So, Fernand Wagner has decided to set off to sea to rescue the shipwrecked Nisida, and Chapter 40 opens by addressing the practicality of his mission:
The reader may perhaps be surprised that Fernand Wagner should have been venturous enough to trust himself to the possibilities of a protracted voyage, since every month his form must undergo a frightful change—a destiny which he naturally endeavored to shroud in the profoundest secrecy. But it must be recollected that the Mediterranean is dotted with numerous islands; and he knew that, however changeable or adverse the winds might be, it would always prove an easy matter to make such arrangements as to enable him to gain some port a few days previously to the close of the month.
As it happens, Wagner’s biggest problem at sea is not his lycanthropy but the weather. His ship runs into a storm and he finds himself stranded on an island, where his thoughts turn to Nisida: “Nisida would be the island queen; she should deck herself with these flowers, which her fair hands might weave into wildly fantastic arabesques!” (a remarkably accurate description of what we’ve already seen Nisida getting up to).
While exploring the volcanic island, Wagner happens upon a man’s doublet “of the fashion then prevalent in Italy”, then a snake, and then a cloud that seemingly turns into a human figure –promoting him to reassure himself that he is witnessing “that wondrous optical delusion, called the mirage.” The airborne image defines itself into the likeness of a woman, before being obliterated by the fall of night.
Meanwhile, Nisida runs into her captor Stephano (who is missing his doublet, a pretty big clue that Wagner and Nisida are shipwrecked on the same island). Armed with a sword she took form the shipwreck, Nisida subdues him:
Yes! he was subdued—overawed—rendered timid as a young child in her presence; and sinking upon his knees, he exclaimed—forgetful that he was addressing Nisida the deaf and dumb—“Oh! fear not—I will not harm thee! But, my God! take compassion on me—spurn me not—look not with such terrible anger upon one who adores, who worships you! How is it that I tremble and quail before you—I, once so reckless, so rude. But, oh! to kiss that fair hand—to be your slave—to watch over you—to protect you—and all this but for thy smiles in return—I should be happy—supremely happy! Remember—we are alone on this island—and I am the stronger; I might compel you by force to yield to me—to become mine; but I will not harm you—no, not a hair of your head, if you will only smile upon me! And you will require one to defend and protect you—yes, even here in this island, apparently so secure and safe;—for there are terrible things in this clime—dreadful beings, far more formidable than whole hordes of savage men—monsters so appalling that not all thy courage, nor all thy energy would avail thee a single moment against them. Yes, lady, believe me when I tell thee this! For many—many days have I dwelt, a lonely being, on the other side of this isle, beyond that chain of mountains—remaining on that shore to which the wild waves carried me on the night of shipwreck. But I hurried away at last—I dared all the dangers of mighty precipices, yawning chasms, and roaring torrents—the perils of yon mountains—rather than linger on the other side. For the anaconda, lady, is the tenant of this island—the monstrous snake—the terrible boa, whose dreadful coils, if wound round that fair form of yours, would crush it into a hideous, loathsome mass?”
Only after spouting all of this does Stephano remember that Nisida is deaf. Fortunately for him, his body language is enough to get the gist across, so she lowers the sword and simply runs off. Stephano darts across the island in pursuit, as the omniscient narrator shows sudden concern for Nisida:
But, oh! whither art thou flying thus wildly, beauteous Nisida?—into what appalling perils art thou rushing, as it were, blindly? For there, in the tallest tree on the verge of the forest to which thou now art near,—there, amidst the bending boughs and the quivering foliage—one of the hideous serpents which infest the higher region of the isle is disporting—the terrible anaconda—the monstrous boa, whose dreadful coils, if wound round that fair form of thine, would crush it into a loathsome mass!
The action returns to Wagner. He encounters an elderly hermit who turns out to be none other than the demon responsible for his lycanthropy, The demon admits to conducting Wagner’s ship to the island “amidst the storm which He whose name I dare not mention raised” and subsequently creating the mirage of Nisida. He was even responsible for giving Wagner those mental images of Nisida dancing about with flowers in her hair — and to underline the point, he confirms that Nisida “has already decked herself with those flowers which her fair hands have woven into wildly fantastic arabesques”.
Wagner wards off the demon with the sign of the cross and heads off until he finally meets his lover (“darting toward Nisida, who was now scarce fifty yards from him, he gave vent to an ejaculation of joy”). Before they can meet, however, an anaconda pops up and grabs Nisida:
Then fled that wondrous self-command which for long years she had exercised with such amazing success:—then vanished from her mind all the strong motives which had induced her to undertake so terrible a martyrdom as that of simulating the loss of two faculties most dear and most valuable to all human beings;—and with a cry of ineffable anguish, she exclaimed, “Fernand, save me! save me!”
Which takes us up to the book’s halfway point…