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

Clear and sparkling the starry night brooded over the dark, quiet earth. The jagged mountain-peaks were but dimly outlined against the sky, and the black masses of the cliffs blended with the sable shadow resting upon the bay.

The city was already wrapped in slumber, and the members of the commandant’s household had retired to rest. Colonel Arlow himself had not returned until late from a neighboring village, where a detachment of troops was also stationed, and on his arrival did not find Gerald. The latter had waited vainly for his superior officer, who had been unusually delayed, and as the lieutenant was obliged to be at his post on the citadel at nightfall, he left a few lines, urging strict watchfulness as there were indications that Joan Obrevic’s presence in the city was connected with secret plots. He promised to make a full report the following day, but mentioned no other names.

The colonel shook his head over the note, but he was too thoroughly acquainted with Gerald’s quiet, penetrating mind, which did not allow itself to be influenced by mere conjectures, not to heed the warning. He gave the necessary orders, directed that any unusual occurrence should be instantly and directly reported to him, and then also went to rest.

Deep silence reigned in the sleeping-rooms of the two young girls, which adjoined each other. Edith, wearied by the long and fatiguing ride, had instantly lost herself in slumber and was living over in her dreams the last few hours that had been at once so pleasant and so strange. True, Gerald had unaccountably insisted upon shortening the visit to the fort, and avoided entering even one of the inner fortifications with the ladies. He seemed still graver than usual, but, on the other hand, had treated his young fiancee with a tenderness never before displayed. He had not quitted her side once all the way home, and had devoted himself to her so entirely that she did not even find time to notice how carefully he avoided addressing a word to Danira, and how completely the latter held aloof from him; it had been a delightful excursion.

The lamp which lighted the chamber threw a dim ray on the bed where the young girl lay, presenting a lovely picture in her slumber. The fair little head, turned somewhat on one side, nestled among the pillows, the smile evoked by a pleasant dream hovered around her lips, and her bosom rose and fell in deep, regular breathing; it was the sleep of a child still untroubled by care or sorrow.

Midnight had already come, when the door of the next room gently opened, and Danira appeared on the threshold. She was fully dressed and had thrown on a dark cloak, which enveloped her from head to foot. Gliding noiselessly across the carpet, she approached the bed. There was something ghostly in the tall, gloomy figure that bent over the young girl, so close that her breath almost fanned Edith’s cheek. The latter started and opened her eyes.

“You Danira?” she asked, still scarcely roused from her dream.

Danira hastily stood erect and turned as if to fly, but when Edith, yet half asleep, continued: “What do you want?” she stooped and said in a low, stifled voice:

“To bid you farewell.”

Edith now seemed to wake fully and started up in alarm.

“Farewell? Now, in the middle of the night? Where are you going?”

“Away forever! Do not be so startled, Edith; it must be! It was foolish, imprudent, to come to you, but I could not go without seeing you once more; I did not think you would wake.”

Edith evidently did not comprehend what she heard, but gazed as if bewildered into the face of her adopted sister, who now continued more impetuously:

“I should have gone in a few days or weeks now it must be to-night. He has left us no choice, and he is a watchful jailer.”

“He? Who? For heaven’s sake don’t talk in such riddles. Where are you going? You see I am almost frightened to death.”

Danira fell upon her knees and clasped the young girl’s hands; it was a fierce, painful grasp.

“Do not ask, I dare not answer. Your father will tell you that I have been ungrateful, wicked; perhaps he is right, but my right is higher, for it is the claim of home and kindred, of which he deprived me. He has felt as little affection for me as I for him let him condemn me! But you, Edith, have loved me, spite of all my failings. You never intentionally caused me pain, never turned coldly from me, even when you did not understand me. You must not believe that I have been unfeeling. I was only wretched, unutterably wretched! Remember this, when to-morrow they all pronounce sentence upon me, and then forget me!”

She had uttered all this with breathless haste, and now tried to rise, but Edith, who at last understood that the farewell was seriously meant, flung both arms around her neck and began to weep aloud.

“Hush!” whispered Danira, half beseechingly, half imperatively.

“Don’t detain me, do not try to prevent my escape, I will not be stopped, though it should cost my life. If you wake the others and put them on my track, it will perhaps cause my death it will not bring me back!”

The last words expressed such terrible determination that Edith, in her alarm, let her arms fall, and Danira profited by the opportunity to release herself.

“And now one more request. Tell him Gerald von Steinach I am no traitress. I have made no hostile plots against those who call themselves my benefactors, they only concerned one man’s escape he will know the secret to-morrow.”

Edith suddenly stopped crying and fixed her astonished eyes upon the speaker.

“A message from you to Gerald? And I am to tell him that?”

“Yes! I will not, cannot take this man’s contempt with me. I have borne much of late, but I will not endure that scornful glance from his eyes. Promise to repeat to him, word for word, what I said. And now farewell forever!”

She stooped again, Edith felt two hot, quivering lips press hers, felt herself strained to a heart throbbing with passionate emotion; but it was only for a moment, the next Danira had vanished. The door closed behind her, and the lamp diffused its soft light through the chamber as before, while the young girl pressed both hands upon her temples to convince herself that the scene through which she had just passed was no mere vision in a dream.

Everything had happened so suddenly, so unexpectedly, that it was some time before Edith recovered from her bewilderment. Then she rose hurriedly, threw on a dressing-gown and rushed into the adjoining room occupied by Danira. It was empty and deserted, the bed untouched, the door locked, the fugitive must have already left the house.

Edith’s first thought was to wake her father and tell him what had occurred, but Danira’s parting words echoed in her ears: “If you put them on my track, it may perhaps cause my death it will not bring me back!” She knew her adopted sister, and was aware that she was capable of executing the threat.

The young girl walked irresolutely to the window which overlooked a portion of the city. The houses lay dark and silent, the citadel towering above them into the starry sky. Yonder lived Gerald, for whom that strange message was left. Why was it addressed to him, who had always treated Danira so distantly, almost rudely, and why could she not endure his contempt, when she was so indifferent to her adopted father’s sentence of condemnation? The young girl’s childish face, usually so untroubled, assumed an expression of thought, she could not answer this “why.”

Suddenly she started. Three shots rang on the air in quick succession, distant, it is true, but distinctly audible amid the stillness of the night. Deep silence followed for several minutes, then came a single sharp report. It echoed from the citadel, and directly after the garrison was astir; lights appeared and vanished, and the red glare of torches fell upon the rocky declivities, where a search seemed in progress. At last a heavy, dull sound roared through the city, the discharge of a cannon, which waked the echoes of the surrounding mountains and died away in the distance.

Under other circumstances Edith would merely have watched the incident with curiosity, for actual cowardice was not in her nature, but now, startled and excited by what had just happened, a strange anxiety oppressed her like a presentiment of misfortune.

She darted back into her chamber to dress, but it was several minutes before she was ready and hurrying toward the other part of the house to wake her father.

There was no occasion to do so, the colonel was already up and dressed. He too had been startled by the shots, and was in the act of buckling on his sword when his daughter entered and ran to him as though seeking protection.

“Are you awake, too, papa? What has happened? Up at the citadel ”

“A prisoner has escaped!” replied the colonel, finishing the sentence. “The alarm-shot gave the signal. Don’t be frightened, child, there is no danger.”

“But Gerald is there, and other shots were fired ”

“The sentinels discharged their guns; they have orders to fire upon a fugitive if he does not halt, but he must have escaped or the signal would not have been given. I shall send at once and get a report. But why are you up, Edith? Lie down again; the city is perfectly quiet, and I repeat that there is no occasion for alarm.”

He spoke with a calmness that was partially assumed, for the incident harmonized too strangely with Gerald’s warning, not to arouse grave anxiety. The young officer had mentioned treason, and something unusual was evidently occurring in the citadel. Who could tell what might happen in the city, at any rate the commandant wished to be at his post.

The Colonel’s servant now entered with an orderly he had hurriedly summoned by his master’s command.

Arlow released himself from his daughter, who still clasped him in her arms, and said, kindly but firmly:

“Go now, my child, you see I am on duty and must think of nothing else. I must go at once. Try to sleep again, and don’t allow yourself to be excited by things you do not understand.”

Edith saw that she must obey this time and left the room, but the last words touched her like a reproach. True, she had never taken any interest in matters concerning her father’s profession, so she was now sent to bed like a child that was only in the way, while the whole city was roused from slumber, while her father and lover were hurrying to their posts, and Danira at the name a sudden perception of the truth flashed upon the young girl. She understood that Danira was connected with this event, and was playing some part in it, though the relation was still obscure.

Edith returned to her chamber, but sleep was out of the question. The night passed very uneasily; the colonel had hurried out to personally inspect the posts and sentinels, and assure himself that there were no suspicious appearances in the city. Two hours elapsed before his return. Orderlies came and went. At dawn a detachment of soldiers left Cattaro and marched toward the mountains. Most of the residents who had been roused by the signal-gun were also astir to learn what had happened. At that time every unusual event acquired extraordinary importance.

Toward morning the excitement began to subside. People learned that the matter really concerned nothing but the flight of a prisoner who had escaped during the night, and was now being pursued by the military. Lieutenant von Steinach, who had merely sent the most necessary information to the commandant, came at an early hour to make his report in person.

The interview had already lasted more than half an hour. The two men were alone in the colonel’s private room, and both faces were so grave and gloomy that it was evident that the event was not quite so trivial as had been rumored in the city.

“I never believed from the first that Joan Obrevic was here for any friendly purpose,” said Gerald. “I had been on his trail for several days, but this daring attempt at rescue was the last thing I expected. It has hitherto been considered impossible to scale the citadel from the cliff side.”

“Nothing is impossible to these mountaineers,” replied the colonel, “especially where rocks and cliffs are concerned. But how did it happen that you discovered the prisoner’s escape in the middle of the night, when even the sentinels had not noticed it?”

“I could not sleep, and the discoveries made yesterday rendered me suspicious. Toward midnight I once more went the rounds of the fortification to reconnoitre, and saw by the starlight the prisoner let himself down the wall and reach the ground, where two persons were waiting for him. I instantly alarmed the sentinels, and hurried to the spot myself. The fugitives, finding themselves discovered, fired at me. Their bullets whistled close by my head; I returned the shots, and stretched one on the earth. The two others recklessly pursued the perilous way over the rocks, and vanished in the darkness. When my men hurried up and torches were brought, we saw that I had shot Joan Obrevic, who lay dead at the foot of the wall he had purchased his son’s liberty with his life.”

Arlow had listened in silence, but the expression of his face became more and more anxious, and he now asked hastily:

“Did young Obrevic know you?”

“Certainly. I often saw him, as well as the other prisoners, while in command of the citadel.”

“And do you think he recognized you last night?”

“Undoubtedly, for I shouted orders to my men. The bullets were meant for me; in a pursuit by the guards they probably would not have delayed their flight to fire; it was an act of revenge upon me personally.”

The colonel rose and paced thoughtfully up and down the room several times; at last he paused, and said with deep earnestness:

“Gerald, I would give much if some other bullet than yours had killed Joan Obrevic.”

“Why?” asked the young officer, looking up in surprise.

“You have shot the father, and the son has escaped into the mountains. He will carry the news of your deed there, and I have already told you that last evening orders arrived to detach you from your post, and send you and your men to your regiment.”

“Which has long been my ardent desire! I am really tired of guarding prisoners while my comrades are fighting the insurgents.”

The colonel shook his head, and the anxious expression of his features was still more apparent as he replied:

“You do not know this people as I do; the vendetta exists among them in all its horrors. The chief has fallen by your hand, not even in battle, in a hand-to-hand conflict, but while flying, and it is known that you have killed him you will be outlawed among the mountains.”

Gerald shrugged his shoulders. “That can’t be helped. Under the circumstances I could not, ought not to have acted otherwise. I was obliged to fire upon the fugitives when they did not halt at my shout, especially when they attacked me.”

“You did perfectly right, but it is an unfortunate combination of circumstances. Obrevic’s tribe undoubtedly only remained passive until their chief’s son was released and in safety, now its members will instantly join the rebellion and you may be compelled to march against them at once. Promise me to be cautious, and above all things never to venture anywhere alone. Do you hear? Always take an escort.”

The young officer drew back with a half indignant gesture. “Am I to set my men an example of timidity and cowardice? You are a soldier, like myself, and know that danger is a part of our profession.”

“When treachery and cunning are at work caution is no disgrace, even to a soldier. You will do your whole duty I expect nothing less from you, but do not go beyond it and allow yourself to be carried away by your zeal to defy a danger which, after last night’s occurrence, threatens you and you alone. You owe that to yourself and your promised wife. I demand a pledge that you will be prudent.”

“I will be on my guard and not expose my life recklessly. I can promise nothing more; anything beyond would be cowardice.”

The colonel repressed a sigh. “You are right, Gerald, but I shall see you go with a heavy heart. Hush! here comes Edith. Do not let her know what we have been discussing; she must not be needlessly alarmed. Well, my child, here you are! Have you slept off last night’s excitement?”

Edith, who had just entered to give her father a morning greeting, did not look so bright and blooming as usual. Her features had a weary, worn expression, and even her voice lacked its customary blitheness, as she replied:

“I could not go to sleep again; every one in the house was awake and moving; besides, I did not know how Gerald had fared.”

Gerald, who was advancing to meet his fiancee, felt the reproach contained in her words. He had not even thought of sending her a message, yet he might have supposed that she would be anxious about him.

“Pardon me,” he answered, quickly. “I imagined you had already learned from your father that the nocturnal event was a matter of no consequence.”

“It is rumored that the fugitives fired at you, that you returned the fire, and ”

“People exaggerate, as usual,” interrupted the colonel. “Of course, Gerald was on the spot, and has done his duty; but you see he is safe and sound. Unfortunately, he has brought news which will compel me to discuss very serious matters in my own household. Where is Danira?”

Edith looked up, but not at her father; she turned her face toward Gerald.

“Danira has gone.”

The young officer started; it was but a moment ere the passing emotion was repressed, but Edith had seen it. The colonel exclaimed:

“Gone! Where?”

“I don’t know. She came to my room last night to bid me farewell, in a wild, passionate manner, that frightened me even more than her words. She forbade me to awake you or betray her flight, and was gone ere I could fairly collect my senses. I understood nothing about the whole affair, nothing except the message she gave me for Gerald.”

“For Gerald?” repeated Arlow, whose amazement at first exceeded his indignation.

“Yes, for him.”

The young girl, while repeating Danira’s words, fixed her eyes upon her lover’s face with a half timid, half questioning expression. She saw the flush that crimsoned his brow for an instant, and the light which leaped into his eyes at the vindication the message contained.

“I suspected that she would not be here this morning,” he said, at last. “After what had happened she could not stay, and would undoubtedly have gone sooner or later, but I had anticipated something worse than an attempt at rescue.”

“I should think that was bad enough!” cried the colonel, furiously. “The thankless, treacherous creature, who has lived with us for years and been treated like a child of the house! To repay the benefits she has received in this way it is disgraceful.”

This indignation was certainly pardonable in a man who, with the best intentions and the most benevolent designs, had endeavored to curb an alien, refractory element, but anger made him unjust. All the secret aversion cherished against his adopted daughter now burst forth unrestrained; he heaped the most violent invectives upon the fugitive, and could not find words enough to condemn her.

Gerald listened for a time in silence, but the flush on his face deepened and his brow grew darker and darker. When the colonel again repeated the expression, “base treachery,” the young man’s eyes suddenly flashed with a light as fierce as at the time the insult had been hurled into his face.

“Danira is no traitress that is now proved,” he said, in a sharp, positive tone, “and her aiding in the rescue of one of her own race is no disgrace to her in my eyes.”

“Do you want to take her part?” cried Arlow, angrily. “Do you want to make excuses for a vagabond who leaves the house in the darkness of night to wander about the mountains with an escaped prisoner, and ”

“Under the protection of her brother, who has summoned her, and is now taking her back to her home. It was a mistake to tear this girl from her birthplace, a mistake by which she has been the greatest sufferer. She has done wrong, it is true, but the voice of blood has proved stronger than that of gratitude; perhaps, in her place, I might have done the same.”

The colonel gazed in speechless astonishment at his future son-in-law, whom he saw in this state of excitement for the first time.

“Well, you are the last person from whom I expected such opinions!” he burst forth. “You are actually constituting yourself the knight and defender of the runaway. Edith, what do you say to this affair? You don’t utter a word.”

Edith’s eyes still rested on the young officer’s face, and even now she did not avert her gaze.

“I think Gerald is right,” she said, gently. “I felt the same when Danira bade me farewell last night.”

“Yes, that’s the way with young people; they always see the romantic side!” cried the colonel, angrily. “No unbiased opinion can be expected from you; we won’t argue about it any farther. At any rate, I am glad the affair is ended in this way. I have always considered it a misfortune that my own undue haste compelled me to tolerate such an element in my household. This Danira’s presence weighed like a nightmare upon us all.”

“Yes, it was fortunate that she went for us all!” said Gerald, with a long breath, as if a weight had been removed from his breast also.

Arlow paced up and down the room several times, as was his custom when struggling with any emotion; then he paused before his daughter.

“Amidst all these discussions we are forgetting the main thing. You don’t yet know, my child, that Gerald must leave. The order came last evening, and he is to march with his men to-morrow to join the regiment.”

“So soon?” asked Edith, but the tone was hollow, almost mechanical. Her father looked at her in surprise; he had expected that she would receive the news very differently. But Gerald advanced to the young girl’s side and bent over her.

“Yes, I must go, and my little Edith must forgive my longing to share the perils and privations of my comrades. I am to show myself worthy of my fiancee in this campaign. If I return we will turn our backs upon this country and I will take my young wife home to beautiful, sunny Tyrol and my mother’s arms. Believe me, Edith, we can be very happy there.”

There was an unusual warmth and tenderness in the words, perhaps also a strange haste and uneasiness, while he grasped in a convulsive rather than fervent clasp the hand of his promised bride, who did not utter a syllable in reply. The colonel, however, now completely appeased, said:

“Well, that is talking sensibly! Edith will submit to the separation until your return; she is a soldier’s daughter. But go now, my son. You must make the arrangements at the citadel which we have been discussing. We shall expect you here this afternoon, and I will see that you have leisure to devote yourself this last evening to your fiancee.”

Gerald raised the little hand which lay in his to his lips, and this time really pressed a long, ardent kiss upon it. The caress seemed almost like a plea for pardon, and he looked up reproachfully when the hand was hastily withdrawn.

“You see the ice is breaking!” said the colonel, in a jesting tone, when the door had closed behind the young officer. “The parting appears to make Gerald realize what he possesses in his little fiancee. Do you still think he is incapable of loving?”

Edith slowly turned her face toward her father; it was startlingly pale, and the blue eyes were filled with scalding tears.

“Oh! yes, Gerald can love!” she said, with quivering lips. “I have learned that to-day but he has never loved me!”