2 Feb 2019

Dumas (24) The Wolf-Leader (Le meneur de loups), Ch.24, “Hunting down the Were-Wolf”, summary

 

by Corry Shores

 

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[The following is summary. Boldface, underlining, bracketed commentary, and section subdivisions are my own. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my mistakes. Text is copied from online sources (see bibliography below).]

 

 

 

 

Summary of

 

Alexandre Dumas

 

Le meneur de loups

The Wolf-Leader

 

24

“Une chasse enragée”

“Hunting down the Were-Wolf”

 

 

 

 

 

Brief summary (collecting those below):

__(24.1)__ (Recall from section 23 that Thibault the sorcerer became a were-wolf and is now being hunted by the Baron of Vez. Today is the one day of the year that Thibault is vulnerable, so the hunt could kill him.) Thibault continues to try to get ahead of the hunting dogs that are on his trail. But “Unfortunately for him, just as he reached the end of the Route du Pendu, he came across another pack of twenty dogs, which Monsieur de Montbreton’s huntsman was bringing up as a relay, for the Baron had sent his neighbour news of the chase.” Vez is hellbent on catching the prey, “his eye flashing, his nostrils dilated, exciting the pack with wild shouts and furious blasts.” Thibault is equally intent: “As he retained to the full all his human consciousness, it seemed to him impossible, as he still ran on, that he should not escape in safety from this ordeal; he felt that it was not possible for him to die before he had taken vengeance for all the agony that others made him suffer, before he had known those pleasures that had been promised him, above all—for at this critical moment his thoughts kept on running on this—before he had gained Agnelette’s love. [...] So he determined to take a bold course so as to out-distance the dogs, and to get back to his lairs, where he knew his ground and hoped to evade the dogs. He therefore doubled for the second time. He first ran back to Puiseux, then skirted past Viviers, regained the forest of Compiègne, made a dash into the forest of Largue, returned and crossed the Aisne at Attichy, and finally got back to the forest of Villers-Cotterets at the low lands of Argent. He trusted in this way to baffle the strategical plans of the Lord of Vez, who had, no doubt, posted his dogs at various likely points.” Finally Thibault takes a position across a river. When the dogs come, they all fall into it and are swept away, with the hunters going in after them. __(24.2)__ Thibault now goes up the river to the village Préciamont, where Agnelette had lived, in order to be somewhere the hunters would not expect. It is now evening. Thibault notices the beauty of nature and wonders if he made the right decision in becoming a were-wolf today: “When, at last, after circling round by Manereux and Oigny, the black wolf reached the borders of the heath by the lane of Ham, the sun was already beginning to sink, and shedding a dazzling light over the flowery plain; the little white and pink flowers scented the breeze that played caressingly around them; the grasshopper was singing in its little house of moss, and the lark was soaring up towards heaven, saluting the eve with its song, as twelve hours before it had saluted the morn. The peaceful beauty of nature had a strange effect on Thibault. It seemed enigmatical to him that nature could be so smiling and beautiful, while anguish such as his was devouring his soul. He saw the flowers, and heard the insects and the birds, and he compared the quiet joy of this innocent world with the horrible pangs he was enduring, and asked himself, whether after all, notwithstanding all the new promises that had been made him by the devil’s envoy [l’envoyé du démon], he had acted any more wisely in making this second compact than he had in making the first. He began to doubt whether he might not find himself deceived in the one as he had been in the other.” He then walks the “very path that he had taken Agnelette home on the first day of their acquaintance; the day, when inspired by his good angel, he had asked her to be his wife. The thought that, thanks to this new compact [pact], he might be able to recover Agnelette’s love, revived his spirits, which had been saddened and depressed by the sight of the universal happiness around him.” He next goes into a cemetery and hides: “The wolf made for the thickest of these bramble bushes; he found a sort of ruined vault, whence he could look out without being seen, and he crept under the branches and hid himself inside.” Nearby is a freshly dug grave. A funeral procession comes to the grave. “Although there was nothing unusual in such a sight as this, seeing that he was in a cemetery, and that the newly-dug grave must have prepared him for it, Thibault, nevertheless, felt strangely moved as he looked on. Although the slightest movement might betray his presence and bring destruction upon him, he anxiously watched every detail of the ceremony.” When the pall is lifted from the body’s face, Thibault sees it is Agnelette, his love and potential salvation. “A low groan escaped from Thibault’s agonised breast, and mingled with the tears and sobs of those present. Agnelette, as she lay there so pale in death, wrapped in an ineffable calm, appeared more beautiful than when in life, beneath her wreath of forget-me-nots and daisies. As Thibault looked upon the poor dead girl, his heart seemed suddenly to melt within him. It was he, as he had truly realised, who had really killed her, and he experienced a genuine and overpowering sorrow, the more poignant since for the first time for many long months he forgot to think of himself, and thought only of the dead woman, now lost to him for ever.” Thibault is overcome when she is laid to rest: “But the grief of the man overcame this instinct of the wild beast at bay; a shudder passed through the body hidden beneath its wolf skin; tears fell from the fierce blood-red eyes, and the unhappy man cried out: ‘O God! take my life, I give it gladly, if only by my death I may give back life to her whom I have killed!’ The words were followed by such an appalling howl, that all who were in the cemetery fled, and the place was left utterly deserted. Almost at the same moment, the hounds, having recovered the scent, came leaping in over the wall, followed by the Baron, streaming with sweat as he rode his horse, which was covered with foam and blood.” The dogs go to the bramble bush where Thibault had hidden himself. Baron Vez goes to see what the dogs found. The hounds were “fighting over a fresh and bleeding wolf-skin, but the body had disappeared.” This is Thibault’s pelt, because it was entirely black except for one white hair (see section 23.1). The people believe that Thibault was saved: “as the skin had been found without the body, and, as, from the spot where it was found a peasant reported to have heard someone speak the words: ‘O God! take my life! I give it gladly, if only by my death I may give back life to her whom I have killed,’ the priest declared openly that Thibault, by reason of his sacrifice and repentance, had been saved!  And what added to the consistency of belief in this tradition was, that every year on the anniversary of Agnelette’s death, up to the time when the Monasteries were all abolished at the Revolution, a monk from the Abbey of the Premonstratensians at Bourg-Fontaine, which stands half a league from Préciamont, was seen to come and pray beside her grave. __(24.3)__ This ends the story Mocquet has been telling the narrator and author, Alexandre Dumas (see section 0.9).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

24.1

[Thibault’s Chase and Temporary Escape]

 

24.2

[Thibault’s Disappearance and Possible Salvation]

 

24.3

[The End of Mocquet’s Story]

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

 

24.1

[Thibault’s Chase and Temporary Escape]

 

[(Recall from section 23 that Thibault the sorcerer became a were-wolf and is now being hunted by the Baron of Vez. Today is the one day of the year that Thibault is vulnerable, so the hunt could kill him.) Thibault continues to try to get ahead of the hunting dogs that are on his trail. But “Unfortunately for him, just as he reached the end of the Route du Pendu, he came across another pack of twenty dogs, which Monsieur de Montbreton’s huntsman was bringing up as a relay, for the Baron had sent his neighbour news of the chase.” Vez is hellbent on catching the prey, “his eye flashing, his nostrils dilated, exciting the pack with wild shouts and furious blasts.” Thibault is equally intent: “As he retained to the full all his human consciousness, it seemed to him impossible, as he still ran on, that he should not escape in safety from this ordeal; he felt that it was not possible for him to die before he had taken vengeance for all the agony that others made him suffer, before he had known those pleasures that had been promised him, above all—for at this critical moment his thoughts kept on running on this—before he had gained Agnelette’s love. [...] So he determined to take a bold course so as to out-distance the dogs, and to get back to his lairs, where he knew his ground and hoped to evade the dogs. He therefore doubled for the second time. He first ran back to Puiseux, then skirted past Viviers, regained the forest of Compiègne, made a dash into the forest of Largue, returned and crossed the Aisne at Attichy, and finally got back to the forest of Villers-Cotterets at the low lands of Argent. He trusted in this way to baffle the strategical plans of the Lord of Vez, who had, no doubt, posted his dogs at various likely points.” Finally Thibault takes a position across a river. When the dogs come, they all fall into it and are swept away, with the hunters going in after them.]

 

[ditto]

Thibault avait une grande avance sur les chiens, grâce à la précaution qu’il avait prise de détaler aux premiers abois du limier.

Il fut assez longtemps sans entendre la meute.

Cependant, tout à coup, ses hurlements, comme un roulement de tonnerre, lui arrivèrent de l’horizon, et commencèrent à lui causer quelque inquiétude.

Il quitta le trot, redoubla de vitesse et ne s’arrêta que quand il eut mis quelques lieues de plus entre ses ennemis et lui.

Alors, il regarda autour de lui et s’orienta : il était sur les hauteurs de Montaigu.

Il prêta l’oreille.

Les chiens lui semblèrent avoir conservé leur distance : ils étaient aux environs du buisson du Tillet.

Il fallait l’oreille d’un loup pour les entendre à cette distance.

Thibault redescendit comme s’il allait au-devant d’eux, laissa Erneville à sa gauche, sauta dans le petit cours d’eau qui y prend sa source, le descendit jusqu’à Grimaucourt, se lança dans les bois de Lessart-l’Abbesse et gagna la forêt de Compiègne.

Sentant alors que, malgré les trois heures de course rapide qu’il venait de faire, les muscles d’acier de ses jambes de loup ne semblaient point fatigués le moins du monde, il se rassura un peu.

Il hésitait cependant à se hasarder dans une forêt qui lui était moins familière que celle de Villers-Cotterêts.

Aussi, après une pointe d’une ou deux lieues, se décida-t-il à faire un hourvari en conservant les grandes refuites qui lui semblaient les plus propres à se débarrasser des chiens.

Il traversa d’un trait toute la plaine qui s’étend de Pierrefonds à Mont-Gobert, entra dans la forêt au champ Meutard, en sortit à Vauvaudrand, reprit le cours d’eau du flottage de Sancères, et rentra dans la forêt par le bois de Longpont.

Malheureusement, au haut de la route du Pendu, il donna dans une nouvelle meute de vingt chiens, que le piqueur de M. de Montbreton, prévenu par le seigneur de Vez, amenait à son aide comme relais volant.

La meute fut découplée à l’instant même et à vue par le piqueur, qui, s’étant aperçu que le loup conservait ses distances, craignait, s’il attendait l’équipage pour lancer ces chiens, que l’animal ne se forlongeât.

Alors commença vraiment la lutte entre le loup-garou et les chiens.

C’était une course folle que les chevaux, quelles que fussent l’habileté et l’adresse de leurs cavaliers, avaient grand-peine à suivre.

La chasse traversait les plaines, les bois, les bruyères avec la rapidité de la pensée.

Elle paraissait et disparaissait comme l’éclair dans la nue, en laissant derrière elle une trombe de poussière et un bruit de cors et de cris que l’écho avait à peine le temps de répéter.

Elle franchissait les montagnes, les vallées, les torrents, les fondrières, les précipices, comme si chiens et chevaux eussent eu les ailes, ceux-ci de la chimère, ceux-là de l’hippogriffe.

Le seigneur Jean avait rejoint.

Il courait en tête de ses piqueurs, marchant sur la queue des chiens, l’œil ardent, la narine dilatée, actionnant la meute par des cris et des bien-aller formidables, et fouillant de l’éperon avec rage le ventre de son cheval lorsque la rencontre d’un obstacle faisait hésiter celui-ci.

De son côté, le loup noir maintenait ses grandes allures.

Quoique, en entendant, au moment du retour, les aboiements féroces de la nouvelle meute retentir à cent pas derrière lui, son émotion fût devenue profonde, il ne perdait point pour cela un pouce de terrain.

Tout en courant, comme il conservait dans toute sa plénitude la pensée humaine, il lui semblait impossible qu’il succombât dans cette épreuve ; il lui semblait ne pouvoir mourir sans avoir tiré vengeance de toutes ces angoisses qu’on lui faisait souffrir, avant d’avoir connu les jouissances qui lui étaient promises, avant surtout, – car, dans ce moment critique, sa pensée y revenait sans cesse, – avant d’avoir conquis l’amour d’Agnelette.

Parfois la terreur le dominait, mais parfois aussi c’était la colère.

Il pensait à se retourner, à faire face à cette troupe hurlante, et, oubliant sa nouvelle forme, à la dissiper à coups de pierres et de bâton.

Puis, un instant après, à moitié fou de rage, étourdi du glas de mort que la meute aboyait à ses oreilles, il fuyait, il bondissait, il volait avec les jambes du cerf, avec les ailes de l’aigle.

Mais ses efforts étaient impuissants. Il avait beau fuir, bondir, voler presque, le bruit funèbre était attaché à lui, et ne s’éloignait un instant, ou plutôt n’était un instant distancé que pour se rapprocher plus menaçant et plus formidable.

Cependant le soin de sa conservation ne l’abandonnait pas ; ses forces n’étaient point diminuées.

Mais, il sentait que s’il fallait que, par mauvaise chance, il rencontrât de nouveaux relais, ses forces pourraient bien s’épuiser.

Il se décida donc à prendre un grand parti pour essayer de distancer les chiens, puis de rentrer dans ses demeures, où, grâce à la connaissance qu’il avait de la forêt, il pouvait espérer de dépasser les chiens.

En conséquence, il fit un second hourvari.

Il remonta vers Puiseux, longea les bordures de Viviers, rentra dans la forêt de Compiègne, fit une pointe dans la forêt de Largue, revint traverser l’Aisne à Attichy, et rentra dans la forêt de Villers-Cotterêts par le fond d’Argent.

Il espérait ainsi déjouer la stratégie avec laquelle le seigneur Jean avait sans doute échelonné sa meute.

Une fois de retour dans ses repaires habituels, Thibault respira plus à l’aise.

Il se retrouvait sur les bords de l’Ourcq, entre Norroy et Trouennes, à l’endroit où la rivière roule profondément encaissée entre une double rangée de rochers ; il s’élança sur une roche aiguë qui surplombait le torrent, du haut de cet escarpement se jeta résolument dans les flots, gagna à la nage une anfractuosité située au soubassement du roc, d’où il venait de se laisser tomber, et, caché un peu au-dessous du niveau ordinaire de l’eau, au fond de cette caverne, il attendit.

Il avait gagné près d’une lieue sur la meute.

Cependant, il était là depuis dix minutes à peine, lorsque la tempête de chiens arriva sur la crête du rocher.

Ceux qui menaient la tête, ivres d’ardeur, ne virent point le gouffre, ou, comme celui qu’ils poursuivaient, crurent pouvoir le franchir, et Thibault fut, jusqu’au fond de sa retraite, éclaboussé par l’eau qui jaillissait de tous côtés à la chute de leurs corps.

Mais, moins heureux et moins vigoureux que lui, ils ne purent dompter la violence du courant. Après d’impuissants efforts, ils disparurent emportés par lui, sans avoir éventé la retraite du loup-garou.

Celui-ci entendait au-dessus de sa tête le trépignement des chevaux, les abois de ce qui restait de la meute, les cris des hommes, et, par-dessus tous ces cris, les imprécations du seigneur Jean, dont la voix dominait toutes les autres voix.

Ensuite, et lorsque le dernier chien tombé dans le torrent eut, comme le reste de la meute, été emporté par le courant, il vit, grâce à un coude, les chasseurs se diriger en aval de la rivière.

Convaincu que le seigneur Jean, qu’il reconnaissait à la tête de ses piqueurs, n’agissait ainsi que pour la remonter ensuite, il ne voulut pas l’attendre.

Il quitta sa retraite.

(301-305)

 

THIBAULT had got well ahead of the dogs, thanks to the precaution he had taken of making good his escape at the first note of the bloodhound. For some time he heard no further sound of pursuit; but, all at once, like distant thunder, the baying of the hounds reached his ears, and he began to feel some anxiety. He had been trotting, but he now went on at greater speed, and did not pause till he had put a few more leagues between himself and his enemies. Then he stood still and took his bearings; he found himself on the heights at Montaigu. He bent his head and listened—the dogs still seemed a long way off, somewhere near the Tillet coppice.

It required a wolf’s ear to distinguish them so far off. Thibault went down the hill again, as if to meet the dogs; then, leaving Erneville to the left, he leaped into the little stream which rises there, waded down its course as far as Grimancourt, dashed into the woods of Lessart-l’Abbesse, and finally gained the forest of Compiègne. He was somewhat reassured to find that, in spite of his three hours’ hard running, the steel-like muscles of his wolf legs were not in the least fatigued. He hesitated, however, to trust himself in a forest which was not so familiar to him as that of Villers-Cotterets.

After another dash of a mile or so, he decided that by doubling boldly he would be most likely to put the dogs off the scent. He crossed at a gallop all the stretch of plain between Pierrefond and Mont-Gobert, took to the woods at the Champ Meutard, came out again at Vauvaudrand, regained the stream by the Sancères timber floatage, and once more found himself in the forest near Long-Pont. Unfortunately for him, just as he reached the end of the Route du Pendu, he came across another pack of twenty dogs, which Monsieur de Montbreton’s huntsman was bringing up as a relay, for the Baron had sent his neighbour news of the chase. Instantly the hounds were uncoupled by the huntsman as he caught sight of the wolf, for seeing that the latter kept its distance, he feared it would get too far ahead if he waited for the others to come up before loosing his dogs. And now began the struggle between the were-wolf and the dogs in very earnest. It was a wild chase, which the horses, in spite of their skilled riders, had great difficulty in following, a chase over plains, through woods, across heaths, pursued at a headlong pace. As the hunt flew by, it appeared and disappeared like a flash of lightning across a cloud, leaving behind a whirlwind of dust, and a sound of horns and cries which echo had hardly time to repeat. It rushed over hill and dale, through torrents and bogs, and over precipices, as if horses and dogs had been winged like Hippogriffs and Chimeras. The Baron had come up with his huntsmen, riding at their head, and almost riding on the tails of his dogs, his eye flashing, his nostrils dilated, exciting the pack with wild shouts and furious blasts, digging his spurs into his horse’s sides whenever an obstacle of any kind caused it to hesitate for a single instant. The black wolf, on his side, still held on at the same rapid pace; although sorely shaken at hearing the fresh pack in full pursuit only a short way behind him, just as he had got back to the forest, he had not lost an inch of ground. As he retained to the full all his human consciousness, it seemed to him impossible, as he still ran on, that he should not escape in safety from this ordeal; he felt that it was not possible for him to die before he had taken vengeance for all the agony that others made him suffer, before he had known those pleasures that had been promised him, above all—for at this critical moment his thoughts kept on running on this—before he had gained Agnelette’s love. At moments he was possessed by terror, at others by anger. He thought at times that he would turn and face this yelling pack of dogs, and, forgetting his present form, scatter them with stones and blows. Then, an instant after, feeling mad with rage, deafened by the death-knell the hounds were ringing in his ears, he fled, he leaped, he flew with the legs of a deer, with the wings of an eagle. But his efforts were in vain; he might run, leap, almost fly, the sounds of death still clung to him, and if for a moment they became more distant, it was only to hear them a moment after nearer and more threatening still. But still the instinct of self-preservation did not fail him; and still his strength was undiminished; only, if by ill luck, he were to come across other relays, he felt that it might give way. So he determined to take a bold course so as to out-distance the dogs, and to get back to his lairs, where he knew his ground and hoped to evade the dogs. He therefore doubled for the second time. He first ran back to Puiseux, then skirted past Viviers, regained the forest of Compiègne, made a dash into the forest of Largue, returned and crossed the Aisne at Attichy, and finally got back to the forest of Villers-Cotterets at the low lands of Argent. He trusted in this way to baffle the strategical plans of the Lord of Vez, who had, no doubt, posted his dogs at various likely points.

Once back in his old quarters Thibault breathed more freely. He was now on the banks of the Ourcq between Norroy and Trouennes, where the river runs at the foot of deep rocks on either side; he leaped up on to a sharp-pointed crag overhanging the water, and from this high vantage ground he sprang into the waves below, then swam to a crevice at the base of the rock from which he had leapt, which was situated rather below the ordinary level of the water, and here, at the back of this cave, he waited. He had gained at least three miles upon the dogs; and yet, scarcely another ten minutes had elapsed, when the whole pack arrived and stormed the crest of the rock. Those who were leading, mad with excitement, did not see the gulf in front of them, or else, like their quarry they thought they would leap safely into it, for they plunged, and Thibault was splashed, far back as he was hidden, by the water that was scattered in every direction as they fell into it one by one. Less fortunate, however, and less vigorous than he was, they were unable to fight against the current, and after vainly battling with it, they were borne along out of sight before they had even got scent of the were-wolf’s retreat. Overhead he could hear the tramping of the horses’ feet, the baying of the dogs that were still left, the cries of men, and above all these sounds, dominating the other voices, that of the Baron as he cursed and swore. When the last dog had fallen into the water, and been carried away like the others, he saw, thanks to a bend in the river, that the huntsmen were going down it, and persuaded that the Baron, whom he recognised at the head of his hunting-train, would only do this with the intention of coming up it again, he determined not to wait for this, and left his hiding-place.

(111-113)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

24.2

[Thibault’s Disappearance and Possible Salvation]

 

[Thibault now goes up the river to the village Préciamont, where Agnelette had lived, in order to be somewhere the hunters would not expect. It is now evening. Thibault notices the beauty of nature and wonders if he made the right decision in becoming a were-wolf today: “When, at last, after circling round by Manereux and Oigny, the black wolf reached the borders of the heath by the lane of Ham, the sun was already beginning to sink, and shedding a dazzling light over the flowery plain; the little white and pink flowers scented the breeze that played caressingly around them; the grasshopper was singing in its little house of moss, and the lark was soaring up towards heaven, saluting the eve with its song, as twelve hours before it had saluted the morn. The peaceful beauty of nature had a strange effect on Thibault. It seemed enigmatical to him that nature could be so smiling and beautiful, while anguish such as his was devouring his soul. He saw the flowers, and heard the insects and the birds, and he compared the quiet joy of this innocent world with the horrible pangs he was enduring, and asked himself, whether after all, notwithstanding all the new promises that had been made him by the devil’s envoy [l’envoyé du démon], he had acted any more wisely in making this second compact than he had in making the first. He began to doubt whether he might not find himself deceived in the one as he had been in the other.” He then walks the “very path that he had taken Agnelette home on the first day of their acquaintance; the day, when inspired by his good angel, he had asked her to be his wife. The thought that, thanks to this new compact [pact], he might be able to recover Agnelette’s love, revived his spirits, which had been saddened and depressed by the sight of the universal happiness around him.” He next goes into a cemetery and hides: “The wolf made for the thickest of these bramble bushes; he found a sort of ruined vault, whence he could look out without being seen, and he crept under the branches and hid himself inside.” Nearby is a freshly dug grave. A funeral procession comes to the grave. “Although there was nothing unusual in such a sight as this, seeing that he was in a cemetery, and that the newly-dug grave must have prepared him for it, Thibault, nevertheless, felt strangely moved as he looked on. Although the slightest movement might betray his presence and bring destruction upon him, he anxiously watched every detail of the ceremony.” When the pall is lifted from the body’s face, Thibault sees it is Agnelette, his love and potential salvation. “A low groan escaped from Thibault’s agonised breast, and mingled with the tears and sobs of those present. Agnelette, as she lay there so pale in death, wrapped in an ineffable calm, appeared more beautiful than when in life, beneath her wreath of forget-me-nots and daisies. As Thibault looked upon the poor dead girl, his heart seemed suddenly to melt within him. It was he, as he had truly realised, who had really killed her, and he experienced a genuine and overpowering sorrow, the more poignant since for the first time for many long months he forgot to think of himself, and thought only of the dead woman, now lost to him for ever.” Thibault is overcome when she is laid to rest: “But the grief of the man overcame this instinct of the wild beast at bay; a shudder passed through the body hidden beneath its wolf skin; tears fell from the fierce blood-red eyes, and the unhappy man cried out: ‘O God! take my life, I give it gladly, if only by my death I may give back life to her whom I have killed!’ The words were followed by such an appalling howl, that all who were in the cemetery fled, and the place was left utterly deserted. Almost at the same moment, the hounds, having recovered the scent, came leaping in over the wall, followed by the Baron, streaming with sweat as he rode his horse, which was covered with foam and blood.” The dogs go to the bramble bush where Thibault had hidden himself. Baron Vez goes to see what the dogs found. The hounds were “fighting over a fresh and bleeding wolf-skin, but the body had disappeared.” This is Thibault’s pelt, because it was entirely black except for one white hair (see section 23.1). The people believe that Thibault was saved: “as the skin had been found without the body, and, as, from the spot where it was found a peasant reported to have heard someone speak the words: ‘O God! take my life! I give it gladly, if only by my death I may give back life to her whom I have killed,’ the priest declared openly that Thibault, by reason of his sacrifice and repentance, had been saved!  And what added to the consistency of belief in this tradition was, that every year on the anniversary of Agnelette’s death, up to the time when the Monasteries were all abolished at the Revolution, a monk from the Abbey of the Premonstratensians at Bourg-Fontaine, which stands half a league from Préciamont, was seen to come and pray beside her grave.]

 

[ditto]

Tantôt nageant, tantôt sautant avec adresse d’une roche à l’autre, tantôt marchant dans l’eau, il remonta l’Ourcq jusqu’à l’extrémité du buisson de Crêne.

Arrivé là, et certain d’avoir sur ses ennemis une avance considérable, il résolut de gagner un village et de ruser autour des maisons, pensant bien que ce n’était point là qu’on viendrait le chercher.

Il pensa à Préciamont.

Si un village lui était connu, c’était celui-là.

Puis, à Préciamont, il serait près d’Agnelette.

Il lui semblait que ce voisinage lui donnerait de la force et lui porterait bonheur, et que la douce image de la chaste enfant pourrait avoir quelque influence sur sa bonne ou sa mauvaise fortune.

Thibault se dirigea donc de ce côté.

Il était six heures du soir.

Il y avait près de quinze heures que la chasse durait.

Loup, chiens et chasseurs avaient bien fait cinquante lieues.

Lorsque, après avoir fait un détour par Manereux et Oigny, le loup noir apparut à la lisière de la queue de Ham, le soleil commençait de descendre à l’horizon, et répandait sur la bruyère une teinte éblouissante de pourpre ; les petites fleurs blanches et roses parfumaient la brise qui les caressait ; le grillon chantait dans son palais de mousse, et, montant perpendiculairement dans le ciel, l’alouette saluait la nuit, comme, douze heures auparavant, elle avait salué le jour.

Le calme de la nature fit un singulier effet sur Thibault.

Il lui semblait étrange qu’elle pût être si belle et si souriante, alors qu’une pareille angoisse déchirait son âme.

En voyant ces fleurs, en entendant ces insectes et ces oiseaux, il comparait la douce quiétude de tout ce monde innocent avec les horribles soucis qu’il éprouvait, et se demandait, malgré les nouvelles promesses à lui faites par l’envoyé du démon, s’il avait plus sagement agi en faisant le second pacte qu’en faisant le premier.

Il en vint à redouter de ne trouver que déception dans l’un comme dans l’autre.

En traversant un sentier à moitié perdu sous les genêts dorés, il reconnut ce sentier pour celui par lequel il avait reconduit Agnelette le premier jour où il l’avait vue ; le jour où, inspiré par son bon génie, il lui avait offert de devenir son époux.

L’idée que, grâce au nouveau pacte passé, il pourrait reconquérir l’amour d’Agnelette, releva un peu le courage de Thibault, qui s’était abattu au spectacle de cette joie universelle.

La cloche de Préciamont tintait dans la vallée.

Ses sons tristement monotones rappelèrent au loup noir et les hommes et ce qu’il avait à craindre d’eux.

Il avança donc hardiment, à travers champs, vers le village, où il espérait trouver un asile dans quelque masure abandonnée.

Comme il longeait le petit mur de pierres sèches qui entoure le cimetière de Préciamont, il entendit un bruit de voix dans le chemin creux qu’il suivait.

En continuant son chemin, il ne pouvait manquer de rencontrer ceux qui venaient à lui ; en revenant sur ses pas, il avait à franchir une arête, où il pouvait être vu ; il jugea donc prudent de franchir le petit mur du cimetière.

D’un bond, il fut de l’autre côté.

Le cimetière, comme presque tous les cimetières de village, attenait à l’église.

Il était inculte, couvert de grandes herbes partout, de ronces et d’épines en certains endroits.

Le loup s’avança vers le plus épais de ces ronces ; il découvrit une espèce de caveau ruiné, d’où il pouvait voir sans être vu.

Il se glissa sous ces ronces et se cacha dans le caveau.

À dix pas de Thibault était une fosse fraîchement creusée qui attendait son hôte.

On entendait dans l’église le chant des prêtres.

Ce chant était d’autant plus distinct que le caveau qui servait de retraite au fugitif avait dû autrefois avoir une communication avec l’église souterraine.

Au bout de quelques minutes, les chants cessèrent.

Le loup noir, qui se sentait instinctivement mal à l’aise dans le voisinage d’une église, pensa que les gens du chemin creux étaient passés, et qu’il était temps pour lui de reprendre sa course et de chercher une retraite plus sûre que celle qu’il avait momentanément adoptée.

Mais, au moment où il mettait le nez hors de son roncier, la porte du cimetière s’ouvrit.

Il reprit donc son premier poste, tout en s’inquiétant de qui venait.

Et d’abord il vit un enfant vêtu d’une aube blanche et tenant à la main un bénitier.

Puis la croix d’argent, portée par un homme qui avait également un surplis par-dessus ses vêtements.

Après eux, le prêtre, psalmodiant les prières des morts.

Après le prêtre, un brancard porté par quatre paysans et recouvert d’un drap blanc semé de branches vertes et de couronnes de fleurs.

Sous le drap se dessinait la forme d’une bière.

Quelques habitants de Préciamont marchaient derrière le brancard.

Quoique cette rencontre fût toute naturelle dans un cimetière et que Thibault eût dû y être préparé par la vue de la fosse ouverte, elle fit sur le fugitif une profonde impression ; et, bien que le moindre mouvement pût trahir sa présence, et, par conséquent, amener sa perte, il suivit avec une curiosité inquiète tous les détails de la cérémonie.

Lorsque le prêtre eut béni la fosse qui avait tout d’abord frappé les yeux de Thibault, les porteurs déposèrent leur fardeau sur une tombe voisine.

La coutume, chez nous, est, lorsqu’on enterre une jeune fille morte dans son éclat, une jeune femme trépassée dans sa beauté, de la conduire au cimetière couchée dans sa bière, mais couverte d’un drap seulement.

Là, les amis peuvent dire un dernier adieu à la morte, les parents lui donner un dernier baiser.

Puis on cloue le couvercle, et tout est dit.

Une vieille femme, guidée par une main charitable, car elle paraissait aveugle, s’approcha pour donner un dernier baiser à la morte. Les porteurs relevèrent le drap qui couvrait son visage.

Thibault reconnut Agnelette.

Un gémissement sourd s’échappa de sa poitrine brisée, et se confondit avec les pleurs et les sanglots des assistants.

Le visage d’Agnelette, tout pâle qu’il était, paraissait, dans le calme ineffable de la mort, plus beau qu’il n’avait jamais été de son vivant sous son diadème de myosotis et de pâquerettes.

À la vue de la pauvre trépassée, Thibault avait senti tout à coup se fondre la glace de son cœur. Il songeait qu’en réalité c’était lui qui avait tué cette enfant, et il éprouvait une douleur immense, parce qu’elle était vraie ; poignante, parce que, pour la première fois depuis longtemps, il ne songeait pas à lui, mais à celle qui était morte.

Lorsqu’il entendit les coups de marteau qui clouaient le couvercle de la bière, lorsqu’il entendit les pierres et la terre, poussées par la bêche du fossoyeur, rouler avec un bruit sourd sur le corps de la seule femme qu’il eût jamais aimée, le vertige s’empara de lui ; il lui sembla que les durs cailloux meurtrissaient la chair d’Agnelette, cette chair il y a peu de jours si fraîche, si belle, et encore hier si palpitante, et il fit un mouvement pour se précipiter sur les assistants et leur arracher ce corps qui lui semblait, mort, devoir être à lui, puisque, vivant, il avait été à un autre.

La douleur de l’homme dompta ce dernier mouvement de la bête féroce aux abois ; sous cette peau de loup, un frisson courut ; de ces yeux sanglants des larmes jaillirent, et le malheureux s’écria :

– Mon Dieu ! prenez ma vie, je vous la donne de grand cœur, si ma vie peut rendre l’existence à celle que j’ai tuée !

Ces paroles furent suivies d’un hurlement si épouvantable, que tous ceux qui étaient là s’enfuirent avec effroi.

Le cimetière resta désert.

Presque au même instant, la meute, qui avait retrouvé la piste du loup noir, l’envahit, franchissant le mur où Thibault l’avait franchi.

Derrière elle parut le seigneur Jean, ruisselant de sueur sur son cheval, couvert d’écume et de sang. Les chiens allèrent droit au buisson et pillèrent.

– Hallali ! hallali ! cria le seigneur Jean d’une voix de tonnerre, et sautant à bas de son cheval, sans s’inquiéter s’il y avait quelqu’un pour le garder, il tira son couteau de chasse, et, s’élançant vers le caveau, se fit jour au milieu des chiens.

Les chiens se disputaient une peau de loup toute fraîche et toute saignante, mais le corps avait disparu.

C’était bien certainement la peau du loup-garou qu’on chassait, puisque, à l’exception d’un seul poil blanc, elle était complètement noire.

Qu’était devenu le corps ?

Nul ne le sut jamais.

Seulement, comme, à partir de ce moment, l’on ne revit plus Thibault dans le pays, l’avis général fut que c’était l’ancien sabotier qui était le loup-garou.

Et puis, comme on n’avait retrouvé que la peau et point le corps, et comme, de l’endroit où cette peau avait été retrouvée, quelqu’un dit avoir entendu sortir ces paroles : « Mon Dieu ! prenez ma vie ! Je vous la donne de grand cœur, si ma vie peut rendre l’existence à celle que j’ai tuée ! » le prêtre déclara qu’en considération de son dévouement et de son repentir, Thibault avait été sauvé !

Et ce qui donna surtout de la consistance à cette tradition, c’est que, jusqu’au moment où les couvents furent abolis par la Révolution, on vit tous les ans un moine prémontré sortir du couvent de Bourg-Fontaine, situé à une demi-lieue de Préciamont, et venir prier sur la tombe d’Agnelette au jour anniversaire de sa mort.

(305-311)

 

Now swimming, now leaping with agility from one rock to the other, at times wading through the water, he went up the river to the end of the Crêne coppice. Certain that he had now made a considerable advance on his enemies, he resolved to get to one of the villages near and run in and out among the houses, feeling sure that they would not think of coming after him there. He thought of Préciamont; if any village was well known to him, it was that; and then, at Préciamont, he would be near Agnelette. He felt that this neighbourhood would put fresh vigour into him, and would bring him good fortune, and that the gentle image of the innocent girl would have some influence on his fate. So he started off in that direction. It was now six o’clock in the evening; the hunt had lasted nearly fifteen hours, and wolf, dogs and huntsmen had covered fifty leagues at least. When, at last, after circling round by Manereux and Oigny, the black wolf reached the borders of the heath by the lane of Ham, the sun was already beginning to sink, and shedding a dazzling light over the flowery plain; the little white and pink flowers scented the breeze that played caressingly around them; the grasshopper was singing in its little house of moss, and the lark was soaring up towards heaven, saluting the eve with its song, as twelve hours before it had saluted the morn. The peaceful beauty of nature had a strange effect on Thibault. It seemed enigmatical to him that nature could be so smiling and beautiful, while anguish such as his was devouring his soul. He saw the flowers, and heard the insects and the birds, and he compared the quiet joy of this innocent world with the horrible pangs he was enduring, and asked himself, whether after all, notwithstanding all the new promises that had been made him by the devil’s envoy [l’envoyé du démon], he had acted any more wisely in making this second compact [pact] than he had in making the first. He began to doubt whether he might not find himself deceived in the one as he had been in the other.

As he went along a little footpath nearly hidden under the golden broom, he suddenly remembered that it was by this very path that he had taken Agnelette home on the first day of their acquaintance; the day, when inspired by his good angel, he had asked her to be his wife. The thought that, thanks to this new compact [pact], he might be able to recover Agnelette’s love, revived his spirits, which had been saddened and depressed by the sight of the universal happiness around him. He heard the church bells at Préciamont ringing in the valley below; its solemn, monotonous tones recalled the thought of his fellow men to the black wolf, and of all he had to fear from them. So he ran boldly on, across the fields, to the village, where he hoped to find a refuge in some empty building. As he was skirting the little stone wall of the village cemetery, he heard a sound of voices, approaching along the road he was in. He could not fail to meet whoever they might be who were coming towards him, if he himself went on; it was not safe to turn back, as he would have to cross some rising ground whence he might easily be seen; so there was nothing left for it but to jump over the wall of the cemetery, and with a bound he was on the other side. This graveyard as usual adjoined the church; it was uncared for, and overgrown with tall grass, while brambles and thorns grew rankly in places. The wolf made for the thickest of these bramble bushes; he found a sort of ruined vault, whence he could look out without being seen, and he crept under the branches and hid himself inside. A few yards away from him was a newly-dug grave; within the church could be heard the chanting of the priests, the more distinctly that the vault must at one time have communicated by a passage with the crypt. Presently the chanting ceased, and the black wolf, who did not feel quite at ease in the neighbourhood of a church, and thought that the road must now be clear, decided that it was time to start off again and to find a safer retreat than the one he had fled to in his haste.

But he had scarcely got his nose outside the bramble bush when the gate of the cemetery opened, and he quickly retreated again to his hole, in great trepidation as to who might now be approaching. The first person he saw was a child dressed in a white alb and carrying a vessel of holy water; he was followed by a man in a surplice, bearing a silver cross, and after the latter came a priest, chanting the psalms for the dead.

Behind these were four peasants carrying a bier covered with a white pall over which were scattered green branches and flowers, and beneath the sheet could be seen the outline of a coffin; a few villagers from Préciamont wound up this little procession. Although there was nothing unusual in such a sight as this, seeing that he was in a cemetery, and that the newly-dug grave must have prepared him for it, Thibault, nevertheless, felt strangely moved as he looked on. Although the slightest movement might betray his presence and bring destruction upon him, he anxiously watched every detail of the ceremony.

The priest having blessed the newly-made grave, the peasants laid down their burden on an adjoining hillock. It is the custom in our country when a young girl, or young married woman, dies in the fullness of her youth and beauty, to carry her to the grave-yard in an open coffin, with only a pall over her, so that her friends may bid her a last farewell, her relations give her a last kiss. Then the coffin is nailed down, and all is over. An old woman, led by some kind hand, for she was apparently blind, went up to the coffin to give the dead one a last kiss; the peasants lifted the pall from the still face, and there lay Agnelette. A low groan escaped from Thibault’s agonised breast, and mingled with the tears and sobs of those present. Agnelette, as she lay there so pale in death, wrapped in an ineffable calm, appeared more beautiful than when in life, beneath her wreath of forget-me-nots and daisies. As Thibault looked upon the poor dead girl, his heart seemed suddenly to melt within him. It was he, as he had truly realised, who had really killed her, and he experienced a genuine and overpowering sorrow, the more poignant since for the first time for many long months he forgot to think of himself, and thought only of the dead woman, now lost to him for ever.

As he heard the blows of the hammer knocking the nails into the coffin, as he heard the earth and stones being shovelled into the grave and falling with a dull thud on to the body of the only woman he had ever loved, a feeling of giddiness came over him. The hard stones he thought must be bruising Agnelette’s tender flesh, so fresh and sweet but a few days ago, and only yesterday still throbbing with life, and he made a movement as if to rush out on the assailants and snatch away the body, which dead, must surely belong to him, since, living, it had belonged to another.

But the grief of the man overcame this instinct of the wild beast at bay; a shudder passed through the body hidden beneath its wolf skin; tears fell from the fierce blood-red eyes, and the unhappy man cried out: “O God! take my life, I give it gladly, if only by my death I may give back life to her whom I have killed!”

The words were followed by such an appalling howl, that all who were in the cemetery fled, and the place was left utterly deserted. Almost at the same moment, the hounds, having recovered the scent, came leaping in over the wall, followed by the Baron, streaming with sweat as he rode his horse, which was covered with foam and blood.

The dogs made straight for the bramble bush, and began worrying something hidden there.

“Halloo! halloo!! halloo!!!” cried the Lord of Vez, in a voice of thunder, as he leapt from his horse, not caring if there was anyone or not to look after it, and drawing out his hunting-knife, he dashed towards the vault, forcing his way through the hounds. He found them fighting over a fresh and bleeding wolf-skin, but the body had disappeared.

There was no mistake as to its being the skin of the were-wolf that they had been hunting, for with the exception of one white hair, it was entirely black.

What had become of the body? No one ever knew. Only as from this time forth Thibault was never seen again, it was generally believed that the former sabot-maker and no other was the were-wolf.

Furthermore, as the skin had been found without the body, and, as, from the spot where it was found a peasant reported to have heard someone speak the words: “O God! take my life! I give it gladly, if only by my death I may give back life to her whom I have killed,” the priest declared openly that Thibault, by reason of his sacrifice and repentance, had been saved!

And what added to the consistency of belief in this tradition was, that every year on the anniversary of Agnelette’s death, up to the time when the Monasteries were all abolished at the Revolution, a monk from the Abbey of the Premonstratensians at Bourg-Fontaine, which stands half a league from Préciamont, was seen to come and pray beside her grave.

(113-115)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

24.3

[The End of Mocquet’s Story]

 

[This ends the story Mocquet has been telling the narrator and author, Alexandre Dumas (see section 0.9).]

 

[ditto]

Et voilà l’histoire du loup noir, telle que me l’a racontée Mocquet, le garde de mon père.

FIN

 

. . . . . .

Such is the history of the black wolf, as it was told me by old Mocquet, my father’s keeper.

THE END.

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

 

Dumas, Alexandre. 1868. Le meneur de loups. (Nouvelle édition). Paris: Lévy.

PDF at:

https://archive.org/det ails/bub_gb_BhlMAAAAMAAJ/page/n5

and:

https://beq.ebooksgratuits.com/vents/Dumas-meneur.pdf

Online text at:

https://fr.wikisource.org/wik i/Le_Meneur_de_loups

and

https://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Livre:Dumas_- _Le_Meneur_de_loups_(1868).djvu

 

Dumas, Alexandre.  1921. The Wolf-Leader. Translated by Alfred Allinson. London: Methuen.

PDF at:

https://archive.org/details/wolfle ader00duma

or:

https://archive.org/details/wo lfleader00dumauoft

Online text at:

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/51054

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/51054/51054-h/51054-h.htm

 

.

1 Feb 2019

Dumas (23) The Wolf-Leader (Le meneur de loups), Ch.23, “The Anniversary”, summary

 

by Corry Shores

 

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[The following is summary. Boldface, underlining, bracketed commentary, and section subdivisions are my own. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my mistakes. Text is copied from online sources (see bibliography below).]

 

 

 

 

Summary of

 

Alexandre Dumas

 

Le meneur de loups

The Wolf-Leader

 

23

“L’anniversaire”

“The Anniversary”

 

 

 

 

 

Brief summary (collecting those below):

__(23.1)__ (Recall from section 22 that Thibault the sorcerer was being chased by villagers after quickly visiting his love Agnelette, who was sick and dying in bed. Agnelette then prayed for someone, possibly Thibault.) Thibault has run into the forest and happens to have arrived at his burned down hut (see section 19.1). He cries. It is midnight, and “At this moment the priest was listening to Agnelette’s dying prayers.” Perhaps these prayers are causing Thibault to have a change of heart: “‘Cursed be the day!’ cried Thibault, ‘when I first wished for anything beyond what God chooses to put within the reach of a poor workman! Cursed be the day when the black wolf gave me the power to do evil, for the ill that I have done, instead of adding to my happiness, has destroyed it for ever!’” Just then, Thibault hears loud laughter behind him. “He turned; there was the black wolf himself, creeping noiselessly along, like a dog coming to rejoin its master. The wolf would have been invisible in the gloom but for the flames shot forth from his eyes, which illuminated the darkness; he went round the hearth and sat down facing the shoe-maker.” The Wolf-Devil wonders why Thibault is so displeased. Thibault says that “since I first met you, have known nothing but vain aspirations and endless regrets.” He notes that he wished for riches, rank, and love, but now he only has these burnt down ruins, he is universally despised, and he lost to another man his true love who is now dying, “while I, notwithstanding all the power you have given me, can do nothing to help her!” The Wolf-Devil replies, “Leave off loving anybody but yourself, Thibault.” Then the Wolf-Devil notes that Thibault was an envious person even before meeting him (see section 1.3). Thibault says he only wanted a buck, but the Wolf-Devil reminds him that his ambitions were boundless (see section 4.2), as he is as envious as Luciferthe fallen Angel [l’ange déchu], your master and mine:” “You thought your wishes were going to stop at the buck, Thibault; but wishes lead on to one another, as the night to the day, and the day to night. When you wished for the buck, you also wished for the silver dish on which it would be served; the silver dish led you on to wish for the servant who carries it and for the carver who cuts up its contents. Ambition is like the vault of heaven; it appears to be bounded by the horizon, but it covers the whole earth. You disdained Agnelette’s innocence, and went after Madame Poulet’s mill; if you had gained the mill, you would immediately have wanted the house of the Bailiff Magloire; and his house would have had no further attraction for you when once you had seen the Castle of Mont-Gobert. You are one in your envious disposition with the fallen Angel [l’ange déchu], your master and mine; only, as you were not clever enough to reap the benefit that might have accrued to you from your power of inflicting evil, it would perhaps have been more to your interest to continue to lead an honest life.” Thibault acknowledges this with the proverb “Evil to him who evil wishes.” He asks the Wolf-Devil if he can become honest again. “My good fellow, the devil can drag a man to hell ... by a single hair [avec un seul cheveu, le diable peut conduire un homme en enfer]” and he notes that Thibault has only one black hair left and that he is well past hope of repenting. But Thibault wonders, “‘But if a man is lost when but one of his hairs belongs to the devil,’ said Thibault, ‘why cannot God likewise save a man in virtue of a single hair?’” Thibault also seems to plead ignorance, saying “when I concluded that unhappy bargain [funeste marché] with you, I did not understand that it was to be a compact [un pacte] of this kind.” The Wolf-Devil explains that demons cannot take hold over baptized people, so their bargains involve humans giving up parts of their body to the devils, and this is how the they have taken possession of Thibault: “Since men invented baptism, we do not know how to get hold of them, and so, in return for any concessions we make them, we are bound to insist on their relinquishing to us some part of their body on which we can lay hands. You gave us the hairs of your head; they are firmly rooted, as you have proved yourself and will not come away in our grasp.... No, no, Thibault, you have belonged to us ever since, standing on the threshold of the door that was once there, you cherished within you thoughts of deceit and violence.” So now Thibault is sure he can never get into heaven and instead is damned. He is angry that he can now never have the pleasures of the afterlife, and he also cannot even enjoy the pleasures of this world. The Wolf-Devil says that in fact there is still away for him to enjoy the pleasures of this world. He first explains how in a general way: “By boldly following the path that you have struck by chance, and resolutely determining on a course of conduct which you have adopted as yet only in a halfhearted way; in short, by frankly owning yourself to be one of us.” Specifically, this involves taking the Wolf-Devil’s place: “You will then acquire my power, and you will have nothing left to wish for.” Thibault does not understand what is in it for the Wolf-Devil, who seems to be giving up his riches. The Wolf-Devil explains: “Do not trouble yourself about me. The master for whom I shall have won a retainer will liberally reward me.” The Wolf-Devil further informs Thibault that he will take the Wolf-Devil’s animal form “in the night-time; by day you will be a man again.” He also says that while in this form his skin is “impenetrable by iron, lead or steel” and he is immortal. The only exception is the following: “once a year, like all were-wolves, you will become a wolf again for four and twenty hours, and during that interval, you will be in danger of death like any other animal. I had just reached that dangerous time a year ago to-day, when we first met.” Thibault now realizes why he was so afraid of Vez’s hounds (see section 4.2). (Also note that this seems to make today the day of vulnerability.) The Wolf-Devil also notes that “When we have dealings with men, we are forbidden to speak anything but the truth, and the whole truth; it is for them to accept or refuse.” He further explains the powers Thibault will gain: It will be such that even the most powerful king will not be able to withstand it, since his power is limited by the human and the possible,” and Thibault will be  “So rich, that you will come in time to despise riches, since, by the mere force of your will, you will obtain not only what men can only acquire with gold and silver, but also all that superior beings get by their conjurations.” And he will be able to completely avenge himself on his enemies, because “You will have unlimited power over everything which is connected with evil.” He will also be able to gain and keep any lover: “As you will have dominion over all your fellow creatures, you will be able to do with them what you like.” The Wolf-Devil also reiterates that except for that one day a year, “nothing can harm you, neither iron, lead, nor steel, neither water, nor fire.” Thibault then gets the Wolf-Devil’s assurances on all this. Thibault accepts and is instructed to “Pick a holly-leaf, tear it in three pieces with your teeth, and throw it away from you, as far as you can.” Then “Having torn the leaf in three pieces, he scattered them on the air, and although the night till then had been a peaceful one, there was immediately heard a loud peal of thunder, while a tempestuous whirlwind arose, which caught up the fragments and carried them whirling away with it.” The Wolf-Devil then says: “‘And now, brother Thibault,’ said the wolf, ‘take my place, and good luck be with you! As was my case just a year ago, so you will have to become a wolf for four and twenty hours; you must endeavour to come out of the ordeal as happily as I did, thanks to you, and then you will see realised all that I have promised you. Meanwhile, I will pray the lord of the cloven hoof that he will protect you from the teeth of the Baron’s hounds, for, by the devil himself, I take a genuine interest in you, friend Thibault.’ And then it seemed to Thibault that he saw the black wolf grow larger and taller, that it stood up on its hind legs and finally walked away in the form of a man, who made a sign to him with his hand as he disappeared. We say it seemed to him, for Thibault’s ideas, for a second or two, became very indistinct. A feeling of torpor passed over him, paralysing his power of thought. When he came to himself, he was alone. His limbs were imprisoned in a new and unusual form; he had, in short, become in every respect the counterpart of the black wolf that a few minutes before had been speaking to him. One single white hair on his head alone shone in contrast to the remainder of the sombre coloured fur; this one white hair of the wolf was the one black hair which had remained to the man.” __(23.2)__ Thibault then hears Vez’s hounds approaching, and “He made off, striking straight ahead, as is the manner of wolves, and it was a profound satisfaction to him to find that in his new form he had tenfold his former strength and elasticity of limb.” Vez’s new huntsman tells him this is the same black wolf they were trying to hunt before (see section 1.2). Vez is determined to catch it: “‘I have got this cursed black wolf on my brain,’ added the Baron, ‘and I have such a longing to have its skin, that I feel sure I shall catch an illness if I do not get hold of it.’” The new dogs catch Thibault’s scent and begin their chase, with Vez following determined to catch this wolf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

23.1

[Thibault’s Becoming a Were-Wolf]

 

23.2

[Vez’s Hunt for the Were-Wolf]

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

 

23.1

[Thibault’s Becoming a Were-Wolf]

 

[(Recall from section 22 that Thibault the sorcerer was being chased by villagers after quickly visiting his love Agnelette, who was sick and dying in bed. Agnelette then prayed for someone, possibly Thibault.) Thibault has run into the forest and happens to have arrived at his burned down hut (see section 19.1). He cries. It is midnight, and “At this moment the priest was listening to Agnelette’s dying prayers.” Perhaps these prayers are causing Thibault to have a change of heart: “‘Cursed be the day!’ cried Thibault, ‘when I first wished for anything beyond what God chooses to put within the reach of a poor workman! Cursed be the day when the black wolf gave me the power to do evil, for the ill that I have done, instead of adding to my happiness, has destroyed it for ever!’” Just then, Thibault hears loud laughter behind him. “He turned; there was the black wolf himself, creeping noiselessly along, like a dog coming to rejoin its master. The wolf would have been invisible in the gloom but for the flames shot forth from his eyes, which illuminated the darkness; he went round the hearth and sat down facing the shoe-maker.” The Wolf-Devil wonders why Thibault is so displeased. Thibault says that “since I first met you, have known nothing but vain aspirations and endless regrets.” He notes that he wished for riches, rank, and love, but now he only has these burnt down ruins, he is universally despised, and he lost to another man his true love who is now dying, “while I, notwithstanding all the power you have given me, can do nothing to help her!” The Wolf-Devil replies, “Leave off loving anybody but yourself, Thibault.” Then the Wolf-Devil notes that Thibault was an envious person even before meeting him (see section 1.3). Thibault says he only wanted a buck, but the Wolf-Devil reminds him that his ambitions were boundless (see section 4.2), as he is as envious as Luciferthe fallen Angel [l’ange déchu], your master and mine:” “You thought your wishes were going to stop at the buck, Thibault; but wishes lead on to one another, as the night to the day, and the day to night. When you wished for the buck, you also wished for the silver dish on which it would be served; the silver dish led you on to wish for the servant who carries it and for the carver who cuts up its contents. Ambition is like the vault of heaven; it appears to be bounded by the horizon, but it covers the whole earth. You disdained Agnelette’s innocence, and went after Madame Poulet’s mill; if you had gained the mill, you would immediately have wanted the house of the Bailiff Magloire; and his house would have had no further attraction for you when once you had seen the Castle of Mont-Gobert. You are one in your envious disposition with the fallen Angel [l’ange déchu], your master and mine; only, as you were not clever enough to reap the benefit that might have accrued to you from your power of inflicting evil, it would perhaps have been more to your interest to continue to lead an honest life.” Thibault acknowledges this with the proverb “Evil to him who evil wishes.” He asks the Wolf-Devil if he can become honest again. “My good fellow, the devil can drag a man to hell ... by a single hair [avec un seul cheveu, le diable peut conduire un homme en enfer]” and he notes that Thibault has only one black hair left and that he is well past hope of repenting. But Thibault wonders, “‘But if a man is lost when but one of his hairs belongs to the devil,’ said Thibault, ‘why cannot God likewise save a man in virtue of a single hair?’” Thibault also seems to plead ignorance, saying “when I concluded that unhappy bargain [funeste marché] with you, I did not understand that it was to be a compact [un pacte] of this kind.” The Wolf-Devil explains that demons cannot take hold over baptized people, so their bargains involve humans giving up parts of their body to the devils, and this is how the they have taken possession of Thibault: “Since men invented baptism, we do not know how to get hold of them, and so, in return for any concessions we make them, we are bound to insist on their relinquishing to us some part of their body on which we can lay hands. You gave us the hairs of your head; they are firmly rooted, as you have proved yourself and will not come away in our grasp.... No, no, Thibault, you have belonged to us ever since, standing on the threshold of the door that was once there, you cherished within you thoughts of deceit and violence.” So now Thibault is sure he can never get into heaven and instead is damned. He is angry that he can now never have the pleasures of the afterlife, and he also cannot even enjoy the pleasures of this world. The Wolf-Devil says that in fact there is still away for him to enjoy the pleasures of this world. He first explains how in a general way: “By boldly following the path that you have struck by chance, and resolutely determining on a course of conduct which you have adopted as yet only in a halfhearted way; in short, by frankly owning yourself to be one of us.” Specifically, this involves taking the Wolf-Devil’s place: “You will then acquire my power, and you will have nothing left to wish for.” Thibault does not understand what is in it for the Wolf-Devil, who seems to be giving up his riches. The Wolf-Devil explains: “Do not trouble yourself about me. The master for whom I shall have won a retainer will liberally reward me.” The Wolf-Devil further informs Thibault that he will take the Wolf-Devil’s animal form “in the night-time; by day you will be a man again.” He also says that while in this form his skin is “impenetrable by iron, lead or steel” and he is immortal. The only exception is the following: “once a year, like all were-wolves, you will become a wolf again for four and twenty hours, and during that interval, you will be in danger of death like any other animal. I had just reached that dangerous time a year ago to-day, when we first met.” Thibault now realizes why he was so afraid of Vez’s hounds (see section 4.2). (Also note that this seems to make today the day of vulnerability.) The Wolf-Devil also notes that “When we have dealings with men, we are forbidden to speak anything but the truth, and the whole truth; it is for them to accept or refuse.” He further explains the powers Thibault will gain: It will be such that even the most powerful king will not be able to withstand it, since his power is limited by the human and the possible,” and Thibault will be  “So rich, that you will come in time to despise riches, since, by the mere force of your will, you will obtain not only what men can only acquire with gold and silver, but also all that superior beings get by their conjurations.” And he will be able to completely avenge himself on his enemies, because “You will have unlimited power over everything which is connected with evil.” He will also be able to gain and keep any lover: “As you will have dominion over all your fellow creatures, you will be able to do with them what you like.” The Wolf-Devil also reiterates that except for that one day a year, “nothing can harm you, neither iron, lead, nor steel, neither water, nor fire.” Thibault then gets the Wolf-Devil’s assurances on all this. Thibault accepts and is instructed to “Pick a holly-leaf, tear it in three pieces with your teeth, and throw it away from you, as far as you can.” Then “Having torn the leaf in three pieces, he scattered them on the air, and although the night till then had been a peaceful one, there was immediately heard a loud peal of thunder, while a tempestuous whirlwind arose, which caught up the fragments and carried them whirling away with it.” The Wolf-Devil then says: “‘And now, brother Thibault,’ said the wolf, ‘take my place, and good luck be with you! As was my case just a year ago, so you will have to become a wolf for four and twenty hours; you must endeavour to come out of the ordeal as happily as I did, thanks to you, and then you will see realised all that I have promised you. Meanwhile, I will pray the lord of the cloven hoof that he will protect you from the teeth of the Baron’s hounds, for, by the devil himself, I take a genuine interest in you, friend Thibault.’ And then it seemed to Thibault that he saw the black wolf grow larger and taller, that it stood up on its hind legs and finally walked away in the form of a man, who made a sign to him with his hand as he disappeared. We say it seemed to him, for Thibault’s ideas, for a second or two, became very indistinct. A feeling of torpor passed over him, paralysing his power of thought. When he came to himself, he was alone. His limbs were imprisoned in a new and unusual form; he had, in short, become in every respect the counterpart of the black wolf that a few minutes before had been speaking to him. One single white hair on his head alone shone in contrast to the remainder of the sombre coloured fur; this one white hair of the wolf was the one black hair which had remained to the man.”]

 

[ditto]

Lorsque Thibault n’entendit plus retentir derrière lui les cris furieux des paysans, il suspendit la rapidité de sa course.

Puis, enfin, la forêt étant retombée dans son silence habituel, il s’arrêta et s’assit sur un monceau de pierre.

Il était si troublé, qu’il ne reconnut l’endroit où il se trouvait qu’en remarquant que ces pierres portaient de larges taches noires, comme si elles avaient été léchées par le feu.

Ces pierres étaient celles de son foyer.

Le hasard l’avait conduit à l’endroit où avait été la cabane qu’il habitait quelques mois auparavant.

Le sabotier compara sans doute avec amertume ce passé si calme avec le présent si terrible, car de grosses larmes, roulant le long de ses joues, vinrent tomber sur les cendres qu’il foulait à ses pieds.

Il entendit minuit qui sonnait à l’église d’Oigny, puis successivement aux horloges des églises voisines.

C’était l’heure où le prêtre écoutait les dernières prières d’Agnelette mourante.

– Oh ! maudit soit, s’écria Thibault, le jour où j’ai souhaité autre chose que ce que le Bon Dieu avait mis à la portée de la main d’un pauvre ouvrier ! Maudit soit le jour où le loup noir m’a vendu la puissance de faire le mal, puisque le mal que j’ai fait, au lieu d’ajouter à mon bonheur, l’a détruit à tout jamais !

Un éclat de rire retentit derrière Thibault.

Il se retourna et vit le loup noir lui-même, qui se glissait dans la nuit, comme un chien qui rejoint son maître.

Il eût été presque invisible dans l’obscurité sans ses yeux, qui jetaient des flammes et l’éclairaient.

Il tourna autour du foyer et vint s’asseoir en face du sabotier.

– Eh quoi ! dit-il, maître Thibault n’est pas content ? Par les cornes de Belzébuth ! maître Thibault est difficile !

– Puis-je être content, dit Thibault, moi qui, depuis que je t’ai rencontré, n’ai connu que les vaines aspirations et les regrets superflus ?

» J’ai voulu la richesse, et je me désespère d’avoir perdu le toit de fougère à l’abri duquel je m’endormais sans m’inquiéter du lendemain, sans me soucier du vent et de la pluie qui fouettaient les branches des grands chênes.

» J’ai désiré les grandeurs, et les derniers paysans de la plaine, que je méprisais autrefois, me chassent aujourd’hui devant eux à coups de pierres.

» J’ai demandé l’amour, et la seule femme qui m’ait aimé et que j’aime m’a échappé pour appartenir à un autre, et elle meurt à cette heure en me maudissant, sans qu’avec tout le pouvoir que tu m’as donné, je puisse rien faire pour la secourir !

– N’aime que toi-même, Thibault.

– Oh ! oui, raille !

– Je ne raille pas. Avant que je me présentasse à tes yeux, n’avais-tu pas déjà jeté sur le bien d’autrui un regard de convoitise ?

– Oh ! pour un misérable daim comme il y en a des centaines qui broutent l’herbe de cette forêt !

– Tu croyais ne souhaiter que le daim, Thibault ; mais les souhaits s’enchaînent les uns aux autres comme les nuits aux jours et les jours aux nuits.

» En souhaitant le daim, tu souhaitais le plat d’argent sur lequel il devait être servi ; le plat d’argent entraînait après lui le serviteur qui le porte et l’écuyer tranchant qui découpe ce qu’il contient.

» L’ambition ressemble à la voûte du ciel : elle a l’air de se borner à l’horizon, et elle embrasse toute la terre.

» Tu as dédaigné l’innocence d’Agnelette pour le moulin de la Polet ; tu n’eusses pas plutôt possédé le moulin, qu’il t’eût fallu la maison du bailli Magloire ; et la maison du bailli Magloire n’eût plus eu de charmes pour toi dès que tu eusses entrevu le château du comte de Mont-Gobert.

» Oh ! tu appartenais bien par l’envie à l’ange déchu, mon maître et le tien ; seulement, comme il te manquait l’intelligence pour souhaiter le mal et en tirer le bien qui pouvait t’en revenir, ton intérêt eût peut-être été de rester honnête.

– Oh ! oui, répondit tristement le sabotier, c’est maintenant que je reconnais la vérité du proverbe : À qui mal veut, mal arrive !… Mais, enfin, ajouta-t-il, ne puis-je pas redevenir honnête ?…

Le loup poussa un ricanement moqueur.

– Oh ! garçon, dit-il, avec un seul cheveu, le diable peut conduire un homme en enfer. As-tu jamais compté combien le diable possédait des tiens ?

– Non.

– Je ne puis pas te dire combien tu as de cheveux à lui sur la tête, mais je puis te dire combien il t’en reste, à toi. Il t’en reste un ! Tu vois que le temps du repentir est passé.

– Pourquoi, dit Thibault, si pour un seul cheveu le diable peut perdre un homme, pourquoi, par un seul cheveu, Dieu ne pourrait-il pas le sauver ?

– Essaye.

– D’ailleurs, lorsque j’ai conclu ce funeste marché avec vous, je n’ai pas cru accomplir un pacte.

– Oh ! je reconnais bien là la mauvaise foi des hommes ! Tu n’as pas accompli un pacte en me donnant tes cheveux, imbécile ? Depuis que les hommes ont inventé le baptême, nous ne savons plus par où les prendre, et il faut qu’en échange de quelque concession que nous leur faisons, ils nous fassent abandon d’une partie de leur corps où nous puissions mettre la main. Tu nous as cédé tes cheveux ; ils tiennent bien, tu t’en es assuré, ils ne nous resteront pas dans la griffe… Non, non, tu es à nous, Thibault, depuis le moment où, sur le seuil de la porte qui était là, tu as caressé dans ton esprit l’idée de la fraude et de la rapine.

– Ainsi, s’écria Thibault avec rage, en se levant et en frappant du pied, ainsi, perdu dans l’autre monde sans avoir joui des plaisirs de celui-ci ?

– Tu peux encore les connaître, Thibault.

– Comment cela ?

– En entrant hardiment dans le sentier où tu t’es engagé par raccroc, en voulant avec résolution ce que tu acceptais sournoisement ; autrement dit, en étant franchement des nôtres.

– Et que faudrait-il faire ?

– Prendre ma place.

– Et en la prenant ?

– Acquérir ma puissance ; alors, tu n’auras plus rien à désirer.

– Si votre puissance est si étendue, si elle vous donne toutes les richesses que j’envie, comment y renoncez-vous ?

– Ne t’inquiète pas de moi. Le maître auquel j’aurai conquis un serviteur me récompensera largement.

– Et, en prenant votre place, prendrai-je votre forme ?

– Oui, pendant la nuit ; mais, le jour, tu redeviendras homme.

– Les nuits sont longues, obscures, pleines d’embûches ; je puis tomber sous la balle d’un garde, ou poser la patte sur un piège ; alors, adieu richesse, adieu grandeur.

– Non ; car cette peau qui m’enveloppe est impénétrable au fer, au plomb et à l’acier… Tant qu’elle couvrira ton corps, tu seras non seulement invulnérable, mais immortel ; une seule fois par an, comme tous les loups-garous, tu redeviendras loup pour vingt-quatre heures, et, pendant ces vingt-quatre heures, tu auras la mort à craindre comme les autres. Lorsque nous nous sommes vus, il y aura juste un an aujourd’hui, j’étais dans mon jour fatal.

– Ah ! ah ! fit Thibault, cela m’explique pourquoi vous craigniez si fort la dent des chiens du seigneur Jean.

Quand nous traitons avec les hommes, il nous est défendu de faire aucun mensonge, et nous sommes forcés de tout leur dire : c’est à eux d’accepter ou de refuser.

– Tu me vantais la puissance que je pouvais acquérir ; eh bien, voyons, quelle sera cette puissance ?

– Telle, que celle du roi le plus puissant ne pourra lutter avec elle, puisque cette puissance royale aurait les limites de l’humain et du possible.

– Serai-je riche ?

– Si riche, que tu en arriveras à mépriser la richesse, puisque, avec la seule force de ta volonté, tu auras non seulement ce que les hommes obtiennent avec de l’or et de l’argent, mais encore ce que les êtres supérieurs obtiennent par leurs conjurations.

– Je pourrai me venger de mes ennemis ?

– Pour tout ce qui se rapportera au mal, ton pouvoir sera sans limites.

– La femme que j’aimerai pourra-t-elle m’échapper encore ?

– Dominant tes semblables, tu les auras à ta discrétion.

– Rien ne pourra les soustraire à ma volonté ?

– Rien, excepté la mort, qui est plus forte que tout.

– Et moi, un seul jour sur trois cent soixante-cinq, je risquerai de mourir ?

– Un seul ; pendant les autres jours, ni fer, ni plomb, ni acier, ni eau, ni feu ne prévaudront sur toi.

– Et aucun mensonge, aucun piège n’est caché sous ta parole ?

– Aucun, foi de loup !

– Eh bien, soit, dit Thibault ; loup pour vingt-quatre heures, pour tout le reste du temps roi de la création ! Que faut-il faire ? Je suis prêt.

– Cueille une feuille de houx ; déchire-la en trois morceaux avec les dents, et jette-la loin de toi.

Thibault fit ce qui lui était ordonné.

Après avoir rompu la feuille, il en éparpilla les morceaux, et alors, quoique la nuit eût été excessivement calme jusque-là, un coup de tonnerre se fit entendre et une trombe de vent, impétueuse comme une tempête, fit tourbillonner ces fragments et les emporta avec elle.

– Et maintenant, frère Thibault, dit le loup, prends ma place et bonne chance ! Comme moi il y a un an, tu vas rester loup pendant vingt-quatre heures ; tâche de sortir de cette épreuve aussi heureusement que j’en suis sorti moi-même, grâce à toi, et tu verras se réaliser tout ce que je t’ai promis. Moi, pendant ce temps, je vais prier le seigneur au pied fourchu qu’il te gare de la dent des chiens du baron de Vez ; car, foi de diable ! tu m’inspires un véritable intérêt, ami Thibault.

Et il sembla à Thibault qu’il voyait le loup noir grandir, s’allonger, se planter sur ses deux pieds de derrière et s’éloigner sous la forme d’un homme en lui faisant signe de la main.

Nous disons il lui sembla ; car pour un instant ses idées cessèrent d’être bien distinctes. Il éprouva comme une espèce d’engourdissement qui paralysait l’action de la pensée.

Puis, lorsqu’il revint à lui, il était seul. Ses membres étaient emprisonnés dans des formes étranges et insolites.

Il était enfin devenu en tout point semblable au grand loup noir qui lui parlait l’instant d’auparavant.

Un seul poil blanc, placé dans la région du cervelet, jurait avec tout ce pelage sombre.

Ce seul poil blanc du loup, c’était le seul cheveu noir qui restât à l’homme.

(292-298)

 

AS soon as Thibault ceased to hear the furious cries of his pursuers behind him, he slackened his pace, and the usual silence again reigning throughout the forest, he paused and sat down on a heap of stones. He was in such a troubled state of mind that he did not recognise where he was, until he began to notice that some of the stones were blackened, as if they had been licked by flames; they were the stones of his own former hearth.

Chance had led him to the spot where a few months previously his hut had stood.

The shoe-maker evidently felt the bitterness of the comparison between that peaceful past and this terrible present, for large tears rolled down his cheeks and fell upon the cinders at his feet. He heard midnight strike from the Oigny church clock, then one after the other from the other neighbouring village towers. At this moment the priest was listening to Agnelette’s dying prayers.

“Cursed be the day!” cried Thibault, “when I first wished for anything beyond what God chooses to put within the reach of a poor workman! Cursed be the day when the black wolf gave me the power to do evil, for the ill that I have done, instead of adding to my happiness, has destroyed it for ever!”

A loud laugh was heard behind Thibault’s back.

He turned; there was the black wolf himself, creeping noiselessly along, like a dog coming to rejoin its master. The wolf would have been invisible in the gloom but for the flames shot forth from his eyes, which illuminated the darkness; he went round the hearth and sat down facing the shoe-maker.

“What is this!” he said. “Master Thibault not satisfied? It seems that Master Thibault is difficult to please.”

“How can I feel satisfied,” said Thibault. “I, who since I first met you, have known nothing but vain aspirations and endless regrets? I wished for riches, and here I am in despair at having lost the humble roof of bracken under shelter of which I could sleep in peace without anxiety as to the morrow, without troubling myself about the rain or the wind beating against the branches of the giant oaks.

“I wished for position, and here I am, stoned and hunted down by the lowest peasants, whom formerly I despised. I asked for love, and the only woman who loved me and whom I loved became the wife of another, and she is at this moment cursing me as she lies dying, while I, notwithstanding all the power you have given me, can do nothing to help her!”

“Leave off loving anybody but yourself, Thibault.”

“Oh! yes, laugh at me, do!”

“I am not laughing at you. But did you not cast envious eyes on other people’s property before you had set eyes on me?”

“Yes, for a wretched buck, of which there are hundreds just as good browsing in the forest!”

“You thought your wishes were going to stop at the buck, Thibault; but wishes lead on to one another, as the night to the day, and the day to night. When you wished for the buck, you also wished for the silver dish on which it would be served; the silver dish led you on to wish for the servant who carries it and for the carver who cuts up its contents. Ambition is like the vault of heaven; it appears to be bounded by the horizon, but it covers the whole earth. You disdained Agnelette’s innocence, and went after Madame Poulet’s mill; if you had gained the mill, you would immediately have wanted the house of the Bailiff Magloire; and his house would have had no further attraction for you when once you had seen the Castle of Mont-Gobert.

“You are one in your envious disposition with the fallen Angel [l’ange déchu], your master and mine; only, as you were not clever enough to reap the benefit that might have accrued to you from your power of inflicting evil, it would perhaps have been more to your interest to continue to lead an honest life.”

“Yes, indeed,” replied the shoe-maker, “I feel the truth of the proverb, ‘Evil to him who evil wishes’ ” But, he continued, “can I not become an honest man again?”

The wolf gave a mocking chuckle.

“My good fellow, the devil can drag a man to hell,” he said, “by a single hair [avec un seul cheveu, le diable peut conduire un homme en enfer].” Have you ever counted how many of yours now belong to him?”

“No.”

“I cannot tell you that exactly either, but I know how many you have which are still your own. You have one left! You see it is long past the time for repentance.”

“But if a man is lost when but one of his hairs belongs to the devil,” said Thibault, “why cannot God likewise save a man in virtue of a single hair?”

“Well, try if that is so!”

“And, besides, when I concluded that unhappy bargain [funeste marché] with you, I did not understand that it was to be a compact [un pacte] of this kind.”

“Oh, yes! I know all about the bad faith of you men! Was it no compact then to consent to give me your hairs, you stupid fool? Since men invented baptism, we do not know how to get hold of them, and so, in return for any concessions we make them, we are bound to insist on their relinquishing to us some part of their body on which we can lay hands. You gave us the hairs of your head; they are firmly rooted, as you have proved yourself and will not come away in our grasp.... No, no, Thibault, you have belonged to us ever since, standing on the threshold of the door that was once there, you cherished within you thoughts of deceit and violence.”

“And so,” cried Thibault passionately, rising and stamping his foot, “and so I am lost as regards the next world without having enjoyed the pleasures of this!”

“You can yet enjoy these.”

“And how, I pray.”

“By boldly following the path that you have struck by chance, and resolutely determining on a course of conduct which you have adopted as yet only in a halfhearted way; in short, by frankly owning yourself to be one of us.”

“And how am I to do this?”

“Take my place.”

“And what then?”

“You will then acquire my power, and you will have nothing left to wish for.”

“If your power is so great, if it can give you all the riches that I long for, why do you give it up?”

“Do not trouble yourself about me. The master for whom I shall have won a retainer will liberally reward me.”

“And if I take your place, shall I also have to take your form?”

“Yes, in the night-time; by day you will be a man again.”

“The nights are long, dark, full of snares; I may be brought down by a bullet from a keeper, or be caught in a trap, and then good-bye riches, good-bye position and pleasure.”

“Not so; for this skin that covers me is impenetrable by iron, lead or steel. As long as it protects your body, you will be not only invulnerable, but immortal; once a year, like all were-wolves, you will become a wolf again for four and twenty hours, and during that interval, you will be in danger of death like any other animal. I had just reached that dangerous time a year ago to-day, when we first met.”

“Ah!” said Thibault, “that explains why you feared my Lord Baron’s dogs.”

When we have dealings with men, we are forbidden to speak anything but the truth, and the whole truth; it is for them to accept or refuse.”

“You have boasted to me of the power that I should acquire; tell me, now, in what that power will consist?”

“It will be such that even the most powerful king will not be able to withstand it, since his power is limited by the human and the possible.”

“Shall I be rich?”

“So rich, that you will come in time to despise riches, since, by the mere force of your will, you will obtain not only what men can only acquire with gold and silver, but also all that superior beings get by their conjurations.”

“Shall I be able to revenge myself on my enemies?”

“You will have unlimited power over everything which is connected with evil.”

“If I love a woman, will there again be a possibility of my losing her?”

“As you will have dominion over all your fellow creatures, you will be able to do with them what you like.”

“There will be no power to enable them to escape from the trammels of my will?”

“Nothing, except death, which is stronger than all.”

“And I shall only run the risk of death myself on one day out of the three hundred and sixty-five?”

“On one day only; during the remaining days nothing can harm you, neither iron, lead, nor steel, neither water, nor fire.”

“And there is no deceit, no trap to catch me, in your words?”

“None, on my honour as a wolf!”

“Good,” said Thibault, “then let it be so; a wolf for four and twenty hours, for the rest of the time the monarch of creation! What am I to do? I am ready.”

“Pick a holly-leaf, tear it in three pieces with your teeth, and throw it away from you, as far as you can.”

Thibault did as he was commanded.

Having torn the leaf in three pieces, he scattered them on the air, and although the night till then had been a peaceful one, there was immediately heard a loud peal of thunder, while a tempestuous whirlwind arose, which caught up the fragments and carried them whirling away with it.

“And now, brother Thibault,” said the wolf, “take my place, and good luck be with you! As was my case just a year ago, so you will have to become a wolf for four and twenty hours; you must endeavour to come out of the ordeal as happily as I did, thanks to you, and then you will see realised all that I have promised you. Meanwhile, I will pray the lord of the cloven hoof that he will protect you from the teeth of the Baron’s hounds, for, by the devil himself, I take a genuine interest in you, friend Thibault.”

And then it seemed to Thibault that he saw the black wolf grow larger and taller, that it stood up on its hind legs and finally walked away in the form of a man, who made a sign to him with his hand as he disappeared.

We say it seemed to him, for Thibault’s ideas, for a second or two, became very indistinct. A feeling of torpor passed over him, paralysing his power of thought. When he came to himself, he was alone. His limbs were imprisoned in a new and unusual form; he had, in short, become in every respect the counterpart of the black wolf that a few minutes before had been speaking to him. One single white hair on his head alone shone in contrast to the remainder of the sombre coloured fur; this one white hair of the wolf was the one black hair which had remained to the man.

(108-110)

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23.2

[Vez’s Hunt for the Were-Wolf]

 

[Thibault then hears Vez’s hounds approaching, and “He made off, striking straight ahead, as is the manner of wolves, and it was a profound satisfaction to him to find that in his new form he had tenfold his former strength and elasticity of limb.” Vez’s new huntsman tells him this is the same black wolf they were trying to hunt before (see section 1.2). Vez is determined to catch it: “‘I have got this cursed black wolf on my brain,’ added the Baron, ‘and I have such a longing to have its skin, that I feel sure I shall catch an illness if I do not get hold of it.’” The new dogs catch Thibault’s scent and begin their chase, with Vez following determined to catch this wolf.]

 

[ditto]

Alors, et avant qu’il eût eu le temps de se remettre, il lui sembla entendre s’agiter les buissons et en sortir un aboiement sourd et étouffé…

Il pensa en frémissant à la meute du seigneur Jean.

Thibault, ainsi métamorphosé en loup noir, se dit qu’il serait sage de ne point imiter son devancier, et de ne point attendre, comme lui, que la meute du seigneur Jean fût sur ses traces.

Il supposa que ce qu’il avait entendu pouvait bien venir d’un limier, et se décida à ne point attendre le découplé.

Il partit, filant droit devant lui comme les loups le font d’habitude, et il reconnut, avec une satisfaction profonde, que, dans sa métamorphose, ses forces et l’élasticité de ses membres se trouvaient décuplées.

– Par les cornes du diable ! disait à quelques pas de là le seigneur Jean à son nouveau piqueur, tu tiens toujours la botte trop lâche, garçon ; tu as laissé gronder le limier, et nous ne rembucherons jamais le loup.

– La faute est évidente, monseigneur, et je ne la nie pas, répondit le piqueur ; mais, l’ayant vu hier au soir traverser une ligne à cent pas d’ici, il m’était impossible de supposer qu’il eût fait sa nuit dans ce triage et que nous l’eussions à vingt pas de nous.

– Es-tu bien sûr que ce soit le même qui nous a déjà échappé tant de fois ?

– Que le pain que je mange au service de monseigneur me serve de poison si ce n’est pas le loup noir que nous chassions l’an passé, quand le pauvre Marcotte se noya.

– Je voudrais bien l’attaquer, dit le seigneur Jean avec un soupir.

– Que monseigneur l’ordonne, et nous attaquerons ; mais qu’il me permette de lui faire observer que nous avons encore devant nous deux bonnes heures de nuit qui nous suffisent pour rompre les jambes de tout ce que nous avons de chevaux.

– Je ne dis pas non ; mais, si nous attendons le jour, l’Éveillé, ce gaillard-là sera à dix lieues d’ici.

– Au moins, monseigneur, dit l’Éveillé en secouant la tête, au moins !

– J’ai ce misérable loup noir dans la cervelle, ajouta le seigneur Jean, et sa peau me fait si grande envie, que si je ne l’ai pas, j’en ferai, bien sûr, une maladie.

– Alors, attaquons, monseigneur, attaquons sans perdre une minute.

– Tu as raison, l’Éveillé ; va quérir les chiens, mon ami.

L’Éveillé reprit son cheval, que, pour faire le bois, il avait attaché à un arbre. Puis il partit au galop.

Au bout de dix minutes, qui parurent dix siècles au baron, l’Éveillé revenait avec tout l’équipage.

On découpla immédiatement.

– Tout doux, mes enfants ! tout doux ! disait le seigneur Jean ; songez que nous n’avons plus à faire à nos vieux chiens si souples et si bien créancés ; ceux-ci sont pour la plupart des recrues qui, si vous vous emportez, feront un tapage du diable et une besogne de chiens de tournebroche ; laissez-les s’échauffer d’eux-mêmes peu à peu.

En effet, des chiens, débarrassés des liens qui les retenaient, deux ou trois aspirèrent immédiatement les émanations que le loup-garou avait laissées après lui, et commencèrent à donner de la voix.

À leurs cris, les autres les rejoignirent.

Tous partirent sur la trace de Thibault, d’abord rapprochant plutôt qu’ils ne chassaient, ne criant qu’à des intervalles assez éloignés, puis avec plus d’énergie et d’ensemble, jusqu’à ce qu’étant tous bien pénétrés de l’odeur du loup qu’ils avaient devant eux, et la voie devenant de plus en plus chaude, ils s’élançassent, avec des aboiements furieux et une ardeur sans pareille dans la direction du taillis d’Ivors.

– Bête bien lancée est à moitié forcée ! s’écria le seigneur Jean. Toi, l’Éveillé, occupe-toi des relais ; j’en veux partout ! j’appuierai moi-même les chiens… Et de la vigueur, vous autres ! ajouta le seigneur Jean en s’adressant au fretin des valets. Nous avons plus d’une défaite à venger, et si, par la faute d’un de vous, je n’ai pas mon hallali, de celui-là, à la place du loup, cornes du diable ! je fais curée à mes chiens !

Après cet encouragement, le seigneur Jean lança son cheval au galop, et, quoique la nuit fût encore obscure, le terrain mauvais, il le maintint à une grande allure pour rejoindre la chasse, que l’on entendait déjà dans les fonds de Bourg-Fontaine.

(298-300)

 

Thibault had scarcely had time to recover himself when he fancied he heard a rustling among the bushes, and the sound of a low, muffled bark.... He thought of the Baron and his hounds, and trembled. Thus metamorphosed into the black wolf, he decided that he would not do what his predecessor had done, and wait till the dogs were upon him. It was probably a bloodhound he had heard, and he would get away before the hounds were uncoupled. He made off, striking straight ahead, as is the manner of wolves, and it was a profound satisfaction to him to find that in his new form he had tenfold his former strength and elasticity of limb.

“By the devil and his horns!” the voice of the Lord of Vez was now heard to say to his new huntsman a few paces off, “you hold the leash too slack, my lad; you have let the bloodhound give tongue, and we shall never head the wolf back now.”

“I was in fault, I do not deny it, my Lord; but as I saw it go by last evening only a few yards from this spot, I never guessed that it would take up its quarters for the night in this part of the wood and that it was so close to us as all that.”

“Are you sure it is the same one that has got away from us so often?”

“May the bread I eat in your service choke me, my lord, if it is not the same black wolf that we were chasing last year when poor Marcotte was drowned.”

“I should like finely to put the dogs on its track,” said the Baron, with a sigh.

“My lord has but to give the order, and we will do so, but he will allow me to observe that we have still two good hours of darkness before us, time enough for every horse we have to break its legs.”

“That may be, but if we wait for the day, l’Eveillé, the fellow will have had time to get ten leagues away.”

“Ten leagues at least,” said l’Eveillé, shaking his head.

“I have got this cursed black wolf on my brain,” added the Baron, “and I have such a longing to have its skin, that I feel sure I shall catch an illness if I do not get hold of it.”

“Well then, my lord, let us have the dogs out without a moment’s loss of time.”

“You are right, l’Eveillé; go and fetch the hounds.”

L’Eveillé went back to his horse, that he had tied to a tree outside the wood, and went off at a gallop, and in ten minutes’ time, which seemed like ten centuries to the Baron, he was back with the whole hunting train. The hounds were immediately uncoupled.

“Gently, gently, my lads!” said the Lord of Vez, “you forget you are not handling your old well-trained dogs; if you get excited with these raw recruits, they’ll merely kick up a devil of a row, and be no more good than so many turnspits; let ’em get warmed up by degrees.”

And, indeed, the dogs were no sooner loose, than two or three got at once on to the scent of the were-wolf, and began to give cry, whereupon the others joined them. The whole pack started off on Thibault’s track, at first quietly following up the scent, and only giving cry at long intervals, then more excitedly and of more accord, until they had so thoroughly imbibed the odour of the wolf ahead of them, and the scent had become so strong, that they tore along, baying furiously, and with unparalleled eagerness in the direction of the Yvors coppice.

“Well begun, is half done!” cried the Baron. “You look after the relays, l’Eveillé; I want them ready whenever needed! I will encourage the dogs.... And you be on the alert, you others,” he added, addressing himself to the younger keepers, “we have more than one defeat to avenge, and if I lose this view halloo through the fault of anyone among you, by the devil and his horns! he shall be the dogs’ quarry in place of the wolf!”

After pronouncing these words of encouragement, the Baron put his horse to the gallop, and although it was still pitch dark and the ground was rough, he kept the animal going at top speed so as to come up with the hounds, which could be heard giving tongue in the low lands about Bourg-Fontaine.

(110-111)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

 

Dumas, Alexandre. 1868. Le meneur de loups. (Nouvelle édition). Paris: Lévy.

PDF at:

https://archive.org/det ails/bub_gb_BhlMAAAAMAAJ/page/n5

and:

https://beq.ebooksgratuits.com/vents/Dumas-meneur.pdf

Online text at:

https://fr.wikisource.org/wik i/Le_Meneur_de_loups

and

https://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Livre:Dumas_- _Le_Meneur_de_loups_(1868).djvu

 

Dumas, Alexandre.  1921. The Wolf-Leader. Translated by Alfred Allinson. London: Methuen.

PDF at:

https://archive.org/details/wolfle ader00duma

or:

https://archive.org/details/wo lfleader00dumauoft

Online text at:

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/51054

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/51054/51054-h/51054-h.htm

 

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