Werewolf Wednesday: Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf by George W. M. Reynolds (1846-7) Part 21

Chapter 55 opens with Wagner bemoaning his decision to make a deal with the Devil, before turning into a wolf and going off on his third rampage of the novel. Since he’s trapped on an unpopulated island, he doesn’t get any bystanders to trample, only the local fauna:

Scarcely have its feet touched the verge of the water, when the monster wheels round and continues its whirlwind way without for an instant relaxing one tittle of its speed. Away—away, through the fruit-bearing groves, clearing for itself a path of ruin and havoc,—scattering the gems of the trees, and breaking down the richly-laden vines; away—away flies the monster, hideous howls bursting from its foaming mouth. The birds scream and whistle wildly, as startled from their usual tranquil retreats, they spread their gay and gaudy plumage, and go with gushing sound through the evening air. He reaches the bank of a stream, and bounds along its pleasant margin, trampling to death noble swans which vainly seek to evade the fury of the rushing monster.

Not all of the wildlife is as defenceless as these unfortunate swans, however, and the lupine Wagner runs into trouble when he crosses paths with a snake (“in an instant its hideous coils are wound round the foaming, steaming, palpitating body of the wolf”). Even here, though, the wolf overpowers the boa and drags it “as if by a thousand horses” onto the ground, where it is consumed by nameless vermin. When Wagner has returned to his human form, Satan pops up to gloat:

“Fiend, what would’st thou with me?” demanded Wagner. “Are not the sufferings which I have just endured, enough to satisfy thy hatred of all human beings? are not the horrors of the past night sufficient to glut even thine insatiate heart?”

“Mortal,” said the demon, speaking in his profound and awe-inspiring tones, “didst thou take all thy miseries which at this moment afflict thy race, combine all the bitter woes, and crushing sorrows that madden the brains of men, mix up all the tears and collect all the sobs and sighs that tell of human agony, then multiply the aggregate by ten million, million times its sum, and go on multiplying by millions and millions, till thou wast tired of counting, thou would’st not form even an idea of that huge amount of human misery which could alone appease me.”

Satan makes Wagner another offer. He reveals that he can make his homesick lover Nisida forget all about Florence, and consent to stay on the island; he can cure Wagner of lycanthropy while leaving his youth restored; and can even furnish Wagner with the same magical abilities as Faust. All he asks for in return is Wagner’s soul. Wagner rejects this offer, and is rewarded with a beatific vision of an angel:

That divine melody seemed to speak a language eloquent and intelligible, and to give him hope and promise of a deliverance from the dreadful destiny which his weakness and folly had entailed upon him. The music grew fainter and fainter, and at the moment when it died away altogether a heavenly and radiant being rose in the midst of a cloud, an angel, clad in white and shining garments, and with snowy wings closed, and drooping from its shoulders.

Looking benignly upon the sleeping Wagner the angel said in a soft and liquid tone, “Thrice hast thou resisted the temptations of the enemy of mankind: once in thy dungeon at Florence, a second time amidst the defiles of yon mountains, and now on this spot. He will appear to thee no more, unless thou thyself summon him. Much hast thou already done in atonement for the crime that endangered thy soul when, withdrawing thy faith from Heaven, thou didst accept new life on the conditions proposed to thee by the agent of Satan; but much more must thou yet do, ere that atonement will be complete!” The form ceased to speak, and gradually became fainter and fainter, until it disappeared with its glorious halo altogether.

Although uncertain as to whether this is a genuine message from the heavens or a symptom of his mental strain, Wagner takes the vision as a reason to be hopeful.

Satan still has another trick up his sleeve in giving Wagner the Job treatment, however: messing with Nisida’s mind. He convinces her that Wagner holds the power to send her back to Florence but is selfishly refusing to do so. She pressures him to finally reveal his secret of why he disappears at the end of each month.

He eventually admits that, yes, he would be able to transport her home — but only if he sold his soul to Satan. Nisida is undeterred:

“He who truly loves,” she said coldly, as she recovered her equanimity, “would make even that sacrifice! and now listen—Fernand,” she continued, her eyes flashing fire, and her naked bosom heaving convulsively as she spoke, while her splendid form was drawn up to its full height, and her whole aspect sublimely terrible and wondrously beautiful, even in that fit of agitated passion—“listen, Fernand!” she cried, in her musical, flute-like voice, which, however, assumed the imperious accent and tone of command: “thou art a coward, and unworthy such an earnest—such a profound, such a devoted love as mine, if thou refusest to consummate a sacrifice which will make us both powerful and great as long as we live! Consider, my Fernand—the spirit with whom thou wouldst league thyself can endow us with an existence running over centuries to come, can invest us with eternal youth, can place countless treasures at our disposal, can elevate us to the proudest thrones of Christendom!”

At the peak of her megalomaniacal rant, Nisida finally confesses her own secret — that she murdered Wagner’s companion Agnes. When Wagner reacts with dismay, she takes this as proof that her suspicion of Agnes being his mistress was correct. Wagner is then forced to confess that Agnes was his granddaughter, and that he is actually 95 years old. This leads to the moment when Fernand Wagner reveals his lycanthropy to Nisida:

“Speak, Fernand, speak!” she cried; “and do me not so much wrong as to suppose that I could forget my love for thee—that love which made me the murderer of Agnes. Besides,” she added, enthusiastically, “I see that we are destined for each other; that the dark mysteries attached to both our lives engender the closest sympathies; that we shall flourish in power, and glory, and love, and happiness together.”

Wagner threw his arms around Nisida’s neck, and clasped her to his breast. He saw not in her the woman who had dealt death to his granddaughter; he beheld in her only a being of ravishing beauty and wondrous mind, so intoxicated was he with his passion, and so great was the magic influence which she wielded o’er his yielding spirit. Then, as her head reclined upon his breast, he whispered to her, in a few hurried, but awfully significant words, the nature of his doom, the dread conditions on which he had obtained resuscitated youth, an almost superhuman beauty, a glorious intellect, and power of converting the very clods of the earth into gold and precious stones at will.

This leaves Nisida with the quandry that would later plague many a heroine of vampire romance: “thou art a being whom such women as myself can worship and adore [..] But I—I,” she added, the impassioned excitement of her tone suddenly sinking into subdued plaintiveness as her charming head once more fell upon his breast—“I am doomed to fade and wither like the other human flowers of the earth. Oh, that thought is now maddening. While thou remainest as thou art now,”

All the more reason, she decides, for Wagner to sell his soul to Satan and thereby grant her a similar longevity. Remembering his vision of the guardian angel, Wagner runs off in fright at the notion.

Nisida, meanwhile, notices a fleet of ships approaching the island. These turn out to have arrived from Turkey — and she is most surprised when a man disembarks and recognsies her as Lady Nisida of Riverola. The man, of course, turns out to be Grand Vizier Ibrahim — and so two plot threads are finally tied together. He offers to rescue her:

“Lady, it appears that this is the Isle of Snakes, situated in the Gulf of Sictra, on the African coast. Horrible superstitions are attached to this clime: and I dare not remain longer on its shore, lest I should seriously offend the prejudices of those ignorant sailors. Come, then, lady, you shall receive treatment due to your rank, your beauty, and your misfortunes.”.

Despite being himself “too enlightened to believe in the fearful tales of mermaids, genii, ghouls, vampires, and other evil spirits by which the island was said to be haunted”, Ingrahim is in a hurry to depart, and so Nisida quickly heads off for him. As she exits the angle, she feels a pang for the lycanthropic husband she has left behind.

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