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

On a desolate, rocky mountain plateau, a most lonely and secluded location, was a fort, which, built many years before, had recently been greatly strengthened, and was now the centre of the military operations for the suppression of the rebellion.

Months had passed since the first outbreak, and the insurrection was not yet wholly subdued, though every indication betokened a speedy conquest. During this time the troops had endured all sorts of dangers and hardships, a series of fierce battles had been waged, and here they were compelled to fight, not only men, but the country, the climate, the immobility and barrenness of this mountainous region, which proved themselves foes to the strangers, while they became so many allies to the natives of the land. Yet the greater part of the toilsome task was already accomplished and the fate of the insurrection decided.

The tribe of which Joan Obrevic had been chief was the only one that still opposed to the soldiery a tenacious and energetic resistance. Its members had joined the rebellion immediately after the death of their leader and the return of his son, and now this son occupied his father’s place and carried on a fierce, desperate warfare, in which all the cruelty of his race was displayed. With proud defiance he rejected every overture relating to surrender or treaty, and woe betide all the wounded and prisoners who fell into his hands!

A number of wounded soldiers, whose condition did not permit them to be transported farther, had been brought to the fort, and Father Leonhard had come there to render them spiritual consolation and assistance. The sun shone hotly down upon the stone walls of the little fortress, but within their shelter it was comparatively cool. The priest was sitting in the tiny room assigned to him, and before him stood George Moosbach, covered with dust, flushed with heat, and bearing every token of a fatiguing march.

“Here we are, your reverence,” he said. “At least, here I am for the present, half dead with thirst, three quarters worn out by fatigue, and entirely roasted by the heat of the sun. Well, when a fellow has the same sport every day he gets used to it in time.”

“Yet you don’t seem much the worse for your exertions,” replied the priest, glancing at the young soldier’s face it was a little more sunburnt, it is true, but the black eyes sparkled as boldly and blithely as ever.

“They must be borne,” he answered stolidly. “Besides, I knew beforehand that it was a God-forsaken country. There are no human beings here at all except His Majesty’s faithful troops, who have to fight these savages. We march for hours without seeing tree or bush, nothing but sky, rocks and sunshine, and by way of variety sometimes encounter a bora, during which one can see and hear nothing. If you were not here, your reverence, there would be no Christianity; we’ve fallen among Turks and pagans. Oh, my beautiful, blessed Tyrol! The Lord created you specially for His own pleasure, but I should like to know what He could have been thinking of when He made Krivoscia.”

George had not yet attained familiarity with the name, which fell in a perfectly barbarous accent from his lips, but the priest said reprovingly:

“Our Lord knows best why He has distributed His gifts in one way and not another So you have reported that Baron von Steinach and his men are coming to the fort?”

“Yes; they’ll be here in half an hour, and I hope still alive.”

“Why? Are there wounded soldiers with the troops?”

“No, when I left they were all well, but a man isn’t sure of his life an hour here. How often, when we were marching merrily along, singing the songs of our beautiful Tyrol, those accursed savages have unexpectedly attacked us! One moment the wilderness is perfectly empty, and all at once there are the fellows, as if they had grown out of the rocks, and their bullets are whizzing around our heads. They never make a stand anywhere; if we try to catch them in a ravine they are on the heights, and when we climb up they are down below again. If it comes to a real attack, the whole troop vanishes in the twinkling of an eye, as if the cliffs had swallowed them up, and we halt, utterly bewildered, look at each other, and count our ears and noses to see whether we still have them all.”

This vivid and exhaustive description of Krivoscian campaigning brought a passing smile to Father Leonhard’s face.

“If any one should hear you, he would suppose you a bad soldier who only did your duty under compulsion,” he replied. “Yet I was able to write to your parents a few days ago that their George distinguished himself on every occasion, and his superior officers gave him the highest praise for his fearlessness.”

George looked very proud of the eulogy bestowed upon him, but modestly disclaimed it.

“I learned that by watching my lieutenant. Whenever he meets the insurgents he always sends them home with broken heads. Perhaps you have written to Baroness von Steinach, too, your reverence?”

“No, I had no occasion, and I think the lieutenant will do it himself.”

“I ought to,” said the young Tyrolese, with a very downcast air. “The Baroness charged me to protect Herr Gerald’s life but I can’t bear to cause her the sorrow.”

“Sorrow? Because her son has so greatly distinguished himself?’

“No, not that, it’s a very different matter, your reverence.” George clasped his hands devoutly. “You have often reproved me for committing so many follies, and it’s all true. But they do no harm, and they are far from being so bad as the one folly Herr Gerald has committed in his whole life. I can’t look on any longer, I must tell you.”

He uttered so heart-rending a sigh that the priest gazed at him with a startled, anxious glance.

“What do you mean? What is the matter with the lieutenant?”

“He’s bewitched!” George despairingly exclaimed. “Completely bewitched!”

“George are you in your senses?”

“I am, but unluckily he isn’t. The poor young lady in Cattaro! So pretty, so bright, and merry that it cheers one’s heart just to look at her, and now this Danira ”

“The commandant’s adopted daughter, who ran away at night? What of her?”

“She’s the witch who has done my lieutenant this mischief!” George cried indignantly. “She has brewed some witches’ potion, these savages know how, and now the misfortune has come he is in love with her.”

Father Leonhard rose in utter consternation.

“Impossible? Gerald von Steinach, that quiet, thoughtful man, with his rigid sense of duty, possessed by such an infatuation it can’t be! What put the idea into your head?”

The young soldier advanced a step nearer and lowered his voice, though they were entirely alone.

“I knew it in Cattaro, but I did not want to believe it. The evening before our departure the lieutenant went once more to the commandant’s and I was permitted to go with him to bid the young lady good-bye. But we did not see her at all, not even Herr Gerald; instead of that his future father-in-law and he were alone together in a room for an hour. I was standing in the dark ante-chamber when they at last came out; the colonel didn’t see me, and I heard his farewell words:

“’I will not wrong you, Gerald; I myself believe that the whole affair is merely a foolish fancy on the part of Edith, but what you say does not soothe me, for it shows that you are not perfectly clear in your own mind. We part now, and you are going to encounter serious things; you will have ample time to test yourself. You have given me your word of honor that you will not write to your promised wife until you can say to her with entire sincerity: I did not love Danira, my heart belongs solely to you. If you can do that your bride will not be lost, for I rely implicitly upon your honor, and so will Edith. Now, farewell, I hope you will write soon!’”

Father Leonhard had listened in extreme suspense to this literal repetition of the conversation, now he asked hastily:

“Well, and ?”

“Well, your reverence, Herr Gerald has not written.”

“Really? Are you sure?”

“Absolutely certain. I have to take all the letters to the messenger; there was not one to the young lady among them.”

“That is certainly a bad sign,” said the priest in a low tone, “very bad.”

“It’s witchcraft, abominable witchcraft!” George wrathfully exclaimed. “The blow will kill his mother when she discovers it. Castle Steinach will be completely upset, and Moosbach Farm too, and the whole Tyrol to boot a reverend ecclesiastic must interfere, nothing else will do, only priests can oppose witchcraft.”

Father Leonhard did not heed the last words, the news evidently affected him most painfully, and it was after a long pause that he said:

“Have you ever given the Lieutenant a hint that you knew the affair?”

“I tried it once,” said George, mournfully. “But I got no further than the name Danira. Then he started up and looked at me with a pair of eyes I didn’t suppose Herr Gerald could glare so I didn’t attempt it a second time.”

“Then I’ll try whether he will talk with me. Meantime, keep silence about it in future to every one.”

Here the conversation was interrupted; they heard outside words of command and the regular tramp of soldiers marching.

“There they are!” cried George, starting up. “Excuse me, your reverence, I must see whether they have brought Jovica; the Lieutenant took charge of her when I was obliged to leave.”

“Who is Jovica?” asked the priest, but he received no answer, the young soldier had already darted out of the door, and Father Leonhard went to the window.

It was really Lieutenant von Steinach, who had just arrived with his detachment, joyously welcomed by the garrison of the fort. The officers greeted each other, and the soldiers openly expressed their satisfaction in having reached the place where they expected rest and refreshment after the fatiguing march. There was a pleasant bustle going on when George suddenly appeared, hastily saluting his lieutenant, and then darted like a bird of prey into the midst of his comrades, where he seemed to be looking for something.

Father Leonhard now went down to welcome the young officer, whom he had not seen since his departure from Cattaro; for, owing to the peculiar method of warfare, the various detachments of the regiment were usually separated from each other. At the foot of the stairs Gerald came toward him, accompanied by the officer commanding the fort. The meeting was cordial, even affectionate, but necessarily brief. Gerald promised to seek the reverend gentleman as soon as possible, and then prepared to follow his comrade, but in the very act of departure he turned back and asked:

“Has George told you about his foundling?”

“What foundling? I don’t know a word of the affair.”

“George now has a new charge, which, to be sure is rather oddly suited to him. He has set up for an adopted father, and intends to bring his protegee to you. You will hear the particulars from him. Au revoir, your reverence.”

The gentlemen went on, and Father Leonhard shook his head with a puzzled look. He could not imagine his quarrelsome parishioner in the position intimated, but he was not to remain in doubt long, for just at that moment George entered the corridor with a young girl whom he led by the hand like a child.

“The saints preserve me!” cried the priest, who was not at all prepared for this spectacle. “What is this you are bringing me?”

“A savage!” replied the young soldier with great solemnity. “But you needn’t be frightened, your reverence, she is perfectly tame.”

Father Leonhard gazed in astonishment at the delicate little creature, who scarcely reached to her companion’s shoulder. She was a very young girl, hardly beyond childhood, slender and shy as a chamois. The dark, southern face, with its childish features and dark eyes, had an expression of timid submission and gentleness, while clothing so scanty and miserable was only found among the poorest shepherd tribes of the country.

“This is Jovica!” replied George, in a tone which seemed to imply that those few words told the whole story; but this explanation did not satisfy the priest, who desired to know who Jovica was and where she came from, so George was obliged to condescend to a longer narrative.

“Two days ago we had to capture a few of the mud and stone huts people here call a village. There was sharp fighting over it, but we finally got possession and the inhabitants fled. There I found the poor thing, who had been left behind alone, hidden in a corner, half starved and almost frightened to death. She probably expected me to spear her on the spot, for she was trembling from head to foot, but I’ve brought her to a better opinion of the Tyrolese imperial chasseurs, haven’t I, Jovica?”

The young girl evidently did not understand one word of the whole speech; her large eyes rested timidly and anxiously on the priest, and she pressed closer, with unmistakable confidence, to her protector, who now continued:

“The lieutenant understands Slavonic, so we found out that she didn’t belong to the village at all. She had come there with a party of fugitives from the frontier, and did not even know where her own home was. She made me comprehend: Father dead mother dead all dead! So there was nothing for me to do except fill the places of father and mother to her.”

The words were uttered so sincerely and honestly that the priest could not repress a faint smile, but he said quietly:

“I think, George, it will be best for you to trust the child to me.”

“Yes, Lieutenant von Steinach thinks so too, that’s why I brought Jovica to you; but, your reverence, you’ll have trouble with her, she is a terrible pagan. The very first day it came out that she was still in the midst of heathenism. She knows nothing about church nor crucifix, and calls God ‘Allah.’”

“Then the girl probably belongs to one of the Mohammedan tribes that dwell on the frontier. If she is really an orphan and entirely deserted, we must, of course, take charge of her, the only question is what we are to do with her.”

“First of all, baptize her,” said George, in a paternal tone. “That can be done at once here in the fort, and I’ll stand god-father.”

“It cannot be arranged so unceremoniously. The girl must first be instructed in the precepts of Christianity, and we must know whether she will prove susceptible to them.”

George looked very much disappointed when the baptismal ceremony, in which he expected to play so important a part, receded into the dim distance, but he answered submissively:

“Well, you know best, your reverence, but the poor thing can’t remain a pagan, that’s clear.”

“For the present she will stay here,” the priest added. “I need help in caring for the wounded, and as one of them speaks Slavonic fluently, he can act as interpreter. We will try at once.”

He was going to take the girl by the arm to lead her away, but Jovica resisted with all her strength this attempt to separate her from her protector. Clinging anxiously to him, she began to weep bitterly, saying in an imploring tone a few Slavonic words, which George understood no better than she comprehended his language, but he stepped back resolutely and drew her toward him.

“This won’t do, your reverence,” he said emphatically. “Jovica must be differently treated or she will cry, and I can’t stand that. The poor thing is as timid as one of our chamois, and shrinks from every one except me. One must talk to her like a father, and I am the only person who understands it.”

He stroked the girl’s shining black hair with a soothing touch, and actually began a speech in which he arbitrarily mixed with his Tyrolese German a few Slavonic words he had picked up somewhere. It sounded more barbaric than fatherly, yet Jovica was evidently quieted. She no longer resisted when he at last led her to Father Leonhard, and by pantomime endeavored to make known his goodness, but her eyes were still wet with tears and rested with touching persistency on her protector.

The latter seemed to have several farewell ceremonies in view, but the priest put an end to them by taking his charge away. George looked after them very calmly. He had now placed both the affairs that lay near his heart in the hands of the priesthood, and was firmly convinced that Father Leonhard would deal with the “witchcraft” as well as the paganism.

He was just turning to go, when his comrade Bartel entered on his way to report to the lieutenant.

“Well, George, have you got rid of your foundling?” he asked, in a jeering tone. “What does Father Leonhard say to the pagan? Will he baptize her?”

“Take care, Bartel!” replied George. “You are my friend and countryman, but if you don’t let me and Jovica alone, you’ll fare badly.”

Bartel did not heed the warning, but continued his taunts.

“A pretty adopted child you’ve chosen! A pagan witch, brown as a gypsy, and ragged as ”

He went no further, for his friend and countryman stretched out his arm and dealt the scoffer so violent a blow that he staggered back against the wall and held his head between both hands as though dazed.

“That’s what happens to people who talk about Jovica!” said George with perfect composure. “Take notice and tell our comrades, that they may govern themselves accordingly. If necessary, I’ll knock down the whole company,” and conscious of having done a good act, he held his head very high as he walked away.

Lieutenant von Steinach had kept his promise and sought Father Leonhard in his room as soon as he found time to do so. He was now standing at the window of the small apartment gazing at the dreary dead mountain landscape, to which the sunset was lending a rather delusive semblance of life.

The young officer, too, had been little affected by the fatigues of the campaign. True, his features bore traces of the scorching heat of the sun, and his light brown hair lay in thicker, more dishevelled locks on his brow and temples, but otherwise he looked as fresh and vigorous as ever. The privations of the past few weeks seemed to have only strengthened him.

Yet the priest’s watchful gaze discerned a change which, though only in the expression, was distinctly apparent.

This was not quiet, passionless Gerald von Steinach, whose cool circumspection had become proverbial among his comrades. There were new lines on his face, a half gloomy, half bitter expression, which told of secret conflicts concealed with difficulty, and a deep shadow lurked in the eyes formerly so clear. He had related his military experiences, discussed the chances of the campaign, spoken of his home and his mother, but had never uttered a syllable in allusion to his promised bride, and had even avoided mentioning Cattaro, though the city was the real point of departure of all military operations. His manner of speaking was also changed, it had become hasty and abrupt, as though he wished to deaden some hidden anxiety and did not fix his thoughts upon the conversation. At last he stopped talking, and his eyes rested dreamily on the distant prospect. The rocks still gleamed redly in the last rays of the setting sun, and on the horizon appeared long, sharply outlined clouds, which also still glowed with rosy light.

The long silence which ensued roused Gerald from his reverie. He turned, and when he saw the priest’s questioning gaze fixed upon him, an indignant expression flitted over his face.

“I was just watching the sky,” he said, hastily. “We learn here to know the signs of the weather; it seems as if we were going to have a bora. I’m glad I have sheltered my men in the fort, and that there is a probability of our having a few days’ rest.”

“You all need it,” replied Father Leonhard. “Especially you, Gerald; you have been almost continually on the move these last weeks.”

“It was necessary; the insurgents don’t give us much time to breathe. You know it is Joan Obrevic’s son who is now causing us the most trouble.”

“And this son is chief of the tribe, and is making every exertion to avenge his father. It often occasions me great anxiety, Gerald. You have told me your experiences, but you have not mentioned how often that vengeance has already threatened you. I learn from your comrades that you have hitherto escaped these open and secret snares as though by a miracle.”

The young officer merely shrugged his shoulders.

“I am in the hands of a higher power, and it is true I have been of late so often and so wonderfully preserved that I have learned to trust this protection.”

“But he who defies danger, as according to the other officers is your custom, also defies Providence. Your life does not belong only to yourself, others have a claim upon it.”

“My mother yes!” said Gerald slowly. “I sometimes forget that she is anxious about me.”

“And your promised wife?”

The young man silently fixed his eyes upon the floor.

“I hope you have letters from her? Our mail communication with Cattaro is tolerably regular.”

Gerald looked up, and doubtless read in the priest’s glance that he knew more than he cared to show, for he said quickly:

“Has Colonel Arlow written to you?”

“No, but perhaps I have learned from another source what you are concealing from me.”

Gerald made no reply, but again turned toward the window and seemed to wish to close the conversation. Father Leonhard went up to him and laid his hand on his shoulder.

“Gerald, you have spent little time at home during the last few years, but surely you know that I am no stranger there. Will you not speak freely to your parents’ friend, to the priest?”

The question sounded gentle, yet grave and warning, and did not fail to produce an effect. Gerald passed his hand across his brow.

“What am I to say? Do I know myself what it is that oppresses me? I have been driven into doubts, discord with my own nature. Had Edith and her father trusted to my honor, they would not have repented it. The affair was over, and I should have crushed the memory of it like an evil dream forever!”

“A young girl does not wish merely to trust to her lover’s honor in keeping his troth,” replied the priest earnestly. “She asks his love, and with perfect justice. Besides, as I understand, the colonel has permitted you to return as soon as you can do so, with a free heart. Have you written to Fraeulein Allow?”

“No,” said Gerald, in a slow, dreary tone.

“You could not?”

“No, I could not.”

“Gerald this is impossible it cannot be.”

“What is impossible?” asked the young man with intense bitterness, “that the somnambulist, who is suddenly waked to see the gulf at his feet, should be seized with giddiness? Had he been left undisturbed, he would have found the way back. I once thought it impossible that a feeling could slumber for weeks in the depths of the soul, wholly unsuspected, till suddenly a flash of lightning came to illumine the darkness, that such a light could alter the whole nature until a man no longer recognized himself in his thoughts and feelings. In Cattaro I might still have conquered it; now that I have been alone for weeks I know I can no longer do so, and thereby am sundered from my whole past, involved in dissension with those who stand nearest to me, engaged in perpetual warfare with myself. Would it not be best if I should not return at all, and will you reproach me for seeking danger and longing for the bullet that will end this torture?”

He had spoken with increasing agitation. A terrible change had indeed taken place in the quiet man, and the priest was quite startled by this fierce, feverish impetuosity.

“I never expected to see you thus, Gerald,” he said with mingled reproof and sorrow. “So it has already gone so far that you seek death, that ”

“We must all look death in the face here,” Gerald interrupted. “To me he has lost his terrors, that is all. But we ought not to spoil our meeting by such discussions. I wanted to speak to you of other matters. George has already entrusted his charge to you, I hear. He would not rest till I gave him permission to take the girl to the fort. The only question is, what is to become of her now.”

The sudden change of subject plainly showed that he wished to escape the former topic of conversation, and Father Leonhard made no attempt to keep to it, he had already learned too much.

The two men talked for several minutes longer about Jovica, but neither felt at ease, and Gerald seized the first opportunity to withdraw.

The priest sighed heavily as he looked after him.

“How will this end?” he murmured. “The story is true, incredible as it seems; one might almost, like George, believe in witchcraft. To be sure, when a spark of passion once kindles these calm, icy natures, the conflagration is terrible.”

The night passed in the fort without incident; the new arrivals especially gave themselves up to their well deserved repose, but it was not to be long granted. Day was just beginning to dawn when the reveille suddenly sounded, and the whole garrison was speedily in motion.

Father Leonhard, who had been occupied with the wounded men until late at night, was also roused it was needful here to be always prepared for the sudden outbreak of danger and, rising, left his room. On the stairs he met George in full uniform, coming toward him in the greatest hurry.

“Here you are, your reverence! My lieutenant has sent me to tell you that we must be off at once. He hasn’t any time, and I must be down below in five minutes. Didn’t I say so! Scarcely do we expect to get a fair chance of sleep when these confounded savages are at us again.”

“But what is the matter? Are the insurgents attacking the fort?”

“No; but our captain is fighting with them two leagues from here. They attacked him during the night; he can’t hold out alone against the superior force, and has sent for reinforcements. We are to join him. I only wanted to ask you to take care of Jovica, your reverence. The poor thing will cry if she doesn’t see me, and I now fill a father’s place to her.”

“Have no anxiety, the young girl is under my protection. Where is your captain?”

But George was far too much engrossed by his paternal duties to have any thought of anything else, he continued hastily in broken accents:

“And if I don’t return at all, you must at least baptize the poor thing; she can’t remain in paganism. Promise me that, your reverence. There’s the signal again, and that confounded bora is beginning to whistle. But it makes no difference, out we must go! I wish I could wring the neck of this whole Krivoscia no, not the whole, Jovica belongs to the country. No, no! Take care of Jovica for me, your reverence.”

He rushed down the staircase to join his comrades. Father Leonhard followed, and was just in time to see the fortress gates opened. George was already standing in the ranks; Gerald, who was at the head of his men, waved a farewell to the priest with his sword, and the little band marched bravely out in the glimmering dusk of early morn.