In the season of autumn gales, a man calling himself Euthryn Trikaliss and his young daughter Timea took passage up the Danube on the Saint Barbara, a cargo boat owned by Athanas Brasowitsch, the wealthy merchant of Komorn, in Hungary. Although Trikaliss posed as a Greek trader, proprietor of the cargo of grain carried by the vessel, the crew felt that there was some mystery about him and his lovely daughter, a suspicion confirmed when a Turkish gunboat was sighted in pursuit. By quick wit and daring, Michael Timar, supercargo of the Saint Barbara, outwitted the pursuing brigantine, brought the craft safely through the perilous rocks of the Iron Gate, and anchored it near an unnamed island on the left bank of the river.
Seeing signs of habitation on the island, Michael went ashore in hopes of buying fresh provisions for the Saint Barbara. In the midst of several acres of cultivated ground lived a woman who gave her name only as Therese and her daughter Naomi. Therese agreed to supply fruits, flour, kids, and cheese, but refused to take any money in return. She and her daughter, she explained, lived by barter, trading with farmers and smugglers of the district. When Michael returned to the boat for grain to offer in exchange for Therese’s goods, he brought Timea and her father ashore with him.
During their overnight stay on the island, another visitor, apparently an unwelcome one, appeared. He was Theodore Kristyan, who announced himself as Naomi’s betrothed. That night Michael heard Kristyan demanding money of Therese and threatening to report the existence of the island to the Turkish government if she refused. Since she had no money to give him, he took a bracelet which had been Timea’s present to Naomi.
The next morning, after Kristyan’s departure, Therese told Michael her story. Twelve years before, her husband had endorsed the older Kristyan’s note to Athanas Brasowitsch. Defaulting, the older Kristyan had run away, and Therese’s husband had been ruined when he was forced to satisfy Brasowitsch’s claims on his property. The unfortunate man committed suicide. Penniless, the widow had found a refuge for herself and her child on the island which she called No Man’s Land. There they lived happily, persecuted only by the infrequent visits of Theodore Kristyan, to whom Naomi had been betrothed before his father’s disgrace and her own father’s death.
Euthryn Trikaliss seemed despondent when the Saint Barbara resumed the voyage up the river. That night the passenger called Michael to his cabin. After telling that he had taken a fatal dose of poison, he confided that he was not a Greek trader but Ali Tschorbadschi, a Turkish government official fleeing in disgrace from the sultan’s wrath. Having recognized Kristyan as a spy of the sultan, he knew that the informer would hurry ahead to carry the news of Ali’s coming, and he preferred death to capture. He asked Michael to take Timea to Brasowitsch, a distant kinsman. Then, muttering some strange words about a red crescent, he died.
Ali was buried in the river. His fears proved correct. At Panscova Turkish officials came aboard the boat and demanded the person of Ali Tschorbadschi, but after Michael had reported the circumstances of his passenger’s death and burial, the Saint Barbara was allowed to proceed. Another disaster was to follow. Not far from Komorn the boat struck a snag and sank. Only at the risk of his own life was Michael able to save a small casket containing the thousand ducats which Ali had entrusted to him as provision for Timea’s future.
Brasowitsch was furious when he heard that his ship had foundered with its valuable cargo of grain, and he had only a surly welcome for Timea, who was still dazed by grief over her father’s death. He and his vulgar wife having agreed that the orphan was to become a servant in their household, he paid no attention to Michael’s suggestion that the gain be salvaged for Timea’s sake. He did, however, give Michael power of attorney to dispose of the cargo.
Among Michael’s friends was Lieutenant Imre Katschuka, betrothed to Athalie, Brasowitsch’s daughter. The officer informed Michael that army maneuvers were to be staged near Komorn, and he suggested that the sunken grain could be used to make bread for the troops. Acting on information supplied by Katschuka, Michael underbid Brasowitsch on the bread contract for the army and later, having...
(The entire section is 1819 words.)