'The next time you come to Greifenstein,' he said, leaning forward again and speaking to his cousin, 'it will be on the occasion of a very happy event.'
'Yes,' answered Frau von Sigmundskron with her gentle smile, 'I hope so.'
'I think that if you approve, and if your daughter has no objections—'
'Objections!' cried Frau von Greifenstein, suddenly waking from her reverie and turning her face to her companion's with an engaging simper. 'As if dear, sweet, beautiful Hilda could have any objections to marrying our Greif! Objections! Ah no, dear cousin, that youthful heart is already on fire!'
The words were uttered with such an affectation of softness that Pretzel did not move, as his mistress anxiously looked to see if he were awake when she had done speaking.
'No,' replied the other lady calmly. 'She has none. But I do not think that was what my cousin Greifenstein meant.'
'I meant that the marriage might take place early in the new year, if neither you nor your daughter had any objections,' said Greifenstein.
'But they have none—she has just told you so! Oh, Hugo, how dull men are, where love is concerned! Why should they object?'
'Indeed, I cannot see any reason why they should not be married in January,' said Hilda's mother. But there was a shade of annoyance in her face, and she bit her lip a little as she bent over her work.
'Very good, then,' pursued Greifenstein, as though his wife had not spoken. 'We will say the first week in January, if it is agreeable to you.'
'It seems to me,' observed Frau von Greifenstein with a fine affectation of irony, 'that I might be consulted too.'
The Lady of Sigmundskron looked up quickly, but Greifenstein seemed to grow calmer than ever.
'Pardon me, my dear wife,' he answered, with a rather formal inclination of the head. 'If you will be as kind as to remember our conversation of last night, you will call to mind that I asked your consent to the arrangement, and that you gave it at once.'
'Ah yes!' said Frau von Greifenstein. 'It is true. I daresay we did speak of it. Ah, you see, the multiplicity of my household cares drives these things from my head!'
Thereupon her face grew vague and expressionless and she looked again at the birds and the butterflies.
'Moreover,' said Greifenstein, now addressing his wife directly, 'I am sure you will recollect that we proposed to ask our cousin to stay with us until the young people return from their wedding trip.'
'Yes—yes. I believe we did,' replied Clara very vaguely and nodding her head slowly at each word. 'Indeed we did!' she exclaimed turning quickly with one of her unexpected smiles. 'Of course! Dear, dear! What could you do, all by yourself up there among those towers? Such a solitary life, and your only daughter, too! How I pity you!'
'You are very kind. But I am not much to be pitied. Many mothers lose their children altogether when they have married them. Hilda will always be near me, and we can see each other as often as we please.'
'Your room at Greifenstein will always be ready to receive you,' said the master of the house.
'Oh always, always!' affirmed his wife with great vivacity.
The conversation languished. It was impracticable to discuss anything seriously in the presence of Frau von Greifenstein, for her inopportune interruptions rendered any connected talk impossible.
Presently Greifenstein took a newspaper from his pocket and began to read the news of the day aloud to the two ladies. He did not read well, and the sound of his mechanical voice had a drowsy effect in the warm June air, like the clacking of an old-fashioned mill, dull, regular and monotonous. Neither of his companions, however, felt inclined for sleep. His wife watched the birds with a weary look, and his cousin plied her needle upon her fine work. During many hundreds of afternoons like this Frau von Greifenstein had sat in the same place hearing the same voice, and wearing the same expression. She rarely listened, though she occasionally uttered some exclamation more or less appropriate to what she thought she had heard. She was generally asking herself whether she had done well to accept the peace and the isolation that had fallen to her lot.
Her life was certainly neither happy nor gay. She had all that money could give, but there was no one to see that she had it. Like glory, wealth gives very little satisfaction unless there is a public to witness its effects, and the pleasure we derive from them. Frau von Greifenstein had no public, and to a nature that is fond of show the privation is a great one. She could dress herself as gorgeously as she pleased, but there was no one to envy her splendour, nor even to admire it. For years she had played to an empty house. If, by any fantastic combination of events, it were possible that a fairly good actress should ever be obliged to play the same part every night for five and twenty years in an absolutely empty theatre, and if she did not go mad under the ordeal, she would perhaps turn out very like the Lady of Greifenstein. The stage was always set; the scenery was always of the best and newest; the vacant boxes and the yawning pit were brilliantly lighted; the costumes were by the best makers; the stage manager was punctual and in his place; the curtain went up every day for the performance; but Frau von Greifenstein's theatre was silent and untenanted, not a voice broke the stillness, not a rustle of garments or a flutter of a programme in a spectator's hand made the silence less intense, not an echo of applause woke a thrill of pride or vanity in the heart of the solitary performer. And the poor actress was growing old, wasting her smiles, and her poses, and her bursts of laughter, and her sudden entries on the empty air, till by mechanical repetition they had grown so meaningless as to be almost terrifying and more than grotesque.
It was no wonder that she seemed so very silly. Incapable of finding any serious resource in her intellect, she had devoted her energies to outward things in a place where there was no one to applaud her efforts or flatter her vanity. Many women would have given it up and would have fallen into a state of listless indifference; some would have become insane. But with Frau von Greifenstein the desire to please by appearance and manner had outlasted any natural gift for pleasing which she might once have possessed, and had withstood the test of solitude and the damping atmosphere created by a total absence of appreciation. It cannot be denied that her mind dwelt with bitterness on the hardness of her situation. More than once she had thought of changing her mode of life to plunge into a pietist course of simplicity and asceticism. But when the morning came, the emptiness of her existence made the diversion of personal adornment a necessity. There was nothing else to do. And yet she never pressed her husband to go and live in town, nor to fill the castle with visitors. She had lost all hold upon the current of events in the outer world; and as she looked at herself in her mirror, and saw better than any one else the remorseless signature of time etched deep in the face that had once been pretty, she felt a sharp pain in her breast, and a sinking at the heart, for she knew that it was all over and that she had grown old. There were even moments when she feared lest she were becoming ridiculous, for she had not originally been without a certain acute perception in regard to herself. But the fear of ridicule is never strong unless a comparison of ourselves with others is possible, and Frau von Greifenstein lived too much alone to suffer long any such imaginary terrors. The time when she might still have made a figure in the world had gone by, however, and she knew it, and as any desire for change which she had formerly felt had sprung from the wish to be seen, rather than from the wish to see others, she was becoming resigned to her fate. She had reached that sad period at which half the pleasure of life consists in dreaming of what one might have done twenty years ago. It is a dreary amusement, but people who are very hopeless and solitary find it better than none at all.
Greifenstein read on, without much punctuation and with no change of tone. There was an article upon the European situation, another upon tariffs, the court news, the gazette, the festivities projected for a certain great event. It was all the same to him.
'In view of the solemnity of the occasion, his majesty has deigned to grant amnesty to all political—'
He stopped suddenly and coughed, running his eye along the lines that followed.
'To all what?' inquired his wife with a show of interest.
'To all political offenders concerned in the revolutionary movements of 1848 and 1849,' continued Greifenstein, who sat up very straight in his chair and tried to read more mechanically than usual, though his voice grew unaccountably husky. What followed was merely a eulogium upon the imperial clemency, and he read on rapidly without taking his eyes from the printed sheet. Frau von Sigmundskron uttered a little exclamation. She had pricked her thin white finger with her needle. The Lady of Greifenstein saw the tiny drop of blood, and immediately exhibited an amount of emotion out of all proportion with the accident.
'Oh, what have you done!' she cried, and she was pale with anxiety as she bent forward and insisted on seeing the scratch. 'But, my dear, you have wounded yourself! Your finger is bleeding! Oh, it is too dreadful! You must have some water, and I will go and get you some court-plaster —do be careful! Bind it up with your handkerchief till I come!'
She rose quickly, and Pretzel for once was forgotten, and rolled from her knees to the grass, falling upon all-fours with a pathetic little squeak. But Frau von Greifenstein picked him up and fled towards the house in search of the plaster before he could make any further protest against such rough treatment.
'My wife cannot bear the sight of blood,' observed Greifenstein, who had lowered the newspaper and was looking over his glasses at his cousin's hand.
'The wound is not dangerous,' she answered with an attempt to smile, but her eyes fixed themselves on Greifenstein's with a look of anxious inquiry.
'He will come back,' he said, in a low voice, and the colour slowly left his face.
'Do you think it possible?' asked his cousin in the same tone.
'It is certain. He is included in the amnesty. He has hoped for it these many years.'
'Even if he does—he will not come here. You will never see him.'
'No. I will not see him. But he will be in Germany. It is for Greif—' he stopped, as though he were choking with anger, but excepting by the pallor of his stern features, his face expressed nothing of what he felt.
'Greif will live here and will never see him either,' said Frau von Sigmundskron. 'Besides, he does not know—'
'He knows. Some student told him and got a sabre cut for his pains. He knows, for he told me so only yesterday.'
'That only makes it easier, then. Greif will be warned, and need never come into contact with him. Hilda would not understand, even if she were told. What can she know about revolutions and those wild times? I am sure he will never attempt to come here.'
'He shall not sleep under my roof, not if he is starving!' exclaimed Greifenstein fiercely. 'If he had not been the dog he is, he would have made an end of himself long ago.'
'Do not say that, cousin. It was better that he should live out his life in a foreign country than do such a bad thing.'
'I do not agree with you. When a man has taken Judas Iscariot for his model I think he ought to follow so eminent an example to the end.'
Frau von Sigmundskron did not wish to argue the point. Far down in her heart there existed an aristocratic and highly irreligious prejudice about such matters, and though her convictions told her that suicide was a crime, her personal sentiment of honour required that a man who had disgraced himself should put an end to his existence forthwith.
'He will write, if he means to come,' she observed, by way of changing the current of the conversation.
'It would be more like him to force himself upon me without warning,' said Greifenstein, folding the paper with his lean strong hands and drawing his thumb-nail sharply along the doubled edges. The action was unconscious, but was mechanically and neatly performed, like most things the man did. Then he opened it, spread it out and looked again at the passage that contained the news. Suddenly his expression changed.
'I do not believe he is included in the amnesty,' he said. 'He was not convicted for a political misdeed, but for a military crime involving a breach of trust. He aggravated his offence by escaping. I do not believe that he is included.'
'But will he not believe it himself?' asked Frau von Sigmundskron.
'It will be at his peril, then.' Greifenstein's face expressed a momentary satisfaction. Again he folded the paper with the utmost care, evidently reflecting upon the situation.
'I suppose he will be sent back to the fortress,' observed his companion.
'I would almost rather he were pardoned, than that,' answered Greifenstein gloomily. 'The whole scandal would be revived—my name would appear, it would be a fresh injury to Greif. And my wife knows nothing of it. She would hear it all.'
'Does she know nothing?' asked Frau von Sigmundskron, looking curiously at her cousin.
'Not a word. She never heard his name.'
'I could not help supposing that she left us just now because she was disturbed at the news—and she has not come back.'
'She is not so diplomatic as that,' answered Greifenstein with something like a grim smile. 'She forgets things easily, and has probably been detained by some household matter.'
Frau von Sigmundskron could not help admiring the way in which Greifenstein always spoke of his wife, excusing her more noticeable eccentricities, and affecting to ignore her minor peculiarities, with a consistent dignity few men could have sustained in the society of such a woman. It was a part of his principle of life, and he never deviated from it. It had perhaps been strengthened by the necessity of teaching Greif to respect his mother and to treat her with a proper show of reverence, but the prime feeling itself was inseparable from his character, and did honour to it. Whatever he might think of his wife, no living person should ever suspect that he could have wished her to be different. He had chosen her and he must abide by his choice.
But his cousin was a very keen-sighted person and understood him better than he guessed, admiring his forbearance and giving him full credit for his constancy. She had her own opinions concerning his wife, and did not like her; nor was she quite free from a disturbing apprehension lest at some future time Greif might develop some of his mother's undesirable peculiarities. At present, indeed, there seemed to be nothing which could justify such fears; but she found it hard to believe that the young man had inherited nothing whatever from his mother. She could remember the time when Frau von Greifenstein had been younger and fresher, when her hair had been less dull and colourless, and when her complexion had possessed something of that radiance which was so especially noticeable in her son. And yet Hilda's mother felt instinctively that she could never dislike Greif, even if he became vain and foolish, which did not seem very probable.
For some minutes neither of the cousins spoke, and Frau von Sigmundskron sat doing nothing, which was altogether contrary to her nature, her work lying upon her knees and her hands joined one upon the other. As for Greifenstein, he had at last folded the paper to his satisfaction and had returned it to his pocket. Presently the sound of his wife's footsteps was heard upon the gravel path. She seemed less excited than when she had left her seat.
'I have kept you waiting,' she said, as she came up. 'I could not find what I wanted, and when I did that dreadful Pretzel was swallowing a pair of scissors and nearly had a fit, so that I had to give him a hot bath to calm him. He is such a care! You have no idea—but here it is, if it is not too late. I am so dreadfully sorry! I thought I should have died! Do let me put it upon your finger.'
The scratch had entirely disappeared, but Frau von Sigmundskron did not wish to appear ungracious, or ungrateful, and held out her hand without any remark. It would have seemed uncharitable to make Clara's errand look wholly superfluous before Greifenstein. But he paid very little attention to what was passing, for he was preoccupied with his own thoughts, and before long he rose, excused himself for going away by saying that he had some pressing correspondence, and left the two ladies to their own devices.
Frau von Sigmundskron felt rather uncomfortable, as she always did when she was alone with her hostess. To-day she had an unpleasant consciousness that she was in the way, and that, if she were not present, Clara would have already disappeared, in order to be alone. She resolved to make the interview as short as possible.
'The weather is very warm,' she remarked, as a preparatory move towards going into the house.
'Is it?' asked her companion as though she had been told something very unusual.
'It seems so to me,' responded the baroness, rather surprised that the fact should be questioned. 'But then, it always seems warmer here after Sigmundskron.'
'Yes—yes, perhaps so. I daresay it is. How very good of his majesty— is it not?'
'To grant an amnesty?'
'Yes, to forgive those dreadful creatures who did so much harm. I am sure I would not have done it—would you? But you are so good—did you ever know any of them?'
'Oh no, never. I was—' She was going to say that she had been too young, but she was stopped by a feeling of consideration for Clara. 'I was never in the way of seeing them,' she said, completing the sentence.
'As for me,' said Clara, 'I was a mere child, quite a little thing you know.' An engaging smile—poor woman, it was more than half mechanical and unconscious—emphasised this assertion of her youth.
Frau von Sigmundskron, in whom enforced economy had developed an unusual facility for mental arithmetic, could not refrain from making a quick calculation. Forty-eight from eighty-eight, forty—a young thing, perhaps ten—ten and forty, fifty. Clara was virtually admitting that she was fifty, and if she owned to that, she must be nearer sixty. In other words, she must have been well over thirty when she had married Greifenstein. She was certainly wonderfully well preserved. And yet Greifenstein had more than once told his cousin that he had married his wife when she was a widow five and twenty years of age. This was the first occasion upon which Clara had ever let fall a word which could serve as a starting-point in the calculation, and though the baroness was the best and kindest of mortals she would not have been a woman if she had failed to notice the statement, or to draw from it such conclusions as it offered to her ingenuity.
'The people who profit by the pardon will be old men,' she remarked.
'Old?' repeated Clara with a scarcely perceptible start. 'Not so very. They may be less than sixty—a man of sixty is still young at that age. I wonder whether any of them will profit by the permission to return. What do you think, Therese?'
The question was asked with every show of interest, and the baroness raised her quiet eyes from her work. She and Clara very rarely called each other by their first names. They generally avoided the difficulty by a plentiful use of the convenient designation of cousin. Frau von Greifenstein evidently meant to be more than usually confidential, and her companion wondered what was coming, and began to feel nervous.
'Really,' she answered, 'I do not know. I suppose that a man who has been expelled from his country and exiled for many years, would naturally take the first opportunity of returning. I should think it probable. On the other hand—' she stopped a moment, to smooth a stitch in her work.
'On the other hand?' repeated Clara anxiously.
'Well, I was going to say that in forty years, a man might learn to love an adopted country as well as his own, and might prefer to stay there. It would depend upon the man, upon his character, his tastes, perhaps upon whether he had gone into the revolution out of mistaken patriotism, or out of personal ambition.'
'Do you think so? Why?' Frau von Greifenstein seemed deeply interested.
'Because I fancy that a patriot would come back at any rate. His love of his country would be the strongest element in his nature. An ambitious man would either have found a field for his ambition elsewhere in forty years, or the passion would have died a natural death by that time.'
'Ah yes! There is truth in that! But what a dreadfully extraordinary position!' she exclaimed, with one of her unexpected bursts of laughter. 'What a novel! Do you not see it! Oh, if I were only a novelist, what a plot I could make out of that! Dearest cousin, is it not time to have coffee?'
From that day the life at Greifenstein became even more drearily monotonous than it had been before, for all the party excepting Greif and Hilda. To any one not accustomed to the atmosphere the existence would have been unbearable, but humanity can grow used to anything by degrees. A stranger finding himself unexpectedly at the castle would have felt that the sweet air of the forest was poisoned at that one point by some subtle and undefinable element, that appealed to none of the senses in particular, but oppressed them all alike. The sensation was not like that caused by a vague anxiety, or by the shadow of a coming event creeping mysteriously onward, a mere uneasiness as to the result which must soon be apparent, but of which it is not possible to say whether it will be good or bad. It was worse than that, for if there were to be any result at all, it must be very bad indeed. Greifenstein himself felt as he supposed a criminal might feel who was hourly expecting discovery. If his half-brother returned, the suffering caused by his presence in the country would be almost as great as the shame of having committed his crime could have been. Frau von Sigmundskron was more indifferent, for she had never known the man, and her knowledge of what he had done was less accurate than Greifenstein's. But she was nevertheless very uncomfortable when she thought of his appearance. It had been judged best to acquaint Greif with the proclamation of the amnesty, in order that he might be prepared for any contingency, but the news made very little impression upon him, for he had learned the existence of his disgraced relative so recently that he had from the first feared his return, and had thought of what he should do ever since. Moreover he had Hilda with him, and he was very young, two circumstances which greatly diminished his anxiety about the future. He was very glad, however, that his academical career was so near its end, for he reflected that it would be tiresome to be constantly fighting duels about his uncle. For the present, he had abandoned the idea of taking active service in the army.
Greifenstein was more silent, and stiff, and severely conscientious than ever, and his daily habits grew if possible more unbendingly regular, as though he were protesting already against any unpleasant disturbance in his course of life which might be in store for him. When he was alone with his cousin, he never recurred to the subject of Rieseneck or his return, though the baroness constantly expected him to do so, and watched his inscrutable face to detect some signs of a wish to discuss the matter. For two reasons, she would not take the initiative in bringing up the topic. In the first place, as he was the person most nearly concerned, her tact told her that it was for him to decide whether he would talk of his brother or not. Secondly she was silent, because she had noticed something, and knew that he had noticed it also. Frau von Greifenstein's behaviour was slowly changing, and the change had begun from the hour in which her husband had read from the paper the paragraph relating to the amnesty.
From the first moment, Frau von Sigmundskron had suspected that Clara was affected by the news, and her first impression had very naturally been that she knew the story and had learned it from her husband. There was nothing improbable in the idea, and but for Greifenstein's words, she would have taken it for granted that this was the true state of the case. He, however, had emphatically denied that Clara was in the secret, and had evidently looked forward with pain to the moment when he should be obliged to communicate it to her. He was the most scrupulously truthful of men, and could not have had any object in concealing the point from his cousin. And yet there was no doubt that his wife's manner had changed, and the baroness could see that Greifenstein was aware of it. Clara's vague absence of mind, which had formerly been only occasional, was increasing, while her fits of spasmodic laughter became fewer, till at last whole days passed during which her features were not disturbed by a single smile. There was indeed little to laugh at in her home, at the best, but she had laughed frequently nevertheless, because people had told her long ago that it was becoming to her style of beauty. But she was growing daily more silent and abstracted, scarcely speaking at all, and not even pretending to be amused at anything. Greifenstein watched her for a week, and then inquired whether she were ill. She thanked him and said there was nothing the matter, but during some hours after he had asked the question she made an evident effort to return to her former manner. The effect was painful in the extreme. Her affected mirth seemed more hollow than ever, and her words more incoherent. Frau von Sigmundskron began to fear that Clara was going mad, but the latter was not equal to sustaining the effort long, and soon relapsed into her former silence. Her face grew suddenly very old. She moved more slowly. The wrinkles deepened almost visibly, and she became daily thinner. It was evident that something was preying upon her, and that the mental suffering was reacting upon her body.
Greifenstein said nothing more, and he told no one what he thought. If his cousin had not suggested to him that Clara must know the story, he would have supposed that she was ill, and would have sent for a physician. It would never have entered his mind that she could have understood all that the proclamation of the amnesty meant to him. He would have supposed it a coincidence that she should have been first affected by the malady on that particular day. But the baroness's remark had had the effect of fixing in his mind what had immediately preceded it. He remembered how his wife had suddenly taken advantage of a most trivial excuse, to show an amount of exaggerated emotion unusual even for her. He remembered her long absence and her changed expression when she returned, her silence that evening and her increasing taciturnity ever since. The connexion between the paragraph and her conduct seemed certain, and Greifenstein set himself systematically to think out some explanation for the facts. In five and twenty years Rieseneck's name had never been mentioned in her presence. If she had ever heard of him it must have been before she had married Greifenstein. It was possible that she might feel the disgrace involved in the man's return so keenly as to suffer physically at the thought of it; but Greifenstein's common sense told him that this was very improbable. In such a case it would have been far more natural for her to come to her husband and ask to be told the whole truth. It was easier to believe that her conduct was due to some other cause, that she had really never heard of Rieseneck's existence, and that there was some other person whose possible return, in consequence of the amnesty, she dreaded as much as Greifenstein feared the reappearance of his half-brother. Many persons had been involved in the revolutionary movements of 1848 and had been obliged to leave the country in consequence. Clara's first husband had died of heart disease in Dresden in the year 1860, and consequently could not have been connected with the events of those times in any way to his discredit. She had shown Greifenstein the official notice of his death in an old gazette of the period. But it was not unlikely that in those unsettled times one of her relations might have got into trouble and been exiled or imprisoned. At the time of her marriage however she had acknowledged no relative excepting an elderly aunt who had been present at the wedding, but who had died since, without ever paying a visit to the castle, and no other connexion of hers had ever appeared upon the scene. Greifenstein was well aware that he had hurried the marriage by every means in his power. He had been fascinated by Clara, and had been madly in love. They had met in the Bavarian highlands and had been married two months later in Munich, with very little formality. Since that time Greifenstein had always avoided going to Dresden, on account of the painful associations the city must have for his wife, and had preferred not to visit Berlin, which had been the scene of his brother's crime and trial. The consequence was that neither of the two had ever been among people who had known them previously.
The idea that two disgraced persons might come back from exile, instead of one, was extremely disquieting to Greifenstein's peace of mind. He knew well enough what to do with Rieseneck if he appeared. He would shut the gates and let him shift for himself. But the other man would be in search of Clara. He wondered who he might be, and what their relations could have been, whether he would turn out to be a brother, an uncle, or merely some man who had loved her in former days, a mere rejected suitor. Even should he prove to be her brother, he could not reproach her for her silence, since he found himself in exactly the same situation. That contingency, however, was remote. It was extremely unlikely that each should have a brother who had been convicted of evil deeds in the revolution, considering how short a time the disturbance had lasted. The theory that the man was a disappointed pretender to her hand was infinitely more probable. In any case, Greifenstein made up his mind that a person existed whose return Clara feared, and the prospect of whose appearance was so painful as to affect her health.
For some time he hesitated as to the course he should pursue. He was certainly free to tell her his suspicions, on condition that he told her of his own apprehensions at the same time. To get her secret without giving his in return would be unfair, according to his notions of honour, even apart from the consideration that if Rieseneck came back he would ultimately be obliged to confide in her. But, on the other hand, there was a possibility that Rieseneck might not come back, after all, and in that case, if he had told her everything, he would have submitted himself to a painful humiliation without necessity. He resolved to keep his own counsel and at the same time to ask his wife no questions.
Rieseneck was in South America, but Greifenstein had no reason for supposing that the person whose possible return so greatly disturbed Clara had betaken himself to so distant a country. He might be in Italy, in France, in England, anywhere within eight and forty hours' journey. He might therefore arrive at any moment after the proclamation.
But no stranger came, though the days became weeks, and the weeks months, until it was almost time for Greif to go back to Schwarzburg. Greifenstein began to think that the problematical personage was dead, though Clara evidently did not share his opinion, for she never regained her former manner. Under any other circumstances Greifenstein would have enjoyed the change, the absence of irrelevant interruption, the rest from her unnatural laughter, the gravity of her tired face. He was far from being satisfied, however, and his earnest mind brooded constantly over the possibilities of the unknown future. His situation was the harder to bear because he could not explain it to his son, the only human being for whom he felt a strong natural sympathy. It would have seemed like teaching the boy to suspect his mother of some evil.
Greif secretly wondered what was happening in his home. The atmosphere was unbearably oppressive, and if he had not been able to spend most of his time with Hilda he would have asked his father's permission to take his knapsack and go for a walking expedition in Switzerland, on the chance of falling in with a fellow-student. He had noticed the change in his mother from the first, and asked her daily if she were not better. Clara would not admit that she was ill, but she looked at Greif with an expression to which he was not accustomed and which made him nervous. Hitherto he had never quite known whether she loved him or not. She had spoiled him as much as she dared when he was a child, but there had always been something in her way of indulging him which, even to the little boy, had not seemed genuine. Children rarely love those who spoil them, and never trust them. Their keen young sense detects the false note in the character, and draws its own conclusions, which are generally very just. Greif had found out when he was very young that his mother gave him everything he asked for, not because she loved him, but because she was too weak to refuse, and too indolent to care for the result. He had found her inaccurate in what she told him, and negligent in fulfilling the little promises upon which a child builds such great hopes, though she was always ready to pay damages for her forgetfulness by excessive indulgence in something else, when it was agreeable to her. Greif had discovered that his father rarely promised him anything, but that if he did, it was something worth having, and that he was scrupulously exact in keeping his word about such matters, even at the expense of his own convenience. He consequently admired his father and was proud to imitate him; whereas he very soon learned to consider his mother as a person of inferior intelligence, who did not know enough to be accurate, and who did not respect herself enough to fulfil her promises. But for his father's influence he would probably have ended by showing what he felt. Greifenstein, however, exacted from him an unvarying reverence and courtesy towards his mother, and never, even in moments of the greatest confidence, permitted the boy to criticise the least of her actions.
To tell Greif of the suspicions which agitated his own mind was therefore contrary to Greifenstein's fixed principles, and consequently utterly impossible. In reply to his questions about his mother's health the only answer which was at once plausible and in accordance with truth was the plain statement that Clara denied being ill, but that she nevertheless appeared to be suffering from some unknown complaint. Greif was not satisfied, but his own ingenuity could discover no explanation of the facts, and he was obliged to hold his peace. His mother's manner and her look when he spoke to her disturbed him. It was as though her uncertain and careless affection had suddenly developed into something more true and sincere. There was something wistful in the fixed gaze of her eyes, as though she feared to know what was in his heart, and yet longed for some more frank expression of his love for her than that mere reverential courtesy which he had been taught to show his mother since he was a child. Being very young and of a very kind heart, Greif began to wonder whether he had not misunderstood her throughout many years. He possessed that kind of nature which cannot long refrain from returning any sort of affection it receives, provided that affection appears to be genuine. He gradually began to feel a responsive thrill in his heart when he saw that his mother's sad eyes watched his movements and lingered upon his face. The tone of his voice began to change when he addressed her, though he was scarcely conscious of it. His words became gentler and more sympathetic, as his thoughts of her assumed a kindlier disposition. He began to reproach himself with his former coldness, and he frankly owned to himself that he had misunderstood her.
It had always been his custom to go to his mother's boudoir in the morning, when he had not already left the house before she was visible. It was rather a formal affair. Greif knocked at the door and waited for her answer. Being admitted, he went to his mother and kissed her hand. She kissed his forehead in return. He asked her how she was, and she inquired what he was going to do during the day. After five minutes of conversation, he generally took leave of her with the same ceremony, and departed. He usually avoided being with her at any other time, and accident rarely brought them together in the course of the day, for Greif was always with Hilda or with his father. Very gradually, he began to find this morning visit less irksome. He fancied that his mother would willingly have detained him a little longer, but that she felt how little he could care for her society as compared with that of Hilda. Then, too, she had grown so sad and silent as to excite in him a sort of pity. At last the feeling that was drawing them closer found expression.
Greif had made his usual visit one morning and was about to leave the room. Her sorrowful, faded eyes looked up to his, and slowly filled with tears. He felt an irresistible impulse to speak, and yielded to it.
'Mother,' he said, kneeling down beside her, and taking her hand affectionately in his, 'what is it? Why are you ill, and sad? Will you not tell me?'
She looked at him a moment longer, wonderingly, as though hardly believing what she saw. Then she broke down. The long restrained tears welled up and rolled over her thin cheeks, making lines and patches in the pink powder, at once grotesque and pitiful. The carefully curled ringlets of colourless hair contrasted strangely with the sudden havoc in her complexion. Perhaps she was conscious of it, for she tried to turn her face away, so that Greif should not see it. Then all at once, with a heartrending sob, she let her head fall forward upon his shoulder, while her nervous, wasted hands grasped his two arms convulsively.
'Oh Greif! I am a very miserable old woman!' she cried.
'What is it, mother? Oh, tell me what is the matter!' he exclaimed, not knowing what to say, but amazed at the outburst he had so little anticipated.
For some moments she could say nothing. Greif held her, and prevented her from slipping off her seat. Looking down, though he could not see her face, he could see well enough how the tears fell fast and thick upon the rough sleeve of his shooting coat and trickled down the woollen material till they rolled off at his elbow. He did not know what to do, for he had never seen her cry before, and was indeed little accustomed to woman's weeping.
'Dearest mother,' he said at last, 'I am so sorry for you! If you would only tell me—'
'Ah Greif-my son—if I thought you loved me—a little—I should be less unhappy!'
'But I do. Oh, forgive me, if I have never shown you that I do!' He was in great distress, for he was really moved, and a great wave of repentance for all his past coldness suddenly overwhelmed his conscience.
'If it were only true!' sobbed the poor lady. 'But it is all my fault— oh, Greif, Greif—my boy—promise that you will not forsake me, whatever happens to me!'
'Indeed, I promise,' answered Greif in great surprise. 'But what can happen? What is it that you fear, mother?'
'Oh, I am very foolish,' she replied with a hysterical attempt at a laugh. 'Perhaps it is nothing, after all.'
Her tears burst out afresh. Greif attempted in vain to soothe her, calling her by endearing names he had never used to her before, and feeling vaguely surprised at the expressions of affection that fell from his lips. All at once, with a passionate movement, she threw her arms round his neck and kissed him. Then, pushing him aside, she rose quickly and fled to the next room before he could regain his feet.
For some moments he stood looking at the closed door. Then his instinct told him that she would not return, and he slowly left the room, pondering deeply on what he had seen and heard.
The next time they met she made no reference to what had passed, and Greif's natural delicacy warned him not to approach the subject. Had there been such previous intimacy between the two as might be expected to exist between mother and son, an explanation could scarcely have been avoided. As it was, however, both felt that it was better to leave the matter alone. The bond between them was stronger than before, and that was enough for Clara. She experienced a sense of comfort in Greif's mere existence which somewhat lightened the intolerable burthen of her secret. As for Greif himself, the situation appeared to him more mysterious than ever, and the air of the house more oppressive. It seemed to him that every one was watching every one else, and that at the same time each member of the household was concealing something from the others. He felt that it would be a relief to return to the thoughtless life of the University, even at the expense of a separation from Hilda.
Hilda had not failed to notice what was so apparent to every one else, and had asked her mother questions concerning the evident depression that reigned in the household. But the good baroness had only answered that, whatever might be the matter, it was no concern of Hilda's nor of her own; and that when disagreeable things occurred in other people's houses it was a duty not to see them. Hilda's ideas about ill health were exceedingly vague, and she contented herself with supposing that Frau von Greifenstein was ill, and that sick persons probably always behaved as she did. At last the time came for Greif's departure.
The sense of impending evil was in some measure accountable for the unusual emotion exhibited at the parting. He had never taken leave of his mother so affectionately before, nor had he before seen the tears start into her eyes as she kissed him and said good-bye. Never before had the grip of his father's hand seemed to convey so much of sympathy, nor did he remember that his own voice had ever at other times trembled as though it were sticking in his throat. Even Frau von Sigmundskron was a little moved and pressed his hand warmly when he kissed her, though she said nothing. Hilda was very silent, and never took her eyes from him. He had bidden her farewell before taking leave of the rest, at their old haunt by the Hunger-Thurm. There had not been many words, and there had been no tears, but it had been nevertheless the saddest parting Greif ever remembered. The day was cloudy and a soft wind was making melancholy music among the grand old trees. Their own voices had sounded discordant and out of tune, and the words that might have expressed what they felt would not be found, and perhaps were not needed.
But when the last minute was come the whole party went out together to the gate where the carriage was standing. Greif found himself with Hilda, separated for a moment from the rest. She laid her hand upon his arm and spoke in a low voice.
'Something evil is going to happen to you, Greif,' she said. There was something in the accents that chilled him, but he tried to smile.
'I hope not, sweetheart,' he answered.
'I am sure of it,' said Hilda in a tone of conviction. 'I cannot tell why—only, remember, whatever happens—it will be something terrible—I shall always love you—always, always.'
The others came up, and her voice sank to a whisper as she repeated the last word. Greif looked anxiously into her face, and saw that she was pale, and that her flashing blue eyes were veiled and dim. He was startled, for he had never seen such a change in her before. But there was no time for words. He whispered a loving answer, but she seemed not to hear his words as she stood against the huge rough masonry of the gate, gazing down the drive in the direction of the Hunger-Thurm. As he was driven rapidly away, he looked back and waved his hat. The others had stepped forward upon the pavement on one side of the gate, but Hilda had not moved. Then as the turn of the road was about to hide the castle from view, he saw her cover her face with both her hands and turn back into the shadow of the deep gateway.
Greif settled himself in his comfortable seat, wondering what it all meant. It was very strange that Hilda should have so suddenly and so forcibly expressed the same idea that had agitated his mother a few days earlier. It was impossible that they could have talked together, or that they could be thinking of the same thing. There was no sympathy between them, and besides, if Hilda had learned anything from Frau von Greifenstein which Greif did not know, she would certainly have told him of it, especially as this impending catastrophe threatened him as well as his mother. He was too firmly opposed to all sorts of superstition to believe that Hilda had received any supernatural warning of an event about to occur. But for the conversation that had taken place with his mother, he would unhesitatingly have told himself that Hilda was yielding to a foolish presentiment raised by the sorrow of parting. Persons in love are very apt to fancy each separation the last, and to imagine some dreadful disaster to be in store for the object of their affections. He flattered himself that his own common sense was too strong to be shaken by such absurdities, but he owned that the sensation was a natural one. Without giving way to presentiments he nevertheless always felt that something might happen to Hilda before his return, and it was not strange that she should feel the same anxiety in regard to him. The impulsive expression she had given to her fear was not in itself surprising, and if she had turned pale for the first time in her life, it was perhaps because her heart was really waking to something stronger than that even, emotionless affection she had hitherto bestowed upon him.
There was a similarity, however, between his mother's words and Hilda's, which was not so easily explained, and the coincidence was oddly in harmony with the oppressive constraint that had reigned at Greifenstein during the vacation. Greif could not help thinking very seriously of it all, as he drove rapidly through the forest to the railway station; so seriously indeed, that he at last shook himself with a movement of impatience, said to himself that he was growing superstitious as a girl, and lit a cigar with the strong determination not to give way to such nonsense.
Smoking did not help him, nor the prospect of meeting a fellow-student or two in the course of the afternoon. He tried to think of the life that was before him at the University, of the serious work he must do, of the opening festival of all the united Korps at the beginning of the term, of his own responsibilities as the head of the association to which he belonged, of the pleasant hours he would spend in discussing with youthful shallowness the deepest subjects that can occupy the human mind, deciding, between a draft of brown ale and a whiff of tobacco, that Schopenhauer was right in one point, and that Kant was wrong in another. But, for the present, at least, none of those things could by mere anticipation distract his thoughts from the matter which occupied them.
All through the long drive, Hilda's face was before him and her voice was in his ear, repeating her strange warning. She had said that she should always love him. His mother had implored him not to forsake her in her trouble, whatever it might be. At the same time, his father was in the greatest anxiety concerning Rieseneck's movements. Could there be any connexion between that affair and the conduct of the two women? Again his common sense rose up with an energetic protest, and displayed to him all the absurdity of the hypothesis. Could Rieseneck's possible return affect his mother more than his father? Could that doubtful event suffice to rouse Hilda's fears to such a pitch? If the man came back, he would come as a suppliant, entreating to be received once, at least, on tolerance. He would come as a penitent prodigal might, to get a word of compassion from his brother, perhaps to borrow money. He could do no harm to any one, beyond the moral shame he brought upon his relatives by prolonging his wretched existence. He was certainly not a particularly dangerous person to Greif himself, and Hilda's warning had been essentially personal, having no reference to any one else. He could not understand it, and grew impatient again, realising how deeply he had been impressed. The forest looked unusually gloomy, and added by its melancholy solemnity to the depression of his spirits. He was glad when he saw through the trees the smart wooden railway station with its coloured signals, its metal roof, and its air of animation. He could not help thinking that the effect was something like that once produced upon him when he had come back to the University town from the funeral of an eminent person whom he had never seen. He had been obliged to attend the burial with the whole body of the students, and had stood more than an hour in the churchyard before he could get away. He remembered how unusually bright and lively the town had appeared to him by contrast when he returned. Even the thought of Hilda could not now make the recollection of his home a pleasant one, for Hilda herself was intimately connected, by her last words, with the whole impression of funereal gloominess from which the busy railway station furnished him with the means of escape.
The system of student life in Germany with its duelling, its associations into Korps, its festivals, and its rabid tenacity to tradition, has frequently been pronounced ridiculous by European and American writers, though it does not appear that those who laugh at it have entered into Korps life themselves, even when they have resided during a considerable time at a German University. There is, however, much to be said in favour of its existence in the only country where it has taken root as a permanent institution; and since it is necessary to follow Greif's history from the time when he was still a student, some explanation of a matter generally little understood may not be out of place at this point.
Every one knows that a German University has no resemblance, even in principle, with what English-speaking people generally understand by the word University. The students do not live in communities, nor in any set of buildings appropriated for their dwelling. The University, so far as its habitation is concerned, means only the lecture-rooms. Instructors and pupils live where they please and as they please, according to their individual fortune or pleasure. The students are differently situated from other members of society in one respect. They are not amenable to the police for any ordinary offence, but in such cases are brought before the University authorities, and are liable to be confined in the University prison, attending the lectures belonging to their course, during the period of their detention, for which purpose they are let out and shut up again at stated hours. This corresponds to some extent with the English system of 'gating.'
A very large body of young men, of various ages, find themselves almost entirely their own masters, at an age when the English undergraduate is bound to be at home at twelve o'clock, to attend chapel and hall dinners, besides fulfilling the obligations imposed by a regular course of study. They live in lodgings, free of any supervision whatever, they eat where and when they please, if they do not choose to hear lectures there is no one to oblige them to do so, for they are supposed to possess enough common sense to know that the loss is theirs if they fail at their examinations. It is natural that under these circumstances they should form associations among themselves. In every University there will be a certain number of students from each of the country's principal provinces. Fellow-countrymen will generally be drawn together when they are forced to live under similar conditions in one place. To this instinct may be traced the origin of Korps, and, generally, of all associations that wear colours, except the so-called Teutonia, which is probably the oldest of all, and which was originally a political institution having for its object the promotion of liberal ideas together with the unity of Germany. There are Korps of the same name, but the two are always quite distinct and their colours are generally different.
There are three classes of associations. The Burschenschaften, or fellowships, the Landsmannschaften, or fellow-countrymen's unions, and the Korps. The latter word is French, and was formerly spelt 'Corps'; as no better word could be found, or introduced, the German initial letter is used to distinguish the meaning when used in this sense. Besides these three classes of acknowledged associations, all wearing colours, and recognised by the University, there are usually a number of subordinate ones, termed contemptuously 'Blasen,' which may be translated 'bubbles,' a designation given on account of their supposed instability.
Although admission to these unions is generally, and probably always, obtained by ballot, they are not clubs in any ordinary sense of the word. Each has a habitation or lodge, called a Kneipe, or drinking- hall, and a fencing-room, or a share in the use of one, but there is no set of apartments corresponding to a club, nor intended for the same manifold purposes. The organisation and object of the union require no such conveniences.
The Korps rank highest in estimation and are generally the most exclusive. In a country where caste prejudice has attained to such gigantic proportions as it has in Germany, its effects are felt very early in life; and in Universities where every advantage of education is placed within easy reach of the very poorest, a course of lectures for a term often costing but one pound sterling, it is impossible that there should not be circles formed, in a regular scale, by young men whose fortunes are more or less alike. Upon these social and financial distinctions the Korps have grown to be what they are.
Every Korps has three orders of members, and three regular officers, to each of whom, is assigned one department in the management of the associations. The orders consist of two regular and one irregular. The lowest and least important, is considered irregular, and those who are not admitted further have no claim to anything but a place in the drinking-hall, and the protection of the regular Korps. They may be men of any age, but are generally students who are prevented from fighting by some physical defect, or by the serious objection of their parents, without whose consent no one is supposed to be admitted to the full fellowship of the union.
The second order consists of novices, who are designated by the name of 'foxes.' The appellation is probably derived from the custom of playing a kind of game, at the opening of the term, which is called the fox- hunt, and in which the novices, riding astride of chairs, are made to run the gauntlet through the 'fellows' who are armed with blackened corks, and who, without moving from their places, attempt to smudge the faces of the youngsters as they hop past. These 'foxes' are young students who have just joined, and who are not admitted to the rank of fellows until they have fought a certain number of times. They are raised to the higher dignity after a ballot, at which they are not present, and the term of probation generally lasts six months, or one term.
The fellows, or Burschen, are full-fledged Korps students, eligible to become officers. The officers are three, and are called respectively the first, second and third, 'in charge.' The first is the chief, who presides at formal meetings and in the drinking-hall, where the Korps assembles officially on two evenings of the week. He also represents the Korps at the weekly meetings of all the representatives. The second in charge manages all affairs relative to fighting, and is personally responsible to the association for all formalities relating to the duels of its members. If any fellow, or novice, has challenged, or been challenged by, any one else, he must immediately report the affair to the second in charge, who arranges the meeting for him, and warns him, at least twelve hours beforehand, of the time appointed. The third in charge is secretary and treasurer; he keeps the minutes of all meetings, collects the dues from the members, pays the bills, and is responsible for the financial department and correspondence.
In well-conducted Korps, and there are many such, the president considers himself morally bound to see that all the members attend their lectures regularly. That the associations are not generally mere idle, riotous bands of students, is sufficiently shown by the fact that almost every prominent man in German public life has belonged to one of them, from the great chancellor downwards. Generally speaking, too, each novice is considered to be personally under the charge of one of the fellows, whose duty it is to keep him out of trouble and to see that he is not idle. It will be seen that the system of organisation is good, and that in reality it has a strong military element, like most organisations which find favour in Germany.
But if it is military it is also militant, and it is the fact that fighting is one of its chief objects, which has caused it to be so much abused by foreigners. It is necessary in the first place to understand the conditions of the sanguinary battles between the Korps, and the points by which they are distinguished from the more serious affairs which are occasionally settled by appeal to arms.
The ordinary student's duel is not a dangerous affair, though it is often far more serious than is commonly supposed. The weapon used is a long, light rapier, square at the point, two-edged and sharpened like a razor down the whole length of the front, and to about nine inches from the point at the back. The hilt is a roomy basket of iron, though in some Universities a bell-hilted sword is used, and in that case the guard is similar to the first position in sabre fencing or single stick. The blade is very pliable and not highly tempered, so that in unskilful hands it is apt to bend and become useless.
The law requires that the combatants should both wear an iron protection over the eyes, lest the loss of sight should render the student useless for military service. To protect life also, a heavy silk scarf bandage is placed round the throat, completely protecting the jugular vein and the carotid artery. The right arm, which in this peculiar fencing is used to parry the cut in tierce, is also protected by bandages, and the body is covered by a leathern cuirass, heavily padded, from the middle of the breast to the knees. It will be seen that the whole head, excepting the eyes, is exposed, as well as the chest and shoulders. Thrusting is forbidden as well as the cut in second, below guard, but the latter is permitted when either of the combatants is left-handed, owing to the difference of the position.
Novices' duels consist generally of fifteen rounds, the first being merely a formal salute. The fellows fight during fifteen minutes, unless one of them is severely wounded before the end of the time. An umpire has a stop-watch in his hand, and only the exact time of actual fencing is reckoned, which is rather a delicate and troublesome matter. Speaking is not allowed. If both combatants are good fencers and cautious it sometimes happens that neither is touched, but as many as thirty slight wounds are occasionally inflicted on both sides. A surgeon is always present and decides when a wound is too severe to allow of further fighting. This usually occurs when a large artery is cut, or a splinter raised upon a bone.
Meetings are generally arranged for novices, as soon as they have learned to handle the rapier, whether they have had any quarrel or not, and such encounters rarely lead to any result worth mentioning. The intention is to accustom the student to fighting for its own sake, and he must submit to the conditions or leave the Korps with ignominy. He learns to fence with coolness and judgment, in a way that could never be learned on the fencing ground with masks and blunted weapons, and he acquires from the first the habit of facing an armed man with little but his own blade to protect him.
It must be remembered that duelling is a social institution in Germany. It is not necessary here to enter into a discussion of the merits of the system; it is enough to recall the late Emperor's speech in regard to it, in which he declared that he would punish any officer who fought a duel, but would dismiss from the army any one who refused to do so. The first clause of this apparent paradox restrains the practice from becoming an abuse or a general evil; the second imposes it as a necessity in serious cases. The penalty consists in a longer or shorter period of arrest, fixed within certain limits, and in case of the death of one of the combatants the survivor is confined in a fortress for three years, provided that the duel has taken place with the consent of the superior officers of the regiment sitting officially as a council of honour, and that the encounter has been conducted in accordance with the requirements of the law. Any informality is most severely visited. The regimental council takes charge of the officer's reputation, and if it declares that there need be no meeting, honour is satisfied. In private life any individual may appeal to the decision of a court of honour chosen by himself and his adversary, and such decisions are considered final. But if any person refuses either to fight or to appeal to such arbitration, he is mercilessly excluded from all polite society wherever the facts are known. The customs of the country being of this nature, the existence of fighting associations among students can be both explained and defended. That some other nations consider the practice of duelling as altogether barbarous and antiquated, has nothing to do with the case in hand. An individual cannot change the conditions of the society in which he is obliged to live, and must either conform to them or be excluded from intercourse with his fellows. To learn to fight is, in Germany, as necessary as learning to eat decently is in England, and the schools of fighting are the Korps and other University unions. As a direct consequence, they are also schools of life, and in some degree of etiquette. A man learns there exactly what sort of language is courteous, what words may be spoken without giving offence, and in what an insult really consists. By this means a vast amount of trouble is saved for society, and a uniform standard of behaviour is secured which is universally respected and adhered to by all who call themselves gentlemen. The council of the Korps represents the council of the regiment, or the social court of honour appealed to by civilians. The conversation of the members with each other, though familiar in the extreme, is regulated by rigid rules. The slightest approach to discourtesy between members of the same Korps must be followed by an instant apology, the refusal of which entails the immediate ejection of the offender with ignominy, and what is more, the announcement of the fact by circular letter within the month to every Korps student in every one of the numerous Universities of the empire. A dishonourable action of any kind is visited in the same way. The publicity of such a scandal is enormous. Seven or eight thousand young men are simultaneously informed that one of their number is disgraced, and at the end of the year all those older men who have been Korps students in their youth, are also informed of the fact. This amounts to warning some thirty or forty thousand gentlemen, chiefly in the higher ranks of society, against an individual, who, in one circumstance or another, is almost certain to be brought into contact with some of them. Such an institution cannot be laughed at, and its censure is no joke.
But even a Korps student's life is not made up merely of fighting and study. There is a very jovial side to it, and if its jollity is sometimes made the subject of reproach this is due to the fact that the few thoroughly lazy students are of necessity the very ones who are most seen. It cannot be denied that beer plays a considerable part in the life of German students. It is also an important element in the existence of the nation. German beer, however, is not English ale, any more than it is to be confounded with the nauseous concoctions sold under its name in other countries. German beer is protected by law, and unoppressed by taxation. To adulterate it is a crime, an attempt to tax it would bring about a convulsion of the empire. Its use, in quantities that amaze the understanding, does not appear to have made Germans cowards in war, nor laggards in commerce; still less does it seem to have stupefied the national intellect, or dulled the Teutonic keenness in the race of nations. The first military power in the world drinks as much beer as all the rest of the universe together, and probably a little more. The commercial nation that undersells Englishmen in England, Frenchmen in France, Italians in Italy and Turks in Turkey, consumes more malt liquor than they drink of all other liquors. The intellectual race that has produced Kant, Goethe and Helmholtz, Bismarck, Moltke, Mommsen, and Richard Wagner in a century, swallows Homeric draughts of beer at breakfast, dinner and supper. That other nations do not follow their example, and laugh at their potations is of little consequence. Even if the Germans do not to some extent owe their national characteristics to their national drink, it cannot be asserted with any show of reason that beer has swamped their intelligence, damped their military ardour or drowned their commercial genius. Beer is the natural irrigator of conservative principles and intellectual progress. A little of it is good, much is better, and too much of it can never produce delirium tremens. Can more be said of any potable concoction manufactured by humanity for its daily use?
The Korps student drinks beer, therefore, and as though he felt a sort of religious reverence for the drink of his fathers, he has invented laws and rules for the ceremony, from which no departure is allowable. Every meeting of the Korps begins and ends with a 'Salamander.' At the president's word the glasses or stone jugs are moved rhythmically upon the oaken board. Another word of command, and each student empties his beaker. Then the vessels are rattled on the table, while he slowly counts three, with the precision of a military drum, then struck sharply again three times, so that they touch the table all together, and the meeting is opened or closed, as the case may be. The same ceremony is performed when the health of any one is drunk by the whole Korps. The principle is that on peaceful occasions the drinking-cup takes the place of the rapier, and is used for saluting and for combat, as the sword is used in the duel. To give as much as is received is the object of both. As much as one student drinks to another's health, so much must the others drink in return. If two fall out in a discussion, the one may challenge the other to a beer duel. The weapons are full glasses, there is an umpire who gives the word, and he who empties his glass the first is the conqueror. The president can order any one to drink a certain quantity pro poena, as a penalty for breaking a known rule, and the fellows have the same privilege in regard to the novices.
There is another element, and a very important one, in the conduct of the jovial meetings. Singing is a traditional and indispensable business at every regular Kneipe. Every student has a standard song- book at his place, containing both the words and music. As singing at sight is taught in every common school throughout the country, the result is not so cacophonous as might be expected. The voices are young, fresh and manly, the tunes full of life and of an easy nature, the verses simple and often grand, for they are selected from the writings of celebrated poets. The spirit of the poetry is generally patriotic or fraternal, always essentially national. The whole effect is fine and elevating, and those who have sat as young men at the table of a numerous Korps do not easily forget the sensations evoked by the strains in which they have joined. Song holds a large place in German life, and an essentially good one. As a means of strengthening popular patriotism no one has ever denied its efficacy, and as a mere pastime it is probably the most pacific and harmless that could be named. It may even be believed that the capacity and willingness among young men to amuse themselves with chorus singing indicates to some extent a national love of law and order. Italians are soloists, in music and in principles. Germans are born chorus singers, and their great men do not sing themselves, but conduct the singing of others.
The University of which Greif was a student, and which shall be called for convenience Schwarzburg, was one of the oldest in the country. The town in which it was situated possessed in a high degree the associations and the architectural features which throw a mediaeval shadow over many northern cities, causing even the encroaching paint- brush of modern progress to move in old-fashioned lines of subdued colour. In northern lands antiquity is not associated with the presence of dirt, as it is in the south. Nuremberg does not look modern because its streets are clean and there are no beggars, nor does the ancient seat of the Teutonic Knights at Marienburg look like a hotel because its lofty corridors and graceful halls, with their cross vaults springing from central columns, are carefully swept and free from dust. It would be interesting to examine the causes which produce this odd artistic phenomenon. In Italy the process of cleansing is destroying altogether the associations of antiquity and the artistic beauty which once charmed the traveller. Heidelberg, Nuremberg, and most places in Germany seem to have gained rather than lost in outward appearance by the advance of civilisation. Possibly, the Germans of to-day resemble their ancestors of the fourteenth century more closely than a modern Florentine resembles Lorenzo De' Medici. Possibly, in Germany such restorations as are necessary are executed with a keener perception of beauty in the model. Possibly, too, German conservatism, Gothic, thoughtful, stern, expresses itself in all it does; even as the Italian's queer love of change and fetish worship of what, in other lands, was called progress thirty years ago, shows itself in all his visible works. Architecture exhibits a nation's feeling far more exactly than literature or any other branch of art or science. People may, or may not, read the books that fill the market, and nobody cares whether they do or not except the author and the publisher. But people must live in houses of some sort, and, if they are rich enough to choose, they will not live in houses they do not like, nor worship in temples of which the architecture irritates their nerves. Now architects are placed in the same position towards the house builders of the nation, in which authors stand towards the reading public. If people are conservative, and like old-fashioned buildings, the architect must satisfy his customer's love of tradition, just as the professional writer must write what is wanted, or starve. The difference in the result is that houses last some time whereas books do not.
Greif was deeply attached to the University town. He had spent many happy hours within its walls, and had passed through many exciting moments of his young life amidst its high, narrow streets and ancient buildings. Such a place naturally exercised a greater influence over him than over most men of his age. Born and bred in the heart of the Black Forest, brought up in the house that had sheltered his race for centuries, he would have felt uneasy and out of his element if he had been all at once transported to a modern capital. But in Schwarzburg he felt that he was at home. The huge cathedral with its spires and arches and rich fretwork of dark stone, seemed to him the model of what all cathedrals should be. The swift river that ran between overhanging buildings, and beneath old bridges that were carved with armorial bearings and decorated with the rare ironwork of cunning smiths, famous long ago, bore in its breast the legends of his own forest home, and was impersonated in many a verse he had learned to sing with his comrades. The shady nooks and corners, the turns in the crooked streets, the dark archways of old inns, the swinging signs with their rich deep colour and Gothic characters, the projecting balconies, glazed with round bull's eyes of blown glass set in heavy lead, the marvellously wrought weathercocks of iron and gold on the corners of the houses, every outward detail of the time-honoured and time-mellowed town spoke to his heart in accents he not only understood but loved. Even the modern note did not jar upon him. There were few officers in the streets, few soldiers in bright uniforms. Occasionally a troop of white cuirassiers rode slowly through the main thoroughfare, looking more like mediaeval knights than Prussian soldiers. Their enormous stature, their bronzed faces, their snow-white dress and gleaming corslets, the stately, solemn tramp of their great horses, their straight broad blades without curve or bend erect at their sides, all made them utterly unlike the ordinary soldiery of present times, and rendered their appearance perfectly harmonious with their surroundings. Even the students in their long boots and coloured caps did not look modern, as they strolled along in knots of three and four from the University to the mess at dinner-time, or thronged the pavements of the high street towards evening, when the purple light was on the cathedral spires and the shadows were deepening below.
Greif loved it all, and to some extent his affection was returned. He was certainly the most popular student who had ever trod the stones of Schwarzburg, as he was by nature one of the most thoroughly German. He had his quarrels, no doubt, but the way he settled them only served to increase his reputation. He was pointed out as the man of forty duels, who had never received a serious wound, and it was said to his credit that he never wantonly provoked any man, and that his victories had been chiefly gained over adversaries from neighbouring Universities. He was looked upon as the natural representative of Schwarzburg in all great affairs, and when he presided, in the turn of his Korps, over one of the periodical festivities, his appearance was the occasion for a general ovation. The feeling that he was to be warmly welcomed was pleasant to Greif as he got out upon the platform and shook hands with a dozen who awaited him, but the remembrance that this was probably his last return as a student among his comrades gave him a passing sensation of sadness. He was approaching the end of a very happy period in his life, and though there was much happiness in the future, he was young enough to regret what he must leave so soon. Few men know what it is to be the central figure at a great University, and those who have been so fortunate know well enough how painful is the leavetaking and how hard the last goodbye to the scene of their triumphs. That moment had not yet come for Greif, but he could not help seeing how very near it was.
The students led him home to his lodgings over the river, and installed themselves as they could, all smoking and talking at once, while he opened his boxes and disposed some of his belongings in their places. They told him all the news, with the vivacity of men who have twenty- four hours the start of a friend. The Rhine Korps had increased its numbers considerably and seemed already inclined to show its teeth to the Westphalia Korps. The Saxon Korps had lost one of their best fighters, who had suddenly gone to another University. Hardly any of the Prussian Korps had arrived, and it was doubtful whether they could renew the lease of their old drinking-hall. They themselves—their yellow caps showed that they were Swabians—were already on the look- out for new 'foxes' to enlist, and believed that they had secured a couple of excellent novices. The fencing-master of the Prussians had declared his intention of fighting a pitched battle—sabres and no bandages—with the fencing-master of the Rhiners. It was to be hoped that neither would be badly hurt, as they were both good teachers and worth their salaries. There was a new waiting-girl at the Stamm-Kneipe where they dined, and of course all the foxes would fall in love. They, the fellows, would of course not think of such a thing. It would be quite beneath their dignity. As for the professors, all those who were not favourites grew older and older and duller and duller. One of the oldest and dullest had been married in the summer to a girl of eighteen, a crying shame which ought to be visited by some demonstration. Why should a professor marry? Was not Heine right, and were not some kinds of professors cumberers of the earth, as Achilles called himself when Patroclus had been killed? Horrible creatures all those whom the Swabians disliked! The professor of Roman law looked more like a disappointed hyaena than ever, and as for his colleague, the professor of Greek philosophy, he had begun by looking like Socrates, when he was born, and time had done its work with its usual efficacy. Would not Greif be ready soon? It was supper-time.
Greif was thinking of the vanity of human sentiment. A few hours earlier he had been oppressed by one of the most melancholy moods that had ever afflicted him. Now, as he stood still for a moment, looking through the open window at the stars as they began to shine out above the cathedral spire across the river, he felt as though ten years had passed since he had driven down through the forest. Only the image of Hilda remained, and seemed to drown in light the gloomy forebodings that had so much distressed him. As for Hilda's own warning, it had been nothing but the result of her sorrow at parting. And since parting there must be, he would enjoy to the full what was left of this happy student life, with its changing hours of study and feasting, of poetry, and fighting, and song that almost mingled with the clash of steel.
'Are you ready?' asked the students in chorus.
Greif set his yellow cap upon his close-cut golden hair.
'Yes—come on! Vivat, floreat, crescat Suabia! The last semester shall be a merry one!'
And away they went, crowding down the narrow staircase, laughing, jesting, and humming snatches of tunes as they burst out into the quiet shadowy street below.
Greif was not able to throw off the memories of his vacation so easily as he had at first imagined. The busy week that followed his return to Schwarzburg furnished enough excitement to divert his thoughts for a time into a more cheerful channel, and he was further reassured by the fact that his father's letter contained nothing that could alarm him. Everything was going on at Greifenstein as usual. Hilda and her mother had returned to Sigmundskron. The shooting was particularly good. A postscript informed Greif that nothing had been heard from a certain person, who was not named. The young man thought his father's handwriting was growing larger and more angular than ever, and that instead of becoming less steady with advancing years, the letters looked as though they were cut into the paper with the point of a sharp knife. Some days passed quickly by, and he began to think that he had disturbed himself foolishly, and had suffered his judgment to be unbalanced by the impulsive speeches of Hilda and of his own mother. Then, all at once, as he sat one morning at his accustomed place in one of the lecture-rooms, noting in a blank book the wisdom that fell from the lips of a shrivelled professor, his thoughts wandered and the vision of Hilda rose before his eyes, with the expression she had worn when she had spoken of that terrible catastrophe which was in store for him. He could not imagine why he should have thought of the matter so suddenly, nor why it seemed so much more important than before. It required a strong effort to concentrate his mind once more upon what he was doing, and when he succeeded, he was aware that the point of the professor's argument had escaped him. Mechanically he looked at his neighbour to see whether he had been making notes. The latter was a man much older than himself, and was busily writing upon loose sheets. He did not look up, but he seemed to understand what Greif wanted, for he handed him, or tossed him, the piece of paper on which he was scribbling, numbered the blank page beneath it, and went on quickly without even turning his eyes. Greif thanked him, and in the next pause of the lecture copied the notes into his own book. At the end of the hour Greif returned the sheet and repeated his thanks. He did not know the man, even by sight, a fact which surprised him, as the stranger was rather a striking personage.
'I am very much obliged,' he said. 'I was absent-minded—thinking of something else.'
'That is always rash,' replied the other. 'I am very glad to have been of service to you.'
Although Greif was not fond of making acquaintances among students who wore no colours, he could not refrain from continuing the conversation. The two were the last to leave the hall and went down the broad staircase together.
'You have not been long in the University,' he observed.
'I have only just arrived. I have migrated from Heidelberg. Permit me to introduce myself,' he added according to German custom. 'My name is Rex.'
'My name is von Greifenstein. Most happy.'
Both bowed, stopping for the purpose upon the landing, and then looking into each other's eyes. Rex was a man of rather more than medium height, thin, but broad-shouldered and gracefully built. He might have been of any age, but he looked as though he were about thirty years old. It would not have surprised any one to hear that he was much older, or much younger. Thick brown hair was carefully brushed and smoothed all over his head, and he wore his beard, which was of the same colour, carefully trimmed, full and square. A soft and clear complexion, a little less than fair but very far from dark, showed at first sight that Rex rejoiced in perfect health. The straight nose was very classic in outline, the brow and forehead evenly developed, the modelling about the eyes and temples very smooth and delicate. But the eyes themselves destroyed at once the harmony of the whole face and gave it a very uncommon expression. This was due entirely to their colour and not at all to their shape. The iris was very large, so that little of the surrounding white was visible, and its hue was that of the palest blue china, while the pupil was so extremely small as to be scarcely noticeable. The apparent absence of that shining black aperture in the centre, made the eyes look like glass marbles, and rendered their glance indescribably stony. Greif almost started when he saw them. 'You preferred Schwarzburg to Heidelberg, then,' he remarked, by way of continuing the conversation.
'For my especial branch I think it is superior.'
'Philosophy?' asked Greif, thinking of the lecture they had just attended.
'No. That is a pastime with me. I am interested in astronomy and in some branches connected with that science. You have a celebrated specialist here.'
'Yes, old Uncle Sternkitzler,' answered Greif irreverently.
'Exactly,' assented Rex. 'He is a shining light, a star of the first magnitude. If there is anything to discover, he will discover it. If not, he will explain the reason why there is nothing. He is a great man. He knows what nothing is, for there is nothing he does not know. I am delighted with him. You do not care for astronomy, Herr von Greifenstein?'
'I do not know anything about it, and I have no talent for mathematics,' answered Greif. 'You intend to make it a profession, I presume.'
'Yes, as far as it can be called a profession.'
'How far is that, if I may ask?'
'Just as far as it goes after it ceases to be an amusement,' answered Rex.
'That may be very far,' said Greif who was struck by the definition.
'Yes. If you call it a profession, it is one for which a lifetime of study is only an insignificant preparation. If you call it a study and not a profession, you make of it a mere amusement, like philosophy.'
'I do not find that very amusing,' said Greif, with a laugh.
'Nothing is amusing when you are obliged to do it,' answered the other. 'Duty is the hair shirt of the nineteenth century. A man who does his duty is just as uncomfortable while he is doing it as any Trappist who ever buckled on a spiked belt under his gown.'
'Afterwards? What is afterwards? It is nothing to you or me. Afterwards means the time when you and I are buried, and the next generation are writhing in hair shirts of their own making, and prickly girdles which they put on themselves.' Rex laughed oddly.
'I differ from you,' answered Greif.
'You are a Korps student, sir. Does that mean that you wish to quarrel with me?' 'Not unless you choose. I am not in search of a row this morning. I differed from you as to your view of duty. It seems to me contrary to German ideas.'
'Facts are generally contrary to all ideas,' answered Rex.
'Not in Germany—at least so far as duty is concerned. Besides, if science is true, facts must agree with it. Political ethics are a science, and duty is necessary to the system that science has created. What would become of our military supremacy if the belief in duty were suddenly destroyed?'
'I do not know. But I know that it will not make the smallest difference to us, what becomes of it, when we are dead and buried.'
'It would change the condition of our children for the worse.'
'You need not marry. No one obliges you or me to become the fathers of new specimens of our species.'
'And what becomes of love in your system?' inquired Greif, more and more surprised at his acquaintance's extraordinary conversation.
'What becomes of any thing when it has ceased to exist?' asked Rex.
'I do not know.'
'There is nothing to know in the case. The motion—you would call it force—the motion continues, but the particular thing in which it was manifested is no longer, and that particular thing never will exist again. Motion is imperishable, because it is immaterial. The innumerable milliards of vortices in which the material of your body moves at such an amazing rate will not stand still when you are dead, nor even when every visible atom of your body has vanished from sight in the course of ages. Every vortex is imperishable, eternal, of infinite duration. The vortex was the cause before the beginning and it will remain itself after the end of all things.'
'The prime cause,' mused Greif. 'And who made the vortex?'
'God,' answered Rex laconically.
'But then,' objected the younger student in some surprise, 'you believe in a future life, in the importance of this life, in duty, in all the rest of it.'
'I believe in the vortex,' replied the other, 'in its unity, individuality and eternity. Life is a matter of convenience, its importance is a question of opinion, its duties are ultimately considerations of taste. What are opinions, conveniences and tastes, compared with realities? The vortex is a fact, and it seems to me that it furnishes enough material for reflexion to satisfy a mind of ordinary activity.' 'You hold strange views,' said Greif thoughtfully.
'Oh no!' exclaimed Rex, with sudden animation. 'I am not at all different from any other peaceful student of astronomy, I can assure you. Neither the vortex nor any other fact ever prevents any man from doing what is individually agreeable to him, nor from enjoying everything that comes in his way, or calling it sinful, according to his convictions.'
'And are you a happy man, if the question is not indiscreet?'
'Ah, that is your favourite question among philosophers,' laughed Rex, 'and it shows what you really think of all your beliefs about duty and the rest of the virtues. You really care for nothing but happiness, if the truth be told. All your religions, your moralities, your laws, your customs, you regard as a means of obtaining ultimate enjoyment. There is little merit in being happy with so much artificial assistance. Real originality should show itself in surpassing your felicity without making use of your laborious methods in attaining to it. The trouble is that your political ethics, your recipes for making bliss in wholesale quantities, take no account of exceptional people. But why should we discuss the matter? What is happiness? Millions of volumes have been written about it, and no man has ever had the courage to own exactly what he believes would make him happy. You may add your name to the list, Herr von Greifenstein, if you please, and write the next ponderous work upon the subject. You would not be any happier afterwards and you would be very much older. If you really desire to be happy, I will tell you how it is possible. In the first place, are you happy now?'
Rex fixed his stony stare, that contrasted so strangely with his beautiful face, upon Greif's eyes. He saw there an uncertainty, a vague uneasiness, that answered his question well enough.
'Yes,' answered the younger man in a doubtful tone, 'I suppose I am.'
'I think your happiness is not complete,' said Rex, turning away. 'Perhaps my simple plan may help you. Interrogate yourself. What is it that you want? Find out what that something is—that is all.'
'And then? Why, take it, and be happy,' answered Rex with a careless smile, as though the rule were simple enough.
'That is soon said,' replied Greif in a grave tone. 'I want what no man can give me.'
'Nor woman either?'
'Nor woman either.' 'And something you could not take if it were before you, within reach?'
'No. I want nothing material. I want to know the future.'
'Surely that is not a very hard thing,' answered Rex, looking at his watch.
'It must be dinner-time,' said Greif politely, as he noticed the action. He had no wish to detain his new acquaintance.
'Indeed, it is just noon. I fear I have kept you from some engagement.'
'I assure you, it has given me the greatest pleasure to meet you,' answered Greif, holding out his hand.
'The pleasure has been quite upon my side,' returned Rex, bowing with alacrity.
And so they parted, Rex plunging into a shady side street, while Greif continued his walk towards the dining-place of his Korps, thinking as he went, of the queer person he had just seen for the first time. His name was strange, his conversation was unusual, his eyes were most disagreeable, and yet oddly fascinating. Greif thought about him and was not satisfied with his short interview. The man's remark about the future was either that of a visionary, or of an absent-minded person who did not always know what he was saying. Greif himself could hardly understand how he had been led, in a first meeting with one who was altogether a stranger, to speak so plainly of what disturbed him. It was not his custom to make acquaintances at a venture, or to refer to his own affairs with people he did not know. He reflected, however, that he had not committed himself in any way, while admitting that he might easily have been drawn on to do so if the interview had been prolonged.
At dinner he asked his friends whether any of them knew a student whose name was Rex. No one had heard of him, and on learning that he was a man older than the average, they murmured, and said one to another that Greif was beginning to cross the borders of Philistia. After the meal was over, Greif went to his lodgings and tried to work. The sudden anxiety that had seized him in the morning during the lecture grew stronger in solitude, until it was almost unbearable. He pushed aside his books and wrote to his father, inquiring whether anything had happened, in a way which would certainly have surprised old Greifenstein if he himself had been less nervous about the future than he actually was. It was a relief to have written, and Greif returned to his labours more quietly afterwards.
He did not see Rex again in the lecture-room, though his eye wandered along the rows of heads bent down over busy hands that wrote without ceasing. Rex was not among them. He had said that he considered philosophy an amusement, and he probably came to the hall where it was taught when the fancy seized him to divert himself. But the desire to talk with him again became stronger, until Greif actually determined to go in search of the man.
The sun had gone down, and he stood at his open window as he had done on the evening of his arrival, watching almost unconsciously for the first stars to shine out above the cathedral spire. The air was very quiet, disturbed by no sound but the swirl of the deep river against the stone piers of the bridge far down below the student's window. There was something melancholy in the ceaseless rush of the strong water, which reminded him of the sighing of the trees at home, on that last morning when he had sat with Hilda at the foot of the Hunger- Thurm. At such a time anything which recalled the circumstances of the vacation necessarily brought with it an increase in his anxiety. Greif thought of the evening that was before him if he joined his comrades at their usual place of meeting, and the prospect was distasteful. He would be glad to escape from the lights and the noise and the drinking and singing, even from his position of importance among his fellows, who made him their oracle upon all University matters. He would prefer to pass an hour or two in quiet conversation, in a quiet room, with Rex the student of astronomy and mathematics. He did not know where he lived, nor whether he would be at home at that hour, but it was easy to satisfy his curiosity upon both points.
He found the address he wanted at the Beadle's office. Rex lived in a dark street near the cathedral. Greif climbed many flights of steps, finding his way by striking one match after another. At the top there was but one door. He knocked twice and waited. There was no answer, and he knocked again. He was sure that he could hear some one moving inside the apartment, but the door remained closed. Annoyed at being kept waiting he pounded loudly with the piece of iron and called on Rex by name. He was rewarded at last by hearing footsteps within.