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


The moment Stephano and the marquis were alone together in the open street the former related all the incidents which had occurred at the Arestino Palace after the departure of Manuel himself; and the young nobleman now learned, with feelings of remorse and sorrow, that the unfortunate countess had been hurried away to the convent of the Carmélites that species of inquisition the gates of which so seldom opened more than once for each new female victim.

“But you promised to save her, signor!” he exclaimed, with enthusiastic warmth.

“I gave this pledge in the manner described to your lordship,” returned Verrina, “and I shall not swerve from it.”

“Think you that her liberation can be effected?” demanded Manuel. “Remember that the convent is protected by the highest personages in the state that violence never will succeed in accomplishing the object for should an armed man dare to pass that sacred threshold, every sbirro in Florence would fly to the spot ”

“It is, then, your lordship who is afraid of attempting the rescue of the countess!” interrupted Stephano, in a contemptuous tone.

“That observation is hardly fair, Signor Verrina,” said the young nobleman; “considering that my right arm is disabled, and that the wound was received in combat with yourself.”

“I crave your lordship’s pardon,” exclaimed the bandit-captain. “My remark was most uncourteous particularly to one who has ere now given no equivocal proof of his valor. But I pretend not to courtly manners; and such as I am you will find me faithfully devoted to your service and that of the Lady Giulia. The attempt to rescue her will be somewhat hazardous; it is, however, tolerably sure of success. But it can only be undertaken on certain conditions; and these regard your lordship’s self. Indeed, had I not so opportunely met you at the Jew’s house, I should have sent one of my fellows to you to-morrow.”

“In what way do the conditions that you speak of, regard myself?” inquired the marquis.

“To this extent,” returned the robber-chief; “that you accompany me to my stronghold, wherever it may be; that you join us in any project or plan that may be undertaken with a view to liberate the Countess of Arestino; and that you remain with us until such project or plan be attempted; then, whether it succeed or fail, you shall be at liberty to take your departure.”

“Agreed!” exclaimed Manuel; “and now permit me to ask you one question: On what ground do you manifest this interest in behalf of the countess and myself? You are well aware that from me you have little to hope in the shape of reward; and that the countess will be in no better condition than myself to recompense you, even if you succeed in effecting her rescue.”

“I am well aware of this, my lord,” answered Stephano; “and I will give you an explanation of my motives as frankly as you solicit it. In the first place it suits my projects to make friends as much as possible with nobles and great ladies; as no one can say how or when such interest may be available to me or to those connected with me. Secondly, I am not sorry to have an excuse for paying a visit to the Carmelite Convent; and in case of failure, it will be as well to have a Florentine noble amongst us. Because the statutes of our glorious Republic are somewhat unequal in their application; thus, for instance, if a plebeian commit sacrilege, he is punished with death; but a patrician is merely reprimanded by the judge and mulcted in a sum which is devoted to religious purposes. In this latter case, too, the companions of the patrician are punished only as he himself is. Now, therefore, your lordship’s presence amongst us will be a guarantee for our safety. Lastly, for I have another and less selfish motive, I admire the spirit with which your lordship spends money, drinks a flagon of good wine, and loses your thousands at dice; for saving your lordship’s presence, there is much in all those facts which finds sympathy with my own inclinations. Thus, everything considered, Stephano Verrina and fifty as gallant fellows as ever bore the name of banditti, are completely at your lordship’s service, and that of the dear lady who has the good taste to prefer a dashing roistering blade like yourself, to a gentleman no doubt very worthy of esteem, but certainly old enough to be her father.”

The marquis made no reply to this tirade; but he reflected profoundly upon all that the robber-chieftain said as they walked leisurely along through the suburb of Alla Croce, and toward the city.

He reflected because he now saw all the dangers that were associated with the step he was taking, the chance of being arrested with the whole band of lawless freebooters, and the dishonor that would attach itself to his name, were such an event to occur. But on the other hand, Giulia was immured in consequence of her love for him; and his naturally chivalrous disposition triumphed over selfish considerations. Could her liberation be effected, he would fly with her into another state; and the revenues arising from her own little patrimony which had been settled on herself at her marriage would enable them to live comfortably, if not affluently. And who could tell but that her husband might die intestate? and then all his wealth would become hers by law.

Thus did he reason with himself.

“Well, my lord you do not reply?” exclaimed the robber-captain, impatient of the long silence which had followed his explanations. “Are you content to abide by the conditions I ere now proposed?”

“Perfectly content,” answered the marquis.

He knew that it was useless to reason with the brigand against the spoliation of the convent, which he had more than hinted at; for it was not likely that the robbers would incur so great a risk as that involved in the sacrilegious invasion of the sacred establishment, unless it were with the hope of reaping an adequate reward.

The bandit-chief and the young nobleman had now reached the boundary of the city; but instead of entering the streets, they turned abruptly to the right, Stephano acting as guide, and plunged into a thick grove of evergreens.

“Here, my lord,” said Stephano, stopping short, “you must consent to be blindfolded.”

“And wherefore?” demanded Manuel, indignantly. “Think you that I shall betray the secrets of your dwelling, wherever and whatever it may be?”

“I entertain no such base suspicion,” returned Verrina. “But we banditti are governed by a code of laws which none of us not even I, the chief dare violate. To the observance of this code we are bound by an oath of so deadly so dreadful a nature, that bold and reckless as we are, we could not forget that. And I should alike break our laws and depart from my oath, were I to conduct an uninitiated stranger to our stronghold otherwise than blindfolded.”

“I offer no further opposition, Signor Verrina,” said the marquis. “Fix on the bandage.”

Stephano tied his scarf over the nobleman’s eyes, and then conducted him slowly through the mazes of the grove.

In this manner they proceeded for nearly a quarter of an hour, when they stopped, and Stephano, quitting Manuel’s hand, said in a low tone, “Stand still just where you are for a moment, while I give the signal, and do not move a single step for it is a dangerous neighborhood.”

About half a minute elapsed, during which it struck Manuel that he heard a bell ring far far under ground. The sound was very faint: but still he felt convinced that he did hear it, and that it appeared to come from the bowels of the earth.

But he had not much time for reflection; for Stephano once more took his hand, saying, “You are now about to descend a flight of steps.”

They proceeded downward together for some distance, when the steps ceased, and they pursued their way on a flat surface of pavement; but the echoes of their footsteps convinced the marquis that he was treading a subterranean cavern or passage.

Presently a huge door, sounding as if it were made of iron, was closed behind them, and Stephano exchanged a few words in a whisper with some one who spoke to him at that point. Then they descended a few more steps, and at the bottom another door was banged heavily, when they had passed its threshold, the echoes resounding like pistol-shots throughout the place.

For a few minutes more did they proceed on another level-paved floor: and then the gurgling rush of a rapid stream met the ears of the marquis.

“Be careful in following me,” said Stephano; “for you are about to cross a narrow bridge, my lord and one false step is destruction.”

Slowly they passed over the bridge, which seemed to be a single plank of about thirty feet in length and excessively narrow, he had no doubt, both from the caution which he had received and the elasticity of that dangerous pathway.

On the opposite side, the level-paved surface was continued; and at the expiration of another minute, heavy folding-doors closed behind them.

“Take off the bandage, my lord,” said Stephano, as he untied the knot which fastened the scarf at the back of the young nobleman’s head.

The Marquis of Orsini gladly availed himself of this permission; and when the bandage fell from his eyes, he found himself in a spacious cavern, paved with marble, hung with rich tapestry, and lighted by four chandeliers of massive silver.

Six pillars of crystal supported the roof, and rendered the luster of the chandeliers almost insupportably brilliant by means of reflection.

In the midst of this subterranean apartment stood a large table, covered with flagons, empty wine flasks, and drinking-cups; but the revelers had retired to rest and the marquis and Stephano were alone in that banqueting-hall.

“Follow me, my lord,” said the bandit-captain; “and I will conduct you to a place where you will find as dainty a couch as even a nobleman so accustomed to luxury as your lordship need not despise.”

Thus speaking Stephano opened an iron door at the end of the hall, and led the way along a narrow and low corridor, lighted by lamps placed in niches at short intervals. At the end of this corridor he knocked at another door, which was opened in a few moments by a man who had evidently been aroused from his slumber.

“I bring a guest, Lomellino,” said Verrina. “See that his lordship be well cared for.”

Stephano then retraced his way along the corridor, and Lomellino closed and bolted the iron door.

But no pen can describe the astonishment of the marquis when he found himself in a spacious room, heaped all around with immense riches. Massive plate, splendid chandeliers, gorgeous suits of armor and martial weapons incrusted with gold or set with precious stones, chalices and dishes of silver, bags of money piled in heaps, an immense quantity of jewelry spread upon shelves, and an infinite assortment of the richest wearing apparel all these, suddenly bursting upon the young nobleman’s view by the light of a lamp suspended to the roof, produced an effect at once brilliant and astounding.

When Lomellino addressed him with a request to follow whither he should lead, it seemed as if some rude voice were suddenly awaking him from a delicious dream save that the cause of his pleasure and wonder was still present. Then, ashamed at having allowed himself to be so attracted by the spectacle of boundless wealth around him, he followed Lomellino to an alcove at the further end of the caverned room, and the entrance of which was covered by a purple velvet curtain, richly fringed with gold.

Within were two beds, having a screen between them. These couches were of the most comfortable description, and such as in those times were not usually seen elsewhere than in the dwellings of the wealthy. Near each bed stood a toilet-table and wash-stand, with ewers of massive silver and towels of fine linen; and to the walls hung two large mirrors articles of exclusive luxury at that period. The floor was richly carpeted, and a perfumed lamp burned in front of the dial of a water-clock.

Lomellino respectfully informed the marquis that one division of the alcove was at his service; and Manuel was too much wearied by the adventures of the evening not to avail himself of the information.

The brigand seeing that he was wounded, but without asking any questions as to the cause, proffered his aid to divest the marquis of his upper clothing; and at length the young nobleman was comfortably stretched in one of the voluptuous beds.

Sleep had just closed his eyelids, and he had even already entered upon a vision of fairy enchantment, doubtless conjured up to his imagination by the gorgeous spectacle of the treasure-room, when he was startled by screams which appeared to issue from the very wall of the alcove, at the head of his bed.

He listened and those screams became more and more piercing in their nature, although their tone was subdued, as if by the existence of a thick intervening partition.

“Holy Virgin! what sounds are those?” he exclaimed, more in pity than in fear for they were unmistakably female shrieks which he heard.

“Perdition seize on those Carmelite nuns!” cried Lomellino; “they seem to have got another victim!”

Another victim!” murmured the marquis falling back in his bed, a prey to the most torturing feelings; and then his lips framed the sweet and tender name of “GIULIA!”