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


Isaachar had taken away the lamp with him to give admission to the bandit, and the marquis had remained for a few instants in the dark.

When the Jew reappeared, bearing the light, Orsini’s first and natural impulse was to cast a rapid, searching glance at the brigand captain. At the same moment this individual burst into a loud, coarse, joyous laugh; and the marquis, to his profound surprise, recognized in Stephano Verrina the person with whom he had twice played so unsuccessfully at the gambling house.

“Good, my lord!” exclaimed Verrina, flinging himself upon the ottoman which the Jew had ere now occupied; “there is not in all Florence a man whom I would rather have encountered than yourself.”

“You are somewhat pressing for the trifle the miserable trifle in which I am indebted to you, signor,” said the marquis haughtily; “seeing that scarce two hours have elapsed since I lost the amount at the casino.”

“Pshaw! who alluded to the affair, save yourself?” cried Stephano. “It was for another motive ”

“Yes; and I also wished to see Signor Stephano Verrina for another motive,” exclaimed Manuel emphatically.

“Ah! then you know me, my lord?” said the bandit. “And yet methought I was a stranger to you, although you were none to me at the casino.”

“You were a stranger until now,” continued Orsini; “but Isaachar knew by the knock which you dealt so lustily on his door, who was his visitor.”

“And your lordship was desirous to see me?”

“Very much so. I believe you expressed a similar wish?”

“Precisely, my lord,” returned Stephano. “But as you hold the higher rank in the world, precedence in the way of explanation belongs to your lordship.”

“It is rather an explanation which I seek, than one which I have to give,” rejoined Manuel, in a cold but resolute manner. “In a word, my business with thee is touching the diamonds of the Duchess of Arestino.”

“And my business with your lordship is touching the countess herself,” observed Verrina, also in a cool and deliberate manner.

“Ah!” cried the marquis, with a sudden start.

“Yes, my lord. But this is no place for explanations on that head,” added Stephano, glancing toward the Jew.

“I understand you, signor; we must confer alone,” said the marquis. “We will go out together presently; but in the meantime, one word concerning the diamonds which the Countess of Arestino ”

“Employed me to procure for her,” exclaimed Stephano, finishing the nobleman’s sentence for him. “I presume that old Isaachar here has informed you of the particulars of my previous visit to him this night or rather last night, for it is now the Sabbath morning.”

“I am well informed of those particulars, Sir Captain,” returned Manuel; “but I would fain know what has become of the jewels which you obtained from Isaachar.”

“I might with reason question your lordship’s right to catechise me ”

“Ah! villain would you dare?” exclaimed the marquis, his countenance becoming flushed with rage: for he imagined that the robber chief was trifling with him. “Far as you are beneath me wide as is the gulf that separates the Marquis of Orsini from the proscribed bravo yet will I condescend to wreak upon thee, base-born as thou art, that vengeance which the law has not yet been able to inflict.”

And Manuel unsheathed his weapon with such rapidity that the polished blade of Milan steel flashed like lightning in the glare of the lamp.

“Since this is your object, I will bear with your humor,” muttered Stephano, starting from his seat and drawing his heavy sword.

“My lord good Signor Verrina in mercy not here I implore ” ejaculated the Jew, speaking in a piteous tone, and wringing his hands in alarm at this hostile demonstration.

“Stand back!” thundered the bandit chief; and the Jew retreated to the most remote corner of the room, where he fell upon his knees and began to offer up prayers that no blood would be spilt for he was a humane and kind-hearted man.

The marquis and the captain of banditti crossed their weapons; and the combat began. The former was lighter, younger, and therefore, more active than his opponent; but the latter was far more experienced in the use of his sword; and, moreover, the space was too narrow to enable the marquis to gain any advantage from his superior agility. The fight lasted about ten minutes, when the bandit parried a desperate thrust that was made at him by his opponent, and at the next moment wounded the marquis in the sword arm. The weapon fell from Manuel’s hand, and he stood at the mercy of his conqueror.

“You are wounded, my lord and the blood is flowing!” cried Stephano. “Hasten, friend Isaachar and fetch water, bandages ”

“It is nothing a mere scratch,” exclaimed the marquis, tearing away with his left hand the right sleeve of his doublet, and displaying a tolerably severe gash, which ran down the forearm lengthwise, and from which the blood trickled on the floor. “Be kind enough to bind it with my scarf, Signor Verrina, and let us continue in a more peaceful manner the discourse which has been somewhat rudely interrupted.”

Isaachar, however, supplied water in an ewer, and linen bandages; and the old man, forgetting the object of Manuel’s predatory visit to his abode, hastened himself to wash and bind up the wounded arm.

“Thou art a good Jew and hast something of the feeling of the Christian in thee,” said the marquis, when the operation was completed.

“Didst thou ever suppose that different creeds made different hearts, my lord?” asked the old man, in a half melancholy, half reproachful tone.

“Isaachar, I shall not forget this kindness on your part,” said the marquis, blushing with shame at himself, when he reflected on the purpose for which he had sought the Jew’s dwelling. “Heaven knows it is not in my power to reward you with gold; but whenever I may henceforth hear your race traduced, reckon upon me as its champion.”

The old man cast a look of gratitude upon the marquis; and, after some little hesitation, he said in a tremulous tone, “Your lordship hinted ere now at least methought I understood as much that you required gold. I take Father Abraham above to witness that I am not so rich as ye Christians deem me to be; but since your lordship can say a kind word of the Jew I I will lend you such sum as you may need without interest without bond ”

Orsini, in whose breast all generous feeling had not been entirely crushed by the vices which had proved his ruin, extended his left hand for his right now hung in a sling to the kind-hearted Jew, exclaiming, “There is the signor to whom I am indebted, worthy Isaachar; it is for him to say whether he will press me immediately for the sum that I have fairly lost to him with the dice.”

“Not I!” ejaculated Stephano, in his blunt, coarse manner. “And therefore your lordship need not lay yourself under any obligation to the Jew, who, after all, is a worthy signor in his way.”

“Yes,” exclaimed the marquis, “I shall ever lie under an obligation to him; nor shall I be ashamed to proclaim the fact in the presence of all Florence.”

“And now, my lord,” resumed Stephano, “I will give you that explanation relative to the diamonds which you might have had without bloodshed; but patience and aristocracy are as much at variance as a thief and the headsman. Read this paper, my lord; it is not the worst testimonial which I could produce in proof of good character.”

And he handed to the marquis the document which he had compelled the Countess of Arestino to sign.

Manuel read it with astonishment.

“Then she has the diamonds in her possession!” he exclaimed; “and you must have seen her since I was there!”

“My lord,” replied Stephano, as he received back the paper, “I was at the Arestino Palace ere now, at the same time, and in the same room, as yourself. But this is a mystery I will explain presently. As for the diamonds Isaachar here can tell your lordship what he has done with the real stones, for those that I received from him which I handed to her ladyship were false.”

Orsini glanced toward the Jew, who was now pale and trembling.

“It was to make inquiries on this point,” continued Stephano, “that I came here on the present occasion. And to speak truly, it was also with the intention of making the old Israelite disgorge his plunder.”

“Plunder!” repeated the Jew, in a tone almost of indignation, in spite of the terror with which the bandit-captain inspired him. “Did I not lend my good golden ducats upon those diamonds? and must I be blamed, if knowing ah! knowing too well, the base artifices of which many of even the best-born Florentine nobles and great ladies are capable, must I be blamed, I say, if aware of all this, I adopted a device which the wickedness of others, and not our own, has rendered common amongst those of our race who traffic in loans upon jewels and precious stones.”

“Isaachar speaks naught save the pure truth,” remarked Orsini, blushing at the justice which dictated these reproaches against the aristocracy whereof he was a member. “Signor Verrina,” he continued, “you are a brave man and I believe you to be a generous one. Confirm this opinion on my part, by refraining from further molestation toward the Jew, and thou wilt doubly render me thy debtor.”

“Be that as you will, my lord,” grumbled the bandit-chief. “And now let us depart for I have much to communicate to your lordship.”

“I am ready to accompany you,” returned the marquis, putting on his plumed hat, and settling his cloak with his left hand.

“One word, my lord,” said Isaachar, in his habitual nervous and trembling tone. “Should the Countess of Arestino really need her diamonds really need them, my lord I should not object that is, my lord,” he added in a firmer voice, as if ashamed at the hesitation with which he was expressing his readiness to do a good action, “I will at once give them up to her, trusting to her ladyship’s honor to pay me my moneys at her most befitting convenience.”

“Her ladyship does not require them now!” exclaimed the bandit-chief, emphatically.

The marquis looked at Stephano inquiringly, for there was something ominously mysterious in his words; but the brigand stalked in a dogged manner toward the door, as if anxious to hurry the departure so long protracted, and Manuel, having renewed the expressions of his gratitude toward Isaachar ben Solomon, hastily followed Verrina from the house.