Werewolf Week: Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf by George W. M. Reynolds (1846-7) Part 13

ReynoldsMiscChapter 34 of Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf returns us to the bandit Stephano. Having rescued two women from the sadistic nuns, he now turns his attention back to another task: rescuing Wagner from the dungeon, at the behest of the latter’s lover Nisida. However, he has mixed feelings. Having become captivated by Nisida’s “almost supernatural majesty of beauty”, he sees Wagner as a rival. (If he knew Wagner was a werewolf, that might well have given him another reason to pause for thought).

Indeed, the bandit becomes so captivated with Nisida (“Stephano could almost have fallen on his knees to worship and adore her. But, oh! what lovely skins do some snakes wear!—and into what charming shapes does satan often get!”) that he conspires with some fellow brigands to adapt her.

Meanwhile, Fernand Wagner (yes, the title character has finally returned to the narrative) paces about his dungeon cell until he is confronted by a fearful apparition:

Gradually the luster became more powerful; but in the midst of it there appeared a dark cloud, which by degrees assumed the appearance of a human form; and in a few minutes Wagner beheld a tall, strange-looking figure standing before him. But assuredly that was no mortal being; for, apart from the mysterious mode in which he had introduced himself into the dungeon, there was on his countenance so withering—bitter—scornful—sardonic a smile, that never did human face wear so sinister an expression.

And yet this being wore a human shape, and was attired in the habiliments of that age;—the long doublet, the tight hose, the trunk breeches, the short cloak, and the laced collar: but his slouched hat, instead of having a large and gracefully waving plume, was decorated with but a single feather. Fernand stood with fascinated gaze fixed upon the being whose eyes seemed to glare with subdued lightnings, like those of the basilisk. There was something awful in that form—something wildly and menacingly sinister in the sardonic smile that curled his lips as if with ineffable contempt, and with the consciousness of his own power!

This is the Power of Darkness: “he whose delight it is to spread desolation over a fertile and beautiful earth—he, whose eternal enmity against man is the fruitful source of so much evil!”. And he’s kind enough to clear up the mystery of the “Count F” portrait in Wagner’s home — it depicts Faust, who was also the man who visited Wagner in the prologue:

“[O]f all the disciples who have ever yet aided me in my hostile designs on the human race, none was so serviceable as Faust—that Count of Aurana, whose portrait thou hast so well delineated, and which now graces the wall of thy late dwelling.”

“Would that I had never known him!” ejaculated Wagner fervently. “On the contrary,” resumed the demon; “thou should’st be thankful that in the wild wanderings of his latter years he stopped at thy humble cottage in the Black Forest of Germany. Important to thee were the results of that visit—and still more important may they become!”

The Devil makes an offer to the prisoner. He will grant the captive the ability to teleport out of his cell, to restore Nisida’s lost speech and hearing, and more powers besides, all in exchange for one trifling trinket: Wagner’s immortal soul. To tempt him still further, the Devil reveals that Nisida has been captured by Stephano. However, Wagner doesn’t relent, instead warding off Satan with a crucifix.

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