Weird Tales/Volume 31/Issue 2/The Hairy Ones Shall Dance
The Hairy Ones Shall Dance
A novel of a hideous, stark horror that struck during a spirit séance–a tale of terror and sudden death, and the frightful thing that laired in the Devil's Croft
The Story Thus Far
TALBOT WILLS, the narrator, has given up a career as a stage magician to study psychic phenomena. Though a skeptic, he is on good terms with Doctor Otto Zoberg, a lecturing expert on spiritism and other occult subjects. Zoberg, seeking to convert him, takes him to an isolated hamlet where a spirit medium of unusual powers is located.
Wills finds the medium an attractive young woman, Susan Gird. A séance is held in the Gird home, where, though all are handcuffed, a strange wolf-like shape moves in the dark. When Susan Gird's father cries out some sort of accusation, the shape springs upon him and rends him to death. The town constable comes to investigate and, inasmuch as Wills is a magician and escape artist, accuses him of the murder.
Wills is confined in a cell. When an angry mob gathers to lynch him, he breaks out, flees through the town and across a snow-covered field toward the Devil's Croft, a mysterious grove which by custom is never entered by the townspeople. As he enters it, he falls, exhausted. Lying thus, he realizes that, though a blizzard is raging outside the grove, inside are leaves, moss, flowers and grass, and that the air is as warm as though it were midsummer.
The story continues:
6. "Eyes of Fire!"
It proves something for human habit and narcotic-dependence that my first action upon rising was to pull out a cigarette and light it.
The match flared briefly upon rich greenness. I might have been in a sub-tropical swamp. Then the little flame winked out and the only glow was the tip of my cigarette. I gazed upward for a glimpse of the sky, but found only darkness. Leafy branches made a roof over me. My brow felt damp. It was sweat–warm sweat.
I held the coal of the cigarette to my wrist-watch. It seemed to have stopped, and I lifted it to my ear. No ticking–undoubtedly I had jammed it into silence, perhaps at the seance, perhaps during my escape from prison and the mob. The hands pointed to eighteen minutes past eight, and it was certainly much later than that. I wished for the electric torch that I had dropped in the dining-room at Gird's, then was glad I had not brought it to flash my position to possible watchers outside the grove.Yet the tight cedar hedge and the inner belts of trees and bushes, richly foliaged as they must be, would certainly hide me and any light I might make. I felt considerably stronger in body and will by now, and made shift to walk gropingly toward the center of the timber-clump. Once, stooping to finger the ground on which I walked, I felt not only
moss but soft grass. Again, a hanging vine dragged across my face. It was wet, as if from condensed mist, and it bore sweet flowers that showed dimly like little pallid trumpets in the dark.
The frog-like chirping that I had heard when first I fell had been going on without cessation. It was much nearer now, and when I turned in its direction, I saw a little glimmer of water. Two more careful steps, and my foot sank into wet, warm mud. I stooped and put a hand into a tiny stream, almost as warm as the air. The frog, whose home I was disturbing, fell silent once more.
I struck a match, hoping to see a way across. The stream was not more than three feet in width, and it flowed slowly from the interior of the grove. In that direction hung low mists, through which broad leaves gleamed wetly. On my side its brink was fairly clear, but on the other grew lush, dripping bushes. I felt in the stream once more, and found it was little more than a finger deep. Then, holding the end of the match in my fingers, I stooped as low as possible, to see what I could of the nature of the ground beneath the bushes.
The small beam carried far, and I let myself think of Shakespeare's philosophy anent the candle and the good deed in a naughty world. Then philosophy and Shakespeare flew from my mind, for I saw beneath the bushes the feet of–of what stood behind them.
They were two in number, those feet; but not even at first glimpse did I think they were human. I had an impression of round pedestals and tailless shanks, dark and hairy. They moved as I looked, moved cautiously closer, as if their owner was equally anxious to see me. I dropped the match into the stream and sprang up and back.
No pursuer from the town would have feet like that.
My heart began to pound as it had never pounded during my race for life. I clutched at the low limb of a tree, hoping to tear it loose for a possible weapon of defense; the wood was rotten, and almost crumpled in my grasp.
"Who's there?" I challenged, but most unsteadily and without much menace in my voice. For answer the bushes rustled yet again, and something blacker than they showed itself among them.
I cannot be ashamed to say that I retreated again, farther this time; let him who has had a like experience decide whether to blame me. Feeling my way among the trees, I put several stout stems between me and that lurker by the waterside. They would not fence it off, but might baffle it for a moment. Meanwhile, I heard the water splash. It was wading cautiously through–it was going to follow me.
I found myself standing in a sort of lane, and did not bother until later to wonder how a lane could exist in that grove where no man ever walked. It was a welcome avenue of flight to me, and I went along it at a swift, crouching run. The footing, as everywhere, was damp and mossy, and I made very little noise. Not so my unchancy companion of the brook, for I heard a heavy body crashing among twigs and branches to one side. I began to ask myself, as I hurried, what the beast could be–for I was sure that it was a beast. A dog from some farmhouse, that did not know or understand the law against entering the Devil's Croft? That I had seen only two feet did not preclude two more, I now assured myself, and I would have welcomed a big, friendly dog. Yet I did not know that this one was friendly, and could not bid myself to stop and see.
The lane wound suddenly to the right, and then into a clearing.
Here, too, the branches overhead kept out the snow and the light, but things were visible ever so slightly. I stood as if in a room, earth-floored, trunk-walled, leaf-thatched. And I paused for a breath–it was more damply warm than ever. With that breath came some strange new serenity of spirit, even an amused self-mockery. What had I seen and heard, indeed? I had come into the grove after a terrific hour or so of danger and exertion, and my mind had at once busied itself in building grotesque dangers where no dangers could be. Have another smoke, I said to myself, and get hold of your imagination; already that pursuit-noise you fancied has gone. Alone in the clearing and the dark, I smiled as though to mock myself back into self-confidence. Even this little patch of summer night into which I had blundered from the heart of the blizzard–even it had some good and probably simple explanation. I fished out a cigarette and struck a light.
At that moment I was facing the bosky tunnel from which I had emerged into the open space. My matchlight struck two sparks in that tunnel, two sparks that were pushing stealthily toward me. Eyes of fire!
Cigarette and match fell from my hands. For one wild half-instant I thought of flight, then knew with a throat-stopping certainty that I must not turn my back on this thing. I planted my feet and clenched by fists.
"Who's there?" I cried, as once before at the side of the brook.
This time I had an answer. It was a hoarse, deep-chested rumble, it might have been a growl or an oath. And a shadow stole out from the lane, straightening up almost within reach of me. I had seen that silhouette before, misshapen and point-eared, in the dining-room of John Gird.
7. “Had the Thing Been So Hairy?”
It did not charge at once, or I might have been killed then, like John Gird, and the writing of this account left to another hand. While it closed cautiously in, I was able to set myself for defense. I also made out some of its details, and hysterically imagined more.
Its hunched back and narrow shoulders gave nothing of weakness to its appearance, suggesting rather an inhuman plenitude of bone and muscle behind. At first it was crouched, as if on all-fours, but then it reared. For all its legs were bent, its great length of body made it considerably taller than I. Upper limbs–I hesitate at calling them arms–sparred questingly at me.
I moved a stride backward, but kept my face to the enemy.
"You killed Gird!" I accused it, in a voice steady enough but rather strained and shrill. "Come on and kill me! I promise you a damned hard bargain of it."
The creature shrank away in turn, as though it understood the words and was momentarily daunted by them. Its head, which I could not make out, sank low before those crooked shoulders and swayed rhythmically like the head of a snake before striking. The rush was coming, and I knew it.
"Come on." I dared it again. "What are you waiting for? I'm not chained down, like Gird. I'll give you a devil of a fight."
I had my fists up and I feinted, boxerwise, with a little weaving jerk of the knees. The blot of blackness started violently, ripped out a snarl from somewhere inside it, and sprang at me.
I had an impression of paws flung out and a head twisted sidewise, with long teeth bared to snap at my throat. Probably it meant to clutch my shoulders with its fingers–it had them, I had felt them on my knee at the séance. But I had planned my own campaign in those tense seconds. I slid my left foot forward as the enemy lunged, and my left fist drove for the muzzle. My knuckles barked against the huge, inhuman teeth, and I brought over a roundabout right, with shoulder and hip driving in back of it. The head, slanted as it was, received this right fist high on the brow. I felt the impact of solid bone, and the body floundered away to my left. I broke ground right, turned and raised my hands as before.
"Want any more of the same?" I taunted it, as I would a human antagonist after scoring.
The failure of its attack had been only temporary. My blows had set it off balance, but could hardly have been decisive. I heard a coughing snort, as though the thing's muzzle was bruised, and it quartered around toward me once more. Without warning and with amazing speed it rushed.
I had no time to set myself now. I did try to leap backward, but I was not quick enough. It had me, gripping the lapels of my coat and driving me down and over with its flying weight, I felt the wet ground spin under my heels, and then it came flying up against my shoulders. Instinctively I had clutched upward at a throat with my right hand, clutched a handful of skin, loose and rankly shaggy. My left, also by instinct, flew backward to break my fall. It closed on something hard, round and smooth.
The rank odor that I had known at the séance was falling around me like a blanket, and the clashing white teeth shoved nearer, nearer, but the rock in my left hand spelled sudden hope. Without trying to roll out from under, I smote with that rock. My clutch on the hairy throat helped me to judge accurately where the head would be. A moment later, and the struggling bulk above me went limp under the impact. Shoving it aside, I scrambled free and gained my feet once more.
The monster lay motionless where I had thrust it from me. Every nerve a-tingle, I stooped. My hand poised the rock for another smashing blow, but there was no sign of fight from the fallen shape. I could hear only a gusty breathing, as of something in stunned pain.
"Lie right where you are, you murdering brute," I cautioned it, my voice ringing exultant as I realized I had won. "If you move, I'll smash your skull in."
My right hand groped in my pocket for a match, struck it on the back of my leg. I bent still closer for a dear look at my enemy.
Had the thing been so hairy? Now, as I gazed, it seemed only sparsely furred. The ears, too, were blunter than I thought, and the muzzle not so——
Why, it was half human! Even as I watched, it was becoming more human still, a sprawled human figure! And, as the fur seemed to vanish in patches, was it clothing I saw, as though through the rents in a bearskin overcoat?
My senses churned in my own head. The fear that had ridden me all night became suddenly unreasoning. I fled as before, this time without a thought of where I was going or what I would do. The forbidden grove, lately so welcome as a refuge, swarmed with evil. I reached the edge of the clearing, glanced back once. The thing I had stricken down was beginning to stir, to get up. I ran from it as from a devil.
Somehow I had come to the stream again, or to another like it. The current moved more swiftly at this point, with a noticeable murmur. As I tried to spring across I landed short, and gasped in sudden pain, for the water was scalding hot. Of such are the waters of hell. . . .
I cannot remember my flight through that steaming swamp that might have been a corner of Satan's own park. Somewhere along the way I found a tough, fleshy stem, small enough to rend from its rooting and wield as a club. With it in my hand I paused, with a rather foolish desire to return along my line of retreat for another and decisive encounter with the shaggy being. But what if it would foresee my coming and lie in wait? I knew how swiftly it could spring, how strong was its grasp. Once at close quarters, my club would be useless, and those teeth might find their objective. I cast aside the impulse, that had welled from I know not what primitive core of me, and hurried on.
Evergreens were before me on a sudden, and through them filtered a blast of cold air. The edge of the grove, and beyond it the snow and the open sky, perhaps a resumption of the hunt by the mob; but capture and death at their hands would be clean and welcome compared to–
Feet squelched in the dampness behind me.
I pivoted with a hysterical oath, and swung up my club in readiness to strike. The great dark outline that had come upon me took one step closer, then paused. I sprang at it, struck and missed as it dodged to one side.
"All right then, let's have it out," I managed to blurt, though my voice was drying up in my throat. "Come on, show your face."
"I'm not here to fight you," a good-natured voice assured me. "Why, I seldom even argue, except with proven friends."
I relaxed a trifle, but did not lower my club. "Who are you?"
"Judge Keith Pursuivant," was the level response, as though I had not just finished trying to kill him. "You must be the young man they're so anxious to hang, back in town. Is that right?"
I made no answer.
"Silence makes admission," the stranger said. "Well, come along to my house. This grove is between it and town, and nobody will bother us for the night, at least."
8. "A Trick that Almost Killed You."
When I stepped into the open with Judge Keith Pursuivant, the snow had ceased and a full moon glared through a rip in the clouds, making diamond dust of the sugary drifts. By its light I saw my companion with some degree of plainness–a man of great height and girth, with a wide blade hat and a voluminous gray ulster. His face was as round as the moon itself, at least as shiny, and much warmer to look at. A broad bulbous nose and broad bulbous eyes beamed at me, while under a drooping blond mustache a smile seemed to be lurking. Apparently he considered the situation a pleasant one.
"I'm not one of the mob," he informed me reassuringly. "These pastimes of the town do not attract me. I left such things behind when I dropped out of politics and practise–oh, I was active in such things, ten years ago up North–and took up meditation."
"I've heard that you keep to yourself," I told him.
"You heard correctly. My black servant does the shopping and brings me the gossip. Most of the time it bores me, but not today, when I learned about you and the killing of John Gird——"
"And you came looking for me?"
"Of course. By the way, that was a wise impulse, ducking into the Devil's Croft."
But I shuddered, and not with the chill of the outer night. He made a motion for me to come along, and we began tramping through the soft snow toward a distant light under the shadow of a hill. Meanwhile I told him something of my recent adventures, saving for the last my struggle with the monster in the grove.
He heard me through, whistling through his teeth at various points. At the end of my narrative he muttered to himself:
"The hairy ones shall dance——"
"What was that, sir?" I broke in, without much courtesy.
"I was quoting from the prophet Isaiah. He was speaking of ruined Babylon, not a strange transplanted bit of the tropics, but otherwise it falls pat. Suggestive of a demon-festival. 'The hairy ones shall dance there.'"
"Isaiah, you say? I used to be something of a Bible reader, but I'm afraid I don't remember the passage."
He smiled sidewise at me. "But I'm translating direct from the original, Mr.–Wills is the name, eh? The original Hebrew of the prophet Isaiah, whoever he was. The classic-ridden compilers of the King James Version have satyrs dancing, and the prosaic Revised Version offers nothing more startling than goats. But Isaiah and the rest of the ancient peoples knew that there were 'hairy ones.' Perhaps you encountered one of that interesting breed tonight."
"I don't want to encounter it a second time," I confessed, and again I shuddered.
"That is something we will talk over more fully. What do you think of the Turkish bath accommodations you have just left behind?"
"To tell you the truth, I don't know what to think. Growing green stuff and a tropical temperature, with snow outside——"
He waved the riddle away. "Easily and disappointingly explained, Mr. Wills. Hot springs."
I stopped still, shin-deep in wet snow. "What!" I ejaculated.
"Oh, I've been there many times, in defiance of local custom and law–I'm not a native, you see." Once more his warming smile. "There are at least three springs, and the thick growth of trees makes a natural enclosure, roof and walls, to hold in the damp heat. It's not the only place of its kind in the world, Mr. Wills. But the thing you met there is a trifle more difficult of explanation. Come on home–we'll both feel better when we sit down."
We finished the journey in half an hour. Judge Pursuivant's house was stoutly made of heavy hewn timbers, somewhat resembling certain lodges I had seen in England. Inside was a large, low-ceilinged room with a hanging oil lamp and a welcome open fire. A fat blond cat came leisurely forward to greet us. Its broad, good-humored face, large eyes and drooping whiskers gave it somewhat of a resemblance to its master.
"Better get your things off," advised the judge. He raised his voice. "William!"
A squat negro with a sensitive brown face appeared from a door at the back of the house.
"Bring in a bathrobe and slippers for this gentleman," ordered Judge Pursuivant, and himself assisted me to take off my muddy jacket. Thankfully I peeled off my other garments, and when the servant appeared with the robe I slid into it with a sigh.
"I'm in your hands, Judge Pursuivant," I said. "If you want to turn me over——"
"I might surrender you to an officer," he interrupted, "but never to a lawless mob. You'd better sit here for a time–and talk to me."
Near the fire was a desk, with an armchair at either side of it. We took seats, and when William returned from disposing of my wet clothes, he brought along a tray with a bottle of whisky, a siphon and some glasses. The judge prepared two drinks and handed one to me. At his insistence, I talked for some time about the séance and the events leading up to it.
"Remarkable," mused Judge Pursuivant. Then his great shrewd eyes studied me. "Don't go to sleep there, Mr. Wills. I know you're tired, but I want to talk lycanthropy."
"Lycanthropy?" I repeated. "You mean the science of the werewolf?" I smiled and shook my head. "I'm afraid I'm no authority, sir. Anyway, this was no witchcraft–it was a bona fide spirit séance, with ectoplasm."
"Hum!" snorted the judge. "Witchcraft, spiritism! Did it ever occur to you that they might be one and the same thing?"
"Inasmuch as I never believed in either of them, it never did occur to me."
Judge Pursuivant finished his drink and wiped his mustache. "Skepticism does not become you too well, Mr. Wills, if you will pardon my frankness. In any case, you saw something very werewolfish indeed, not an hour ago. Isn't that the truth?"
"It was some kind of a trick," I insisted stubbornly.
"A trick that almost killed you and made you run for your life?"
I shook my head. "I know I saw the thing," I admitted. "I even felt it." My eyes dropped to the bruised knuckles of my right hand. "Yet I was fooled–as a magician, I know all about fooling. There can be no such thing as a werewolf."
"Have a drink," coaxed Judge Pursuivant, exactly as if I had had none yet. With big, deft hands he poured whisky, then soda, into my glass and gave the mixture a stirring shake. "Now then," he continued, sitting back in his chair once more, "the time has come to speak of many things."
He paused, and I, gazing over the rim of that welcome glass, thought how much he looked like a rosy blond walrus.
"I'm going to show you," he announced, "that a man can turn into a beast, and back again."
9. "To a Terrified Victim He Is Doom Itself."
He leaned toward the bookshelf beside him, pawed for a moment, then laid two sizable volumes on the desk between us.
"If this were a fantasy tale, Mr. Wills," he said with a hint of one of his smiles, "I would place before you an unthinkably rare book–one that offered, in terms too brilliant and compelling for argument, the awful secrets of the universe, past, present and to come."
He paused to polish a pair of pince-nez and to damp them upon the bridge of his broad nose.
"However," he resumed, "this is reality, sober if uneasy. And I give you, not some forgotten grimoire out of the mystic past, but two works by two recognized and familiar authorities."
I eyed the books. "May I see?"
For answer he thrust one of them, some six hundred pages in dark blue cloth, across the desk and into my hands. "Thirty Years of Psychical Research, by the late Charles Richet, French master in the spirit-investigation field," he informed me. "Faithfully and interestingly translated by Stanley De Brath. Published here in America, in 1923."
I took the hook and opened it. "I knew Professor Richet, slightly. Years ago, when I was just beginning this sort of thing, I was entertained by him in London. He introduced me to Conan Doyle."
"Then you're probably familiar with his book. Yes? Well, the other," and he took up the second volume, almost as large as the Richet and bound in light buff, "is by Montague Summers, whom I call the premier demonologist of today. He's garnered all the lycanthropy-lore available."
I had read Mr. Summers' Geography of Witchcraft and his two essays on the vampire, and I made bold to say so.
"This is a companion volume to them," Judge Pursuivant told me, opening the book. "It is called The Werewolf:" He scrutinized the flyleaf. "Published in 1934–thoroughly modern, you see. Here's a bit of Latin, Mr. Wills: Intrabunt lupi rapaces in vos, non parcentes gregi."
I crinkled my brow in the effort to recall my high school Latin, then began slowly to translate, a word at a time:"'Enter hungry wolves——'"
"Save that scholarship," Judge Pursuivant broke in. "It's more early Scripture, though not so early as the bit about the hairy ones–vulgate for a passage from the Acts of the Apostles, twentieth chapter, twenty-ninth verse. 'Ravenous wolves shall enter among you, not sparing the flock.' Apparently that disturbing possibility exists even today."
He leafed through the book. "Do you know," he asked, "that Summers gives literally dozens of instances of lycanthropy, things that are positively known to have happened?"
I took another sip of whisky and water. "Those are only legends, surely."
"They are nothing of the sort!" The judge's eyes protruded even more in his earnestness, and he tapped the pages with an excited forefinger. "There are four excellent cases listed in his chapter on France alone–sworn to, tried and sentenced by courts——"
"But weren't they during the Middle Ages?" I suggested.
He shook his great head. "No, during the Sixteenth Century, the peak of the Renaissance. Oh, don't smile at the age, Mr. Wills. It produced Shakespeare, Bacon, Montaigne, Galileo, Leonardo, Martin Luther; Descartes and Spinoza were its legitimate children, and Voltaire builded upon it. Yet werewolves were known, seen, convicted——"
"Convicted on what grounds?" I interrupted quickly, for I was beginning to reflect his warmth.
For answer he turned more pages.
"Here is the full account of the case of Stubbe Peter, or Peter Stumpf," he said. "A contemporary record, telling of Stumpf's career in and out of wolf-form, his capture in the very act of shifting shape, his confession and execution–all near Cologne in the year 1589. Listen."
He read aloud: "'Witnesses that this is true. Tyse Artyne. William Brewar. Adolf Staedt. George Bores. With divers others that have seen the same.'" Slamming the book shut, he looked up at me, the twinkle coming back into his spectacled eyes. "Well, Mr. Wills? How do those names sound to you?"
"Why, like the names of honest German citizens."
"Exactly. Honest, respectable, solid. And their testimony is hard to pass off with a laugh, even at this distance in time, eh?"
He had almost made me see those witnesses, leather-jerkined and broad-breeched, with heavy jaws and squinting eyes, taking their turn at the quill pen with which they set their names to that bizarre document. "With divers others that have seen the same"–perhaps too frightened to hold pen or make signature. . . .
"Still," I said slowly, "Germany of the Renaissance, the Sixteenth Century; and there have been so many changes since."
"Werewolves have gone out of fashion, you mean? Ah, you admit that they might have existed." He fairly beamed his triumph. "So have beards gone out of fashion, but they will sprout again if we lay down our razors. Let's go at it another way. Let's talk about materialization–ectoplasm–for the moment." He relaxed, and across his great girth his fingertips sought one another. "Suppose you explain, briefly and simply, what ectoplasm is considered to be."
I was turning toward the back of Richet's book. "It's in here, Judge Pursuivant. To be brief and simple, as you say, certain mediums apparently exude an unclassified material called ectoplasm. This, at first light and vaporescent, becomes firm and takes shape, either upon the body of the medium or as a separate and living creature."
"And you don't believe in this phenomenon?" he prompted, with something of insistence.
"I have never said that I didn't," I replied truthfully, "even before my experience of this evening went so far toward convincing me. But, with the examples I have seen, I felt that true scientific control was lacking. With all their science, most of the investigators trust too greatly."
Judge Pursuivant shook with gentle laughter. "They are doctors for the most part, and this honesty of theirs is a professional failing that makes them look for it in others. You–begging your pardon–are a magician, a professional deceiver, and you expect trickery in all whom you meet. Perhaps a good lawyer with trial experience, with a level head and a sense of competent material evidence for both sides, should attend these séances, eh?"
"You're quite right," I said heartily. "But, returning to the subject, what else can be said about ectoplasm? That is, if it actually exists."
I had found in Richet's book the passage for which I had been searching. "It says here that bits of ectoplasm have been secured in rare instances, and that some of these have been examined microscopically. There were traces of fatty tissue, bacterial forms and epithelium."
"Ah! Those were the findings of Schrenck-Notzing. A sound man and a brilliant one, hard to corrupt or fool. It makes ectoplasm sound organic, does it not?"
I nodded agreement, and my head felt heavy, as if full of sober and important matters. "As for me," I went on, "I never have had much chance to examine the stuff. Whenever I get hold of an ectoplasmic hand, it melts like butter."
"They generally do," the judge commented, "or so the reports say. Yet they themselves are firm and strong when they touch or seize."
"It's when attacked, or even frightened, as with a camera flashlight, that the ectoplasm vanishes or is reabsorbed?" he prompted further.
"So Richet says here," I agreed once more, "and so I have found."
"Very good. Now," and his manner took on a flavor of the legal, "I shall sum up:
"Ectoplasm is put forth by certain spirit mediums, who are mysteriously adapted for it, under favorable conditions that include darkness, quiet, self-confidence. It takes form, altering the appearance of the medium or making up a separate body. It is firm and strong, but vanishes when attacked or frightened. Right so far, eh?"
"Right," I approved.
"Now, for the word medium substitute wizard." His grin burst out again, and he began to mix a third round of drinks. "A wizard, having darkness and quiet and being disposed to change shape, exudes a material that gives him a new shape and character. Maybe it is bestial, to match a fierce or desperate spirit within. There may be a shaggy pelt, a sharp muzzle, taloned paws and rending fangs. To a terrified victim he is doom itself. But to a brave adversary, facing and fighting him——"
He flipped his way through Summers' book, as I had with Richet's. "Listen: '. . . the shape of the werewolf will be removed if he be reproached by name as a werewolf, or if again he be thrice addressed by his Christian name, or struck three blows on the forehead with a knife, or that three drops of blood should be drawn.' Do you see the parallels, man? Shouted at, bravely denounced, or slightly wounded, his false beast-substance fades from him." He flung out his hands, as though appealing to a jury. "I marvel nobody ever thought of it before."
"But nothing so contrary to nature has a natural explanation," I objected, and very idiotic the phrase sounded in my own ears.
He laughed, and I could not blame him. "I'll confound you with another of your own recent experiences. What could seem more contrary to nature than the warmth and greenness of the inside of Devil's Croft? And what is more simply natural than the hot springs that make it possible?
"Yet, an envelope of bestiality, beast-muzzle on human face, beast-paws on human hands——"
"I can support that by more werewolf-lore. I don't even have to open Summers, everyone has heard the story. A wolf attacks a traveler, who with his sword lops off a paw. The beast howls and flees, and the paw it leaves behind is a human hand."
"That's an old one, in every language."
"Probably because it happened so often. There's your human hand, with the beast-paw forming upon and around it, then vanishing like wounded ectoplasm. Where's the weak point, Wills? Name it, I challenge you."
I felt the glass shake in my hand, and a chilly wind brushed my spine. "There's one point," I made myself say. "You may think it a slender one, even a quibble. But ectoplasms make human forms, not animal."
"How do you know they don't make animal forms?" Judge Pursuivant crowed, leaning forward across the deck. "Because, of the few you've seen and disbelieved, only human faces and bodies showed? My reply is there in your hands. Open Richet's book to page 545, Mr. Wilis. Page 545 . . . got it? Now, the passage I marked, about the medium Burgik. Read it aloud."
He sank back into his chair once more, waiting in manifest delight. I found the place, underscored with pencil, and my voice was hoarse as I obediently read:
" 'My trouser leg was strongly pulled and a strange, ill-defined form that seemed to have paws like those of a dog or small monkey climbed on my knee. I could feel its weight, very light, and something like the muzzle of an animal touched my cheek.' "
"There you are, Wills," Judge Pursuivant was crying. "Notice that it happened in Warsaw, close to the heart of the werewolf country. Hmmm, reading that passage made you sweat a bit–remembering what you saw in the Devil's Croft, eh?"
I flung down the book.
"You've done much toward convincing me," I admitted. "I'd rather have the superstitious peasant's belief, though, the one I've always scoffed at."
"Rationalizing the business didn't help, then? It did when I explained the Devil's Croft and the springs."
"But the springs don't chase you with sharp teeth. And, as I was saying, the peasant had a protection that the scientist lacks–trust in his crucifix and his Bible."
"Why shouldn't he have that trust, and why shouldn't you?" Again the judge was rummaging in his book-case. "Those symbols of faith gave him what is needed, a strong heart to drive back the menace, whether it be wolf-demon or ectoplasmic bogy. Here, my friend."
He laid a third book on the desk. It was a Bible, red-edged and leather-backed, worn from much use.
"Have a read at that while you finish your drink," he advised me. "The Gospel According to St. John is good, and it's already marked. Play you're a peasant, hunting for comfort."
Like a dutiful child I opened the Bible to where a faded purple ribbon lay between the pages. But already Judge Pursuivant was quoting from memory:
" 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. . . .'"
10. "Blood-lust and Compassion."
It may seem incredible that later in the night I slept like a dead pig; yet I had reason.
First of all there was the weariness that had followed my dangers and exertions; then Judge Pursuivant's whisky and logic combined to reassure me; finally, the leather couch in his study, its surface comfortably hollowed by much reclining thereon, was a sedative in itself. He gave me two quilts, very warm and very light, and left me alone. I did not stir until a rattle of breakfast dishes awakened me.
William, the judge's servant, had carefully brushed my clothes. My shoes also showed free of mud, though they still felt damp and clammy. The judge himself furnished me with a clean shirt and socks, both items very loose upon me, and lent me his razor.
"Some friends of yours called during the night," he told me dryly.
"Yes, from the town. Five of them, with ropes and guns. They announced very definitely that they intended to decorate the flagpole in the public square with your corpse. There was also some informal talk about drinking your blood. We may have vampires as well as werewolves hereabouts."
I almost cut my lip with the razor. "How did you get rid of them?" I asked quickly. "They must have followed my tracks."
"Lucky there was more snow after we got in," he replied, "and they came here only as a routine check-up. They must have visited every house within miles. Oh, turning them away was easy. I feigned wild enthusiasm for the manhunt, and asked if I couldn't come along."
He smiled reminiscently, his mustache stirring like a rather genial blond snake.
"Then what?" I prompted him, dabbing on more lather.
"Why, they were delighted. I took a rifle and spent a few hours on the trail. You weren't to be found at all, so we returned to town. Excitement reigns there, you can believe."
"What kind of excitement?"
"Blood-lust and compassion. Since Constable O'Bryant is wounded, his younger brother, a strong advocate of your immediate capture and execution, is serving as a volunteer guardian of the peace. He's acting on an old appointment by his brother as deputy, to serve without pay. He told the council–a badly scared group–that he has sent for help to the county seat, but I am sure he did nothing of the kind. Meanwhile, the Croft is surrounded by scouts, who hope to catch you sneaking out of it. And the women of the town are looking after Susan Gird and your friend, the Herr Doktor."
I had finished shaving. "How is Doctor Zoberg?" I inquired through the towel.
"Still pretty badly shaken up. I tried to get in and see him, but it was impossible. I understand he went out for a while, early in the evening, but almost collapsed. Just now he is completely surrounded by cooing old ladies with soup and herb tea. Miss Gird was feeling much better, and talked to me for a while. I'm not really on warm terms with the town, you know; people think it's indecent for me to live out here alone and not give them a chance to gossip about me. So I was pleasurably surprized to get a kind word from Miss Susan. She told me, very softly for fear someone might overhear, that she hopes you aren't caught. She is sure that you did not kill her father."
We went into his dining-room, where William offered pancakes, fried bacon and the strongest black coffee I ever tasted. In the midst of it all, I put down my fork and faced the judge suddenly. He grinned above his cup.
"Well, Mr. Wills? 'Stung by the splendor of a sudden thought'–all you need is a sensitive hand clasped to your inspired brow."
"You said," I reminded him, "that Susan Gird is sure that I didn't kill her father."
"So I did."
"She told you that herself. She also seemed calm, self-contained, instead of in mourning for——"
"Oh, come, come!" He paused to shift a full half-dozen cakes to his plate and skilfully drenched them with syrup. "That's rather ungrateful of you. Mr. Wills, suspecting her of parricide."
"Did I say that?" I protested, feeling my ears turning bright red.
"You would have if I hadn't broken your sentence in the middle," he accused, and put a generous portion of pancake into his mouth. As he chewed he twinkled at me through his pince-nez, and I felt unaccountably foolish.
"If Susan Gird had truly killed her father," he resumed, after swallowing, "she would be more adroitly theatrical. She would weep, swear vengeance on his murderer, and be glad to hear that someone else had been accused of the crime. She would even invent details to help incriminate that someone else."
"Perhaps she doesn't know that she killed him," I offered.
"Perhaps not. You mean that a new mind, as well as a new body may invest the werewolf–or ectoplasmic medium–at time of change."
I jerked my head in agreement.
"Then Susan Gird, as she is normally, must be innocent. Come, Mr. Wills! Would you blame poor old Doctor Jekyll for the crimes of his alter ego, Mr. Hyde?"
"I wouldn't want to live in the same house with Doctor Jekyll."
Judge Pursuivant burst into a roar of laughter, at which William, bringing fresh supplies from the kitchen, almost dropped his tray. "So romance enters the field of psychic research!" the judge crowed at me.
I stiffened, outraged. "Judge Pursuivant, I certainly did not——"
"I know, you didn't say it, but again I anticipated you. So it's not the thought of her possible unconscious crime, but the chance of comfortable companionship that perplexes you." He stopped laughing suddenly. "I'm sorry, Wills. Forgive me. I shouldn't laugh at this, or indeed at any aspect of the whole very serious business."
I could hardly take real offense at the man who had rescued and sheltered me, and I said so. We finished breakfast, and he sought his overcoat and wide hat.
"I'm off for town again," he announced. "There are one or two points to be settled there, for your safety and my satisfaction. Do you mind being left alone? There's an interesting lot of books in my study. You might like to look at a copy of Dom Calmet's Dissertations, if you read French; also a rather slovenly Wicked Bible, signed by Pierre De Lancre. J. W. Wickwar, the witchcraft authority, thinks that such a thing does not exist, but I know of two others. Or, if you feel that you're having enough of demonology in real life, you will find a whole row of light novels, including most of P. G. Wodehouse." He held out his hand in farewell. "William will get you anything you want. There's tobacco and a choice of pipes on my desk. Whisky, too, though you don't look like the sort that drinks before noon."
With that he was gone, and I watched him from the window. He moved sturdily across the bright snow to a shed, slid open its door and entered. Soon there emerged a sedan, old but well-kept, with the judge at the wheel. He drove away down a snow-filled road toward town.
I did not know what to envy most in him, his learning, his assurance or his good-nature. The assurance, I decided once; then it occurred to me that he was in nothing like the awkward position I held. He was only a sympathetic ally–but why was he that, even? I tried to analyze his motives, and could not.
Sitting down in his study, I saw on the desk the Montague Summers book on werewolves. It lay open at page 111, and my eyes lighted at once upon a passage underscored in ink–apparently some time ago, for the mark was beginning to rust a trifle. It included a quotation from Restitution of Decayed Intelligence, written by Richard Rowlands in 1605:
"…were-wolues are certaine sorcerers, who hauvin annoynted their bodyes, with an oyntment which they make by the instinct of the deuil; and putting on a certain inchanted girdel, do not only vnto the view of others seeme as wolues, but to their own thinking haue both the shape and the nature of wolues, so long as they weare the said girdel. And they do dispose theselves as uery wolues, in wurrying and killing, and moste of humaine creatures."
This came to the bottom of the page, where someone, undoubtedly Pursuivant, had written: "Ointment and girdle sound as if they might have a scientific explanation," And, in the same script, but smaller, the following notes filled the margin beside:
Possible Werewolf Motivations
I. Involuntary lycanthropy.
1. Must have blood to drink (connection with vampirism?).
2. Must have secrecy.
3. Driven to desperation by contemplating horror of own position.
II. Voluntary lycanthropy.
1. Will to do evil.
2. Will to exert power through fear.
III. Contributing factors to becoming werewolf.
1. Loneliness and dissatisfaction.
2. Hunger for forbidden foods (human flesh, etc.).
3. Scorn and hate of fellow men, general or specific.
4. Occult curiosity.
5. Simon-pure insanity (Satanist complex).
Are any or all of these traits to be found in werewolfs?
Find one and ask it.
That was quite enough lycanthropy for the present, so far as I was concerned. I drew a book of Mark Twain from the shelf–I seem to remember it as Tom Sawyer Abroad–and read all the morning. Noon came, and I was about to ask the judge's negro servant for some lunch, when he appeared in the door of the study.
"Someone with a message, sah," he announced, and drew aside to admit Susan Gird.
I fairly sprang to my feet, dropping my book upon the desk. She advanced slowly into the room, her pale face grave but friendly. I saw that her eyes were darkly circled, and that her cheeks showed gaunt, as if with strain and weariness. She put out a hand, and I took it.
"A message?" I repeated William's words.
"Why, yes." She achieved a smile, and I was glad to see it, for both our sakes. "Judge Pursuivant got me to one side and said for me to come here. You and I are to talk the thing over."
"You mean, last night?" She nodded, and I asked further, "How did you get here?"
"Your car. I don't drive very well, but I managed."
I asked her to sit down and talk.
She told me that she remembered being in the parlor, with Constable O' Bryant questioning me. At the time she had had difficulty remembering even the beginning of the séance, and it was not until I had been taken away that she came to realize what had happened to her father. That, of course, distressed and distracted her further, and even now the whole experience was wretchedly hazy to her.
"I do recall sitting down with you," she said finally, after I had urged her for the twentieth time to think hard. "You chained me, yes, and Doctor Zoberg. Then yourself. Finally I seemed to float away, as if in a dream. I'm not even sure about how long it was."
"Had the light been out very long?" I asked craftily.
"The light out?" she echoed, patently mystified. "Oh, of course. The light was turned out, naturally. I don't remember, but I suppose you attended to that."
"I asked to try you," I confessed. "I didn't touch the lamp until after you had seemed to drop off to sleep."
She did recall to memory her father's protest at his manacles, and Doctor Zoberg's gentle inquiry if she were ready. That was all.
"How is Doctor Zoberg?" I asked her.
"Not very well, I'm afraid. He was exhausted by the experience, of course, and for a time seemed ready to break down. When the trouble began about you–the crowd gathered at the town hall–he gathered his strength and went out, to see if he could help defend or rescue you. He was gone about an hour and then he returned, bruised about the face. Somebody of the mob had handled him roughly, I think. He's resting at our place now, with a hot compress on his eye."
"Good man!" I applauded. "At least he did his best for me."
She was not finding much pleasure in her memories, however, and I suggested a change of the subject. We had lunch together, egg sandwiches and coffee, then played several hands of casino. Tiring of that, we turned to the books and she read aloud to me from Keats. Never has The Eve of St. Agnes sounded better to me. Evening fell, and we were preparing to take yet another meal–a meat pie, which William assured us was one of his culinary triumphs–when the door burst open and Judge Pursuivant came in.
"You've been together all the time?" he asked as at once.
"Why, yes," I said.
"Is that correct. Miss Susan? You've been in the house, every minute?"
"That is right," she seconded me.
"Then," said the judge. "You two are cleared, at last."
He paused, looking from Susan's questioning face to mine, then went on: "That rending beast-thing in the Croft got another victim, not more than half an hour ago. O'Bryant was feeling better, ready to get back on duty. His deputy-brother, anxious to get hold of Wills first, for glory or vengeance, ventured into the place, just at dusk. He came out in a little while, torn and bitten almost to pieces, and died as he broke dear of the cedar hedge."