Werewolf Wednesday: Elliott O’Donnell’s Lycanthropous Brook (1912)

Having taken us to the Harz Mountains in chapter 9 of his book Werwolves, Elliott O’Donnell takes us on a return trip in the next chapter: “A Lycanthropous Brook in the Harz Mountains; or, The Case of the Countess Hilda Von Breber”.

The story takes place “somewhere about the beginning of the last century” and deals with Count Carl Von Breber (chief of the police of Magdeburg, apparently) and his wife Hilda spending the night in Grautz, a village at the centre of the Harz Mountains. While travelling, the two happen across a brook that their dogs refused to enter. A local innkeeper informs them that the brook is known as Wolf Hollow, and that according to legend, anyone who drinks from it shall befall a misfortune.

The Count dismisses all of this as nonsense, and flies into a rage at how the locals are scaring his wife — who, as it happens, did indeed drink from the brook. “[I]f you are your minions mention one word about that brook to the Countess, or two her servants–mark that–I will have the breath flogged out of your body and your tongue snipped”, he says to the innkeeper.

Once the couple return home, Hilda begins exhibiting strange behaviour. She claims to suffer “queer dreams” and reports that her hearing has somehow intensified — so much so that she insists on sleeping in a separate bedroom to her husband. Meanwhile, children are mysteriously disappearing from the area on a nightly basis. People begin coming to the Count with complaints, including a woman who has been driven mad by the loss of her child:

“What the devil does she want?” the Count demanded savagely. “Who is she?”
“Martha Brochel, your honour, a poor half-witted creature, who was one of the first in the town to lose a child,” the door-porter replied; “and the shock of it has driven her mad!”
“Mad! mad! Yes! that is just what I am—mad!” the woman broke out. “Everything is in darkness. It is always night! There are no houses, no chimneys, no lanterns, only trees—big, black trees that rustle in the wind, and shake their heads mockingly. And then something hideous comes! What is it? Take it away! Take it away! Give her back to me!” And as Martha’s voice rose to a shriek, she threw her hands over her head, and, clenching them, growled and snarled like a wild animal.

The Count’s response is not particularly charitable: “What right has she to have children?” But when Martha catches sight of what she takes to be the mysterious child-killer and gives chase, the Count likewise pursues. The chase leads him to the lair of the monster:

The Count’s courage revived: he hurled himself against the door; it gave with a crash, and the next moment he was inside. But what a sight met his eyes! The place, which somehow or the other seemed oddly familiar to him, was a veritable shambles—floor, walls, and furniture were sodden with blood. In every corner were mangled human remains; whilst stretched on the ground, opposite the doorway, lay the body of Martha, her face unrecognizable and her breast and stomach ripped right open. This was terrible enough, but more terrible by far was the author of it all, who, having cast aside wraps, now stood fully revealed in the yellow glow of a lantern. What the Count saw was a monstrosity—a thing with a woman’s breast, a woman’s hair, golden and curly, but the face and feet were those of a wolf; whilst the hands, white and slender, were armed with long, glittering nails, cruelly sharp and dripping with blood.

The Count succeeds in slaying the beast, and what happens next surprises him considerably more than it will the reader:

With a shout of wrath he plunged his sword up to its hilt in the thing’s back.
It fell to the floor and the Count bent over it curiously. Something was happening—something strange and terrifying; but he could not look—he was forced to shut his eyes. When he opened them he no longer saw the hairy visage of a wolf—he was gazing fondly into the dying eyes of his beautiful and much-loved wife. With a rapidity like lightning, he recognized his surroundings. He was in a long disused summer-house that stood in a remote corner of his own grounds!
“God help me and you, too!” the Countess Hilda whispered, clasping him fondly in her arms. “It was the water!—the water I drank in the Harz Mountains! I have been bewitched——”; and kissing him feverishly on the lips, she sank back—dead.

As per usual for Elliott O’Donnell’s purportedly true stories of werewolves, this account is wildly implausible. Where, exactly, is the reader expected to believe that O’Donnell obtained the story? If this Count Carl Von Breber killed his wife Hilda for any reason, let alone lycanthropy, then surely there would be some sort of record — yet the author provides no citations whatsoever. Yet, we’re expected to believe that he’s familiar enough with the case to know specific conversations, along with the name of a bit-player like Martha Brochel.

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