Read CHAPTER I of Danira , free online book, by E. Werner, on

The storm had lasted all night. Not until early dawn did the gale lessen and the towering billows of the sea begin to subside.

The steamer, which had undergone a tolerably severe conflict with wind and waves, was just running into the sheltering harbor, at whose end appeared her destined port, a picturesquely situated town, dominated by a strong citadel on a rocky height.

In the bow stood a young officer in the uniform of the Austrian Imperial Chasseurs, who, spy-glass in hand, was scanning the scene. The light fatigue cap covering his thick, fair hair, shaded a face that harmonized perfectly with his manly bearing. Every feature was grave, firm, resolute, and the clear light-brown eyes, with their quiet, searching gaze, suited the countenance. Yet one might have desired a little more life and animation; the grave, passionless repose of a face so youthful produced an almost chilling impression. A heavy step was heard on the cabin stairs, and directly after a young soldier, who wore the same uniform, approached. The steamer still rocked so much that he had some difficulty in crossing the deck to his officer, who now closed the glass and turned toward him.

“Well, George, what are the men doing?” he asked. “How are things going down below?”

“It’s awful, lieutenant,” was the reply. “They are still so sea-sick that they can neither hear nor see. You and I are the only ones who have kept up.”

“I suppose you are very proud that we two are the only ones who have proved ourselves good sailors?” said the officer, with a flitting smile.

“I should think so,” answered George. “When a man has seen nothing but mountains all his life, it’s no small matter to toss about on this confounded glittering blue sea, as we have done for three days and nights. This Cattaro is surely almost at the end of the world.”

He spoke in the purest Tyrolese dialect, and now stationed himself close behind the officer with a familiarity that implied some closer relation than the tie between a subaltern and his commander.

George was a handsome, sturdy fellow, with curly black hair and a fresh, sun-burnt face, in which a pair of black eyes sparkled boldly and merrily. At present, however, they were scanning with evident curiosity the goal of the journey which the steamer was now approaching.

The open sea had already disappeared, and nearer and darker towered the gigantic peaks which had been visible in the distance since early dawn. They seemed to rise from the water in every direction and bar the ship’s way, but a narrow passage between the cliffs opened like a huge gloomy gate, and the whole extent of the harbor appeared before the vessel as she steered in.

The foaming, surging waves had been left outside, and the water lay almost motionless, encircled by the chain of mountains surrounding it.

The sun was already struggling with the dispersing storm-clouds; ever and anon golden shafts darted through them and danced upon the waves, and broad, shimmering rays of light gleamed through the mist, but the fog still rested in dense masses over the city, and the citadel was scarcely visible in the shadow of the clouds gathered around it.

“A magnificent view!” said the young officer in a low tone, more to himself than to his companion, but the latter assumed a very contemptuous air.

“Pshaw, they’re not like our Tyrolese mountains! No forests, no streams, not a human habitation up there! This is surely the beginning of the wilderness, and if we once get in there we’ll never come out alive.”

He sighed so heavily that the lieutenant frowned and glanced angrily at him.

“What does this mean, George? Are you losing heart? You were no peace-maker at home. Wherever there was a brawl, George Moosbach was sure to be in it.”

“Yes, that he was!” George assented with great satisfaction. “But it was only sport! Still, if we were going to fight honest Christians I should have no objection to doing it in earnest. We should at least be among our own people, and if a man were killed he would have Christian burial, but fighting these savages is no joke. I’ve been told that they cut off the noses of their enemies if they have them, of course and both ears to boot, and that’s certainly a very disagreeable custom.”

“Nonsense! You and your comrades have imposed upon each other by all sorts of stories, and now swear to them as is your custom.”

“But Baroness von Steinach was terribly frightened when the marching orders came. She sent for me to come to the castle and made me promise never to leave your side, Herr Gerald beg pardon, Herr Lieutenant, I meant to say.”

“Oh! use the old name, we are not on duty now,” replied Gerald; “respect for your lieutenant doesn’t agree with the memories of our boyhood, when we were playfellows. So my mother sent for you? Yes, she is always anxious about the life of her only son, and can never accustom herself to the thought that danger is part of the soldier’s trade. But there is the port in sight! Go to your comrades, they have probably nearly recovered, the water is smooth here.”

“Yes, Herr Lieutenant!” replied George, drawing himself up with a military salute and marching off, while Gerald von Steinbach again raised his spy-glass.

Meantime the steamer had been sighted from the shore, and its appearance caused an eager stir near the harbor. True, ships bringing troops to this distant frontier of the empire were now daily arriving; still it was an event, and a motley crowd in which, however, uniforms predominated, thronged the landing-place to greet the new arrivals.

Not far from the shore was a fine residence overlooking the bay. It was the home of the commander of the garrison, and at the window stood a young lady, gazing intently through the gradually dispersing fog at the approaching ship.

The graceful figure framed by the window looked like a picture against the dark background of the room, a picture in which everything was bright and sunny, the rosy, laughing face, the fair curling locks, the blue eyes radiant with mirth.

There was a great deal of arrogance and self-will in the charming little face, and the extremely elegant attire which, in this out-of-the-way place, displayed the very latest fashion prevailing in the capital, showed that vanity was not a total stranger to the young lady. Yet there was something bewitching in the little elfin figure that leaned so gracefully out of the window, and now turned with every sign of impatience.

“The steamer hardly moves to-day,” she said, angrily. “It has been in sight for more than half an hour. It ought to have reached the landing-place long ago, and is still floating on the waves yonder. Danira, for heaven’s sake, put down that book! I can’t bear to see you reading so indifferently, while I am almost dying with curiosity.”

The person addressed laid the book aside and glanced hastily out of the window. She was probably about the same age neither of the girls could have been more than seventeen but it would have been hard to find a greater contrast than the pair presented.

There was something foreign in Danira’s appearance which did not seem to suit either her fashionable dress or her surroundings. Her face was dark as if burned by a scorching sun, and yet pale, for the cheeks showed scarcely a tinge of color. The luxuriant braids, blue-black in hue, seemed to yield reluctantly to the constraint of being fastened on the head; they looked as though they must fall by their own weight and float unconfined.

Her long dark lashes were usually lowered, but when raised, revealed a pair of large dark eyes, full of dewy radiance. Their expression was cold and careless, yet their depths concealed a light ardent and glowing as the rays of the Southern sun, which had evidently kissed them.

The girl’s voice too had a peculiar tone, deep yet musical, and the German words, though spoken with perfect fluency, had a slight trace of the foreign air which characterized her whole appearance.

“The steamer will be here in fifteen minutes,” she said. “It is coming at the usual time. Are you so impatient to see your betrothed bridegroom, Edith?”

Edith tossed her little head. “Well, what if I am! We have become almost strangers to each other. I was a child when we left home, and Gerald only came from the military school to bid us good-bye. He was a handsome fellow then I remember him perfectly but a little priggish, rather stupid, and possessed of a horrible talent for lecturing. But I’ll cure him of that most thoroughly.”

“Do you intend to ‘cure’ your future husband before you have ever seen him?” asked Danira, with a tinge of sarcasm. “Perhaps he isn’t so yielding as your father.”

Edith laughed. “Oh! Papa is sometimes stern enough to other people yet I do as I please with him, and it will be the same with Gerald. Do you like his picture?”

She took a large photograph from the writing-table and held it toward Danira, who, with a hasty glance at it, answered in a curt, positive tone, “No.”

Edith’s blue eyes opened wide in amazement.

“What, you don’t like this picture? This face with its handsome, regular features ”

“And eyes as cold as ice! That man has never loved, his glance says so.”

“Well, he must learn then! That shall be my task. Of course I shall see little enough at first of this lieutenant, who has been sent campaigning and courting at the same time. He must go and fight your countrymen for weeks up in the mountains before he can pay proper attention to me. I hope it won’t be long ere the bands of insurgents are scattered and destroyed. I shall tell Gerald that he must hasten the victory and his return on pain of my displeasure.”

There was only saucy mirth in the words, nothing more, but Danira seemed to find a different meaning. Her eyes flashed, and in a voice that sounded almost cutting, she replied:

“Better tell him to take care that he does not lose up yonder all hope of return and marriage forever!”

Edith gazed at her a few seconds, perplexed and startled, then indignantly exclaimed:

“I believe you are quite capable of wishing it. Is it possible that you still care for those savages, who have not troubled themselves about you since your childhood? Papa is perfectly right when he says you have no affection, no gratitude, in spite of all he has done for you.”

A half bitter, half grieved expression hovered around Danira’s lips as she heard these reproaches. “Gratitude!” she repeated, in a low tone. “You do not know how hard a duty gratitude is, when it is required.”

Spite of the sharp tone there was something in the words which disarmed Edith’s anger. Stealing to her companion’s side, she laid her hand on her arm.

“And I?” she asked in a voice of mingled reproach and entreaty, “am I nothing to you?”

Danira looked down at the rosy blooming face, and her tone involuntarily softened.

“You are much to me, Edith. But we do not understand each other and never shall.”

“Because you are inaccessible and self-contained as a book with seven seals. I have always been a friend, a sister to you. You would never be the same to me.”

The reproach must have struck home, for Danira’s head drooped as if she were conscious of guilt.

“You are right,” she said in a troubled tone, “it is all my fault. But you do not, cannot know ”

“What is it I don’t know?” asked Edith, curiously. Danira made no reply, but passed her hand lightly over the curly head resting on her shoulder and gazed into the blue eyes, now glittering with tears. Perhaps the young girl’s feelings were deeper, more earnest than she had believed.

Just at that moment they heard the signal announcing that the steamer had reached the landing. Edith started, her tears vanished as quickly as they had come, anger and reproaches were alike forgotten and the young girl rushed to the window with the eagerness and curiosity of a child that has been promised a new toy and cannot wait for the moment of seeing it.

The scornful expression again hovered around Danira’s lips. She pushed aside, with a gesture of repugnance, the photograph which still stood on the table, and, taking up her book again, turned her back to the window.

Yet the young fiancee’s impatience was very excusable, for her remembrance of her betrothed husband dated from her earliest childhood. Her father. Colonel Arlow, before being transferred to the distant Dalmatian fortress, had been stationed with his regiment in the capital of Southern Tyrol, only a few hours ride from Castle Steinach, and the matrimonial plan had been arranged at that time. Gerald’s father, on his death-bed, had told his son of this darling wish, and Edith had been educated expressly for him. While the young officer was preparing for his military career, his betrothed bride, who had lost her mother when very young, had grown up in the house of a father who spoiled and idolized her. Distance had hitherto prevented a meeting between the young couple, but at the outbreak of the insurrection Gerald’s regiment was unexpectedly ordered to Cattaro, and thus chance ordained that his first campaign should also be a courtship.

Meantime the disembarkation had already begun, but amid the confusion of arrivals and greetings it was scarcely possible to distinguish individuals. At last, a group of officers separated from the throng and walked toward the city, and but half an hour elapsed ere the commandant entered the room with his guest.

Colonel Arlow, a fine-looking, soldierly man in the prime of life, led the young officer to his daughter, saying, in a jesting tone:

“Herr Gerald von Steinach, lieutenant in the Imperial Chasseurs, desires an introduction to you, my child. See whether you can recognize in this young warrior the features of your former playfellow. Of course, Gerald, you will not remember the child of those days; she has altered considerably in the course of the years.”

The last words and the look that rested on his daughter expressed joyous paternal pride, a pride certainly justifiable. Edith was wonderfully charming at that moment.

Gerald approached her with perfect ease, and, holding out his hand, said cordially:

“How are you, Edith?” The words from his lips, with their native accent, sounded as familiar as if he had taken leave of his little fiancee only the day before.

Edith looked up at the tall figure, met the eyes resting gravely but kindly upon her, and suddenly lost her composure entirely. A burning blush crimsoned her face, the words of greeting died upon her lips, and she stood silent and confused, perfectly unconscious how bewitching she looked in her embarrassment.

Gerald gallantly kissed the little hand that rested in his own, but only held it a moment ere he relaxed it.

He had evidently received a pleasant impression of his young fiancee, but his nature was apparently incapable of deep or passionate emotion.

He now saw for the first time that another lady was standing at the back of the room, and turned with a gesture of inquiry to the colonel.

“My adopted daughter, Danira,” said the latter carelessly. He seemed to consider any further introduction unnecessary, and there was even a tone of negligence in his voice.

The young officer bowed, casting a somewhat puzzled glance at the girl’s sullen face. Danira returned the salute without raising her eyes.

Gerald brought messages and letters from his mother, and these afforded subjects for a conversation which soon became extremely animated, and in a few moments dispelled the last remnants of constraint still existing between the young pair.

Edith had conquered her momentary embarrassment, and now resumed the familiar tone of her childhood. She fairly sparkled with gayety and jest, as was her nature, but all her vivacity failed to infect Gerald. He was courteous, gallant, even cordial, and readily answered all her questions about his journey, his home and his mother, but he did so with the grave, quiet composure that seemed an inseparable part of his character.

At last the conversation turned upon the approaching campaign. The colonel did not consider the insurrection so trivial a matter as many of the officers. He spoke of it earnestly, even anxiously, and, for the first time, Gerald appeared really interested. He was evidently a thorough soldier, and Edith noticed with a surprise equal to her displeasure that the campaign lay far nearer to her lover’s heart than the courtship of his bride. With all her charms she had failed to rouse one spark of feeling from the unvarying calmness of his manner, but now, while talking of mountain passes, fortifications, attacks and similar uninteresting things, his eyes brightened and his face began to flush with eagerness.

The young lady was accustomed to be the principal object of attention, and felt offended to have a man absorbed in such subjects while in her presence. Her lips pouted more and more angrily, and the lines on her smooth brow indicated an extremely wrathful mood. Unluckily Gerald did not even notice it, he was plunging deeper and deeper into military matters with the commandant.

Once, however, he faltered in the midst of a sentence. He had addressed a question to the colonel, and pointing to the mountains, turned toward the window, when he suddenly saw Danira, of whom no one had taken any further notice. She was standing, half concealed by the curtain, apparently uninterested, yet her face betrayed feverish suspense, breathless attention, she was fairly reading the words from the speaker’s lips.

For a moment her gaze met the young officer’s. It was the first time he had seen her eyes, but a menacing, mysterious look flashed from their depths. He could not understand its meaning, for it was only a moment then the lashes drooped and the girl’s features regained their usual rigid, icy immobility.

The colonel answered the question with great minuteness, and the discussion between the two gentlemen became more and more animated. Edith listened a few moments longer but, as the pair did not seem disposed to leave their mountain passes and fortifications, her patience became exhausted. Rising with the freedom and rudeness of a child she said, in a tone intended to be sarcastic, but which sounded extremely angry:

“Come, Danira, we will leave the gentlemen to their conversation on military affairs. We are only interrupting these interesting discussions.”

With these words she unceremoniously seized her adopted sister’s arm and drew her into the adjoining room. Gerald looked after her in great astonishment; he evidently had no suspicion of the crime he had committed. The colonel laughed.

“Ah! yes, we had forgotten the presence of the ladies! They take the liberty of showing us how greatly our war stories bore them, and after all they are right. You have lost Ethel’s favor, Gerald, and must seek forgiveness.”

Gerald seemed in no haste to do so, he answered with perfect composure:

“I am sorry, but I really supposed Edith might be expected to take some interest in a campaign where I am to win my spurs.”

“Perhaps she is afraid it will make you forget her,” said the colonel with a shade of reproof. “It really almost seemed so. My little Edith is spoiled in that respect. Perhaps I have indulged her too much, we are always weak toward an only child. I am glad that you are so devoted to your profession, but young girls desire first of all to see a lover in a betrothed husband. The military hero occupies a secondary place. Note that, my boy, and govern yourself accordingly in future.”

Gerald smiled. “You are right, perhaps, I am too thorough a soldier, but ought Edith to reproach me for it? She is a soldier’s daughter, a soldier’s promised bride, and is living here amid all the excitement and preparations for the campaign. Her companion seemed far more interested in it.”

“Danira? Possibly. I have not noticed.”

“Who is this Danira? There is something peculiar, foreign in her appearance. She cannot be a German. Every feature betrays Slavonic origin.”

“Yes, that blood does not belie itself,” said Arlow indignantly. “You are perfectly right, the girl belongs to the race that is giving us so much trouble, and you have before your eyes a type of the whole people. When Danira came to my house she was a child, who could have received no very deep impressions of her home. She has had the same education as Edith, has been reared like a daughter of the family, has lived exclusively in our circle, yet the fierce, defiant Slav nature has remained unchanged. Neither kindness nor harshness can influence it.”

“But how came this adopted daughter into your house? Did you receive her voluntarily?”

“Yes and no, as you choose to regard it. When I was ordered to my present post, the insurrection, which was then supposed to be finally suppressed and is now again glimmering like a spark under ashes, had just been put down. Yet there were still daily skirmishes in the mountains. During one of these, a leader of the insurgents fell into our hands severely wounded, and was brought here as a prisoner. After a few days his wife appeared with her two children, and asked permission to see and nurse him, which was granted. The man succumbed to his wounds; the wife, who had caught a dangerous fever prevailing at that time in our hospital, soon followed him to the grave, and the children, Danira and her brother, were orphaned.”

Gerald listened with increasing interest; the young Slav girl would probably have been indifferent to him, but her origin aroused his sympathy and he listened attentively to the story of the commandant, who now continued:

“My officers and I agreed that it was both a humane duty and a point of honor to adopt the orphans, and we knew, also, that persons in high places would be pleased to have the children of one of the most dreaded insurgent chiefs under our charge and training. Conciliation was then the watchword. I took the little ones into my own house, but after a few weeks the boy vanished.

“Had he fled?”

“We thought so at first, but it soon appeared that he had been carried off by his countrymen. Danira escaped the same fate only because she was sleeping in the room with Edith. Besides, women are little valued by this people. To leave their chiefs son in our hands seemed to them a disgrace, but they did not care about the girl.”

“So she remained in your house?”

“Yes, by my dead wife’s express desire. I at first opposed it, and the result proves that I was right. Every care and kindness was lavished on this girl, who even now, after so many years, is still as alien, I might almost say as hostile to us, as on the first day of her arrival. If I did not know that my Edith’s bright, sunny temperament instinctively repels such influences, I should be anxious about this companionship and should have put an end to it long ago.”

“Such mysterious natures are unsympathetic to me also,” replied Gerald hastily, with an expression that almost betrayed repugnance. “There is something uncanny in her appearance. I met her eyes a moment a short time ago, and it seemed as if I were gazing into a dark, tempestuous night. Edith, on the contrary, seems like a bright spring day, though with somewhat April weather.”

The colonel laughed heartily at the comparison.

“Have you discovered that already? Yes, she is as capricious as an April day. Rain and sunshine in the same moment. But I can give you the consolation that the sunshine predominates, only you must understand how to call it forth. Now go to her, that your first meeting may not end in discord. You will come to an understanding better if you are alone.”

He waved his hand kindly to his future son-in-law and left the room.

Gerald did not seem to have thought of a reconciliation, but he could not disregard this hint; and, besides, the father was right, this first hour of their intercourse ought not to end in discord. The young man, therefore, went to the adjoining room, where the girls probably still remained. His coming had doubtless been expected, for at his entrance something fluttered away like a frightened bird, and he saw Edith’s light summer dress vanish behind the door of the adjacent apartment. But the concealment did not seem to be very seriously meant besides the dress a little foot was visible, betraying the listener’s presence.

Gerald turned to Danira, who had not left her seat.

“I wished to have a few minutes’ conversation with Edith. I expected to find her here.”

“Edith has a headache, and will not make her appearance again until dinner time; she does not wish to be disturbed now.”

While Danira carelessly delivered the message she stepped back a little, as if expecting that the young officer would not heed the command but enter in spite of it. He could not help seeing his fiancee in her hiding place, or fail to understand that she was merely making it a little difficult for him to obtain forgiveness. Gerald really did cast a glance in that direction, but instantly drew himself up and with a military salute, and said:

“Then please give my regards to her.” And he left the room without even glancing back.

He had scarcely gone when Edith appeared from behind the door. She looked more astonished than indignant, and evidently could not understand the rebuff she had received.

“He is really going!” she angrily exclaimed. “Yet he must have seen that I was in the room, that I expected him he probably did not wish to find me.”

Danira shrugged her shoulders. “I’m afraid it won’t be so easy for you to ‘cure’ this man. He has just showed you that he does not allow himself to be trifled with.”

Edith stamped her little foot on the ground like a naughty child.

“I told you he had a horrible leaven of the schoolmaster, but his very defiance pleased me. He really looked like a hero when he drew himself up in that soldierly way and stalked off with his spurs clanking.”

She saucily tried to imitate Gerald’s gait and bearing, but Danira did not even smile. Her tone was cold and grave as she replied:

“Beware of that obstinacy; it will give you trouble.”