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


In the meantime Fernand Wagner was engaged in the attempt to cross the chain of mountains which intersected the island whereon the shipwreck had thrown him. He had clambered over rugged rocks and leapt across many yawning chasms in that region of desolation, a region which formed so remarkable a contrast with the delicious scenery which he had left behind him. And now he reached the base of a conical hill, the summit of which seemed to have been split into two parts: and the sinuous tracks of the lava-streams, now cold, and hard, and black, adown its sides, convinced him that this was the volcano, from whose rent crater had poured the bituminous fluid so fatal to the vegetation of that region.

Following a circuitous and naturally formed pathway round the base, he reached the opposite side; and now from a height of three hundred feet above the level of the sea, his eyes commanded a view of a scene as fair as that behind the range of mountains. He was now for the first time convinced of what he had all along suspected namely, that it was indeed an island on which the storm had cast him. But though from the eminence where he stood his view embraced the immense range of the ocean, no speck in the horizon no sail upon the bosom of the expanse imparted hope to his soul.

Hunger now oppressed him; for he had eaten nothing since the noon of the preceding day, when he had plucked a few fruits in the groves on the other side of the island. He accordingly commenced a descent toward the new region which lay stretched before him, fair as even fairer than the one which had first greeted his eyes.

But he had not proceeded many yards amidst the defiles of the rugged rocks which nature had piled around the base of the volcano, when he found his way suddenly barred by a vast chasm, on the verge of which the winding path stopped.

The abyss was far too wide to be crossed save by the wing of the bird: and in its unfathomable depths boiled and roared a torrent, the din of whose eddies was deafening to the ear.

Wagner retraced his way to the very base of the volcano, and entered another defile: but this also terminated on the edge of the same precipice.

Again and again did he essay the various windings of that scene of rock and crag: but with no better success than at first; and after passing a considerable time in these fruitless attempts to find a means of descent into the plains below, he began to fear that he should be compelled to retrace his way into the region of verdure which he had quitted the day before, and which lay behind the range of mountains. But the thought of the hideous snake which he had seen in the tree caused a cold shudder to pass over him then, in the next moment, he remembered that if the region on one side of the mountain were invested with reptiles of that terrible species, it was not probable that the forests which he beheld as it were at his feet, were free from the same source of apprehension. Still he had hoped to find human companionship on this side of the mountains which he had so far succeeded in reaching the companionship of the man who had cast away the doublet, and of the woman whom he had seen in the mirage.

And was it not strange that he had not as yet overtaken, or at least obtained a trace of, the man who thus occupied a portion of his thoughts? If that man were still amongst the mountains, they would probably meet; if he had succeeded in descending into the plains below, the same pathway that conducted him thither would also be open to Wagner. Animated with these reflections, and in spite of the hunger which now sorely oppressed him, Wagner prosecuted with fresh courage his search for a means of descent into the lovely regions that lay stretched before him, when he was suddenly startled by the sound of a human voice near him.

“My son, what dost thou amidst this scene of desolation?” were the words which, uttered in a mild benignant tone, met his ears.

He turned and beheld an old man of venerable appearance, and whose beard, white as snow, stretched down to the rude leathern belt which confined the palmer’s gown that he wore.

“Holy anchorite!” exclaimed Wagner “for such must I deem thee to be, the sound of thy voice is most welcome in this solitude, amidst the mazes of which I vainly seek to find an avenue of egress.”

“Thus it is oft with the troubles and perplexities of the world, my son,” answered the hermit, “that world which I have quitted forever.”

“And dost thou dwell in this desolate region?” asked Fernand.

“My cave is hard by,” returned the old man. “For forty years have I lived in the heart of these mountains, descending only into the plains at long intervals, to gather the fruits that constitute my food: and then,” he added, in a tone which, despite the sanctity of his appearance, struck cold and ominous to the very heart of Wagner, “and then, too, at the risk of becoming the prey of the terrible anaconda!”

“Thou sayest, holy hermit,” exclaimed Fernand, endeavoring to conquer a feeling of unaccountable aversion which he had suddenly entertained toward the old man, “thou sayest that thy cave is hard by. In the name of mercy! I beseech thee to spare me a few fruits, and a cup of water, for I am sinking with fatigue, hunger, and thirst.”

“Follow me, young man,” said the hermit; and he led the way to a cave opening from a narrow fissure in the rock.

The anchorite’s abode was, as Wagner had expected to find it, rude and cheerless. A quantity of dry leaves were heaped in one corner evidently forming the old man’s couch; and in several small hollows made in the walls of rock, were heaps of fruit fresh and inviting, as if they had only just been gathered. On the ground stood a large earthen pitcher of water. Upon this last object did the thirsty Wagner lay his left hand; but ere he raised it, he glanced hastily round the cave in search of a crucifix, in the presence of which he might sign the form of the cross with his right hand. But to his astonishment the emblem of Christianity was not there; and it now struck him for the first time that the anchorite wore no beads around his waist.

“Young man, I can divine your thoughts,” said the hermit, hastily; “but drink, eat, and ask a blessing presently. Thou art famished, pause not to question my motives. I will explain them fully to thee when thy body is refreshed with that pure water and those delicious fruits.”

“Water shall not pass my lips, nor fruits assuage the cravings of hunger, until I know more of thee, old man!” exclaimed Wagner, a terrible suspicion flashing to his mind; and without another instant’s hesitation or delay, he made the sign of the cross.

A yell of rage and fury burst from the lips of the false anchorite, while his countenance became fearfully distorted his eyes glared fiercely his whole aspect changed and in a few moments he stood confessed in shape, attire and features, the demon who had appeared to Fernand in the prison of Florence!

“Fiend! what wouldst thou with me?” exclaimed Wagner, startled and yet unsubdued by this appearance of the evil spirit amidst that region of desolation.

“Mortal,” said the demon, in his deepest and most serious tones, “I am here to place happiness happiness ineffable within thy reach. Nay, be not impatient: but listen to me for a few moments. ’Twas my power that conducted thy ship, amidst the fury of the storm which He whose name I dare not mention raised, to the shores of this island. ’Twas my influence which yesterday, as thou wast seated on the sunny banks, filled thine imagination with those delicious thoughts of Nisida. And it was I also who, by the wonders of the mirage, showed thee the form of the only female inhabitant of this isle. And that one female, Wagner that woman who is now as it were within thy reach that lovely being whose presence on this island would teach thee to have no regret for the world from which you are separated, and whose eyes would cast forth rays of joy and gladness upon everything around that charming lady, who has already decked herself with those flowers which her fair hands have woven into wildly fantastic arabesques, that being is thy Nisida, the Island Queen.”

“Fiend! you mock you deceive me,” cried Fernand, wildly hovering between joyous hope and acute fear.

“Did I deceive thee, Wagner, when I showed thee thy Nisida in the power of the corsairs?” said the demon, with a smile of bitter, sardonic triumph. “I tell thee, then, that Nisida is on this island there, in the very region into which thou wouldst descend, but to which thou wilt find no avenue save by my aid.”

“Nisida is here on this island,” exclaimed Fernand in an ecstasy of joy.

“Yes and Stephano, the bandit, likewise,” added the demon. “It was his doublet which you found it was he who slaked his thirst with the juice of the fruits which I, then invisible, beheld thee contemplate with attention.”

“Stephano here also!” cried Wagner. “Oh! Nisida to thy rescue!”

And he bounded forth from the cave, and was rushing madly down one of the tortuous defiles leading toward the chasm, when the voice of the demon suddenly caused him to stop short.

“Fool! insensate mortal!” said the fiend, with a derisive laugh. “How canst thou escape from these mountains? But tarry a moment and behold thy Nisida behold also her persecutor, who lusts after her.”

Thus speaking; he handed Wagner a magic telescope, which immediately brought the most remote objects to a distance of only a few yards.

Then what a delicious scene met Fernand’s eyes! He beheld Nisida bathing in the sea sporting like a mermaid with the wavelets plunging into the refreshing depths then wringing out the water from her long raven hair, now swimming and diving, then wading on her feet, unconscious that a human eye beheld her.

At length she came forth from the sea, beauteous as a Venus rising from the ocean; and her toilet commenced upon the sand. But scarcely had she decked herself with the flowers which she had gathered early in the morning for the purpose, when she started and rose up; and then Wagner beheld a man approaching her from the nearest grove.

“That is Stephano Verrina!” murmured the demon in his ears.

Fernand uttered a cry of dismay, and threw down the telescope.

“You may save her save her yet,” said the demon, speaking in a tone of unusual haste. “In a few minutes she will be in his power he is strong and desperate; be mine, and consent to serve me and in a moment Nisida shall be clasped in thy arms the arms of thee, her deliverer.”

“No no! I will save her without thine aid, dread fiend!” exclaimed Wagner, a prey to the most terrible excitement.

Then making the sign of the cross, he rushed forward to leap the yawning chasm; his feet touched the opposite side, but he lost his balance, reeled, and fell back into the tremendous abyss, while the demon, again baffled, and shrinking in horror from the emblem of Christianity, disappeared with cries of rage and vexation.

Down down fell Wagner, turning over and over in the hideous vacancy, and clutching vainly at the stunted shrubs and dead roots which projected from the rugged sides of the chasm.

In another moment he was swallowed up by the boiling torrent; but his senses did not leave him, and he felt himself hurried along with the furious speed of the mad waters. Thus nearly a minute passed; and then his headlong course was suddenly arrested by the boughs of a tree, which, having given way at the root, bent over into the torrent. He clung to the boughs as if they were arms stretched out to rescue him; he raised himself from amidst the turbid waters and in a few moments reached a bank which shelved upward to the edge of a dense forest.

Precisely on the opposite or inner side there was an opening in the rocks, and Wagner’s eye could trace upward a steep but still practicable path, doubtless formed by some torrent of the spring, which was now dried up amidst the mountains above, that path reaching to the very basis of the volcano.

Thus, had circumstances permitted him to exercise his patience and institute a longer search among the defiles formed by the crags and rocks around the conical volcano, he would have discovered a means of safe egress from that region without daring the desperate leap of the chasm, desperate even for him, although he bore a charmed life, because his limbs might have been broken against the rugged sides of the precipice.

Between the opening to the steep path just spoken of, and the shelving bank on which Wagner now stood, there was so narrow a space, that the bent tree stretched completely across the torrent; thus any one, descending from the mountains by the natural pathway, might cross by means of the tree to the side which Fernand had gained.

“This, then, must have been the route by which the villain Stephano emerged from the mountains,” he said to himself, “and the fiend deceived me when he declared that I could not reach the plains below without his aid.”

Such were his reflections as he hurried up the shelving bank: and when he reached the summit his glance embraced a scene already described to the reader.

For, flying wildly on toward the forest, was his beauteous Nisida, scattering flowers in her whirlwind progress, those flowers that had ere now decked her hair, her neck and her waist.

At some distance behind her was the bandit Stephano; with sword in hand he still maintained the chase, though breathless and ready to sink from exhaustion. Not an instant did Wagner tarry upon the top of the bank which he had reached; but darting toward Nisida, who was now scarce fifty yards from him, he gave vent to an ejaculation of joy.

She saw him she beheld him: and her speed was checked in an instant with the overpowering emotion of wonder and delight.

Then, as he hurried along the verge of the forest to encounter her to fold her in his fond embrace to protect her, she once more sprung forward, with outstretched arms, to fly into his arms, which were open to receive her. But at that instant there was a horrible rustling amidst the foliage of the huge tree beneath which she was hastening on; a monstrous snake darted down with a gushing sound, and in another moment the beauteous form of Nisida was encircled by its hideous coils.

Then fled that wondrous self-command which for long years she had exercised with such amazing success: then vanished from her mind all the strong motives which had induced her to undertake so terrible a martyrdom as that of simulating the loss of two faculties most dear and most valuable to all human beings; and with a cry of ineffable anguish, she exclaimed, “Fernand, save me! save me!