The Strand Magazine/Volume 1/Issue 5/The Pastor's Daughter of Seiburg

The Strand Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 5
edited by George Newnes
"The Pastor's Daughter of Seiburg", an Episode of the Turkish War; by Julius Theis
4029892The Strand Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 5 — "The Pastor's Daughter of Seiburg", an Episode of the Turkish War;Julius Theis

The Pastor's Daughter of Seiburg.

An Episode of the Turkish War: from the German of Julius Theis.

MICHAEL APAFI, whom, on September 14, 1661, Ali Pasha had created Prince of Siebenburgen, had died. The Siebenburg Chambers, mindful of their former friendly relations with the House of Austria, took advantage of this opportunity to conclude a fresh treaty with the Emperor Leopold, which allowed him to send into their country an army of some 7,000 men, under the command of General Heuzler. To this force Michael Teleki, with about 5,000 Siebenburgers, hastened to join himself.

These independent proceedings, however, mightily displeased the Sultan, who intended to confer the title of Prince of Siebenburgen upon Toköli, one of his favourites. In order to compel the inhabitants to submit, the Sultan immediately sent an army of 20,000 men into the already over-burdened principality. One of the Turkish generals, Ibrahim Pasha, was encamped on the other side of Tokan. The troops under his command were a mixed lot of Turks, Tartars, Armenians, and Circassians. To the ravages of such inhuman marauders entire districts were ruthlessly exposed, and every night the lurid glow on the horizon bore witness to the wild and lawless doings of these fierce robber bands.

It was a mild autumn evening. The Pasha, a middle-aged man, whose black, bushy beard gave a still more sinister aspect to his already forbidding countenance, was sitting in front of his tent. He was seated in Turkish fashion with his legs crossed under him, and was now and then puffing a cloud of bluish smoke from his chibouque, when suddenly a band of Tartars burst into the general's presence. They were dragging along a couple of Wallachian prisoners, whose hands were securely tied behind their backs, and whose wailings and loud lamentations at once attracted the Pasha's attention.

"They were dragging along a couple of prisoners."

The band halted before the general's tent, and the Tartar leader stood before the Pasha, bowing obsequiously and with his hands folded on his breast in token of humility, but not uttering a single word.

"Well, Hussein," asked the Pasha, "what do you bring me these Wallachian dogs for?"

The Tartar then told his commanding officer that the prisoners had been caught in the act of trying to steal two of the finest horses grazing outside the camp; and that he had brought the malefactors to the Pasha in order that he might know how to act with the offenders.

"What is all this fuss about?" said the Pasha, with the utmost coolness. "Chop off their heads."

The Tartar chief made a sign to some of his people to lead away the two rogues to instant execution, when an incident occurred which, though in itself absolutely insignificant, yet served to give an entirely different turn to affairs. As the Tartars advanced upon him to seize him, the younger of the two prisoners, stepping back instinctively, happened to catch his foot in a tent-peg and stumbled. The tall sheepskin hat which he wore tumbled to the ground, and one of the troop stooped to pick it up, in order to replace on the prisoner's head. Suddenly, however, the man was seen to stop and to fumble about the rim of the head-dress. The Pasha noticed the momentary pause and the man's half-puzzled look, and asked what was the meaning of it. It turned out that behind the lining of the sheepskin cap some hard substance was concealed. The terrified look which this discovery called up on the possessor's countenance aroused Ibrahim's curiosity and suspicion, and he ordered the lining to be ripped away. To the astonishment of all present, the Tartar chief Hussein produced out of the dirty head-dress an exquisitely painted miniature, the portrait of a most lovely girl.

"Whose portrait is this?"
"By the beard of the Prophet, a houri! Never did I see a lovelier face!" exclaimed the Pasha, as with sparkling eyes he gazed at the fair girlish features. "Speak, dog of a Wallachian, whose portrait is this?"

The elder of the two prisoners looked at his son, and shrugged his shoulders. The younger alternately glanced at Hussein and at the Pasha, undecided what course to take.

"Speak, Wallachian dog!" again shouted the Pasha. "Who is this woman?"

"As you value your father's life and your own," said the elder prisoner, "speak, Petru; it may, perhaps, be of some use to us."

At the suggestion the eyes of Petru sparkled with hope, and forth with he told the Pasha that he had stolen the precious object from the Pastor's daughter of Seiburg. The portrait was hers, and so exact and lifelike was it that a mirror could scarcely have more faithfully reflected her features. He had had many transactions with the servants in the minister's house, and had thus been able to easily obtain possession of what appeared to him a paltry jewel.

"Is Seiburg far from here?" asked Ibrahim Pasha.

"Only about a day's journey," exclaimed both father and son, almost in a breath.

The Pasha was silent for a few moments, and appeared to reflect.

"Now, listen to me, you scoundrels," said he at length. "I am willing to give you your lives, and I will richly reward you, if you will bring me that girl, and deliver her up to me."

"High and mighty lord," said the Wallachian peasant eagerly, "give me twenty good and trusty men, and, as certainly as my name is Joan Komanitza, I promise that the splendour of your eyes shall fall upon the girl! If I fail, you may take my life!"

"Very well," said Ibrahim Pasha, and calling Hussein to his side, he ordered him carefully to select twenty of the strongest and most trustworthy men of his people and to start with them and the two Wallachians at once for Seiburg.

It was on the evening of the day which followed this occurrence that Katarina, the daughter of Lucas Sydonius, pastor of Seiburg, was sitting in the summer house adjoining the manse.

By her side sat her aunt, an old lady whose pale features and feeble voice showed plainly enough that she had but just recovered from severe sickness. Indeed, the state of her aunt's health was the reason why Katarina had not long since sought a refuge within the fortified walls of Hermannstadt or of Kronstadt. Half Seiburg had fled at the approach of the dreaded Turks; only very few had remained, and among these was Katarina, who felt that her duty was to protect and comfort her ailing friend, who with her stood in the place of a mother.

Now, however, her aunt was in a fair way of recovery, and the next morning they were to set out for Hermannstadt to rejoin her father, whom, eight days before, the authorities had called thither to consult with him as to the best means of protecting their country against the Turks.

A tall, handsome man was standing at the table close by the girl and her aunt. It was Matthias, the son of a councillor of Hermannstadt, called Johannes Brenkner: Katarina was his affianced bride, and Pastor Sydonius had sent him to fetch his daughter and his sister-in-law to escort them to Hermannstadt.

"Dear aunt," said the young girl, "do not distress yourself because we are forced to leave our peaceful home; we surely shall soon return to it again."

These words of Katarina spoken to comfort her aunt, had, however, but little effect. Her own eyes were full of tears, and the trembling voice in which she uttered them proved that she also was moved by anxiety and fearful forebodings.

But Matthias said cheerfully, "My dear aunt and Katherine, do not look upon matters from their darkest side. It is true that Teleki has fallen, and that the Imperial General Henzler has been taken prisoner by the Turks; but for all that we must still have hope. All is not lost, we are daily expecting Louis of Baden, and he will bring us reinforcements."

"Full in the face."

Katarina was just about to answer, when a piercing shriek from the courtyard of the manse rent the air. This shriek was almost immediately followed by a confused noise, which soon increased to a deafening roar. The servants of the manse all huddled together, screaming with terror; Wallachian cries and Tartar curses were mingled with threats and screams for mercy.

Before the occupants of the summer-house had time to recover somewhat from their surprise there appeared at the open door the figure of a young man, who kept his glistening eyes fastened upon Katarina. It was Petru.

"Holloa! Here, boys!" he cried to his comrades in the garden; "here is the little beauty! Upon my soul, she looks so like the Holy Paraskiva in our church, may leprosy strike but I have not the courage to touch her."

"Booby!" shouted a voice behind him, "I will show you the way to set about it.' With these wor a big bearded Tartar pushed Petru aside, and, with one bound, sprang on the young girl, who sat motionless with surprise and terror. He was met, however, by a tremendous blow full in the face, which staggered him, and sent him reeling to the ground. It was Matthias who struck the blow in defence of his affianced bride; but, in revenge, Petru dealt Katarina's champion so heavy a stroke from behind with his knotted cudgel that he brought him stunned and senseless to the earth. While this was taking place, Ibrahim Pasha's men rushed into the summer-house, and Hussein at once seized upon Katarina, whom a merciful swoon had for the time deprived of feeling.

"To horse and away!" shouted the Tartar chief. He had ordered the men of his band to set fire to some out-houses and barns in order to prevent the peasants still remaining in Seiburg from coming to the aid of the Pastor's family. It was, therefore, an easy matter in the midst of the confusion that reigned all around to make off with the fainting girl.

"Hussein held Katarina on the saddle."

For a time all went well; but soon profound darkness set in, and the ravishers were forced to dismount and lead their horses by the bridle. Hussein only, who held Katarina trembling and half dead with terror before him on the saddle, did not leave his horse's back. Old Joan Kumanitza served as his guide. Meanwhile, the march through the thick darkness became more and more difficult with every step, and Hussein was glad enough to reach the hut of a Wallachian charcoal-burner.

"Are you here alone?" cried Hussein to the charcoal-burner, as he rode up to the door of his cottage at the head of his troop.

"No," replied Nikou Bratza, "my wife Ravecca has for many years lived here with me in these solitudes."

"We have lost our way," continued Hussein, "and can get no further. We want to stay here under your shed until this storm has passed. The room in your hut, I see, is scanty enough, but it is large enough to shelter one woman. The rain has wetted her to the skin. I wish her to dry her clothes and warm herself by the fire of your hearth."

"As you please, sir," said Nikou, and he called his wife to take charge of the girl, who was trembling in every limb.

Though Hussein seemed so careful for the comfort of Katarina, it was not in the least because he felt pity for the poor girl, it was the fear of Ibrahim Pasha which moved him. Katarina's violent fit of trembling, consequent on her excessive agitation, and the cold downpour of rain, had not been unnoticed by him. It made him feel exceedingly uneasy, for he was afraid that the girl might be attacked by some serious illness, and he dared not, for his life, present her to Ibrahim in her present condition.

The two horse-stealers also, old Joan Kumanitza and his son Petru, were full of anxiety. The brook which flowed behind Nikou's hut, and which the day before they had passed with perfect ease on horseback, was now swollen into an angry torrent which forbade all attempt at crossing.

"How long may it be," asked Hussein impatiently of the charcoal-burner, "before we may expect that confounded water to fall?"

"Who can tell?" replied Nikou. "It may abate towards midday to-morrow, or towards evening. It is impossible to say."

The Tartar chief muttered an oath. "We must at all events start as soon as the weather begins to clear up—cost what it will. Now bring us something to eat."

In the hut.

Nikou went into the hut; but scarcely had he shut the door behind him, than his wife rushed up to him, and, seizing his hand, dragged him to Katarina's couch.

"Nikou, husband, look! There lies the daughter of the Pastor of Seiburg."

"As I hope to be saved!" exclaimed Nikou, "it is the daughter of the Saxon pastor, who twice helped us in the direst need."

But Ravecca had not waited for this confirmation from her husband's lips. She fell down on her knees beside the girl, who still lay motionless before her, and seized her hand, which she covered with tears and kisses as she cried, in a low tone: "My little—flower the apple of my eye! Is it you? Have you fallen into the hands of those murderous thieves? Speak, speak, my violet! Do you know me? I am Ravecca—old Ravecca. Tell me that you recognise me!"

Katarina now, for the first time, became really conscious of her fearful position, and the pathetic attachment of the grateful old woman seemed to awaken the girl to a sense of her danger. Flinging her arms around the neck of the kind hearted Wallachian, she sobbed out in a voice choked with tears, "Oh, Ravecca, save me! Save me, dear Ravecca, from this hideous danger!"

Nikou Bratza was sitting on a footstool close by the hearth; he had buried his face in his hands, but did not utter a word.

"Are there, then, no means of saving the child, Nikou?" cried the old woman.

"No, wife; I can see none."

"For Heaven's sake, Nikou, think again! You are a shrewd man, and you have never closed your eyes without praying for the protection of holy Ilie."

Nikou seemed lost in thought.

"Wife!" he suddenly exclaimed, "St. Ilie has spoken. There is one way of saving the child, but it is a fearful venture, and if the Almighty does not specially watch over us and protect us we are lost."

"What is it, Nikou? Speak, speak;" cried Katarina, in the most anxious suspense.

Nikou approached the two women.

"Ravecca, be patient," said he, "and you, young lady, listen to me; but lie down and feign to be fast asleep."

"Many years ago our Wallachian brethren here on this side of the forest were sorely oppressed by the Mongols. To escape from the tyranny of their oppressors they determined to seek for themselves a new home in the midst of a morass, which lies about an hour's distance from this place. With infinite trouble, by means of long trunks of trees they constructed a firm path across the treacherous bog, thus connecting their new home with the mainland; but this path no human being who is not perfectly acquainted with the locality can possibly find. About the middle of this main road there branches off another pathway which is some forty yards long and leads to an island of firm soil in the midst of the quaking bog. These foot-paths, however, are very narrow, and woe betide the unhappy creature who chances to step but half a foot on either side—he is lost—irrevocably lost. This island, in the middle of the morass, our brethren chose for their home, and thus they dwelled in peace. My father, and my grandfather before him, knew these dangerous roads well, and from them I learned the secret. They are now both dead and gone, and I think that, beside myself, but very few could find their way across the bog. If I can but succeed in persuading the Turkish dogs to venture on the bog, and if I can but get near you, dearest child, just at the spot where the second path branches off to the island, why then it may not be impossible to save you. Saint Ilie will protect us; have you courage for the attempt?"

"Oh, yes," replied Katharina, with the utmost resolution, "a thousand times sooner would I die than remain in the hands of those dreadful men!"

Nikou rose and went to the door of his hut. "Men," cried he, with a loud voice, "I have just thought of a road which will bring you in good time to your journey's

"Where is it?" several of them eagerly exclaimed. "Show us the way at once."

"In front walked Nikou."
Nikou continued: "You cannot possibly cross the rising torrent—it were madness to attempt it, and in order to reach the bridge at Hoviz you will have to go a great distance out of your way. There is, moreover, the danger that you may be set upon by the infuriated Saxons. If you like, I will show you a short cut well known to myself, and to but very few beside me. I must warn you that it is a dangerous road; but I suppose you men do not carry women's hearts in your breasts. It is a narrow path which leads through the well-known morass."

"Get ready at once to be our guide," said Hussein.

"In a moment," replied Nikou. "Mount your horses, and by the time you want to start I shall be ready too."

A quarter of an hour later the troop began to move away. In front of the band walked Nikou, with a flaming torch in his hand. Then followed some Tartars, next came old Kumanitza and his son, who also carried a lighted torch. Hussein followed them with Katarina, and a few more Tartars brought up the rear. Silently the men rode through the darkness of the night; it was still raining, though the violence of the storm had spent itself. Ravecca was kneeling down in her poor little cottage, and raising her hands in supplication to Heaven, she prayed: "Oh, may it succeed, holy Ilie. Oh, make it to succeed, then will I pour a rich offering of the best oil into the lamp before thy picture."

Slowly for the best part of an hour did the cavalcade toil its way through the wood, when Nikou turned and cried to those who followed him: "Now, men, take care of yourselves. We are on the bog now! Follow me in single file, and do not deviate one inch from my track."

Thus speaking he moved forward, raising his torch on high, and the others followed him in slow and anxious procession. The hoofs of the terrified horses sank deep into the mire, and it required all the dexterity of the riders to induce the animals to move forwards. The red flame of the torch cast a faint and flickering light on the dark and dismal scene.

As Nikou pressed onwards, the soil seemed to become more slippery and treacherous with every step. From time to time the old charcoal-burner looked round anxiously for Hussein and the pastor's daughter. And now at length they had without mischance reached the spot where, according to Nikou's description, the second path branched off to the island. Just at that moment, accidentally as it seemed, old Nikou slipped, and the torch which he bore was immediately extinguished, and thus the vanguard was plunged into utter darkness.

"He disappeared into the darkness."

"Stand quite still, my men," said the old man, as he rose after his fall. "Don't stir for your lives! And you behind there! You, lad, with the torch; I am coming to light mine again at yours."

Petru, who was the one addressed, and who was immediately in front of Hussein, raised his torch to give old Nikou the light he wanted. The old man came along to the rear cautiously, clinging to the manes of the horses and the stirrup straps of the men. When he reached Petru, he cast one significant glance at Katarina, who was seated before Hussein on his horse, and then he snatched the torch out of Petru's hand.

"Ah," cried he suddenly, in tones which expressed the greatest terror, "look there, there!" And he pointed to the left with the light he had just obtained.

All eyes were immediately turned in the direction indicated, and at that moment Nikou dashed Petru's torch to the ground. The light was extinguished in a moment, and Nikou, plucking his knife from his girdle, plunged the blade into the flank of Hussein's horse. The animal reared with the pain, and Hussein, in the moment of terror and confusion, forgetting all about his prisoner, was forced to maintain his seat by clinging to the saddle.

Quick as lightning Nikou tore the girl from the Tartar's horse, and bearing her away in his arms, he disappeared into the surrounding darkness. The shrieks and curses of the Tartars, and the dismay and confusion which now followed, baffle description; but in the midst of the universal uproar the voice of Petru was heard crying out, "There, there they go. I have seen them. After them, after them. Oh, father, help! I am sinking! I feel as though my legs are being pulled down into the deep. Help! help!"

But no help came; each one had enough to do to look out for himself. The foremost horsemen tried to force their way back, and this caused still more terrible confusion. The horses, now beyond all control, plunged away from the narrow pathway, and rider and steed were sucked down into the quaking bog. But Katarina heard nothing of the yells of agony and despair of the death-doomed men; she was lying senseless in the strong arms of Nikou, who, with steady tread, and knowing every inch of the way, carried her safely along the treacherous road. At last he reached the firm ground and laid down his precious burden on the grass, covering and sheltering her as best he could under his sheep-skin coat.

It seemed a long time—an intolerably weary time before the first streaks of dawn appeared in the east. Old Nikou was still sitting by the side of the fainting girl, anxiously listening for every sob which seemed to struggle from her breast. Suddenly in the far distance he heard the sound of a shepherd's horn. Nearer and nearer came the notes, to which the old man listened with something like feelings of rapture. Then he arose and hastened forwards in the direction of the sound. Presently he appeared again, followed by a band of armed Saxon peasants, at whose head Matthias made his way across the sinking path.

The young man sprang lightly on to the firm ground, while Katarina, who had meanwhile recovered consciousness, fell sobbing on his neck.

"Kätchen, dearest Kätchen," cried the councillor's son; "do I see you alive again?"

"And you, Matthias, are you still alive?" cried the girl convulsively clinging to her lover's breast.

"Yes, Kätchen, I am alive and well. The blow from that spiteful wretch merely stunned me. It was some time before I regained my senses; and then Ravecca came up just as I was setting out to search for you. She sent us here to the morass. Only four of the wretched Tartars have fallen into our hands, and they are now in safe custody. All the others must have been swallowed up by the bog. But now let us leave this pestilent place."

The return journey did not take long, and under Nikou's guidance the party reached their village home in safety.

All danger from the Turkish hordes soon disappeared, and in a few days Louis of Baden came up with aid from the emperor, and thus the Turks were forced to evacuate Siebenburg altogether.

Six months after these events the pastor of Siebenburg stretched his hands in blessing over the heads of his daughter and of Matthias as he joined them for ever in the holy band of wedlock. It need hardly be said that neither Nikou nor his good wife Ravecca were wanting at the wedding feast. Nikou was no longer now a poor neglected charcoal-burner in the lonely woods. The wealthy father of Matthias bought him a comfortable hut in Fogasas, and added to this gift a pair of good oxen. And from thenceforth Saint Ilie was the protector of his home, and Ravecca could pour rich offerings of oil into the little lamp before his picture.