The Abbot heard Padraig’s story through without comment, his eyes blazing under their shaggy brows. If any one but Brother Basil had asked him to stay his hand, he would not have given two thoughts to it, but it was Brother Basil, and the matter must be considered.
“These men,” he said grimly, “are outlaws, red-handed robbers. They have broken the law of God and man. They deserve justice, not mercy.”
“If they can be caught,” ventured Padraig.
“You think they cannot be taken?”
Padraig shook his head. “I stood as near them as I am to you, and I did not see them until they wished to be seen. They run like foxes and climb like cats. They will be killed or kill themselves, every man and woman of them, rather than be taken. Were it not better they should live like christened souls than be hunted like beasts?”
The Abbot rose and began to pace the floor. “Go, my son,” he said not unkindly, “and send Simon, the steward, to me.”
But Simon was not to be found. Brother Mark, the librarian, being of a distrustful disposition, had been asking many questions of late regarding the parchments prepared for the scriptorium. Simon had perhaps taken fright. He had not returned, in any case, from the nearest market-town, whither he had gone that morning. When it was found that everything upon which he could lay his hands had gone with him, some of the brethren were inclined to think the whole werewolf panic an invention of the steward’s to hide his thieving. Padraig went to the foot of the cliff, accompanied by two men with a hurdle, and found Brother Basil safe and in good spirits, but neither wolf, wolfling nor wolf-man was to be seen. Not so much as the sound of a wolf’s howling was heard about the sheep-folds, and shepherds and sheep-dogs tended the lambs that spring undisturbed. There were those who said that the werewolves had been driven away by the prayers of Brother Basil when he visited the forest. After awhile a legend grew up and was told to the Welsh clerk Giraldus, about a werewolf who met a priest in the forest and begged him to give Christian aid and comfort to his dying mate. The story goes that the priest remained all night conversing with the unfortunate man, who behaved rather as a man than as a wolf.
When spring stirred the travel on the Irish roads a party of forest folk appeared one day at the Abbey and asked for baptism. Their children had, it appeared, grown up in the wilderness without knowledge of religion. Such things were not unheard of in those days, and after baptism the party went down to the seaport and took ship for England, where they lived for some years in the service of a Norman knight, Hugh l’Estrange. When finally a sort of peace was patched up in Ireland between the Normans and the Irish chiefs, Ruric and his folk returned. But no more was heard of the wolves of Ossory.