The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains
by Frederick Marryat
“‘Marcella, dear, did you hear?’ said my brother, in a low tone.
“‘Yes,’ replied Marcella in a whisper, ‘I heard all. Oh! brother, I cannot bear to look upon that woman —I feel so frightened.’
“My brother made no reply, and shortly afterwards we were all three fast asleep.
“When we awoke the next morning, we found that the hunter’s daughter had risen before us. I thought she looked more beautiful than ever. She came up to little Marcella and caressed her: the child burst into tears, and sobbed as if her heart would break.
“But, not to detain you with too long a story, the huntsman and his daughter were accommodated in the cottage. My father and he went out hunting daily, leaving Christina with us. She performed all the household duties; was very kind to us children; and, gradually, the dislike even of little Marcella wore away. But a great change took place in my father; he appeared to have conquered his aversion to the sex, and was most attentive to Christina. Often, after her father and we were in bed would he sit up with her, conversing in a low tone by the fire. I ought to have mentioned that my father and the huntsman Wilfred, slept in another portion of the cottage, and that the bed which he formerly occupied, and which was in the same room as ours, had been given up to the use of Christina. These visitors had been about three weeks at the cottage, when, one night, after we children had been sent to bed, a consultation was held. My father had asked Christina in marriage, and had obtained both her own consent and that of Wilfred; after this, a conversation took place, which was, as nearly as I can recollect, as follows.
“‘You may take my child, Meinheer Krantz, and my blessing with her, and I shall then leave you and seek some other habitation —it matters little where.’
“‘Why not remain here, Wilfred?’
“‘No, no, I am called elsewhere; let that suffice, and ask no more questions. You have my child.’
“‘I thank you for her, and will duly value her; but there is one difficulty.’
“‘I know what you would say; there is no priest here in this wild country: true; neither is there any law to bind; still must some ceremony pass between you, to satisfy a father. Will you consent to marry her after my fashion? if so, I will marry you directly.’
“‘I will,’ replied my father.
“‘Then take her by the hand. Now, Meinheer, swear.’
“‘I swear,’ repeated my father.
“‘By all the spirits of the Hartz mountains—’
“‘Nay, why not by Heaven?’ interrupted my father.
“‘Because it is not my humour,’ rejoined Wilfred; ‘if I prefer that oath, less binding perhaps, than another, surely you will not thwart me.’
“‘Well be it so then; have your humour. Will you make me swear by that in which I do not believe?’
“‘Yet many do so, who in outward appearance are Christians,’ rejoined Wilfred; ‘say, will you be married, or shall I take my daughter away with me?’
“‘Proceed,’ replied my father, impatiently.
“‘I swear by all the spirits of the Hartz mountains, by all their power for good or for evil, that I take Christina for my wedded wife; that I will ever protect her, cherish her, and love her; that my hand shall never be raised against her to harm her.’
“My father repeated the words after Wilfred.
“‘And if I fail in this my vow, may all the vengeance of the spirits fall upon me and upon my children; may they perish by the vulture, by the wolf, or other beasts of the forest; may their flesh be torn from their limbs, and their bones blanch in the wilderness: all this I swear.’
“My father hesitated, as he repeated the last words; little Marcella could not restrain herself, and as my father repeated the last sentence, she burst into tears. This sudden interruption appeared to discompose the party, particularly my father; he spoke harshly to the child, who controlled her sobs, burying her face under the bed-clothes.
“Such was the second marriage of my father. The next morning, the hunter Wilfred mounted his horse, and rode away.
“My father resumed his bed, which was in the same room as ours; and things went on much as before the marriage, except that our new mother-in-law did not show any kindness towards us; indeed during my father’s absence, she would often beat us, particularly little Marcella, and her eyes would flash fire, as she looked eagerly upon the fair and lovely child.
“One night, my sister awoke me and my brother.
“‘What is the matter?’ said Caesar.
“‘She has gone out,’ whispered Marcella.
“‘Yes, gone out at the door, in her night-clothes,’ replied the child; ‘I saw her get out of bed, look at my father to see if he slept, and then she went out at the door.’
“What could induce her to leave her bed, and all undressed to go out, in such bitter wintry weather, with the snow deep on the ground was to us incomprehensible; we lay awake, and in about an hour we heard the growl of a wolf, close under the window.
“‘There is a wolf,’ said Caesar. ‘She will be torn to pieces.’
“‘Oh no!’ cried Marcella.
“In a few minutes afterwards our mother-in-law appeared; she was in her night-dress, as Marcella had stated. She let down the latch of the door, so as to make no noise, went to a pail of water, and washed her face and hands, and then slipped into the bed where my father lay.
“We all three trembled —we hardly knew why; but we resolved to watch the next night: we did so; and not only on the ensuing night, but on many others, and always at about the same hour, would our mother-in-law rise from her bed and leave the cottage; and after she was gone we invariably heard the growl of a wolf under our window, and always saw her, on her return, wash herself before she retired to bed. We observed also that she seldom sat down to meals, and that when she did she appeared to eat with dislike; but when the meat was taken down to be prepared for dinner, she would often furtively put a raw piece into her mouth.
“My brother Caesar was a courageous boy; he did not like to speak to my father until he knew more. He resolved that he would follow her out, and ascertain what she did. Marcella and I endeavoured to dissuade him from this project; but he would not be controlled; and the very next night he lay down in his clothes, and as soon as our mother-in-law had left the cottage he jumped up, took down my father’s gun, and followed her.