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


Oh! with what astonishment and joy would Wagner have welcomed the sound of that voice, so long hushed, and now so musical even in its rending agony, had not such an appalling incident broken the spell that for years had sealed the lips of his beloved! But he had no time for thought there was not a moment for reflection. Nisida lay senseless on the ground, with the monster coiled around her its long body hanging down from the bough to which it was suspended by the tail. Simultaneously with the cry of anguish that had come from the lips of Nisida, exclamations of horror burst alike from Wagner and Stephano.

The latter stood transfixed as it were for a few moments, his eyes glaring wildly on the dreadful spectacle before him; then, yielding to the invincible terror that had seized upon him, he hurled away the sword knowing not what he did in the excitement of his mind, and fled! But the gleaming of the naked weapon in the sunbeams met Wagner’s eyes as it fell, and darting toward it, he grasped it with a firm hand resolving also to use it with a stout heart. Then he advanced toward the snake, which was comparatively quiescent that portion of its long body which hung between the tree and the first coil that it made round the beauteous form of Nisida alone moving; and this motion was a waving kind of oscillation, like that of a bell-rope which a person holds by the end and swings gently.

But from the midst of the coils the hideous head of the monster stood out its eyes gleaming malignantly upon Wagner as he approached. Suddenly the reptile, doubtless alarmed by the flashing of the bright sword, disengaged itself like lightning from the awful embrace in which it had retained the Lady Nisida, and sprung furiously toward Fernand. But the blow that he aimed at its head was unerring and heavy; its skull was cloven in two and it fell on the long grass, where it writhed in horrible convulsions for some moments, although its life was gone.

Words cannot be found to describe the delirium of joy which Wagner felt, when having thus slain the terrible anaconda, he placed his hand on Nisida’s heart and felt that it beat though languidly. He lifted her from the ground he carried her in his arms to the bank of the limpid stream and he sprinkled water upon her pale cheeks.

Slowly did she recover; and when her large black eyes at length opened, she uttered a fearful shriek, and closed them again for with returning life the reminiscence of the awful embrace of the serpent came back also. But Wagner murmured words of sweet assurance and consolation of love and joy, in her ears; and she felt that it was no dream, but that she was really saved! Then, winding her arms round Fernand’s neck, she embraced him in speechless and still almost senseless trance, for the idea of such happy deliverance was overpowering amounting to an agony which a mortal creature could scarcely endure.

“Oh! Nisida,” at length exclaimed Wagner, “was it a delusion produced by the horrors of that scene? or did thy voice really greet mine ears ere now!”

There was a minute’s profound silence during which, as they sat upon the bank of the stream, locked in a fond embrace, their eyes were fixed with fascinating gaze upon each other, as if they could not contemplate each other too long he in tenderness, and she in passion.

“Yes, Fernand,” said Nisida, breaking that deep silence at last, and speaking in a voice so mellifluously clear, so soft, so penetrating in its tone, that it realized all the fond ideas which her lover had conceived of what its nature would be if it were ever restored, “yes, Fernand, dearest Fernand,” she repeated, “you did indeed hear my voice, and to you never again shall I be mute.”

Wagner could not allow her time to say more: he was almost wild with rapture! His Nisida was restored to him, and no longer Nisida the deaf and dumb, but Nisida who could hear the fond language which he addressed to her, and who could respond in the sweetest, most melting and delicious tones that ever came from woman’s lips.

For a long time their hearts were too full, alike for total silence or connected conversation, and while the world from which they were cut off was entirely forgotten, they gathered so much happiness from the few words in which they indulged, and from all that they read in each other’s eyes, that the emotions which they experienced might have furnished sensations for a lifetime.

At length she scarcely knew how the subject began, although it might naturally have arisen of its own spontaneous suggestion Nisida found herself speaking of the long period of deception which she had maintained in relation to her powers of speech and hearing.

“Thou lovest me well, dearest Fernand,” she said in her musical Italian tones; “and thou would’st not create a pang in my heart? Then never seek to learn wherefore, when at the still tender age of fifteen, I resolved upon consummating so dreadful a sacrifice as to affect dumbness. The circumstances were, indeed, solemnly grave and strangely important, which demanded so awful a martyrdom. But well did I weigh all the misery and all the peril that such a self-devotion was sure to entail upon me. I knew that I must exercise the most stern the most remorseless the most inflexible despotism over my emotions that I must crush as it were the very feelings of my soul that I must also observe a caution so unwearied and so constantly wakeful, that it would amount to a sensitiveness the most painful and that I must prepare myself to hear the merry jest without daring to smile, or the exciting narrative of the world’s stirring events without suffering my countenance to vary a hue! Oh! I calculated I weighed all this, and yet I was not appalled by the immensity of the task. I knew the powers of my own mind, and I did not deceive myself as to their extent. But, ah! how fearful was it at first to hear the sounds of human voices, and dare not respond to them; how maddening at times was it to listen to conversation in which I longed to join, and yet be compelled to sit like a passionless statue! But mine was a will of iron strength a resolution of indomitable power! Even when alone when I knew that I should not be overheard I never essayed the powers of my voice, I never murmured a single syllable to myself so fearful was I lest the slightest use of the glorious gift of speech might render me weak in my purpose. And strange as it may seem to you, dearest Fernand, not even on this island did I yield to the temptation of suddenly breaking that long, that awful silence which I had imposed upon myself. And, until this day, one human being only, save myself, was acquainted with that mighty secret of ten long years, and that man was the generous-hearted, the noble-minded Dr. Duras. He it was who aided me in my project of simulating the forlorn condition of the deaf and dumb: he it was who bribed the turnkeys to admit me unquestioned to your cell in the prison of the ducal palace. And for years, perhaps, should I have retained my wondrous secret even from you, dearest Fernand; for through dangers of many kinds in circumstances of the most trying nature, have I continued firm in my purpose; abjuring the faculty of speech even when it would have saved me from much cruel embarrassment or from actual peril. Thus, when the villain Stephano Verrina bore me away by force from my native city, I maintained the seal upon my lips, trusting to circumstances to enable me to escape from his power without being compelled to betray a secret of such infinite value and importance to myself. But when I found that I was so narrowly watched at Leghorn that flight was impossible, I seriously debated, in my own mind, the necessity of raising an alarm in the house where I was kept a prisoner for two whole days; and then I reflected that I was in the power of a desperate bandit and his two devoted adherents, who were capable of any atrocity to forward their designs or prevent exposure. Lastly, when I was conveyed at dead of night on board the corsair-ship, the streets were deserted, and the pirates with whom Stephano was leagued, thronged the port. I therefore resigned myself to my fate, trusting still to circumstances, and retaining my secret. But that incident of to-day oh! it was enough to crush energies ten thousand times more powerful than mine: it was of so horrifying a nature as to be sufficient to loose the bands which confine the tongue of one really dumb.”

And a strong shudder convulsed the entire form of Nisida, as she thus, by her own words, recalled so forcibly to mind that terrible event which had broken a spell of ten years’ duration.

Fernand pressed her to his bosom, exclaiming, “Oh, beloved Nisida, how beautiful dost thou appear to me! how soft and charming is that dear voice of thine! Let us not think of the past, at least not now; for I also have explanations to give thee,” he added, slowly and mournfully; then, in a different and again joyous tone, he said: “Let us be happy in the conviction that we are restored to each other; let this be a holiday nay, more,” he added, sinking his voice almost to a whisper; “let it be the day on which we join our hands together in the sight of Heaven. No priest will bless our union, Nisida; but we will plight our vows and God will accord us his blessing.”

The lady hid her blushing, glowing countenance on his breast, and murmured in a voice melodious as the music of the stream by which they sat, “Fernand, I am thine thine forever.”

“And I am thine, my beauteous Nisida; thine forever, as thou art mine!” exclaimed Wagner, lifting her head and gazing on her lovely, blushing face as on a vision of heaven.

“No; she is mine!” thundered the voice of the forgotten Stephano, and in a moment the bandit flung himself upon Wagner, whom he attempted to hurl into the crystal but deep river.

Fernand, however, caught the arm of the brigand and dragged him along with him into the water, while a terrific scream burst from the lips of Nisida. Then furious was the struggle that commenced in the depths of the stream. But Stephano lay beneath Wagner, who held him down on the pebbly bottom. In another moment Nisida herself plunged into the river with the wild hope of aiding her lover to conquer his foe, or to rescue him from the grasp which the bandit maintained upon him with the tenacity that was strengthened rather than impaired by the agony of suffocation.

But she rose again to the surface in an instant by the indomitable influence of that instinct for self-preservation which no human being, when immersed in the deep water, can resist if the art of swimming has been attained. Again she dived to succor her lover, but her aid, even if she could have afforded any, was no longer necessary, for Fernand rose from the crystal depths and bore his Nisida to the bank, while the corpse of the drowned bandit was carried away by the current.

Wagner and Nisida were now the sole human inhabitants of that isle the king and queen of the loveliest clime on which the sun shone. Toward the sea-shore they repaired, hand in hand, and having partaken of the fruits which they gathered in their way, they set to work to form a hut with the planks, cordage, and canvas of the wreck. It will be remembered that Nisida had saved the carpenter’s tools, and thus the task became a comparatively easy one.

By the time the sun went down a tenement was formed, rude, it is true, but still perfect enough to harbor them in a clime where the nights were warm and where the dews prevailed only in the verdant parts of the isle. Then with what joyous feelings did Nisida deck the walls of the hut with a tapestry of flowers and prepare the bridal couch with materials which she had saved from the wreck.

Softly and sweetly shone the moon that night; and, as its silver rays penetrated through the crevices of the little cottage so hastily and so rudely formed, they played kissingly upon the countenances of the happy pair who had wedded each other in the sight of Heaven.