always savage and of large size, is a formidable beast
that will not hesitate to attack a single man. This wolf-track
was the largest Christian had ever seen, and, so far as he
could judge, recently made. It led from under the fir-trees
down the slope. Well for him, he thought, was the delay that
had so vexed him before: well for him that he had not passed
through the dark fir-grove when that danger of jaws lurked
there. Going warily, he followed the track.
It led down the slope, across a broad ice-bound stream,
along the level beyond, making towards the farm. A less precise
knowledge had doubted, and guessed that here might have come
straying big Tyr or his like; but Christian was sure, knowing
better than to mistake between footmark of dog and wolf.
on towards the farm.
Surprised and anxious grew Christian, that a prowling wolf
should dare so near. He drew his knife and pressed on, more
hastily, more keen-eyed. Oh that Tyr were with him!
Straight on, straight on, even to the very door, where the
snow failed. His heart seemed to give a great leap and then
stop. There the track ended.
Nothing lurked in the porch, and there was no sign of return.
The firs stood straight against the sky, the clouds lay low;
for the wind had fallen and a few snowfiakes came drifting
down. In a horror of surprise, Christian stood dazed a moment:
then he lifted the latch and went in. His glance took in
all the old familiar forms and faces, and with them that
of the stranger, fur-clad and beautiful. The awful truth
flashed upon him: he knew what she was.
Only a few were startled by the rattle of the latch as he
entered. The room was filled with bustle and movement, for
it was the supper hour, when all tools were laid aside, and
trestles and tables shifted. Christian had no knowledge of
what he said and did; he moved and spoke mechanically, half
thinking that soon he must wake from this horrible dream.
Sweyn and his mother supposed him to be cold and dead-tired,
and spared all unnecessary questions. And he found himself
seated beside the hearth, opposite that dreadful Thing that
looked like a beautiful girl; watching her every movement,
curdling with horror to see her fondle the child Rol.
Sweyn stood near them
both, intent upon White Fell also; but how differently!
She seemed unconscious of the gaze of both—neither aware of the chill dread in the eyes of
Christian, nor of Sweyn’s warm admiration.
These two brothers, who
were twins, contrasted greatly, despite their striking
likeness. They were alike in regular profile, fair brown
hair, and deep blue eyes; but Sweyn’s
features were perfect as a young god’s, while Christian’s
showed faulty details. Thus, the line of his mouth was set
too straight, the eyes shelved too deeply back, and the contour
of the face flowed in less generous curves than Sweyn’s.
Their height was the same, but Christian was too slender
for perfect proportion, while Sweyn’s well-knit frame,
broad shoulders, and muscular arms, made him pre-eminent
for manly beauty as well as for strength. As a hunter Sweyn
was without rival; as a fisher without rival. All the countryside
acknowledged him to be the best wrestler, rider, dancer,
singer. Only in speed could he be surpassed, and in that
only by his younger brother. All others Sweyn could distance
fairly; but Christian could outrun him easily. Ay, he could
keep pace with Sweyn’s most breathless burst, and laugh
and talk the while. Christian took little pride in his fleetness
of foot, counting a man’s legs to be the least worthy
of his members. He had no envy of his brother’s athletic
superiority, though to several feats he had made a moderate
second. He loved as only a twin can love—proud of all
that Sweyn did, content with all that Sweyn was; humbly content
also that his own great love should not be so exceedingly
returned, since he knew himself to be so far less love-worthy.
Christian dared not, in the midst of women and children,
launch the horror that he knew into words. He waited to consult
his brother; but Sweyn did not, or would not, notice the
signal he made, and kept his face always turned towards White
Fell. Christian drew away from the hearth, unable to remain
passive with that dread upon him.
‘Where is Tyr?’ he said suddenly. Then, catching
sight of the dog in a distant corner, ‘Why is he chained
‘He flew at the stranger,’ one
Christian’s eyes glowed. ‘Yes?’ he
‘He was within
an ace of having his brain knocked out.’
‘Yes; she was nimbly
up with that little axe she has at her waist. It was well
for old Tyr that his master throttled him off.’
Christian went without
a word to the corner where Tyr was chained. The dog rose
up to meet him, as piteous and indignant as a dumb beast
can be. He stroked the black head. ‘Good
Tyr! brave dog!’
They knew, they only; and the man and the dumb dog had comfort
of each other.
Christian’s eyes turned again towards White Fell:
Tyr’s also, and he strained against the length of the
chain. Christian’s hand lay on the dog’s neck,
and he felt it ridge and bristle with the quivering of impotent
fury. Then he began to quiver in like manner with a fury
born of reason, not instinct; as impotent morally as was
Tyr physically. Oh! the woman’s form that he dare not
touch! Anything but that, and he with Tyr would be free to
kill or be killed.
Then he returned to ask fresh questions.
‘How long has the
stranger been here?’
‘She came about
half-an-hour before you.’
‘Who opened the
door to her?’
‘Sweyn: no one
The tone of the answer was mysterious.
‘Why?’ queried Christian. ‘Has
anything strange happened? Tell me.’
For answer he was told
in a low undertone of the summons at the door thrice repeated
without human agency; and of Tyr’s ominous howls; and of Sweyn’s
fruitless watch outside.
Christian turned towards
his brother in a torment of impatience for a word apart.
The board was spread, and Sweyn was leading White Fell
to the guest’s
place. This was more awful: she would break bread with
them under the roof-tree!
He started forward, and
arm, whispered an urgent entreaty. Sweyn stared, and shook
his head in angry impatience.
Thereupon Christian would take no morsel of food.
His opportunity came at last. White Fell questioned of the
landmarks of the country, and of one Cairn Hill, which was
an appointed meeting-place at which she was due that night.
The house-mistress and Sweyn both exclaimed.
‘It is three long miles away,’ said Sweyn; ‘with
no place for shelter but a wretched hut. Stay with us this
night, and I will show you the way tomorrow.’
White Fell seemed to
hesitate. ‘Three miles,’ she
said; ‘then I should be able to see or hear a signal.’
‘I will look out,’ said Sweyn; ‘then,
if there be no signal, you must not leave us.’
He went to the door. Christian rose silently, and followed
‘Sweyn, do you
know what she is?’
Sweyn, surprised at the vehement grasp, and low hoarse voice,
‘She? Who? White
‘She is the most
beautiful girl I have ever seen.’
‘She is a werewolf.’
Sweyn burst out laughing. ‘Are you mad?’ he
‘No; here, see
Christian drew him out of the porch, pointing to the snow
where the footmarks had been. Had been, for now they were
not. Snow was falling fast, and every dint was blotted out.
‘Had you come when
I signed to you, you would have seen for yourself.’
of a wolf leading up to the door; none leading away.’
It was impossible not
to be startled by the tone alone, though it was hardly
above a whisper. Sweyn eyed his brother anxiously, but
in the darkness could make nothing of his face. Then he
laid his hands kindly and re-assuringly on Christian’s
shoulders and felt how he was quivering with excitement
‘One sees strange things,’ he said, ‘when
the cold has got into the brain behind the eyes; you came
in cold and worn out.’
‘No,’ interrupted Christian. ‘I
saw the track first on the brow of the slope, and followed
it down right here to the door. This is no delusion.’
Sweyn in his heart felt positive that it was. Christian
was given to day-dreams and strange fancies, though never
had he been possessed with so mad a notion before.
‘Don’t you believe me?’ said Christian
desperately. ‘You must. I swear it is sane truth. Are
you blind? Why, even Tyr knows.’
‘You will be clearer headed tomorrow after a night’s
rest. Then come too, if you will, with White Fell, to the
Hill Cairn; and if you have doubts still, watch and follow,
and see what footprints she leaves.’
Galled by Sweyn’s
evident contempt Christian turned abruptly to the door.
Sweyn caught him back.
‘What now, Christian?
What are you going to do?’
‘You do not believe
me; my mother shall.’
Sweyn’s grasp tightened. ‘You shall not tell
her,’ he said authoritatively.
was so docile to his brother’s
mastery that it was now a surprising thing when he wrenched
himself free vigorously, and said as determinedly as Sweyn, ‘She
shall know!’ but Sweyn was nearer the door and would
not let him pass.
‘There has been scare enough for one night already.
If this notion of yours will keep, broach it tomorrow.’ Christian
would not yield.
‘Women are so easily scared,’ pursued Sweyn, ‘and
are ready to believe any folly without shadow of proof. Be
a man, Christian, and fight this notion of a werewolf by
‘If you would believe me’ began
‘I believe you to be a fool,’ said Sweyn, losing
patience. ‘Another, who was not your brother, might
believe you to be a knave, and guess that you had transformed
White Fell into a werewolf because she smiled more readily
on me than on you.’
The jest was not without
foundation, for the grace of White Fell’s bright looks had been bestowed on him, on Christian
never a whit. Sweyn’s coxcombery was always frank,
and most forgiveable, and not without fair colour.
‘If you want an ally,’ continued Sweyn, ‘confide
in old Trella. Out of her stores of wisdom, if her memory
holds good, she can instruct you in the orthodox manner of
tackling a werewolf. If I remember aright, you should watch
the suspected person till midnight, when the beast’s
form must be resumed, and retained ever after if a human
eye sees the change; or, better still, sprinkle hands and
feet with holy water, which is certain death. Oh! never fear,
but old Trella will be equal to the occasion.’
was no longer good-humoured; some touch of irritation or
resentment rose at this monstrous doubt of White Fell.
But Christian was too deeply distressed to take offence.
‘You speak of them as old wives’ tales;
but if you had seen the proof I have seen, you would be
ready at least to wish them true, if not also to put them
to the test.’
‘Well,’ said Sweyn, with a laugh that had a
little sneer in it, ‘put them to the test! I will not
object to that, if you will only keep your notions to yourself.
Now, Christian, give me your word for silence, and we will
freeze here no longer.’
Christian remained silent.
Sweyn put his hands on his shoulders again and vainly tried
to see his face in the darkness.
‘We have never
quarrelled yet, Christian?’
‘I have never quarrelled,’ returned
the other, aware for the first time that his dictatorial
brother had sometimes offered occasion for quarrel, had
he been ready to take it.
‘Well,’ said Sweyn emphatically, ‘if you
speak against White Fell to any other, as tonight you have
spoken to me—we shall.’
He delivered the words like an ultimatum, turned sharp round,
and re-entered the house. Christian, more fearful and wretched
than before, followed.
‘Snow is falling
fast: not a single light is to be seen.’
White Fell’s eyes
passed over Christian without apparent notice, and turned
bright and shining upon Sweyn.
‘Nor any signal to be heard?’ she queried. ‘Did
you not hear the sound of a sea-horn?’
‘I saw nothing,
and heard nothing; and signal or no signal, the heavy snow
would keep you here perforce.’
She smiled her thanks
beautifully. And Christian’s
heart sank like lead with a deadly foreboding, as he noted
what a light was kindled in Sweyn’s eyes by her smile.
That night, when all others slept, Christian, the weariest
of all, watched outside the guest-chamber till midnight was
past. No sound, not the faintest, could be heard. Could the
old tale be true of the midnight change? What was on the
other side of the door, a woman or a beast? he would have
given his right hand to know. Instinctively he laid his hand
on the latch, and drew it softly, though believing that bolts
fastened the inner side. The door yielded to his hand; he
stood on the threshold; a keen gust of air cut at him; the
window stood open; the room was empty.
So Christian could sleep with a somewhat lightened heart.
In the morning there
was surprise and conjecture when White Fell’s absence was discovered. Christian held his peace.
Not even to his brother did he say how he knew that she had
fled before midnight; and Sweyn, though evidently greatly
chagrined, seemed to disdain reference to the subject of
The elder brother alone joined the bear hunt; Christian
found pretext to stay behind. Sweyn, being out of humour,
manifested his contempt by uttering not a single expostulation.
All that day, and for
many a day after, Christian would never go out of sight
of his home. Sweyn alone noticed how he manoeuvred for
this, and was clearly annoyed by it. White Fell’s name was never mentioned between them, though
not seldom was it heard in general talk. Hardly a day passed
but little Rol asked when White Fell would come again: pretty
White Fell, who kissed like a snowflake. And if Sweyn answered,
Christian would be quite sure that the light in his eyes,
kindled by White Fell’s smile, had not yet died out.
Little Rol! Naughty, merry, fair-haired little Rol. A day
came when his feet raced over the threshold never to return;
when his chatter and laugh were heard no more; when tears
of anguish were wept by eyes that never would see his bright
head again: never again, living or dead.
He was seen at dusk for the last time, escaping from the
house with his puppy, in freakish rebellion against old Trella.
Later, when his absence had begun to cause anxiety, his puppy
crept back to the farm, cowed, whimpering and yelping, a
pitiful, dumb lump of terror, without intelligence or courage
to guide the frightened search.
Rol was never found,
nor any trace of him. Where he had perished was never known;
how he had perished was known only by an awful guess—a
wild beast had devoured him.
Christian heard the conjecture ‘a wolf’;
and a horrible certainty flashed upon him that he knew
what wolf it was. He tried to declare what he knew, but
Sweyn saw him start at the words with white face and struggling
lips; and, guessing his purpose, pulled him back, and kept
him silent, hardly, by his imperious grip and wrathful
eyes, and one low whisper.
That Christian should
retain his most irrational suspicion against beautiful
White Fell was, to Sweyn, evidence of a weak obstinacy
of mind that would but thrive upon expostulation and argument.
But this evident intention to direct the passions of grief
and anguish to a hatred and fear of the fair stranger,
such as his own, was intolerable, and Sweyn set his will
against it. Again Christian yielded to his brother’s
stronger words and will, and against his own judgement consented
Repentance came before
the new moon, the first of the year, was old. White Fell
came again, smiling as she entered, as though assured of
a glad and kindly welcome; and, in truth, there was only
one who saw again her fair face and strange white garb
without pleasure. Sweyn’s face glowed with
delight, while Christian’s grew pale and rigid as death.
He had given his word to keep silence; but he had not thought
that she would dare to come again. Silence was impossible,
face to face with that Thing, impossible. Irrepressibly he
‘Where is Rol?’
Not a quiver disturbed
White Fell’s face. She heard,
yet remained bright and tranquil. Sweyn’s eyes flashed
round at his brother dangerously. Among the women some tears
fell at the poor child’s name; but none caught alarm
from its sudden utterance, for the thought of Rol rose naturally.
Where was little Rol, who had nestled in the stranger’s
arms, kissing her; and watched for her since; and prattled
of her daily?
Christian went out silently.
One only thing there was that he could do, and he must
not delay. His horror overmastered any curiosity to hear
smooth excuses and smiling apologies for her strange and
uncourteous departure; or her easy tale of the circumstances
of her return; or to watch her bearing as she heard the
sad tale of little Rol.
The swiftest runner in the country-side had started on his
hardest race: little less than three leagues and back, which
he reckoned to accomplish in two hours, though the night
was moonless and the way rugged. He rushed against the still
cold air till it felt like a wind upon his face. The dim
homestead sank below the ridges at his back, and fresh ridges
of snowlands rose out of the obscure horizon-level to drive
past him as the stirless air drove, and sink away behind
into obscure level again. He took no conscious heed of landmarks,
not even when all sign of a path was gone under depths of
snow. His will was set to reach his goal with unexampled
speed; and thither by instinct his physical forces bore him,
without one definite thought to guide.
And the idle brain lay
passive, inert, receiving into its vacancy restless siftings
of past sights and sounds; Rol, weeping, laughing, playing,
coiled in the arms of that dreadful Thing: Tyr—O Tyr!—white fangs in the black jowl:
the women who wept on the foolish puppy, precious for the
child’s last touch: footprints from pine wood to door:
the smiling face among furs, of such womanly beauty—smiling—smiling:
and Sweyn’s face.
O Sweyn, my brother!’
Sweyn’s angry laugh possessed his ear within the sound
of the wind of his speed; Sweyn’s scorn assailed more
quick and keen than the biting cold at his throat. And yet
he was unimpressed by any thought of how Sweyn’s anger
and scorn would rise, if this errand were known.
Sweyn was sceptic. His
utter disbelief in Christian’s
testimony regarding the footprints were based upon positive
scepticism. His reason refused to bend in accepting the possibility
of the supernatural materialised. That a living beast could
ever be other than palpably bestial—pawed, toothed,
shagged, and eared as such, was to him incredible; far more
that a human presence could be transformed from its god-like
aspect, upright, freehanded, with brows, and speech, and
laughter. The wild and fearful legends that he had known
from childhood and then believed, he regarded now as built
upon facts distorted, overlaid by imagination, and quickened
by superstition. Even the strange summons at the threshold,
that he himself had vainly answered, was, after the first
shock of surprise, rationally explained by him as malicious
foolery on the part of some clever trickster, who witheld
the key to the enigma.
To the younger brother
all life was a spiritual mystery, veiled from his clear
knowledge by the density of flesh. Since he knew his own
body to be linked to the complex and antagonistic forces
that constitute one soul, it seemed to him not impossibly
strange that one spiritual force should possess divers
forms for widely various manifestation. Nor, to him, was
it great effort to believe that as pure water washes away
all natural foulness, so water, holy by consecration, must
needs cleanse God’s world from that supernatural
evil Thing. Therefore, faster than ever man’s foot
had covered those leagues, he sped under the dark, still
night, over the waste, trackless snow-ridges to the far-away
church, where salvation lay in the holy-water stoup at the
door. His faith was as firm as any that wrought miracles
in days past, simple as a child’s wish, strong as a
He was hardly missed during these hours, every second of
which was by him fulfilled to its utmost extent by extremest
effort that sinews and nerves could attain. Within the homestead
the while, the easy moments went bright with words and looks
of unwonted animation, for the kindly, hospitable instincts
of the inmates were roused into cordial expression of welcome
and interest by the grace and beauty of the returned stranger.
But Sweyn was eager and
earnest, with more than a host’s
courteous warmth. The impression that at her first coming
had charmed him, that had lived since through memory, deepened
now in her actual presence. Sweyn, the matchless among men,
acknowledged in this fair White Fell a spirit high and bold
as his own, and a frame so firm and capable that only bulk
was lacking for equal strength. Yet the white skin was moulded
most smoothly, without such muscular swelling as made his
might evident. Such love as his frank self-love could concede
was called forth by an ardent admiration for this supreme
stranger. More admiration than love was in his passion, and
therefore he was free from a lover’s hesitancy and
delicate reserve and doubts. Frankly and boldly he courted
her favour by looks and tones, and an address that came of
natural ease, needless of skill by practice.
Nor was she a woman to
be wooed otherwise. Tender whispers and sighs would never
gain her ear; but her eyes would brighten and shine if
she heard of a brave feat, and her prompt hand in sympathy
fall swiftly on the axe-haft and clasp it hard. That movement
ever fired Sweyn’s
admiration anew; he watched for it, strove to elicit it,
and glowed when it came. Wonderful and beautiful was that
wrist, slender and steel-strong; also the smooth shapely
hand, that curved so fast and firm, ready to deal instant
Desiring to feel the pressure of these
hands, this bold lover schemed with palpable directness,
proposing that she should hear how their hunting songs
were sung, with a chorus that signalled hands to be clasped.
So his splendid voice gave the verses, and, as the chorus
was taken up, he claimed her hands, and, even through the
easy grip, felt, as he desired, the strength that was latent,
and the vigour that quickened the very fingertips, as the
song fired her, and her voice was caught out of her by
the rhythmic swell, and rang clear on the top of the closing
Afterwards she sang alone. For contrast, or in the pride
of swaying moods by her voice, she chose a mournful song
that drifted along in a minor chant, sad as a wind that dirges:
‘Oh, let me go!
Around spin wreaths of snow;
The dark earth sleeps below.
Far up the plain
Moans on a voice of pain:
“Where shall my babe be lain?”
In my white breast
Lay the sweet life to rest!
Lay, where it can lie best!
“Hush! hush its
Dense night is on the skies:
Two stars are in thine eyes.”
Come, babe, away!
But lie thou till dawn be grey,
Who must be dead by day.
This cannot last;
But, ere the sickening blast,
All sorrow shall be past;
And kings shall be
Low bending at thy knee,
Worshipping life from thee.
For men long sore
To hope of what’s before,—
To leave the things of yore.
Mine, and not thine,
How deep their jewels shine!
Peace laps thy head, not mine.’
Old Trella came tottering from her corner, shaken to additional
palsy by an aroused memory. She strained her dim eyes towards
the singer, and then bent her head, that the one ear yet
sensible to sound might avail of every note. At the close,
groping forward, she murmured with the high-pitched quaver
of old age:
‘So she sang, my Thora; my last and brightest. What
is she like, she whose voice is like my dead Thora’s?
Are her eyes blue?’
‘Blue as the sky.’
‘So were my Thora’s!
Is her hair fair, and in plaits to the waist?’
‘Even so,’ answered
White Fell herself, and met the advancing hands with her
own, and guided them to corroborate her words by touch.
‘Like my dead Thora’s,’ repeated
the old woman; and then her trembling hands rested on the
fur-clad shoulders, and she bent forward and kissed the
smooth fair face that White Fell upturned, nothing loth,
to receive and return the caress.
So Christian saw them as he entered.
He stood a moment. After
the starless darkness and the icy night air, and the fierce
silent two hours’ race, his
senses reeled on sudden entrance into warmth, and light,
and the cheery hum of voices. A sudden unforeseen anguish
assailed him, as now first he entertained the possibility
of being overmatched by her wiles and her daring, if at the
approach of pure death she should start up at bay transformed
to a terrible beast, and achieve a savage glut at the last.
He looked with horror and pity on the harmless, helpless
folk, so unwitting of outrage to their comfort and security.
The dreadful Thing in their midst, that was veiled from their
knowledge by womanly beauty, was a centre of pleasant interest.
There, before him, signally impressive, was poor old Trella,
weakest and feeblest of all, in fond nearness. And a moment
might bring about the revelation of a monstrous horror—a
ghastly, deadly danger, set loose and at bay, in a circle
of girls and women and careless defenceless men; so hideous
and terrible a thing as might crack the brain, or curdle
the heart stone dead.
And he alone of the throng prepared!
For one breathing space he faltered, no longer than that,
while over him swept the agony of compunction that yet could
not make him surrender his purpose.
He alone? Nay, but Tyr also; and he crossed to the dumb
sole sharer of his knowledge.
So timeless is thought
that a few seconds only lay between his lifting of the
latch and his loosening of Tyr’s
collar; but in those few seconds succeeding his first glance,
as lightning-swift had been the impulses of others, their
motion as quick and sure. Sweyn’s vigilant eye had
darted upon him, and instantly his every fibre was alert
with hostile instinct; and, half divining, half incredulous,
of Christian’s object in stooping to Tyr, he came hastily,
wary, wrathful, resolute to oppose the malice of his wild-eyed
But beyond Sweyn rose
White Fell, blanching white as her furs, and with eyes
grown fierce and wild. She leapt down the room to the door,
whirling her long robe closely to her. ‘Hark!’ she
panted. ‘The signal horn! Hark, I must go!’ as
she snatched at the latch to be out and away.
For one precious moment
Christian had hesitated on the half-loosened collar; for,
except the womanly form were exchanged for the bestial,
Tyr’s jaws would gnash to rags his honour
of manhood. Then he heard her voice, and turned—too
As she tugged at the
door, he sprange across grasping his flask, but Sweyn dashed
between, and caught him back irresistibly, so that a most
frantic effort only availed to wrench one arm free. With
that, on the impulse of sheer despair, he cast at her with
all his force. The door swung behind her, and the flask
flew into fragments against it. Then, as Sweyn’s
grasp slackened, and he met the questioning astonishment
of surrounding faces, with a hoarse inarticulate cry: ‘God
help us all!’ he said. ‘She is a werewolf.’
Sweyn turned upon him, ‘Liar, coward!’ and his
hands gripped his brother’s throat with deadly force,
as though the spoken word could be killed so; and as Christian
struggled, lifted him clear off his feet and flung him crashing
backward. So furious was he, that, as his brother lay motionless,
he stirred him roughly with his foot, till their mother came
between, crying shame; and yet then he stood by, his teeth
set, his brows knit, his hands clenched, ready to enforce
silence again violently, as Christian rose staggering and
But utter silence and
submission were more than he expected, and turned his anger
into contempt for one so easily cowed and held in subjection
by mere force. ‘He is mad!’ he
said, turning on his heel as he spoke, so that he lost his
mother’s look of pained reproach at this sudden free
utterance of what was a lurking dread within her.
Christian was too spent for the effort of speech. His hard-drawn
breath laboured in great sobs; his limbs were powerless and
untrusting in utter relax after hard service. Failure in
his endeavour induced a stupor of misery and despair. In
addition was the wretched humilation of open violence and
strife with his brother, and the distress of hearing misjudging
contempt expressed without reserve; for he was aware that
Sweyn had turned to allay the scared excitement half by imperious
mastery, half by explanation and argument, that showed painful
disregard of brotherly consideration. All this unkindness
of his twin he charged upon the fell Thing who had wrought
this their first dissension, and, ah! most terrible thought,
interposed between them so effectually, that Sweyn was wilfully
blind and deaf on her account, resentful of interference,
arbitrary beyond reason.
Dread and perplexity unfathomable darkened upon him; unshared,
the burden was overwhelming: a foreboding of unspeakable
calamity, based upon his ghastly discovery, bore down upon
him, crushing out hope of power to withstand impending fate.
Sweyn the while was observant
of his brother, despite the continual check of finding,
turn and glance when he would, Christian’s eyes always upon him, with a strange look
of helpless distress, discomposing enough to the angry aggressor. ‘Like
a beaten dog!’ he said to himself, rallying contempt
to withstand compunction. Observation set him wondering on
Christian’s exhausted condition. The heavy labouring
breath and the slack inert fall of the limbs told surely
of unusual and prolonged exertion. And then why had close
upon two hours’ absence been followed by open hostility
against White Fell?
Suddenly, the fragments
of the flask giving a clue, he guessed all, and faced about
to stare at his brother in amaze. He forgot that the motive
scheme was against White Fell, demanding derision and resentment
from him; that was swept out of remembrance by astonishment
and admiration for the feat of speed and endurance. In
eagerness to question he inclined to attempt a generous
part and frankly offer to heal the breach; but Christian’s
depression and sad following gaze provoked him to self-justification
by recalling the offence of that outrageous utterance against
White Fell; and the impulse passed. Then other considerations
counselled silence; and afterwards a humour possessed him
to wait and see how Christian would find opportunity to
proclaim his performance and establish the fact, without
exciting ridicule on account of the absurdity of the errand.
This expectation remained unfulfilled. Christian never attempted
the proud avowal that would have placed his feat on record
to be told to the next generation.
That night Sweyn and
his mother talked long and late together, shaping into
certainty the suspicion that Christian’s
mind had lost its balance, and discussing the evident cause.
For Sweyn, declaring his own love for White Fell, suggested
that his unfortunate brother, with a like passion, they being
twins in loves as in birth, had through jealousy and despair
turned from love to hate, until reason failed at the strain,
and a craze developed, which the malice and treachery of
madness made a serious and dangerous force.
So Sweyn theorised, convincing himself as he spoke; convincing
afterwards others who advanced doubts against White Fell;
fettering his judgement by his advocacy, and by his staunch
defence of her hurried flight silencing his own inner consciousness
of the unaccountability of her action.
But a little time and Sweyn lost his vantage in the shock
of a fresh horror at the homestead. Trella was no more, and
her end a mystery. The poor old woman crawled out in a bright
gleam to visit a bed-ridden gossip living beyond the fir-grove.
Under the trees she was last seen, halting for her companion,
sent back for a forgotten present. Quick alarm sprang, calling
every man to the search. Her stick was found among the brushwood
only a few paces from the path, but no track or stain, for
a gusty wind was sifting the snow from the branches, and
hid all sign of how she came by her death.
So panic-stricken were the farm folk that none dared go
singly on the search. Known danger could be braced, but not
this stealthy Death that walked by day invisible, that cut
off alike the child in his play and the aged woman so near
to her quiet grave.
‘Rol she kissed; Trella she kissed!’ So rang
Christian’s frantic cry again and again, till Sweyn
dragged him away and strove to keep him apart, albeit in
his agony of grief and remorse he accused himself wildly
as answerable for the tragedy, and gave clear proof that
the charge of madness was well founded, if strange looks
and desperate, incoherent words were evidence enough.
But thenceforward all
and mastery could not uphold White Fell above suspicion.
He was not called upon to defend her from accusation when
Christian had been brought to silence again; but he well
knew the significance of this fact, that her name, formerly
uttered freely and often, he never heard now: it was huddled
away into whispers that he could not catch.
The passing of time did not sweep away the superstitious
fears that Sweyn despised. He was angry and anxious; eager
that White Fell should return, and, merely by her bright
gracious presence, reinstate herself in favour; but doubtful
if all his authority and example could keep from her notice
an altered aspect of welcome; and he foresaw clearly that
Christian would prove unmanageable, and might be capable
of some dangerous outbreak.