Wagner the Wehr-wolf/Chapter XXXVII
Ten days had elapsed since the incidents related in the preceding chapter. The scene changes to an island in the Mediterranean Sea. There, seated on the strand, with garments dripping wet, and with all the silken richness of her raven hair floating wildly and disheveled over her shoulders, the Lady Nisida gazed vacantly on the ocean, now tinged with living gold by the morning sun. At a short distance, a portion of a shipwrecked vessel lay upon the shore, and seemed to tell her tale. But where were the desperate, daring crew who had manned the gallant bark? where were those fearless freebooters who six days previously had sailed from Leghorn on their piratical voyage? where were those who hoisted the flag of peace and assumed the demeanor of honest trader when in port, but who on the broad bosom of the ocean carried the terrors of their black banner far and wide? where, too, was Stephano Verrina, who had so boldly carried off the Lady Nisida?
The gallant bark had struck upon a shoal, during the tempest and the obscurity of the night, and the pilot knew not where they were. His reckoning was lost—his calculations had all been set at naught by the confusion produced by the fearful storm which had assailed the ship and driven her from her course. The moment the corsair galley struck, that confusion increased to such an extent that the captain lost all control over his men; the pilot's voice was unheeded likewise.
The crew got out the long-boat and leaped into it, forcing the captain and the pilot to enter it with them. Stephano Verrina, who was on deck when the vessel struck, rushed down into the cabin appropriated to Nisida, and by signs endeavored to convey to her a sense of the danger which menaced them. Conquering her ineffable aversion for the bandit, Nisida followed him hastily to the deck. At the same instant that her eyes plunged, as it were, into the dense obscurity which prevailed around, the lightning streamed in long and vivid flashes over the turbulent waters, and with the roar of the billows suddenly mingled deafening shrieks and cries—shrieks and cries of wild despair, as the long-boat, which had been pushed away from the corsair-bark, went down at a little distance. And as the lightning played upon the raging sea, Nisida and Verrina caught hurried but frightful glimpses of many human faces, whereon was expressed the indescribable agony of the drowning.
"Perdition!" cried Verrina; "all are gone save Nisida and myself! And shall we too perish ere she has become mine? shall death separate us ere I have reveled in her charms? Fool that I was to delay my triumph hitherto! Fool that I was to be overawed by her impetuous signs, or melted by her silent though strong appeals!"
He paced the deck in an excited manner as he uttered these words aloud.
"No!" he exclaimed wildly, as the tempest seemed to increase, and the ship was thrown further on shoal: "she shall not escape me thus, after all I have done and dared in order to possess her! Our funeral may take place to-night—but our bridal shall be first. Ha! ha!"—and he laughed with a kind of despairing mockery, while the fragments of the vessel's sails flapped against the spars with a din as if some mighty demon were struggling with the blast. The sense of appalling danger seemed to madden Stephano only because it threatened to separate him from Nisida; and, fearfully excited, he rushed toward her, crying wildly, "You shall be mine!"
But how terrible was the yell which burst from his lips, when by the glare of a brilliant flash of lightning, he beheld Nisida cast herself over the side of the vessel!
For a single instant he fell back appalled, horror-struck; but at the next, he plunged with insensate fury after her. And the rage of the storm redoubled.
When the misty shades of morning cleared away, and the storm had passed, Nisida was seated alone upon the strand, having miraculously escaped that eternal night of death which leads to no dawn. But where was Stephano Verrina? She knew not; although she naturally conjectured, and even hoped, that he was numbered with the dead.