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

The two men were now alone in the ravine, but the young officer’s gaze still rested on the spot where Danira had vanished. He did not notice that George had climbed down from his bowlder and approached him, until the worthy fellow made his presence known by a heavy sigh which attracted his attention, and he asked:

“What ails you?”

George made the regulation military salute.

“Herr Lieutenant, I wanted to respectfully report I couldn’t hear anything up there, but I saw the whole affair.”

“Indeed? Well, that alters nothing, though I did not particularly desire your presence. To be sure, I had entirely forgotten you.”

“I believe so!” said George, sighing a second time, and even more piteously. “You had forgotten everything. If all Krivoscia had come up and made an end of us I don’t think you would have even noticed it. But I at least kept watch and prayed constantly for the salvation of your soul, but it did no good.”

“That was very kind of you!” replied Gerald, who was completely possessed by the arrogance of happiness which raised him far above all anxiety or thought of peril. “I certainly had no time for that, since, as you saw, I was pledging my troth.”

“Herr Gerald!” In his despair George forgot respect and used the old familiar name. “Herr Gerald by all the saints this is awful!”

“To betroth one’s self in the presence of mortal danger? It is certainly unusual, but the time and place cannot always be chosen.”

This had not been George’s meaning. He thought the fact terrible in itself, and with a face better suited to funereal condolence than congratulation he said:

“I’ve long known it! I said day before yesterday to Father Leonhard: ’Take heed, your reverence, some misfortune will happen! And if it does all Tyrol will be turned topsy-turvy and Castle Steinach to boot ’”

“Let them! then.”

“‘And the blow will kill his mother,’” George continued, pursuing the current of his mournful prophecies.

“My mother!” said Gerald, who had suddenly grown grave. “Yes, I shall have a hard struggle with her. No matter! The battle must be fought. Not a word more, George!” he cried, interrupting the young soldier, who was about to speak. “You know I submit to many liberties of speech from you where the matter concerns only myself, but there my indulgence ends. From this moment you must respect in Danira Hersovac my future wife: remember it and govern yourself accordingly.”

“Perhaps we shall both be killed first!” said George, in a tone which seemed to imply that it would afford him special consolation. “I don’t believe this bewitched spring is a protection against murder, and if the enemy doesn’t finish us, the confounded rock hanging in the air yonder will. It moved when the bora just blew so madly. I saw it distinctly. It actually nodded to me, as if it wanted to say: ’Just wait, I’ll drop down on your heads!’”

He pointed upward and Gerald’s eyes followed the direction indicated. The white moonbeams flooded the dark stone without being able to lend it any light. Gloomy and threatening, like a gigantic shadow, the rock overhung the entrance of the ravine, and the shimmering moon-rays produced such an illusion that it seemed to the young officer as though the summit had actually sunk lower and the opening had grown smaller, but he shook his head in denial.

“Nonsense! Surely you heard that the rock had leaned so for centuries. It has endured far different storms from this one; even the fiercest bora can do nothing against this unyielding stone. At any rate this is our best position for defense. Our backs are protected, and we can watch the approach of the enemy hark! What was that? Did you hear nothing?”

The two men listened intently George too had started, for he also had heard a strange noise, but the wind drowned it entirely. A long time passed, then the bora lulled a few minutes, and now they distinctly heard, at no very great distance, the sound of footsteps and voices, which, judging by the echo, belonged to a large body of men.

“There they are!” said Gerald, who, in the presence of danger, had completely regained his coolness; his voice scarcely betrayed a trace of excitement. “Come here by my side, George! We’ll keep together so long as we can hold out. They shall at least see that they have to deal with men who will not let themselves be slaughtered without resistance.”

George accepted the invitation and stationed himself by his lieutenant’s side, but could not help in this critical moment uttering a last hurried prayer to his patron saint.

“Saint George! I’ve never bothered you much with petitions, and always helped myself wherever it was possible, but there’s no chance here. You know I haven’t been a bad fellow, except for my love of brawling and fighting, but you liked it too, Saint George! You always struck about with your sword and hewed down the dragon, so that it could only writhe. So help us fight, or rather fight with us, for we can never conquer alone. And if you will not do that, at least grant us a blessed end, and take the poor little pagan, Jovica, under your protection, so that she can be baptized and meet us some day in heaven Amen!”

Jovica! That was the last thought of the young Tyrolese, even later than his soul’s salvation; he wanted at least to have the satisfaction of seeing her again in heaven.

“Are you ready?” asked Gerald, who had not lost sight of the entrance a moment, though he heard the murmuring of his companion. George drew himself up resolutely.

“Ready, Herr Lieutenant! The praying is finished, now it’s time for the fighting, and I don’t think I shall disgrace my patron saint.”

The men stood side by side, grasping their weapons firmly in their hands ready for an attack, which, it is true, merely afforded them the hope of an honorable death, for if it once came to fighting they were lost, but minute after minute passed, and the assault was not made.

The entrance to the ravine was open and unguarded, and the pursuers had now reached it.

Their voices, raised in loud, angry tones, were distinctly heard in the pauses of the storm, but no one appeared, no one crossed the threshold of the rock gateway; an invisible barrier kept them back.

An anxious quarter of an hour, which seemed endless, passed in this perplexing quiet. Sometimes, single figures, standing in dark, sharp relief against the starry sky, appeared high up on the edge of the ravine, evidently trying to obtain a view of the bottom. Their weapons glittered in the moonlight, but not a shot was fired. At last they vanished again, while the confused roar of the tempest grew still louder and fiercer than before.

“Strange! They really do not dare to approach the spring!” said Gerald in a low tone. “Danira is right, the tradition will be respected, even against the enemy I would not have believed it.”

“This is getting tiresome, Herr Lieutenant,” replied George. “Here we’ve been standing for more than half an hour, perfectly resigned to our fate and ready to be murdered of course, after we’ve killed half a dozen of the enemy and now nothing happens! This is evidently witchcraft. These people fear neither death nor devil, and yet are afraid of water.”

“Then we will remain under the protection of this water. You heard the caution; not a step beyond that rock! Whatever they try, whatever happens, we will not quit the spring until help comes if it comes at all.”

The last words sounded gloomy and despairing, the young officer was thinking of all the possibilities that might detain Danira on her way to the fort, but George said confidently:

“Our comrades won’t leave us in the lurch, nor Saint George either. He will have some consideration and help an honest Tyrolese against this band of murderers. It would have been a pity about us both, Herr Lieutenant. I’m in no hurry to die yet. I think there will be plenty of time for that, fifty years hence, and it would be too bad to have the Moosbach Farm go to strangers.”

With these words George leaned comfortably against the cliff, and began to imagine the fifty years and picture Jovica’s delight when he entered the fort alive and well. He finally came to the conclusion that an earthly meeting of this sort would be preferable to a union in heaven, especially as, owing to his foundling’s paganism, the latter was somewhat doubtful.

Hour after hour elapsed; the night began to wane, the stars shone less brightly, then one by one vanished, and the cold, gray dawn, rested on the earth. The bora, too, had almost ceased. It only blew occasionally in violent gusts that raged with redoubled power, but the pauses between constantly lengthened, the storm was evidently nearly over.

Outside the ravine containing the Vila spring was the band of pursuers who, with dogged, tireless endurance, had waited there for hours. Danira knew her race and especially Marco Obrevic. She was well aware that he would not leave the track of his foe, though he would not dare to approach the spring. In fact he had not yet ventured to do so, but now his unruly nature seemed to triumph over the barrier that restrained it.

A dispute had evidently broken out among the men; their voices rose in loud altercation, Marco’s loudest of all. He was standing in the midst of his companions, towering in height above them all, but his bearing was menacing and defiant, as if he were in the act of carrying out his will by force.

Stephan Hersovac was vainly trying to restore peace.

“Let him go; he only threatens; he will not do it,” he called to the others.

“You will not violate the spring, Marco; the two men in the ravine cannot escape us, but we must wait till ”

“Wait!” interrupted Marco, whose voice betrayed the fury that seethed in his heart. “Haven’t we waited here since midnight? Hell may have revealed the secret to them they know it, they must know it! No wile, no threat will induce them to come forth; they will not quit the spring. Shall we camp here, perhaps for days, till hunger drives them out or until they are missed at the fort and troops come to rescue them. What then?”

“Then the Vila spring will have protected them, and we must submit,” said one of the men, an old mountaineer with iron-gray hair, but a form still vigorous and unbent.

“Never!” cried Marco, furiously “Rather will I strike him down on this spot, though it should cause my own destruction. For months I have sought him and he has ever escaped me. At last I have him in my grasp, and I will not withdraw my hand till it is red with his blood. I have sworn it, and I will keep my oath. No spell protects the man who killed my father and your chief.”

“The Vila spring protects all!” said the same old man with marked emphasis. “Back, Marco! Madman! You will bring misfortune on yourself and on us all, if you break the peace.”

“Do you suppose I am not man enough to fight those two men alone?” sneered Obrevic. “Stay behind! I’ll take the consequences upon myself. Make way, Stephan, I am going into the ravine.”

A threatening murmur rose on all sides against the young chief. The men had followed with eager, passionate approval when he set out to crush his foe. The foreign officer had slain the head of the tribe, they were all summoned to avenge the fallen man first of all, his son. That was a thing imperative, inevitable, which according to their ideas of justice must be done. Each man was ready to aid, and no one scrupled because the victim had been treacherously lured into a trap and was now assailed by greatly superior numbers.

Danira had told the truth; here only the deed was important; how it was accomplished no one cared.

But now the point in question was the violation of an old and sacred tradition, which no one had yet ventured to assail, and superstition, which among uncultured races is even more powerful than religion, stood with threatening aspect between Gerald and his pursuers. The Vila spring was mysteriously associated with all the legends of the country to which it belonged; to violate it was to bring misfortune upon land and people. Only a nature like that of Marco, who knew no law save his own will, could have attempted to rebel against it, and when he did so his comrades seemed on the verge of preventing him by force. Surrounding him they barred his way to the ravine. Weapons flashed and it seemed as though the conflict might end in bloodshed, when Stephan Hersovac again interposed.

“Let us have peace,” he said, placing himself by his friend’s side. “Shall our own blood flow for the sake of an enemy, a stranger? Keep back, Marco, you don’t know what you are doing,” and, lowering his voice so that no one save Obrevic could hear, he added:

“You want to lead us to the attack again to-morrow. Not a man will follow you if you shed blood in this place, you will be outlawed and all will turn from you.”

He had taken the right way to restrain the fierce Obrevic. The latter uttered a suppressed exclamation of fury and clenched his teeth, but he made no further effort to break through the circle that surrounded him. He knew only too well that his disheartened, diminished band followed him reluctantly to the combat in which he meant to deal the enemy one last, desperate blow; that the men saw safety only in surrender. The power of his personal influence still induced them to obey him, but this power would be ended if he actually entered the magic circle with uplifted weapon.

Just at this moment a single figure, apparently a boy, came toward them from the village. It was the shepherd lad who had been sent to carry Gerald the false message, who had served as guide, and then hurried to Marco with the tidings. He ran at full speed to the men, whom he at last reached, panting and breathless.

“Beware, Marco Obrevic!” he gasped, “the soldiers are coming twice your number they are searching for him, the foreign officer and you!”

All started at the unexpected news, but Marco vehemently exclaimed:

“You lie! They cannot have heard yet; they think the village is occupied by their own men. Are they there?”

“No, they passed by without stopping, without asking a question. They are marching to the Vila spring, I heard the name.”

“This is treason. How do they know he is there? They ought to think he is in the village. Who was it took the message to them?”

“Never mind that now,” interrupted Stephan. “You hear that there are twice our number. We cannot fight here, it would be certain destruction. Let us go while we have time.”

“And let him down yonder be free again? I’ll first settle with him and know who is the traitor. Speak, knave, was it you? Did you allow yourself to be bribed and bring the foe upon us? Answer, or you die!”

He had seized the messenger with a rude grasp and was shaking him as if he wished to verify his threat; the boy fell upon his knees.

“I only did what you ordered, nothing more. I waited till I saw the strangers enter Stephan Hersovac’s house. There was no one in it except his wife and Danira.”

“Danira!” repeated Marco, in a hollow, thoughtful tone. “She had disappeared when we came where can she be?”

“Marco, decide!” urged Stephan, impatiently. “The troops are in the village; they may be here in half an hour. Let us go.”

Obrevic did not hear. He was standing motionless with his eyes bent on the ground, as if brooding over some monstrous thought. The instinct of jealousy guided him into the right track, and suddenly, like a flash of lightning, an idea pierced the gloom he guessed the truth.

“Now I know, I know the traitor!” he cried in terrible excitement. “Danira that’s why she trembled and turned pale when I vowed vendetta against this Gerald von Steinach. She wants to save him, even at the cost of treason, but she shall not succeed. He shall fall first by my hand, and then she who is leading the foe upon us. No departure! No retreat! We will stay and await the enemy.”

It was a mad design to enter with his little band upon a conflict with a force double its number, and no prospect existed except certain defeat. All the men felt this, and therefore refused to obey. Impatiently and angrily they clamored for departure, the cry rose on all sides, but in vain.

Since Obrevic had recognized in Gerald his rival, he no longer asked whether he was delivering himself and all his companions to destruction; his hate, inflamed to madness, knew but one thought: revenge.

“Do you not dare hold out?” he shouted. “Cowards! I have long known what was in your minds. If it leads to defeat, to surrender, I shall stay. Out of my path, Stephan! Out of my path, I say do not prevent me, or you shall be the first to fall!”

He swung his sabre threateningly. Stephan drew back. He knew the blind rage that no longer distinguished between friend and foe, and the others, too, knew their leader. No one made any farther opposition, only the old gray-haired mountaineer with the flashing eyes called after him in warning tones:

“Marco Obrevic, beware. The Vila spring allows no vengeance and no blood.”

Marco laughed scornfully.

“Let it prevent me then! If God above should descend from heaven Himself, He will not stay me; I will keep my vow.”

They were almost the same words Danira had uttered in this very spot a few hours before. But what was then a cry of mortal anguish now became a fierce, scornful challenge.

Marco raised his head toward the brightening morning sky as though to hurl the defiance into its face, and with uplifted weapon entered the rocky gateway, the precinct protected by the spell.

Just at that moment the bora again blew one last violent blast, raging over the earth as if all the spirits of evil were abroad. The men had flung themselves on the ground to escape the force of the gale, and the boy did the same.

Then the earth beneath them trembled and shook, while above echoed a sound like thunder. There was a crashing, rumbling, deafening noise as though the whole ravine was falling into ruins then a deep, horrible silence.

Stephan was the first to rise, but his dark face grew ashy pale as he looked around him. The huge gateway created by Nature herself for the ravine, had vanished, and in its place a heap of broken rocks and bowlders barred the entrance. The peak which for centuries had hung down threateningly, had fallen, The Vila spring had guarded its inviolability.

The others also rose, but no one uttered a word. Silent and awe-stricken, they gazed at the mass of ruins and the body of their chief who had been killed by the falling rock. Marco Obrevic lay buried under it. Only a portion of his face was visible, but it was the face of a corpse.

The fierce sons of the mountains were familiar with all the horrors of battle. They looked death in the face daily and hourly, but in the presence of this sign they trembled and the fearful answer their leader’s scoff had received was spoken to them also. All crowded around Stephan Hersovac, the younger and now the only chief of the tribe, and a low, eager consultation took place. But it did not last long, and seemed to end in the most perfect unanimity of opinion. After a few minutes Stephan separated from his companions and approached the edge of the ravine from a different direction.

Here he shouted a few Slavonic words. Gerald, who thoroughly understood the language, answered in the same tongue. Then the leader gave the signal for departure, and the little band marched silently and gloomily away. They could not take Marco’s body with them. It would have required hours to remove the mass of rock that covered the corpse.

Through the pale, gray light of morning appeared the party sent to secure Gerald and George, accompanied by Father Leonhard, who had joined the expedition when he learned its object, and had bravely endured the toilsome march through the night and tempest.

It had gradually grown light, so that everything could be distinctly seen, and the troops perceived Stephan and his men vanish in the distance.

“I hope we have not come too late,” said the officer in command. “There is the enemy. If only they have not done their bloody work.”

“God forbid!” exclaimed the priest. “We have reached the spot, but I don’t see the rock gateway Danira described, there is nothing but a heap of stones. Can we have made a mistake?”

“We shall know immediately. Forward! Let us search the ravine. We must find them, alive or dead.”

The men marched rapidly on, but before it was possible to obtain a glimpse of the ravine, the names of the missing comrades were shouted.

“Herr von Steinach Gerald!” rang at the same instant from the lips of officer and priest, while Bartel, who was also present and had completely forgotten the affectionate admonition of his friend and countryman, called in a most piteous tone:

“George! George Moosbach!”

“Here’s George!” replied the voice of the incorrigible Tyrolese, who had just emerged from the ravine. “And here’s my lieutenant, too, safe and sound. How are you, comrades? I knew it! I knew you wouldn’t leave us in the lurch! And Father Leonhard too! Good-morning, your reverence!”

He climbed on top of the cliff and Gerald appeared behind him. Both received an eager, joyous greeting, and then followed a perfect cross-fire of questions, explanations and reports, but while Gerald was giving his comrade and Father Leonhard a minute description of what had occurred, George seized his countryman by the sleeve and asked excitedly: “Bartel, you’ve come from the fort how is Jovica?”

Father Leonhard also had a similar question to answer. Gerald took the first opportunity to draw him aside and inquire anxiously:

“Where is Danira? Has she returned to the fort?”

“No; after pointing out the way so that we could not miss it, she went back to the village. She did not wish to witness the probable conflict. Gerald, it seems to me that the young girl has a dangerous resolve. Not a word could be won from her about it, but I fear she means to tell her countrymen what she has done, and then she is lost!”

“Not now!” said the young officer, with suppressed emotion. “The war is over, we shall conclude peace. Stephan Hersovac as he marched away called to me that he would come to the fort to-morrow with some of his followers to conduct negotiations. I think he has long desired to do so, but Obrevic’s influence deterred him.

“Thank God! Then he will not avenge on his sister the step he will himself take to-morrow; she could not be induced to remain under our protection.”

“I think she will now confide herself to mine,” said Gerald, with a joyous light sparkling in his eyes. “She must learn this very hour that no blood has flowed here save that of the unhappy man who lies lifeless yonder, and that was shed by no human hand; it was a judgment of God Himself, whom he defied. Your reverence, you have come too late to give the dead chief the last consolations of the church. He died unreconciled to himself and to his God.”

They turned toward the pile of shattered rocks, around which the others had already gathered, but all made way for Father Leonhard.

The priest slowly advanced and gazed down a few seconds at the rigid, blood-stained face, then raising the cross he wore in his girdle and holding it above the dead man he said, with deep solemnity:

“Vengeance is mine! I will repay, saith the Lord.”