For the introduction and chapter one, click here.
The countryside around Littledon was regularly hazed with mist in the mornings, especially those mornings which came out of chilly nights. Not frosty, but chilly, and this was just such a morning. The sky was a smattering of puffy white and smears of gray clouds, and the hilltops just bulged out of the soupy fog spilling over the ground. It was a quiet morning, as everyone went about his work in pleasant silence.
Until young Vincent Conn tore into town with great dispatch and frantic callings, and from that moment on, the stillness was shattered. The fog within Littledon seemed to recede with the very stirring of passions among the residents.
“I saw a wolf! I saw a wolf!” was his cry, and he continued on down the street, to give every available ear the message.
He was a fast boy though, and many heard a confused jumble of noises as he shot past.
“What’s this he said?” Mrs. Hornsby asked.
Jack Fischer answered with his own confusion, “Something about a wool-fire, I think.”
“No,” replied Mr. Hornsby, coming in to his shop from the street. “‘Twas about sawing at wool.”
“Well, what sense does that make?” Mrs. Hornsby asked. “Wool is for spinning or stuffing, but never for sawing at!”
“And why is he so worked up about it,” wondered Jack Fischer, “if it’s not a wool-fire?”
And others had their own mishearings further muddled by discussing with others around them who, similarly, heard very little.
In short order, however, those few who’d heard properly had passed their correction through the town, and all who were mistaken were soon insisting that they’d heard “I saw a wolf” all along, and would never speculate such things as “sawing at wool” or “wool ice thaw” or other such obvious nonsense.
Once the town had gathered into the square, Mayor Kingsley brought Vincent Conn up onto the balcony of the inn, so that everyone could hear. Vincent was panting and sweating, despite the persistent chill in the air.
Before he could catch his breath to speak, several in the square began to whisper about just how many wolves he had seen and just how large they were. Murmurs and moans began to rise and the mayor had to rebuke the crowd so that Vincent could recount what he had seen, in more detail than his feverish shouts.
“Now what’s all this, Vincent?” Mayor Kingsley asked.
“Well sir,” began the young man, still huffing, “I saw a wolf!”
As though hearing it fresh, gasps arose from those gathered, but Mayor Kingsley frowned and persisted. “Where, boy? You must tell us where, and how it came about that you could see it!”
“Yes sir!” Vincent straightened his back and made not to look at the crowd so directly, as it was clear he was nervous. “I ‘as out yon, sent by my da to deliver a length of good chain he finished yesternight. And around a bend I come, when there too come a slinkin’ in the bushes somethin’ like a dog, big like Mr. Roderick’s, only bigger still!”
From the townsfolk came several cries: ‘Oh, my!’s, ‘Gracious above!’s, and one “Only a dog?”
Vincent fixed his eyes on the Mayor like a peg in oak joists, and went on. “Well, I thinks to myself, ‘Ne’er before seen one like ‘at before, and I’ve had eighteen good years to look!'”
“And then what happened?” Mayor Kingsley asked, his face a plaster of worry.
“Too scared’a move a muscle, I was!” Vincent risked a glimpse at the people, and saw such fear in them as well. “An’ it was hid halfway behind those bushes, but it was comin’ out to the roadside, and then I saw it full.” He paused with a tremble.
“How big was it, then?” someone shouted out, for the mayor was frozen by the telling.
“Head up at my chest, and three arms long!” Vincent pantomimed the measurements with his digits.
At this, more prayers arose from the crowd, and more gasps too. One drifting into the meeting about this time would notice immediately the consumed state of the air, and would guess that wisdom was in equal condition with it also. However, none in Littledon had procrastinated attendance, and the spent quality was ignored for the threat of the wolf.
Thus, nearly every person in the town thought not for himself, but revised his own opinions on the apparent reactions of others. In this manner, the reactions more rash and hysterical stacked upon one another and were magnified to a degree that banished sagacity.
“Wha— What did you d— do?” stammered Mayor Kingsley.
Knowing now that the depth of his terror was far outweighed by those of the town, Vincent turned and addressed the people in a strong and confident voice. “Why, I threw down my chains, and ran right back townwise, and got everyone in on the news.” He looked back to Mayor Kingsley, “And now we’re everyone here.”
Kingsley nodded stiffly, “Right good thinking, Vincent, my boy, giving call so fast.”
“Aye.” Vincent searched out his father among the crowd, and added. “I’m right sorry about the chain, da. I figure on helpin’ to make another’n.”
“No matter, son,” replied he. “Tis no matter.”
“Besides,” spoke up the baker, Mr. Lawson, “No harm what comes to a man matters much to a chain. We’ll fetch it, on our way to find the beast.”
“Find it?” asked Mayor Kingsley with tilted head, as though the words didn’t quite agree with his judgment.
“Well, o’ course we must find it,” the baker said.
A few others nominated their agreement, not many though, just a few.
“Can’t very well have a creature like ‘at roamin’ around these hills.”
A flurry of conversations broke out in the square, most fearful of the proposed task. And yet there was no other option than to send out a cadre of the toughest men in the city. A wolf could not be suffered, no matter how dangerous slaying it or running it off might be.
Soon, all were agreed that a party should go, which brought forward the matter of who should comprise it. Mr. Lawson, the baker, was first to volunteer. He was not a young man, though he was not withered either. He was fit and brave, and he welcomed his duty to Littledon.
Vincent Conn’s father was next to subscribe to the charge. He was the town’s blacksmith and was the strongest by far. Mr. Merritt joined, as did Mr. Cartwright. Both of them owned large flocks, and paid good wages to their workers. Mr. Warwick added himself and his son who was soon to marry and begin a family of his own. The younger Warwick had to reassure his betrothed a dozen times that he would be careful as one could be when out hunting a wolf.
Quite a few of Littledon’s young boys declared to accompany the effort. All were rebuffed for their age, since experience could be levied against all in the square. None in Littledon had run off any animal, but for the pests of the field, such as deer, birds, rabbits, and the occasional fox.
The youngest to go along would be Vincent, as he would show the men where his eyes had seen the subject of their endeavor. It was agreed that, young as he was, Vincent had displayed a sound mind, good judgment, and had no small amount of time with the smithy’s hammer. His shoulders were broad with powerful, lithe arms, and his chest strong as any man’s, except for his father, who was nearly an ox.
It was arranged. Mayor Kingsley made an official declaration blessing the enterprise, and wishing them swift and certain victory. All agreed with the pronouncement, though the applause was slim. After all, these men were setting out on a hazardous mission, and no one was mistaken about that.
Each volunteer went to his house to retrieve some supplies and what weapons had been handed down from old. Then, reassembled, the party set out.