The Lady of the Shroud
Part 4 out of 7
creek and note the hard line where the battlements of the Castle cut
the sky, and where the keep towered above the line of black rock,
which in the shadow of the land made an ebon frame for the picture.
When I had seen the same view on former occasions, the line where the
rock rose from the sea was a fringe of white foam. But then, in the
daylight, the sea was sapphire blue; now it was an expanse of dark
blue--so dark as to seem almost black. It had not even the relief of
waves or ripples--simply a dark, cold, lifeless expanse, with no
gleam of light anywhere, of lighthouse or ship; neither was there any
special sound to be heard that one could distinguish--nothing but the
distant hum of the myriad voices of the dark mingling in one
ceaseless inarticulate sound. It was well I had not time to dwell on
it, or I might have reached some spiritually-disturbing melancholy.
Let me say here that ever since I had received my Lady's message
concerning this visit to St. Sava's I had been all on fire--not,
perhaps, at every moment consciously or actually so, but always, as
it were, prepared to break out into flame. Did I want a simile, I
might compare myself to a well-banked furnace, whose present function
it is to contain heat rather than to create it; whose crust can at
any moment be broken by a force external to itself, and burst into
raging, all-compelling heat. No thought of fear really entered my
mind. Every other emotion there was, coming and going as occasion
excited or lulled, but not fear. Well I knew in the depths of my
heart the purpose which that secret quest was to serve. I knew not
only from my Lady's words, but from the teachings of my own senses
and experiences, that some dreadful ordeal must take place before
happiness of any kind could be won. And that ordeal, though method
or detail was unknown to me, I was prepared to undertake. This was
one of those occasions when a man must undertake, blindfold, ways
that may lead to torture or death, or unknown terrors beyond. But,
then, a man--if, indeed, he have the heart of a man--can always
undertake; he can at least make the first step, though it may turn
out that through the weakness of mortality he may be unable to fulfil
his own intent, or justify his belief in his own powers. Such, I
take it, was the intellectual attitude of the brave souls who of old
faced the tortures of the Inquisition.
But though there was no immediate fear, there was a certain doubt.
For doubt is one of those mental conditions whose calling we cannot
control. The end of the doubting may not be a reality to us, or be
accepted as a possibility. These things cannot forego the existence
of the doubt. "For even if a man," says Victor Cousin, "doubt
everything else, at least he cannot doubt that he doubts." The doubt
had at times been on me that my Lady of the Shroud was a Vampire.
Much that had happened seemed to point that way, and here, on the
very threshold of the Unknown, when, through the door which I was
pushing open, my eyes met only an expanse of absolute blackness, all
doubts which had ever been seemed to surround me in a legion. I have
heard that, when a man is drowning, there comes a time when his whole
life passes in review during the space of time which cannot be
computed as even a part of a second. So it was to me in the moment
of my body passing into the church. In that moment came to my mind
all that had been, which bore on the knowledge of my Lady; and the
general tendency was to prove or convince that she was indeed a
Vampire. Much that had happened, or become known to me, seemed to
justify the resolving of doubt into belief. Even my own reading of
the books in Aunt Janet's little library, and the dear lady's
comments on them, mingled with her own uncanny beliefs, left little
opening for doubt. My having to help my Lady over the threshold of
my house on her first entry was in accord with Vampire tradition; so,
too, her flying at cock-crow from the warmth in which she revelled on
that strange first night of our meeting; so, too, her swift departure
at midnight on the second. Into the same category came the facts of
her constant wearing of her Shroud, even her pledging herself, and me
also, on the fragment torn from it, which she had given to me as a
souvenir; her lying still in the glass-covered tomb; her coming alone
to the most secret places in a fortified Castle where every aperture
was secured by unopened locks and bolts; her very movements, though
all of grace, as she flitted noiselessly through the gloom of night.
All these things, and a thousand others of lesser import, seemed, for
the moment, to have consolidated an initial belief. But then came
the supreme recollections of how she had lain in my arms; of her
kisses on my lips; of the beating of her heart against my own; of her
sweet words of belief and faith breathed in my ear in intoxicating
whispers; of . . . I paused. No! I could not accept belief as to
her being other than a living woman of soul and sense, of flesh and
blood, of all the sweet and passionate instincts of true and perfect
And so, in spite of all--in spite of all beliefs, fixed or
transitory, with a mind whirling amid contesting forces and
compelling beliefs--I stepped into the church overwhelmed with that
most receptive of atmospheres--doubt.
In one thing only was I fixed: here at least was no doubt or
misgiving whatever. I intended to go through what I had undertaken.
Moreover, I felt that I was strong enough to carry out my intention,
whatever might be of the Unknown--however horrible, however terrible.
When I had entered the church and closed the heavy door behind me,
the sense of darkness and loneliness in all their horror enfolded me
round. The great church seemed a living mystery, and served as an
almost terrible background to thoughts and remembrances of
unutterable gloom. My adventurous life has had its own schooling to
endurance and upholding one's courage in trying times; but it has its
contra in fulness of memory.
I felt my way forward with both hands and feet. Every second seemed
as if it had brought me at last to a darkness which was actually
tangible. All at once, and with no heed of sequence or order, I was
conscious of all around me, the knowledge or perception of which--or
even speculation on the subject--had never entered my mind. They
furnished the darkness with which I was encompassed with all the
crowded phases of a dream. I knew that all around me were memorials
of the dead--that in the Crypt deep-wrought in the rock below my feet
lay the dead themselves. Some of them, perhaps--one of them I knew--
had even passed the grim portals of time Unknown, and had, by some
mysterious power or agency, come back again to material earth. There
was no resting-place for thought when I knew that the very air which
I breathed might be full of denizens of the spirit-world. In that
impenetrable blackness was a world of imagining whose possibilities
of horror were endless.
I almost fancied that I could see with mortal eyes down through that
rocky floor to where, in the lonely Crypt, lay, in her tomb of
massive stone and under that bewildering coverlet of glass, the woman
whom I love. I could see her beautiful face, her long black lashes,
her sweet mouth--which I had kissed--relaxed in the sleep of death.
I could note the voluminous shroud--a piece of which as a precious
souvenir lay even then so close to my heart--the snowy woollen
coverlet wrought over in gold with sprigs of pine, the soft dent in
the cushion on which her head must for so long have lain. I could
see myself--within my eyes the memory of that first visit--coming
once again with glad step to renew that dear sight--dear, though it
scorched my eyes and harrowed my heart--and finding the greater
sorrow, the greater desolation of the empty tomb!
There! I felt that I must think no more of that lest the thought
should unnerve me when I should most want all my courage. That way
madness lay! The darkness had already sufficient terrors of its own
without bringing to it such grim remembrances and imaginings . . .
And I had yet to go through some ordeal which, even to her who had
passed and repassed the portals of death, was full of fear.
It was a merciful relief to me when, in groping my way forwards
through the darkness, I struck against some portion of the furnishing
of the church. Fortunately I was all strung up to tension, else I
should never have been able to control instinctively, as I did, the
shriek which was rising to my lips.
I would have given anything to have been able to light even a match.
A single second of light would, I felt, have made me my own man
again. But I knew that this would be against the implied condition
of my being there at all, and might have had disastrous consequences
to her whom I had come to save. It might even frustrate my scheme,
and altogether destroy my opportunity. At that moment it was borne
upon me more strongly than ever that this was not a mere fight for
myself or my own selfish purposes--not merely an adventure or a
struggle for only life and death against unknown difficulties and
dangers. It was a fight on behalf of her I loved, not merely for her
life, but perhaps even for her soul.
And yet this very thinking--understanding--created a new form of
terror. For in that grim, shrouding darkness came memories of other
moments of terrible stress.
Of wild, mystic rites held in the deep gloom of African forests,
when, amid scenes of revolting horror, Obi and the devils of his kind
seemed to reveal themselves to reckless worshippers, surfeited with
horror, whose lives counted for naught; when even human sacrifice was
an episode, and the reek of old deviltries and recent carnage tainted
the air, till even I, who was, at the risk of my life, a privileged
spectator who had come through dangers without end to behold the
scene, rose and fled in horror.
Of scenes of mystery enacted in rock-cut temples beyond the
Himalayas, whose fanatic priests, cold as death and as remorseless,
in the reaction of their phrenzy of passion, foamed at the mouth and
then sank into marble quiet, as with inner eyes they beheld the
visions of the hellish powers which they had invoked.
Of wild, fantastic dances of the Devil-worshippers of Madagascar,
where even the very semblance of humanity disappeared in the
fantastic excesses of their orgies.
Of strange doings of gloom and mystery in the rock-perched
monasteries of Thibet.
Of awful sacrifices, all to mystic ends, in the innermost recesses of
Of weird movements with masses of poisonous snakes by the medicine-
men of the Zuni and Mochi Indians in the far south-west of the
Rockies, beyond the great plains.
Of secret gatherings in vast temples of old Mexico, and by dim altars
of forgotten cities in the heart of great forests in South America.
Of rites of inconceivable horror in the fastnesses of Patagonia.
Of . . . Here I once more pulled myself up. Such thoughts were no
kind of proper preparation for what I might have to endure. My work
that night was to be based on love, on hope, on self-sacrifice for
the woman who in all the world was the closest to my heart, whose
future I was to share, whether that sharing might lead me to Hell or
Heaven. The hand which undertook such a task must have no trembling.
Still, those horrible memories had, I am bound to say, a useful part
in my preparation for the ordeal. They were of fact which I had
seen, of which I had myself been in part a sharer, and which I had
survived. With such experiences behind me, could there be aught
before me more dreadful? . . .
Moreover, if the coming ordeal was of supernatural or superhuman
order, could it transcend in living horror the vilest and most
desperate acts of the basest men? . . .
With renewed courage I felt my way before me, till my sense of touch
told me that I was at the screen behind which lay the stair to the
There I waited, silent, still.
My own part was done, so far as I knew how to do it. Beyond this,
what was to come was, so far as I knew, beyond my own control. I had
done what I could; the rest must come from others. I had exactly
obeyed my instructions, fulfilled my warranty to the utmost in my
knowledge and power. There was, therefore, left for me in the
present nothing but to wait.
It is a peculiarity of absolute darkness that it creates its own
reaction. The eye, wearied of the blackness, begins to imagine forms
of light. How far this is effected by imagination pure and simple I
know not. It may be that nerves have their own senses that bring
thought to the depository common to all the human functions, but,
whatever may be the mechanism or the objective, the darkness seems to
people itself with luminous entities.
So was it with me as I stood lonely in the dark, silent church. Here
and there seemed to flash tiny points of light.
In the same way the silence began to be broken now and again by
strange muffled sounds--the suggestion of sounds rather than actual
vibrations. These were all at first of the minor importance of
movement--rustlings, creakings, faint stirrings, fainter breathings.
Presently, when I had somewhat recovered from the sort of hypnotic
trance to which the darkness and stillness had during the time of
waiting reduced me, I looked around in wonder.
The phantoms of light and sound seemed to have become real. There
were most certainly actual little points of light in places--not
enough to see details by, but quite sufficient to relieve the utter
gloom. I thought--though it may have been a mingling of recollection
and imagination--that I could distinguish the outlines of the church;
certainly the great altar-screen was dimly visible. Instinctively I
looked up--and thrilled. There, hung high above me, was, surely
enough, a great Greek Cross, outlined by tiny points of light.
I lost myself in wonder, and stood still, in a purely receptive mood,
unantagonistic to aught, willing for whatever might come, ready for
all things, in rather a negative than a positive mood--a mood which
has an aspect of spiritual meekness. This is the true spirit of the
neophyte, and, though I did not think of it at the time, the proper
attitude for what is called by the Church in whose temple I stood a
As the light grew a little in power, though never increasing enough
for distinctness, I saw dimly before me a table on which rested a
great open book, whereon were laid two rings--one of sliver, the
other of gold--and two crowns wrought of flowers, bound at the
joining of their stems with tissue--one of gold, the other of silver.
I do not know much of the ritual of the old Greek Church, which is
the religion of the Blue Mountains, but the things which I saw before
me could be none other than enlightening symbols. Instinctively I
knew that I had been brought hither, though in this grim way, to be
married. The very idea of it thrilled me to the heart's core. I
thought the best thing I could do would be to stay quite still, and
not show surprise at anything that might happen; but be sure I was
all eyes and ears.
I peered anxiously around me in every direction, but I could see no
sign of her whom I had come to meet.
Incidentally, however, I noticed that in the lighting, such as it
was, there was no flame, no "living" light. Whatever light there was
came muffled, as though through some green translucent stone. The
whole effect was terribly weird and disconcerting.
Presently I started, as, seemingly out of the darkness beside me, a
man's hand stretched out and took mine. Turning, I found close to me
a tall man with shining black eyes and long black hair and beard. He
was clad in some kind of gorgeous robe of cloth of gold, rich with
variety of adornment. His head was covered with a high, over-hanging
hat draped closely with a black scarf, the ends of which formed a
long, hanging veil on either side. These veils, falling over the
magnificent robes of cloth of gold, had an extraordinarily solemn
I yielded myself to the guiding hand, and shortly found myself, so
far as I could see, at one side of the sanctuary.
In the floor close to my feet was a yawning chasm, into which, from
so high over my head that in the uncertain light I could not
distinguish its origin, hung a chain. At the sight a strange wave of
memory swept over me. I could not but remember the chain which hung
over the glass-covered tomb in the Crypt, and I had an instinctive
feeling that the grim chasm in the floor of the sanctuary was but the
other side of the opening in the roof of the crypt from which the
chain over the sarcophagus depended.
There was a creaking sound--the groaning of a windlass and the
clanking of a chain. There was heavy breathing close to me
somewhere. I was so intent on what was going on that I did not see
that one by one, seeming to grow out of the surrounding darkness,
several black figures in monkish garb appeared with the silence of
ghosts. Their faces were shrouded in black cowls, wherein were holes
through which I could see dark gleaming eyes. My guide held me
tightly by the hand. This gave me a feeling of security in the touch
which helped to retain within my breast some semblance of calm.
The strain of the creaking windlass and the clanking chain continued
for so long that the suspense became almost unendurable. At last
there came into sight an iron ring, from which as a centre depended
four lesser chains spreading wide. In a few seconds more I could see
that these were fixed to the corners of the great stone tomb with the
covering of glass, which was being dragged upward. As it arose it
filled closely the whole aperture. When its bottom had reached the
level of the floor it stopped, and remained rigid. There was no room
for oscillation. It was at once surrounded by a number of black
figures, who raised the glass covering and bore it away into the
darkness. Then there stepped forward a very tall man, black-bearded,
and with head-gear like my guide, but made in triple tiers, he also
was gorgeously arrayed in flowing robes of cloth of gold richly
embroidered. He raised his hand, and forthwith eight other black-
clad figures stepped forward, and bending over the stone coffin,
raised from it the rigid form of my Lady, still clad in her Shroud,
and laid it gently on the floor of the sanctuary.
I felt it a grace that at that instant the dim lights seemed to grow
less, and finally to disappear--all save the tiny points that marked
the outline of the great Cross high overhead. These only gave light
enough to accentuate the gloom. The hand that held mine now released
it, and with a sigh I realized that I was alone. After a few moments
more of the groaning of the winch and clanking of the chain there was
a sharp sound of stone meeting stone; then there was silence. I
listened acutely, but could not hear near me the slightest sound.
Even the cautious, restrained breathing around me, of which up to
then I had been conscious, had ceased. Not knowing, in the
helplessness of my ignorance, what I should do, I remained as I was,
still and silent, for a time that seemed endless. At last, overcome
by some emotion which I could not at the moment understand, I slowly
sank to my knees and bowed my head. Covering my face with my hands,
I tried to recall the prayers of my youth. It was not, I am certain,
that fear in any form had come upon me, or that I hesitated or
faltered in my intention. That much I know now; I knew it even then.
It was, I believe, that the prolonged impressive gloom and mystery
had at last touched me to the quick. The bending of the knees was
but symbolical of the bowing of the spirit to a higher Power. When I
had realized that much, I felt more content than I had done since I
had entered the church, and with the renewed consciousness of
courage, took my hands from my face, and lifted again my bowed head.
Impulsively I sprang to my feet and stood erect--waiting. All seemed
to have changed since I had dropped on my knees. The points of light
about time church, which had been eclipsed, had come again, and were
growing in power to a partial revealing of the dim expanse. Before
me was the table with the open book, on which were laid the gold and
silver rings and the two crowns of flowers. There were also two tall
candles, with tiniest flames of blue--the only living light to be
Out of the darkness stepped the same tall figure in the gorgeous
robes and the triple hat. He led by the hand my Lady, still clad in
her Shroud; but over it, descending from the crown of her head, was a
veil of very old and magnificent lace of astonishing fineness. Even
in that dim light I could note the exquisite beauty of the fabric.
The veil was fastened with a bunch of tiny sprays of orange-blossom
mingled with cypress and laurel--a strange combination. In her hand
she carried a great bouquet of the same. Its sweet intoxicating
odour floated up to my nostrils. It and the sentiment which its very
presence evoked made me quiver.
Yielding to the guiding of the hand which held hers, she stood at my
left side before the table. Her guide then took his place behind
her. At either end of the table, to right and left of us, stood a
long-bearded priest in splendid robes, and wearing the hat with
depending veil of black. One of them, who seemed to be the more
important of the two, and took the initiative, signed to us to put
our right hands on the open book. My Lady, of course, understood the
ritual, and knew the words which the priest was speaking, and of her
own accord put out her hand. My guide at the same moment directed my
hand to the same end. It thrilled me to touch my Lady's hand, even
under such mysterious conditions.
After the priest had signed us each thrice on the forehead with the
sign of the Cross, he gave to each of us a tiny lighted taper brought
to him for the purpose. The lights were welcome, not so much for the
solace of the added light, great as that was, but because it allowed
us to see a little more of each other's faces. It was rapture to me
to see the face of my Bride; and from the expression of her face I
was assured that she felt as I did. It gave me an inexpressible
pleasure when, as her eyes rested on me, there grew a faint blush
over the grey pallor of her cheeks.
The priest then put in solemn voice to each of us in turn, beginning
with me, the questions of consent which are common to all such
rituals. I answered as well as I could, following the murmured words
of my guide. My Lady answered out proudly in a voice which, though
given softly, seemed to ring. It was a concern--even a grief--to me
that I could not, in the priest's questioning, catch her name, of
which, strangely enough,--I was ignorant. But, as I did not know the
language, and as the phrases were not in accord literally with our
own ritual, I could not make out which word was the name.
After some prayers and blessings, rhythmically spoken or sung by an
invisible choir, the priest took the rings from the open book, and,
after signing my forehead thrice with the gold one as he repeated the
blessing in each case, placed it on my right hand; then he gave my
Lady the silver one, with the same ritual thrice repeated. I suppose
it was the blessing which is the effective point in making two into
After this, those who stood behind us exchanged our rings thrice,
taking them from one finger and placing them on the other, so that at
the end my wife wore the gold ring and I the silver one.
Then came a chant, during which the priest swung the censer himself,
and my wife and I held our tapers. After that he blessed us, the
responses coming from the voices of the unseen singers in the
After a long ritual of prayer and blessing, sung in triplicate, the
priest took the crowns of flowers, and put one on the head of each,
crowning me first, and with the crown tied with gold. Then he signed
and blessed us each thrice. The guides, who stood behind us,
exchanged our crowns thrice, as they had exchanged the rings; so that
at the last, as I was glad to see, my wife wore the crown of gold,
and I that of silver.
Then there came, if it is possible to describe such a thing, a hush
over even that stillness, as though some form of added solemnity were
to be gone through. I was not surprised, therefore, when the priest
took in his hands the great golden chalice. Kneeling, my wife and I
partook together thrice.
When we had risen from our knees and stood for a little while, the
priest took my left hand in his right, and I, by direction of my
guide, gave my right hand to my wife. And so in a line, the priest
leading, we circled round the table in rhythmic measure. Those who
supported us moved behind us, holding the crowns over our heads, and
replacing them when we stopped.
After a hymn, sung through the darkness, the priest took off our
crowns. This was evidently the conclusion of the ritual, for the
priest placed us in each other's arms to embrace each other. Then he
blessed us, who were now man and wife!
The lights went out at once, some as if extinguished, others slowly
fading down to blackness.
Left in the dark, my wife and I sought each other's arms again, and
stood together for a few moments heart to heart, tightly clasping
each other, and kissed each other fervently.
Instinctively we turned to the door of the church, which was slightly
open, so that we could see the moonlight stealing in through the
aperture. With even steps, she holding me tightly by the left arm--
which is the wife's arm, we passed through the old church and out
into the free air.
Despite all that the gloom had brought me, it was sweet to be in the
open air and together--this quite apart from our new relations to
each other. The moon rode high, and the full light, coming after the
dimness or darkness in the church, seemed as bright as day. I could
now, for the first time, see my wife's face properly. The glamour of
the moonlight may have served to enhance its ethereal beauty, but
neither moonlight nor sunlight could do justice to that beauty in its
living human splendour. As I gloried in her starry eyes I could
think of nothing else; but when for a moment my eyes, roving round
for the purpose of protection, caught sight of her whole figure,
there was a pang to my heart. The brilliant moonlight showed every
detail in terrible effect, and I could see that she wore only her
Shroud. In the moment of darkness, after the last benediction,
before she returned to my arms, she must have removed her bridal
veil. This may, of course, have been in accordance with the
established ritual of her church; but, all the same, my heart was
sore. The glamour of calling her my very own was somewhat obscured
by the bridal adornment being shorn. But it made no difference in
her sweetness to me. Together we went along the path through the
wood, she keeping equal step with me in wifely way.
When we had come through the trees near enough to see the roof of the
Castle, now gilded with the moonlight, she stopped, and looking at me
with eyes full of love, said:
"Here I must leave you!"
"What?" I was all aghast, and I felt that my chagrin was expressed
in the tone of horrified surprise in my voice. She went on quickly:
"Alas! It is impossible that I should go farther--at present!"
"But what is to prevent you?" I queried. "You are now my wife. This
is our wedding-night; and surely your place is with me!" The wail in
her voice as she answered touched me to the quick:
"Oh, I know, I know! There is no dearer wish in my heart--there can
be none--than to share my husband's home. Oh, my dear, my dear, if
you only knew what it would be to me to be with you always! But
indeed I may not--not yet! I am not free! If you but knew how much
that which has happened to-night has cost me--or how much cost to
others as well as to myself may be yet to come--you would understand.
Rupert"--it was the first time she had ever addressed me by name, and
naturally it thrilled me through and through--"Rupert, my husband,
only that I trust you with all the faith which is in perfect love--
mutual love, I dare not have done what I have done this night. But,
dear, I know that you will bear me out; that your wife's honour is
your honour, even as your honour is mine. My honour is given to
this; and you can help me--the only help I can have at present--by
trusting me. Be patient, my beloved, be patient! Oh, be patient for
a little longer! It shall not be for long. So soon as ever my soul
is freed I shall come to you, my husband; and we shall never part
again. Be content for a while! Believe me that I love you with my
very soul; and to keep away from your dear side is more bitter for me
than even it can be for you! Think, my dear one, I am not as other
women are, as some day you shall clearly understand. I am at the
present, and shall be for a little longer, constrained by duties and
obligations put upon me by others, and for others, and to which I am
pledged by the most sacred promises--given not only by myself, but by
others--and which I must not forgo. These forbid me to do as I wish.
Oh, trust me, my beloved--my husband!"
She held out her hands appealingly. The moonlight, falling through
the thinning forest, showed her white cerements. Then the
recollection of all she must have suffered--the awful loneliness in
that grim tomb in the Crypt, the despairing agony of one who is
helpless against the unknown--swept over me in a wave of pity. What
could I do but save her from further pain? And this could only be by
showing her my faith and trust. If she was to go back to that
dreadful charnel-house, she would at least take with her the
remembrance that one who loved her and whom she loved--to whom she
had been lately bound in the mystery of marriage--trusted her to the
full. I loved her more than myself--more than my own soul; and I was
moved by pity so great that all possible selfishness was merged in
its depths. I bowed my head before her--my Lady and my Wife--as I
"So be it, my beloved. I trust you to the full, even as you trust
me. And that has been proven this night, even to my own doubting
heart. I shall wait; and as I know you wish it, I shall wait as
patiently as I can. But till you come to me for good and all, let me
see you or hear from you when you can. The time, dear wife, must go
heavily with me as I think of you suffering and lonely. So be good
to me, and let not too long a time elapse between my glimpses of
hope. And, sweetheart, when you DO come to me, it shall be for
ever!" There was something in the intonation of the last sentence--I
felt its sincerity myself--some implied yearning for a promise, that
made her beautiful eyes swim. The glorious stars in them were
blurred as she answered with a fervour which seemed to me as more
"For ever! I swear it!"
With one long kiss, and a straining in each others arms, which left
me tingling for long after we had lost sight of each other, we
parted. I stood and watched her as her white figure, gliding through
the deepening gloom, faded as the forest thickened. It surely was no
optical delusion or a phantom of the mind that her shrouded arm was
raised as though in blessing or farewell before the darkness
swallowed her up.
BOOK VI: THE PURSUIT IN THE FOREST
July 3, 1907.
There is no anodyne but work to pain of the heart; and my pain is all
of the heart. I sometimes feel that it is rather hard that with so
much to make me happy I cannot know happiness. How can I be happy
when my wife, whom I fondly love, and who I know loves me, is
suffering in horror and loneliness of a kind which is almost beyond
human belief? However, what is my loss is my country's gain, for the
Land of the Blue Mountains is my country now, despite the fact that I
am still a loyal subject of good King Edward. Uncle Roger took care
of that when he said I should have the consent of the Privy Council
before I might be naturalized anywhere else.
When I got home yesterday morning I naturally could not sleep. The
events of the night and the bitter disappointment that followed my
exciting joy made such a thing impossible. When I drew the curtain
over the window, the reflection of the sunrise was just beginning to
tinge the high-sailing clouds in front of me. I laid down and tried
to rest, but without avail. However, I schooled myself to lie still,
and at last, if I did not sleep, was at least quiescent.
Disturbed by a gentle tap at the door, I sprang up at once and threw
on a dressing gown. Outside, when I opened the door, was Aunt Janet.
She was holding a lighted candle in her hand, for though it was
getting light in the open, the passages were still dark. When she
saw me she seemed to breathe more freely, and asked if she might come
Whilst she sat on the edge of my bed, in her old-time way, she said
in a hushed voice:
"Oh, laddie, laddie, I trust yer burden is no too heavy to bear."
"My burden! What on earth do you mean, Aunt Janet?" I said in reply.
I did not wish to commit myself by a definite answer, for it was
evident that she had been dreaming or Second Sighting again. She
replied with the grim seriousness usual to her when she touched on
"I saw your hairt bleeding, laddie. I kent it was yours, though how
I kent it I don't know. It lay on a stone floor in the dark, save
for a dim blue light such as corpse-lights are. On it was placed a
great book, and close around were scattered many strange things,
amongst them two crowns o' flowers--the one bound wi' silver, the
other wi' gold. There was also a golden cup, like a chalice,
o'erturned. The red wine trickled from it an' mingled wi' yer
hairt's bluid; for on the great book was some vast dim weight wrapped
up in black, and on it stepped in turn many men all swathed in black.
An' as the weight of each came on it the bluid gushed out afresh.
And oh, yer puir hairt, my laddie, was quick and leaping, so that at
every beat it raised the black-clad weight! An' yet that was not
all, for hard by stood a tall imperial shape o' a woman, all arrayed
in white, wi' a great veil o' finest lace worn o'er a shrood. An'
she was whiter than the snow, an' fairer than the morn for beauty;
though a dark woman she was, wi' hair like the raven, an' eyes black
as the sea at nicht, an' there was stars in them. An' at each beat
o' yer puir bleeding hairt she wrung her white hands, an' the manin'
o' her sweet voice rent my hairt in twain. Oh, laddie, laddie! what
does it mean?"
I managed to murmur: "I'm sure I don't know, Aunt Janet. I suppose
it was all a dream!"
"A dream it was, my dear. A dream or a veesion, whilka matters nane,
for a' such are warnin's sent frae God . . . " Suddenly she said in
a different voice:
"Laddie, hae ye been fause to any lassie? I'm no blamin' ye. For ye
men are different frae us women, an' yer regard on recht and wrang
differs from oors. But oh, laddie, a woman's tears fa' heavy when
her hairt is for sair wi' the yieldin' to fause words. 'Tis a heavy
burden for ony man to carry wi' him as he goes, an' may well cause
pain to ithers that he fain would spare." She stopped, and in dead
silence waited for me to speak. I thought it would be best to set
her poor loving heart at rest, and as I could not divulge my special
secret, spoke in general terms:
"Aunt Janet, I am a man, and have led a man's life, such as it is.
But I can tell you, who have always loved me and taught me to be
true, that in all the world there is no woman who must weep for any
falsity of mine. If close there be any who, sleeping or waking, in
dreams or visions or in reality, weeps because of me, it is surely
not for my doing, but because of something outside me. It may be
that her heart is sore because I must suffer, as all men must in some
degree; but she does not weep for or through any act of mine."
She sighed happily at my assurance, and looked up through her tears,
for she was much moved; and after tenderly kissing my forehead and
blessing me, stole away. She was more sweet and tender than I have
words to say, and the only regret that I have in all that is gone is
that I have not been able to bring my wife to her, and let her share
in the love she has for me. But that, too, will come, please God!
In the morning I sent a message to Rooke at Otranto, instructing him
by code to bring the yacht to Vissarion in the coming night.
All day I spent in going about amongst the mountaineers, drilling
them and looking after their arms. I COULD not stay still. My only
chance of peace was to work, my only chance of sleep to tire myself
out. Unhappily, I am very strong, so even when I came home at dark I
was quite fresh. However, I found a cable message from Rooke that
the yacht would arrive at midnight.
There was no need to summon the mountaineers, as the men in the
Castle would be sufficient to make preparations for the yacht's
The yacht has come. At half-past eleven the lookout signalled that a
steamer without lights was creeping in towards the Creek. I ran out
to the Flagstaff, and saw her steal in like a ghost. She is painted
a steely blue-grey, and it is almost impossible to see her at any
distance. She certainly goes wonderfully. Although there was not
enough throb from the engines to mar the absolute stillness, she came
on at a fine speed, and within a few minutes was close to the boom.
I had only time to run down to give orders to draw back the boom when
she glided in and stopped dead at the harbour wall. Rooke steered
her himself, and he says he never was on a boat that so well or so
quickly answered her helm. She is certainly a beauty, and so far as
I can see at night perfect in every detail. I promise myself a few
pleasant hours over her in the daylight. The men seem a splendid
But I do not feel sleepy; I despair of sleep to-night. But work
demands that I be fit for whatever may come, and so I shall try to
sleep--to rest, at any rate.
July 4, 1907.
I was up with the first ray of sunrise, so by the time I had my bath
and was dressed there was ample light. I went down to the dock at
once, and spent the morning looking over the vessel, which fully
justifies Rooke's enthusiasm about her. She is built on lovely
lines, and I can quite understand that she is enormously fast. Her
armour I can only take on the specifications, but her armament is
really wonderful. And there are not only all the very newest devices
of aggressive warfare--indeed, she has the newest up-to-date
torpedoes and torpedo-guns--but also the old-fashioned rocket-tubes,
which in certain occasions are so useful. She has electric guns and
the latest Massillon water-guns, and Reinhardt electro-pneumatic
"deliverers" for pyroxiline shells. She is even equipped with war-
balloons easy of expansion, and with compressible Kitson aeroplanes.
I don't suppose that there is anything quite like her in the world.
The crew are worthy of her. I can't imagine where Rooke picked up
such a splendid lot of men. They are nearly all man-of-warsmen; of
various nationalities, but mostly British. All young men--the oldest
of them hasn't got into the forties--and, so far as I can learn, all
experts of one kind or another in some special subject of warfare.
It will go hard with me, but I shall keep them together.
How I got through the rest of the day I know not. I tried hard not
to create any domestic trouble by my manner, lest Aunt Janet should,
after her lurid dream or vision of last night, attach some new
importance to it. I think I succeeded, for she did not, so far as I
could tell, take any special notice of me. We parted as usual at
half-past ten, and I came here and made this entry in my journal. I
am more restless than ever to-night, and no wonder. I would give
anything to be able to pay a visit to St. Sava's, and see my wife
again--if it were only sleeping in her tomb. But I dare not do even
that, lest she should come to see me here, and I should miss her. So
I have done what I can. The glass door to the Terrace is open, so
that she can enter at once if she comes. The fire is lit, and the
room is warm. There is food ready in case she should care for it. I
have plenty of light in the room, so that through the aperture where
I have not fully drawn the curtain there may be light to guide her.
Oh, how the time drags! The clock has struck midnight. One, two!
Thank goodness, it will shortly be dawn, and the activity of the day
may begin! Work may again prove, in a way, to be an anodyne. In the
meantime I must write on, lest despair overwhelm me.
Once during the night I thought I heard a footstep outside. I rushed
to the window and looked out, but there was nothing to see, no sound
to hear. That was a little after one o'clock. I feared to go
outside, lest that should alarm her; so I came back to my table. I
could not write, but I sat as if writing for a while. But I could
not stand it, so rose and walked about the room. As I walked I felt
that my Lady--it gives me a pang every time I remember that I do not
know even her name--was not quite so far away from me. It made my
heart beat to think that it might mean that she was coming to me.
Could not I as well as Aunt Janet have a little Second Sight! I went
towards the window, and, standing behind the curtain, listened. Far
away I thought I heard a cry, and ran out on the Terrace; but there
was no sound to be heard, and no sign of any living thing anywhere;
so I took it for granted that it was the cry of some night bird, and
came back to my room, and wrote at my journal till I was calm. I
think my nerves must be getting out of order, when every sound of the
night seems to have a special meaning for me.
July 7, 1907
When the grey of the morning came, I gave up hope of my wife
appearing, and made up my mind that, so soon as I could get away
without exciting Aunt Janet's attention, I would go to St. Sava's. I
always eat a good breakfast, and did I forgo it altogether, it would
be sure to excite her curiosity--a thing I do not wish at present.
As there was still time to wait, I lay down on my bed as I was, and--
such is the way of Fate--shortly fell asleep.
I was awakened by a terrific clattering at my door. When I opened it
I found a little group of servants, very apologetic at awaking me
without instructions. The chief of them explained that a young
priest had come from the Vladika with a message so urgent that he
insisted on seeing me immediately at all hazards. I came out at
once, and found him in the hall of the Castle, standing before the
great fire, which was always lit in the early morning. He had a
letter in his hand, but before giving it to me he said:
"I am sent by the Vladika, who pressed on me that I was not to lose a
single instant in seeing you; that time is of golden price--nay,
beyond price. This letter, amongst other things, vouches for me. A
terrible misfortune has occurred. The daughter of our leader has
disappeared during last night--the same, he commanded me to remind
you, that he spoke of at the meeting when he would not let the
mountaineers fire their guns. No sign of her can be found, and it is
believed that she has been carried off by the emissaries of the
Sultan of Turkey, who once before brought our nations to the verge of
war by demanding her as a wife. I was also to say that the Vladika
Plamenac would have come himself, but that it was necessary that he
should at once consult with the Archbishop, Stevan Palealogue, as to
what step is best to take in this dire calamity. He has sent out a
search-party under the Archimandrite of Spazac, Petrof Vlastimir, who
is to come on here with any news he can get, as you have command of
the signalling, and can best spread the news. He knows that you,
Gospodar, are in your great heart one of our compatriots, and that
you have already proved your friendship by many efforts to strengthen
our hands for war. And as a great compatriot, he calls on you to aid
us in our need." He then handed me the letter, and stood by
respectfully whilst I broke the seal and read it. It was written in
great haste, and signed by the Vladika.
"Come with us now in our nation's peril. Help us to rescue what we
most adore, and henceforth we shall hold you in our hearts. You
shall learn how the men of the Blue Mountains can love faith and
This was a task indeed--a duty worthy of any man. It thrilled me to
the core to know that the men of the Blue Mountains had called on me
in their dire need. It woke all the fighting instinct of my Viking
forbears, and I vowed in my heart that they should be satisfied with
my work. I called to me the corps of signallers who were in the
house, and led them to the Castle roof, taking with me the young
"Come with me," I said to him, "and see how I answer the Vladika's
The National flag was run up--the established signal that the nation
was in need. Instantly on every summit near and far was seen the
flutter of an answering flag. Quickly followed the signal that
commanded the call to arms.
One by one I gave the signallers orders in quick succession, for the
plan of search unfolded itself to me as I went on. The arms of the
semaphore whirled in a way that made the young priest stare. One by
one, as they took their orders, the signallers seemed to catch fire.
Instinctively they understood the plan, and worked like demigods.
They knew that so widespread a movement had its best chance in
rapidity and in unity of action.
From the forest which lay in sight of the Castle came a wild
cheering, which seemed to interpret the former stillness of the
hills. It was good to feel that those who saw the signals--types of
many--were ready. I saw the look of expectation on the face of the
messenger-priest, and rejoiced at the glow that came as I turned to
him to speak. Of course, he wanted to know something of what was
going on. I saw the flashing of my own eyes reflected in his as I
"Tell the Vladika that within a minute of his message being read the
Land of the Blue Mountains was awake. The mountaineers are already
marching, and before the sun is high there will be a line of guards
within hail of each other round the whole frontier--from Angusa to
Ilsin; from Ilsin to Bajana; from Bajana to Ispazar; from Ispazar to
Volok; from Volok to Tatra; from Tatra to Domitan; from Domitan to
Gravaja; and from Gravaja back to Angusa. The line is double. The
old men keep guard on the line, and the young men advance. These
will close in at the advancing line, so that nothing can escape them.
They will cover mountain-top and forest depth, and will close in
finally on the Castle here, which they can behold from afar. My own
yacht is here, and will sweep the coast from end to end. It is the
fastest boat afloat, and armed against a squadron. Here will all
signals come. In an hour where we stand will be a signal bureau,
where trained eyes will watch night and day till the lost one has
been found and the outrage has been avenged. The robbers are even
now within a ring of steel, and cannot escape."
The young priest, all on fire, sprang on the battlements and shouted
to the crowd, which was massing round the Castle in the gardens far
below. The forest was giving up its units till they seemed like the
nucleus of an army. The men cheered lustily, till the sound swung
high up to us like the roaring of a winter sea. With bared heads
they were crying:
"God and the Blue Mountains! God and the Blue Mountains!"
I ran down to them as quickly as I could, and began to issue their
instructions. Within a time to be computed by minutes the whole
number, organized by sections, had started to scour the neighbouring
mountains. At first they had only understood the call to arms for
general safety. But when they learned that the daughter of a chief
had been captured, they simply went mad. From something which the
messenger first said, but which I could not catch or did not
understand, the blow seemed to have for them some sort of personal
significance which wrought them to a frenzy.
When the bulk of the men had disappeared, I took with me a few of my
own men and several of the mountaineers whom I had asked to remain,
and together we went to the hidden ravine which I knew. We found the
place empty; but there were unmistakable signs that a party of men
had been encamped there for several days. Some of our men, who were
skilled in woodcraft and in signs generally, agreed that there must
have been some twenty of them. As they could not find any trail
either coming to or going from the place, they came to the conclusion
that they must have come separately from different directions and
gathered there, and that they must have departed in something of the
same mysterious way.
However, this was, at any rate, some sort of a beginning, and the men
separated, having agreed amongst themselves to make a wide cast round
the place in the search for tracks. Whoever should find a trail was
to follow with at least one comrade, and when there was any definite
news, it was to be signalled to the Castle.
I myself returned at once, and set the signallers to work to spread
amongst our own people such news as we had.
When presently such discoveries as had been made were signalled with
flags to the Castle, it was found that the marauders had, in their
flight, followed a strangely zigzag course. It was evident that, in
trying to baffle pursuit, they had tried to avoid places which they
thought might be dangerous to them. This may have been simply a
method to disconcert pursuit. If so, it was, in a measure,
excellent, for none of those immediately following could possibly
tell in what direction they were heading. It was only when we worked
the course on the great map in the signaller's room (which was the
old guard room of the Castle) that we could get an inkling of the
general direction of their flight. This gave added trouble to the
pursuit; for the men who followed, being ignorant of their general
intent, could not ever take chance to head them off, but had to be
ready to follow in any or every direction. In this manner the
pursuit was altogether a stern chase, and therefore bound to be a
As at present we could not do anything till the intended route was
more marked, I left the signalling corps to the task of receiving and
giving information to the moving bands, so that, if occasion served,
they might head off the marauders. I myself took Rooke, as captain
of the yacht, and swept out of the creek. We ran up north to
Dalairi, then down south to Olesso, and came back to Vissarion. We
saw nothing suspicious except, far off to the extreme southward, one
warship which flew no flag. Rooke, however, who seemed to know ships
by instinct, said she was a Turk; so on our return we signalled along
the whole shore to watch her. Rooke held The Lady--which was the
name I had given the armoured yacht--in readiness to dart out in case
anything suspicious was reported. He was not to stand on any
ceremony, but if necessary to attack. We did not intend to lose a
point in this desperate struggle which we had undertaken. We had
placed in different likely spots a couple of our own men to look
after the signalling.
When I got back I found that the route of the fugitives, who had now
joined into one party, had been definitely ascertained. They had
gone south, but manifestly taking alarm from the advancing line of
guards, had headed up again to the north-east, where the country was
broader and the mountains wilder and less inhabited.
Forthwith, leaving the signalling altogether in the hands of the
fighting priests, I took a small chosen band of the mountaineers of
our own district, and made, with all the speed we could, to cut
across the track of the fugitives a little ahead of them. The
Archimandrite (Abbot) of Spazac, who had just arrived, came with us.
He is a splendid man--a real fighter as well as a holy cleric, as
good with his handjar as with his Bible, and a runner to beat the
band. The marauders were going at a fearful pace, considering that
they were all afoot; so we had to go fast also! Amongst these
mountains there is no other means of progressing. Our own men were
so aflame with ardour that I could not but notice that they, more
than any of the others whom I had seen, had some special cause for
When I mentioned it to the Archimandrite, who moved by my side, he
"All natural enough; they are not only fighting for their country,
but for their own!" I did not quite understand his answer, and so
began to ask him some questions, to the effect that I soon began to
understand a good deal more than he did.
Letter from Archbishop Stevan Palealogue, Head of the Eastern Church
of the Blue Mountains, to the Lady Janet MacKelpie, Vissarion.
Written July 9, 1907.
As you wish for an understanding regarding the late lamentable
occurrence in which so much danger was incurred to this our Land of
the Blue Mountains, and one dear to us, I send these words by request
of the Gospodar Rupert, beloved of our mountaineers.
When the Voivode Peter Vissarion made his journey to the great nation
to whom we looked in our hour of need, it was necessary that he
should go in secret. The Turk was at our gates, and full of the
malice of baffled greed. Already he had tried to arrange a marriage
with the Voivodin, so that in time to come he, as her husband, might
have established a claim to the inheritance of the land. Well he
knew, as do all men, that the Blue Mountaineers owe allegiance to
none that they themselves do not appoint to rulership. This has been
the history in the past. But now and again an individual has arisen
or come to the front adapted personally for such government as this
land requires. And so the Lady Teuta, Voivodin of the Blue
Mountains, was put for her proper guarding in the charge of myself as
Head of the Eastern Church in the Land of the Blue Mountains, steps
being taken in such wise that no capture of her could be effected by
unscrupulous enemies of this our Land. This task and guardianship
was gladly held as an honour by all concerned. For the Voivodin
Teuta of Vissarion must be taken as representing in her own person
the glory of the old Serb race, inasmuch as being the only child of
the Voivode Vissarion, last male of his princely race--the race which
ever, during the ten centuries of our history, unflinchingly gave
life and all they held for the protection, safety, and well-being of
the Land of the Blue Mountains. Never during those centuries had any
one of the race been known to fail in patriotism, or to draw back
from any loss or hardship enjoined by high duty or stress of need.
Moreover, this was the race of that first Voivode Vissarion, of whom,
in legend, it was prophesied that he--once known as "The Sword of
Freedom," a giant amongst men--would some day, when the nation had
need of him, come forth from his water-tomb in the lost Lake of Reo,
and lead once more the men of the Blue Mountains to lasting victory.
This noble race, then, had come to be known as the last hope of the
Land. So that when the Voivode was away on his country's service,
his daughter should be closely guarded. Soon after the Voivode had
gone, it was reported that he might be long delayed in his
diplomacies, and also in studying the system of Constitutional
Monarchy, for which it had been hoped to exchange our imperfect
political system. I may say inter alia that he was mentioned as to
be the first king when the new constitution should have been
Then a great misfortune came on us; a terrible grief overshadowed the
land. After a short illness, the Voivodin Teuta Vissarion died
mysteriously of a mysterious ailment. The grief of the mountaineers
was so great that it became necessary for the governing Council to
warn them not to allow their sorrow to be seen. It was imperatively
necessary that the fact of her death should be kept secret. For
there were dangers and difficulties of several kinds. In the first
place it was advisable that even her father should be kept in
ignorance of his terrible loss. It was well known that he held her
as the very core of his heart and that if he should hear of her
death, he would be too much prostrated to be able to do the intricate
and delicate work which he had undertaken. Nay, more: he would
never remain afar off, under the sad circumstances, but would
straightway return, so as to be in the land where she lay. Then
suspicions would crop up, and the truth must shortly be known afield,
with the inevitable result that the Land would become the very centre
of a war of many nations.
In the second place, if the Turks were to know that the race of
Vissarion was becoming extinct, this would encourage them to further
aggression, which would become immediate should they find out that
the Voivode was himself away. It was well known that they were
already only suspending hostilities until a fitting opportunity
should arise. Their desire for aggression had become acute after the
refusal of the nation, and of the girl herself, that she should
become a wife of the Sultan.
The dead girl had been buried in the Crypt of the church of St. Sava,
and day after day and night after night, singly and in parties, the
sorrowing mountaineers had come to pay devotion and reverence at her
tomb. So many had wished to have a last glimpse of her face that the
Vladika had, with my own consent as Archbishop, arranged for a glass
cover to be put over the stone coffin wherein her body lay.
After a little time, however, there came a belief to all concerned in
the guarding of the body--these, of course, being the priests of
various degrees of dignity appointed to the task--that the Voivodin
was not really dead, but only in a strangely-prolonged trance.
Thereupon a new complication arose. Our mountaineers are, as perhaps
you know, by nature deeply suspicious--a characteristic of all brave
and self-sacrificing people who are jealous of their noble heritage.
Having, as they believed, seen the girl dead, they might not be
willing to accept the fact of her being alive. They might even
imagine that there was on foot some deep, dark plot which was, or
might be, a menace, now or hereafter, to their independence. In any
case, there would be certain to be two parties on the subject, a
dangerous and deplorable thing in the present condition of affairs.
As the trance, or catalepsy, whatever it was, continued for many
days, there had been ample time for the leaders of the Council, the
Vladika, the priesthood represented by the Archimandrite of Spazac,
myself as Archbishop and guardian of the Voivodin in her father's
absence, to consult as to a policy to be observed in case of the girl
awaking. For in such case the difficulty of the situation would be
multiplied indefinitely. In the secret chambers of St. Sava's we had
many secret meetings, and were finally converging on agreement when
the end of the trance came.
The girl awoke!
She was, of course, terribly frightened when she found herself in a
tomb in the Crypt. It was truly fortunate that the great candles
around her tomb had been kept lighted, for their light mitigated the
horror of the place. Had she waked in darkness, her reason might
have become unseated.
She was, however, a very noble girl; brave, with extraordinary will,
and resolution, and self-command, and power of endurance. When she
had been taken into one of the secret chambers of the church, where
she was warmed and cared for, a hurried meeting was held by the
Vladika, myself, and the chiefs of the National Council. Word had
been at once sent to me of the joyful news of her recovery; and with
the utmost haste I came, arriving in time to take a part in the
At the meeting the Voivodin was herself present, and full confidence
of the situation was made to her. She herself proposed that the
belief in her death should be allowed to prevail until the return of
her father, when all could be effectively made clear. To this end
she undertook to submit to the terrific strain which such a
proceeding would involve. At first we men could not believe that any
woman could go through with such a task, and some of us did not
hesitate to voice our doubts--our disbelief. But she stood to her
guns, and actually down-faced us. At the last we, remembering things
that had been done, though long ages ago, by others of her race, came
to believe not merely in her self-belief and intention, but even in
the feasibility of her plan. She took the most solemn oaths not to
betray the secret under any possible stress.
The priesthood undertook through the Vladika and myself to further a
ghostly belief amongst the mountaineers which would tend to prevent a
too close or too persistent observation. The Vampire legend was
spread as a protection against partial discovery by any mischance,
and other weird beliefs were set afoot and fostered. Arrangements
were made that only on certain days were the mountaineers to be
admitted to the Crypt, she agreeing that for these occasions she was
to take opiates or carry out any other aid to the preservation of the
secret. She was willing, she impressed upon us, to make any personal
sacrifice which might be deemed necessary for the carrying out her
father's task for the good of the nation.
Of course, she had at first terrible frights lying alone in the
horror of the Crypt. But after a time the terrors of the situation,
if they did not cease, were mitigated. There are secret caverns off
the Crypt, wherein in troublous times the priests and others of high
place have found safe retreat. One of these was prepared for the
Voivodin, and there she remained, except for such times as she was on
show--and certain other times of which I shall tell you. Provision
was made for the possibility of any accidental visit to the church.
At such times, warned by an automatic signal from the opening door,
she was to take her place in the tomb. The mechanism was so arranged
that the means to replace the glass cover, and to take the opiate,
were there ready to her hand. There was to be always a watch of
priests at night in the church, to guard her from ghostly fears as
well as from more physical dangers; and if she was actually in her
tomb, it was to be visited at certain intervals. Even the draperies
which covered her in the sarcophagus were rested on a bridge placed
from side to side just above her, so as to hide the rising and
falling of her bosom as she slept under the narcotic.
After a while the prolonged strain began to tell so much on her that
it was decided that she should take now and again exercise out of
doors. This was not difficult, for when the Vampire story which we
had spread began to be widely known, her being seen would be accepted
as a proof of its truth. Still, as there was a certain danger in her
being seen at all, we thought it necessary to exact from her a solemn
oath that so long as her sad task lasted she should under no
circumstances ever wear any dress but her shroud--this being the only
way to insure secrecy and to prevail against accident.
There is a secret way from the Crypt to a sea cavern, whose entrance
is at high-tide under the water-line at the base of the cliff on
which the church is built. A boat, shaped like a coffin, was
provided for her; and in this she was accustomed to pass across the
creek whenever she wished to make excursion. It was an excellent
device, and most efficacious in disseminating the Vampire belief.
This state of things had now lasted from before the time when the
Gospodar Rupert came to Vissarion up to the day of the arrival of the
That night the priest on duty, on going his round of the Crypt just
before dawn, found the tomb empty. He called the others, and they
made full search. The boat was gone from the cavern, but on making
search they found it on the farther side of the creek, close to the
garden stairs. Beyond this they could discover nothing. She seemed
to have disappeared without leaving a trace.
Straightway they went to the Vladika, and signalled to me by the
fire-signal at the monastery at Astrag, where I then was. I took a
band of mountaineers with me, and set out to scour the country. But
before going I sent an urgent message to the Gospodar Rupert, asking
him, who showed so much interest and love to our Land, to help us in
our trouble. He, of course, knew nothing then of all have now told
you. Nevertheless, he devoted himself whole-heartedly to our needs--
as doubtless you know.
But the time had now come close when the Voivode Vissarion was about
to return from his mission; and we of the council of his daughter's
guardianship were beginning to arrange matters so that at his return
the good news of her being still alive could be made public. With
her father present to vouch for her, no question as to truth could
But by some means the Turkish "Bureau of Spies" must have got
knowledge of the fact already. To steal a dead body for the purpose
of later establishing a fictitious claim would have been an
enterprise even more desperate than that already undertaken. We
inferred from many signs, made known to us in an investigation, that
a daring party of the Sultan's emissaries had made a secret incursion
with the object of kidnapping the Voivodin. They must have been bold
of heart and strong of resource to enter the Land of the Blue
Mountains on any errand, let alone such a desperate one as this. For
centuries we have been teaching the Turk through bitter lessons that
it is neither a safe task nor an easy one to make incursion here.
How they did it we know not--at present; but enter they did, and,
after waiting in some secret hiding-place for a favourable
opportunity, secured their prey. We know not even now whether they
had found entrance to the Crypt and stole, as they thought, the dead
body, or whether, by some dire mischance, they found her abroad--
under her disguise as a ghost. At any rate, they had captured her,
and through devious ways amongst the mountains were bearing her back
to Turkey. It was manifest that when she was on Turkish soil the
Sultan would force a marriage on her so as eventually to secure for
himself or his successors as against all other nations a claim for
the suzerainty or guardianship of the Blue Mountains.
Such was the state of affairs when the Gospodar Rupert threw himself
into the pursuit with fiery zeal and the Berserk passion which he
inherited from Viking ancestors, whence of old came "The Sword of
But at that very time was another possibility which the Gospodar was
himself the first to realize. Failing the getting the Voivodin safe
to Turkish soil, the ravishers might kill her! This would be
entirely in accord with the base traditions and history of the
Moslems. So, too, it would accord with Turkish customs and the
Sultan's present desires. It would, in its way, benefit the ultimate
strategetic ends of Turkey. For were once the Vissarion race at an
end, the subjection of the Land of the Blue Mountains might, in their
view, be an easier task than it had yet been found to be.
Such, illustrious lady, were the conditions of affairs when the
Gospodar Rupert first drew his handjar for the Blue Mountains and
what it held most dear.
Archbishop of the Eastern Church, in the Land of the Blue Mountains.
July 8, 1907.
I wonder if ever in the long, strange history of the world had there
come to any other such glad tidings as came to me--and even then
rather inferentially than directly--from the Archimandrite's answers
to my questioning. Happily I was able to restrain myself, or I
should have created some strange confusion which might have evoked
distrust, and would certainly have hampered us in our pursuit. For a
little I could hardly accept the truth which wove itself through my
brain as the true inwardness of each fact came home to me and took
its place in the whole fabric. But even the most welcome truth has
to be accepted some time by even a doubting heart. My heart,
whatever it may have been, was not then a doubting heart, but a very,
very grateful one. It was only the splendid magnitude of the truth
which forbade its immediate acceptance. I could have shouted for
joy, and only stilled myself by keeping my thoughts fixed on the
danger which my wife was in. My wife! My wife! Not a Vampire; not
a poor harassed creature doomed to terrible woe, but a splendid
woman, brave beyond belief, patriotic in a way which has but few
peers even in the wide history of bravery! I began to understand the
true meaning of the strange occurrences that have come into my life.
Even the origin and purpose of that first strange visit to my room
became clear. No wonder that the girl could move about the Castle in
so mysterious a manner. She had lived there all her life, and was
familiar with the secret ways of entrance and exit. I had always
believed that the place must have been honeycombed with secret
passages. No wonder that she could find a way to the battlements,
mysterious to everybody else. No wonder that she could meet me at
the Flagstaff when she so desired.
To say that I was in a tumult would be to but faintly express my
condition. I was rapt into a heaven of delight which had no measure
in all my adventurous life--the lifting of the veil which showed that
my wife--mine--won in all sincerity in the very teeth of appalling
difficulties and dangers--was no Vampire, no corpse, no ghost or
phantom, but a real woman of flesh and blood, of affection, and love,
and passion. Now at last would my love be crowned indeed when,
having rescued her from the marauders, I should bear her to my own
home, where she would live and reign in peace and comfort and honour,
and in love and wifely happiness if I could achieve such a blessing
for her--and for myself.
But here a dreadful thought flashed across me, which in an instant
turned my joy to despair, my throbbing heart to ice:
"As she is a real woman, she is in greater danger than ever in the
hands of Turkish ruffians. To them a woman is in any case no more
than a sheep; and if they cannot bring her to the harem of the
Sultan, they may deem it the next wisest step to kill her. In that
way, too, they might find a better chance of escape. Once rid of her
the party could separate, and there might be a chance of some of them
finding escape as individuals that would not exist for a party. But
even if they did not kill her, to escape with her would be to condemn
her to the worst fate of all the harem of the Turk! Lifelong misery
and despair--however long that life might be--must be the lot of a
Christian woman doomed to such a lot. And to her, just happily
wedded, and after she had served her country in such a noble way as
she had done, that dreadful life of shameful slavery would be a
misery beyond belief.
"She must be rescued--and quickly! The marauders must be caught
soon, and suddenly, so that they may have neither time nor
opportunity to harm her, as they would be certain to do if they have
warning of immediate danger.
And "on" it was all through that terrible night as well as we could
through the forest.
It was a race between the mountaineers and myself as to who should be
first. I understood now the feeling that animated them, and which
singled them out even from amongst their fiery comrades, when the
danger of the Voivodin became known. These men were no mean
contestants even in such a race, and, strong as I am, it took my
utmost effort to keep ahead of them. They were keen as leopards, and
as swift. Their lives had been spent among the mountains, and their
hearts and souls on were in the chase. I doubt not that if the death
of any one of us could have through any means effected my wife's
release, we should, if necessary, have fought amongst ourselves for
From the nature of the work before us our party had to keep to the
top of the hills. We had not only to keep observation on the flying
party whom we followed, and to prevent them making discovery of us,
but we had to be always in a position to receive and answer signals
made to us from the Castle, or sent to us from other eminences.
Letter from Petrof Vlastimir, Archimandrite of Spazac, to the Lady
Janet MacKelpie, of Vissarion.
Written July 8, 1907.
I am asked to write by the Vladika, and have permission of the
Archbishop. I have the honour of transmitting to you the record of
the pursuit of the Turkish spies who carried off the Voivodin Teuta,
of the noble House of Vissarion. The pursuit was undertaken by the
Gospodar Rupert, who asked that I would come with his party, since
what he was so good as to call my "great knowledge of the country and
its people" might serve much. It is true that I have had much
knowledge of the Land of the Blue Mountains and its people, amongst
which and whom my whole life has been passed. But in such a cause no
reason was required. There was not a man in the Blue Mountains who
would not have given his life for the Voivodin Teuta, and when they
heard that she had not been dead, as they thought, but only in a
trance, and that it was she whom the marauders had carried off, they
were in a frenzy. So why should I--to whom has been given the great
trust of the Monastery of Spazac--hesitate at such a time? For
myself, I wanted to hurry on, and to come at once to the fight with
my country's foes; and well I knew that the Gospodar Rupert, with a
lion's heart meet for his giant body, would press on with a matchless
speed. We of the Blue Mountains do not lag when our foes are in
front of us; most of all do we of the Eastern Church press on when
the Crescent wars against the Cross!
We took with us no gear or hamper of any kind; no coverings except
what we stood in; no food--nothing but our handjars and our rifles,
with a sufficiency of ammunition. Before starting, the Gospodar gave
hurried orders by signal from the Castle to have food and ammunition
sent to us (as we might signal) by the nearest hamlet.
It was high noon when we started, only ten strong--for our leader
would take none but approved runners who could shoot straight and use
the handjar as it should be used. So as we went light, we expected
to go fast. By this time we knew from the reports signalled to
Vissarion that the enemies were chosen men of no despicable prowess.
The Keeper of the Green Flag of Islam is well served, and as though
the Turk is an infidel and a dog, he is sometimes brave and strong.
Indeed, except when he passes the confines of the Blue Mountains, he
has been known to do stirring deeds. But as none who have dared to
wander in amongst our hills ever return to their own land, we may not
know of how they speak at home of their battles here. Still, these
men were evidently not to be despised; and our Gospodar, who is a
wise man as well as a valiant, warned us to be prudent, and not to
despise our foes over much. We did as he counselled, and in proof we
only took ten men, as we had only twenty against us. But then there
was at stake much beyond life, and we took no risks. So, as the
great clock at Vissarion clanged of noon, the eight fastest runners
of the Blue Mountains, together with the Gospodar Rupert and myself,
swept out on our journey. It had been signalled to us that the
course which the marauders had as yet taken in their flight was a
zigzag one, running eccentrically at all sorts of angles in all sorts
of directions. But our leader had marked out a course where we might
intercept our foes across the main line of their flight; and till we
had reached that region we paused not a second, but went as fast as
we could all night long. Indeed, it was amongst us a race as was the
Olympic race of old Greece, each one vying with his fellows, though
not in jealous emulation, but in high spirit, to best serve his
country and the Voivodin Teuta. Foremost amongst us went the
Gospodar, bearing himself as a Paladin of old, his mighty form
pausing for no obstacle. Perpetually did he urge us on. He would
not stop or pause for a moment, but often as he and I ran together--
for, lady, in my youth I was the fleetest of all in the race, and
even that now can head a battalion when duty calls--he would ask me
certain questions as to the Lady Teuta and of the strange manner of
her reputed death, as it was gradually unfolded in my answers to his
questioning. And as each new phase of knowledge came to him, he
would rush on as one possessed of fiends: whereat our mountaineers,
who seem to respect even fiends for their thoroughness, would strive
to keep pace with him till they too seemed worked into diabolic
possession. And I myself, left alone in the calmness of sacerdotal
office, forgot even that. With surging ears and eyes that saw blood,
I rushed along with best of them.
Then truly the spirit of a great captain showed itself in the
Gospodar, for when others were charged with fury he began to force
himself into calm, so that out of his present self-command and the
memory of his exalted position came a worthy strategy and thought for
every contingency that might arise. So that when some new direction
was required for our guidance, there was no hesitation in its coming.
We, nine men of varying kinds, all felt that we had a master; and so,
being willing to limit ourselves to strict obedience, we were free to
use such thoughts as well as such powers as we had to the best
advantage of the doing.
We came across the trail of the flying marauders on the second
morning after the abduction, a little before noon. It was easy
enough to see, for by this time the miscreants were all together, and
our people, who were woodlanders, were able to tell much of the party
that passed. These were evidently in a terrified hurry, for they had
taken no precautions such as are necessary baffle pursuit, and all of
which take time. Our foresters said that two went ahead and two
behind. In the centre went the mass, moving close together, as
though surrounding their prisoner. We caught not even a single
glimpse her--could not have, they encompassed her so closely. But
our foresters saw other than the mass; the ground that had been
passed was before them. They knew that the prisoner had gone
unwillingly--nay, more: one of them said as he rose from his knees,
where he had been examining of the ground:
"The misbegotten dogs have been urging her on with their yataghans!
There are drops of blood, though there are no blood-marks on her
Whereupon the Gospodar flamed with passion. His teeth ground
together, and with a deep-breathed "On, on!" he sprang off again,
handjar in hand, on the track.
Before long we saw the party in the distance. They this were far
below us in a deep valley, although the track of their going passed
away to the right hand. They were making for the base of the great
cliff, which rose before us all. Their reason was twofold, as we
soon knew. Far off down the valley which they were crossing we saw
signs of persons coming in haste, who must be of the search party
coming from the north. Though the trees hid them, we could not
mistake the signs. I was myself forester enough to have no doubt.
Again, it was evident that the young Voivodin could travel no longer
at the dreadful pace at which they had been going. Those blood-marks
told their own tale! They meant to make a last stand here in case
they should be discovered.
Then it was that he, who amongst us all had been most fierce and most
bent on rapid pursuit, became the most the calm. Raising his hand
for silence--though, God knows, we were and had been silent enough
during that long rush through the forest--he said, in a low, keen
whisper which cut the silence like a knife:
"My friends, the time is come for action. God be thanked, who has
now brought us face to face with our foes! But we must be careful
here--not on our own account, for we wish nothing more than to rush
on and conquer or die--but for the sake of her whom you love, and
whom I, too, love. She is in danger from anything which may give
warning to those fiends. If they know or even suspect for an instant
that we are near, they will murder her . . . "
Here his voice broke for an instant with the extremity of his passion
or the depth of his feeling--I hardly know which; I think both acted
"We know from those blood-marks what they can do--even to her." His
teeth ground together again, but he went on without stopping further:
"Let us arrange the battle. Though we are but little distance from
them as the crow flies, the way is far to travel. There is, I can
see, but one path down to the valley from this side. That they have
gone by, and that they will sure to guard--to watch, at any rate.
Let us divide, as to surround them. The cliff towards which they
make runs far to the left without a break. That to the right we
cannot see from this spot; but from the nature of the ground it is
not unlikely that it turns round in this direction, making the hither
end of the valley like a vast pocket or amphitheatre. As they have
studied the ground in other places, they may have done so in this,
and have come hither as to a known refuge. Let one man, a marksman,
As he spoke a man stepped to the front. He was, I knew, an excellent
"Let two others go to the left and try to find a way down the cliff
before us. When they have descended to the level of the valley--path
or no path--let them advance cautiously and secretly, keeping their
guns in readiness. But they must not fire till need. Remember, my
brothers," said, turning to those who stepped out a pace or two to
the left, "that the first shot gives the warning which will be the
signal for the Voivodin's death. These men will not hesitate. You
must judge yourselves of the time to shoot. The others of us will
move to the right and try to find a path on that side. If the valley
be indeed a pocket between the cliffs, we must find a way down that
is not a path!"
As he spoke thus there was a blaze in his eyes that betokened no good
to aught that might stand in his way. I ran by his side as we moved
to the right.
It was as he surmised about the cliff. When we got a little on our
way we saw how the rocky formation trended to our right, till,
finally, with a wide curve, it came round to the other side.
It was a fearful valley that, with its narrow girth and its towering
walls that seemed to topple over. On the farther side from us the
great trees that clothed the slope of the mountain over it grew down
to the very edge of the rock, so that their spreading branches hung
far over the chasm. And, so far as we could understand, the same
condition existed on our own side. Below us the valley was dark even
in the daylight. We could best tell the movement of the flying
marauders by the flashes of the white shroud of their captive in the
midst of them.
From where we were grouped, amid the great tree-trunks on the very
brow of the cliff, we could, when our eyes were accustomed to the
shadow, see them quite well. In great haste, and half dragging, half
carrying the Voivodin, they crossed the open space and took refuge in
a little grassy alcove surrounded, save for its tortuous entrance, by
undergrowth. From the valley level it was manifestly impossible to
see them, though we from our altitude could see over the stunted
undergrowth. When within the glade, they took their hands from her.
She, shuddering instinctively, withdrew to a remote corner of the
And then, oh, shame on their manhood!--Turks and heathens though they
were--we could see that they had submitted her to the indignity of
gagging her and binding her hands!
Our Voivodin Teuta bound! To one and all of us it was like lashing
us across the face. I heard the Gospodar's teeth grind again. But
once more he schooled himself to calmness ere he said:
"It is, perhaps, as well, great though the indignity be. They are
seeking their own doom, which is coming quickly . . . Moreover, they
are thwarting their own base plans. Now that she is bound they will
trust to their binding, so that they will delay their murderous
alternative to the very last moment. Such is our chance of rescuing
For a few moments he stood as still as a stone, as though revolving
something in his mind whilst he watched. I could see that some grim
resolution was forming in his mind, for his eyes ranged to the top of
the trees above cliff, and down again, very slowly this time, as
though measuring and studying the detail of what was in front of him.
Then he spoke:
"They are in hopes that the other pursuing party may not come across
them. To know that, they are waiting. If those others do not come
up the valley, they will proceed on their way. They will return up
the path the way they came. There we can wait them, charge into the
middle of them when she is opposite, and cut down those around her.
Then the others will open fire, and we shall be rid of them!
Whilst he was speaking, two of the men of our party, who I knew to be
good sharpshooters, and who had just before lain on their faces and
had steadied their rifles to shoot, rose to their feet.
"Command us, Gospodar!" they said simply, as they stood to attention.
"Shall we go to the head of the ravine road and there take hiding?"
He thought for perhaps a minute, whilst we all stood as silent as
images. I could hear our hearts beating. Then he said:
"No, not yet. There is time for that yet. They will not--cannot
stir or make plans in any way till they know whether the other party
is coming towards them or not. From our height here we can see what
course the others are taking long before those villains do. Then we
can make our plans and be ready in time.
We waited many minutes, but could see no further signs the other
pursuing party. These had evidently adopted greater caution in their
movements as they came closer to where they expected to find the
enemy. The marauders began to grow anxious. Even at our distance we
could gather as much from their attitude and movements.
Presently, when the suspense of their ignorance grew too much for
them, they drew to the entrance of the glade, which was the farthest
place to which, without exposing themselves to anyone who might come
to the valley, they could withdraw from their captive. Here they
consulted together. We could follow from their gestures what they
were saying, for as they did not wish their prisoner to hear, their
gesticulation was enlightening to us as to each other. Our people,
like all mountaineers, have good eyes, and the Gospodar is himself an
eagle in this as in other ways. Three men stood back from the rest.
They stacked their rifles so that they could seize them easily. Then
they drew their scimitars, and stood ready, as though on guard.
These were evidently the appointed murderers. Well they knew their
work; for though they stood in a desert place with none within long
distance except the pursuing party, of whose approach they would have
good notice, they stood so close to their prisoner that no marksman
in the world--now or that ever had been; not William Tell himself--
could have harmed any of them without at least endangering her. Two
of them turned the Voivodin round so that her face was towards the
precipice--in which position she could not see what was going on--
whilst he who was evidently leader of the gang explained, in gesture,
that the others were going to spy upon the pursuing party. When they
had located them he, or one of his men, would come out of the opening
of the wood wherein they had had evidence of them, and hold up his
That was to be the signal for the cutting of the victim's throat--
such being the chosen method (villainous even for heathen murderers)
of her death. There was not one of our men who did not grind his
teeth when we witnessed the grim action, only too expressive, of the
Turk as he drew his right hand, clenched as though he held a yataghan
in it, across his throat.
At the opening of the glade all the spying party halted whilst the
leader appointed to each his place of entry of the wood, the front of
which extended in an almost straight across the valley from cliff to
The men, stooping low when in the open, and taking instant advantage
of every little obstacle on the ground, seemed to fade like spectres
with incredible swiftness across the level mead, and were swallowed
up in the wood.
When they had disappeared the Gospodar Rupert revealed to us the
details of the plan of action which he had revolving in his mind. He
motioned us to follow him: we threaded a way between the tree-
trunks, keeping all the while on the very edge of the cliff, so that
the space below was all visible to us. When we had got round the
curve sufficiently to see the whole of the wood on the valley level,
without losing sight of the Voivodin and her appointed assassins, we
halted under his direction. There was an added advantage of this
point over the other, for we could see directly the rising of the
hill-road, up which farther side ran the continuation of the mountain
path which the marauders had followed. It was somewhere on that path
that the other pursuing party had hoped to intercept the fugitives.
The Gospodar spoke quickly, though in a voice of command which true
soldiers love to hear:
"Brothers, the time has come when we can strike a blow for Teuta and
the Land. Do you two, marksmen, take position here facing the wood."
The two men here lay down and got their rifles ready. "Divide the
frontage of the wood between you; arrange between yourselves the
limits of your positions. The very instant one of the marauders
appears, cover him; drop him before he emerges from the wood. Even
then still watch and treat similarly whoever else may take his place.
Do this if they come singly till not a man is left. Remember,
brothers, that brave hearts alone will not suffice at this grim
crisis. In this hour the best safety of the Voivodin is in the calm
spirit and the steady eye!" Then he turned to the rest of us, and
spoke to me:
"Archimandrite of Plazac, you who are interpreter to God of the
prayers of so many souls, my own hour has come. If I do not return,
convey my love to my Aunt Janet--Miss MacKelpie, at Vissarion. There
is but one thing left to us if we wish to save the Voivodin. Do you,
when the time comes, take these men and join the watcher at the top
of the ravine road. When the shots are fired, do you out handjar,
and rush the ravine and across the valley. Brothers, you may be in
time to avenge the Voivodin, if you cannot save her. For me there
must be a quicker way, and to it I go. As there is not, and will not
be, time to traverse the path, I must take a quicker way. Nature
finds me a path that man has made it necessary for me to travel. See
that giant beech-tree that towers above the glade where the Voivodin
is held? There is my path! When you from here have marked the
return of the spies, give me a signal with your hat--do not use a
handkerchief, as others might see its white, and take warning. Then
rush that ravine. I shall take that as the signal for my descent by
the leafy road. If I can do naught else, I can crush the murderers
with my falling weight, even if I have to kill her too. At least we
shall die together--and free. Lay us together in the tomb at St.
Sava's. Farewell, if it be the last!"
He threw down the scabbard in which he carried his handjar, adjusted
the naked weapon in his belt behind his back, and was gone!
We who were not watching the wood kept our eyes fixed on the great
beech-tree, and with new interest noticed the long trailing branches
which hung low, and swayed even in the gentle breeze. For a few
minutes, which seemed amazingly long, we saw no sign of him. Then,
high up on one of the great branches which stood clear of obscuring
leaves, we saw something crawling flat against the bark. He was well
out on the branch, hanging far over the precipice. He was looking
over at us, and I waved my hand so that he should know we saw him.
He was clad in green--his usual forest dress--so that there was not
any likelihood of any other eyes noticing him. I took off my hat,
and held it ready to signal with when the time should come. I
glanced down at the glade and saw the Voivodin standing, still safe,
with her guards so close to her as to touch. Then I, too, fixed my
eyes on the wood.
Suddenly the man standing beside me seized my arm and pointed. I
could just see through the trees, which were lower than elsewhere in
the front of the wood, a Turk moving stealthily; so I waved my hat.
At the same time a rifle underneath me cracked. A second or two
later the spy pitched forward on his face and lay still. At the same
instant my eyes sought the beech-tree, and I saw the close-lying
figure raise itself and slide forward to a joint of the branch. Then
the Gospodar, as he rose, hurled himself forward amid the mass of the
trailing branches. He dropped like a stone, and my heart sank.
But an instant later he seemed in poise. He had clutched the thin,
trailing branches as he fell; and as he sank a number of leaves which
his motion had torn off floated out round him.
Again the rifle below me cracked, and then again, and again, and
again. The marauders had taken warning, and were coming out in mass.
But my own eyes were fixed on the tree. Almost as a thunderbolt
falls fell the giant body of the Gospodar, his size lost in the
immensity of his surroundings. He fell in a series of jerks, as he
kept clutching the trailing beech-branches whilst they lasted, and
then other lesser verdure growing out from the fissures in the rock
after the lengthening branches had with all their elasticity reached
their last point.
At length--for though this all took place in a very few seconds the
gravity of the crisis prolonged them immeasurably--there came a large
space of rock some three times his own length. He did not pause, but
swung himself to one side, so that he should fall close to the
Voivodin and her guards. These men did not seem to notice, for their
attention was fixed on the wood whence they expected their messenger
to signal. But they raised their yataghans in readiness. The shots
had alarmed them; and they meant to do the murder now--messenger or
But though the men did not see the danger from above, the Voivodin
did. She raised her eyes quickly at the first sound, and even from
where we were, before we began to run towards the ravine path, I
could see the triumphant look in her glorious eyes when she
recognized the identity of the man who was seemingly coming straight
down from Heaven itself to help her--as, indeed, she, and we too, can
very well imagine that he did; for if ever heaven had a hand in a
rescue on earth, it was now.
Even during the last drop from the rocky foliage the Gospodar kept
his head. As he fell he pulled his handjar free, and almost as he
was falling its sweep took off the head of one of the assassins. As
he touched ground he stumbled for an instant, but it was towards his
enemies. Twice with lightning rapidity the handjar swept the air,
and at each sweep a head rolled on the sward.
The Voivodin held up her tied hands. Again the handjar flashed, this
time downwards, and the lady was free. Without an instant's pause
the Gospodar tore off the gag, and with his left arm round her and
handjar in right hand, stood face toward his living foes. The
Voivodin stooped suddenly, and then, raising the yataghan which had
fallen from the hand of one of the dead marauders, stood armed beside
The rifles were now cracking fast, as the marauders--those that were
left of them--came rushing out into the open. But well the marksmen
knew their work. Well they bore in mind the Gospodar's command
regarding calmness. They kept picking off the foremost men only, so
that the onward rush never seemed to get more forward.
As we rushed down the ravine we could see clearly all before us. But
now, just as we were beginning to fear lest some mischance might
allow some of them to reach the glade, there was another cause of
From the face of the wood seemed to burst all at once a body of men,
all wearing the national cap, so we knew them as our own. They were
all armed with the handjar only, and they came like tigers. They
swept on the rushing Turks as though, for all their swiftness, they
were standing still--literally wiping them out as a child wipes a
lesson from its slate.
A few seconds later these were followed by a tall figure with long
hair and beard of black mingled with grey. Instinctively we all, as
did those in the valley, shouted with joy. For this was the Vladika
Milosh Plamenac himself.
I confess that, knowing what I knew, I was for a short space of time
anxious lest, in the terrific excitement in which we were all lapped,
someone might say or do something which might make for trouble later
on. The Gospodar's splendid achievement, which was worthy of any
hero of old romance, had set us all on fire. He himself must have
been wrought to a high pitch of excitement to dare such an act; and
it is not at such a time that discretion must be expected from any
man. Most of all did I fear danger from the womanhood of the
Voivodin. Had I not assisted at her marriage, I might not have
understood then what it must have been to her to be saved from such a
doom at such a time by such a man, who was so much to her, and in
such a way. It would have been only natural if at such a moment of
gratitude and triumph she had proclaimed the secret which we of the
Council of the Nation and her father's Commissioners had so
religiously kept. But none of us knew then either the Voivodin or
the Gospodar Rupert as we do now. It was well that they were as they
are, for the jealousy and suspicion of our mountaineers might, even
at such a moment, and even whilst they throbbed at such a deed, have
so manifested themselves as to have left a legacy of distrust. The
Vladika and I, who of all (save the two immediately concerned) alone
knew, looked at each other apprehensively. But at that instant the
Voivodin, with a swift glance at her husband, laid a finger on her
lip; and he, with quick understanding, gave assurance by a similar
sign. Then she sank before him on one knee, and, raising his hand to
her lips, kissed it, and spoke:
"Gospodar Rupert, I owe you all that a woman may owe, except to God.
You have given me life and honour! I cannot thank you adequately for
what you have done; my father will try to do so when he returns. But
I am right sure that the men of the Blue Mountains, who so value
honour, and freedom, and liberty, and bravery, will hold you in their
hearts for ever!"
This was so sweetly spoken, with lips that trembled and eyes that
swam in tears, so truly womanly and so in accord with the custom of
our nation regarding the reverence that women owe to men, that the
hearts of our mountaineers were touched to the quick. Their noble
simplicity found expression in tears. But if the gallant Gospodar
could have for a moment thought that so to weep was unmanly, his
error would have had instant correction. When the Voivodin had risen
to her feet, which she did with queenly dignity, the men around
closed in on the Gospodar like a wave of the sea, and in a second
held him above their heads, tossing on their lifted hands as if on
stormy breakers. It was as though the old Vikings of whom we have
heard, and whose blood flows in Rupert's veins, were choosing a chief
in old fashion. I was myself glad that the men were so taken up with
the Gospodar that they did not see the glory of the moment in the
Voivodin's starry eyes; for else they might have guessed the secret.
I knew from the Vladika's look that he shared my own satisfaction,
even as he had shared my anxiety.
As the Gospodar Rupert was tossed high on the lifted hands of the
mountaineers, their shouts rose to such a sudden volume that around
us, as far as I could see, the frightened birds rose from the forest,
and their noisy alarm swelled the tumult.
The Gospodar, ever thoughtful for others, was the first to calm
"Come, brothers," he said, "let us gain the hilltop, where we can
signal to the Castle. It is right that the whole nation should share
in the glad tidings that the Voivodin Teuta of Vissarion is free.
But before we go, let us remove the arms and clothing of these
carrion marauders. We may have use for them later on."
The mountaineers set him down, gently enough. And he, taking the
Voivodin by the hand, and calling the Vladika and myself close to
them, led the way up the ravine path which the marauders had
descended, and thence through the forest to the top of the hill that
dominated the valley. Here we could, from an opening amongst the
trees, catch a glimpse far off of the battlements of Vissarion.
Forthwith the Gospodar signalled; and on the moment a reply of their
awaiting was given. Then the Gospodar signalled the glad news. It
was received with manifest rejoicing. We could not hear any sound so
far away, but we could see the movement of lifted faces and waving
hands, and knew that it was well. But an instant after came a calm
so dread that we knew before the semaphore had begun to work that
there was bad news in store for us. When the news did come, a bitter
wailing arose amongst us; for the news that was signalled ran:
"The Voivode has been captured by the Turks on his return, and is
held by them at Ilsin."
In an instant the temper of the mountaineers changed. It was as
though by a flash summer had changed to winter, as though the yellow
glory of the standing corn had been obliterated by the dreary waste
of snow. Nay, more: it was as when one beholds the track of the
whirlwind when the giants of the forest are levelled with the sward.
For a few seconds there was silence; and then, with an angry roar, as
when God speaks in the thunder, came the fierce determination of the
men of the Blue Mountains:
"To Ilsin! To Ilsin!" and a stampede in the direction of the south
began. For, Illustrious Lady, you, perhaps, who have been for so
short a time at Vissarion, may not know that at the extreme southern
point of the Land of the Blue Mountains lies the little port of
Ilsin, which long ago we wrested from the Turk.
The stampede was checked by the command, "Halt!" spoken in a
thunderous voice by the Gospodar. Instinctively all stopped. The
Gospodar Rupert spoke again:
"Had we not better know a little more before we start on our journey?
I shall get by semaphore what details are known. Do you all proceed
in silence and as swiftly as possible. The Vladika and I will wait
here till we have received the news and have sent some instructions,
when we shall follow, and, if we can, overtake you. One thing: be
absolutely silent on what has been. Be secret of every detail--even
as to the rescue of the Voivodin--except what I send."
Without a word--thus showing immeasurable trust--the whole body--not
a very large one, it is true--moved on, and the Gospodar began
signalling. As I was myself expert in the code, I did not require
any explanation, but followed question and answer on either side.
The first words the Gospodar Rupert signalled were:
"Silence, absolute and profound, as to everything which has been."
Then he asked for details of the capture of the Voivode. The answer
"He was followed from Flushing, and his enemies advised by the spies
all along the route. At Ragusa quite a number of strangers--
travellers seemingly--went on board the packet. When he got out, the
strangers debarked too, and evidently followed him, though, as yet,
we have no details. He disappeared at Ilsin from the Hotel Reo,
whither he had gone. All possible steps are being taken to trace his
movements, and strictest silence and secrecy are observed."
His answer was:
"Good! Keep silent and secret. Am hurrying back. Signal request to
Archbishop and all members of National Council to come to Gadaar with
all speed. There the yacht will meet him. Tell Rooke take yacht all
speed to Gadaar; there meet Archbishop and Council--give him list of
names--and return full speed. Have ready plenty arms, six flying
artillery. Two hundred men, provisions three days. Silence,
silence. All depends on that. All to go on as usual at Castle,
except to those in secret."
When the receipt of his message had been signalled, we three--for, of
course, the Voivodin was with us; she had refused to leave the
Gospodar--set out hot-foot after our comrades. But by the time we
had descended the hill it was evident that the Voivodin could not
keep up the terrific pace at which we were going. She struggled
heroically, but the long journey she had already taken, and the
hardship and anxiety she had suffered, had told on her. The Gospodar
stopped, and said that it would be better that he should press on--it
was, perhaps, her father's life--and said he would carry her.
"No, no!" she answered. "Go on! I shall follow with the Vladika.
And then you can have things ready to get on soon after the
Archbishop and Council arrive." They kissed each other after, on her
part, a shy glance at me; and he went on the track of our comrades at
a great pace. I could see him shortly after catch them up,--though
they, too, were going fast. For a few minutes they ran together, he
speaking--I could note it from the way they kept turning their heads
towards him. Then he broke away from them hurriedly. He went like a
stag breaking covert, and was soon out of sight. They halted a
moment or two. Then some few ran on, and all the rest came back
towards us. Quickly they improvised a litter with cords and
branches, and insisted that the Voivodin should use it. In an
incredibly short time we were under way again, and proceeding with
great rapidity towards Vissarion. The men took it in turns to help
with the litter; I had the honour of taking a hand in the work
About a third of the way out from Vissarion a number of our people
met us. They were fresh, and as they carried the litter, we who were
relieved were free for speed. So we soon arrived at the Castle.
Here we found all humming like a hive of bees. The yacht, which
Captain Rooke had kept fired ever since the pursuing party under the
Gospodar had left Vissarion, was already away, and tearing up the
coast at a fearful rate. The rifles and ammunition were stacked on
the quay. The field-guns, too, were equipped, and the cases of
ammunition ready to ship. The men, two hundred of them, were paraded
in full kit, ready to start at a moment's notice. The provision for
three days was all ready to put aboard, and barrels of fresh water to
trundle aboard when the yacht should return. At one end of the quay,
ready to lift on board, stood also the Gospodar's aeroplane, fully
equipped, and ready, if need were, for immediate flight.
I was glad to see that the Voivodin seemed none the worse for her
terrible experience. She still wore her shroud; but no one seemed to
notice it as anything strange. The whisper had evidently gone round
of what had been. But discretion ruled the day. She and the
Gospodar met as two who had served and suffered in common; but I was
glad to notice that both kept themselves under such control that none
of those not already in the secret even suspected that there was any
love between them, let alone marriage.
We all waited with what patience we could till word was signalled
from the Castle tower that the yacht had appeared over the northern
horizon, and was coming down fast, keeping inshore as she came.
When she arrived, we heard to our joy that all concerned had done
their work well. The Archbishop was aboard, and of the National
Council not one was missing. The Gospodar hurried them all into the
great hall of the Castle, which had in the meantime been got ready.
I, too, went with him, but the Voivodin remained without.
When all were seated, he rose and said:
"My Lord Archbishop, Vladika, and Lords of the Council all, I have
dared to summon you in this way because time presses, and the life of
one you all love--the Voivode Vissarion--is at stake. This audacious
attempt of the Turk is the old aggression under a new form. It is a
new and more daring step than ever to try to capture your chief and
his daughter, the Voivodin, whom you love. Happily, the latter part
of the scheme is frustrated. The Voivodin is safe and amongst us.
But the Voivode is held prisoner--if, indeed, he be still alive. He
must be somewhere near Ilsin--but where exactly we know not as yet.
We have an expedition ready to start the moment we receive your
sanction--your commands. We shall obey your wishes with our lives.
But as the matter is instant, I would venture to ask one question,
and one only: 'Shall we rescue the Voivode at any cost that may
present itself?' I ask this, for the matter has now become an
international one, and, if our enemies are as earnest as we are, the
issue is war!
Having so spoken, and with a dignity and force which is
inexpressible, he withdrew; and the Council, having appointed a
scribe--the monk Cristoferos, whom I had suggested--began its work.
The Archbishop spoke:
"Lords of the Council of the Blue Mountains, I venture to ask you
that the answer to the Gospodar Rupert be an instant 'Yes!' together
with thanks and honour to that gallant Englisher, who has made our
cause his own, and who has so valiantly rescued our beloved Voivodin
from the ruthless hands of our enemies." Forthwith the oldest member
of the Council--Nicolos of Volok--rose, and, after throwing a
searching look round the faces of all, and seeing grave nods of
assent--for not a word was spoken--said to him who held the door:
"Summon the Gospodar Rupert forthwith!" When Rupert entered, he
spoke to him:
"Gospodar Rupert, the Council of the Blue Mountains has only one
answer to give: Proceed! Rescue the Voivode Vissarion, whatever the
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