The Wolf by Guy de Maupassant
This is what the old Marquis d'Arville told us after St. Hubert's dinner
at the house of the Baron des Ravels.
We had killed a stag that day. The marquis was the only one of the
guests who had not taken part in this chase. He never hunted.
During that long repast we had talked about hardly anything but the
slaughter of animals. The ladies themselves were interested in bloody
and exaggerated tales, and the orators imitated the attacks and the
combats of men against beasts, raised their arms, romanced in a
M. d Arville talked well, in a certain flowery, high-sounding, but
effective style. He must have told this story frequently, for he told it
fluently, never hesitating for words, choosing them with skill to make
his description vivid.
Gentlemen, I have never hunted, neither did my father, nor my
grandfather, nor my great-grandfather. This last was the son of a man
who hunted more than all of you put together. He died in 1764. I will
tell you the story of his death.
His name was Jean. He was married, father of that child who became my
great-grandfather, and he lived with his younger brother, Francois
d'Arville, in our castle in Lorraine, in the midst of the forest.
Francois d'Arville had remained a bachelor for love of the chase.
They both hunted from one end of the year to the other, without stopping
and seemingly without fatigue. They loved only hunting, understood
nothing else, talked only of that, lived only for that.
They had at heart that one passion, which was terrible and inexorable.
It consumed them, had completely absorbed them, leaving room for no other
They had given orders that they should not be interrupted in the chase
for any reason whatever. My great-grandfather was born while his father
was following a fox, and Jean d'Arville did not stop the chase, but
exclaimed: "The deuce! The rascal might have waited till after the view-
His brother Franqois was still more infatuated. On rising he went to see
the dogs, then the horses, then he shot little birds about the castle
until the time came to hunt some large game.
In the countryside they were called M. le Marquis and M. le Cadet, the
nobles then not being at all like the chance nobility of our time, which
wishes to establish an hereditary hierarchy in titles; for the son of a
marquis is no more a count, nor the son of a viscount a baron, than a son
of a general is a colonel by birth. But the contemptible vanity of today
finds profit in that arrangement.
My ancestors were unusually tall, bony, hairy, violent and vigorous.
The younger, still taller than the older, had a voice so strong that,
according to a legend of which he was proud, all the leaves of the forest
shook when he shouted.
When they were both mounted to set out hunting, it must have been a
superb sight to see those two giants straddling their huge horses.
Now, toward the midwinter of that year, 1764, the frosts were excessive,
and the wolves became ferocious.
They even attacked belated peasants, roamed at night outside the houses,
howled from sunset to sunrise, and robbed the stables.
And soon a rumor began to circulate. People talked of a colossal wolf
with gray fur, almost white, who had eaten two children, gnawed off a
woman's arm, strangled all the watch dogs in the district, and even come
without fear into the farmyards. The people in the houses affirmed that
they had felt his breath, and that it made the flame of the lights
flicker. And soon a panic ran through all the province. No one dared go
out any more after nightfall. The darkness seemed haunted by the image
of the beast.
The brothers d'Arville determined to find and kill him, and several times
they brought together all the gentlemen of the country to a great hunt.
They beat the forests and searched the coverts in vain; they never met
him. They killed wolves, but not that one. And every night after a
battue the beast, as if to avenge himself, attacked some traveller or
killed some one's cattle, always far from the place where they had looked
Finally, one night he stole into the pigpen of the Chateau d'Arville and
ate the two fattest pigs.
The brothers were roused to anger, considering this attack as a direct
insult and a defiance. They took their strong bloodhounds, used to
pursue dangerous animals, and they set off to hunt, their hearts filled
From dawn until the hour when the empurpled sun descended behind the
great naked trees, they beat the woods without finding anything.
At last, furious and disgusted, both were returning, walking their horses
along a lane bordered with hedges, and they marvelled that their skill as
huntsmen should be baffled by this wolf, and they were suddenly seized
with a mysterious fear.
The elder said:
"That beast is not an ordinary one. You would say it had a mind like a
The younger answered:
"Perhaps we should have a bullet blessed by our cousin, the bishop, or
pray some priest to pronounce the words which are needed."
Then they were silent.
"Look how red the sun is. The great wolf will do some harm to-night."
He had hardly finished speaking when his horse reared; that of Franqois
began to kick. A large thicket covered with dead leaves opened before
them, and a mammoth beast, entirely gray, jumped up and ran off through
Both uttered a kind of grunt of joy, and bending over the necks of their
heavy horses, they threw them forward with an impulse from all their
body, hurling them on at such a pace, urging them, hurrying them away,
exciting them so with voice and with gesture and with spur that the
experienced riders seemed to be carrying the heavy beasts between 4
their thighs and to bear them off as if they were flying.
Thus they went, plunging through the thickets, dashing across the beds of
streams, climbing the hillsides, descending the gorges, and blowing the
horn as loud as they could to attract their people and the dogs.
And now, suddenly, in that mad race, my ancestor struck his forehead
against an enormous branch which split his skull; and he fell dead on the
ground, while his frightened horse took himself off, disappearing in the
gloom which enveloped the woods.
The younger d'Arville stopped quick, leaped to the earth, seized his
brother in his arms, and saw that the brains were escaping from the wound
with the blood.
Then he sat down beside the body, rested the head, disfigured and red, on
his knees, and waited, regarding the immobile face of his elder brother.
Little by little a fear possessed him, a strange fear which he had never
felt before, the fear of the dark, the fear of loneliness, the fear of
the deserted wood, and the fear also of the weird wolf who had just
killed his brother to avenge himself upon them both.
The gloom thickened; the acute cold made the trees crack. Francois got
up, shivering, unable to remain there longer, feeling himself growing
faint. Nothing was to be heard, neither the voice of the dogs nor the
sound of the horns-all was silent along the invisible horizon; and this
mournful silence of the frozen night had something about it terrific and
He seized in his immense hands the great body of Jean, straightened it,
and laid it across the saddle to carry it back to the chateau; then he
went on his way softly, his mind troubled as if he were in a stupor,
pursued by horrible and fear-giving images.
And all at once, in the growing darkness a great shape crossed his path.
It was the beast. A shock of terror shook the hunter; something cold,
like a drop of water, seemed to glide down his back, and, like a monk
haunted of the devil, he made a great sign of the cross, dismayed at this
abrupt return of the horrible prowler. But his eyes fell again on the
inert body before him, and passing abruptly from fear to anger, he shook
with an indescribable rage.
Then he spurred his horse and rushed after the wolf.
He followed it through the copses, the ravines, and the tall trees,
traversing woods which he no longer recognized, his eyes fixed on the
white speck which fled before him through the night.
His horse also seemed animated by a force and strength hitherto unknown.
It galloped straight ahead with outstretched neck, striking against
trees, and rocks, the head and the feet of the dead man thrown across the
saddle. The limbs tore out his hair; the brow, beating the huge trunks,
spattered them with blood; the spurs tore their ragged coats of bark.
Suddenly the beast and the horseman issued from the forest and rushed
into a valley, just as the moon appeared above the mountains. The valley
here was stony, inclosed by enormous rocks.
Francois then uttered a yell of joy which the echoes repeated like a peal
of thunder, and he leaped from his horse, his cutlass in his hand.
The beast, with bristling hair, the back arched, awaited him, its eyes
gleaming like two stars. But, before beginning battle, the strong
hunter, seizing his brother, seated him on a rock, and, placing stones
under his head, which was no more than a mass of blood, he shouted in the
ears as if he was talking to a deaf man: "Look, Jean; look at this!"
Then he attacked the monster. He felt himself strong enough to overturn
a mountain, to bruise stones in his hands. The beast tried to bite him,
aiming for his stomach; but he had seized the fierce animal by the neck,
without even using his weapon, and he strangled it gently, listening to
the cessation of breathing in its throat and the beatings of its heart.
He laughed, wild with joy, pressing closer and closer his formidable
embrace, crying in a delirium of joy, "Look, Jean, look!" All resistance
ceased; the body of the wolf became limp. He was dead.
Franqois took him up in his arms and carried him to the feet of the elder
brother, where he laid him, repeating, in a tender voice: "There, there,
there, my little Jean, see him!"
Then he replaced on the saddle the two bodies, one upon the other, and
He returned to the chateau, laughing and crying, like Gargantua at the
birth of Pantagruel, uttering shouts of triumph, and boisterous with joy
as he related the death of the beast, and grieving and tearing his beard
in telling of that of his brother.
And often, later, when he talked again of that day, he would say, with
tears in his eyes: "If only poor Jean could have seen me strangle the
beast, he would have died content, that I am sure!"
The widow of my ancestor inspired her orphan son with that horror of the
chase which has transmitted itself from father to son as far down as
The Marquis d'Arville was silent. Some one asked:
"That story is a legend, isn't it?"
And the story teller answered:
"I swear to you that it is true from beginning to end."
Then a lady declared, in a little, soft voice
"All the same, it is fine to have passions like that."