Chapters 8 and 9 of Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf are largely taken up by Wagner’s granddaughter Agnes narrating her backstory. This anecdote begins with Agnes encountering “a cavalier of strikingly handsome countenance” who claims to have got lost while hunting with the Baron von Nauemberg. The cavalier introduces himself as the Count of Riverola and proceeds to flatter Agnes, eventually persuading her to accompany him to Italy. Despite feeling “a dreadful pang” for her grandfather, she abandons him without notice and disguises herself as the count’s page. After arriving in Florence Agnes finds herself doted upon by the count (“To me he unbent as, doubtless, to human being he never unbent before”) but has a disturbing encounter with a mysterious woman:
At the same instant I glanced toward the stranger lady; she also drew back the dark covering from her face. Oh! what a countenance was then revealed to me—a countenance of such sovereign beauty that, though of the same sex, I was struck with admiration; but, in the next moment, a thrill of terror shot through my heart—for the fascination of the basilisk could scarcely paralyze its victim with more appalling effect than did the eyes of that lady. It might be conscience qualms, excited by some unknown influence—it might even have been imagination; but it nevertheless appeared as if those large, black, burning orbs shot forth lightnings which seared and scorched my very soul! For that splendid countenance, of almost unearthly beauty, was suddenly marked by an expression of such vindictive rage, such ineffable hatred, such ferocious menace, that I should have screamed had I not been as it were stunned—stupefied!
At the same time, the count begins showing symptoms of the disease which will (as per the story’s present) soon kill him. Agnes is subsequently awoken in the early hours of the morning to see the same “woman of dark Italian loveliness” looking over her, again with an expression filled with hatred. The woman swiftly departs into the darkness, and Agnes finds that some jewels have gone missing.
Back in the novel’s present, Agnes has caught sight of the mysterious woman again, this time seeing her face at the window. She deduces that the woman arrived from a nearby mansion belonging to the physician Dr. Duras.
And so, the novel’s central cast has been united into a family tree: Agnes is the granddaughter of the werewolf Wagner and former mistress of the deceased count, whose two children are also prominent characters. But who is the mysterious woman? What is the secret of the forbidden closet? And what is depicted in the painting Wagner hides from his granddaughter…?