Read CHAPTER XVII of Wagner‚ the Wehr-Wolf , free online book, by George W. M. Reynolds, on


It was evening; and Wagner paced his narrow dungeon with agitated steps.

Far beneath the level of the ground, and under the ducal palace, was that gloomy prison, having no window, save a grating in the massive door to admit the air.

A lamp burned dimly upon the table, whereon stood also the coarse prison fare provided for the captive, but which was untouched.

The clanking of the weapons of the sentinels, who kept guard in the passage from which the various dungeons opened, fell mournfully upon Fernand’s ears, and every moment reminded him of the apparent impossibility to escape even if such an idea possessed him.

The lamp had burned throughout the day in his dungeon; for the light of heaven could not penetrate that horrible subterranean cell and it was only by the payment of gold that he had induced the jailer to permit him the indulgence of the artificial substitute for the rays of the glorious sun.

“Oh! wretched being that I am!” he thought within himself, as he paced the stone floor of his prison-house; “the destiny of the accursed is mine! Ah! fool dotard that I was to exchange the honors of old age for the vicissitudes of a renewed existence! Had nature taken her course, I should probably now be sleeping in a quiet grave and my soul might be in the regions of the blessed. But the tempter came, and dazzled me with prospects of endless happiness and I succumbed! Oh! Faust! would that thou hadst never crossed the threshold of my humble cottage in the Black Forest! How much sorrow how much misery should I have been spared! Better better to have remained in poverty solitude helplessness worn down by the weight of years and crushed by the sense of utter loneliness oh! better to have endured all this, than to have taken on myself a new tenure of that existence which is so marked with misery and woe!”

He threw himself upon a seat, and endeavored to reflect on his position with calmness; but he could not!

Starting up, he again paced the dungeon in an agitated manner.

“Holy God!” he exclaimed aloud, “how much wretchedness has fallen upon me in a single day! Agnes murdered Nisida perhaps forever estranged from me myself accused of a dreadful crime, whereof I am innocent and circumstances all combining so wonderfully against me! But who could have perpetrated the appalling deed? Can that mysterious lady, whom Agnes spoke of so frequently, and who, by her description, so closely resembled my much-loved Nisida can she ”

At that moment the bolts were suddenly drawn back from the door of the dungeon the clanking chains fell heavily on the stone pavement outside and the jailer appeared, holding a lamp in his hand.

“Your brother, signor, is come to visit you,” said the turnkey. “But pray let the interview be a brief one for it is as much as my situation and my own liberty are worth to have admitted him without an order from the chief judge.”

“With these words the jailer made way for a cavalier to enter the dungeon;” and as he closed the door, he said, “I shall return shortly to let your brother out again.”

Surprise had hitherto placed a seal upon Wagner’s lips; but even before the visitor had entered the cell, a faint suspicion a wild hope had flashed to his mind that Nisida had not forgotten him, that she would not abandon him.

But this hope was destroyed almost as soon as formed, by the sudden recollection of her affliction; for how could a deaf and dumb woman succeed in bribing and deceiving one so cautious and wary as the jailer of a criminal prison?

Nevertheless the moment the visitor had entered the cell and in spite of the deep disguise which she wore, the eyes of the lover failed not to recognize the object of his adoration in that elegant cavalier who now stood before him.

Scarcely had the jailer closed and bolted the massive door again, when Fernand rushed forward to clasp Nisida in his arms; but, imperiously waving her hand, she motioned him to stand back.

Then, with the language of the fingers, she rapidly demanded “Will you swear upon the cross that the young female who has been murdered, was not your mistress?”

“I swear,” answered Fernand in the same symbolic manner; and, as the light of the lamp played on his handsome countenance, his features assumed so decided an expression of truth, frankness, and sincerity, that Nisida was already more than half convinced of the injustice of her suspicions.

But still she was determined to be completely satisfied; and, drawing forth a small but exquisitely sculptured crucifix from her doublet, she presented it to her lover.

He sank upon one knee, received it respectfully, and kissed it without hesitation.

Nisida then threw herself into his arms, and embraced him with a fondness as warm, as wild, as impassioned as her suspicions had ere now been vehement and fearfully resentful.

Her presence caused Fernand to forget his sorrow to forget that he was in a dungeon to forget, also, the tremendous charge that hung over his head. For never had his Nisida appeared to him so marvelously beautiful as he now beheld her, disguised in the graceful garb of a cavalier of that age. Though tall, majestic, and of rich proportions for a woman, yet in the attire of the opposite sex she seemed slight, short, and eminently graceful. The velvet cloak sat so jauntily on her sloping shoulder; the doublet became her symmetry so well; and the rich lace collar was so arranged as to disguise the prominence of the chest that voluptuous fullness which could not be compressed.

At length a sudden thought struck Fernand, and he inquired, in the usual manner, how Nisida had gained access to him?

“A faithful friend contrived the interview for me,” she replied, with her wonted rapidity of play upon the fingers. “He led the jailer to believe that I was a German, and totally unacquainted with the Italian tongue. Thus not a word was addressed to me; and gold has opened the door which separated me from you. The same means shall secure your escape.”

“Dearest Nisida,” signaled Wagner, “I would not escape were the door of my dungeon left open and the sentinels removed. I am innocent and that innocence must be proved!”

The lady exhibited extraordinary impatience at this reply.

“You do not believe me guilty?” asked Wagner.

She shook her head in a determined manner, to show how profound was her conviction of his innocence.

“Then do not urge me, beloved one, to escape and be dishonored forever,” was the urgent prayer he conveyed to her.

“The evidence against you will be overwhelming,” she gave him to understand: then with an air of the most heart appealing supplication, she added, “Escape, dearest Fernand, for my sake!”

“But I should be compelled to fly from Florence and wouldst thou accompany me?”

She shook her head mournfully.

“Then I will remain here in this dungeon! If my innocence be proved, I may yet hope to call the sister of the Count of Riverola my wife: if I be condemned ”

He paused: for he knew that, even if he were sentenced to death, he could not die, that some power, of which, however, he had only a vague notion, would rescue him, that the compact, which gave him renewed youth and a long life on the fatal condition of his periodical transformation into a horrid monster, must be fulfilled; and, though he saw not understood not how all this was to be, still he knew that it would happen if he should really be condemned!

Nisida was not aware of the motive which had checked her lover as he was conveying to her his sense of the dread alternatives before him; and she hastened to intimate to him the following thought:

“You would say that if you be condemned, you will know how to meet death as becomes a brave man. But think of me of Nisida, who loves you!”

“Would you continue to love a man branded as a murderer?”

“I should only think of you as my own dear Fernand!”

He shook his head as much as to say, “It cannot be!” and then once more embraced her fondly for he beheld, in her anxiety for his escape, only a proof of her ardent affection.

At this moment the jailer returned: and while he was unbolting the door, Nisida made one last, imploring appeal to her lover to give his assent to escape, if the arrangements were made for that purpose.

But he conveyed to her his resolute determination to meet the charge, with the hope of proving his innocence: and for a few moments Nisida seemed convulsed with the most intense anguish of soul.

The jailer made his appearance; and Wagner, to maintain the deceit which Nisida informed him to have been practiced on the man, said a few words aloud in German as if he was really taking leave of a brother.

Nisida embraced him tenderly; and covering her countenance, as much as possible, with her slouched hat, the waving plumes of which she made to fall over her face, this extraordinary being issued from the cell.