Infomotions, Inc.The Were-Wolf / Housman, Clemence



Author: Housman, Clemence
Title: The Were-Wolf
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): sweyn; rol; tyr; christian; little rol; wolf; snow; white fell; speed
Contributor(s): Housman, Laurence, 1865-1959 [Illustrator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 18,212 words (really short) Grade range: 9-11 (high school) Readability score: 65 (easy)
Identifier: etext13131
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Title: The Were-Wolf

Author: Clemence Housman

Release Date: August 7, 2004  [eBook #13131]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


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THE WERE-WOLF

by

CLEMENCE HOUSMAN

With Six Illustrations by Laurence Housman

1896






[Illustration: Holy Water]



TO THE DEAR MEMORY OF
E.W.P.

"YOU WILL THINK OF ME SOMETIMES,
MY DEAR?"



LIST OF PLATES

Holy Water
Rol's Worship
White Fell's Escape
The Race
The Finish
Sweyn's Finding



THE WERE-WOLF

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 common-place 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 innumerable 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 was Rol, and more than 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.

[Illustration: Rol's Worship]

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 Trella nodded.

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 shortcomings.

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 and door.

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 me in!"

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 cloak.

"Sweyn, where are you going?"

"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 Christian 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 very 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 degree, 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 asked.

The stranger's 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 a robin's on a doorstep, 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 Sweyn.

"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.

Straight on--straight 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 snowflakes 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 there?"

"He flew at the stranger," one answered.

Christian's eyes glowed. "Yes?" he said, interrogatively.

"He was within an ace of having his brain knocked out."

"Tyr?"

"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 else dared."

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 touching Sweyn's 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 to-morrow."

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 him
out.

"Sweyn, do you know what she is?"

Sweyn, surprised at the vehement grasp, and low hoarse voice, made
answer:

"She? Who? White Fell?"

"Yes."

"She is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen."

"She is a Were-Wolf."

Sweyn burst out laughing. "Are you mad?" he asked.

"No; here, see for yourself."

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.

"Well?" asked Sweyn.

"Had you come when I signed to you, you would have seen for
yourself."

"Seen what?"

"The footprints 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 and horror.

"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 to-morrow 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.

Customarily Christian 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 to-morrow." 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 Were-Wolf by yourself."

"If you would believe me," began Christian.

"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
Were-Wolf 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 Were-Wolf. 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."

Sweyn's contempt 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 to-night 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 Christian's fears.

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, fairhaired 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 judgment consented to silence.

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 cried out:

"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 White Fell's 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 of 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.

"Sweyn, Sweyn, 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 a sceptic. His utter disbelief in Christian's testimony
regarding the footprints was 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, free-handed, 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 withheld 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 man's will.

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 death.

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 surge.

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 cries!
  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!

[Illustration: White Fell's Escape]

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 brother.

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 late.

As she tugged at the door, he sprang 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
Were-Wolf."

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 bewildered.

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
unstrung in utter relax after hard service. Failure in his
endeavour induced a stupor of misery and despair. In addition was
the wretched humiliation 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 judgment 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 Sweyn's reasoning 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.

For a time the twins' variance was marked, on Sweyn's part by an
air of rigid indifference, on Christian's by heavy downcast
silence, and a nervous apprehensive observation of his brother.
Superadded to his remorse and foreboding, Sweyn's displeasure
weighed upon him intolerably, and the remembrance of their violent
rupture was a ceaseless misery. The elder brother, self-sufficient
and insensitive, could little know how deeply his unkindness
stabbed. A depth and force of affection such as Christian's was
unknown to him. The loyal subservience that he could not
appreciate had encouraged him to domineer; this strenuous
opposition to his reason and will was accounted as furious malice,
if not sheer insanity.

Christian's surveillance galled him incessantly, and embarrassment
and danger he foresaw as the outcome. Therefore, that suspicion
might be lulled, he judged it wise to make overtures for peace.
Most easily done. A little kindliness, a few evidences of
consideration, a slight return of the old brotherly imperiousness,
and Christian replied by a gratefulness and relief that might have
touched him had he understood all, but instead, increased his
secret contempt.

So successful was this finesse, that when, late on a day, a
message summoning Christian to a distance was transmitted by
Sweyn, no doubt of its genuineness occurred. When, his errand
proved useless, he set out to return, mistake or misapprehension
was all that he surmised. Not till he sighted the homestead, lying
low between the night-grey snow ridges, did vivid recollection of
the time when he had tracked that horror to the door rouse an
intense dread, and with it a hardly-defined suspicion.

His grasp tightened on the bear-spear that he carried as a staff;
every sense was alert, every muscle strung; excitement urged him
on, caution checked him, and the two governed his long stride,
swiftly, noiselessly, to the climax he felt was at hand.

As he drew near to the outer gates, a light shadow stirred and
went, as though the grey of the snow had taken detached motion. A
darker shadow stayed and faced Christian, striking his life-blood
chill with utmost despair.

Sweyn stood before him, and surely, the shadow that went was White
Fell.

They had been together--close. Had she not been in his arms, near
enough for lips to meet?

There was no moon, but the stars gave light enough to show that
Sweyn's face was flushed and elate. The flush remained, though the
expression changed quickly at sight of his brother. How, if
Christian had seen all, should one of his frenzied outbursts be
met and managed: by resolution? by indifference? He halted between
the two, and as a result, he swaggered.

"White Fell?" questioned Christian, hoarse and breathless.

"Yes?"

Sweyn's answer was a query, with an intonation that implied he was
clearing the ground for action.

From Christian came: "Have you kissed her?" like a bolt direct,
staggering Sweyn by its sheer prompt temerity.

He flushed yet darker, and yet half-smiled over this earnest of
success he had won. Had there been really between himself and
Christian the rivalry that he imagined, his face had enough of the
insolence of triumph to exasperate jealous rage.

"You dare ask this!"

"Sweyn, O Sweyn, I must know! You have!"

The ring of despair and anguish in his tone angered Sweyn,
misconstruing it. Jealousy urging to such presumption was
intolerable.

"Mad fool!" he said, constraining himself no longer. "Win for
yourself a woman to kiss. Leave mine without question. Such an one
as I should desire to kiss is such an one as shall never allow a
kiss to you."

Then Christian fully understood his supposition.

"I--I!" he cried. "White Fell--that deadly Thing! Sweyn, are you
blind, mad? I would save you from her: a Were-Wolf!"

Sweyn maddened again at the accusation--a dastardly way of
revenge, as he conceived; and instantly, for the second time, the
brothers were at strife violently.

But Christian was now too desperate to be scrupulous; for a dim
glimpse had shot a possibility into his mind, and to be free to
follow it the striking of his brother was a necessity. Thank God!
he was armed, and so Sweyn's equal.

[Illustration: The Race]

Facing his assailant with the bear-spear, he struck up his arms,
and with the butt end hit hard so that he fell. The matchless
runner leapt away on the instant, to follow a forlorn hope.
Sweyn, on regaining his feet, was as amazed as angry at this
unaccountable flight. He knew in his heart that his brother was no
coward, and that it was unlike him to shrink from an encounter
because defeat was certain, and cruel humiliation from a
vindictive victor probable. Of the uselessness of pursuit he was
well aware: he must abide his chagrin, content to know that his
time for advantage would come. Since White Fell had parted to the
right, Christian to the left, the event of a sequent encounter did
not occur to him. And now Christian, acting on the dim glimpse he
had had, just as Sweyn turned upon him, of something that moved
against the sky along the ridge behind the homestead, was staking
his only hope on a chance, and his own superlative speed. If what
he saw was really White Fell, he guessed she was bending her steps
towards the open wastes; and there was just a possibility that, by
a straight dash, and a desperate perilous leap over a sheer bluff,
he might yet meet her or head her. And then: he had no further
thought.

It was past, the quick, fierce race, and the chance of death at
the leap; and he halted in a hollow to fetch his breath and to
look: did she come? had she gone?

She came.

She came with a smooth, gliding, noiseless speed, that was neither
walking nor running; her arms were folded in her furs that were
drawn tight about her body; the white lappets from her head were
wrapped and knotted closely beneath her face; her eyes were set on
a far distance. So she went till the even sway of her going was
startled to a pause by Christian.

"Fell!"

She drew a quick, sharp breath at the sound of her name thus
mutilated, and faced Sweyn's brother. Her eyes glittered; her
upper lip was lifted, and shewed the teeth. The half of her name,
impressed with an ominous sense as uttered by him, warned her of
the aspect of a deadly foe. Yet she cast loose her robes till they
trailed ample, and spoke as a mild woman.

"What would you?"

Then Christian answered with his solemn dreadful accusation:

"You kissed Rol--and Rol is dead! You kissed Trella: she is dead!
You have kissed Sweyn, my brother; but he shall not die!"

He added: "You may live till midnight."

The edge of the teeth and the glitter of the eyes stayed a moment,
and her right hand also slid down to the axe haft. Then, without a
word, she swerved from him, and sprang out and away swiftly over
the snow.

And Christian sprang out and away, and followed her swiftly over
the snow, keeping behind, but half-a-stride's length from her
side.

So they went running together, silent, towards the vast wastes of
snow, where no living thing but they two moved under the stars of
night.

Never before had Christian so rejoiced in his powers. The gift of
speed, and the training of use and endurance were priceless to him
now. Though midnight was hours away, he was confident that, go
where that Fell Thing would, hasten as she would, she could not
outstrip him nor escape from him. Then, when came the time for
transformation, when the woman's form made no longer a shield
against a man's hand, he could slay or be slain to save Sweyn. He
had struck his dear brother in dire extremity, but he could not,
though reason urged, strike a woman.

For one mile, for two miles they ran: White Fell ever foremost,
Christian ever at equal distance from her side, so near that, now
and again, her out-flying furs touched him. She spoke no word; nor
he. She never turned her head to look at him, nor swerved to evade
him; but, with set face looking forward, sped straight on, over
rough, over smooth, aware of his nearness by the regular beat of
his feet, and the sound of his breath behind.

In a while she quickened her pace. From the first, Christian had
judged of her speed as admirable, yet with exulting security in
his own excelling and enduring whatever her efforts. But, when the
pace increased, he found himself put to the test as never had he
been before in any race. Her feet, indeed, flew faster than his;
it was only by his length of stride that he kept his place at her
side. But his heart was high and resolute, and he did not fear
failure yet.

So the desperate race flew on. Their feet struck up the powdery
snow, their breath smoked into the sharp clear air, and they were
gone before the air was cleared of snow and vapour. Now and then
Christian glanced up to judge, by the rising of the stars, of the
coming of midnight. So long--so long!

White Fell held on without slack. She, it was evident, with
confidence in her speed proving matchless, as resolute to outrun
her pursuer as he to endure till midnight and fulfil his purpose.
And Christian held on, still self-assured. He could not fail; he
would not fail. To avenge Rol and Trella was motive enough for him
to do what man could do; but for Sweyn more. She had kissed Sweyn,
but he should not die too: with Sweyn to save he could not fail.

Never before was such a race as this; no, not when in old Greece
man and maid raced together with two fates at stake; for the hard
running was sustained unabated, while star after star rose and
went wheeling up towards midnight, for one hour, for two hours.

Then Christian saw and heard what shot him through with fear.
Where a fringe of trees hung round a slope he saw something dark
moving, and heard a yelp, followed by a full horrid cry, and the
dark spread out upon the snow, a pack of wolves in pursuit.

Of the beasts alone he had little cause for fear; at the pace he
held he could distance them, four-footed though they were. But of
White Fell's wiles he had infinite apprehension, for how might she
not avail herself of the savage jaws of these wolves, akin as they
were to half her nature. She vouchsafed to them nor look nor sign;
but Christian, on an impulse to assure himself that she should not
escape him, caught and held the back-flung edge of her furs,
running still.

She turned like a flash with a beastly snarl, teeth and eyes
gleaming again. Her axe shone, on the upstroke, on the downstroke,
as she hacked at his hand. She had lopped it off at the wrist, but
that he parried with the bear-spear. Even then, she shore through
the shaft and shattered the bones of the hand at the same blow, so
that he loosed perforce.

Then again they raced on as before, Christian not losing a pace,
though his left hand swung useless, bleeding and broken.

The snarl, indubitable, though modified from a woman's organs, the
vicious fury revealed in teeth and eyes, the sharp arrogant pain
of her maiming blow, caught away Christian's heed of the beasts
behind, by striking into him close vivid realisation of the
infinitely greater danger that ran before him in that deadly
Thing.

When he bethought him to look behind, lo! the pack had but reached
their tracks, and instantly slunk aside, cowed; the yell of
pursuit changing to yelps and whines. So abhorrent was that fell
creature to beast as to man.

She had drawn her furs more closely to her, disposing them so
that, instead of flying loose to her heels, no drapery hung lower
than her knees, and this without a check to her wonderful speed,
nor embarrassment by the cumbering of the folds. She held her head
as before; her lips were firmly set, only the tense nostrils gave
her breath; not a sign of distress witnessed to the long
sustaining of that terrible speed.

But on Christian by now the strain was telling palpably. His head
weighed heavy, and his breath came labouring in great sobs; the
bear spear would have been a burden now. His heart was beating
like a hammer, but such a dulness oppressed his brain, that it was
only by degrees he could realise his helpless state; wounded and
weaponless, chasing that terrible Thing, that was a fierce,
desperate, axe-armed woman, except she should assume the beast
with fangs yet more formidable.

And still the far slow stars went lingering nearly an hour from
midnight.

So far was his brain astray that an impression took him that she
was fleeing from the midnight stars, whose gain was by such slow
degrees that a time equalling days and days had gone in the race
round the northern circle of the world, and days and days as long
might last before the end--except she slackened, or except he
failed.

But he would not fail yet.

How long had he been praying so? He had started with a
self-confidence and reliance that had felt no need for that aid;
and now it seemed the only means by which to restrain his heart
from swelling beyond the compass of his body, by which to cherish
his brain from dwindling and shrivelling quite away. Some
sharp-toothed creature kept tearing and dragging on his maimed
left hand; he never could see it, he could not shake it off; but
he prayed it off at times.

The clear stars before him took to shuddering, and he knew why:
they shuddered at sight of what was behind him. He had never
divined before that strange things hid themselves from men under
pretence of being snow-clad mounds or swaying trees; but now they
came slipping out from their harmless covers to follow him, and
mock at his impotence to make a kindred Thing resolve to truer
form. He knew the air behind him was thronged; he heard the hum of
innumerable murmurings together; but his eyes could never catch
them, they were too swift and nimble. Yet he knew they were there,
because, on a backward glance, he saw the snow mounds surge as
they grovelled flatlings out of sight; he saw the trees reel as
they screwed themselves rigid past recognition among the boughs.

And after such glance the stars for awhile returned to
steadfastness, and an infinite stretch of silence froze upon the
chill grey world, only deranged by the swift even beat of the
flying feet, and his own--slower from the longer stride, and the
sound of his breath. And for some clear moments he knew that his
only concern was, to sustain his speed regardless of pain and
distress, to deny with every nerve he had her power to outstrip
him or to widen the space between them, till the stars crept up to
midnight. Then out again would come that crowd invisible, humming
and hustling behind, dense and dark enough, he knew, to blot out
the stars at his back, yet ever skipping and jerking from his
sight.

A hideous check came to the race. White Fell swirled about and
leapt to the right, and Christian, unprepared for so prompt a
lurch, found close at his feet a deep pit yawning, and his own
impetus past control. But he snatched at her as he bore past,
clasping her right arm with his one whole hand, and the two swung
together upon the brink.

And her straining away in self preservation was vigorous enough to
counter-balance his headlong impulse, and brought them reeling
together to safety.

Then, before he was verily sure that they were not to perish so,
crashing down, he saw her gnashing in wild pale fury as she
wrenched to be free; and since her right hand was in his grasp,
used her axe left-handed, striking back at him.

The blow was effectual enough even so; his right arm dropped
powerless, gashed, and with the lesser bone broken, that jarred
with horrid pain when he let it swing as he leaped out again, and
ran to recover the few feet she had gained from his pause at the
shock.

The near escape and this new quick pain made again every faculty
alive and intense. He knew that what he followed was most surely
Death animate: wounded and helpless, he was utterly at her mercy
if so she should realise and take action. Hopeless to avenge,
hopeless to save, his very despair for Sweyn swept him on to
follow, and follow, and precede the kiss-doomed to death. Could he
yet fail to hunt that Thing past midnight, out of the womanly form
alluring and treacherous, into lasting restraint of the bestial,
which was the last shred of hope left from the confident purpose
of the outset?

"Sweyn, Sweyn, O Sweyn!" He thought he was praying, though his
heart wrung out nothing but this: "Sweyn, Sweyn, O Sweyn!"

The last hour from midnight had lost half its quarters, and the
stars went lifting up the great minutes; and again his greatening
heart, and his shrinking brain, and the sickening agony that swung
at either side, conspired to appal the will that had only seeming
empire over his feet.

Now White Fell's body was so closely enveloped that not a lap nor
an edge flew free. She stretched forward strangely aslant, leaning
from the upright poise of a runner. She cleared the ground at
times by long bounds, gaining an increase of speed that Christian
agonised to equal.

Because the stars pointed that the end was nearing, the black
brood came behind again, and followed, noising. Ah! if they could
but be kept quiet and still, nor slip their usual harmless masks
to encourage with their interest the last speed of their most
deadly congener. What shape had they? Should he ever know? If it
were not that he was bound to compel the fell Thing that ran
before him into her truer form, he might face about and follow
them. No--no--not so; if he might do anything but what he
did--race, race, and racing bear this agony, he would just stand
still and die, to be quit of the pain of breathing.

He grew bewildered, uncertain of his own identity, doubting of his
own true form. He could not be really a man, no more than that
running Thing was really a woman; his real form was only hidden
under embodiment of a man, but what it was he did not know. And
Sweyn's real form he did not know. Sweyn lay fallen at his feet,
where he had struck him down--his own brother--he: he stumbled
over him, and had to overleap him and race harder because she who
had kissed Sweyn leapt so fast. "Sweyn, Sweyn, O Sweyn!"

Why did the stars stop to shudder? Midnight else had surely come!

The leaning, leaping Thing looked back at him with a wild, fierce
look, and laughed in savage scorn and triumph. He saw in a flash
why, for within a time measurable by seconds she would have
escaped him utterly. As the land lay, a slope of ice sunk on the
one hand; on the other hand a steep rose, shouldering forwards;
between the two was space for a foot to be planted, but none for a
body to stand; yet a juniper bough, thrusting out, gave a handhold
secure enough for one with a resolute grasp to swing past the
perilous place, and pass on safe.

Though the first seconds of the last moment were going, she dared
to flash back a wicked look, and laugh at the pursuer who was
impotent to grasp.

[Illustration: The Finish]

The crisis struck convulsive life into his last supreme effort;
his will surged up indomitable, his speed proved matchless yet. He
leapt with a rush, passed her before her laugh had time to go out,
and turned short, barring the way, and braced to withstand her.

She came hurling desperate, with a feint to the right hand, and
then launched herself upon him with a spring like a wild beast
when it leaps to kill. And he, with one strong arm and a hand that
could not hold, with one strong hand and an arm that could not
guide and sustain, he caught and held her even so. And they fell
together. And because he felt his whole arm slipping, and his
whole hand loosing, to slack the dreadful agony of the wrenched
bone above, he caught and held with his teeth the tunic at her
knee, as she struggled up and wrung off his hands to overleap him
victorious.

Like lightning she snatched her axe, and struck him on the neck,
deep--once, twice--his life-blood gushed out, staining her feet.

The stars touched midnight.

The death scream he heard was not his, for his set teeth had
hardly yet relaxed when it rang out; and the dreadful cry began
with a woman's shriek, and changed and ended as the yell of a
beast. And before the final blank overtook his dying eyes, he saw
that She gave place to It; he saw more, that Life gave place to
Death--causelessly, incomprehensibly.

For he did not presume that no holy water could be more holy, more
potent to destroy an evil thing than the life-blood of a pure
heart poured out for another in free willing devotion.

His own true hidden reality that he had desired to know grew
palpable, recognisable. It seemed to him just this: a great glad
abounding hope that he had saved his brother; too expansive to be
contained by the limited form of a sole man, it yearned for a new
embodiment infinite as the stars.

What did it matter to that true reality that the man's brain
shrank, shrank, till it was nothing; that the man's body could not
retain the huge pain of his heart, and heaved it out through the
red exit riven at the neck; that the black noise came again
hurtling from behind, reinforced by that dissolved shape, and
blotted out for ever the man's sight, hearing, sense.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the early grey of day Sweyn chanced upon the footprints of a
man--of a runner, as he saw by the shifted snow; and the direction
they had taken aroused curiosity, since a little farther their
line must be crossed by the edge of a sheer height. He turned to
trace them. And so doing, the length of the stride struck his
attention--a stride long as his own if he ran. He knew he was
following Christian.

In his anger he had hardened himself to be indifferent to the
night-long absence of his brother; but now, seeing where the
footsteps went, he was seized with compunction and dread. He had
failed to give thought and care to his poor frantic twin, who
might--was it possible?--have rushed to a frantic death.

His heart stood still when he came to the place where the leap had
been taken. A piled edge of snow had fallen too, and nothing but
snow lay below when he peered. Along the upper edge he ran for a
furlong, till he came to a dip where he could slip and climb down,
and then back again on the lower level to the pile of fallen snow.
There he saw that the vigorous running had started afresh.

He stood pondering; vexed that any man should have taken that leap
where he had not ventured to follow; vexed that he had been
beguiled to such painful emotions; guessing vainly at Christian's
object in this mad freak. He began sauntering along, half
unconsciously following his brother's track; and so in a while he
came to the place where the footprints were doubled.

Small prints were these others, small as a woman's, though the
pace from one to another was longer than that which the skirts of
women allow.

Did not White Fell tread so?

A dreadful guess appalled him, so dreadful that he recoiled from
belief. Yet his face grew ashy white, and he gasped to fetch back
motion to his checked heart. Unbelievable? Closer attention showed
how the smaller footfall had altered for greater speed, striking
into the snow with a deeper onset and a lighter pressure on the
heels. Unbelievable? Could any woman but White Fell run so? Could
any man but Christian run so? The guess became a certainty. He was
following where alone in the dark night White Fell had fled from
Christian pursuing.

Such villainy set heart and brain on fire with rage and
indignation: such villainy in his own brother, till lately
love-worthy, praiseworthy, though a fool for meekness. He would
kill Christian; had he lives many as the footprints he had trodden,
vengeance should demand them all. In a tempest of murderous hate
he followed on in haste, for the track was plain enough, starting
with such a burst of speed as could not be maintained, but brought
him back soon to a plod for the spent, sobbing breath to be
regulated. He cursed Christian aloud and called White Fell's name
on high in a frenzied expense of passion. His grief itself was a
rage, being such an intolerable anguish of pity and shame at the
thought of his love, White Fell, who had parted from his kiss free
and radiant, to be hounded straightway by his brother mad with
jealousy, fleeing for more than life while her lover was housed at
his ease. If he had but known, he raved, in impotent rebellion at
the cruelty of events, if he had but known that his strength and
love might have availed in her defence; now the only service to
her that he could render was to kill Christian.

As a woman he knew she was matchless in speed, matchless in
strength; but Christian was matchless in speed among men, nor
easily to be matched in strength. Brave and swift and strong
though she were, what chance had she against a man of his strength
and inches, frantic, too, and intent on horrid revenge against his
brother, his successful rival?

Mile after mile he followed with a bursting heart; more piteous,
more tragic, seemed the case at this evidence of White Fell's
splendid supremacy, holding her own so long against Christian's
famous speed. So long, so long that his love and admiration grew
more and more boundless, and his grief and indignation therewith
also. Whenever the track lay clear he ran, with such reckless
prodigality of strength, that it soon was spent, and he dragged on
heavily, till, sometimes on the ice of a mere, sometimes on a
wind-swept place, all signs were lost; but, so undeviating had
been their line that a course straight on, and then short questing
to either hand, recovered them again.

Hour after hour had gone by through more than half that winter
day, before ever he came to the place where the trampled snow
showed that a scurry of feet had come--and gone! Wolves' feet--and
gone most amazingly! Only a little beyond he came to the lopped
point of Christian's bear-spear; farther on he would see where the
remnant of the useless shaft had been dropped. The snow here was
dashed with blood, and the footsteps of the two had fallen closer
together. Some hoarse sound of exultation came from him that might
have been a laugh had breath sufficed. "O White Fell, my poor,
brave love! Well struck!" he groaned, torn by his pity and great
admiration, as he guessed surely how she had turned and dealt a
blow.

The sight of the blood inflamed him as it might a beast that
ravens. He grew mad with a desire to have Christian by the throat
once again, not to loose this time till he had crushed out his
life, or beat out his life, or stabbed out his life; or all these,
and torn him piecemeal likewise: and ah! then, not till then,
bleed his heart with weeping, like a child, like a girl, over the
piteous fate of his poor lost love.

On--on--on--through the aching time, toiling and straining in the
track of those two superb runners, aware of the marvel of their
endurance, but unaware of the marvel of their speed, that, in the
three hours before midnight had overpassed all that vast distance
that he could only traverse from twilight to twilight. For clear
daylight was passing when he came to the edge of an old marl-pit,
and saw how the two who had gone before had stamped and trampled
together in desperate peril on the verge. And here fresh blood
stains spoke to him of a valiant defence against his infamous
brother; and he followed where the blood had dripped till the cold
had staunched its flow, taking a savage gratification from this
evidence that Christian had been gashed deeply, maddening afresh
with desire to do likewise more excellently, and so slake his
murderous hate. And he began to know that through all his despair
he had entertained a germ of hope, that grew apace, rained upon by
his brother's blood.

He strove on as best he might, wrung now by an access of hope, now
of despair, in agony to reach the end, however terrible, sick with
the aching of the toiled miles that deferred it.

And the light went lingering out of the sky, giving place to
uncertain stars.

He came to the finish.

Two bodies lay in a narrow place. Christian's was one, but the
other beyond not White Fell's. There where the footsteps ended lay
a great white wolf.

At the sight Sweyn's strength was blasted; body and soul he was
struck down grovelling.

The stars had grown sure and intense before he stirred from where
he had dropped prone. Very feebly he crawled to his dead brother,
and laid his hands upon him, and crouched so, afraid to look or
stir farther.

Cold, stiff, hours dead. Yet the dead body was his only shelter
and stay in that most dreadful hour. His soul, stripped bare of
all sceptic comfort, cowered, shivering, naked, abject; and the
living clung to the dead out of piteous need for grace from the
soul that had passed away.

He rose to his knees, lifting the body. Christian had fallen face
forward in the snow, with his arms flung up and wide, and so had
the frost made him rigid: strange, ghastly, unyielding to Sweyn's
lifting, so that he laid him down again and crouched above, with
his arms fast round him, and a low heart-wrung groan.

[Illustration: Sweyn's Finding]

When at last he found force to raise his brother's body and gather
it in his arms, tight clasped to his breast, he tried to face the
Thing that lay beyond. The sight set his limbs in a palsy with
horror and dread. His senses had failed and fainted in utter
cowardice, but for the strength that came from holding dead
Christian in his arms, enabling him to compel his eyes to endure
the sight, and take into the brain the complete aspect of the
Thing. No wound, only blood stains on the feet. The great grim
jaws had a savage grin, though dead-stiff. And his kiss: he could
bear it no longer, and turned away, nor ever looked again.

And the dead man in his arms, knowing the full horror, had
followed and faced it for his sake; had suffered agony and death
for his sake; in the neck was the deep death gash, one arm and
both hands were dark with frozen blood, for his sake! Dead he knew
him, as in life he had not known him, to give the right meed of
love and worship. Because the outward man lacked perfection and
strength equal to his, he had taken the love and worship of that
great pure heart as his due; he, so unworthy in the inner reality,
so mean, so despicable, callous, and contemptuous towards the
brother who had laid down his life to save him. He longed for
utter annihilation, that so he might lose the agony of knowing
himself so unworthy such perfect love. The frozen calm of death on
the face appalled him. He dared not touch it with lips that had
cursed so lately, with lips fouled by kiss of the horror that had
been death.

He struggled to his feet, still clasping Christian. The dead man
stood upright within his arm, frozen rigid. The eyes were not
quite closed; the head had stiffened, bowed slightly to one side;
the arms stayed straight and wide. It was the figure of one
crucified, the blood-stained hands also conforming.

So living and dead went back along the track that one had passed
in the deepest passion of love, and one in the deepest passion of
hate. All that night Sweyn toiled through the snow, bearing the
weight of dead Christian, treading back along the steps he before
had trodden, when he was wronging with vilest thoughts, and
cursing with murderous hatred, the brother who all the while lay
dead for his sake.

Cold, silence, darkness encompassed the strong man bowed with the
dolorous burden; and yet he knew surely that that night he entered
hell, and trod hell-fire along the homeward road, and endured
through it only because Christian was with him. And he knew surely
that to him Christian had been as Christ, and had suffered and
died to save him from his sins.


[Illustration]



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