(1896) the were-wolf by clemence housman

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    THE WERE-WOLF

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    HE WE RE-WOLFBY CLEMENCE HOUSMANWITH SIX ILLUSTRATIONSBY LAURENCE HOUSMAN

    LONDON: JOHN LANEAT THE BODLEY HEADCHICAGO: WAY ANDWILLIAMS 1896

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    TO THE DEAR MEMORY OFE. W. P.

    YOU WILL THINK OF ME SOMETIMES,MY DEAR?"

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    LIST OF PLATESHoly Water . . FrontispieceRol's Worship . . Toface page 8White Fell's Escape ,, 60The Race . . ,, 80The Finish . . ,, 100Sweyn's Finding . ,, 116

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    THE WERE-WOLFHE great farm hall

    was ablaze withthe fire-light, andnoisy with laughterand talk and many-sounding work.None could be idlebut the very youngand the very oldlittle Rol, who washugging a puppy, and old Trella, whose

    palsied hand fumbled over her knitting.The early evening had closed in, andthe farm-servants, come from their out-door work, had assembled in the amplehall, which gave space for a score or moreof workers. Several of the men wereengaged in carving, and to these were

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    The Were-Wolfyielded the best place and light ; othersmade or repaired fishing-tackle andharness, and a great seine net occupiedthree pairs of hands. Of the womenmost were sorting and mixing eiderfeather and chopping straw to addto it. Looms were there, though notin present use, but three wheels whirredemulously, and the finest and swiftestthread of the three ran between thefingers of the house-mistress. Near herwere some children, busy too, plaitingwicks for candles and lamps. Eachgroup of workers had a lamp in itscentre, and those farthest from the firehad live heat from two braziers filledwith glowing wood embers, replenishednow and again from the generous hearth.But the flicker of the great fire was mani-fest to remotest corners, and prevailedbeyond the limits of the weaker lights.

    Little Rol grew tired of his puppy,dropped it incontinently, and made an

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    The Were-Wolfonslaught on Tyr, the old wolf-hound,who basked dozing, whimpering andtwitching in his hunting dreams.Prone went Rol beside Tyr, his youngarms round the shaggy neck, his curlsagainst the black jowl. Tyr gave aperfunctory lick, and stretched with asleepy sigh. Rol growled and rolledand shoved invitingly, but could onlygain from the old dog placid tolerationand a half- observant blink. " Takethat then!" said Rol, indignant atthis ignoring of his advances, and sentthe puppy sprawling against the dignitythat disdained him as playmate. The dogtook no notice, and the child wanderedoff to find amusement elsewhere.The baskets of white eider featherscaught his eye far off in a distant corner.He slipped under the table, and creptalong on all-fours, the ordinary common-place custom of walking down a roomupright not being to his fancy. When

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    The Were-Wolfclose to the women he lay still for amoment watching, with his elbows onthe floor and his chin in his palms.One of the women seeing him noddedand smiled, and presently he crept outbehind her skirts and passed, hardlynoticed, from one to another, till hefound opportunity to possess himself ofa large handful of feathers. With thesehe traversed the length of the room,under the table again, and emerged nearthe spinners. At the feet of theyoungest he curled himself round,sheltered by her knees from the ob-servation of the others, and disarmed herof interference by secretly displaying hishandful with a confiding smile. Adubious nod satisfied him, and pre-sently he started on the play he haddevised. He took a tuft of the whitedown, and gently shook /it free of hisfingers close to the whirl of the wheel.The wind of the swift motion took it,

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    The Were-Wolfspun it round and round in wideningcircles, till it floated above like a slowwhite moth. Little Rol's eyes danced,and the row of his small teeth shonein a silent laugh of delight. Anotherand another of the white tufts was sentwhirling round like a winged thing ina spider's web, and floating clear at last.Presently the handful failed.Rol sprawled forward to survey the

    room, and contemplate another journeyunder the table. His shoulder, thrustingforward, checked the wheel for an in-stant; he shifted hastily. The wheelflew on with a jerk, and the threadsnapped. "Naughty Rol!" said thegirl. The swiftest wheel stopped also,and the house-mistress, Rol's aunt, leanedforward, and sighting the low curly head,gave a warning against mischief, and senthim off to old Trella's corner.Rol obeyed, and after a discreet period

    of obedience, sidled out again down the5

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    The Were-Wolflength of the room farthest from hisaunt's eye. As he slipped in among themen, they looked up to see that theirtools might be, as far as possible, out ofreach of Rol's hands, and close to theirown. Nevertheless, before long he man-aged to secure a fine chisel and take offits point on the leg of the table. Thecarver's strong objections to this discon-certed Rol, who for five minutes there-after effaced himself under the table.During this seclusion he contemplated

    the many pairs of legs that surroundedhim, and almost shut out the light ofthe fire. How very odd some of thelegs were : some were curved where theyshould be straight, some were straightwhere they should be curved, and, asRol said to himself, " they all seemedscrewed on differently." Some weretucked away modestly under the benches,others were thrust far out under thetable, encroaching on Rol's own par-

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    The Were-Wolfticular domain. He stretched out hisown short legs and regarded them critic-ally, and, after comparison, favourably.Why were not all legs made like his, orlike his}These legs approved by Rol were a

    little apart from the rest. He crawledopposite and again made comparison.His face grew quite solemn as he thoughtof the innumerable days to come beforehis legs could be as long and strong. Hehoped they would be just like those, hismodels, as straight as to bone, as curvedas to muscle.A few moments later Sweyn of thelong legs felt a small hand caressing hisfoot, and looking down, met the upturnedeyes of his little cousin Rol. Lying onhis back, still softly patting and strokingthe young man's foot, the child was quietand happy for a good while. He watchedthe movement of the strong deft hands,and the shifting of the bright tools. Now

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    The Were-Wolfand then, minute chips of wood, puffedoff by Sweyn, fell down upon his face.At last he raised himself, very gently,lest a jog should wake impatience in thecarver, and crossing his own legs roundSweyn's ankle, clasping with his armstoo, laid his head against the knee. Suchact is evidence of a child's most wonder-ful hero-worship. Quite content wasRol, and more than content when Sweynpaused a minute to joke, and pat hishead and pull his curls. Quiet he re-mained, as long as quiescence is possibleto limbs young as his. Sweyn forgot hewas near, hardly noticed when his legwas gently released, and never saw thestealthy abstraction of one of his tools.Ten minutes thereafter was a lament-able wail from low on the floor, risingto the full pitch of Rol's healthy lungsfor his hand was gashed across, and thecopious bleeding terrified him. Then wasthere soothing and comforting, washing

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    ROLS WORSHIP

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    The Were-Wolfand binding, and a modicum of scolding,till the loud outcry sank into occasionalsobs, and the child, tear-stained and sub-dued, was returned to the chimney-cornersettle, where Trella nodded.

    In the reaction after pain and fright,Rol found that the quiet of that fire-litcorner was to his mind. Tyr, too, dis-dained him no longer, but, roused by hissobs, showed all the concern and sym-pathy that a dog can by licking and wist-ful watching. A little shame weighedalso upon his spirits. He wished he hadnot cried quite so much. He remem-bered how once Sweyn had come homewith his arm torn down from the shoulder,and a dead bear ; and how he had neverwinced nor said