A Spectral Pack of Hounds in Russia
A gentleman of the name of Rappaport whom I once met in Southampton told me of an experience he had once had with a spectral pack of hounds on the slope of the Urals. “It was about half-past eleven one winter’s night,” he said, “and I was driving through a thick forest, when my coachman suddenly leaned back in his seat and called out, ‘Do you hear that?’ I listened, and from afar came a plaintive, whining sound. ‘It’s not Volki, is it?’ I asked. ‘I’m afraid so, master,’ the coachman replied, ‘they’re coming on after us.’
“‘But they are some way off still!’ I said.
“‘That is so,’ he responded, ‘but wolves run quick, and our horses are tired. If we can reach the lake first we shall be all right, but should they overtake us before we get there—’ and he shrugged his great shoulders suggestively. ‘Not another word,’ I cried. ‘Drive—drive as if ’twere the devil himself. I have my rifle ready, and will shoot the first wolf that shows itself.’
“‘Very good, master,’ he answered. ‘I will do everything that can be done to save your skin and mine.’ He cracked his whip, and away flew the horses at a breakneck speed. But fast as they went, they could not outstrip the sound of the howling, which gradually drew nearer and nearer, until around the curve we had just passed shot into view a huge gaunt wolf. I raised my rifle and fired. The beast fell, but another instantly took its place, and then another and another, till the whole pack came into sight, and close behind us was an ocean of white, tossing, foam-flecked jaws and red gleaming eyes.
“I emptied my rifle into them as fast as I could pull the trigger, but it only checked them momentarily. A few snaps, and of their wounded brethren there was nothing left but a pile of glistening bones. Then, hie away, and they were once again in red-hot pursuit. At last our pace slackened, and still I could see no signs of the lake. A great grey shape, followed by others, then rushed by us and tried to reach the horses’ flanks with their sharp, gleaming teeth. A few more seconds, and I knew we should be both fighting, back to back, the last great fight for existence. Indeed I had ceased firing, and was already beginning to strike out furiously with the butt end of my rifle, when a new sound arrested my attention. The baying of dogs!
‘Dogs!’ I screamed, ‘Dogs, Ivan!’ (that was the coachman’s name) ‘Dogs!’ and, in my mad joy, I brained two wolves in as many blows. The next moment a large pack of enormous white hounds came racing down on us. The wolves did not wait to dispute the field; they all turned tail and, with loud howls of terror, rushed off in the direction they had come. On came the hounds—more beautiful dogs I had never seen; as they swept by, more than one brushed against my knees, though I could feel nothing save intense cold. When they were about twenty yards ahead of us, they slowed down, and maintained that distance in front of us till we arrived on the shores of the lake. There they halted, and throwing back their heads, bayed as if in farewell, and suddenly vanished. We knew then that they were no earthly hounds, but spirit ones, sent by a merciful Providence to save us from a cruel death.”
Animal Ghosts, Elliott O’Donnell, 1913
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Tales of ravening wolves chasing Russian sleighs are the stuff of stage, screen, and canvas. Sometimes the sleigh driver throws one or more of the passengers (usually young children) to the wolves to save the rest. In a truly hyperbolic story found in the New York Times of 19 March, 1911, headed “Wolves Kill Bridal Party: Only Two Escape out of 120 in Asiatic Russia,” the groom is urged to throw his bride to the creatures who are menacing the sledges on their way to the bridal banquet. He refuses and all are devoured, save the two sleigh drivers who are driven mad by the experience. A selection of these lupine legends may be found here.
Modern science tells us that wolves are misunderstood: they are afraid of humans; they prefer to eat small mammals, like mice and rabbits; only a rabid wolf will attack humans; and stories like those above are apocryphal. Last year Mrs Daffodil noted a rather sensational story in the Telegraph about “super packs” of 400 wolves attacking villages in Siberia. With all due respect to Modern Science, Mrs Daffodil would still not care to meet a pack of Canis lupus—no matter how misunderstood—without a Maxim gun or a sleigh full of plump children.
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