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

It was night and Fernand was pacing the sand with even greater agitation than he had manifested during the cruel scene of the evening. He was alone on the seashore; and Nisida slept in the hut. Terrible thoughts warred in the breast of Wagner. Nisida’s language had astonished and alarmed him: he was convinced that Satan himself had inspired her with those ideas, the utterance of which had nearly goaded him to madness. She had insisted on the belief that he was acquainted with the means of enabling her to return to Italy; and yet Nisida was not a mere girl a silly, whimsical being, who would assert the wildest physical impossibilities just as caprice might prompt her. No she really entertained that belief but without having any ostensible grounds to establish it.

“Such an impression could only have been made upon her mind by the fiend who seeks to entangle me in his meshes!” murmured Wagner to himself, as he paced the strand. “The demon has failed to tempt me as yet thrice has he failed; and now he musters all his force to assail me, to assail me, too, in the most vulnerable points! But, O Heaven, give me strength to resist the dread influence thus brought to bear upon me! What course can I adopt? what plan pursue? If to-morrow must witness a renewal of that scene which occurred this evening, I shall succumb I shall yield; in a moment of despair I shall exclaim, ’Yes, Nisida I will sacrifice everything to acquire the power to transport thee back to Italy;’ and I shall hurry to yon mountains, and seeking their wildest defile, shall evoke the enemy of mankind, and say, ’Come, Satan, I give thee my soul in exchange for the illimitable power thou offerest.’ And thus will be the terrible result the fearful catastrophe.”

Big drops of agony stood upon Fernand’s brow as he uttered these words. He saw that he was hovering on the verge of a fearful abyss and he trembled lest he should fall, so intense was his love for Nisida. At one moment he thought of the soothing vision, full of hope and promise, which had occupied his slumber in the morning; at another he pondered on the tears, the prayers, and the threats of Nisida. The conflicting thoughts were, indeed, sufficient to urge him on to a state of utter despair: his eternal salvation and the happiness of her whom he loved so tenderly were placed in such antagonistic position that they raised a fierce a painful an agonizing warfare in his breast. Now he would fall upon his knees and pray and pray fervently for strength to continue in the right path: then he would again give way to all the maddening influences of his bitter reflections; and, while in this mood, had Satan suddenly stood before him, he would have succumbed yes, he would have succumbed. But the fiend had no longer any power to offer direct temptation to the wretched Wagner. Oh! if he could die that moment, how gladly would he release himself from an existence fraught with so much misery; but death was not yet within the reach of him who bore the doom of a Wehr-Wolf! The morning dawned, and Fernand Wagner was still pacing the sand dreading to meet Nisida again, and not daring to seek to avoid her. Were he to fly to the mountains or to the forests, she would search after him; and thus he would only be leading her into perils amidst yawning precipices, or where she might become the prey of the terrible anaconda. To remain were anguish to fly were madness!

“Oh, wretch, miserable wretch that I am!” exclaimed Wagner, as he beheld the twilight so short in the tropics growing more powerful, and knew that Nisida would soon come forth from the hut. In a few minutes the orb of day appeared above the Orient wave and almost at the same time the lady made her appearance on the shore.

“Fernand, thou hast not sought repose throughout the night just past!” she said, advancing toward him, and endeavoring to read upon his countenance the thoughts which filled his brain.

“Nisida,” he replied, in a rapid and excited tone, “I have gone through so much during the last few hours that ’tis a marvel reason has maintained its seat. If thou lovest me, let us forget all those topics which have so strongly excited us both: and let us unite our prayers that Heaven will send thee means to quit this isle and return to thy native land.”

“Fernand,” said Nisida, in a tone of deep disappointment and reproach, “I was not prepared for this. Your words imply that you possess the power to aid my departure hence, but that you have resolved not to use it. Is that your decision?”

“I scorn to deceive thee, Nisida, by a direct falsehood in so serious a matter as this,” exclaimed Wagner. “Knowest thou, my beloved, at what price must be purchased the power which alone can enable me to effect thy return to Italy? canst thou divine the immeasurable sacrifice which I must make to gratify thy wishes?”

“Fernand,” answered Nisida, in a reproachful and yet resolute tone, “there is no price that I would not pay to obtain the means of pleasing thee! there is no sacrifice that I should shrink from were your happiness at stake!”

“Nisida,” ejaculated Wagner, in a tone of fearful excitement, “you drive me to despair! Have mercy upon me, Nisida, have mercy upon me! My God! if you taunt me if you reproach me thus I will do all that you command; but force me not to believe, Nisida my well beloved Nisida that, in espousing thee in the sight of Heaven, I took to my bosom a fiend instead of a woman, a relentless demon in the most charming female shape that evil spirit ever wore. Oh! if you knew all, you would pity me as it is. So wretched on earth you would not compel me to renounce every hope of salvation; for, know, Nisida,” he added, his countenance wearing an expression of indescribable horror, “know that in demanding of me this last sacrifice, you ordain that I should sell my immortal soul to Satan!”

For a moment Nisida appeared shocked and appalled at the words which met her ears; but she rather recoiled from the manner of fearful excitement in which they were uttered, than from the intelligence which they conveyed.

“He who truly loves,” she said coldly, as she recovered her equanimity, “would make even that sacrifice! and now listen Fernand,” she continued, her eyes flashing fire, and her naked bosom heaving convulsively as she spoke, while her splendid form was drawn up to its full height, and her whole aspect sublimely terrible and wondrously beautiful, even in that fit of agitated passion “listen, Fernand!” she cried, in her musical, flute-like voice, which, however, assumed the imperious accent and tone of command: “thou art a coward, and unworthy such an earnest such a profound, such a devoted love as mine, if thou refusest to consummate a sacrifice which will make us both powerful and great as long as we live! Consider, my Fernand the spirit with whom thou wouldst league thyself can endow us with an existence running over centuries to come, can invest us with eternal youth, can place countless treasures at our disposal, can elevate us to the proudest thrones of Christendom! Oh! wilt thou spurn advantages like those? wilt thou refuse to avail thyself of gifts that must render us so supremely happy? No, no: and we can return together to my native city, we can enter Florence in triumph, thou no longer fearing the terror of the law, I no longer compelled to simulate the doom of the deaf and dumb! Our enemies shall lick the dust at our feet, and we shall triumph wherever success may be desirable. Oh! I understand that beseeching, appealing look, Fernand: thou thinkest that I shall love thee less if this immense sacrifice be consummated, that I shall look upon thee with loathing. No, not so: and to convince thee that mine is a soul endowed with an iron will, that mine is an energy which can grapple even with remorse, I will reveal to thee a secret which thou hast perhaps never even suspected. Fernand!” she exclaimed, now becoming absolutely terrible with the excitement that animated her; “Fernand!” she repeated, “’twas I who murdered the girl Agnes, in the garden of thy mansion at Florence!”

“Thou, thou, Nisida?” almost shrieked Wagner wildly; “oh, no, no! Recall that dreadful avowal! And yet oh! yes I see it all my former suspicions are confirmed. Wretched woman. What harm did the unfortunate Agnes do to thee?”

“I saw in her a rival, Fernand or fancied that she was so,” answered Nisida; “I overheard your conversation with her that morning in the garden I saw her embrace thee tenderly mine ears drank in her words; oh, I remember them even now! She said, ’Oh, what a night of uneasiness have I passed! But at length thou art restored to me; thou whom I have ever loved so fondly; although I abandoned thee for so long a time!’ Were not those her very words? And thou didst speak to her in a tone equally tender. Ah! I have ever suspected that she was thy mistress; although thou didst swear upon the cross, in thy dungeon, that she was not. But so great was my love for thee, that I smothered the dread suspicion ”

“Suspicion,” repeated Wagner, in the penetrating tone of heart-rending anguish, an anguish so intense that his brain whirled, and he knew not what he said or did. “Oh, wretched woman, and thou didst slay Agnes on a mere suspicion?”

“I hated her even before I entertained that suspicion,” exclaimed Nisida, impatiently; “for she was the mistress of my father! Thinkest thou that my quick ears had not gleaned the mysterious whisperings which frequently passed between my sire and his valet Antonio, relative to the lady who dwelt in seclusion at the abode of that menial’s mother? or thinkest thou that when I once obtained a clew to my father’s degrading passion, I scrupled to watch him, to follow him, to learn all his proceedings? No; for it was the more easily to enact the spy upon my own father that originally simulated the doom of the deaf and dumb. A purse of gold induced Dame Margaretha, Antonio’s mother, to give me admission into her house; though she also believed that I was really deprived of the faculties of hearing and of speech. But often and often was I concealed in the chamber adjacent to that where my father passed hours with his mistress; and it was not without advantage that I so acted. For I discovered that amongst the presents which he had given her, were the jewels which had belonged to my sainted mother that mother whose wrongs were so manifold, and whose sufferings were so great. Yes: and I possessed myself of those jewels, leaving the girl the other gifts which she had received from my sire.

“And now, since I am involved in relations of such import, I shall do well to inform thee, Fernand, that I had seen and loved thee before thou didst come as a visitor to our mansion in Florence. For it was my habit to proceed occasionally to the dwelling of the good Dr. Duras, the depositary of my grand secret of the feigned loss of faculties; and while wandering alone in his garden I once beheld thee! And the moment I beheld I loved thee. Often often after that would I visit the kind physician’s grounds, whereof I possessed a pass-key; and my admiration of thee led me to pass the slight boundary which separated his garden from thine. Then I would approach the windows of thy dwelling and contemplate thee as thou wast seated in thy favorite apartment. On the night of my father’s funeral, although so very late when all the subsequent business connected with the reading of the will was concluded, my mind was so perturbed and restless that I could not sleep; and quitting the Riverola mansion by a private door, I sought the fresh air with the hope that it would calm me. Some vague and indescribable sentiment of curiosity, or else something that I heard on the return of the mourners, relative to the strange scene enacted in the church, I know not which, led me to the vicinity of your abode; and there, in your favorite room, I beheld you seated, listening attentively to some sweet words, doubtless, which Agnes was breathing into your ear. But she caught a glimpse of my countenance by the light of the lamps ”

“Enough! enough!” exclaimed Wagner; “thou hast indeed cleared up innumerable mysteries! But, oh! Nisida would that thou hadst remained silent that thou hadst not drawn aside the veil which my elevated opinion of thee had thrown over the suspicions that, I admit, from time to time ”

“And if I have told thee all this, Fernand,” interrupted Nisida, impatiently, “it is that thou may’st be convinced not only of the natural energy of my mind, but also of the deep love which I bear thee. And now, now that thou seest me in my true character, a murderess if thou wilt,” she added with an emphasis of bitter scorn, “now canst thou refuse that sacrifice ”

“Nisida! Nisida! enough crime has been perpetrated by both us, Heaven knows!” ejaculated Wagner, still writhing with the anguish produced by the avowal which had so lately met his ears. “Oh! accursed be the day, blotted from the annals of Time be the hour, Nisida, when thy hand struck the fatal dagger into the heart of Agnes.”

“What! this to my face?” said Nisida, her countenance becoming crimson with indignation, and not her face only, but her swan-like neck, her shoulders, and her bosom. “Then she was thy mistress, Fernand! And thou didst love her, while I fancied, false one that thou art, thine affections to be wholly and solely mine.”

“Nisida,” exclaimed Fernand, cruelly bewildered, “you drive me to despair. I know not whether to loathe thee for this avowal which thou hast made, or to snatch thee to my arms, abandon all hope of salvation, and sacrifice myself entirely for one so transcendently beautiful as thou art. But thy suspicions relative to Agnes are ridiculous, monstrous, absurd. For, as surely as thou art there, Nisida as the heaven is above us and the earth beneath us as surely as that I love thee so well as to be unable to reproach thee more for the deed which thou hast confessed so surely, Nisida, was Agnes my own granddaughter, and I I, Fernand Wagner young, strong, and healthy as thou beholdest me, am fourscore and fifteen years of age.”

Nisida started in affright, and then fixed a scrutinizing glance upon Fernand’s countenance; for she feared that his reason was abandoning him that he was raving.

“Ah! Nisida, I see that you do not credit my words,” he exclaimed; “and yet I have told thee the solemn, sacred truth. But mine is a sad history and a dreadful fate; and if I thought that thou would’st soothe my wounded spirit, console, and not revile me, pity, and not loathe me, I would tell thee all.”

“Speak, Fernand, speak!” she cried; “and do me not so much wrong as to suppose that I could forget my love for thee that love which made me the murderer of Agnes. Besides,” she added, enthusiastically, “I see that we are destined for each other; that the dark mysteries attached to both our lives engender the closest sympathies; that we shall flourish in power, and glory, and love, and happiness together.”

Wagner threw his arms around Nisida’s neck, and clasped her to his breast. He saw not in her the woman who had dealt death to his granddaughter; he beheld in her only a being of ravishing beauty and wondrous mind, so intoxicated was he with his passion, and so great was the magic influence which she wielded o’er his yielding spirit. Then, as her head reclined upon his breast, he whispered to her, in a few hurried, but awfully significant words, the nature of his doom, the dread conditions on which he had obtained resuscitated youth, an almost superhuman beauty, a glorious intellect, and power of converting the very clods of the earth into gold and precious stones at will.

“And now, dearest,” he added, in a plaintive and appealing tone, “and now thou may’st divine wherefore on the last day of every month I have crossed these mountains; thou may’st divine, too, how my escape from the prison of Florence was accomplished; and, though no mortal power can abridge my days though the sword of the executioner would fall harmless on my neck, and the deadly poison curdle not in my veins still, man can bind me in chains, and my disgrace is known to all Florence.”

“But thou shalt return thither, Fernand,” exclaimed Nisida, raising her countenance and gazing upon him, not with horror and amazement, but in pride and triumph; “thou shalt return thither, Fernand, armed with a power that may crush all thine enemies, and blast with destructive lightning the wretches who would look slightingly on thee. Already thou art dearer, far dearer to me than ever thou wast before; for I love the marvelous I glory in the supernatural and thou art a being whom such women as myself can worship and adore. And thou repinest at thy destiny? thou shudderest at the idea of that monthly transformation which makes thy fate so grand, because it is so terrible? Oh, thou art wrong, thou art wrong, my Fernand. Consider all thou hast gained, how many, many years of glorious youth and magnificent beauty await thee! Think of the power with which thy boundless command of wealth may invest thee. Oh, thou art happy, enviable, blest. But I I,” she added, the impassioned excitement of her tone suddenly sinking into subdued plaintiveness as her charming head once more fell upon his breast “I am doomed to fade and wither like the other human flowers of the earth. Oh, that thought is now maddening. While thou remainest as thou art now, vested with that fine, manly beauty which won my heart when first I saw thee, and before I knew thee: I shall grow old, wrinkled, and thou wilt loathe me. I shall be like a corpse by the side of one endowed with vigorous life. Oh, Fernand; this may not be; and thou canst purchase the power to bestow unperishing youth, unchanging beauty upon me; the power, moreover, to transport us hence, and render us happy in inseparable companionship for long, long years to come.”

“Merciful heavens! Nisida,” exclaimed Fernand, profoundly touched by the urgent, earnest appeal of the lovely siren whose persuasive eloquence besought him to seal his own eternal damnation “would’st thou have me yield up my soul to the enemy of mankind?”

“Do you hesitate? Can you even pause to reflect?” cried Nisida, with whose tongue the demon himself was as it were speaking. “Oh, Fernand, you love me not, you have never, never loved me.” And she burst into a flood of tears. Wagner was painfully moved by this spectacle, which constituted so powerful an argument to support the persuasive eloquence of her late appeal. His resolution gave way rapidly the more agonizing became her sobs the weaker grew his self-command; and his lips were about to murmur the fatal assent to her prayer about to announce his readiness to summon the enemy of mankind and conclude the awful compact when suddenly there passed before his eyes the image of the guardian angel whom he had seen in his vision, dim and transparent as the thinnest vapor, yet still perceptible and with an expression of countenance profoundly mournful. The apparition vanished in a moment; but its evanescent presence was fraught with salvation. Tearing himself wildly and abruptly from Nisida’s embrace, Wagner exclaimed in a tone indicative of the horror produced by the revulsion of feeling in his mind, “No never never!” and, fleet as the startled deer he ran he flew toward the mountains. Frightened and amazed by his sudden cry and simultaneous flight, Nisida cast her eyes rapidly around to ascertain the cause of his alarm, thinking that some dreadful spectacle had stricken terror to his soul. But ah what sees she? Why do her glances settle fixedly in one direction? What beholds she in the horizon? For a few moments she is motionless, speechless, she cannot believe her eyes. Then her countenance, which has already experienced the transition from an expression of grief and alarm to one of suspense and mingled hope and fear, becomes animated with the wildest joy; and forgetting the late exciting scene as completely as if it had never taken place, but with all her thoughts and feelings absorbed in the new the one idea which now engrosses her she turns her eyes rapidly round toward the mountains, exclaiming, “Fernand, dearest Fernand! a sail a sail.”

But Wagner hears her not: she stamps her foot with impatient rage upon the sand; and in another moment the groves conceal her lover from view.

Yes; Wagner looked not round; heard not the voice of Nisida invoking him to return, but continued his rapid flight toward the mountains, as if hurrying in anguish and in horror from the meshes which had been spread to ensnare his mortal soul. And now Nisida became all selfishness; there was at length a hope, a sudden hope that she should be speedily enabled to quit the hated monotonous island, and her fine, large dark eyes were fixed intently upon the white sails which gradually grew more and more palpable in the azure horizon. She was not deceived; there was no doubt, no uncertainty, as to the nature of the object which now engrossed all her thoughts, and filled her heart with the wildest joy. It was indeed a ship, and its course was toward the island; for, as she gazed with fixed and longing eyes, it by degrees assumed a more defined shape; and that which had at first appeared to be but one small white piece of canvas, gradually developed the outlines of many sails, and showed the tapering spars, until at last the black hull appeared, completing the form of a large and noble vessel. Joy! joy she should yet be saved from the island. And, ah do the chances of that hoped-for safety multiply? Is it indeed another ship which has caught her eye in the far-off horizon? Yes; and not one only, but another, and another, and another, until she can count seven vessels, all emerging from the mighty distance, and spreading their snow-white canvas to the breeze which wafts them toward the isle.

Crowds of conflicting thoughts now rush to the mind of Nisida; and she seats herself upon the strand to deliberate as calmly as she may upon the course which she should adopt. Alas, Fernand: thou wast not then uppermost in the imagination of thy Nisida, although she had not entirely forgotten thee. But the principal topic of her meditations, the grand question which demanded the most serious weighing and balancing in her mind, was whether she should again simulate the deafness and dumbness which she had now for many months been accustomed to affect. Grave and important interests and a deeply-rooted attachment to her brother on the one side urged the necessity of so doing; but on the other, a fearful disinclination to resume that awful duplicity that dreadful self-sacrifice, an apprehension lest the enjoyment of the faculties of hearing and speech for so long a period should have unfitted her for the successful revival and efficient maintenance of the deceit; these were the arguments on the negative side. But Nisida’s was not a mind to shrink from any peril or revolt from any sacrifice which her interests or her aims might urge her to encounter; and it was with fire-flashing eyes and a neck proudly arching, that she raised her head in a determined manner, exclaiming aloud, “Yes, it must be so. But the period of this renewed self-martyrdom will not last long. So soon as thine interests shall have been duly cared for, Francisco, I will quit Florence forever, I will return to this island, and here will I pass the remainder of my days with thee, my beloved Fernand! And that I do love thee still, Fernand, although thou hast fled from my presence as if I were suddenly transformed into a loathsome monster, that I must ever continue to love thee, Fernand, and that I shall anxiously long to return to thine arms, are truths as firmly based as the foundations of the island. Thine, then, shall be the last name, thy name shall be the last word that I will suffer my lips to pronounce ere I once more place the seal upon them. Yes, I love thee, Fernand; oh! would to God that thou could’st hear me proclaim how much I love thee, my beauteous, my strangely-fated Fernand!”

It was almost in a despairing tone that Nisida gave utterance to these last words; for as the chance of escape from the island grew every moment less equivocal, by the nearer approach of the fleet, which was, however, still far from the shore, the intensity of her sensual passion for Wagner, that passion which she believed to be the purest and most firmly rooted love, revived; and her heart smote her for her readiness to abandon him to the solitude of that island. But as she was now acquainted with all the mysteries of his fate, as she knew that he could not die for many, many years to come, nor lose that glorious beauty which had proved alike her pleasure and her pride, her remorse and her alarms were to a considerable degree mitigated: for she thought within herself, although she now spoke aloud no more; “Death will not snatch him from me, disease will not impair his godlike features and elegant form, and he loves me too well not to receive me with open arms when I shall be enabled to return to him.” These were her thoughts: and starting upon her feet, she compressed her lips tightly, as if to remind herself that she had once more placed a seal there, a seal not to be broken for some time. An hour had now passed since Fernand Wagner and Nisida separated on the seashore; and he did not come back. Meantime the fleet of ships had drawn nearer, and though she more than once entertained the idea of hastening after Wagner to implore him to accompany her whithersoever those vessels were bound, or at least to part with the embrace of tenderness, yet her fear lest the ships might sail past without touching at the island, predominated over her softer feelings. And now, having settled in her mind the course she was to adopt, she hastened to the stores which she had saved from the wreck of the corsair vessel, and which had been piled up on the strand the day after she was first thrown on that Mediterranean isle.

It will be remembered that amongst the articles thus saved were changes of apparel, which Stephano Verrina had procured for her use at Leghorn ere the corsair-bark set sail on that voyage from which it never returned, and during Nisida’s long sojourn on the island, she had frequently examined those garments, and had been careful to secure them from the effects of rain or damp, in the hope that the day would sooner or later come when she might assume them for the purpose of bidding adieu to that lovely but monotonous island. And now that day has come; and the moment so anxiously longed for appeared to be rapidly approaching. Nisida accordingly commenced her toilet, as if she had only just risen from her couch and was preparing to dress to go abroad amongst the busy haunts of human beings.

Her dark luxuriant hair, which so long had floated negligently upon her ivory shoulders, was now gathered up in broad massive bands at the sides, and artistically plaited and confined at the back of her well-shaped head. The tight bodice was next laced over the swelling bosom: hose and light boots imprisoned the limbs which had so often borne her glancing along in their nudity to the soft music of the stream in the vale or of the wavelets of the sea; broidery set off the fine form of Nisida in all the advantage of its glowing, full and voluptuous proportions. Then the large black veil was fastened to the plaits of her hair, whence its ample folds swept over that admirable symmetry of person, endowing her once more with the queen-like air which became so well her splendid, yet haughty style of beauty! Yes: no longer subdued by simplicity of attire no longer tender and soft, was the loveliness of Nisida; but grand, imperious, and dazzling did she now seem again, as erst she seemed ere her foot trod that island-shore.

Appareled in handsome garments, and with the rich carnation glow of health and animation on her cheeks, and with her eyes flashing the fires of hope, but with the vermilion lips compressed, Nisida now stood on the strand where so oft she had wandered like a naiad, feeling no shame at her semi-nudity.

During the time occupied by her toilet, the fleet of seven ships had approached much nearer to the island, and now they were not more than three miles distant. The hulls, which at first had seemed quite black, shone, as they drew closer, with the gay colors in which they were painted, the gorgeous sunlight playing vividly on the gilding of the prows, the streaks of red and white along the sides, and the splendid decorations of the poop lanterns. Noble and mighty ships they were ships of size such as Nisida had never seen before, and in comparison with which all the merchant-vessels she had beheld at Leghorn were but mere boats. There was no need to raise a signal to invite them to approach for that fleet was evidently steering toward the island. Whence did this fleet come? whither was it bound? to what nation did it belong? and would those on board treat her with attention and respect?

Such were the thoughts which flashed across her brain and her heart beat with anxiety for the arrival of the moment which should solve those questions. Absorbed as she was in the contemplation of the noble ships those mighty but graceful swans of the ocean she did not forget to cast, from time to time, a rapid glance around, to see if Fernand were retracing his way toward her. Alas! no he came not and she must quit the isle without embracing him without assuring him of her constant love without renewing her oft-repeated promise to return. Ah! a thought struck her: she would leave a note for him in the hut! No sooner was the project determined on than she set about its execution; for there were writing materials amidst the stores saved from the corsair-wreck. A brief but tender letter was hastily penned, and then secured in a place where she knew he must find it should he revisit the rude tenement in which they had so often slept in each other’s arms. And that he would revisit it she both fondly hoped and firmly believed revisit it so soon as the excitement and the terror, under the influence of which he had parted from her, should have subsided. Her mind was now much easier, and her beauty was wonderfully enhanced by the glow of animation which suffused itself over her countenance, giving additional light to her ever brilliant eyes, and rendering her noble aquiline face resplendent to gaze upon.

The ships came to anchor at a distance of about two miles from the shore: and though the banners of each were fluttering in the breeze, yet Nisida was not well skilled enough in discriminating the flags of different nations to be able immediately to satisfy herself to which country that fleet belonged. But as she stood with her eyes fixed on the foremost vessel, which was also the largest, she observed that there was a gilt crescent in the middle of the blood-red standard that floated over her central poop-lantern; and a chill struck to her heart for the thought of African pirates flashed to her mind! This alarm was, however, as evanescent as it was poignant; for another moment’s reflection convinced her that none of the princes of Africa could send so proud a fleet to sea. Following up the chain of reasoning thus suggested, and calling to her aid all the accounts she had read of naval fights between the Christians and the Moslems, she at length remembered that the blood-red banner, with the gilt crescent in the middle, denoted the presence of the Kapitan-Pasha, or Lord High Admiral of the Ottoman Empire. Confidently believing that peace existed between Italy and Turkey, she had now no longer any fears as to the treatment she was likely to experience at the hands of the Mohammedans; and it was with unfeigned joy that she beheld a boat, which had put off from the admiral’s ship, at length approaching the shore.

As the magnificently painted and gorgeously gilt barge, which twenty-four white-turbaned rowers urged along with almost horse-race speed, neared the strand, Nisida observed, beneath a velvet canopy in the stern, a personage, who by his splendid apparel, his commanding demeanor, and the respect paid to him by the slaves accompanying him, was evidently of exalted rank. She accordingly conceived that this must be the kapitan-pasha himself. But she was mistaken. Her delight at the approach of the barge, which she fondly hoped would prove the means of her deliverance from the island, was only equaled by the surprise of those on board at beholding a beautiful and elegantly dressed lady, unattended and alone, on the seashore, as if awaiting their arrival. And, during the few minutes which now elapsed ere the barge touched the strand, it was evident that the high functionary seated beneath the canopy surveyed Nisida with increasing wonder and admiration; while she, on her side, could not help noticing that he was remarkably handsome, very young, and possessing a countenance rather of an Italian than a Turkish cast of features.

Meantime a profound silence, broken only by the slight and uniform sounds produced by the oars, prevailed: and when the boat touched the strand, a long and wide plank, covered with velvet, was so placed as to enable the high functionary before alluded to to land conveniently. Attended by two slaves, who followed at a respectful distance, the Mussulman chief advanced toward Nisida, whom he saluted in a manner which strengthened her suspicion that he was not of Turkish origin, although habited in the richest Oriental costume she had ever seen, and evidently holding some very superior office among the Ottomans. She returned his salutation with a graceful bow and a sweet smile: and he immediately addressed her in the Italian tongue her own dear and delightful language, saying, “Lady, art thou the queen of this land? or art thou, as appearances would almost lead one to conjecture, a solitary inhabitant here?”

For he saw that she was alone beheld no traces of culture; and there was but one miserable dwelling, and that such as she might have built up with her own hands. Nisida shook her head mournfully, making signs that she was deaf and dumb. The Mussulman chief uttered an ejaculation of mingled surprise and grief, and surveyed the lady with additional interest and admiration. But in a few moments his countenance assumed a sudden expression of astonishment, as if a light had broken in upon him, suggesting something more than a mere suspicion nay, indeed, a positive conviction; and having examined her features with the most earnest attention, he abruptly took his tablets from the folds of his garment, and wrote something on them. He then handed them to Nisida; and it was now her turn to experience the wildest surprise for on the page opened to her view were these words, traced in a beautiful style of calligraphy, and in the Italian language: “Is it possible that your ladyship can be the Donna Nisida of Riverola?”

Nisida’s eyes wandered in astonishment from the tablets to the countenance of him who had penciled that question; but his features were certainly not familiar to her and yet she thought that there was something in the general expression of that handsome face not altogether unknown to her. As soon as she had partially recovered from the surprise and bewilderment produced by finding that she at least was known to the Ottoman functionary, she wrote beneath his question the following reply: “I am indeed Nisida of Riverola, who for seven long months have been the only inhabitant of this island, whereon I was shipwrecked, and I am now anxious to return to Italy or at all events to the first Christian port at which your fleet may touch. Have mercy upon me, then; and take me hence! But who are you, signor, that I should prove no stranger to you?”

The Ottoman chief read these words, and hastened to reply in the following manner: “I have the honor to be the grand vizier of his imperial highness the glorious Sultan Solyman, and my name is Ibrahim. A few months ago I encountered your brother Francisco, Count of Riverola, who was then in command of a body of Tuscan auxiliaries, raised to assist in defending Rhodes against the invading arms of the mighty Solyman. Your brother became my prisoner, but I treated him worthily. He informed me with bitter tears of the strange and mysterious disappearance of his well-beloved sister, who had the misfortune to be deprived of the faculties of hearing and speech. Your brother was soon set free, after the fall of Rhodes, and he returned to his native city. But from all he told me of thee, lady, it was natural that I should ere now conjecture who thou must be.”

Ibrahim did not choose to add that he had remembered to have seen Nisida occasionally in their native city of Florence, and that he was indeed the brother of her late dependent, Flora Francatelli. But the explanation which he did give was quite sufficient to renew her deepest surprise, as she now learnt for the first time that during her absence her brother had been engaged in the perils of warfare. The grand vizier gently withdrew from Nisida’s hand the tablets on which her eyes were positively riveted; but it was only to trace a few lines to afford her additional explanations. When he returned the tablets to her again she read as follows: “By a strange coincidence the glorious fleet which has wafted me hither to deliver you from this lonely isle, and which is under the command of the kapitan-pasha in person, is bound for the western coast of Italy. Its mission is at present known only to myself and a faithful Greek dependent; but your ladyship shall receive worthy attention and be duly conveyed to Leghorn. The squadron has been driven from its course by a tempest which assailed us off the island of Candia; our pilot lost his reckonings, and when land was descried this morning, it was believed to be the coast of Sicily. Hast thou, lady, any means of enlightening us as to the geographical position of this island?”

Nisida answered in the ensuing manner: “I have not the least notion of the geographical position of the island. An eternal summer appears to prevail in this clime, which would be a terrestrial paradise were not the forests infested by hideous serpents of an enormous size.”

Ibrahim Pasha, having read this reply, summoned from the barge the officer in command: and to him he communicated the intelligence which he had just received from Nisida. That officer’s countenance immediately underwent a dreadful change; and, falling on his knees at Ibrahim’s feet, he made some strong appeal, the nature of which Nisida could only divine by its emphatic delivery and the terrified manner of the individual. Ibrahim smiled contemptuously, and motioned the officer with an imperious gesture to rise and return to the barge. Then, again, having recourse to the tablets, he conveyed the following information to Nisida: “Lady, it appears that this is the Isle of Snakes, situated in the Gulf of Sictra, on the African coast. Horrible superstitions are attached to this clime: and I dare not remain longer on its shore, lest I should seriously offend the prejudices of those ignorant sailors. Come, then, lady, you shall receive treatment due to your rank, your beauty, and your misfortunes.”

In the meantime the officer had returned to the barge, where whispers speedily circulated in respect to the land on which that boat had touched; and the reader may imagine the extent of the loathing which the mere name of the isle was calculated to inspire in the breasts of the superstitious Mussulmans, when we observe that the existence of that island was well known to the Turks and also to the Africans, but was left uninhabited, and was never visited knowingly by any of their ships. Nisida saw that the grand vizier was in haste to depart, not through any ridiculous fears on his part, because he was too enlightened to believe in the fearful tales of mermaids, genii, ghouls, vampires, and other evil spirits by which the island was said to be haunted, but because his renegadism had been of so recent a date that he dared not, powerful and altered as he was, afford the least ground for suspecting that the light of Christianity triumphed in his soul over the dark barbarism of his assumed creed. Seeing, then, that Ibrahim Pasha was anxious to yield to the superstitious feelings of the sailors, Nisida intimated, with a graceful bend of the head, her readiness to accompany him. But, as she advanced toward the boat, she cast a rapid and searching glance behind her. Alas! Wagner appeared not.

A feeling of uneasiness, amounting almost to a pang of remorse, took possession of her, as she placed her foot upon the velvet-covered plank; and for an instant she hesitated to proceed.

Could she abandon Fernand to the solitude of that isle? Could she renounce the joys which his love had taught her to experience? And might she not be enabled to persuade him to make that sacrifice which would invest him with a power that she herself would direct and wield according to her own pleasure and suitably to her own interests? But, oh! that hesitation lasted not more than a moment; for her feet were on the plank leading to the barge, and at a short distance floated the ship that would bear her away from the isle.

One longing, lingering look upon the shore of that island where she had enjoyed so much happiness, even if she had experienced so much anxiety; one longing, lingering look, and she hesitated no more. Ibrahim escorted her to a seat beneath the velvet canopy; the officer in command gave the signal, the barge was shoved off, the rowers plied their oars, and the island was already far behind, ere Nisida had the courage to glance toward it again!