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

When the sun rose again from the orient wave, Fernand repaired to the grove, as was his wont, to gather fruits for the morning repast, while Nisida bathed her fair form in the waters of the Mediterranean.

But there was a gloom upon that lady’s brow, and there was a somber flashing in her large dark eyes which denoted an incipient conflict of emotions stirring within her breast.

She had retired to rest, as we have seen on the previous evening, with a heart glowing toward her beloved and handsome Fernand she had fallen asleep with the tender sounds of his musical yet manly voice in her ears, and the image of his beautiful countenance in her mind but in the night she knew not at what hour strange dreams began to oppress her, ominous visions filled her with anxiety.

It seemed as if some being, having right to reproach and power to taunt, whispered to her as she slept, stern remonstrances against the idle, voluptuous, and dreaming life she was leading, mocking her for passing her time in the maudlin delights of love, calling upon her to arouse her latent energies and shake off that luxurious lethargy, teaching her to look upon the island, beauteous though it were, as one vast prison in which she was confined, from whence there were, nevertheless, means of escape, raising up before her mental vision all the most alluring and bustling scenes of her own fair, native city of Florence, then bitterly reproaching her for having allowed her soul to be more wrapped up in the society of Fernand Wagner, than solicitous, as it was wont to be, for the welfare of her brother Francisco, creating, too, wild doubts in her imagination as to whether circumstances might not, after all, have united her brother and Flora Francatelli in the bonds of a union which for many reasons she abhorred, and lastly thundering in her ears the terrific accusation that she was perjured to a solemn and an awful vow pledged by her lips, on a dread occasion, and to the dictating voice of her dying mother.

When she awoke in the morning her brain appeared to be in confusion, but as her thoughts gradually settled themselves in the various cells of the seat of memory, the entire details of her long dream assumed the semblance of a connected chain, even as we have just described them.

For these thoughts had arisen in the nature and order commanded by the demon.

Fernand Wagner saw that the mind of his lovely companion, his charming bride, was ruffled; and, as he embraced her tenderly, he inquired the cause. His caresses for the moment soothed her, and induced her to struggle against the ideas which oppressed: for there are thoughts that Satan excites within us, which we can wrestle with ay, and conquer if we will.

Finding that Nisida became more composed, and that she treated her mournfulness and his agitation merely as the results of a disagreeable dream, Fernand rose, hastened to perform his own ablutions, and then repaired to the adjacent grove, as above stated. But Nisida remained not long in the Mediterranean’s mighty bath; the moment Wagner had departed from her presence, thoughts which had recently passed in sad procession through her brain came back with renewed vigor; forcing themselves, as it were, upon her contemplation, because she offered but a feeble resistance to their returning invasion. And as she stood on the shore, having donned her scant clothing, and now combing out her long, luxuriant hair, to the silk richness of which the salt water had lent a more glorious gloss she became a prey to an increasing restlessness an augmenting anxiety, a longing to quit the island, and an earnest desire to behold her brother Francisco once again, sentiments and cravings which gave to her countenance an expression of somber lowering and concentrated passion, such as it was wont to exhibit in those days when her simulated deafness and dumbness forced her to subdue all the workings of her excited soul, and compress her vermilion lips to check the ebullition of that language which on those occasions struggled to pour itself forth.

“O Italy! Italy!” she exclaimed in an impassioned tone; “shall I ever behold thee again? O! my beloved native land, thou too, fair city, whose name is fraught with so many varied reminiscences for me, am I doomed never to visit ye more?”

“Nisida dearest Nisida!” said Wagner, who had returned to her unperceived, and unheard for his feet passed noiselessly over the sand; “wherefore those passionate exclamations? why this anxious longing to revisit the busy, bustling world? Are not the calm and serene delights of this island sufficient for our happiness? or art thou wearied of me who love thee so tenderly?”

“I am not wearied of thee, my Fernand!” replied Nisida, “nor do I fail to appreciate all thy tender affection toward me. But I can conceal it from myself and from thee no longer I am overcome with the monotony of this isle. Unvaried sunshine during the day, unchanging calmness by night, pall upon the soul. I crave variety, even the variety that would be afforded by a magnificent storm, or the eruption of yon sleeping volcano. My thoughts wander in spite of myself toward Italy; I think, too, of my brother the young and inexperienced Francisco! Moreover, there is in our mansion at Florence, a terrible mystery which prying eyes may seek to penetrate, a closet containing a fearful secret, which, if published to the world, would heap loathing exécrations and disgrace on the haughty name of Riverola! And now Francisco is the sole guardian of that mystery, which he himself knows not, or at least knew not, when last we were together. But it requires a strong and energetic mind, like my own, to watch over that awful secret. And now, Fernand, dear Fernand, thou canst not blame me, thou wilt not reproach me, if I experience an irresistible longing to return to my native land?”

“And know you not, Nisida,” said Wagner, in a tone of mingled mournfulness and reproach, “that, even if there were any means for thee to return to Florence, I could not accompany thee? Dost thou not remember that I informed thee, that being doomed to death, I escaped from the power of the authorities it matters not how; and that were I to set foot in Florence, it would be to return to my dungeon?”

“Alas! all this I remember well too well!” exclaimed Nisida. “And think not, my Fernand, that I feel no pang, when I lay bare to thee the state of my soul. But if it were possible for us to go to Italy, thou couldst dwell secretly and retiredly in some suburb of Florence, and we should be together often very often!”

“No Nisida,” answered Wagner; “that were impossible! Never more may I venture into that city and if thou couldst even find the means to revisit thy native clime, thither must thou go, and there must thou dwell alone!”

For Wagner knew full well that were the lady to return to Florence, she would hear of the frightful incidents which marked his trial and also the day of his escape; and, though he had at first inclined to impart to her the terrible secret of his fate yet subsequent and more calm deliberation in his own mind had convinced him of the imprudence of giving her love a shock by such a tremendous such an appalling revelation.

“Fernand,” said Nisida, breaking silence after a long pause, during which she was wrapped in profound meditation, “thy words go to my heart like fiery arrows! O my handsome my beautiful my beloved Fernand, why does destiny thus persecute us? It is impossible for thee to return to Florence: it is equally impossible for me to renounce the first opportunity which Heaven may afford for me to repair thither! My God! wherefore do our fates tend in such opposite directions? to separate from thee were maddening: to abandon my brother Francisco to desert the grave and solemn interests which demand my presence at home, were to render myself perjured to a vow which I breathed and which Heaven witnessed, when I knelt long years ago at the death-bed of my mother!”

“After all thou hast said, my beloved Nisida,” exclaimed Fernand, in a voice expressive of the deepest melancholy, “I should be wrong I should be even criminal to listen only to the whispering of my own selfishness and retain thee here, did opportunity serve for thy departure. But on this island shall I remain perhaps forever! And if the time should come when you grew wearied of that bustling world across the sea, and thy memory traveled to this lonely isle where thy Fernand was left behind thee, haply thou wouldst embark to return hither and pass the remainder of thy days with one who can never cease to love thee!”

Tears came into the eyes of Nisida of her who so seldom, so very seldom wept; and throwing herself into Wagner’s arms, she exclaimed, “God grant that I may revisit my native land; and believe me, oh! believe me, when I declare that I would come back to thee the moment the interests of my brother no longer demanded my presence!”

They embraced fondly, and then sat down upon the sand to partake of their morning repast.

But the thoughts of both were naturally intent upon the recent topic of their discourse; and their conversation, though each endeavored to force it into other channels, reverted to the subject which was now uppermost in their minds.

“What must my poor brother Francisco conjecture to be the cause of my prolonged, and to him mysterious absence?” said Nisida, as her eyes were cast wistfully over the wide expanse of waters. “Methinks that I have already hinted to thee how the foolish passion which he had conceived for a maiden of low degree and obscure birth, compelled me, in accordance with his nearest and best interest, to consign the object of his boyish love to the convent of the Carmélites? Yes, and it was with surprise and dismay incredible that I heard, ere I was torn away from Florence by the villain Stephano, how that convent was sacked and destroyed by unknown marauders ”

“Full intelligence of which terrible sacrilege you communicated to me by signs the second and last time you visited me in my dungeon,” observed Wagner.

“And I heard also, with increased fear,” continued Nisida, “that some of the inmates of that convent had escaped; and, being unable, in consequence of my simulated deafness and dumbness, to set on foot the necessary inquiries, I could not learn whether Flora Francatelli was amongst those who had so escaped the almost general ruin. O! if she should have survived that fatal night and if she should have again encountered my brother! Alas! thou perceivest, my Fernand, how necessary it is for me to quit the island on the first occasion which may serve for that purpose!”

“And wouldst thou, Nisida,” asked Wagner reproachfully, “place thyself as a barrier between the Count of Riverola and her whom he loves?”

“Yes!” ejaculated Nisida, her countenance suddenly assuming a stern and imperious expression: “for the most important interests are involved in the marriage which he may contract. But enough of this, Fernand,” she added, relapsing into a more tender mood. “And now tell me canst thou blame me for the longing desire which has seized upon me the ardent craving to return to Florence?”

“Nay I do not blame thee, dearest Nisida!” he exclaimed; “but I pity thee I feel for thee! Because,” he continued, “if I understand rightly, thou wilt be compelled to feign deafness and dumbness once more, in order to work out thy mysterious aims; thou wilt be compelled to submit to that awful martyrdom that terrible duplicity which thou wilt find so painful and difficult to resume, after the full enjoyment of the blessed faculties of speech and hearing.”

“Alas! such will be my duty!” murmured Nisida; “and oh! that destiny is a sad one! But,” she exclaimed, after a moment’s pause, and as a reminiscence appeared suddenly to strike her, “dost thou not think that even such a destiny as that becomes tolerable, when it is fulfilled as the only means of carrying out the conditions of a vow breathed to a well-beloved and dying mother? But wearisome oh! crushingly tedious was that mode of existence; and the first bright day of real happiness which I enjoyed, was that when I first knew that thou didst love me! And again, Fernand oh! again was I supremely happy when, one evening thou may’st remember well, it was the eve that my brother and the minion Flora exchanged tender words together in the room adjoining that where we were seated on that evening, Fernand, I besought by signs that thou wouldst breathe the words I love thee! and thou didst so and I drank in those words as a person dying with thirst would imbibe pure spring water placed to his lips!”

Fernand pressed Nisida to his heart for he saw, in spite of her anxiety to return to Italy, that she really loved him.

But though sensual and impassioned feelings led the beauteous Nisida thus frequently to melt into softness and tenderness when she contemplated the wondrously handsome countenance of Fernand, yet from this day forth her longing to return to Italy became more earnest more irresistible; and she would compel him to sit by her side for hours together on the shore, while she eagerly watched for the appearance of a sail in the horizon. And Fernand, who divined her object, himself now longed for the advent of a ship; so sincere was his love for Nisida that he was ready to make any sacrifice in order to promote her happiness. Thus passed away the sixth month; and on the afternoon of the last day thereof, when Wagner was about to observe to her that the time had now arrived for him to pass the mountains once again, she said of her own accord, “Fernand, my beloved, when next you visit the other side of the island, you would do well to raise some sign, or leave some permanent mark to show that there are inhabitants on this island. For a ship might touch at that point the sailors might seek the shore for water, and they would then search to discover where those who raised the signal-post are dwelling.”

“Your wish shall be fulfilled, dearest,” answered Wagner; “and without delay will I seek the other side of the island.”

They then embraced tenderly, and Fernand departed, once more to fulfill his frightful doom! Nisida watched his receding form until it was lost in the groves intervening between the plains and the acclivities of the range of mountains; and then she seated herself again on the sand, wondering of what nature her husband’s secret could be, and why it compelled him to absent himself occasionally from her. Though he kept an accurate calculation of the lapse of time, and counted the passing days with unvarying precision, yet she retained no such faithful calendar in her memory, and had not observed that his absence always occurred on the last day of the month.

The hour of sunset was now rapidly approaching, and as Nisida was wrapped in thought, but with her eyes fixed wistfully upon the mighty bosom of the deep, a slight sound as of the rustling of garments fell upon her ears. She started up and glanced suddenly around. But how ineffable was her astonishment how great was her sudden joy, when she beheld the figure of a man approaching her; for it instantly struck her that the same ship which had conveyed him thither might bear her away from a scene which had latterly become insupportably monotonous.

The individual whose presence thus excited her astonishment and her delight, was tall, thin, and attired rather in the German than in the Italian fashion: but, as he drew nearer, Nisida experienced indefinable emotions of alarm, and vague fears rushed to her soul for the expression of that being’s countenance was such as to inspire no pleasurable emotions. It was not that he was ugly; no his features were well formed, and his eyes were of dazzling brilliancy. But their glances were penetrating and reptile-like, glances beneath which those of ordinary mortals would have quailed; and his countenance was stamped with a mingled sardonism and melancholy which rendered it painful to contemplate.

Nisida attributed her feeling of uneasiness and embarrassment to the shame which she experienced at finding herself half-naked in the presence of a stranger, for so oppressive bad become the heat of the summer, that her clothing was most scanty, and she had long ceased to decorate her person with garlands and wreaths of fantastically woven flowers.

“Fear not, lady,” said the demon, for he indeed it was; “I am come to counsel and solace, not to alarm thee.”

“How knowest thou that I require counsel? and who art thou that talkest to me of solace?” asked Nisida, her sentiment of shame yielding to one of boundless surprise at hearing herself thus addressed by a being who appeared to read the very inmost secrets of her soul.

“I am one who can penetrate into all the mysteries of the human heart,” returned the fiend, in his sonorous, deep-toned voice; “and I can gather thy history from the expression of thy countenance, the attitude in which I first beheld thee, while thou wast still seated upon the strand, and the mingled emotions of surprise and joy with which thou didst mark my presence. Is it, then, difficult to imagine that thou requirest counsel to teach thee how to proceed so as to obtain thine emancipation from this isle? or would it be extraordinary if, moved by thy sorrow, I offered to befriend thee? And is it not ever the way with mortals poor, weak, miserable beings that they are to grow speedily dissatisfied with their lot? In the spirit of religion ye say that Heaven controls your destinies according to its own wise purposes; and when all goes well with ye, and you have your desires, ye pray and are thankful, because, forsooth,” added the demon, with a smile of bitter scorn, “it is so easy to pray when ye are contented and happy, and so easy to be thankful when ye are pampered with all ye require. Here art thou, lady, on an island teeming with all the choicest fruits of the earth, and enjoying an eternal summer, where all is pleasant to the view, and to whose silent shores the cares of the great world cannot come; and yet thou wouldst quit this calm retreat, and rush back into the vortex of evil passions, warring interests, conflicting pursuits! But I will not weary thee with my reflections; although it is my nature first to upbraid and taunt those whom I intend to serve!”

“And who art thou, strange being, that reasoneth morally with the smile of scorn upon thy lips?” demanded Nisida, the vague alarms which had previously influenced her reviving with additional power; “who art thou, I say, that comest to reproach, and yet profferest thine aid?”

“No matter who I am,” replied the fiend. “Some day thou may’st know me better, if thou ”

“But how camest thou hither? Where is the ship that brought thee the boat that landed thee?” demanded Nisida in a tone of feverish impatience.

“No ship brought me hither no boat set me on the shore,” answered the demon, fixing his eyes those piercing eyes upon Nisida’s countenance, as if to read the impression which this strange revelation made upon her secret soul.

“Then who art thou?” exclaimed the lady, a cold shudder passing over her entire frame, although she retreated not nor withdrew the glances which she, through her wondrous strength of mind, was enabled to retain fixed upon the demon’s countenance.

“Seek not to learn as yet who I am,” said the fiend. “Let it suffice for thee to know that I am something more than a mere mortal a being gifted with powers which, in the hands of such a one as thou, would throw the entire world into convulsions; for there is much in thee after my own heart, beauteous Nisida of Riverola.”

“Ah! thou art even acquainted with my name,” cried Nisida, again shuddering violently in spite of her powerful efforts to appear calm and fearless.

“I am acquainted with thy name, and with all that concerns thee and thine, Nisida,” replied the fiend; “ay,” he added, with a malignant chuckle, “even to the mystery of the closet in thy late father’s chamber, and the contents of the terrible manuscript which taught thee such dreadful secrets! I know, too, all that thou hast done to serve thine aims thy simulated deafness and dumbness the assassination of Agnes the imprisonment of Flora in the convent ”

“Then art thou indeed some superhuman power,” interrupted Nisida, in a tone of inexpressible alarm; “and I dare hold no further converse with thee.”

“One moment and thou wilt think differently!” exclaimed the demon. “But I will give thee an evidence of my power. Here, take this instrument ’tis called a telescope and use it for a single minute. Glance across the waters, and thou shalt behold a scene which will interest thee somewhat, I trow.”

The fiend handed her a telescope and directed her to apply it to her eyes. She obeyed him, though reluctantly; but intense curiosity overcame her scruples, and, moreover, her extraordinary strength of mind aided her in supporting the presence of one whom she knew to be invested with superhuman powers but of what nature she feared to guess. Nisida turned toward the sea, and used the magic telescope as directed, while the demon stood behind her, his countenance expressing a diabolical triumph, mingled with blighting scorn.

But ah! what does Nisida behold? The moment she applies the telescope to her eye, she is transported as it were to her own native city. She is in Florence yes, in the fair capital of Tuscany. Every familiar scene is presented to her again; and she once more views the busy crowds and the bustling haunts of men. She sweeps them all with a hurried glance; and then her look settled upon a young couple walking together in a secluded place on the banks of the Arno. But oh! how terribly flashed her eyes how changed with wrath and concentrated rage suddenly becomes her countenance! For in that fond pair, wandering so lovingly together on the Arno’s margin she recognized her brother Francisco and the maiden Flora Francatelli!

“Thou hast seen enough!” cried the demon, snatching the telescope from her hands. “And now, more than ever,” he added with a malignant smile of triumph, “dost thou long to revisit thy native land. It was to confirm that longing that I showed thee the scene thou hast just witnessed.”

“And canst thou give me the means to return thither?” demanded Nisida, almost maddened by the spectacle that had met her eyes.

“Listen!” exclaimed the fiend, “and hear me patiently. I charge thee not to breathe to thy Fernand one word descriptive of this interview which thou hast had with me. Thou couldst simulate dumbness for ten long years or more, with a success which rendered thee great and glorious in my eyes for I love the hypocrite and the deceiver,” he added with one of his diabolical smiles; “although I myself deceive them! Be dumb, then, in all that relates to my visit to thee here. But thou mayst so beset thy Fernand with earnest entreaties to give thee the means of departure from this island for he can do so, if he have the will that he shall be unable to resist thy prayer thy fears thy anguish, real or feigned, whichever that anguish may be. And should he not yield to thy intercessions, then assail him on another point. Tell him that thou wilt never rest until thou shalt have discovered the cause of those periodical visits which he makes to the other side of the mountains threaten to accompany him the next time he goes thither. But I need not teach you how to be energetic nor eloquent. For thou art a woman of iron mind and of persuasive tongue; and thy perseverance, as is thy will, is indomitable. Follow my counsel, then and, though the future to a great extent be concealed from my view, yet I dare prophesy success for thee! And now farewell, Nisida farewell!”

And the demon retreated rapidly toward the forests, as if to seek the abode of those terrible serpents whose cunning was akin to his own.

Nisida was too much astonished by the nature of the counsel which his deep sonorous voice had wafted to her ear, to be able to utter a word until his receding form was no longer visible, and then she exclaimed wildly; “I have assuredly seen Satan face to face!”

And her blood ran cold in her veins. But a few moments were sufficient to enable that woman of wondrous energy to recover her presence of mind and collect her scattered thoughts; and she sat down on the sand to ponder upon the strange incidents which had so terribly varied the monotony of her existence. She thought, too, of the scene which she had beholden on the banks of the Arno her worst fears were confirmed; Flora had escaped from the ruin of the Carmelite convent was alive, was at liberty and was with Francisco! Oh! how she now longed for the return of Fernand Wagner; but many hours must elapse a night must pass and the orb of day which had by this time gone down, must gain the meridian once more ere he would come back. And in the meantime, although she suspected it not, he must fulfill the awful doom of a Wehr-Wolf, as the reader will find by the perusal of the next chapter.