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


Oh! how beautiful how enchantingly beautiful seemed Nisida, as her delicate feet bore her glancingly along the sunny banks of the crystal stream, to the soft music of its waters. How the slight drapery which she wore set off the rich undulations of that magnificent form! How the wreaths and garlands of fantastically woven flowers became the romantic loveliness of her person that glowing Hebe of the South!

Holding in her fair hand a light, slim wand, and moving through the delicious vale with all the soft abandonment of gait and limb which feared no intrusion on her solitude, she appeared that Mediterranean island’s queen. What, though the evening breeze, disporting with her raiment, lifted it from her glowing bosom? she cared not; no need for sense of shame was there! What though she laid aside her vesture to disport in the sea at morn? no furtive glances did she cast round; no haste did she make to resume her garments; for whose eye, save that of God, beheld her?

But was she happy? Alas! there were moments when despair seized upon her soul; and, throwing herself on the yellow sand, or on some verdant bank, she would weep oh! she would weep such bitter, bitter tears, that those who have been forced to contemplate her character with aversion, must now be compelled to pity her.

Yes; for there were times when all the loveliness of that island seemed but a hideous place of exile, an abhorrent monotony which surrounded her grasped her clung to her hemmed her in, as if it were an evil spirit, having life and the power to torture her. She thought of those whom she loved, she pondered upon all the grand schemes of her existence, and she felt herself cut off from a world to which there were so many ties to bind her, and in which she had so much to do. Then she would give way to all the anguish of her soul an anguish that amounted to the deepest, blackest despair, when her glances wildly swept the cloudless horizon, and beheld not a sail no! nor a speck on the ocean to engender hope. But when this tempest of grief and passion was past, she would be angry with herself for having yielded to it; and, in order to distract her thoughts from subjects of gloom, she would bound toward the groves, light as a fawn, the dazzling whiteness of her naked and polished ankles gleaming in contrast with the verdure of the vale.

One morning after Nisida had been many, many days on the island, she was seated on the sand, having just completed her simple toilet on emerging from the mighty bath that lay stretched in glassy stillness far as the eye could reach, when she suddenly sprung upon her feet, and threw affrighted looks around her. Had she possessed the faculty of hearing, it would be thought that she was thus startled by the sound of a human voice which had at that instant broken upon the solemn stillness of the isle a human voice emanating from a short distance behind her. As yet she saw no one; but in a few moments a man emerged from the nearest grove, and came slowly toward her.

He was dressed in a light jerkin, trunk-breeches, tight hose, and boot in all as an Italian gentleman of that day, save in respect to hat and doublet, of which he had none. Neither wore he a sword by his side, nor carried any weapons of defense; and it was evident he approached the island queen with mingled curiosity and awe.

Perhaps he deemed her to be some goddess, endowed with the power and the will to punish his intrusion on her realm; or peradventure his superstitious imagination dwelt on the tales which sailors told in those times how mermaids who fed on human flesh dwelt on the coasts of uninhabited islands, and assuming the most charming female forms, lured into their embrace the victims whom shipwreck cast upon their strand, and instead of lavishing on them the raptures of love, made them the prey of their ravenous maws.

Whatever were his thoughts, the man drew near with evident distrust. But, now why does Nisida’s countenance become suddenly crimson with rage? why rushes she toward the stores which still remained piled up on the strand? and wherefore, with the rapidity of the most feverish impatience, does she hurl the weapons of defense into the sea, all save one naked sword, with which she arms herself? Because her eagle glance, quicker than that of the man who is approaching her, has recognized him, ere he has even been struck with a suspicion relative to who she is and that man is Stephano Verrina!

Now, Nisida! summon all thine energies to aid thee; for a strong, a powerful, a remorseless man, devoured with lust for thee, is near. And thou art so ravishingly beautiful in thy aerial drapery, and thy wreaths of flowers, that an anchorite could not view thee with indifference! Ah! Stephano starts stops short advances: the suspicion has struck him! The aquiline countenance, those brilliant large, dark eyes, that matchless raven hair, that splendid symmetrical maturity of form, and withal, that close compression of the vermilion lips, O Nisida! have been scanned in rapid detail by the brigand!

“Nisida!” he exclaimed; “Yes, it is she!”

And he bounded toward her with outstretched arms.

But the sharp sword was presented to his chest; and the lady stood with an air of such resolute determination, that he stopped short gazing upon her with mingled wonderment and admiration. Heavens! he had never beheld so glorious a specimen of female loveliness as that whereon his eyes were fastened, fastened beyond the possibility of withdrawal. How glossy black was that hair with its diadem of white roses! How miserably poor appeared the hues of the carnations and the pinks that formed her necklace, when in contrast with her flushing cheeks! How dingy were the lilies at her waist, compared with her heaving breast!

The reason of the brigand reeled, his brain swam round, and for a moment it seemed to him that she was not a being of this world; not the Nisida he had known and carried off from Italy, but a goddess, another and yet the same in all the glory of those matchless charms which had heretofore ravished no, maddened him!

And now the spirit of this bold and reckless man was subdued subdued, he knew not how nor wherefore; but still subdued by the presence of her whom he had deemed lost in the waves, but who seemed to stand before him, with flowers upon her brow and a sharp weapon in her hand radiant, too, with loveliness of person, and terrible with the fires of hatred and indignation!

Yes! he was subdued overawed rendered timid as a young child in her presence; and sinking upon his knees, he exclaimed forgetful that he was addressing Nisida the deaf and dumb “Oh! fear not I will not harm thee! But, my God! take compassion on me spurn me not look not with such terrible anger upon one who adores, who worships you! How is it that I tremble and quail before you I, once so reckless, so rude. But, oh! to kiss that fair hand to be your slave to watch over you to protect you and all this but for thy smiles in return I should be happy supremely happy! Remember we are alone on this island and I am the stronger; I might compel you by force to yield to me to become mine; but I will not harm you no, not a hair of your head, if you will only smile upon me! And you will require one to defend and protect you yes, even here in this island, apparently so secure and safe; for there are terrible things in this clime dreadful beings, far more formidable than whole hordes of savage men monsters so appalling that not all thy courage, nor all thy energy would avail thee a single moment against them. Yes, lady, believe me when I tell thee this! For many many days have I dwelt, a lonely being, on the other side of this isle, beyond that chain of mountains remaining on that shore to which the wild waves carried me on the night of shipwreck. But I hurried away at last I dared all the dangers of mighty precipices, yawning chasms, and roaring torrents the perils of yon mountains rather than linger on the other side. For the anaconda, lady, is the tenant of this island the monstrous snake the terrible boa, whose dreadful coils, if wound round that fair form of yours, would crush it into a hideous, loathsome mass?”

Stephano had spoken so rapidly, and with such fevered excitement that he had no time to reflect whether he were not wasting his words upon a being who could not hear them; until exhausted and breathless with the volubility of his utterance he remembered that he was addressing himself to Nisida the deaf and dumb. But happily his appealing and his suppliant posture had softened the lady: for toward the end of his long speech a change came over her countenance, and she dropped the point of her sword toward the ground.

Stephano rose, and stood gazing on her for a few moments with eyes that seemed to devour her. His mind had suddenly recovered much of its wonted boldness and audacity. So long as Nisida seemed terrible as well as beautiful, he was subdued; now that her eyes had ceased to dart forth lightnings, and the expression of her countenance had changed from indignation and resolute menace to pensiveness and a comparatively mournful softness, the bandit as rapidly regained the usual tone of his remorseless mind.

Yes; he stood gazing on her for a few moments, with eyes that seemed to devour her: then, in obedience to the impulse of maddening desire, he rushed upon her, and in an instant wrenched the sword from her grasp. But rapid as lightning, Nisida bounded away from him, ere he could wind his arms around her; and fleet as the startled deer, she hastened toward the groves.

Stephano, still retaining the sword in his hand, pursued her with a celerity which was sustained by his desire to possess her and by his rage that she had escaped him. But the race was unequal as that of a lion in chase of a roe; for Nisida seemed borne along as it were upon the very air. Leaving the groves on her left she dashed into the vale. Along the sunny bank of the limpid stream she sped; on, on toward a forest that bounded the valley at the further end, and rose amphitheatrically up toward the regions of the mountains!

Stephano Verrina still pursued her, though losing ground rapidly; but still he maintained the chase. And now the verge of the forest is nearly gained; and in its mazes Nisida hopes to be enabled to conceal herself from the ruffian whom, by a glance hastily cast behind from time to time, she ascertains to be upon her track. But, oh! whither art thou flying thus wildly, beauteous Nisida? into what appalling perils art thou rushing, as it were, blindly? For there, in the tallest tree on the verge of the forest to which thou now art near, there, amidst the bending boughs and the quivering foliage one of the hideous serpents which infest the higher region of the isle is disporting the terrible anaconda the monstrous boa, whose dreadful coils, if wound round that fair form of thine, would crush it into a loathsome mass!