Authors: Basil Copper
Tags: #Fiction, #Horror
THE HOUSE OF THE WOLF
Dedication: For Ann Suster, With My Love
The House of the Wolf
by Basil Copper
First published Sauk City, Wis.: Arkham House, 1983
First Valancourt Books edition 2014
Copyright © 1983 by Basil Copper
Introduction © 2002 by Basil Copper
Afterword © 2002, 2014 by Stephen Jones
Cover art and illustrations © by Stephen E. Fabian
Published by Valancourt Books, Richmond, Virginia
All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without prior written consent of the publisher, constitutes an infringement of the copyright law.
Cover art by Stephen E. Fabian
My only novel which deals with lycanthropy,
The House of the Wolf
, first appeared in the U.S.A. in 1983 under the distinguished imprint of Arkham House, originally founded by the late August Derleth in homage to the American macabre writer H.P. Lovecraft, with whom he had corresponded for many years until the latter’s untimely death in his forties.
It was a beautiful edition, sporting a superb color dust-jacket and over forty brilliant line-drawings heading each chapter by the gifted American book illustrator, Stephen E. Fabian.
My only short story on the theme, ‘Cry Wolf’, was published by Robert Hale in my collection
When Footsteps Echo
in 1975, while at the same time appearing under the aegis of St. Martin’s Press in New York. For this wintry tale set among superstitious peasants in Eastern Europe, I did not reveal the identity of the werewolf until the end of the narrative, and the tale has received a number of airings in various anthologies since.
Two years later, in 1977, I followed this up with a major non-fiction study of the theme in
The Werewolf in Legend, Fact and Art
, a lavishly produced and well-illustrated hardback, issued simultaneously by Robert Hale and St. Martin’s Press.
In the 1930s there appeared a number of cinema films exploiting the werewolf theme. Though they starred a number of fine actors, such as Claude Rains and Warner Oland, they were rather shoddy productions and I was never very impressed with them, even as a teenager. Some of them starred the once-distinguished actor Lon Chaney, Jr. (
Of Mice and Men
One Million B.C.
), in which the werewolf was identified from the beginning and the transformation of man-into-wolf was carried out with none-too-skilfully applied time-lapse photography.
These productions appeared to me to be a waste of talent, with ludicrous British atmosphere and equally absurd police procedures, and it was not until Hammer Films’ version of the theme in
The Curse of the Werewolf
(1961) that a really first-class attempt was made to do justice to the theme.
Later, I envisaged a werewolf tale plotted rather like a detective novel, in which the creature’s identity is not revealed until the very end, preferably in the last few sentences.
Of course, there may have been some pioneer works both in literature and cinema that employed the same method, but I had not run across them. I suppose the nearest thing to a classic is Guy Endore’s magnificent novel
The Werewolf of Paris
, which has inspired many filmmakers who were, however, unable to equal his mastery of the theme on celluloid.
So I set to work, and the book took me many months as its progress was interspersed with the creation of my detective novels featuring Mike Faraday, together with my short stories and novels in the macabre field. (I sometimes wrote eight books a year when I was really in my stride.)
I can only end this Introduction with a fitting quotation from the final paragraph of my volume,
The Werewolf in Legend, Fact and Art
Two hawks fly upwards, catching the freshening breeze to carry them on strong winds as they seek their prey on the ground below. The sunlight spreads across the hill, the shadows fleeing before it. The creaking of a farm-cart sounds along the track and the distant bleat of sheep. Only in the churchyard beyond the village, hemmed in by dank evergreen trees, do the shadows linger. Then they too disappear before the revivifying rays of the sun. Day breaks and the terrors of the night recede. The werewolf – with the vampire and the other demons of the dark – is resting and the world is at peace.
Read on, and hopefully, enjoy.
A twig crackled in the stillness of the October night. A gossamer mist hung over the grass of the orchard and made a shimmering incandescence beneath the low-spread apple tree boughs. An owl shrieked somewhere far off in the woods which lay sharp-etched under the autumn moon, and even farther away, perhaps six or seven miles, so still was the frosty air, came the sharp, insistent piston-beat of a city-bound train.
A shadow moved across the icy grass, seemed to hesitate, and then blended with the darkness under the trees. The moon shone clear and cold, its silver light making a steel engraving of the low sagging profile of the house, where the bloom of interior lamps broke up the great mass of the façade. Two thin coils of smoke ascended directly upward from the ancient chimneys toward the moon, looking as though they had been drawn mathematically straight by the hand of some master craftsman.
The owl sounded once again, mournful and forlorn above the muffled progress of the train, and then that too died. A few moments later, when the last echo of the engine’s beat had faded across the valley, an uninterrupted, almost oppressive silence prevailed.
Inside the house a smartly dressed man had paused in his packing. He frowned at the grandfather clock which stood in a shadowy corner of the spacious study. Its sonorous tick fell heavily upon the heart and made a melancholy background to his hurried movements. Once he paused and went to the window, staring out over the frosty grass of the lawn to where the brilliant globe of the moon rode high in the clear sky above the fretted edge of the far woods.
Nearer, the shadow glided slowly across the lawn, moving ever closer to the large room whose French windows threw deep yellow rectangles of light onto the paving of the ice-rimed terrace. A boot gritted on the edge, and all sounds seemed to stop in the depth of the night. Footprints were crushed into the grass now as the owner of the shadow skirted the terrace.
Back in the study the watcher at the window had quitted his post. He was over at the desk, hurriedly going through his papers. There were travel documents, railway and steamship tickets to be examined and noted. The traveller was meticulous about such matters; he checked and counterchecked before he set out on a journey.
He glanced again at the big clock in the corner. He would have liked some refreshment before his departure, but it was late. The housekeeper had long been in bed, and she slept in a remote corner of the mansion. He would not disturb her again. He went on with his packing, oblivious of everything else.
The man on the terrace was very close. He pulled the astrakhan collar of his heavy coat about his face, a thick plume of breath making a smokelike cloud in the freezing air.
He could see into the room now. He watched intently, very still and silent so that his hunched figure might have been taken as part of the shadow of a great vine thrown onto the house wall by the brilliance of the moon. Then he moved slowly along, taking his time, searching for a part of the house whose windows were dark, looking then for a sash whose catch was rusty or insecure.
A knife-blade glinted in the moonlight, and he gave a slight grunt as he started to work the hasp of the lock to and fro in the crack between the two window-frames. The owl screamed again and he paused for a moment or two, waiting until all was quiet before resuming his furtive task.
Inside the study the man had finished putting things into his valise, and he rested it on a settee, the lid still open, while he looked around him in case he had forgotten anything. His thick plaid overcoat was lying across a chair in the far corner, and he went to fetch it, placing it and his heavy walking cane with his luggage.
He paused and lit a cigarette, taking it from the slim gold case he produced from an inside pocket of his elegantly cut suit. The house was quiet apart from the faint creaking noise the timbers made as they settled down for the night, the heat from the coal and log fires kept burning during the day dying out. A fainter creak which ran like a thread through the others escaped his notice.
He went over to sit at the desk, writing a last-minute note to be added to the instructions for his housekeeper. The scratching of his pen seemed an intrusion in the silence, and he became uneasily aware of the lateness of the hour and the loneliness of his situation.
After a little he got up and drew the thick curtains at the French windows, hiding the bleached silver of the moonlit grounds from his sight. As he did so a long shadow glided across the parquet of the corridor outside. The man in the study coughed faintly as he crossed the room back to his desk.
He reseated himself and reached for an envelope in which to enclose his message. At almost the same moment the echo of another train’s progress came faintly down the valley. The man at the desk again looked anxiously toward the clock in the corner; he knew the time almost to a minute, but it was obvious that he was concerned.
He still had half an hour to get to the station to meet his train. There was no hurry, as it would take him only some five minutes to get there. It was apparent now that the train was not the one he intended to catch. He was still facing toward the clock when there came a low clicking noise as of claws on the parquet of the room. Before he could turn, a great shadow passed across the lamp.
He had no time to call out before long, incredibly sharp teeth had fastened in his throat. With a low snarling noise the thing was pinning him with its heavy body. The man at the desk fell to the floor and died almost before his glazing eyes had time to take in the monstrous creature which had torn his throat out.
A faint bar of moonlight fell across the trembling fingers of his outstretched hand as the thing continued to savage his mangled throat with a low worrying sound. Presently all was quiet and still again.
The moon, riding high in the sky, shone blandly down on the great bulk of the house in its well-kept grounds. The lights in the study were out, and one French door gaped blackly in the silver sheen. The tall man with the fur-collared coat came out cautiously, bowed under the burden he carried over his shoulder. He had cleaned the floor, replaced the overturned chair, and tidied the desk.
When he had carried the body far into the grounds, deep among the rhododendron clumps at the deserted edge of an estate wall, he returned for the luggage, stick, and coat. A silent grave, dug some hours previously, yawned beneath the evergreen leaves, brightly gleaming in the light of the moon.
The body was quickly tipped in, followed by the other articles. The coat was spread over the remains last of all. Within ten minutes, working with ferocious strength, the man in the heavy overcoat had filled in the gaping hole and tamped down the half-frozen earth with his boots. When he was satisfied that the ground in this remote spot appeared undisturbed, he wrapped the newly purchased spade in sacking and carried it back toward the house with him.
It was unlikely that the body would be found until the following spring, if then. He would be out of the country within hours and did not intend to return. He was safe enough. He reentered the study, still carrying the wrapped spade, and went minutely over the room by the light of the moon spilling through. Everything seemed normal. There was no evidence of anything untoward, let alone traces of a crime.
He carefully locked and rebolted the windows, drawing the heavy curtains. All was quiet in the house except for the ticking of the clock. He went over to the desk last of all, looking at the travel documents, tickets, and other material he had placed there. Everything he needed.
He paused, carefully adjusted the angle of the chair in front of the desk, and straightened the dead man’s envelope in the middle of the blotter where the housekeeper would be sure to find it the following morning. A church clock was chiming from a long way off when he finally quitted the house, easing the heavy hall door back until it had clicked quietly to behind him.
Still carrying the spade, he made his way down the drive and then branched off through the undergrowth. The documents made a faint crackling noise in his pocket as he hurried down the side-lane which led to a little-used entrance.
Here, by the iron gate, was tethered the big bay, warm beneath its blanket, harnessed to the shafts of the smart dog-cart. It whinnied softly with pleasure as he came up. He reached in his pocket for a cube of sugar, listening for unusual sounds as he took off the blanket. The horse munched contentedly as he got up into the cart, putting the spade down at his feet.
The horse’s hooves were muffled on the short grass of the overgrown private lane as he turned its head. A few hundred yards farther on the cart rumbled over the wide wooden bridge spanning the lake. Its black depths gleamed in the moonlight as he brought the bay to a halt with his steellike gloved hands.
He looked round in the pale light. There was woodland all about him and no-one near to see. The sacking-enveloped spade dropped into the turgid depths with hardly a splash, and he was already urging the horse on. The train-whistle sounded as he came into the outskirts of the little town. It was almost midnight now. The last train of the day. He would take the boat tomorrow. He would catch it with plenty of time to spare.