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


Six days had now elapsed since Flora Francatelli became an inmate of the Carmelite Convent.

During this period she was frequently visited in her cell by Sister Alba, the nun who had received her at the bottom of the pit or well into which she descended by means of the chair; and that recluse gradually prepared her to fix her mind upon the necessity of embracing a conventual life.

It was not, however, without feelings of the most intense the most acute the most bitter anguish, that the unhappy maiden received the announcement that she was to pass the remainder of her existence in that monastic institution.

All the eloquence all the sophistry all the persuasion of Sister Alba, who presided over the department of the penitents, failed to make her believe that such a step was necessary for her eternal salvation.

“No,” exclaimed Flora, “the good God has not formed this earth so fair that mortals should close their eyes upon its beauties. The flowers, the green trees, the smiling pastures, the cypress groves were not intended to be gazed upon from the barred windows of a prison-house.”

Then the nun would reason with her on the necessity of self-denial and self-mortification; and Flora would listen attentively; but if she gave no reply, it was not because she was convinced.

When she was alone in her cell she sat upon her humble pallet, pondering upon her mournful condition, and sometimes giving way to all the anguish of her heart, or else remaining silent and still in the immovability of dumb despair.

Her suspicions often fell upon the Lady Nisida as the cause of her terrible immurement in that living tomb especially when she remembered the coldness with which her mistress had treated her a day or two previous to her forced abduction from the Riverola Palace. Those suspicions seemed confirmed, too, by the nature of the discourse which Sister Alba had first addressed to her, when she upbraided her with having given way to “those carnal notions those hopes those fears those dreams of happiness, which constitute the passion that the world calls love.”

The reader will remember that Flora had suspected the coolness of Nisida to have risen from a knowledge of Francisco’s love for the young maiden; and every word which Sister Alba had uttered in allusion to the passion of love seemed to point to that same fact.

Thus was Flora convinced that it was this unfortunate attachment, in which for a moment she had felt herself so supremely blest, that was the source of her misfortunes. But then, how had Nisida discovered the secret? This was an enigma defying conjecture; for Francisco was too honorable to reveal his love to his sister, after having so earnestly enjoined Flora herself not to betray that secret.

At times a gleam of hope would dawn in upon her soul, even through the massive walls of that living tomb to which she appeared to have been consigned. Would Francisco forget her? Oh! no, she felt certain that he would leave no measure untried to discover her fate, no means unessayed to effect her deliverance.

But, alas! then would come the maddening thought that he might be deceived with regard to her real position; that the same enemy or enemies who had persecuted her might invent some specious tale to account for her absence, and deter him from persevering in his inquiries concerning her.

Thus was the unhappy maiden a prey to a thousand conflicting sentiments; unable to settle her mind upon any conviction save the appalling one which made her feel the stern truth of her captivity.

Oh! to be condemned so young to perpetual prisonage, was indeed hard, too hard enough to make reason totter on its throne and paralyze the powers of even the strongest intellect.

Sister Alba had sketched out to her the course of existence on which she must prepare to enter. Ten days of prayer and sorry food in her own cell were first enjoined as a preliminary, to be followed by admission into the number of penitents who lacerated their naked forms with scourges at the foot of the altar. Then the period of her penitence in this manner would be determined by the manifestations of contrition which she might evince, and which would be proved by the frequency of her self-flagellations, the severity with which the scourge was applied, and the anxiety which she might express to become a member of the holy sisterhood. When the term of penitence should arrive, the maiden would be removed to the department of the convent inhabited by the professed nuns; and then her flowing hair would be cut short, and she would enter on her novitiate previously to taking the veil, that last, last step in the conventual regime, which would forever raise up an insuperable barrier between herself and the great, the beautiful, the glorious world without!

Such was the picture spread for the contemplation of this charming, but hapless maiden.

Need we wonder if her glances recoiled from her prospects, as if from some loathsome specter, or from a hideous serpent preparing to dart from its coils and twine its slimy folds around her?

Nor was the place in which she was a prisoner calculated to dissipate her gloomy reflections.

It seemed a vast cavern hollowed out of the bowels of the earth, rendered solid by masonry and divided into various compartments. No windows were there to admit the pure light of day; an artificial luster, provided by lamps and tapers, prevailed eternally in that earthly purgatory.

Sometimes the stillness of death, the solemn silence of the tomb reigned throughout that place: then the awful tranquillity would be suddenly broken by the dreadful shrieks, the prayers, the lamentations, and the scourges of the penitents.

The spectacle of these unfortunate creatures, with their naked forms writhing and bleeding beneath the self-inflicted stripes, which they doubtless rendered as severe as possible in order to escape the sooner from that terrible preparation for their novitiate this spectacle, we say, was so appalling to the contemplation of Flora, that she seldom quitted her own cell to set foot in the chamber of penitence. But there were times when her thoughts became so torturing, and the solitude of her stone chamber so terrible, that she was compelled to open the door and escape from those painful ideas and that hideous loneliness, even though the scene merely shifted to a reality from which her gentle spirit recoiled in horror and dismay.

But circumstances soon gave her a companion in her cell. For, on the second night of her abode in that place, the noise of the well-known machinery was heard; the revolution of wheels and the play of the dreadful mechanism raised ominous echoes throughout the subterrane. Another victim came: all the cells were tenanted: and the new-comer was therefore lodged with Flora, whose own grief was partially forgotten, or at all events mitigated, in the truly Christian task of consoling a fellow-sufferer.

Thus it was that the Countess of Arestino and Flora Francatelli became companions in the Carmelite convent.

At first the wretched Giulia gave way to her despair, and refused all comfort. But so gentle, so willing, so softly fascinating were the ways of the beautiful Flora, and so much sincerity did the charming girl manifest in her attempts to revive that frail but drooping flower which had been thrown as it were at her feet; at the feet of her, a pure though also drooping rosebud of innocence and beauty: so earnest did the maiden seem in her disinterested attentions, that Giulia yielded to the benign influence, and became comparatively composed.

But mutual confidence, that outpouring of the soul’s heavy secrets, which so much alleviates the distress of the female mind, did not spring up between the countess and Flora; because the former shrank from revealing the narrative of her frailty, and the latter chose not to impart her love for the young Count of Riverola. Nevertheless, the countess gave her companion to understand that she had friends without, who were acquainted with the fact of her removal to the Carmelite convent, and on whose fidelity as well as a resolute valor she could reckon; for the promise made to her by the robber-captain, and the idea that the Marquis of Orsini would not leave her to the dreadful fate of eternal seclusion in that place, flashed to her mind when the first access of despair had passed.

Flora was delighted to hear that such a hope animated the Countess of Arestino: and throwing herself at her feet, she said, “Oh! lady, should’st thou have the power to save me ”

“Thinkest thou that I would leave thee here, in this horrible dungeon?” interrupted the countess, raising Flora from her suppliant position on the cold pavement of the cell, and embracing her. “No, if those on whom I rely fulfill the hope that we have entertained we shall go forth together. And, oh!” added the countess, “were all Florence to rise up against this accursed institution, pillage it, and sack it, and raze it to the ground, so that not one stone shall remain upon another, heaven could not frown upon the deed! For surely demons in mortal shape must have invented that terrible engine by means of which I was consigned to this subterrane!”

The recollection of the anguish she had suffered during the descent, a mental agony that Flora herself could fully appreciate, she having passed through the same infernal ordeal, produced a cold shudder which oscillated throughout Giulia’s entire form.

But we shall not dwell upon this portion of our tale; for the reader is about to pass to scenes of so thrilling a nature, that all he has yet read in the preceding chapters are as nothing to the events which will occupy those that are to follow.

We said then, at the opening of this chapter, that six days had elapsed since Flora became an inmate of the convent, and four since circumstances had given her a companion in the person of Giulia of Arestino.

It was on the sixth night, and the two inmates of the gloomy cell were preparing to retire to their humble pallet, after offering their prayers to the Virgin, for adversity had already taught the countess to pray, and to pray devoutly, too, when they were startled and alarmed by the sudden clang of a large bell fixed in some part of the subterrane.

The echoes which it raised, and the monotonous vibration of the air which it produced, struck terror to their souls.

A minute elapsed, and again the bell struck.

Flora and the countess exchanged glances of terror and mysterious doubt, so ominous was that sound.

Again a minute passed, and a third time clanged that heavy iron tongue.

Then commenced a funeral hymn, chanted by several female voices, and emanating as yet from a distance, sounding, too, as if the mournful melody was made within the very bowels of the earth.

But by degrees the strain became louder, as those who sang approached nearer; and in a short time the sound of many light steps on the stone pavement of the chamber of penitence were heard by Giulia and her companion in their cell.

Again did they exchange terrified glances, as if demanding of each other what this strange interruption of night’s silence could mean. But at that instant the hymn ceased and again the loud bell clanged, as if in some far-off gallery hollowed out of the earth.

Oh! in that convent where all was mysterious, and where a terrific despotism obeyed the dictates of its own wild will, such sounds as that funeral chant, and that deafening bell, were but too fairly calculated to inspire the souls of the innocent Flora and the guilty Giulia with the wildest apprehension!

Suddenly the door opened, and Sister Alba, who presided over the chamber of penitence, appeared on the threshold.

“Come forth, daughters!” she exclaimed; “and behold the punishment due to female frailty.”

The Countess of Arestino and Flora Francatelli mechanically obeyed this command; and a strange a heart-rending sight met their eyes.

The chamber of penitence was filled with nuns in their convent-garbs; and the penitents in a state of semi-nudity. On one side of the apartment, a huge door with massive bolts and chains stood open, allowing a glimpse, by the glare of the lamps, tapers, and torches, of the interior of a small cell that looked like a sepulcher. Near the entrance to that tomb, for such, indeed, it was stood the lady abbess: and on the pavement near her knelt a young and beautiful girl, with hands clasped and countenance raised in an agony of soul which no human pen can describe. The garments of this hapless being had been torn away from her neck and shoulders, doubtless by the force used to drag her thither: and her suppliant attitude, the despair that was depicted by her appearance, her extreme loveliness, and the wild glaring of her deep blue eyes, gave her the appearance of something unearthly in the glare of that vacillating light.

“No, daughter,” said the abbess, in a cold, stern voice; “there is no mercy for you on earth.”

Then echoed through the chamber of penitence a scream, a shriek so wild, so long, so full of agony, that it penetrated to the hearts of Flora, the countess, and some of the penitents, although the abbess and her nuns seemed unmoved by that appalling evidence of female anguish. At the same instant the bell struck again; and the funeral hymn was recommenced by the junior recluses.

Sister Alba now approached Flora and the countess, and said in a low whisper, “The vengeance of the conventual discipline is terrible on those who sin! That miserable girl completed her novitiate five months ago; and the night before she was to take the veil she escaped. This awful crime she committed for the sake of some man she had known ere she first entered the convent, and for whom she thus endangered her immortal soul. But her justly incensed relations yesterday discovered her retreat; and she was restored to this house of penitence and peace. Alas! the effects of her frailty were but too apparent; and that benighted girl would become a mother had she long enough to live!”

These last words were uttered with terrible significancy; and the nun turned aside, leaving Flora and the countess each a prey to the most unspeakable horror.

In the meantime the helpless victim of ecclesiastical vengeance the poor erring creature, who had dared and sacrificed everything for the love of her seducer had risen from her suppliant posture, and flown wildly madly round to the elder nuns in succession, imploring mercy, and rending the very roof of the subterrane with piercing screams. But those to whom she appealed turned a deaf ear; for a convent is a tomb in which all human sympathies are immured a vortex wherein all the best feelings that concrete in the mortal heart are cruelly engulfed!

And while this wretched girl for she was scarcely yet a woman, although were life spared her, on the way to maternity was thus fruitlessly imploring the mercy of hearts that were stern and remorseless, the hymn continued, and the bell tolled at short intervals.

Suddenly at a particular verse in the funeral chant, the three nuns who usually did the bidding of the lady abbess, glided noiselessly but surely, like black serpents toward the victim seized her in their powerful grasp and bore her to the cell in which she was to be immured.

The choir of nuns raised their voices, and the bell now clanged quickly with its almost deafening note and those human and metallic sounds combined to deaden the screams that burst from the miserable girl, on whom the huge door at length closed with fearful din.

The massive bolts were drawn the key turned harshly in the lock and still the shrieks came from within the sepulcher where a human being was entombed alive!

So sickening a sensation came over Flora and the countess, when the last act of the awful tragedy was thus concluded, that they reeled back to their cell with brains so confused, and such horrible visions floating before their eyes, that their very senses appeared to be abandoning them.

When they were enabled to collect their scattered ideas, and the incidents of the last half-hour assumed a definite shape in their memories, the sound of hymn and bell had ceased the chamber of penitence was deserted the silence of death reigned throughout the subterrane nor did even the faintest shriek or scream emanate from the cell in which the victim was entombed.