Yes, time for another trip into Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf. Wagner himself is still absent from the narrative, being trapped in a dungeon, but his supporting cast finds plenty to do…
Chapter 30 returns us to the plight of Flora Francatelli (the lover of Franscio, who is the brother of Nisida, who is the lover of Wagner). Having been held captive by the nuns of the Carmelite Convent for six days, she suspects that her condition is the fault of Nisida, who resented the prospect of having her as a sister-in-law. Whoever is to blame for her predicament, Flora’s surroundings are harrowing indeed:
Sometimes the stillness of death, the solemn silence of the tomb reigned throughout that place: then the awful tranquillity would be suddenly broken by the dreadful shrieks, the prayers, the lamentations, and the scourges of the penitents.
The spectacle of these unfortunate creatures, with their naked forms writhing and bleeding beneath the self-inflicted stripes, which they doubtless rendered as severe as possible in order to escape the sooner from that terrible preparation for their novitiate—this spectacle, we say, was so appalling to the contemplation of Flora, that she seldom quitted her own cell to set foot in the chamber of penitence. But there were times when her thoughts became so torturing, and the solitude of her stone chamber so terrible, that she was compelled to open the door and escape from those painful ideas and that hideous loneliness, even though the scene merely shifted to a reality from which her gentle spirit recoiled in horror and dismay.
Flora does at least make a new friend in Giulia, Countess of Arestino, who has also been trapped in the hellish convent. Things are set to change, however: “we shall not dwell upon this portion of our tale; for the reader is about to pass to scenes of so thrilling a nature, that all he has yet read in the preceding chapters are as nothing to the events which will occupy those that are to follow.” After hearing the eerie sound of “a funeral hymn, chanted by several female voices, and emanating as yet from a distance, sounding, too, as if the mournful melody was made within the very bowels of the earth” the two women are shown into a new abode where they see another women being subjected to a still greater torment:
In the meantime the helpless victim of ecclesiastical vengeance—the poor erring creature, who had dared and sacrificed everything for the love of her seducer—had risen from her suppliant posture, and flown wildly—madly round to the elder nuns in succession, imploring mercy, and rending the very roof of the subterrane with piercing screams. But those to whom she appealed turned a deaf ear; for a convent is a tomb in which all human sympathies are immured—a vortex wherein all the best feelings that concrete in the mortal heart are cruelly engulfed!
And while this wretched girl—for she was scarcely yet a woman, although were life spared her, on the way to maternity—was thus fruitlessly imploring the mercy of hearts that were stern and remorseless, the hymn continued, and the bell tolled at short intervals. Suddenly at a particular verse in the funeral chant, the three nuns who usually did the bidding of the lady abbess, glided noiselessly—but surely, like black serpents—toward the victim—seized her in their powerful grasp—and bore her to the cell in which she was to be immured. The choir of nuns raised their voices, and the bell now clanged quickly with its almost deafening note—and those human and metallic sounds combined to deaden the screams that burst from the miserable girl, on whom the huge door at length closed with fearful din. The massive bolts were drawn—the key turned harshly in the lock and still the shrieks came from within the sepulcher where a human being was entombed alive!
When they are left on their own once more, the two women get another set of visitors. This time it’s Stephano and his bandits, arriving for the rescue! And with them is Manuel, Giulia’s lover! Flora describes the fate of the woman who was entombed alive, at which point a bandit named Piero deduces that the victim must have been his beloved Carlotta (“And the rude but handsome brigand wept”).
The band succeed in entering Carlotta’s cell, overpowering two of the nuns in the process, only to find that she’s already dead (“Vengeance!” cries Piero; “vengeance on the murderess of Carlotta!”). At that point, a bell rings…
Phew. Time for another break.