Werewolf Wednesday: the Case of Dr. Broniervski (1912)

In the same chapter that it provides a detailed outline of a lycanthropy ritual, Elliott O’Donnell’s 1912 book on werewolves offers a supposedly true account of a meeting with such a shapeshifter. Attributed to one Dr. Broniervski, the story should be taken with the same helping of salt as all of the other “true” stories retold b O’Donnell, but even if fictional it marks an interesting blend of the werewolf theme with the intangibility of a ghost story.

Taking place ten years before Dr. Broniervski met O’Donnell (a date that is meaningless, as the book never reveals when the two met), the story begins with the doctor travelling in Montenegro. He hires a local guide named Kniaz, but his companion Dugald Dalghetty warns him against this choice: “Kniaz has the evil eye,” says Dalghetty; “he will bring misfortune on you. Choose some one else.”

Broniervski ignores this warning and sets off with Kniaz on a journey from Cetinge to a town called Skaravoski, the latter of which appears to have never been mentioned in any other publication. Along the way, the conversation turns to the supernatural:

He asked me several times if I believed in the supernatural, and when I laughingly replied ‘No, I am far too practical and level-headed,’ he said ‘Wait. We are now in the land of spirits. You will soon change your opinion.’ The country we were traversing was certainly forbidding—forbidding enough to be the hunting ground of legions of ferocious animals. But the supernatural! Bah! I flouted such an idea.

Eventually, the two come to a body of vast white rocks, “strangely contorted” and “looking like the fortifications of some vast fabulous city” (Lovecraft might have approved). Kniaz shares a local legend:

‘It is called,’ he explained to me, ‘the haunted valley, and it is said to have been from time immemorial under the spell of the grey spirits—a species of phantasm, half man and half animal, that have the power of metamorphosing men into wild beasts.’

Horses, he went on to inform me, showed the greatest reluctance to enter the valley, which was a sure proof that the place was in very truth phantom-ridden. I must say its appearance favoured that theory. The path by which we descended was almost perpendicular, and filled with shadows. Precipices hemmed us in on every side; and here and there a huge fragment of rock, standing like a petrified giant, its summit gleaming white in the moonbeams, barred our way.

The doctor is particularly disturbed by a stream that runs through the valley:

The very rocks were novel in their mass, their colour, and their stratification; and the stream itself, utterly incredible as it may appear, had so little in common with the streams of other countries that I shrank away from it in alarm. I am at a loss to give any distinct idea of the nature of the water. I can only say it was not like ordinary water, either in appearance or behaviour. Even in the moonlight it was not colourless, nor was it of any one colour, presenting to the eye every variety of green and blue. Although it fell over stones and rocks with the same rapid descent as ordinary water, it made no sound, neither splash nor gurgle.

While dipping his fingers in the weird water, the narrator hears a cry: “a peculiarly ominous cry — human and yet animal”. Heading off to investigate, he comes face to face with a werewolf:

Kneeling beside the stream with its back turned to me was an extraordinary figure—a thing with a man’s body and an animal’s head—a dark, shaggy head with unmistakable prick ears. I gazed at it aghast. What was it? What was it doing? As I stared it bent down, lapped the water, and raising its head, uttered the same harrowing sound that had brought me thither. I then saw, with a fresh start of wonder, that its hands, which shone very white in the moonlight, were undergoing a gradual metamorphosis. I watched carefully, and first one finger, and then another, became amalgamated in a long, furry paw, armed with sharp, formidable talons.

The monster knocks Dr. Broniervski unconscious. When he comes to, he is surprised to find Dugald Dalghetty sitting by the bloodstained body of Kniaz. Dalghetty explains that he had been concerned about Broniervski’s well-being and so pursued him and Knaiz to the haunted valley…

“‘There I was at sea for some moments, since the rocky soil was too hard to receive any impressions. But hearing the howl of some wild animal, I concluded you were attacked, and, guided by the sound, I arrived here to find a werwolf actually preparing to devour you. A bullet from my rifle speedily rendered the creature harmless, and a close inspection of it proved that my surmises were only too correct. It was none other than our friend here with the evil eye—Kniaz!’

“‘Kniaz a werwolf!’ I ejaculated.

“‘Yes! he inveigled you here because he had made up his mind to drink the water of the enchanted stream, and so become metamorphosed from a man to a wild beast. His [69]object in doing so was to destroy a young farmer who had stolen his sweetheart, and for whom he, as a man, was no match. However, he is harmless now, but it is a warning to you in future to trust no one who has the evil eye.'”

O’Donnell concludes this narrative with a few thoughts on both the evil eye and on werewolves:

But though the evil eye denotes an evil superphysical influence, the werwolf is not necessarily possessed of it. Sometimes a werwolf may be told by the long, straight, slanting eyebrows, which meet in an angle over the nose; sometimes by the hands, the third finger of which is a trifle the longest; or by the finger-nails, which are red, almond-shaped, and curved; sometimes by the ears, which are set rather low, and far back on their heads; and sometimes by a noticeably long, swinging stride, which is strongly suggestive of some animal. Either one or other of these [70]features is always present in hereditary werwolves, and is also frequently developed in those people who become werwolves, either at the same time as or soon after they acquire the property.

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