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


Return we now to the fair city of flowers to thee, delightful Florence vine crowned queen of Tuscany! The summer has come, and the gardens are brilliant with dyes and hues of infinite variety; the hills and the valleys are clothed in their brightest emerald garment and the Arno winds its peaceful way between banks blushing with choicest fruits of the earth.

But, though gay that July scene though glorious in its splendor that unclouded summer sun, though gorgeous the balconies filled with flowers, and brilliant the parterres of Tuscan roses, yet gloomy was the countenance and dark were the thoughts of the Count of Arestino, as he paced with agitated steps one of the splendid apartments of his palace. The old man was actually endowed with a good, a generous, a kind and forgiving disposition; but the infidelity of his wife, the being on whom he had so doted, and who was once his joy and his pride that infidelity had warped his best feelings, soured his temper, and aroused the dark spirit of vengeance.

“She lives! she lives!” he murmured to himself, pausing for a moment to press his feverish hand to his heated brow; “she lives! and doubtless under the protection of her paramour! But I shall know more presently. Antonio is faithful he will not deceive me!”

And the count resumed his agitated walk up and down the room. A few minutes elapsed, when the door opened slowly, and Antonio, whom the reader may remember to have been a valet in the service of the Riverola family, made his appearance.

The count hastened toward him, exclaiming: “What news, Antonio? Speak hast thou learnt aught more of of her?”

“My lord,” answered the valet, closing the door behind him, “I have ascertained everything. The individual who spoke darkly and mysteriously to me last evening, has within this hour made me acquainted with many strange things.”

“But the countess? I mean the guilty, fallen creature who once bore my name?” ejaculated the old nobleman, his voice trembling with impatience.

“There is no doubt, my lord, that her ladyship lives, and that she is still in Florence,” answered Antonio.

“The shameless woman,” cried the Count of Arestino, his usually pale face becoming perfectly death-like through the violence of his inward emotions. “But how know you all this?” demanded his lordship, suddenly turning toward the dependent; “who is your informant and can he be relied on? Remember I took thee into my service at thine own solicitation I have no guarantee for thy fidelity, and I am influential to punish as well as rich to reward!”

“Your lordship has bound me to you by ties of gratitude,” responded Antonio, “for when discarded suddenly by the young Count of Riverola, I found an asylum and employment in your lordship’s palace. It is your lordship’s bounty which has enabled me to give bread to my aged mother; and I should be a villain were I to deceive you.”

“I believe you, Antonio,” said the count: “and now tell me how you are assured that the countess escaped from the conflagration and ruin of the institution to which my just vengeance had consigned her how, too, you have learnt that she is still in Florence.”

“I have ascertained, my lord, beyond all possibility of doubt,” answered the valet, “that the assailants of the convent were a terrible horde of banditti, at that time headed by Stephano Verrina, who has since disappeared no one knows whither; that the Marquis of Orsini was one of the leaders in the awful deed of sacrilege, and that her ladyship the countess, and a young maiden named Flora Francatelli, were rescued by the robbers from their cells in the establishment. These ladies and the marquis quitted the stronghold of the banditti together, blindfolded and guided forth by that same Stephano Verrina whom I mentioned just now, Lomellino (the present captain of the horde), and another bandit.”

“And who is your informant? how learned you all this?” demanded the count, trembling with the excitement of painful reminiscences reawakened, and with the hope of speedy vengeance on the guilty pair, his wife and the marquis.

“My lord,” said Antonio, “pardon me if I remain silent; but I dare not compromise the man ”

“Antonio,” exclaimed the count, wrathfully, “you are deceiving me! Tell me who was your informant I command you hesitate not ”

“My lord! my lord!” cried the valet, “is it not enough that I prove my assertions that I ”

“No!” cried the nobleman; “I have seen so much duplicity where all appeared to be innocence so much deceit where all wore the aspect of integrity, that I can trust man no more. How know I for certain that all this may not be some idle tale which you yourself have forged, to induce me to put confidence in you, to intrust you with gold to bribe your pretended informant, but which will really remain in your own pocket? Speak, Antonio tell me all, or I shall listen to you no more, and your servitude in this mansion then ceases.”

“I will speak frankly, my lord,” replied the valet; “but in the course you may adopt ”

“Fear not for yourself, nor for your informant, Antonio,” interrupted the count, impatiently. “Be ye both leagued with the banditti yourselves, or be ye allied to the fiends of hell,” he added, with fiercer emphasis, “I care not so long as I can render ye the instruments of my vengeance!”

“Good, my lord!” exclaimed Antonio, delighted with this assurance; “and now I can speak fearlessly and frankly. My informant is that other bandit who accompanied Stephano Verrina and Lomellino when the countess, Flora, and the marquis were conducted blindfold from the robbers’ stronghold. But while they were yet all inmates of that stronghold, this same bandit, whose name is Venturo, overheard the marquis inform Stephano Verrina that he intended to remain in Florence to obtain the liberation of a Jew who was imprisoned in the dungeons of the inquisition: and this Jew, Venturo also learnt by subsequent inquiry from Verrina, is a certain Isaachar ben Solomon.”

“Isaachar ben Solomon!” ejaculated the count, the whole incident of the diamonds returning with all its painful details to his mind. “Oh! no wonder,” he added, bitterly, “that the marquis has so much kindness for him! I But, proceed proceed, Antonio.”

“I was about to inform your lordship,” continued the valet, “that Venturo, of whom I have spoken, happened the next day to overhear the marquis inform the countess that he should be compelled to stay for that purpose in Florence; whereupon Flora Francatelli offered her ladyship a home at her aunt’s residence, whither she herself should return on her liberation from the stronghold. Then it was that the maiden mentioned to the countess the name of her family, and when Venturo represented all these facts to me just now, I at once knew who this same Flora Francatelli is and where she dwells.”

“You know where she dwells!” cried the count, joyfully. “Then, Giulia, the false, the faithless, the perjured Giulia is in my power! Unless, indeed,” he added, more slowly “unless she may have removed to another place of abode ”

“That, my lord, shall be speedily ascertained,” said Antonio. “I will instruct my mother to call, on some pretext, at the cottage inhabited by Dame Francatelli: and she will soon learn whether there be another female resident there besides the aunt and the niece Flora.”

“Do so, Antonio,” exclaimed the count. “Let no unnecessary delay take place. Here is gold much gold, for thee to divide between thyself and the bandit informant. See that thou art faithful to my interests, and that sum shall prove but a small earnest of what thy reward will be.”

The valet secured about his person the well-filled purse that was handed to him, and retired.

The Count of Arestino remained alone to brood over his plans of vengeance. It was horrible horrible to behold that aged and venerable man, trembling as he was on the verge of eternity, now meditating schemes of dark and dire revenge. But his wrongs were great wrongs which, though common enough in that voluptuous Italian clime, and especially in that age and city of licentiousness and debauchery, were not the less sure to be followed by a fearful retribution, where retribution was within the reach of him who was outraged.

“Ha! ha!” he chuckled fearfully to himself, as he now paced the room with a lighter step as if joy filled his heart; “all those who have injured me are within the reach of my vengeance. The Jew in the inquisition; the marquis open to a charge of diabolical sacrilege and Giulia assuredly in Florence! I dealt too leniently with that Jew I sent to pay for the redemption of jewels which were my own property! All my life have I been a just a humane a merciful man; I will be so no more. The world’s doings are adverse to generosity and fair-dealing. In my old age have I learnt this! Oh! the perfidy of women toward a doting a confiding a fond heart, works strange alterations in the heart of the deceived one! I, who but a year nay, six months ago would not harm the meanest reptile that crawls, now thirst for vengeance vengeance,” repeated the old man, in a shrieking, hysterical tone, “upon those who have wronged me! I will exterminate them at one fell swoop exterminate them all all!” And his voice rang screechingly and wildly through the lofty room of that splendid mansion.