David Holland Murcheston: The Wolf's Tale

ISBN 13: 9780312872137

Murcheston: The Wolf's Tale

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9780312872137: Murcheston: The Wolf's Tale
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Shrouded within the dark corners of imagination, the werewolf holds a supreme place in fable and folklore-the nightbeast, stalking its prey under the light of a full moon. Such is the popular conception. But what of the beast himself? In the novel The Wolf's Tale, a werewolf documents his own case of lycanthropy. Amid the gothic backdrop of Victorian London, the author presents three gentlemen and one woman as they share the telling of this tale-the tale of Edgar Lenoir, Duke of Darnley: aristocrat and werewolf.

When Lord Darnley learns that Elizabeth is pregnant with Merry's baby, he plans a hunt in the Carpathian Mountains to escape the pain of his unrequited love. Darnely goes alone and returns a changed man . . . a man who will then change Merry's and Elizabeth's lives forever.

The centerpiece of the novel is Lord Darnley's journal chronicling his months as a werewolf. He views his condition not with horror, but with a fascination he believes to be thoroughly modern. Unfortunately, he is also narcissistic, ruthless, and ultimately, seduced by his own misguided self-interest to justify as natural and healthy the bestial desires that eventually consume him.

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About the Author:

Author David Holland has worked as a freelance journalist and film critic, and award-winning copywriter and creative director. Currently, he works as the Creative Director of WHAS Radio & TV. He lives in Kentucky.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Standing in a lofty corner of the city of London, past a lofty park, down a lofty lane, at a truly estimable and lofty address, a building, proud and disdainful, cast the shadow of its cold face across the common paths of men. A capacious, ancient, crafty-looking old monument, it possessed the very air of a structure which, if it could have said anything it liked to every soul who walked beneath its unwelcoming facade, would have said nothing at all. So contemptuous an attitude was not merely an expression of satisfied complacence with its own imposing architecture, but a concrete reflection of the bland superiority affected by such powerful lords and titled industrialists as passed in and out of its portals throughout the year. This haughty pile suffered the comings and goings of these eminent figures as something unrelated to its own purpose, confirmed in the belief that mankind existed for the building and not the building for men.
A character of general disaffection was equally apparent in the peculiar atmosphere surrounding the place, which was always colder and heavier than the prevailing air, as if the building were some infernal machine wholly capable of manufacturing its own climate. This singular property was proof against the sultriest of summer days, and on a blustery winter’s evening (of which the present was an example), there is little doubt but that the Supreme Intelligence of the Weather found his work in this part of the city made easier by the presence of such a Palace of Ice as this.
While it might be argued that the primary purpose of this building was to numb the blood of humanity to insensitivity, it was generally agreed that its secondary work was to accommodate the Gabriel Club. For the better part of two centuries, since the glorious days of the second Charles, the Gabriel had beckoned the pride and wealth of British society to its spaciousness: to dance in its tall and icy ballroom, to dine in its high and frigid halls, to seek warmth at its impressive (though largely ornamental) hearths, and generally to cultivate that frosty attitude toward the rest of the human race that the building itself affected.
“I have a tale.” The words hung frozen in the air.
On this particular evening, the drifting snows and sharp winds had deposited a weblike rime across the face of the Gabriel, blurring and obscuring the old building so that it seemed to be covered with a veil of its own cold nature. The only feature of the place that could be recognized through this shroud was the figure of Gabriel himself, a stony, hard-cut angel hovering, wings outspread but still, above the entrance. He held a long and stately horn just inches from his lips and seemed about to lay such a note upon the world as men had been waiting to hear for some time. He was frozen in the very act, however, so that the music which might have emanated from that celestial instrument to shake the ice from the bleakest corners of this realm was silenced.
Notwithstanding the lateness of the hour and the inclemency of the weather (which the members might have been excused from noticing, acclimated as they were to the Club’s own chilling demeanor), the ceaseless activity of men of the highest standing—up halls and down halls, in doors and out doors—created a general impression of busyness throughout the Gabriel. In the study, the conservatory, the smoking room, even in the library, the sound of discourse played throughout the Club like the music of the spheres, creating a single hum of noise. Had there been but half so much listening as there was talking going on, a great deal might have been learned this night.
“I have a tale.” The last echoes reverberated weakly about the room and died.
The harmonic center of this oratorio was the Trophy Room, a smoky, darkly paneled chamber whose walls were decorated in funereal fashion with the grinning heads of a menagerie of wild animals. Here, among the physical proof of so many battles waged and won by man over beast, the young gallants of the Club adjourned after dinner to tell again their tales of hunt and chase, conquest and adventure. One tale in particular, a current favorite of the present company, involved a ferocious Bengal tiger who only in the past year had taken up residence at the Gabriel, and was snarling now from his perch above the fireplace, glaring down at the very fellow who had sponsored his membership. This courageous young gentleman had just finished narrating, for perhaps the third time in the past month, the details of the animal’s demise, much to the delight of the enthusiastic crowd.
Yet the delight of a mere instant before had already passed away, and an unexpected hush settled over the merry proceedings of the Trophy Room. Some dozen or so young blades, until recently draped about the furniture with a languid ease, were now all upright attention. They stared, some in amusement, some in surprise, some in actual disbelief with eyes wide and mouths agape, at a large though unprepossessing figure standing slightly apart from the rest in what might have been considered dangerous proximity to the fire burning in the hearth. The silence, as ponderous as the stillness following a thunder clap, lasted for but a moment, when a dapper fellow, a thin, pale young man with limp whiskers and a decidedly mouselike appearance (he, in fact, who had killed the tiger), addressed the large man by the fire. “What was that?” he asked disinterestedly.
“I have a tale.” The voice was deep and clear, filling the room easily. The voice’s owner was the senior of every man there by at least three decades, giving him a paternal aspect offensive to some present.
“Sir Charles, is it not? Sir Charles Meredith?” the mouselike man continued, looking not at the fellow he was addressing but about him at the larger audience, in response to which several heads bent down to several other heads and inquired, “Meredith?” while the latter answered with the words, “Wine merchant.”
“At your service, Lord Whitby.” The old gentleman bowed.
“Indeed,” Whitby joked easily, “if the damnable claret they serve here gets any cloudier, I hope you might be,” at which the company laughed heartily, regaining that composure which was so sorely tried by this interruption.
When the laughter had subsided, Whitby returned his drowsy eyes to Meredith. “So you have some adventure to share with us, for the amusement of the company?” he asked. “Very good of you, I daresay.”
“An adventure?” Meredith repeated, pulling himself up as one finally embarked on a journey long anticipated. “No, I shouldn’t call it an adventure. It is more of a confession.”
“Better still!” Whitby smiled, small pointed teeth peeking out from between his mustache and his thin lower lip. “But really now, what could you possibly have to confess, a man of your humble, I mean to say, your irreproachable character? Have you been pricing your wine more dearly than you ought?” and a chuckle passed across the room.
Meredith looked sharply at the young company about him. “Every man has a confession to make, humble though his life may be. Each brilliant day has its shadow. As for the amusement of the company, that’s a charge for which I cannot be held responsible. My tale is not designed to amuse.”
“You intrigue me, Sir Charles,” Whitby admitted. “You shock us all into silence by announcing your intention to tell a story, and immediately state that your story will not amuse us. A suspiciously doomed tale, I think.”
“Not doomed, Your Lordship. Let us say fated. After all, it cannot help seeming dull following your own amazing exploit. To stand above the prostrate body of your wounded porter and unload both barrels into the tiger’s breast as it rushed you, giving no thought at all to your own peril, it’s more than most men can comprehend. Such coolness in the face of a horrible end almost defies belief.”
“But really, Sir Charles,” Whitby said, ignoring the remarks, which made him feel somehow uncomfortable, “you shouldn’t begin in this manner. You’ve offered us a tale yet begun with an apology. Charge manfully into the thing, old fellow, and be damned to these prologues.” He glanced about him at the smiling faces ready to pounce upon this homely story, prepared to derive their own cruel amusement from it. “Begin now with, ‘Once upon a time.’ ”
The laughter died down as Meredith stood coolly before them. “No, that won’t do,” he said matter-of-factly, as though to himself. “This tale is not for the ears of the company. It’s for you alone.”
A hush embraced the room. “For me?” Whitby exclaimed. “You wish to make your confession to me?” and he felt more uncomfortable yet, and decidedly put out at this strange fellow who had invaded their domain.
“Yes,” was all the old man replied.
This was too much, Whitby considered, and he determined to put a stop to it at once. Yet when he searched for some cutting remark he might make to reduce Meredith in the face of the others, some offhanded insult to send the old wine seller on his way, he found that his wits failed him. He looked into the eyes of the fellow standing there beneath the tiger, but the words would not come. “I don’t see why I should be so singularly graced with your attentions?” was all he could manage, with a sharp and petulant air. “Who am I to you, or you to me for that matter?”
“Who are you?” Meredith answered. “You are Lord Whitby, only son of the fourteenth Duke of Darnley, heir to a vast estate and, if my information is accurate, very soon to come into your title and inheritance. As we speak, your father lies upon his deathbed.”
“Yes, well,” Whitby stammered, “anyone might learn as much from the daily press.”
“And you are here, with your friends.”
A wave of disaffection passed slowly over the gentlemen, and several eyes turned to Whitby in anticipation of some riposte. They had, in fact, been toasting the ill health of the old duke not half an hour before, though whether Meredith had been present among their company then, no one could be certain, least of all Whitby. The young lord and duke-to-be glared at the old man, but found his anger checked, like a recusant schoolboy before the headmaster, stifled by the honest silence of his accuser.
“I can see you are reluctant to give me a hearing,” Meredith went on. “Very wise of you, of course. ‘Who am I?’ you wish to know.” The old fellow shrugged his shoulders. “I am not at liberty to tell you all of who I am, not yet. But I will tell you this much. I am in possession of something that is yours,” and Meredith’s eyes clouded over as he spoke, and his voice dropped to a whisper. “A legacy, if you will, a part of your history that you do not know.” Reaching into his waistcoat pocket, he pulled out a length of ribbon from which hung a small key.
“What the hell is that?” Whitby uttered, trying a laugh but managing only a cough.
“It goes with a box—a box that has been in my possession these thirty years and more.” Meredith dangled the key before him as though it were a child’s plaything. “The box goes with the tale, and both of them I would give to you tomorrow. In private.”
Whitby glanced nervously about. All eyes were upon him, waiting impatiently for his decision. To refuse would be to lose an ounce of that command he held over his companions. Yet to accept the bargain laid before him by this old devil, who was even then winding him about in some dark trap—the thought of it touched a cold, empty place deep within Whitby, and he shuddered.
“Very well, sir,” he answered at last, with an icy precision. “I accept your conditions. And gentlemen,” he said, addressing the company, “I invite you all on the evening following to hear me relate this wonderful confession. I daresay it will amuse us no end, and for quite a long time to come,” and he looked meaningfully at Meredith.
The two men agreed to meet the next afternoon at the Club, and it was time passed anxiously by Whitby. He felt grave misgivings at this appointment, though he could not say why he should be so doubtful about the business. It was in all likelihood some senile folly of the old man’s, he kept telling himself. He passed most of the next day making casual inquiries about Meredith, yet no one seemed to know anything concerning the man, outside of his professional character. He was a highly reputable tradesman, having taken a modest wine firm left him by his father and turned it into one of the largest interests in the nation. Most of the bottles in most of the cellars throughout the city had passed through his hands, and yet very few people knew anything about the man. Even at the Club, where he had been a member for over twenty years, he was known for his quiet ways, keeping always to himself, eating his meals in solitude. It was generally believed that he had been married, that he had no children, and that his wife had passed away some time ago. Other than this, no personal details of his life seemed to exist, at least, none that had attracted anyone’s interest.
And yet there must be more to the man than this. Whitby prided himself on being up to any gambit, but this walking cipher, this nonentity, less than a shadow drifting through the halls of the Club, had played him for a simpleton, and quite skillfully at that, baited and lured him along as a fish might be until there was no choice left but to accept the hook or lose face among his companions. Was it the man’s advanced years, or something else that made Whitby feel like a babe in his presence, a green youth unable to command his own destiny? As the hour of their assignation approached, therefore, Whitby was keenly aware of a nervous agitation rising within him, a sense of being carried along on a rushing current he could not control, and he secretly harbored the sincerest wish that Meredith might fall prey to some calamity before their appointment arrived.
Arrive it did, however. When Whitby stepped through the doors of the Club at just past five, a full three-quarters of an hour before their rendezvous, he found Meredith waiting for him. The old man wore a heavy, black topcoat against which he clasped what appeared to be a parcel tied up in brown paper and twine. As Whitby approached, Meredith smiled that sly smile of his and offered his hand. “I can see we are both anxious for this to begin,” he admitted.
Whitby shook hands with a stiff formality, looking conspicuously at the parcel, which was about the size of a book, or perhaps several books. “I must say, I am rather more anxious for it to be over,” he said.
Meredith bowed slightly, acknowledging Whitby’s awkward position with a graciousness that startled the younger man. “Follow me, then,” Meredith bid him. “It’s not far, but the way can be difficult if you’re not familiar with it,” and they were off.
Since their previous interview, the weather had turned even frostier and more formidable, and snow was again falling over the city in great, lazy flakes that adhered to everything, masking all under a soft, white coverlet. Notwithstanding this arctic landscape, the traffic of men and women hurrying home from their days’ businesses was little affected by the weather, and the crush of the crowd was so great that it forced the two travelers to thread their way in single file, the larger man creating a path with his more massive bulk while the smaller came up wearily behind. To a casual observer they looked like nothing so much as a mummer’s version of Good King Wenceslaus and his page.
The streetlamps now resembled bright smudges in the dark, wintry night, offering slight illumination to the pedestrians scurrying past with heads pressed down and collars pulled up. The carpet of snow and mud coating the streets from building to building and block after block made walking even a short distance as strenuous as trudging over an Alpine pass. Whitby, who despite his slen...

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9780812579284: Murcheston: The Wolf's Tale

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ISBN 10:  0812579283 ISBN 13:  9780812579284
Publisher: Tor Books, 2001
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