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

It was within a few minutes of sunset, as Fernand Wagner, having crossed the mountains, hastened down that bituminous declivity constituting the scene of desolation which separated the range of volcano hills from the delightful plains and verdant groves stretching to the sea-shore.

A shudder passed over his frame as he beheld the solitary tree in which he had seen the monstrous snake playing and gamboling, on the morning when he was thrown upon this Mediterranean isle.

“Oh!” he exclaimed aloud, as he sped onward, “what happiness and also what misery have I known in this clime. But, doomed and fated being that I am, such is my destiny; and so must I be, here or elsewhere, in whichever land I may visit, in whatever part of the earth I may abide. Oh! merciful Heaven, can no prayer, no self-mortification, remove the ban the curse from my devoted head?

“Oh! just Heaven,” he exclaimed, stretching forth his arms toward the sky, and with ineffable anguish depicted on his upturned countenance; “spare me! Have I not been punished enough! Oh! take away from me this appalling doom let me become old, wrinkled, forlorn, and poor once more, let me return to my humble cot in the Black Forest, or let me die. Almighty power! if thou wilt but spare me spare me now! Wretch wretch that I was to be dazzled by the specious promises, O Faust! But I am justly punished thy vengeance, O Heaven, is well deserved sinner, sinner that I am!”

Those were the last human sounds he uttered for several hours; for, scarcely had they escaped his lips, when the horrible change began, and in a few moments a wild yell rent the air, and a monstrous wolf sprung from the spot where Wagner had fallen down in such agonizing writhings.

Away away went the ferocious animal heading toward the sea careering, thundering on, as if intent on plunging into the silent depths, and there ending its course in a watery grave.

But no: death yawns not for the Wehr-Wolf! Scarcely have its feet touched the verge of the water, when the monster wheels round and continues its whirlwind way without for an instant relaxing one tittle of its speed. Away away, through the fruit-bearing groves, clearing for itself a path of ruin and havoc, scattering the gems of the trees, and breaking down the richly-laden vines; away away flies the monster, hideous howls bursting from its foaming mouth. The birds scream and whistle wildly, as startled from their usual tranquil retreats, they spread their gay and gaudy plumage, and go with gushing sound through the evening air. He reaches the bank of a stream, and bounds along its pleasant margin, trampling to death noble swans which vainly seek to evade the fury of the rushing monster.

Away away toward the forest hurries the Wehr-Wolf impelled, lashed on by an invincible scourge, and filling the woods with its appalling yells while its mouth scatters foam like thick flakes of snow. Hark, there is an ominous rustling in one of the trees of the forest; and the monster seems to instinctively know the danger which menaces it. But still its course is not changed; it seems not to exercise its own will in shaping its course. Down the tremendous snake flings itself from the tree and in an instant its hideous coils are wound round the foaming, steaming, palpitating body of the wolf. The air is rent with the yell of agony that bursts from the throat of the horrified monster as it tumbles over and over, as if it had run to the length of a tether for the snake clings with its tail to the bough from which it has darted down. But the yielding of the wolf is only momentary; up up it springs again and away, away it careers, more madly, more desperately, more ferociously, if possible, than before.

And the snake? Oh! poor, weak and powerless was even that dread reptile of forty feet in length, when combated with a monster lashed on and also protected by invisible fiends. For, as the wolf sped on again, the boa was dragged as if by a thousand horses from its coiling hold upon the bough and shaken, lacerated, and affrighted, the hideous reptile unwound itself from the ferocious animal, and fell powerless on the grass, where the vermin of the forest attacked it with their greedy maws ere its pestilential breath had ceased.

Away away toward the mountains rushes the Wehr-Wolf, those mountains which constitute the barrier of safety to protect Nisida from the fangs of the animal that would mangle her fair form were she to cross its path. But, ah! he rushes up the acclivity he clears rugged rock and jutting crag with wondrous bounds; just Heaven! will he pass those heights will he cross the range of volcanic hills?

Oh! Nisida, who art on the other side of that range, little dreamest thou of the peril that menaces thee. Joy! joy! the danger has passed; the wolf turns aside from a loftier impediment of crag than had yet appeared in its course: and down down again toward the groves and valleys over the bituminous waste made by the volcano on, on goes the monster. Away, away, through the verdant scenes once more, fresh havoc fresh desolation fresh ruin marking his maddening course, away, away the Wehr-Wolf speeds.

The moon rises to give a stronger and purer light to the dreadful spectacle, a light stronger and purer than that of night itself, which is never completely dark in the tropics. Away, away, and still on, on outstripping time running a race with the fleeting moments, till hours and hours of unrelaxing speed are numbered thus goes the wolf. And now he snuffs the morning air: the fresh breeze from the east raises the foam of the Mediterranean waves, and allays the heat on the body of the careening, bounding, and almost flying monster.

His howling grows less ferocious his yells become less terrible; and now his pace is a trifle more measured, that relaxation of a whirlwind speed gradually increasing.

’Tis done; the course is o’er the race is run; and the Wehr-Wolf falls in writhing agonies upon the fresh grass, whence in a few moments rises Fernand Wagner a man once more! But as he throws a glance of horror around on the scene of his night’s dread employment, he starts back with mingled aversion and alarm; for there with folded arms, eyes terrible to look upon, and a countenance expressing infernal triumph and bitter scorn, stood the demon.

“Fiend, what would’st thou with me?” demanded Wagner. “Are not the sufferings which I have just endured, enough to satisfy thy hatred of all human beings? are not the horrors of the past night sufficient to glut even thine insatiate heart?”

“Mortal,” said the demon, speaking in his profound and awe-inspiring tones, “didst thou take all thy miseries which at this moment afflict thy race, combine all the bitter woes, and crushing sorrows that madden the brains of men, mix up all the tears and collect all the sobs and sighs that tell of human agony, then multiply the aggregate by ten million, million times its sum, and go on multiplying by millions and millions, till thou wast tired of counting, thou would’st not form even an idea of that huge amount of human misery which could alone appease me. For on man do I visit the hate wherewith my own fall has animated me; powerless on high, where once I was so powerful, I make my kingdom of earth and hell and in both my influence is great and is terrible!”

“Yes yes; too great too terrible!” exclaimed Wagner. “But why dost thou persecute me with thy presence? I did not call thee I did not invoke thine aid.”

“No, but thou requirest it!” said the demon, with a satirical smile. “Thinkest thou to be enabled to dream away thine existence in this island, with the warm, impassioned Nisida? No, mortal no! Already doth she pine for her own native Italian clime; and she will end by loathing thee and this land, if she continue to dwell here, and with only thee as her companion. But it is in thy power to make Nisida forget Italy Francisco Flora and all the grave interests and dreadful mysteries which seem to demand her presence in the busy world; it is in thy power to render her happy and contented in this island to attach her to thee for the remainder of thine existence to provide her with the means of preserving her youth and her beauty unimpaired, even as thine own to crush forever all those pinings and longings which now carry her glances wistfully across the sea, in a word, to bend her mind to all thy wishes her soul to all thy purposes! Yes; it is in thy power to do all this and the same decision which shall place that amount of ineffable happiness within thy reach, will also redeem thee from the horrible destiny of a Wehr-Wolf leaving thee thy youth and thy beauty, and investing thee with a power equal to that enjoyed by thy late master, Faust.”

“And doubtless on the same conditions?” said Wagner, half-ironically, and half in horror at the mere thought of surrendering his soul to Satan.

“Art thou blind to the means of promoting thy earthly happiness?” demanded the demon, fixing on Fernand a glance intended to appal and intimidate, but at which he on whom it was bent quailed not. “Hast thou not received sufficient experience of the terrific sufferings which twelve times a year thou art doomed to endure? Knowest thou not on each occasion thou destroyest human life, where mortal beings are in thy path or that thou ravagest the fair scenes which He whose name I dare not mention has created? and art thou ignorant of the tremendous horror and loathsome obloquy which attach themselves to the name of a Wehr-Wolf? See thou art already wearied of traveling through the various climes of the earth; thou no longer delightest in cultivating thine intellect, so marvelously adapted to receive knowledge of all kinds; and thy power to create whole mines of wealth is exercised no more. But thou would’st fix thine abode in this island forever, were Nisida to remain thy companion! Well and if thou losest her? for assuredly a vessel will some day touch on these shores what would’st thou do then? All lonely, desolate, forlorn, thou would’st curse the day that gave thee regenerated life thou would’st seek death and to thee death may not come yet for many, many years! Fernand, thou art worse than mad not to embrace my offers. Consent to become mine mine eternally, when thy mortal breath shall leave thy body, and in the meantime I promise thee power illimitable happiness such as no human being ever yet enjoyed ”

“No no!” exclaimed Wagner. “Rather the destiny of a Wehr-Wolf rather the solitude of this island for the remainder of my days than resign all chance of salvation! And that mine immortal soul is yet safe, the very temptations thou offerest with such eloquent persuasion fully proves! Oh! Heaven, of its infinite mercy, will receive the dreadful sufferings ’tis mine to endure each month, as an atonement for that hour of weakness, madness, folly, when dazzled by the words of Faust, and overwhelmed by a weight of miseries, I accepted a regenerated existence. Yes, Heaven will forgive me yet: and therefore avaunt, fiend! avaunt!” And as he uttered these words he made the sign of the cross, and the demon fled away howling. Wagner turned aside in dismay, and sank upon the ground as if blasted by the lightning. A deep sleep fell on Fernand’s eyes, and in his dreams he thought he heard a solemn but rejoicing strain of music filling the air. That divine melody seemed to speak a language eloquent and intelligible, and to give him hope and promise of a deliverance from the dreadful destiny which his weakness and folly had entailed upon him. The music grew fainter and fainter, and at the moment when it died away altogether a heavenly and radiant being rose in the midst of a cloud, an angel, clad in white and shining garments, and with snowy wings closed, and drooping from its shoulders. Looking benignly upon the sleeping Wagner the angel said in a soft and liquid tone, “Thrice hast thou resisted the temptations of the enemy of mankind: once in thy dungeon at Florence, a second time amidst the defiles of yon mountains, and now on this spot. He will appear to thee no more, unless thou thyself summon him. Much hast thou already done in atonement for the crime that endangered thy soul when, withdrawing thy faith from Heaven, thou didst accept new life on the conditions proposed to thee by the agent of Satan; but much more must thou yet do, ere that atonement will be complete!” The form ceased to speak, and gradually became fainter and fainter, until it disappeared with its glorious halo altogether.

Then Fernand awoke, and his dream was vividly impressed upon his memory.

Assuming a kneeling posture, he clasped his hands fervently together, and said aloud, “Merciful Heaven! be the vision one divinely sent, or be it but the sport of an imagination fevered by a long night of suffering, I receive it as an emblem and as a sign of hope and promise!”

He arose. The sun was now high in the heaven, and he hastened to the shore to perform his ablutions. Refreshed in body with the bath which he took in the Mediterranean, and in mind with the influence of the vision, he retraced his way toward the mountains. The range was passed in safety, and he once more set foot on that section of the island where Nisida was so anxiously awaiting his presence.

The hour at which Fernand Wagner was accustomed to return after his periodical excursions beyond the mountains, had long passed; for it will be remembered that he had fallen asleep and slumbered some time, after his restoration to human shape and his encounter with the demon. Nisida was already a prey to the wildest alarms, which were not altogether untainted with selfishness; for the enemy of mankind had led her to believe that Wagner had within his reach certain means of enabling her to quit the island, and she trembled lest death might have intervened to snatch him away, and thus annihilate the hopes which had been so insidiously infused into her soul. She was also distressed at his prolonged absence on grounds more creditable to her heart, for she shuddered at the idea that her handsome Fernand might at that very moment be writhing in the coils of a horrible snake. Then, arousing herself, Nisida resolved to attempt the passage of the mountains, and seek for her lover and rescue him if possible, and if not, to die with him. But as she drew near the craggy mountains she suddenly beheld the object of her anxiety approaching her, and in a few minutes they were locked in each other’s arms.

“My Fernand,” said Nisida at length, “I feared that some danger had befallen you, and I was hastening to join you on the other side of these heights, either to aid you in escaping from the peril, or to share its consequences with you.”

“Beloved Nisida!” exclaimed Wagner, “how welcome to me is this proof of thy regard, this earnest of thy love.”

“I can never cease to love you, dear Fernand,” answered Nisida, turning her fine large eyes upon his handsome face. “Oh, that I should seek to quit thee! The thought smites me to the inmost recesses of my heart. And yet it is to some extent thy fault, for wherefore wilt thou not accompany me?”

“In the first place, beloved one,” replied Wagner, “thou talkest as if a ship were already in sight, or a boat lay ready to launch from this shore; secondly, I have before assured thee that I dared not return to Florence, and that as I cannot therefore be thy companion thither, it would be better for me to remain on the island, to which, perhaps,” he added in a mournful tone, “you might, after all, never come back!”

“Oh! Fernand, think not so ill of your Nisida!” she cried, throwing one of her snowy full arms round his neck, and looking earnestly, but yet tenderly on his countenance. “Never, never shall I know happiness again until I have revisited Florence. Each day that passes without giving me a hope to see this aim fulfilled, increases my misery, adds to my uneasiness, augments my anxiety so that in a short time my suspense will become intolerable. It is nearly so already, Fernand but pity me; yes and help me, if you can!”

“Dearest Nisida, willingly would I sacrifice my own inclinations to forward thine,” exclaimed Wagner in a tone of deep sincerity; “but how is it possible that I can aid thee? I have not wings to affix to thy fair shoulder, I have not a voice powerful enough to raise echoes on a shore whence assistance might be sent. Nay, look not so sternly on me, beloved Nisida, I did not intend to vex thee with idle jestings; but thou knowest that I cannot aid thee.”

“Fernand, you love me not!” exclaimed Nisida, suddenly withdrawing her arm from its fond position about his neck, and retreating a few paces. “No; you do not love me as you were wont, or as I love you! You doubtless have some means of gratifying my ardent longings. A secret voice whispers within me that if you chose to exert all your powers, you might render me happy at least so happy as I could be when separated from you! I have assured you that naught save the most important interests would render me thus anxious to return to my native city; and if you find me thus importunate, you should pity me, not refuse to aid me.”

“Holy Virgin! this is maddening!” cried Wagner. “Nisida be reasonable; how can I assist thee? how can I enable thee to cross that sea which appears to us boundless? And thou accusest me of not loving thee, Nisida! Oh! this is too cruel!”

“No, it is thou who art cruel!” exclaimed Nisida, in an impassioned tone. “I know that you are not a being of an ordinary stamp, that your intellect is as wonderful as your person is godlike, and that you possess a mine of knowledge in the extent of which no mortal can equal thee. Is it strange is it marvelous, then, that I should implore thee to exert thy powers the vast powers of thy glorious intelligence, to forward my design? Nay, seek not to interrupt me, Fernand, denial is vain! A secret voice continues to whisper within me that thou art able to do all I ask; I know not the means to be used I seek not to know them; but that thou hast such means within thy reach, is a conviction firmly impressed upon my mind. Here, then, Fernand, at thy feet, on my knees, do I implore thee, beseech thee, not to refuse the boon which I, thy loving wife, crave at the hands of thee, my husband, as if I were a humble suppliant suing at the footstool of a throned king!”

“Nisida, Nisida!” cried Fernand, painfully excited by this sudden movement on her part, and endeavoring to rise: “what means so strange a proceeding? Rise, dearest, rise; it is not to me that you must thus humble yourself!”

“No; I will not quit this suppliant attitude until you shall have granted my request my prayer,” said Nisida. “Refuse me not, my Fernand. Oh! I implore you not to refuse me! Whatever means be within your reach, exert them on my behalf. A brother’s interest, the remembrance of a solemn vow breathed only to my lamented and much-wronged mother and the safeguard of a mystery, the discovery of which by curious and prying eyes would heap infamy and disgrace upon the family that bears the name of Riverola all these reasons render me thus anxious to return to Italy. And if you keep me here, Fernand, I shall pine away I shall perish before your eyes, and you will repent of your harshness when it is too late. Or else,” she added, speaking with wild rapidity, “I shall be reduced to despair, and in a moment of excitement shall seek death in those silent waters, or climb yon craggy mountains to fling myself headlong from their summit.”

“Nisida, your menaces are maddening as your supplications to me are vain and useless!” said Wagner, himself now laboring under a fearful excitement. “Rise, I implore you, rise, and let us endeavor to converse more calmly more rationally.”

“Yes I will rise,” said Nisida, now affecting a sullen haughtiness, and preparing to wield another of the weapons which the demon had placed in her hand: “I rise, Fernand, because I feel that I was wrong thus to abase myself I, who bear the proud name of Riverola;” and she tossed her head indignantly. “Well it seems that you are resolved to keep me chained to your side on this island. Be it so: but henceforth let there be no mistrust no mystery no secrets between us. If Italy must be forgotten forever, then this isle shall become our world, and our thoughts shall travel not beyond its confines. All shall be mutual confidence a reciprocal outpouring of our minutest thoughts. On that condition only will existence here be tolerable to us both. And now as a proof that thou wilt assent to this proposal than which nothing can be more rational let our new life of mutual confidence date from this moment. Tell me then, my Fernand,” she proceeded, assuming a winning manner, and throwing as much pathos as possible into her sweetly musical voice that voice which gave new and indescribable, charms to the soft Italian language “tell me then, my Fernand, wherefore thou quittest me at certain intervals why thou invariably seekest on those occasions the opposite side of the island and whether thou wilt in future suffer me to be the companion of those journeys?”

“Thou be my companion thou, Nisida!” exclaimed Wagner, his whole frame convulsed with mental agony. “Merciful Heaven! what fiend has prompted thee thus to speak! Nisida,” he said, suddenly exercising a strong mastery over his emotions, as he seized her hand and pressed it with spasmodic violence “Nisida, as thou valuest our happiness seek not to penetrate into my secret proffer not that mad request again!”

And dropping her hand he paced the shore with the agitation of reviving excitement.

“Fernand,” said Nisida, approaching him, and once more speaking in a resolute and even severe tone “listen to me. When we met upon the island, an accident of a terrible nature led me to forget my vow of self-imposed dumbness; and when the excitement occasioned by that accident had somewhat passed you were in doubt whether you had really heard my voice or had been deluded by fevered imagination. It would have been easy for me to simulate dumbness again; and you would have believed that the bewilderment of the dread scene had misled you. But I chose not to maintain a secret from thee and I confess that my long supposed loss of two glorious faculties was a mere deed of duplicity on my part. At that time you said that you also had explanations to give; and yet months and months have passed by, and confidence has not begotten confidence. Let this mistrust on your part cease. Reveal to me the cause of these frequent excursions across the mountains; or else the next time that you set out on one of these mysterious journeys, I shall assuredly become your companion.”

“Now, Nisida,” exclaimed Wagner, his heart rent with indescribable tortures “it is you who are cruel you are unjust!”

“No, Fernand it is you!” cried Nisida, in a thrilling, penetrating tone, as if of anguish.

“Merciful Heaven! what misery is in store for us both!” said Wagner, pressing his hand to his burning brow. “Oh! that some ship would appear to bear thee away or that my destiny were other than it is!”

And he flung himself upon the sand in a fit of blank despair. Nisida now trembled at the violence of those emotions which she had raised in the breast of him whom she loved; and for a minute she reproached herself for having so implicitly obeyed the counsel of the evil spirit.

Her own feelings were worked up to that pitch of excitement with which women even in the strongest-minded, must have its vent in tears; and she burst into an agony of weeping.

The sound of those sobs was more than the generous-hearted and affectionate Fernand could bear; and starting from the sand whereon he had flung himself, he exclaimed, “Nisida, my beloved Nisida, dry those tears, subdue this frenzied grief! Let us say no more upon these exciting topics this evening; but I will meditate, I will reflect upon the morrow, and then I will communicate to thee the result of my deliberations.”

“Oh! there is then hope for me yet!” cried Nisida, joyfully; “and thou hast the means to grant my wishes, but thou fearest to use them. We will say no more this evening on subjects calculated to give so little pleasure; but to-morrow, my Fernand, to-morrow.”

And Nisida stopped her own utterance by pressing her lips to those of Wagner, winding her beauteous arms most lovingly round his neck at the same time, and pressing him to her bosom.

But that night and the ensuing morn were destined to wring the heart-cords of the unhappy Fernand: for the influence of the demon, though unknown and unrecognized, was dominant with Nisida.