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


For upward of half an hour did the boat skim the surface of the Golden Horn, the dip of the oars in the water and the rippling around the sharp prow alone breaking the solemn silence of the night. At length the skiff stopped, and the female slave took Alessandro’s hand, whispering in a low tone, “I will serve as thy guide, Christian; but speak not till thou hast permission.”

She then led him from the boat, up a flight of steps, and through a garden for he occasionally came in contact with the outstretching branches of shrubs, and there was moreover a delicious odor of flowers, as he proceeded in the total darkness of his blindfolding. At the expiration of ten minutes the guide stopped; and Alessandro heard a key turn in a lock.

“Enter there,” said the slave, pushing him gently forward, and speaking in a low tone. “Take off the cap attire yourself in the raiment you will find ready provided, and then pass fearlessly through the door at the further end of the room. You will meet me again in the hall which you will thus reach.”

And, without waiting for a reply, the slave closed and locked the door through which Alessandro had just passed. Hastily did he remove the cap, which had indeed almost suffocated him; and he now found himself in a small apartment, elegantly furnished in the most luxurious Oriental fashion, and brilliantly lighted. A table spread with confectionery, cakes, fruits, and even wines though the fermented juice of the grape be expressly forbidden by the laws of the Prophet Mohammed occupied the center of the room. Around the walls were continuous sofas, or ottomans, so conducive to the enjoyment of a voluptuous indolence; the floor was spread with a carpet so thick that the feet sunk into the silky texture, as into newly fallen snow; and whichever way he turned Alessandro beheld his form reflected in vast mirrors set in magnificent frames. There were no windows on any side of this apartment; but there was a cupola fitted with stained glass on the roof, and Alessandro judged that he was in one of those voluptuous kiosks usually found in the gardens of wealthy Turks.

Precisely as the slave had informed him, he found an elegant suit of Moslem garments set out on the sofa for his use; and he hastened to exchange his Italian costume for the Oriental raiment. As he thus attired himself, it was necessary to contemplate himself in the mirror facing him, so as properly to adjust clothes to which he was totally unaccustomed; and it struck him that the garb of the infidel became him better than that of the Christian. He did not, however, waste time in the details of this strange toilet; but as soon as it was completed he opened the door at the further end of the room, in pursuance of the instructions he had received. Alessandro found himself in a large marble hall, from which several flights of stairs led to the apartments above. The place was refulgent with the light of numerous chandeliers, the glare of which was enhanced by the vast mirrors attached to the walls, and the crystal pillars that supported the roof.

Not a human being met Alessandro’s eyes; and he began to fear either that he had mistaken the directions he had received, or that some treachery was intended, when a door opened, and the female slave, wrapped in a veil, made her appearance. Placing her forefinger upon that part of the veil which covered her lips, to enjoin silence, she led the way up the nearest staircase, Alessandro following with a heart beating audibly. They reached a door at which a negro male slave was stationed.

“The hakim” (physician), said Alessandro’s guide, laconically addressing herself to the negro, who bowed in silence and threw open the door. The female slave conducted the pretended physician into a small but splendidly furnished ante-room, in which there were several other dependents of her own sex. A door at the further end was opened, and Alessandro passed through into another, larger, and still more magnificently furnished room; the door closed behind him, and he found himself alone with the idol of his adoration.

Half seated, half lying upon cushions of scarlet brocade, the glossy bright hue of which was mellowed by the muslin spread over it, appeared the beauteous creature whose image was so faithfully delineated in his memory. She was attired in the graceful and becoming dualma, a purple vest which set close to her form, and with a species of elasticity shaped itself so as to develop every contour.

But in accordance with the custom of the clime and age, the dualma was open at the bosom, sloping from each lovely white shoulder to the waist, where the two folds joining, formed an angle, at which the purple vest was fastened by a diamond worth a monarch’s ransom. The sleeves were wide, but short, scarcely reaching to the elbow, and leaving all the lower part of the snowy arms completely bare. Her ample trousers were of purple silk, covered with the finest muslin, and drawn in tight a little above the ankles, which were naked. On her feet she wore crimson slippers cut very low, and each ornamented with a diamond. Round her person below the waist she wore a magnificent shawl, rolled up, as it were, negligently, so as to form a girdle or zone, and fastened in front with two large tassels of pearls. Diamond bracelets adorned her fair arms; and her head-dress consisted of a turban or shawl of light but rich material, fastened with golden bodkins, the head of each being a pearl of the best water. Beneath this turban, her rich auburn hair, glowing like gold in the light of the perfumed lamps, and amidst the blaze of diamonds which adorned her, was parted in massive bands, sweeping gracefully over her temples and gathered behind the ears, then falling in all the luxuriance of its rich clustering folds over the cushion whereon she reclined. Her finger-nails were slightly tinged with henna, the rosy hue the more effectually setting off the lily whiteness of her delicate hand and full round arm. But no need had she to dye the lashes of her eyes with the famous kohol, so much used by Oriental ladies, for those lashes were by nature formed of the deepest jet a somewhat unusual but beauteous contrast with the color of her hair. The cheeks of the lovely creature were slightly flushed, or it might have been a reflection of the scarlet brocade of the cushion on which, as we have said, she was half-seated, half-lying, when Alessandro appeared in her presence.

For a few moments the young Italian was so dazzled by her beauty, so bewildered by the appearance of that lady, whose richness of attire seemed to denote the rank of sultana, that he remained rooted to the spot, uncertain whether to advance, to retire, or to fall upon his knees before her. But in an encouraging tone, and in a voice musical as a silver bell, the lady said: “Approach, Christian!” and she pointed to a low ottoman within a few paces of the sofa which she herself occupied. Alessandro now recovered his presence of mind; and no longer embarrassed and awkward, but with graceful ease and yet profound respect, he took the seat indicated.

“Beauteous lady,” he said, “how can I ever demonstrate the gratitude the illimitable, boundless gratitude which fills my heart, for the joy, the truly elysian delight afforded me by this meeting?”

“You speak our language well, Christian,” observed the lady, smiling faintly at the compliment conveyed by the words of Alessandro, but evading a direct reply.

“I have for some years past been in the service of the Florentine envoy, lady,” was the answer; “and the position which I occupy at the palace of the embassy has led me to study the beauteous language of this clime, and to master its difficulties. But never, never did that language sound so soft and musical upon my ears as now, flowing from those sweet lips of thine.”

“The Moslem maiden dares not listen to the flattery of the infidel,” said the beauteous stranger in a serious but not severe tone. “Listen to me, Christian, with attention, for our meeting must not be prolonged many minutes. To say that I beheld thee with indifference when we first encountered each other in the bazaar, were to utter a falsehood which I scorn; to admit that I can love thee, and love thee well,” she added, her voice slightly trembling, “is an avowal which I do not blush to make. But never can the Moslem maiden bestow her hand on the infidel. If thou lovest me if thou wouldst prove thyself worthy of that affection which my heart is inclined to bestow upon thee, thou wilt renounce the creed of thy forefathers, and embrace the Mussulman faith. Nor is this all that I require of thee, or that thou must achieve to win me. Become a true believer acknowledge that Allah is God and Mohammed is his prophet and a bright and glorious destiny will await thee. For although thou wilt depart hence without learning my name, or who I may be, or the place to which you have been brought to meet me, though we shall behold each other no more until thou hast rendered thyself worthy of my hand, yet shall I ever be mindful of thee, my loved one! An unseen, an unknown influence shall attend thee: thy slightest wishes will be anticipated and fulfilled in a manner for which thou wilt vainly seek to account, and, as thou provest thy talents or thy valor, so will promotion open its doors to thee with such rapidity that thou wilt strain every nerve to reach the highest offices in the state for then only may’st thou hope to receive my hand, and behold the elucidation of the mystery which up to that date will envelop thy destinies.”

While the lady was thus speaking, a fearful struggle took place in the breast of Alessandro for the renunciation of his creed, a creed in which he must ever in his heart continue to believe, though ostensibly he might abjure it was an appalling step to contemplate. Then to his mind also came the images of those whom he loved, and who were far away in Italy: his aunt, who had been so kind to him, his sister whom he knew to be so proud of him, and Father Marco, who manifested such deep interest in his behalf. But on his ears continued to flow the honeyed words and the musical tones of the charming temptress; and, as she gradually developed to his imagination the destinies upon which he might enter, offering herself as the eventual prize to be gained by a career certain to be pushed on successfully through the medium of a powerful, though mysterious influence Florence, relatives, and friends, became as secondary considerations in his mind; and by the time the lady brought her long address to a conclusion that address which had grown more impassioned and tender as she proceeded Alessandro threw himself at her feet, exclaiming, “Lovely houri that thou art beauteous as the maidens that dwell in the paradise of thy prophet I am thine. I am thine!”

The lady extended her right hand, which he took and pressed in rapture to his lips. But the next moment she rose lightly to her feet, and assuming a demeanor befitting a royal sultana, said in a sweet, though impressive tone:

“We must now part thou to enter on thy career of fame, I to set in motion every spring within my reach to advance thee to the pinnacle of glory and power. Henceforth thy name is Ibrahim! Go, then, my Ibrahim, and throw thyself at the feet of the reis-effendi, and that great minister will forthwith present thee to Piri Pasha, the grand vizier. Toil diligently labor arduously and the rest concerns me. Go, then, my Ibrahim, I say, and enter on the path which will lead thee to the summit of fame and power!”

She extended her arms toward him he snatched her to his breast, and covered her cheeks with kisses. In that paradise of charms he could have reveled forever; but the tender caresses lasted not beyond a few moments, for the lady tore herself away from his embrace and hurried into an adjacent apartment. Alessandro or rather, the renegade, Ibrahim passed into the anteroom where his guide, the female slave, awaited his return. She conducted him back to the hall, and advanced toward the door of the voluptuous kiosk, where he had changed his raiment.

“Goest thou forth a Christian still, or a true believer?” she asked turning suddenly round.

“As a Mussulman,” answered the renegade, while his heart sank within him, and remorse already commenced its torture.

“Then thou hast no further need of the Christian garb,” said the slave. “Await me here.”

She entered the kiosk, and returned in a few moments with the cap, which, in obedience to her directions, he once more drew on his head and over his countenance. The slave then led him into the garden, which they treaded in profound silence. At length they reached the steps leading down to the water, and the slave accompanied him into the boat, which immediately shot away from the bank. Alessandro had now ample time for calm reflection. The excitement of the hurried incidents of the evening was nearly over, and, though his breast was still occupied with the image of his beautiful unknown, and with the brilliant prospects which she had opened to view, he nevertheless shrank from the foul deed of apostasy which he had vowed to perpetrate. But we have already said that he was essentially worldly-minded, and, as he felt convinced that the petty jealousy of the Florentine Envoy would prevent him from rising higher in the diplomatic hierarchy than the post of secretary, he by degrees managed to console himself for his renegadism on the score that it was necessary the indispensable stepping-stone to the gratification of his ambition.

Thus by the time the boat touched the landing-place where he had first entered it, he had succeeded to some extent in subduing the pangs of remorse. The female slave now bade him remove the cap from his face and resume his turban. A few moments sufficed to make this change; and he was about to step on shore, when the woman caught him by the sleeve of his caftan, and, thrusting a small case of sandal-wood into his hand, said: “She whom you saw ere now, commanded me to give thee this.”

The slave pushed him toward the bank: he obeyed the impulse and landed, she remaining in the boat, which instantly darted away again, most probably to convey her back to the abode of her charming mistress. On the top of the bank the renegade was accosted by the spy whom he had left there when he embarked in the skiff.

“Allah and the Prophet be praised!” exclaimed the man, surveying Alessandro attentively by the light of the lovely moon. “Thou art now numbered amongst the faithful!”

The apostate bit his lips to keep down a sigh of remorse which rose to them; and his guide, without uttering another word, led the way to the palace of the reis-effendi. There Alessandro or Ibrahim, as we must henceforth call him was lodged in a splendid apartment, and had two slaves appointed to wait upon him. He, however, hastily dismissed them, and when alone, opened the case that had been placed into his hands by the female slave. It contained a varied assortment of jewelry and precious stones, constituting a treasure of immense value.