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

For nearly half an hour the little group pressed forward in a direction exactly opposite to the one by which Gerald had come to the village. Danira led the way and the others followed, but scarcely a word was exchanged, for all three had great difficulty in breasting the storm, which grew more violent every moment.

Yet this tempest was not like those that raged in the mountains of their native Tyrol, with hurrying clouds, mists, and showers of rain that wrapped the earth in their veil, where the forests shuddered and trembled, and the uproar of the elements seemed to transform all nature into chaos. Here no cloud dimmed the clear azure of the sky, in which the stars were shining brightly, and the moonlight rested clear and radiant on the rocky heights, stretching into infinite distance, rugged and cleft into a thousand rifts that intersected them in every direction; but the white moonbeams and the deep black shadows of the chasms everywhere revealed the same desolation.

Here no forest rustled, no reed quivered in the wind. The hurricane roared over the earth as if the spirits of destruction had been let loose and were now sweeping on in search of their prey, but its might was baffled by the cold, lifeless stone that could neither be stirred nor shaken.

There was something uncanny and terrible in this rigid repose amidst the fierce raging of the tempest, it seemed as though all nature was spell-bound in a death-slumber which nothing could break. Wildly as the bora raved, the earth made no response, it remained under the icy ban.

Again the trio pressed on through hurricane and moonlight, still farther into the wilderness. It seemed to the men as though they must long since have lost their way and there was no escape from this desert where one ridge rose beyond another in perpetual, horrible monotony, but Danira walked on undisturbed without once hesitating. At last she stopped and turned.

“We have reached our goal,” she said, pointing down into the depths below. “There is the Vila spring.”

Gerald paused to take breath, and his eyes wandered in the direction indicated. The ground suddenly sloped sheer down and he saw at his feet a chasm, close by a huge, projecting rock. It was a strange formation of stone, towering upward in broad massive outlines, curiously jagged at the top, the peak inclined so far forward that it looked as if it must break off and fall. Beyond this gateway the ravine appeared to widen, for they saw the moonlight glitter on some rippling water.

“Must we go down there?” George asked his lieutenant, doubtfully, in a low tone. “The rock hangs over like one of our bunches of ripe grapes at home. I believe it will drop on our heads as soon as we come near it. Everything in Krivoscia is spiteful, even the stones.”

“The rock will not fall,” replied Danira, who had heard the words, “it has hung so for centuries, and no storm has ever shaken it. Follow us.”

She had already descended and Gerald followed without hesitation. They both passed the rock gateway and George could not help joining them. He cast one more suspicious glance upward; for he had become accustomed to regard everything in this country as a personal foe, but the rocky peak, by way of exception, showed no disposition to molest him, and remained quietly in its threatening attitude.

The distance was not very great. In a few minutes both reached the bottom of the cliffs and stood in a ravine which widened rapidly above, but was accessible only through the rock gateway. Here too flowed the water they had seen above, one of the little streams which often burst suddenly out of the rocky soil of the Karst and in a short time as suddenly vanish again. Even here the water preserved its beneficent power, for fresh grass was growing around it, thin and scanty, it is true, but a sign of life amid this petrified nature, and there was life also in the clear waves which, with a low ripple and murmur, made a channel down the ravine.

Danira, with a sigh of relief, leaned against the cliff. The exhaustion of the rapid walk or excitement had made the girl tremble from head to foot, and she really seemed to need the support.

“We have reached the spot,” she said, softly. “Here you are safe.”

Gerald, who meantime had scanned the surroundings, shook his head doubtfully.

“The safety will last only until our place of refuge is discovered, and that will soon be done. Obrevic knows every defile as well as you, as soon as he has searched the village he will follow on our track without delay.”

“Certainly. But he will halt before that rock gateway, he will not enter the precincts of the Vila spring, for then he would be obliged to give you his hand in friendship; that hand cannot be raised against you here. Fierce and revengeful as Marco may be, even he will not dare to break the spell of peace that rests upon this spot.”

The young officer started and again cast a searching glance around the ravine.

“So that is why you brought us here? But what protects this place which is to shield us?”

“I do not know. Legend, tradition, superstition probably wove the spell centuries ago enough that the charm still exists in all its ancient power. Even in my childhood I knew of the Vila spring and its spell of peace. Afterward, when far away, the memory sometimes came back to me like a half-forgotten legend that belonged to the realm of fairy-land. Since my return I have known that the tale contains a saving truth. The spring is more sacred than the threshold of any church. Here even the murderer, the betrayer is safe. Here, the vendetta itself, that terrible family law of our people, must pause. No one has yet dared to violate the charm, and if any one tried it, he would be outlawed by all the members of the tribe.”

“And you believe that this spell will guard even the foreigner, the foe?”


The answer was so firm that Gerald made no objection, though he doubted it.

“One mystery more in this mysterious land!” he said, slowly. “We will wait to see how it will be solved for us. We were treacherously lured into an ambush, and stand alone against a horde of enemies, so it will be no cowardice to trust ourselves to such protection.”

He looked around him for George, who had instantly taken the practical side of the affair, and carefully and thoroughly searched the whole ravine. Finding nothing suspicious, he had climbed a large boulder, and stationed himself at a point from which he could watch at the same time the entrance and his lieutenant, for he still dreaded some piece of witchcraft from Danira. Unfortunately, he could not hear what was passing between the pair. The wind was blowing too violently; but he could at least keep them in view. So he stood at his post firm and fearless, ready to defend himself like a man and a soldier against any intruding foe, and at the same time come to his lieutenant’s aid with his whole stock of Christianity in case the latter should be treacherously seized by the Evil One from behind the brave fellow feared neither death nor devil.

Gerald had approached Danira, who still leaned against the cliff, but she drew back. The mute gesture was so resolute in its denial that he dared not advance nearer. The deliverance she had bestowed only seemed to have raised one more barrier between them. He felt this, and fixed a reproachful glance upon her as he retired.

Danira either did not or would not see it, although the moonlight clearly illumined the features of both. Hastily, as though to anticipate any warmer words, she asked:

“Where are your men?”

“At the fort. We returned there after the expedition of the morning, and the troops to whom we brought assistance with us.”

“And nothing is known of your danger?

“On the contrary, I am supposed to be in perfect safety. The shameful plot was so cleverly devised. A dying comrade, who wished to place a last commission in my hands, his portfolio as a credential. The village we all thought still occupied by our men named. Obrevic was cautious enough, though it would have been more manly to have sought me in open battle, I certainly did not shun him. He preferred to act like an assassin, though he calls himself a warrior and a chief.”

Danira’s brow darkened, but she gently shook her head.

“You reckon with your ideas of honor. Here it is different, only the act is important; no account is taken of the means. Joan Obrevic fell by your hand, and his son must avenge him; that is the law of the race. How, Marco does not ask; he knows but one purpose, the destruction of his foe; and, if he cannot accomplish it in open warfare, he resorts to stratagem. I heard the vow he made when we entered our native mountains on the morning after his escape, and he will fulfil it, though it should bring destruction on his own head. That is why you are safe here only for the time. I know Marco, and while he will not dare to approach the Vila spring, he will guard the entrance, actually besiege you here until desperation urges you to some reckless step by which you will fall into his hands. Your comrades must be informed at any cost.”

“That is impossible! Who should, who could carry such a message?”


“What, you would ”

“I will do nothing by halves, and your rescue is but half accomplished if no aid comes from without. But I must wait till Marco has reached the village; he will search every hut, examine every stone in it, and meanwhile I shall gain time to go.”

“Never!” cried Gerald. “I will not permit it. You might meet Obrevic, and I, too, know him. If he should guess nay, even suspect, your design, he would kill you.”

“Certainly he would!” said Danira, coldly. “And he would do right.”


“If Marco punished treason with death he would be in the right, and I should not flinch from the blow. I am calling the foe to the aid of a foe; that is treason; I know it.”

“Then why do you save me at such a price?” asked the young officer, fixing his eyes intently upon her.

“Because I must.”

The words did not sound submissive but harsh. They contained a sullen rebellion against the power which had fettered not only the girl’s will but her whole nature, and which enraged her even while she yielded to it. She had brought the foreigner, the foe, to the sacred spring, although she knew that such a rescue would be considered treachery and desecration; she was ready to sacrifice everything for him, yet at the same moment turned almost with hatred from him and his love.

The bora could not penetrate the depths of the ravine, but it raged all the more fiercely on the upper heights, roaring around the peaks as if it would hurl them downward. Old legends relate that, on such tempestuous nights, the spirits of all the murdered men whose blood has ever reddened the earth are abroad, and it really seemed as though spectral armies were fighting in the air and sweeping madly onward. Sometimes it sounded as if thousands of voices, jeering, threatening, hissing, blended in one confused medley, till at last all united with the raving and howling into a fierce melody, a song of triumph, which celebrated only destruction and ruin.

What else could have been its theme in this land where the people were as rigid and pitiless as the nature that surrounded them? Here conflict was the sole deliverance. A fierce defiance of all control, even that of law and morals, a bloody strife, and humiliating defeat. So it had been from the beginning, so it was now, and if the legendary ghosts were really sweeping by on the wings of the blast, they were still fighting, even in death.

Yet amid this world of battle, the Vila spring cast its spell of peace. Whence it came, who had uttered it, no one knew. The origin was lost in the dim shadows of the past, but the pledge was kept with the inviolable fidelity with which all uncultured races cling to their traditions. Perhaps it was an instinct of the people that had formerly erected this barrier against their own arbitrary will and fierceness, and guarded at least one spot of peace be that as it may, the place was guarded, and the rude sons of the mountains bowed reverently to the enchanted precinct, whose spell no hostile deed had ever violated.

The moon was now high in the heavens, and her light poured full into the ravine.

The bluish, spectral radiance streamed upon the dark cliffs and wove a silvery veil upon the clear waters of the spring, which flowed on untroubled by all the raging of the tempest. Above were storm and strife, and here below, under the shelter of the towering rocks, naught save a faint murmuring and rippling that seemed to whisper a warning to give up conflict and make peace beside the spring of peace.

“You must!” said Gerald, repeating Danira’s last words. “And I too must. I too have struggled and striven against a power that fettered my will, but I no longer hate that power as you do. Why should we keep this useless barrier of hostility between us; we both know that it will not stand; we have tried it long enough. I heard the cry that escaped your lips when I so unexpectedly crossed the threshold of your house. It was my own name, and the tone was very different from that hard, stern, ‘I must.’”

Danira made no reply; she had turned away, yet could not escape his voice, his eyes. The low, half choked utterance forced a way to her heart; in vain she pressed both hands upon it. That voice found admittance, and she heard it amid all the raging of the storm.

“From the day I entered your mountain home one image stood before my soul, one thought filled it to see you again, Danira! I knew we must meet some day. Why did you leave me that message? You would not take my contempt with you, though you defied the opinion of every one else. The words haunted me day and night! I could not forget them, they decided my destiny.”

“It was a message of farewell,” the young girl murmured in a half stifled tone. “I never expected to see you again, and I gave it to your promised wife.”

“Edith is no longer betrothed to me,” said the young officer, in a hollow tone.

Danira started in sudden, terror-stricken surprise.

“No longer betrothed to you? For heaven’s sake, what has happened? You have severed the tie.”

“No, Edith did it, and for the first time I realize how entirely she was in the right. Those laughing, untroubled, childish eyes gazed deep into my heart; they guessed what at that time I myself did not, or would not know. True, her father left me the option of returning if I could conquer the ‘dream.’ I could not, and now by all that is sacred to me I no longer wish to do so. What is the reality, the happiness of a whole life, compared with the dream of this moment, for which, perhaps, I must sacrifice existence? But I no longer complain of the stratagem that lured me here; it gave me this meeting, a meeting not too dearly purchased by the mortal peril that now surrounds me, nay, by death itself.”

It was really Gerald von Steinach whose lips uttered these words, Gerald von Steinach, the cool, circumspect man with the icy eyes, who could not love.

They now flowed in a fiery stream from his lips and kindled a responsive flame in Danira’s soul. Her strength could no longer hold out against this language of passion, and when Gerald approached her a second time, she did not shrink from him, though the hand he clasped trembled in his.

“Perhaps I may bring you death!” she said softly, but with deep sorrow. “It is my destiny to cause misfortune everywhere. Had I left Cattaro even a few weeks earlier, we should never have seen each other and you would have been happy by Edith’s side. I know she merely entrenched herself behind caprices and obstinacy; her heart belongs to the man who was destined to be her husband. It is the first true, deep feeling of her life, the awakening from the dream of childhood. She is now experiencing her first bitter grief through me. And yet she is the only creature I have ever loved.”

She tried to withdraw her hand, but in vain. He would not release it, and only bent toward her, so close that his breath fanned her cheek.

“The only creature? Danira, shall not even this hour bring us truth? Who knows how short may be the span of life allotted to me? I do not believe Obrevic’s fierceness and thirst for vengeance will be stayed by this spot, and am prepared to fall a victim to his fury. But I must once more hear my name from your lips as you uttered it just now. You must not refuse that request. If, even now, in the presence of death, they sternly withhold the confession of love, be it so, I will not ask it but you must call me what my mother calls me you must say this once: ‘Gerald.’”

His voice trembled with passionate entreaty. It seemed vain, for Danira remained silent and motionless a few seconds longer. At last she slowly turned her face to his, and gazing deep into his eyes, said:


It was only one word, yet it contained all the confession so ardently desired, the most absolute devotion, the cry of happiness, and with an exclamation of rapturous joy Gerald clasped the woman he loved to his breast.

The storm raged above them, and mortal peril waved dark wings over their heads; but amid the tempest and the shadow of death a happiness was unfolded which swallowed up every memory of the past, every thought of the future. Gerald and Danira no longer heeded life or death, and had a bloody end confronted them at that moment they would have faced it with radiant joy in their hearts.

“I thank you!” said Gerald, fervently, but without releasing the girl from his embrace. “Now, come what may, I am prepared.”

The words recalled Danira to the reality of their situation; she started.

“You are right, we must meet what is coming; I must go.”

“Go! At the moment we have found each other? And am I to let you face a peril I cannot share?”

Danira gently but firmly released herself from his arms.

“You are in danger, Gerald, not I, for I know every path of my ‘mountain home,’ and shall avoid Marco, who has now had time to reach the village. Have no fear, your safety is at stake, I will be cautious. Yet, before I go, promise me not to leave the Vila spring; let no stratagem, no threat lure you away. Here alone can you and your companion find safety and deliverance, one step beyond that rock gateway and you will be lost.”

The young officer gazed anxiously and irresolutely at the speaker. True, he told himself that she would be safe; even if she met his pursuers no one would suspect whence she came or where she was going, and a pretext was easily found. If she remained with him she must share his fate and perhaps be the first victim of her tribe’s revenge, yet it was unspeakably difficult for him to part from the happiness he had scarcely won.

“I will not leave the spring,” he answered. “Do you think I want to die now? I never so loved life as at this moment when my Danira is its prize, and I am ready to fight for it I shall be fighting for my happiness and future.”

His glance again sought hers, which no longer shunned it, but the large dark eyes rested on his features with a strange expression a look at once gentle, yet gloomy and fraught with pain; it had not a ray of the happiness so brightly evident in his words.

“The price of your life!” she repeated. “Yes, Gerald, I will be that with my whole heart, and now farewell!”

“Farewell! God grant that you may reach the fort safely; once there my comrades will know how to protect my preserver from the vengeance of her people.”

He spoke unsuspiciously and tenderly, but he must have unwittingly stirred those dark depths in the girl’s nature, which were mysterious even to him. Danira started as though an insult had been hurled in her face; the old fierceness seemed about to break forth again, but it was only a moment ere the emotion was suppressed.

“I need their protection as little as I fear the vengeance directed against myself alone! Farewell, Gerald; once more farewell!”

The young officer again clasped her in his arms. He did not hear the pain of parting in the words, only the deep, devoted love, still so new to him from Danira. But she scarcely allowed him a moment for his leave-taking, but tore herself away, as if she feared to prolong it.

He saw her bend over the spring, while her lips moved as though she were commending her lover to its protection. Then she hastily climbed the cliff, and vanished through the dark rock gateway.

At the top of the height Danira paused. Only one moment’s rest after this mute, torturing conflict! She alone knew what this parting meant. Gerald did not suspect that it was an eternal farewell, or he never would have permitted her to quit his side.

In spite of all, he did not know Danira Hersovac. She had, it is true, become a stranger to her people, out of harmony with all their customs and opinions, while her own thoughts and feelings were in the camp of the foe from whom she had once so defiantly fled, but the mighty, viewless tie of blood still asserted its power, and called what she was in the act of doing by the terrible name, treason.

She was going to summon the foreign troops to Gerald’s aid, and if Marco held out and hold out he would blood would be shed for the sake of one who should not, must not die, though his rescue should cost the highest price.

From the moment Danira knew that this rescue was solely in her hands she no longer had a choice. Save him she must! It was a necessity to which she helplessly bowed, but to live on with the memory of what had happened and be happy by her lover’s side the thought did not enter the girl’s mind.

The dead chief’s daughter might commit the treason, but she could also expiate it. When Gerald was once rescued and in safety, she would go back to her brother and Marco, the head of the tribe, and confess what she had done. The traitress would meet death, she knew so much the better. Then the perpetual discord between her birth and her education would be forever ended.

She cast one more glance into the ravine, where the water of the Vila spring was shimmering in the moonlight. Mysteriously born of the rocky soil, it appeared but once, gazed but once at the light to vanish again in subterranean chasms, yet its short course was a blessing to every one who approached it. Here, too, it had bestowed a brief, momentary happiness, which had only glittered once and must now end in separation and death; yet it outweighed a whole existence.

The invisible hosts were still contending in the air, their jeering, threatening voices still blended in the fierce chant of destruction and ruin. Danira was familiar with the legends of her home, and understood the menace of the tempest. She raised her head haughtily as if in answer.

“Vain! I will not let myself be stopped! If I commit the treason, I have pronounced my own doom, and Marco will pitilessly execute it. God himself would need to descend from heaven to secure my pardon. You shall be saved, Gerald; I will be what I promised the price of your life!”

She hurried onward through the storm-swept, moonlit waste of rocks to the rescue.