Werewolf Wednesday: Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf by George W. M. Reynolds (1846-7) Part 23

Chapter 58 opens with Grand Vizier Ibrahim and Lady Nisida still on board a ship. Ibrahim has fallen in love with Nisida, prompting one of the slaves on the vessel to offer a grave warning: if he is unfaithful to his wife, Princess Aischa, then Nisida will be killed, just as the Greek maiden Calanthe had been. They have this conversation right in earshot of Nisida, wrongly believing her to be deaf. While pondering this development, Nisida catches sight of a passing boat which — to her delight — contains her beloved Fernand Wagner.

The chapter then skips to Wagner’s arrival in Syracuse, following the directions given to him by an angel in the previous chapter. His next goal is to find a 162-tear-old man, and he asks a barber for help:

“Naturally enough,” said Fernand. “But I have heard that there are some very extraordinary personages in Syracuse; indeed, there is one who has lived to a remarkable age——”
“The oldest person I know of, is the Abbot of St. Mary’s,” interrupted the barber, “and he——”
“And he——” repeated Wagner, with feverish impatience.
“Is ninety-seven and three months, signor; a great age, truly,” responded the barber-surgeon.
Fernand’s hopes were immediately cooled down; but thinking that he ought to put his inquiry in a direct manner, he said: “Then it is not true that you have in Syracuse an individual who has reached the wondrous age of a century three-score and two?”
“Holy Virgin have mercy upon you, signor!” ejaculated the barber, “if you really put faith in the absurd stories that people tell about the Rosicrucians!”

From here, the barber launches into a history of Christianus Rosencrux, and is conveniently familiar enough with this personage to know his exact year of birth. Wagner is most excited by this detail, knowing that if Rosencruz is still alive, he would be exactly 162 years old. Wagner heads off in search of this persoane, and bumps into an associate of Rosencruz sent to find him. The latter takes him to a thoroughly Gothic ruin:

“You behold around you,” said the muffled stranger, waving his arm toward the ruins, “all that remains of a sanctuary once the most celebrated in Sicily for the piety and wisdom of its inmates. But a horrible crime, a murder perpetrated under circumstances unusually diabolical, the criminal being no less a person than the last lord abbot himself, and the victim a beauteous girl whom he had seduced, rendered this institution accursed in the eyes of God and man. The monks abandoned it: and the waste over which you have passed is now the unclaimed but once fertile estate belonging to the abbey. The superstition of the Sicilians has not failed to invent terrific tales in connection with these ruins: and the belief that each night at twelve o’clock the soul of the guilty abbot is driven by the scourge of the demon through the scene alike of his episcopal power and his black turpitude, effectually prevents impertinent or inconvenient intrusion.”

Beneath this shunned ruin is the secret headquarters of the Rosicrucians. Beneath the glow of an eternal lamp (having been burning for 120 years) that represents the sect’s knowledge, the guide reveals that he was told of Wagner’s search by the angels served by the Rosicrucians. Next, Wagner is taken to meet Rosencruz himself:

Fernand hastened to obey these directions, and having threaded the two passages, he entered a large and rudely-hollowed cavern, where the feelings of mingled awe and suspense with which he had approached it were immediately changed into deep veneration and wonder as he found himself in the presence of one who, by his appearance, he knew could he none other than Christianus Rosencrux! Never had Fernand beheld a being of such venerable aspect; and, though old—evidently very old, as indeed Wagner knew him to be—yet the founder of the celebrated Rosicrucians manifested every appearance of possessing a vigorous constitution, as he was assuredly endowed with a magnificent intellect. His beard was long and white as snow; a century and three score years had not dimmed the luster of his eyes; and his form, though somewhat bent, was masculine and well-knit. He was seated at a table covered with an infinite variety of scientific apparatus; and articles of the same nature were strewed upon the ground. To the roof hung an iron lamp, which indeed burnt faintly after the brilliant luster of the eternal flame that Wagner had seen in the passage; but its flickering gleam shone lurid and ominous on a blood-red cross suspended to the wall. Fernand drew near the table, and bowed reverentially to the Rosicrucian chief, who acknowledged his salutation with a benignant smile.

The holy man commends Wagner for his piety, and gives him anotehr set of directions. Now, Wagner must go to Florence (Rosencruz assures him that divine protection will prevent him from being executed) and meet Nisida. Finally, are rather bizarrely, the curse will be broken when he sees “the skeletons of two innocent victims suspended to the same beam!”

Meanwhile, Nisida has arrived in Florence with her Ottoman escorts. Here, she reveals her secret to Demetrius: that she is neither deaf nor dumb, and that she knows what happened to his sister — she was killed for an affair with the Grand Vizier. Demetrius is disquieted by this revelation. On her own, Nisida’s mind rather implausibly turns to the fragment from a gruesome narrative that she read much earlier in the novel:

“And as the merciless scalpel hacked and hewed away at the still almost palpitating flesh of the murdered man, in whose breast the dagger remained deeply buried—a ferocious joy—a savage, hyena-like triumph filled my soul; and I experienced no remorse for the deed I had done!”

As she approaches the forbidden closet that contained this document, Nisida catches sight of a dark figure exiting the room. She soon forgets this, however, and resumes scheming against her brother’s lover Flora.

Five chapters left.

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