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It is only inasmuch as Aymar Galliez begins his script with the tale of Pitaval and Pitamont that I shall do the same, allowing myself, however, the privilege of elaborating his often too bald treatment. The incident herein noted would seem at first glance to have nothing to do with the case. Neither does digging a well below a house seem to have anything to do with the typhoid that carries away one victim after another. The sources of moral diseases, too, often lie far back in the past.
Pitaval and Pitamont, then, are two castles in France, which lie on opposite sides of a little streamlet, called le Pit. I am aware, of course, that the Joanne Gazetteer contains no mention of a Pit of any kind. The fact is that the two castles, of which hardly a vestige remains, now look at each other across a dry valley. When lumbering removed the topsoil of these hills, the river dried up. But its course can still be traced by a trail of rocks winding upwards. Local archoeologists, if there are any in that mountainous and infertile region twenty-five miles west and south of Grenoble, will resolve the disappearance of these place names.
If the traveler today can see little if anything in this region, one visitor certainly saw plenty. I refer to Viollet-le-Duc, who went into ecstasy at this spot and drew complete plans and an imaginary reconstruction. This, if I am not mistaken, the reader may find under the discussion of "barbette." There is a reference too under the subject of "latrine." It will be recalled that Viollet-le-Duc was always keen on any vestiges of medieval sanitary engineering. Possibly there was more to see in his day.
As far back as history can recall, the castles of Pitaval and Pitamont, though the families were offshoots of one original house, were at constant war with each other. In the early days the two houses had divided between them an extensive and fertile territory. The hillsides yielded a superior wine. The forests fattened pigs, produced charcoal and chestnuts. The peasantry was hardy and cheerful and paid its taxes to lord and priest generously and usually peacefully.
But the constant warfare between the two houses eventually proved too much for the local peasantry, though surely there is nothing in history to equal the permanent patience of the sorely tried poor. They abandoned their farms and moved on. There was still free land in Europe at that time, so why stay where life was insecure?
As the estates began to yield less and less, the Pitavals and the Pitamonts, pressed for money to carry on their feud, began to make trips down the hill to the city of Grenoble, where there was a Datini factor, or even to Avignon, where the great banking firm of the Datinis had its head office. Bit by bit, they mortgaged what they had. The interest piled up. Once in a while the Pitavals would rob the Pitamonts and pay up some of what they owed to Datini. Again it was the turn of the Pitamonts to stage a clever coup and find themselves momentarily in cash.
One night, a begging friar, benighted in these mountains, found hospitality in the Pitaval castle. The women, miserably treated among their brutal men-folk, were glad for the appearance of a strange and kindly face. The venerable monk entertained the ladies with tales of the land of Italy, whence he had just come. "It is all sunshine and warmth down there," he said, and played meditatively with his long beard.
The ladies shivered with yearning. Outside the wind howled. The draft came in under the door and disturbed the rushes on the floor. A dog—or was it a wolf?—howled beyond in the forest. They crossed themselves. The monk added a few words of Latin.
One young giant of a Pitaval slapped the table with his chunky hand and laughed hoarsely: "I hear that the men there, and elsewhere too, for the fashion has spread, write poetry, which they sing to the ladies while they twang on a lute. Is that so? Do men do that?"
The monk added: "It is a pretty and gentle custom. Our Lord too loved peace."
The ladies looked wistfully at the friar. He seemed to have some of that southern sun and some of that gentle poetry of love clinging to him. But the men, red from much wine, had already turned away from the monk and were discussing their next boar hunt.
The fire in the chimney had died down. The smoking candles had burned low. The men and women retired. The monk was permitted to stretch himself out on the floor, with a few sheepskins to protect himself from the cold.
The silence in the castle was extreme. The darkness complete. The monk threw off his sheepskins and rose slowly. From the folds of his cowl he drew a long, sharp dagger. He, a Pitamont, disguised by a beard grown in secret, was free in the Pitaval castle at night. His breath came and went softly through his parted teeth. He had marked where the men and women had gone to retire and now directed his steps slowly toward the chambers of the sleeping Pitavals.
He reached the first room. Faint light, from clouds lit by the moon behind them, shone through the narrow window. He dropped to his hands and knees and crept up to the bed. The curtains were parted. Holding his dagger with both hands he drew it aloft and brought it down full force on the man who lay sleeping there. A slush was the only sound, like that which a foul apple gives when you step on it.
"What is it, Robert?" the lady beside him whispered sleepily. Already the Pitamont had freed his dagger and brought it down again.
Pitamont stole softly out of that room of death and on to the next. Not a Pitaval was to be left alive in that castle by the morning. This was to be the end of them.
But as he groped his way along the wall, his foot caught in a crevice and he went down on his face. His dagger was torn from his hands and went clattering down a short flight of steps.
"Holà! Hugues. Holà! Jouffroy. Light!"
"'Tis only I," said the monk. The young giant Pitaval, naked, had come up and collared him.
"And what are you doing up here?"
"I was only looking for a place to relieve myself," the friar explained.
"The ashes of the hearth are not good enough for you?" By this time everybody in the castle was awake, everybody but the two who slept forever.
In the morning, the new master of the castle of Pitaval was the young giant, heir to his father's estate. Pitamont, the false monk, was locked in a little cell, where he pondered on the curious mischance that had ruined his plans, so near success. "I am not afraid to die," he said to himself, with a sneer on his lips.
In the great central hall, the young giant sat with his pretty wife and thought. "Now what shall we do with your sunny Italian?" he laughed. She turned away and wept.
He summoned the stone mason from the nearest village. The two sat together for several hours and then the mason called for his assistants and went to work.
In an interior court of the castle stood an old well that was not often used, a larger and better one having been dug at a more convenient point. The old well was now enlarged down to near water level, a fairly permanent level, and there heavy iron bars were laid across the water-hole. A cesspool was constructed close to the well, with two pipes, one opening at the water-level shelf in the well, the other, for ventilation, leading up to the surface of the earth. Fifteen or twenty feet above the shelf, a dome was constructed. Before it was completely done, the false monk, half asphyxiated with smoke, was lowered onto the shelf. Then the dome was finished, all but for a small central orifice, which remained for ventilation. The whole affair had been lined with smooth hard stone cut to fit without a crevice. Above the earth was a small superstructure, likewise of stone, and barred by a heavy iron door. Within, a flight of steps led down to the ventilating chamber directly above the dome. Three times a week a servant, accompanied by the master, went into the chamber and threw a heavy chunk of meat and suet into the aperture. It fell with a thud onto the iron bars over the water-hole. For months there was no answering sound.
When Jehan Pitamont awoke from the effects of the smoke, he found himself in a dark cold chamber. He was naked, and shivered. His first thought was that he was dead, and that this was the afterlife which the priests promised. But he had soon undeceived himself. As he groped around, he discovered that his new abode was a small circular cell. Standing in the middle, on an iron grating, with outstretched arms, his hands easily touched both sides. There was only one break in the circular continuity of the wall that lined the cell, and that was a slight recess. In the floor of this niche in the wall was a circular hole about half a span in width. Jehan guessed at once what this was for. The only furniture of the room, if furniture it could be called, was a small iron dipper attached by a short iron chain to the grating. With this, one could reach down and secure a drink of water.
Cold sweat stood out on Jehan's body when he had fully realized the nature of the dwelling place to which he had been transferred. He was in an oubliette, a forgetress, so to speak. He had heard of them, but had never seen one. Now he himself was in one. But he did not despair. He even had moments when he laughed to think how he had deceived these stupid Pitavals. And how he had killed the old Pitaval himself and his wife in their sodden sleep.
He would soon be out of this place. His brothers and his father would never leave him here. Any moment now he expected to hear the ring of an axe against the walls of his prison. His side had slaughtered all the Pitavals and were coming to free him!
But nothing happened. There was not a sound. And still he waited expectantly. They would come. First, of course, they had to prepare themselves. They would come in force, storm the castle walls and kill the damned Pitavals, man and mouse, every single one of them. Then they would search for him. And they would find him, no matter how well he had been hidden. But surely by this time, he said to himself, a horrible doubt arising in his mind, they would have already been here, had they come at all. Perhaps they had been repulsed at the storming, and had withdrawn to gather more men. Surely they were not going to leave him to rot here.
No. But he must give them time. How long had he been here? Who can tell time in the darkness? He had remained two days in the room where they had kept him locked up at first. Then they had made him dizzy with smoke and had brought him here. Now, how long was it since they had put him in here? It seemed like days, but it could be only hours, for they had not yet given him any food, and he had not slept once. No doubt they would throw food to him once a day, and he would feel sleepy once a day, so that he could count time that way. He determined to keep track of his imprisonment.
Time passed. He dozed and woke, dozed off again and woke once more. He was famished. Would they never feed him? Had they put him here to starve? Good, then, he would starve. Better so. He was not afraid to die.
Time passed. He was weak from lack of food. He heard sounds above him. A jingle of keys. Someone was in the chamber above him. He heard faint whispered voices. He was about to shout out: "Poton!" thinking it must be his brother. Then he bethought himself. He would wait and see. How his jailers would laugh at him if he made that mistake. He waited. It was not Poton. It was young Pitaval.
"Here's food for you, my solitary monk! Do you want a prayer stool? Or a lute to twang on?"
Jehan made no answer. "Ach! if I could lay my hands on your fat neck," he thought. The sharp fragrance of roasted fowl came to his nostrils. Something fell from above and landed on the grating over the water-hole. The footsteps passed on. A door banged shut.
His hands went to seize the roast. No. He would not touch a bite of it. He would starve himself to death. He was thirsty too. His throat ached. He would have a drink of water, that could not harm, and would serve to help him resist the pangs of hunger. He found the dipper in the dark and slipped it through the grating. The water was cool and sweet.
That meat was tempting. That roasted crust of fat fowl, how often he had bitten through it. Why, only the other night as a monk at table with the Pitavals ... but he had forborne helping himself too liberally. As a monk, it behooved him to be frugal. He regretted that he had not eaten more of it. What could it have harmed had he eaten a larger portion? The table had been loaded down with food when they had risen to go to bed. There was fowl and venison. And a dish of chopped greens and cold prawns in a sauce of vinegar. Good, that! His mouth watered. In the two days that he had been locked in the other cell, they had fed him nothing but bread, dry bread.
Why was he thinking so much of food? Food was a matter of the past for him. He meant to die. He was through with food. But this was agony with that roasted fowl filling the cell with its odor.
He would kill himself and end this torture. If only he could lift up that grating and drown himself in the water. But the grating was fastened too securely. If he could hitch himself up the wall and cast himself down. But while he could reach the opposite walls, they were tantalizingly beyond the reach of a good muscular purchase. Had they measured him to make sure of adding that extra torture to this prison?
He beat his head against the wall. He made it bloody by hammering against the grating. He fainted. But when he came to, the first thing that struck him was the odor of roasted meat. Damn that meat. He would get rid of it. He would throw it down into the cesspool. Yes, that was it. Down the cesspool, and away with all thoughts of food. Out of reach, out of mind.
The fowl was a large one. A goose, no doubt. It would not go into the opening. He tore it into pieces, dismembered it and put the separate pieces down. He heard them fall far below. The great bulk of the fowl, however, stuck in the pipe. He had to push it down. He pushed it down as far as he could and there it remained stuck fast.
There, that was that. Good God! What had he done? He had cast away his only food. He was about to cry out in despair. No, he must not make any sound. That would be shameful. They were waiting somewhere for him to cry out, that they might laugh at him and taunt him. No, never a sound must come from his lips. He stilled the cries in his throat, pushed his hands into his mouth to deaden any sound that might strive to issue from his agonized body.
He found himself licking his hands, greedily licking his fingers, smacking his lips, searching with his tongue between his fingers to find yet another bit of grease remaining from the fowl he had thrown away. Perhaps he could still reach that big piece that he had had so much difficulty pushing down into the drain. He put his arm down. He could just feel the fowl below the fingernail of his longest finger. In vain he attempted to hook his fingernail under some projection and thus draw it up. The meat was too far down.
A stick! But he had no stick. The dipper! But it was fastened by a short chain to the grating. Perhaps with his leg. That would reach down farther. But alas his clumsy toes contrived only to push down the roast still farther. He wept, he gnashed his teeth. He would have liked to howl out loud. But no sound would he allow to come from his mouth. He rolled around in agony on the cold floor, too short to permit him to lie at full length, another torture that had been only too well calculated.
He tried in vain to kill himself by breathing water up his nose. He could not do it. The will in him to breathe air was too great. If he could have wound the dipper-chain around his neck; but no, nothing would succeed.
It was days, weeks, months, years before there were sounds again above him. But no voice cried out tauntingly to him this time. He heard as if in a daze, for he was weak from lack of food, a heavy body fall into his cell. Then the footsteps mounted upwards and a door was closed. Not a ray of light came into the cell during this procedure.
As soon as the door had closed, he threw himself like a wild man on that which had fallen into his chamber. It was a large piece of raw meat fat with suet. He buried his teeth in it, and lay sick and belching afterward.
Excerpted from The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore. Copyright © 1933 Guy Endore. Excerpted by permission of PEGASUS BOOKS.
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Posted October 28, 2012
I always enjoyed the British film "The Curse of the Werewolf." The movie was based upon this novel except the location was moved from France to Spain.
This books revolves around the legends of babies being born at the same moment as Jesus Christ becoming possessed by demons. (See The Book of Werewolf's by Sabane Barring-Gould).
Some reviewers compare this to "Dracula" as the definitive "Werewolf" novel. I really got involved in the story, but I'm not sure as I would go that far to compare it to Bram Stoker's classic. I will say this creature is no Jacob from "The Twilight Saga" and one would not want to meet him during a full moon.
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Posted March 19, 2005
Although it is considered the original werewolf story, it's obvious why 'The Werewolf of Paris' has not become a popular monster classic like 'Frankenstein,' 'Dracula,' and 'The Phantom of the Opera.' A slow-paced story, it diverges from the main tale many times and, in the end, is not very compelling. There are interesting parts and points made in the book, but, overall, it doesn't succeed as a gripping monster story. Added to that is the disturbing fact that my edition (Blackmask Online) was filled with numerous misspellings and typos. The story of Bertrand Caillet, who was born on Christmas Eve to a mother who was raped by a priest, 'The Werewolf of Paris' follows Bertrand from birth to his participation in the Paris Commune of 1871. Although there are scenes of Bertrand killing as a wolf, don't expect to find any transformation scenes, or even much about Bertrand's life as a werewolf. This, however, was one of the first stories to mention a 'wolf-man' and inspired the classic horror movie. The book was written by Guy Endore to compete with 'Dracula,' but, in my opinion, the story falls short of a classic monster novel. Although it is readable, there are better and more compelling stories in this genre, such as 'Dracula,' 'The Phantom of the Opera,' and 'Kolak of the Werebeasts.'
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Posted December 9, 1999
i enjoyed this book. is it great literature? probably not, but it is better than some things i have read that are generally considered great literature.
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Posted November 7, 2013