Werewolf Wednesday: Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf by George W. M. Reynolds (1846-7) Part 20

Chaper 53 continues the family saga of Grand Vizier Ibrahim. His wife, Princess Aischa, is most upset at having been neglected by her husband., Grand Vizier Ibrahim, in favour of his new beau Calanthe Calanthe. Aischa’s brother, Sultan Solyman is enraged at Ibrahim. But Aischa and Solyman’s mother, Sultana Valida, tries to calm him down as she begins to develop a plan.

Her plan involves enlisting the aid of three black servants: “Terrible appendages to the household of Ottoman sultans were the black slaves belonging to that corps—like snakes, they insinuated themselves, noiselessly and ominously into the presence of their victims, and it were as vain to preach peace to the warring elements which God alone can control, as to implore mercy at the hands of those remorseless Ethiopians!” Blissfully unaware of all this skullduggery, Ibrahim retires to the hands of his harem, and the novel spends much time describing his opulent surroundings:

The room was crowded with beauteous women when the presence of Ibrahim was announced by a slave. There were the fair-complexioned daughters of Georgia—the cold, reserved, but lovely Circassians—the warm and impassioned Persians—the voluptuous Wallachians—the timid Tartars—the dusky Indians—the talkative Turkish ladies—beauties, too, of Italy, Spain, and Portugal—indeed, specimens of female perfection from many, many nations. Their various styles of beauty, and their characteristic national dresses, formed a scene truly delightful to gaze upon: but the grand vizier noticed none of the countenances so anxiously turned toward him to mark on which his eyes would settle in preference; and the ladies noiselessly withdrew, leaving their master alone with the slave in the anteroom.

Here, Ingrahim is approached by the Greek maiden Calanthe, supposed sister of his page-boy Constantine. She admits to something of a deception, revealing that she and her brother are actually rhe same person:

“Pardon me, great vizier; but Constantine and Calanthe are one and the same thing.”

“Methought the brother pleaded with marvelous eloquence on behalf of his sister,” said Ibrahim, with a smile; and raising Calanthe from her suppliant posture, he led her to a seat, gazing on her the while with eyes expressive of intense passion.

The romantic gushing that ensues is rudely interrupted by the three slaves, who barge in and kidnap Calanthe. She is then brutally killed;

The gag has slipped from Calanthe’s mouth; and a long loud scream of agonizing despair sweeps over the surface of the water—rending the calm and moonlit air—but dying away ere it can raise an echo on either shore. Strong are the arms and relentless is the black monster who has now seized the unhappy Greek maiden in his ferocious grasp—while the luster of the pale orb of night streams on that countenance lately radiant with impassioned hope, but now convulsed with indescribable horror. Again the scream bursts from the victim’s lips; but its thrilling, cutting agony is interrupted by a sudden plunge—a splash—a gurgling and a rippling of the waters—and the corpse of the murdered Calanthe is borne toward the deeper and darker bosom of the Bosporus.

In a plot device owing something to the Arabian Nights, one of the slaves then warns Ingrahim taht the same fate shall befall any further mistresses he adopts: “Shouldst thou neglect this warning, then every night will the rival whom thou preferrest to her be torn from thine arms, and be devoted as food for the fishes.”

Ibrahim returns to the forgiving embrace of Aischa, and at long last the novel returns to its title character Fernand Wagner, still stranded on a Mediterranean island with his lover Nisida. At the end of each month Wagner has to dash off to a secluded space so that he can become a wolf; Nisida, who has no idea of his curse, finds this behaviour most troubling.

No sooner has she forgiven his secretive habits, however, than the island is again visited by the individual responsible for Wagner’s curse: Satan. With a rhyming incantation, the Devil manipulates Nisida’s mind into yearning for her home and her brother Francisco. She awakes with a restless mind, and the story returns to a long-absent plot element — the forbidden closet:

“I crave variety, even the variety that would be afforded by a magnificent storm, or the eruption of yon sleeping volcano. My thoughts wander in spite of myself toward Italy; I think, too, of my brother—the young and inexperienced Francisco! Moreover, there is in our mansion at Florence, a terrible mystery which prying eyes may seek to penetrate,—a closet containing a fearful secret, which, if published to the world, would heap loathing execrations and disgrace on the haughty name of Riverola!”

Later, when Wagner has trotted off for his latest transformation, Satan appears to Nisida in person. He hands her something that hasn’t actually been invented yet (“take this instrument—’tis called a telescope—and use it for a single minute”) allowing her to see Florence — right down to the activities of Francisco and his lover Flora. Satan then disappears.

Nisida was too much astonished by the nature of the counsel which his deep sonorous voice had wafted to her ear, to be able to utter a word until his receding form was no longer visible, and then she exclaimed wildly; “I have assuredly seen Satan face to face!”

And her blood ran cold in her veins. But a few moments were sufficient to enable that woman of wondrous energy to recover her presence of mind and collect her scattered thoughts; and she sat down on the sand to ponder upon the strange incidents which had so terribly varied the monotony of her existence. She thought, too, of the scene which she had beholden on the banks of the Arno—her worst fears were confirmed; Flora had escaped from the ruin of the Carmelite convent—was alive, was at liberty—and was with Francisco!

Oh! how she now longed for the return of Fernand Wagner; but many hours must elapse—a night must pass—and the orb of day which had by this time gone down, must gain the meridian once more ere he would come back. And in the meantime, although she suspected it not, he must fulfill the awful doom of a Wehr-Wolf, as the reader will find by the perusal of the next chapter.

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