(This is the third part in a series; see also parts one and two)
Chapter six of Wagner the Wehr-Wolf opens with Agnes awakening from her fainting fit to find herself in a lavish room filled with paintings. Amongst these is a portrait depicting a man with “a countenance indisputably handsome, though every lineament denoted horror and alarm”, with a caption telling us that “F., Count of A., terminated his career on the 1st of August, 1517.” Another shows the title character, Agnes’ grandfather Fernand Wagner, as an elderly man “cowering over a few embers in a miserable hovel, while the most profound sorrow was depicted on his countenance”. There is also a mysterious frame covered by a black cloth.
Agnes is tended to by a handsome stranger who reveals himself an associate of Wagner. While she abases herself for having abandoned the elderly man, the stranger explains that Wagner is alive and well and in this very house. Agnes struggles to believe this — after all, Wagner’s portrait bears the inscription “F. W., January 7th, 1516. His last day thus”, clearly implying that the old man is dead.
The stranger responds by recapping what we already know from the novel’s prologue: after Agnes abandoned him, Fernand Wagner was visited by a mysterious man (who turns out to be the “F., Count of A.” depicted in the portrait) who used supernatural powers to restore Wagner’s youth. Agnes then reveals what the reader will have already figured out — that the man tending to her is none other than her grandfather. She is disturbed by the implications:
“Seek not to learn my secret, girl!” cried Wagner, almost sternly; then, in a milder tone, he added, “By all you deem holy and sacred, I conjure you, Agnes, never again to question me on that head! I have told thee as much as it is necessary for thee to know——”
“One word—only one word!” exclaimed Agnes in an imploring voice. “Hast thou bartered thine immortal soul——”
“No—no!” responded Wagner, emphatically. “My fate is terrible indeed—but I am not beyond the pale of salvation. See! Agnes—I kiss the crucifix—the symbol of faith and hope!”
And, as he uttered these words, he pressed to his lips an ivory crucifix of exquisite workmanship, which he took from the table.
“The Virgin be thanked that my fearful suspicion should prove unfounded!” ejaculated Agnes.
Wagner’s newfound youth allowed him to spend years travelling the world, but as per his bargain, this involved eighteen months as servant to the supernatural count. After the latter’s death, Wagenr continued travelling alone, and eventually came to paint some of the scenes he had witnessed:
Thus, one depicted a council of red men assembled around a blazing fire, on the border of one of the great forests of North America; another showed the interior of an Esquimaux hut amidst the eternal ice of the Pole;—a third delineated, with fearfully graphic truth, the writhing of a human victim in the folds of the terrific anaconda in the island of Ceylon; a fourth exhibited a pleasing contrast to the one previously cited, by having for its subject a family meeting of Chinese on the terraced roof of a high functionary’s palace at Perkin; a fifth represented the splendid court of King Henry the Eighth in London; a sixth showed the interior of the harem of the Ottoman Sultan.
Having revealed his past to Agnes (well, apart from the detail about him becoming a werewolf) Wagner makes an arrangement with her. He asks that he be passed off as her brother, and pleads that she never under any circumstances remove the black cloth from the covered painting (marking the novel’s second usage of the forbidden-object plot device).
This brings us tot he conclusion of chapter seven, after which come two chapters of Agnes narrating her life story to Wagner — which seems like a good time to take a break.