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

The bora had been blowing all day long with a violence that would have seemed dangerous to a dweller in the lowlands, but which attracted no special attention here. On the rocky heights of the Karst the mountaineers were familiar with tempests that brought destruction to every living thing in their path, and often hurled horse and rider over a precipice. To-day the wind had roared over the earth and howled fiercely above it, but it was at least possible to remain out of doors and even move forward. The air was dry, the sky clear, and the landscape was illumined by the bright moonlight.

In one of the funnel-shaped ravines that intersect the rocky ridges of the Karst in every direction, was a so-called “village,” a mere handful of huts, rudely built of stone, which only afforded shelter from the weather, and scarcely resembled human habitations. Somewhat higher up, almost at the edge of the ravine, but still within the protection of the rocks, stood a somewhat larger building, the only one that deserved the name of house. It was firmly built, had a door and windows, and was divided inside into several separate rooms. The first and largest of these apartments seemed to be used as a common living-room by the occupants. A huge fire was blazing on the hearth and illumined the bare, smoke-blackened walls, whose sole ornaments, a crucifix and an image of a saint, showed that the inhabitants were Christians. The furniture, though clumsy and roughly made, was better than is usually found in this region, and several wooden chests in the corners, apparently well filled, also indicated that the owner of the dwelling was one of the rich and distinguished men in the tribe.

True, the weapons generally seen on the walls of every hut were absent, like the arms that wielded them. The men belonging to the village, who were capable of bearing arms, were now away at the scene of war or camped in inaccessible ravines and narrow passes. Sometimes they secretly returned to their homes, which stood open to the troops they were well aware that the women and children left behind had nothing to fear from the soldiery.

Upon the wooden table stood the remnants of a simple meal, and a young woman was engaged in cleaning the pot in which she had prepared it. She did her work swiftly and silently, without joining even by a syllable in the conversation of the two men who stood by the hearth.

Both were young, and true sons of their country, slender, brown and supple, but their dress and whole appearance showed traces of the long months of conflict through which they had passed. The elder, who had sharp, eagle-like features, and a face as hard and rigid as the rocks of his home, was gazing gloomily with frowning brow into the fire. His companion, who was several years his junior, also looked grave and gloomy, but his face lacked the former’s iron sternness. Neither had laid aside his weapons; they wore swords at their sides and knives thrust into their girdles, while their guns leaned against the wall close by within their reach.

“I expected to hear better news from you,” said the elder, angrily. “Another defeat! Was not your force superior?”

“Only at first, the enemy received reinforcements, and my men have long been disheartened. You will not see, Marco, that we are constantly being forced back, more and more closely surrounded. We are the only ones who still hold out for how long?”

“Do you want to sue for mercy?” cried Marco, furiously. “Will you give your hand to those who killed your father, as well as mine? If you can forget that you are Hersovac’s son my name is Obrevic. And the man to whom I owe my imprisonment and my father’s death is still unharmed.”

“It was he who brought the foe aid to-day,” said young Hersovac. “I recognized him during the fight. You will not touch him, he has protected himself by witchcraft.”

“One might believe so!” muttered Marco. “He is no coward, he is always in the front of the fray. How often I have sought him there, how often he was to have been betrayed into my hands by stratagem. Others, the wrong ones, were always struck and he escaped. But he is still within our frontiers, and I have set snares for him at every step. If he once separates from his comrades he is mine!”

He seized a log of wood from the pile and flung it on the fire so that the sparks flew in every direction; it was an expression of his suppressed fury. Then he asked in a curt, sharp tone:

“Where is Danira? Doesn’t she know that I am here?”

“Yes, but she refuses to come in.”

“Compel her, then!” said Marco, roughly.

“Compel Danira? You do not know my sister.”

“I would compel her, and I will, as soon as she is mine; rely upon that. Call her in.”

The command sounded very imperious, but Stephan Hersovac obeyed. He was still very young, and apparently not equal to the position circumstances had forced upon him.

Only the elder of the sons of the two fallen leaders seemed capable of taking his father’s place, yet they had grown up together like brothers in the house of Joan Obrevic after the latter brought his dead friend’s son home. But, even in those days, the energetic Marco exerted authority over his younger and more yielding friend. Stephan was accustomed to submit to him, and did so absolutely, now that he stood at the head of the tribe.

After a few minutes Danira appeared. She, too, wore the costume of the country, yet even here in her home there was something foreign in her aspect. She had nothing at all in common with the women of her race, the timid, humble creatures born and reared to subjection. There was a cold pride in her bearing as she approached Marco and bent her head, as though his imperious summons had been a petition, and she had granted it.

Obrevic must have received this impression, for his eyes glowed with a fervent, passionate admiration, although his voice remained cold and harsh, as he asked:

“Can you not greet the guest who comes to your brother’s hearth, or don’t you wish to do so?”

“Did you miss my greeting?” was the cool reply. “You only came to hold a conference with Stephan, and your meal was already provided.”

“No matter! It is seemly for you to welcome the man to whom your brother has promised your hand. You have long known that.”

“And you know that I do not recognize this promise. I have never given you mine.”

“Among us a woman has no will,” replied Marco, imperiously. “Your brother is now the head of the house. He has a right to dispose of you, and will compel you to obey he or I!”

“Try it!”

The two words were spoken with perfect calmness, but such unyielding resolution that Marco stamped his foot furiously.

“Have you learned defiance among the people down below? You have now returned to us, and none of the follies they taught you suit this place.”

“You are mistaken. I have left everything there .” The girl’s voice trembled for a moment. Then she repeated, with passionate, almost angry emphasis: “Everything. Ask my brother whether I shrink from the labor of which I was ignorant, whether I refuse to do what is imposed upon me. I ask only one thing to be free! And I shall not be, if I belong to a husband. I did not fly from captivity to enter slavery, and with you a wife is a slave.”

Her eyes wandered with a half pitying, half scornful glance toward her brother’s wife, who, still busied with her work, crouched beside the hearth; spite of her youth and beauty the stamp of servitude was plainly visible. Scarcely as old as Danira, she was already worn by the hard burden of toil that rested almost entirely upon her shoulders. She had prepared the meal, and waited on the men without receiving the slightest notice from them. Even in her husband’s presence she showed nothing but timid shyness and submission, and now gazed with actual horror at the girl who ventured to say such things to a man. Her whole appearance and bearing formed a convincing proof of the truth of Danira’s words, and this exasperated the fierce Obrevic.

“Do you want to teach us foreign customs?” he furiously exclaimed. “With us the husband is the only person of importance, and what our wives have been they will remain.”

Danira drew herself up proudly, her eyes flashed, and with passionate pride she retorted:

“But I am not like your women, and never will be that is the very reason I will belong to none of you.”

Her defiance irritated Marco, but at the same time produced an impression upon him, for it contained a shade of his own unbridled, unbending will. His hand was still clenched, but as his eyes rested on the beautiful face, glowing with excitement, he murmured:

“No, you are different that is why I cannot give you up.”

A pause ensued; Danira stooped and began to put fresh fuel on the dying fire. Her hands showed that she had learned to work and did not spare herself, but every movement was full of grace and power.

Marco silently watched her, and suddenly advancing a step nearer seized the girl’s arm, asking in an abrupt, vehement tone:

“Why do you scorn my suit? I am the chief, the richest man in the tribe, even richer than your brother. You need not labor like the other women, you shall be no slave in my house no, Danira, I promise you!”

There was a strange blending of sullen menace and ardent passion in the words, nay, even an accent of entreaty in the promise. It was evident that the rude son of the mountains was completely under the thrall of a feeling experienced for the first time, and which subdued his masculine obstinacy. He pleaded where, in his opinion, he was entitled to demand, but Danira with quiet decision released her arm.

“You cannot act contrary to your nature, Marco, even if you wished. You must rule and oppress, and when angered you know no limits. You bend even my brother absolutely to your will; what would be your wife’s fate? And is this a time to think of marriage? Stephan has just told you what has happened; he has been defeated.”

“For the third time! By all the saints, I would not have allowed myself to be routed, but Stephan is no leader never has been.”

“My brother is still very young,” replied Danira. “He lacks experience, not courage, and can do nothing for a lost cause, for whether you admit it or not our cause is lost. You alone still hold out, but you cannot accomplish what is impossible.”

“Silence!” cried Obrevic in a fierce outbreak of wrath. “What do you know about it? Has Stephan already infected you with his cowardice? He talks of submission, and you ”

“Not I!” Danira interrupted. “I can understand that you must conquer or fall. I wish I could die with you, if it comes to that. Destruction is no disgrace but there is shame in submission.”

The words had a ring of iron resolution which showed that the girl was quite capable of verifying them if matters proceeded to extremes. Marco felt this, for without averting his gaze from her face he said slowly:

“You ought to have been the man and Stephan the woman. You have inherited your father’s blood he did not.”

He held out his hand and clasped hers with a firm pressure, such as was usually exchanged only between men. Danira had compelled him to recognize her as his equal. The clasp of the hand acknowledged it.

“You are right,” he continued. “This is no time to think of marriage, we have better things to do. But when the time comes and come it will you shall be mine, Danira, I have sworn it and will keep my vow.”

The light of passion again glowed in his eyes, but the young girl was spared a reply, for Stephan entered and the two men began to equip themselves for departure. The farewell was brief and laconic. These rude sons of the mountains were fully capable of passions but mere emotions where wholly alien to their natures.

Even Stephan did not think of taking any warmer leave of his young wife, who approached to hand him his gun, yet they had been only a few months wedded, and the two men might expect death at any hour. Marco, in the act of departure, turned once more to Danira with the question:

“Were there any soldiers in the village this morning?”

“Yes, but they only rested a short time, and marched on scarcely an hour after.”

“Others will probably come to-night or early tomorrow. They are seeking us, as they have so often done, and will not find us unless we wish to be found. If they ask, put them on a false trail.”

The young girl shook her head. “You know I cannot lie. And they never ask, they know we will not betray our people Stephan is to join you with his men?”

“Yes, at once, that we may be united in the next attack. Farewell!”

The two men went out and ascended to the top of the ravine. Their dark figures were visible for a time, making their way vigorously against the gale, then they vanished and the village lay silent and desolate, apparently wrapped in slumber, as before.

Stephan Hersovac’s house was also silent, but Danira still sat by the hearth, constantly putting fresh logs upon the dying fire, as if she dreaded darkness and sleep. Her sister-in-law had already gone to rest. She did not understand how any one could shorten or wholly resign the only solace of a toilsome life, slumber, and had nothing to think about, so she was sound asleep in the dark room adjoining.

The young girl had closed the door leading to it, in order to be entirely alone, and was now gazing fixedly into the flames. Without the tempest raved, and within the fire snapped and crackled, but Danira saw and heard nothing. She was dreaming, dreaming with her burning eyes wide open, and from the floating smoke appeared visions far, far removed from the darkness and solitude of the hour a wide, wide landscape, flooded with golden sunshine, and overarched by a deep-blue sky, towering mountain peaks, shimmering waves, and in the distance a surging sea, veiled by the mists of morning!

Above the whole scene hovered a face, looking down upon her with stern severity, bitter reproach, as in that hour on the rocky height, that hour which had decided the fate of two human beings.

They had not seen each other since, and to separation was added enmity, for the two parties to which they belonged now confronted each other in mortal strife. And yet the visionary face began to lose its harsh expression, softened more and more, until finally it disappeared, and only two clear eyes gazed forth from the drifting wreaths of smoke, the bright, clear eyes of Gerald von Steinach, no longer full of hate and enmity, but instinct with that one emotion which had awaked in that hour never to die again.

Just at that moment one of the glowing logs broke and others fell, sending out a shower of sparks. Danira started and looked up. The dream still absorbed her so completely that she needed several seconds to recall where she was, but her surroundings soon brought her back to reality. Yes, this close, gloomy room, with its bare walls and wretched household furniture, its smoky, stifling atmosphere this was the home for which she had longed since childhood, and this life, spent day after day in hard, common toil, destitute of every intellectual element, was the freedom of which she had dreamed.

The commandant’s adopted daughter, who had been surrounded in his house with all the requisites of luxury and culture, now learned to know what she had given up and what she had obtained in exchange. Obrevic had told the truth. Here the man was the only person of importance, and the idea of freedom, fierce and unbridled as it might be, existed for him alone; the wife was merely the best piece of furniture in the house, the beast of burden who bore the labors of the home, and always trembled in slavish fear of her stern master. So the custom of the tribe required, and to this custom all who belonged to it must bow.

No matter, she had chosen her own fate, and Danira’s resolute will repressed the loathing she felt for these surroundings and this treatment, which she had endured without complaint; but now the worst came. She was sought in marriage by a man with whose rudeness and fierceness she was sufficiently familiar, and thereby the last remnant of independence was lost. Marco’s ardent passion still gave her power over him. He still yielded to the influence of a higher nature, and was charmed and allured by what was refused, but only so long as it continued to be denied. When once his property, the old tyranny would assert its rights, and his wife would have no better lot than the other women of her race. Sooner or later she would be forced to choose between accepting him for her husband or quitting her brother’s house, for the latter, incited and irritated by his friend, would undoubtedly try this means of subduing her will. Then she would be thrust out by her kindred, for whom she had sacrificed everything, homeless here as well as there!

Danira had started up, and was pacing to and fro in the narrow space, as though pursued by torturing thoughts. Her movements grew more and more impetuous, her bosom heaved passionately, and she suddenly sank down before the crucifix and pressed her burning brow against the cold wall. The prayer that rose to heaven was fervent and despairing, though silent; a prayer for deliverance, for release from the fetters that constantly encircled her more closely. She must sink under them, unless rescue came.

Meantime, the bora was blowing outside with undiminished violence, and the two figures that now appeared on the edge of the ravine had great difficulty in making a stand against it. The moonlight showed that both men wore the Austrian uniform. They had moved forward as fast as the gale permitted, but now stopped, and were evidently trying to examine their surroundings.

“I don’t know, Herr Lieutenant the story doesn’t seem to me exactly straight,” said one. “The place down yonder is as dark and silent as if every human being in it were dead. Are you really going into it?”

It was George Moosbach’s voice, and the reply came from the lips of Gerald von Steinach, who, in his usual quiet, resolute manner, said:

“Of course I am, for this is evidently the right place. It is the village our troops entered this morning. I recognize it distinctly from the description.”

“But there isn’t a mouse moving below, far less an Imperial Chasseur. We must have been already seen, yet no one has challenged us.”

“I, too, noticed the absence of sentinels. I fear our men must have been forced to retreat, leaving the wounded officer in charge of the necessary escort. The message to me was all right at any rate, for the shepherd had brought, as his credentials, Salten’s portfolio containing his notes.”

“But it’s queer that he wanted to speak to you in particular,” George persisted. “I stick to it, I don’t like the looks of the business, still less those of the ragged lad who acted as messenger. He had the face of a knave. If only there isn’t some piece of deviltry in it!”

“You see mischief and snares everywhere,” replied Gerald, impatiently, as he prepared to descend into the ravine. “Am I to refuse the request of a severely wounded comrade, who wants to see me and perhaps has a last commission to give? To be sure it would have been more agreeable to me to have taken the peril as well as the responsibility of this errand on myself alone.”

“But not to me,” replied George. “If our lives are at stake I would far rather be here, and it will come to that. That confounded boy has vanished as though the earth had swallowed him. It’s the way with all these savages! The whole tribe is in league with witches.”

“The lad has run on before to announce our arrival,” said the young officer, who appeared to have no thought of danger. “He forgot to tell us the direction, so we must find the way ourselves. Yonder house seems to me to be the only one at all suitable for the reception of a wounded officer. We will go there first.”

“Thank God, a man can at least breathe here!” muttered George, who had just gained the shelter of the rocks. “If they call this a ‘little’ bora, I’d like to see a big one. I wish it would sweep this Krivoscia off the face of the earth and us back to Tyrol.”

Meantime Gerald had approached the house, through whose closed shutters a faint ray of light was shining. The gale which had prevented his footsteps from being heard also drowned his knock, and as no answer came from within, the officer pushed the door open and entered.

The fire, still blazing brightly on the hearth, threw its glare full upon the newcomers, clearly revealing their figures, but at the same time dazzled them so that, for a moment, they could see nothing distinctly and did not even notice the woman kneeling in the shadow of the wall.

Danira started and tried to rise, but her limbs seemed to refuse their service. Motionless, she gazed with dilated eyes upon the vision which appeared before her from the storm and darkness outside, as though her own thoughts had assumed form and substance. Not until Gerald advanced did she become conscious of the reality of his presence. A half stifled cry escaped her lips. This sudden, unexpected meeting tore the veil from the girl’s soul, and she called the name never before uttered:


“Danira!” came the answer in a tone of such passionate joy that George, who had entered behind his lieutenant, hastened to his side, murmuring under his breath in an accent of horror:

“May all good spirits guard us! There’s the witch!”

An instant’s pause followed. Danira was the first who tried to regain her self-command, though it was only an attempt.

“Herr von Steinach! I thought I did not expect to see you again.”

“And I did not suspect that you lived in this house,” said Gerald, to whom George’s movement had also restored composure, for it reminded him that this interview must have no witnesses. He therefore turned, saying with forced calmness:

“This young lady will be the best person to give me the information we desire. Wait outside the door till I call you.”

George knew the meaning of subordination and was accustomed to obey his lieutenant implicitly, but this time every fibre of his being rebelled against discipline. In his eyes Gerald was bewitched; and therefore wholly incapable of sound judgment as soon as the witchcraft came into play. To leave him with the cause of all the mischief was resigning him to destruction.

As a Christian and a Tyrolese George felt it his duty to protect him from a danger far worse than those which imperilled life and limb, for here the soul’s salvation was at stake. So he drew himself up, raised his hand to his cap and said respectfully:

“By your leave, Herr Lieutenant, I will stay.”

Gerald frowned and looked at him it was only one glance, but the young Tyrolese had remembered the threatening flash from the hour he had attempted to obtain an insight into the affair of mingled love and witchcraft, and all inclination for further resistance instantly vanished. As Gerald, without a word, pointed with a quiet, imperious wave of the hand to the door, George, though still far from having conquered his alarm, found it advisable to obey, but once outside he clasped his hands in a hurried prayer.

“Saint George and all the saints aid him! She has got him now may the Lord have mercy upon him!”

The two who remained behind were alone they still confronted each other in silence, but Gerald’s eyes rested as if spellbound upon the young girl, who had slowly risen and advanced into the circle of light cast by the fire. The ruddy glow made her figure stand out in relief against the dark background like a picture, a picture that certainly did not suit the frame of this small, gloomy room.

Danira’s beauty was fully displayed for the first time, now that she wore the costume of the country, whose picturesque cut and coloring seemed to have been created especially for her. The braids of black hair fell unconfined in all their weight and luxuriance, and her whole bearing was free, fetterless and haughty, as though relieved from the burden of a dependence that had oppressed her for years, released from the bonds of the gratitude reason imposed upon her, but against which her heart continually rebelled. It was the daughter of the fallen chief who had already conquered a moment’s self-forgetfulness, and now, with all the pride of her blood and lineage, faced the man whom she again regarded as the enemy of her people.

“I believe, Herr von Steinach, that the circumstances of our parting were too peculiar for us to greet this meeting with pleasure,” she said at last. It was the old icy tone, specially intended to efface that one unguarded moment, and it partially accomplished its purpose.

The young officer’s manner also grew colder and more formal as he replied:

“Then you must reproach accident, not me, for this interview. I repeat I had no suspicion who lived in this house. Only duty called me here.”

“I do not doubt it. We are accustomed to see troops in our homes, though they find only women and children to combat.”

“Who are fearlessly left behind because it is well known that we do not attack the defenseless. True, we have the men to deal with only when they assail us from some safe ambush.”

“We are at war,” said Danira curtly. “Any advantage is allowable in warfare.”

“And who forced this war upon us? We did not seek it, but the enforcement of a law was at stake, a law we could not resign and which is recognized throughout the whole vast empire. Your tribe is the only one that refuses to obey it.”

“Because the free sons of the mountains cannot and will not bow to the yoke. You will try in vain to subdue them.”

The words had a sharper sting than was necessary, for a dark flush, the token of ill-repressed excitement, had long since crimsoned the young officer’s brow, and his answer was cutting in its sharpness.

“We regard military service as an honor, not a yoke. At least it is a duty. Of course the idea of duty does not enter into the unbridled caprice your people call liberty; it must first be taught. But, rely upon it, Fraeulein, we shall teach it yet. I may be permitted to suppose that you are informed of the last events of the campaign, and know that the fate of the insurrection is already decided.”

Danira, of course, knew this, she had even spoken of it to Marco an hour before, but nothing in the world would have induced her to admit it to this man, so with the courage of despair she answered:

“Do not triumph too soon! Marco Obrevic still holds out, and with him the bravest of our people. They can die, but they will not surrender.”

Gerald started at the name; a strangely gloomy, searching glance rested on the young girl.

“Marco Obrevic!” he repeated. “So you know him very well?”

“He is my brother’s friend.”

“And owes you his freedom for the plan of escape was doubtless your work?”

“At least I had a share in it. True, Marco’s liberty was purchased at a high price, it cost him his father and our tribe a chief. Joan Obrevic fell by your bullet.”

“I did my duty, and besides, the fugitives fired at me first. I will repeat the words you just uttered: we are at war.”

Reproach and retort sounded equally bitter and hostile, and the manner of both was as rigid and implacable as if they were really mortal foes, yet their eyes spoke a very different language from that of hate. Gerald could not avert his gaze from the beautiful, hostile face; he had forgotten everything else, even the summons of his wounded comrade, and only sought the eyes which shunned his, yet as though attracted by some magnetic power, constantly returned to them.

“I do not reproach you for that accident,” said Danira, and for the first time her tone sounded more gentle. “But you too have doubtless now recalled the charge you hurled at me then with such scathing fury. The purpose for which I used my knowledge of the place and circumstances was only to effect Obrevic’s escape. My people called upon me to do it, and summoned me to return to them they had a right to ask both.”

“If you admit the right certainly. Only it is strange that your kindred left you so long in the home and under the charge of an alien, that they did not inquire about you once during all those years. Not until they needed you did they find the way to reach you, though, according to appearances, it was so easily discovered. Up to that time your relatives had forgotten you and did not know whether you were alive or dead.”

The taunt struck home; Danira’s haughty head drooped. It was needless to tell her that she had been only a means to an end she had known it long before. Gerald advanced a step nearer, and his voice also lost its icy tone as he continued:

“No matter, you have made your choice and returned to your home are you happy?”

“I am free! That is all I ask.”

“And how long will you remain so? During our expeditions I have gained an insight into the customs of the country and know the fate to which they condemn women. As soon as you marry, this lot will be yours. Is it possible that a high-spirited girl, with this energetic will and ardent desire for freedom, can endure to be, not the companion, but the slave of a rough, fierce man, who does not even know the name of intellectual needs and will pitilessly trample upon every higher emotion, because he values only the capacity for work she shares with his domestic animals, who daily ”

“Stop that is not true!” Danira vehemently interrupted, for she felt whom he was describing, though no name was spoken. But the young officer did not allow himself to be checked, and added with marked emphasis:

“It is true, and of this truth you will perish. Deny it as you will, the charm with which your imagination invested your home has vanished, must have vanished at the moment when you beheld the reality, and the chasm which formerly apparently divided you from us, yawned a gigantic abyss on the other side. You can no longer descend to these people with their brutal customs. You are ours; in every thought and feeling you belong to us, but you have all the defiance of your race, which will bleed and die rather than submit to a higher law.”

He had spoken with increasing excitement, and Danira no longer tried to interrupt him; these were her own thoughts, her own dread which had just forced themselves upon her with such annihilating power. Word after word fell from his lips as if he had been listening to her; she could no longer deny their truth, nay, did not wish to do so.

She slowly raised her head, but a dark fire was glowing in her eyes. Gerald could not help thinking again of the tempestuous night illumined by flashes of lightning. His pitiless words had, roused, with the young girl’s pride, all her former energy; she drew herself up to her full height.

“Perhaps you are right! Well, then, I am a daughter of my race and can bleed and die I cannot submit. If my birth and my education brought me into perpetual conflict with myself, I have solved it by returning here, and this decision is to me irrevocable. I cannot have only half my heart here as well as there; I have made my choice, and if it costs me happiness and life, be it so, I will die by it.”

There was such unyielding resolution in the words that Gerald did not even attempt a reply. He gazed silently at the young girl, who stood before him so pale and gloomy; then his eyes wandered slowly around the squalid room, with its smoking fire and smoke-blackened walls, and a vague presentiment stole over him that this external and internal conflict could end only with life.

“So I am to part from you as a foe, for I still remain one in your eyes,” he said at last. “Danira, have you really no other word of farewell for me?”

An expression of passionate grief flashed into the girl’s face for one moment, but she quickly repressed the gentler emotion, and the next moment her features revealed nothing but iron harshness and cold aversion.

“I fear, Herr von Steinach, that I have already detained you too long from your ‘duty.’ I must remind you of it, apparently. You have doubtless come to occupy the village with your men. We have no arms against superior numbers; the house is open!”

Gerald stepped back. The sharp admonition showed him that any attempt at conciliation would be vain, and he, too, could be proud to sternness.

“You are mistaken, Fraeulein,” he replied. “I do not come on military duty. I am in search of a wounded comrade here in the hamlet, whom I expected to find in this house. At any rate, I beg you to give me news of him.”

“A wounded officer? There is some misunderstanding. No Austrian is here.”

“But our troops occupied the village this morning. We have positive news of that.”

“Yes, but in less than an hour they left it and marched on.”

“And the wounded man?”

“They left no one behind, and had no wounded with them. See for yourself; there are none of your men in the village.”

At this moment the door opened and George appeared, but, mindful of the rebuff just received, he paused on the threshold, saying:

“Herr Lieutenant, I only wanted to report that this business looks worse and worse. There is not a sentinel, not a comrade to be seen in the whole accursed den. Our rascally guide has made off, and here in this house” he darted an extremely hostile glance at Danira “here the witchcraft is doubtless in full swing. Don’t send me away again, Herr Lieutenant; it is better for us two to keep together if trouble comes.”

Danira suddenly started, and a look of mortal terror rested on Gerald as she repeated:

“Us two? For Heaven’s sake! Herr von Steinach, you are here at the head of your men, or at least you have a sufficient escort?”

“No; I am alone with George, as you see.”

The girl turned deadly pale.

“And you venture thus into a hostile place? At night? This is more than foolhardy.”

“I expected to find our men here, and the message was so positive, so unequivocal ”

“Who brought it? Were you the only person summoned? Where is the guide? Did you notice nothing suspicious on the way?”

The questions succeeded each other in such breathless, anxious haste that Gerald at last began to understand the gravity of the situation. His hand involuntarily grasped the hilt of his sword more firmly as he replied:

“The summons was to me only, and I should have obeyed it alone had not George insisted upon accompanying me. We were not attacked on the way. Nothing occurred to rouse our suspicions except the mysterious disappearance of our guide, but he brought me trustworthy credentials, my comrade’s portfolio and notes.”

“That proves nothing. They may have been stolen, taken from a dead body. The whole story is a falsehood, a device to lure you here.”

“But who can have any interest in bringing me ” Gerald began, but Danira passionately interrupted:

“Do you ask that question? Marco Obrevic has sworn vengeance upon you! He will keep his vow you are lost!”

The young officer turned pale. The words suddenly revealed the terrible danger impending. But George, with a sort of agreeable horror, remarked:

“Didn’t I say so? Now we’re in the trap.”

Gerald needed but an instant to regain his composure. He drew himself up to his full height, and the red flush of anger crimsoned his face.

“A shameful plot! Well, then, we must defend ourselves to the last breath. We will sell our lives dearly, George. The assassins won’t find it so easy to destroy us.”

“I’ll take care of a few of them!” cried George, in whom wrath had now gained the upper hand. “Just let the murderous rabble come! My lieutenant and I will fight the whole band.”

“No, no; here any resistance would be vain,” replied Danira. “If Marco comes he will come with ten times your number, and fighting would be impossible. You would be dragged down, overpowered, and then the living ”

She did not finish the sentence, but paused with a shudder, which the two men, who knew how the war was conducted on the part of the natives, could easily interpret.

“No matter, we will fight,” said Gerald, resolutely. “Let us get out of doors, George. There will be more chance there, and perhaps we may be able to force our way back.”

He turned toward the door, but Danira barred his way.

“Impossible! You will go to certain death. Marco does nothing by halves. He already knows that you have obeyed the summons, and has barricaded your way in every direction. There is but one path of escape, at least for the moment.”

She hurried through the room, hastily and softly opened the door of the dark ante-chamber where her sister-in-law slept, and listened a few moments to the deep, regular breathing of the young wife, who had not been roused by the strangers’ arrival. The whistling and howling of the bora had completely drowned the conversation.

Danira softly closed the door, and returned to Gerald’s side.

“Will you follow me and trust me trust me absolutely?”

Gerald’s eyes met those of the young girl who, but a few minutes before, had confronted him with such rigid, unyielding sternness, yet had seemed completely transformed from the instant that danger threatened him. He saw the entreaty in the large dark eyes, and in the midst of hostility and mortal peril the glance fell like a ray of sunshine on the young man’s soul. He knew now for whom she was anxious.

“I will follow you, though it should be to death!” he said, extending his hand.

“Herr Lieutenant!” cried George, fairly frantic with fear, for he was firmly convinced that this blind confidence would lead Gerald straight to destruction.

“Be silent and obey,” Gerald ordered. “Yet I will not force you to follow. Stay behind, if you choose.”

“I’ll go with you,” said the brave fellow, whose love for his officer was even greater than his superstition. “Where you are, I’ll be also, and if you can’t help it and must go straight into the witches’ caldron why, go, in God’s name, and I’ll go too.”

Gerald loosed his sword in its sheath and examined his pistols; then they left the house and the young officer unconsciously drew a long, deep breath as they emerged from the small, close room, with its smoking fire and stifling atmosphere. Outside, storm, darkness and mortal peril surrounded his every step, but for the first time he felt Danira’s hand in his, and climbed by her side to the edge of the ravine.