The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains
by Frederick Marryat
Pic: P. Tomkins
“Perhaps I had better now relate what was only known to me many years afterwards. When my father had left the cottage, he perceived a large white wolf about thirty yards from him; as soon as the animal saw my father, it retreated slowly, growling and snarling. My father followed; the animal did not run, but always kept at some distance; and my father did not like to fire until he was pretty certain that his ball would take effect; thus they went on for some time, the wolf now leaving my father far behind, and then stopping and snarling defiance at him, and then, again, on his approach, setting off at speed.
“Anxious to shoot the animal (for the white wolf is very rare) my father continued the pursuit for several hours, during which he continually ascended the mountain.
“You must know, Philip, that there are peculiar spots on those mountains which are supposed, and, as my story will prove, truly supposed, to be inhabited by the evil influences: they are well known to the huntsmen, who invariably avoid them. Now, one of these spots, an open space in the pine forests above us, had been pointed out to my father as dangerous on that account. But, whether he disbelieved these wild stories, or whether, in his eager pursuit of the chase, he disregarded them, I know not; certain, however, it is, that he was decoyed by the white wolf to this open space, when the animal appeared to slacken her speed. My father approached, came close up to her, raised his gun to his shoulder, and was about to fire, when the wolf suddenly disappeared. He thought that the snow on the ground must have dazzled his sight, and he let down his gun to look for the beast —but she was gone; how she could have escaped over the clearance, without his seeing her, was beyond his comprehension.
Mortified at the ill success of his chase, he was about to retrace his steps, when he heard the distant sound of a horn. Astonishment at such a sound —at such an hour —in such a wilderness, made him forget for the moment his disappointment, and he remained riveted to the spot. In a minute the horn was blown a second time, and at no great distance; my father stood still, and listened: a third time it was blown. I forget the term used to express it, but it was the signal which, my father well knew, implied that the party was lost in the woods. In a few minutes more my father beheld a man on horseback, with a female seated on the crupper, enter the cleared space, and ride up to him. At first, my father called to mind the strange stories which he had heard of the supernatural beings who were said to frequent these mountains; but the nearer approach of the parties satisfied him that they were mortals like himself. As soon as they came up to him, the man who guided the horse accosted him.
“Friend Hunter, you are out late, the better fortune for us; we have ridden far, and are in fear of our lives which are eagerly sought after. These mountains have enabled us to elude our pursuers; but if we find not shelter and refreshment, that will avail us little, as we must perish from hunger and the inclemency of the night. My daughter, who rides behind me, is now more dead than alive —say, can you assist us in our difficulty?’
“‘My cottage is some few miles distant,’ replied my father, ‘but I have little to offer you besides a shelter from the weather; to the little I have you are welcome. May I ask whence you come?’
“‘Yes, friend, it is no secret now; we have escaped from Transylvania, where my daughter’s honour and my life were equally in jeopardy!’
“This information was quite enough to raise an interest in my father’s heart, he remembered his own escape; he remembered the loss of his wife’s honor, and the tragedy by which it was wound up. He immediately, and warmly, offered all the assistance which he could afford them.
“‘There is no time to be lost then, good sir,’ observed the horseman; ‘my daughter is chilled with the frost, and cannot hold out much longer against the severity of the weather.’
“‘Follow me,’ replied my father, leading the way towards his home.