'Who are you?' asked an angry voice. 'And why are you making such a hideous noise?'
'My name is von Greifenstein,' replied Greif, 'and I want to see Herr Rex.'
He was preparing for a disagreeable encounter with some unknown person, when the door opened quickly and he found himself face to face with Rex himself. His expression was bland in the extreme as he held up the light he carried and greeted his guest.
'I beg your pardon,' he said in tones very unlike those Greif had just heard. 'I had no idea that it was you. Pray come in.'
'I am afraid I am disturbing you,' answered Greif, hesitating as though he had forgotten the tremendous energy he had put into his knocking.
'Not at all, not at all,' repeated Rex, carefully fastening the door when Greif had entered. 'You see I am a newcomer and have no friends here,' he continued apologetically, 'and I did not imagine that you knew my address.'
After passing through a narrow passage, Greif found himself in a large room with three windows. It was evident that Herr Rex lived more luxuriously than most students, for there was no bed in the place, and an open door showed that there was at least one other apartment beyond. A couple of bookcases were well filled with volumes, and there was a great heap of others upon the floor in the corner. Two large easy- chairs stood on opposite sides of the porcelain stove, which at that season was of course not in use. A broad table in the centre was covered with books, many of them new, and papers covered with notes or figures were strewn amongst them in the greatest disorder. Near one of the windows Greif noticed a writing-desk, upon which lay a few drawing and writing materials and a large sheet of paper. It was clear that Rex had been at work here, for a bright lamp stood upon the desk and its strong light fell from beneath the green shade upon the mathematical figure that had absorbed the student's attention.
'It is a very quiet lodging,' remarked Rex, drawing forward one of the arm-chairs and then seating himself in the other. 'It is just what I wanted. I do not like noise when I am reading.'
Greif did not exactly know what to say. To visit a student in his rooms when he had only met him once, was a new experience, and Rex's stony blue eyes seemed to ask the object of his coming. It was evident that Rex only spoke of his habitation in order to break a silence which might have been awkward.
'The fact is,' said Greif, as though answering a direct question, 'I have been thinking of what you said the other day.'
'You do my remarks an honour which I believe they have never received before,' replied Rex, bending his handsome head and smiling in his brown beard.
'Do you remember? I said that I needed only one thing to make me happy. I wanted to know the future. You answered that it must be easy to get my wish. Were you in earnest, or did you speak thoughtlessly? That is what I came to ask you.'
'Indeed?' Rex laughed. 'You said to yourself that your acquaintance was either a fool or an absent-minded person, did you not?'
'Well—' Greif hesitated and smiled. 'Either visionary or absent- minded,' he admitted. 'Yes, I could not explain your remark in any other way.'
'Of course you could not, unless you suspected that I might be a charlatan.'
'That did not occur to me—'
'It might have occurred to you, considering what I had said. It might occur to you now, if I answered your question. But on the other hand it is of no importance whether it does or not. My reply will contribute to your peace of mind by helping you to catalogue a man you do not know among the fools and charlatans of whom you have heard. Would you like to know the future? I can tell it to you, if you please.'
'The vortex, I suppose,' answered Greif rather scornfully.
'Yes. I can tell you the direction of the vortices of which you are composed, for a time, while they are on their way to join other vortices in the dance of death. The vortices do nothing but dance, spin and whirl for ever through life, the farce; through death, the tragedy and through all the eternity of the epilogue. What do you wish to know?'
'You are jesting!' exclaimed Greif moodily. 'I wish you would be in earnest.'
'In earnest!' cried Rex contemptuously. 'What is earnestness?'
He rose and went to the desk upon which the lamp was burning, opened it and took a fresh sheet of paper from within. Greif watched him with considerable indifference. He had not found what he had sought and he already meditated a retreat. Rex paid no attention to him, but rapidly described a circle upon the paper and divided it into twelve parts with a ruler.
'Do you remember the date of the day we met?' he asked, looking up.
'It was a Monday,' replied Greif, wondering what his companion was doing.
'That will do. I have a calendar,' said Rex.
He consulted an almanac which he drew from his pocket, made a few short calculations, and jotted down certain signs and figures in various parts of the divided circle. When he had finished he looked attentively at what he had done. The whole operation had occupied about a quarter of an hour.
'I do not wonder that you are anxious,' he remarked, as he resumed his seat in the easy-chair, still holding the sheet of paper in his hand.
'What have you discovered?' inquired Greif, with an incredulous smile.
'You are threatened by a great calamity, you and all who belong to you,' replied Rex. 'I suppose you know it, and that is the reason why you want to know the future.'
Greif's cheek turned slowly pale, not at the announcement, but at the thought that this chance student perhaps knew of Rieseneck's existence, and of all that his return might involve.
'Herr Rex,' he said sternly, 'be good enough to tell me what you know of me and my family from other sources than that bit of paper.'
'Not much,' answered the other with a dry laugh. 'I barely knew of your existence until I met you the other day, and I have not mentioned you nor heard your name spoken since.'
'Why then, you can know nothing, and your figures cannot tell you,' said Greif, not yet certain whether to feel relief at the protestation of ignorance, or to doubt its veracity.
'Shall I tell you what I see here?'
'Tell me the nature of the calamity.'
'Its nature, or the cause of it?' inquired Rex, scrutinising the sheet of paper.
'I suppose that they must be closely connected. Let me know the cause first—it will be the surest test.'
Rex laid the paper upon his knee, and folded his hands, looking his guest in the face.
'Herr von Greifenstein, this is a very serious matter,' he said, 'If I tell you what I have just discovered, you will certainly believe that I knew it all before, and that I am acting a comedy. You must either bind yourself to put faith in my innocence, or we must drop this affair and talk of something else.'
Greif was silent for some moments. To refuse was to insult a man of whom he had gratuitously asked a question. To promise with the intention of keeping his word was impossible. He found himself in an awkward dilemma. Rex helped him out of it with his usual skill.
'I will tell you what is passing in your mind, and why you are silent,' he said. 'You feel that you cannot believe me. I do not blame you. You will not give your word in such a case, because you must break it. You are quite right. You are full of curiosity to learn how much I know about you. It is very natural. The wisest thing to be done, is to sacrifice your curiosity and I will tear up this piece of paper.'
'No—wait a moment!' cried Greif anxiously, putting out his hand to prevent the act.
'I do not see any other way out of the difficulty,' observed Rex, leaning back in his chair and looking at the stove. 'You may do this, however. You may think what you please of me, provided you do not express your disbelief. I am the most pacific of men, and I have a strong dislike to fighting at my age. Moreover, you asked me the question which led to all this. Even if I answer it, am I bound to explain the reasons for my reply? I believe the code of honour does not require that, and if there is nothing offensive to you in my predictions, I do not see why we need quarrel after all, nor what it matters how I obtained my information. I will promise, too, not to impart it to any one else. Of course, the simplest way of ending the matter would be to say no more about it.'
Somehow Rex's words seemed to change the position. Greif was inwardly conscious that he would not leave the house without discovering how much his companion knew, and if this submission to his own curiosity was little flattering to his pride, it was at least certain that he could obtain what he wanted without derogating from his dignity if he would follow the advice Rex gave him.
'The compact is to be this, I understand,' he answered at length. 'You will tell me what you know, and I will express no opinion as to the way in which you arrived at the information. Is that what you desire?'
'It is what I suggest,' answered Rex. 'And I bind myself voluntarily to silence.'
'Very good. Will you continue your predictions? Will you tell me the cause of the danger?'
'You and your family are threatened with great misfortune through the return of an evil person—a relation, I should fancy—who has been absent many years.'
Greif started at the directness of the assertion, and an exclamation of something like anger rose to his lips. But he remembered the compact he had just made.
'Will he return?' he asked in a voice which showed Rex that he was not mistaken.
'Inevitably,' answered the latter. 'Therein consists the peculiarity of your situation. You are at the mercy of the inevitable. You cannot retard by one day the catastrophe, any more than you can prevent one of the planets from returning to a given point in its orbit. He will return—let me see—'
'Can you tell me when?' asked Greif, who for a moment had forgotten his scepticism.
Rex seemed to be making a calculation, and repeating it more than once in order to be sure of its accuracy.
'In three months, more or less. Probably before Christmas. He is now at a great distance, in the south-west—'
'It is impossible that you should guess so much!' exclaimed Greif, rising in great excitement.
'You were not to express an opinion, I believe,' observed Rex, looking coldly at the younger man.
'Can you describe him?' asked Greif, almost fiercely.
'Oh yes,' replied the other. 'He is elderly, almost old. Perhaps sixty years of age. He is violent, unreliable, generally unfortunate, probably disgraced. That is no doubt the reason why you dread his return—'
'Look here, Herr Rex!' cried Greif, interrupting him violently. 'I do not care a straw for our compact, as you call it—'
'You agreed to it. I did not desire to speak further in the matter.'
'Will you agree to forget that there was any compact?' asked Greif desperately.
'Oh no, certainly not,' answered his tormenter. 'And you will not forget it either. You are a man of your word, Herr von Greifenstein. All I can do is to hold my tongue and tell you nothing more.'
'That need not prevent my quarrelling with you about something else—'
'No, if you find it possible. It is not easy to quarrel with me.'
'But if I were to insult you—'
'You will not do so,' returned Rex very calmly and gravely. 'You are bound not to attack me about my predictions, and so far as any other cause of disagreement is concerned, I think you will find it hard to discover one, for you came here to make a friendly visit, without a thought of quarrelling. I think you must see that.'
Greif walked up and down the room in silence for some minutes. He felt the superiority of Rex's position, and would not stoop to force the situation by any brutal discourtesy. At the same time he was distracted by the idea that Rex had not yet told him half of what he knew.
'You are right,' he said at last. 'I am a fool!'
'No, you are an agglomeration of vortices,' answered Rex with a smile. 'Shall I tell you one fact more, one very curious fact?'
'Tell me all!' answered Greif with sudden energy.
'In the nature of things, you should have news of that person to-day. You have not heard from him before coming here?'
'No, and I think nothing could be more improbable than that I should have news of him at all, beyond what you tell me. Besides, I could prevent the possibility of such a thing.'
'How?' inquired Rex.
'By trespassing upon your hospitality until midnight,' answered Greif with a laugh, in which his natural good temper reappeared once more.
'Will you do so?' asked the student with the greatest readiness. 'Here is a test of my veracity. Whether you stay here, or go home, or wander out alone by the river, you will hear of that individual before midnight.'
'But nobody knows I am here.'
'The stars know,' answered Rex with a smile. 'Will you stay with me, or will you go home? It makes no difference, excepting that by staying you will give me the advantage of your company—'
'What is that?' asked Greif. There was a loud knocking at the outer door.
'Probably news from your uncle,' answered Rex imperturbably. 'Will you open the door? There can be no deception then.'
'Yes. I will open the door.'
A telegraph messenger was outside, and inquired if Herr von Greifenstein were in the lodging.
'How did you know where I was?' asked Greif.
'It was marked urgent and so I inquired at the Poodle's office,' answered the fellow with a grin as he signified the official by the students' slang appellation.
Greif hastened to the inner room and tore open the envelope, his face pale with excitement.
'My father telegraphs—"Your uncle has written his intention to return at once—" Good Heavens!'
He tossed the bit of paper to Rex and fell back in his chair overcome by something very like fear.
Rex glanced at the despatch and then returned to the study of his figure without betraying any surprise.
Greif's first sensation was that of astonishment, almost amounting to stupefaction. Rex could have desired no more striking fulfilment of a prediction than chance had vouchsafed to him in the present instance. For he admitted to himself that fortune had favoured him, even though the arrival of the news within twenty-four hours was not in his belief a mere coincidence. The telegram might have come at any other moment and might have found Greif in any other place. As for Greif, he saw at a glance how impossible it was that Rex should have foreseen the incident, or planned the circumstances in which it occurred. He could not have known that Greif was coming that evening, unless he knew everything, and moreover the despatch was fresh from the office, and twenty minutes had not elapsed between the time of its reception over the wires and of its delivery into Greif's hands.
If the occurrence was strange, its effect upon the young man was at least equally unforeseen. Greif had always despised persons who professed to dabble in the supernatural, and had laughed to scorn all the so-called manifestations of spiritualism, mesmerism, and super- rational force. When he had heard that the great astronomer Zollner had written a book to explain the performances of Slade, the medium, by means of a mathematical theory of a fourth dimension in space, Greif had believed that the scientist was raving mad. Up to the moment when the telegram had arrived, he had been convinced that Rex was a cheat, who had accidentally learned certain facts connected with the Greifensteins and was attempting to play the magician by making an adroit use of what he knew. When brought suddenly face to face with a phenomenon he could not explain, Greif's reason ceased altogether to perform its functions. The news he had just received was startling, but the bewilderment caused by its arrival at that precise juncture made even Rieseneck's return seem insignificant, in comparison with Rex's power to foretell the announcement of it.
'I do not understand,' said Greif, staring at his companion.
'Nor I, beyond a certain point,' replied the elder man, looking up from his paper.
'How could you know?'
'I did not, until a few minutes before I told you. Of course you thought I did. It is very natural.'
'It could hardly have been a coincidence,' said Greif, almost to himself.
'Hardly.' Rex smiled.
'And yet,' continued Greif, 'I do not see any way of explaining it all.'
'I could show you, but it would need several years to do so.'
'It is not a personal gift?'
'No, it is a science.'
'Of what kind?'
'It is that part of astronomy in which the public does not believe. Do you understand?'
'Astrology?' inquired Greif with a rather foolish and yet incredulous smile. 'I thought that was considered to be nothing but mediaeval ignorance.'
'It is considered so. Whether it is really nothing better than a superstition you have had an opportunity of judging.'
'But how can you reconcile it with serious science?'
'The vortex reconciles everything—even men who are on the point of quarrelling, when the circumstances are favourable.'
'But if all this is true, there is no reason why you should not know everything—'
'Not everything. There are cases when it is clear from the first that a question cannot be answered. With better tools, a man might do much more. But one may foretell much, if one will take the trouble. Will you hear more of what I have discovered about you?'
Greif hesitated. His strongly rational bent of mind suggested to him that after all there might be some trickery in the prediction so lately fulfilled, though he was unable to detect it. But if Rex foretold the future Greif felt that he must be influenced, and perhaps made very unhappy by the prophecy, which might in the end prove utterly false. It would be more prudent, he thought, to wait and lay a trap for the pretended astrologer, by asking him at another time to answer a different question, of which it should be certain that he had no previous knowledge. The conclusion was quite in accordance with Greif's prudent nature, which instinctively distrusted the evidence of its senses beyond a certain point, and desired to prepare its experiments with true German scepticism, leaving nothing to chance and fortifying the conclusion by the purification of the means.
'Thank you,' he said at last. 'I will not hear any more at present.'
'Which means that you will ask me an unforeseen question one of these days to test my strength,' observed Rex with a smile.
Greif laughed rather nervously, for the remark expressed exactly what was passing in his mind.
'I confess, I meant to do so. How did you know what I was thinking?'
'By experience. Are not the nine-tenths of every human being precisely like the nine-tenths of the next? The difficulties of life are connected with that tenth which is not alike in any two.'
'Your experience must have been very great.'
'It has been just great enough to teach me to recognise the point at which no experience is of any use whatever.'
'And what is that point?'
'Generally the sweetest in life, and the most dangerous.'
'You speak in riddles, Herr Rex.'
'One man's life is another man's riddle, and if he succeeds in guessing its solution he cries out that it is a sham and was not worth guessing at all.'
'I believe you are a man-hater,' said Greif.
'Why should I be? The world gives me all I ask of it, and if that is not much the fault lies in my scanty imagination. The world is a flower-garden. If you like the flowers, pluck them. Happiness consists in knowing what we want, or in imagining that we want something. To take it is an easy matter.'
'Then everybody ought to be happy.'
'Everybody might be—if everybody would take the consequences. That is the stumbling-block—the lack of an ounce of determination and a drachm of courage.'
'Paradoxes!' exclaimed Greif. 'Life is a more serious matter—'
'Than death? Certainly.' Rex laughed.
'I did not say that,' returned Greif gravely. 'Death is the most serious of all earthly matters. No one can laugh at it.'
'Then I am alone in the world. I laugh at it. Serious? Why, it is the affair of a moment compared with a lifetime of enjoyment!'
'And what may come afterwards does not disturb you?'
'Why should it? Is there any sense in being made miserable by the concoctions of other people's hysterical imagination?'
Greif was silent. He was young enough and simple enough to be shocked by Rex's indifference and unbelief, and yet the man exercised an influence over him which he felt and did not resent. Phrases which would have sounded shallow in the mouth of a Korps student, discussing the immortality of the soul over his twentieth measure of beer, produced a very different impression when they fell from the lips of the sober astronomer with the strange eyes. Greif felt uncomfortable, and yet he knew that he would certainly seek the society of Rex again at no distant date. At present all his ideas were unsettled, and after a moment's silence he rose to go.
'Do not forget your telegram,' said Rex, handing it to him.
'Shall you go to the philosophy lecture to-morrow?' asked Greif as he reached the door.
Rex insisted on showing his guest down the stairs to the outer door, a civility which was almost necessary, considering the darkness of the descent. As Greif went down the narrow street, Rex stood on the threshold, shading the light with his hand and listening to the decreasing echo of the footsteps in the distance. Then he re-entered the house and climbed to his lodging.
'So much for astrology!' he exclaimed, as he sat down opposite the empty chair which Greif had lately occupied. For a long time he did not move, but remained in his place, with half-closed eyes, apparently ruminating upon the past conversation. When he rose at last, he had reached the conclusion that his coming to Schwarzburg was a step upon which he might congratulate himself.
From that day his acquaintance with Greif gradually ripened into an intimacy. Its growth was almost imperceptible at first, but before a month had passed the two met every day. Greif's companions murmured. It was a sad sight in their eyes, and they could not be reconciled to it. But Greif explained that he was thinking seriously of his final degree, and that he must be excused for frequenting the society of a much older man, after having given the Korps the best years of his University life. He even offered to resign his position as first in charge, but the proposition raised a storm of protests and he continued to wear the yellow cap as before.
He wrote to his father frequently, but after the first confirmation of the telegram he got no further news of Rieseneck. He described Rex, and spoke of his growing friendship with the remarkable student, who seemed to know everything, and old Greifenstein was glad to learn that his son's mind was taking a serious direction. He wrote to his mother more than once, in terms more affectionate than he had formerly used, but her answers were short and unsatisfactory, and never evoked in his heart that thrill of pity and love which had so much surprised him in himself during the last weeks at home. He wrote to Hilda, but her letters in reply had a sadness in them that made him almost fear to break the seal. It was at such moments that the anxiety for the future came upon him with redoubled force, until he began to believe that the person most directly threatened by that fatal catastrophe which had been foretold must be Hilda herself. He thought more than once of putting the question to Rex directly, to be decided by his mysterious art. It would have been a relief to him if the decision had chanced to be contrary to his own vague forebodings, but on the other hand, it seemed like a profanation of his love to explain the situation to his friend. He never spoke of Hilda, and Rex did not know of her existence.
And yet Rex was constantly at his side, a part of his life, an element in his plans, a contributor to all his thoughts. He would not have admitted that he was under the man's influence, and the student of astronomy would never have claimed any such superiority. It was nevertheless a fact that Greif asked his friend's advice almost daily, and profited greatly thereby, as well as by the inexhaustible fund of information which the mathematician placed at his disposal. Nevertheless Greif did not lay the trap by which he had intended to test Rex's science, or expose his charlatanism, as the result should determine. He could not make up his mind to try the experiment, for he liked Rex more and more, and began to dread lest anything should occur to cause a breach in their friendship.
It chanced that on a certain evening of November Greif and Rex were sitting at a small marble table in the corner of the principal restaurant. They often came to this place to dine, because it was not frequented by the students, and they were more free from interruption than in one of the ordinary beer saloons of the town. They had finished their meal and, the cloth having been removed, were discussing what remained of a bottle of Makgrader wine. Greif was smoking, and Rex, as he talked, made sketches of his companion's head upon the marble table.
A student entered the hall, looked about at its occupants, and presently installed himself in a seat near the two friends, touching his blue cap as he sat down. The pair returned the salutation and continued their conversation. The student was of the Rhine Korps, a tall, saturnine youth, evidently strong and active, but very sallow and lean. Greif knew him by sight. His name was Bauer, and he had of late gained a considerable reputation as a fighter. Rex glanced curiously at him once, and then, as though one look had been enough to fix his mental photograph, did not turn his eyes towards him again. Bauer ordered a measure of beer, lighted a black cigar and leaned back against the wall, gloomily eyeing the people at more distant tables. He looked like a man in a singularly bad humour, to whom any piece of mischief would be a welcome diversion. Rex abandoned his sketch of Greif's head, looked surreptitiously at his watch and then began to draw circles and figures instead. Presently he slipped his hand into his pocket and drew out the almanac he always carried about him.
'What are you doing?' asked Greif, interrupting himself in the midst of what he had been saying.
'Nothing particular,' answered Rex. 'Go on. I am listening.'
'I was saying,' continued Greif, 'that I preferred my own part of the country, though you may call it less civilised if you please.'
'It is natural,' assented Rex, without looking up from his figure. 'Every man prefers the place where he is born, I suppose, provided his associations with it are agreeable.' Then he unconsciously spoke a few words to himself, unnoticed by Greif.
'Saturn in his fall and term-cadent peregrine.'
'It is not only that,' said Greif. 'Look at the Rhine, how flat and dull and ugly it grows—'
He was suddenly interrupted by the close presence of the other student, who had risen and stood over him, touching his cap and bowing stiffly.
'Excuse me,' he said in a harsh voice, 'my name is Bauer—from Cologne—I must beg you not to insult the Rhine in a public place, nor in my hearing.'
Greif rose to his feet at once, very much astonished that any one should wish to quarrel with him upon such a pretence. Before he could answer, however, Rex anticipated him by addressing the student in a tone that rang through the broad room.
'Hold your tongue, you silly boy!' he said, and for the first time since they had become friends Greif recognised the angry accents he had heard through the door when he had first gone to Rex's lodging.
'Prosit!' growled Bauer. 'Who are you, if you please?'
'My name is Rex. My friends the Swabians will manage this affair.'
'I also desire to cross swords with you,' said Greifenstein politely, using a stock phrase.
'Prosit!' growled Bauer again. He took the card Rex offered him, and then, with a scarcely perceptible salute, turned on his heel and walked away.
Greif remained standing during some seconds, gazing after the departing student. His face expressed his annoyance at the quarrel, and a shade of anger darkened its usual radiance.
'Sit down,' suggested Rex quietly.
'We must be off at once,' said Greif, mechanically resuming his seat. 'There is to be fighting to-morrow morning, a dozen duels or more, and I will settle with that fellow before breakfast.'
'That is to say, I will,' observed the other, putting his pencil and his almanac into his pocket.
'You?' exclaimed Greif in surprise.
'Why not? I can demand it. I insulted him roundly, before you challenged him.'
'Do you mean to say that you, Rex, a sober old student of Heaven knows how many semesters, want to go out and drum with schlagers like one of us?'
'Yes, I do. And I request you as the head of your Korps to arrange the matter for to-morrow morning.'
'You insist? How long is it since you have fenced? I should be sorry for that brown beard of yours, if a deep-carte necessitated shaving half of it.' Greif laughed merrily at the idea, and Rex smiled.
'Yes, my friend, I insist. Never mind my beard. That young man will not fight another round for many a long semester after I have done with him.'
'Were you such a famous schlager formerly?'
'No. Nothing especial. But I can settle Herr Bauer.'
'I do not know about that,' said Greif shaking his head. 'He is one of the best. He came here expressly to pick a quarrel with me, who am supposed to be the best in the University. He is in search of a reputation. You had better be careful.'
'Never fear. Go and arrange matters. I will stay here till you come back. It is too early to go home yet.'
Greif was amazed at his friend's determination, though he had no choice but to do as he was requested. He walked quickly towards the brewery where he was sure of finding the second in charge of his Korps, and probably a dozen others. At every step the situation seemed more disagreeable, and more wholly unaccountable. He could not imagine why Rex should have cared to mix in the quarrel, and he was annoyed at not being able to settle matters with Bauer at once. His mind was still confused, when he pushed open the door of the room in which his companions were sitting. He was hailed by a chorus of joyful cries.
A couple of novices sprang forward to help him to remove his heavy overcoat. Another hastened to get his favourite drinking-cup filled with beer. The second in charge, a burly fellow with many scars on his face and a hand like a Westphalia ham, made a place for the chief next to his own.
'We have had a row,' Greif remarked when he was seated at the board and had drunk a health to all present.
'Ha, that is a good thing!' laughed the second. 'Tell us all about it.' He drank what remained in his huge measure and handed the mug to a fox to be filled. Then he took a good puff at his pipe and settled himself in an attitude of attention.
'We have had a row at the Palmengarten,' said Greif. 'Rex and I—'
'You have quarrelled with Rex?' interrupted the second. He and all his companions detested the man because he took Greif away from them. There was a gleam of hope for the chief if he had quarrelled with his Philistine acquaintance, and all present exchanged significant glances.
'No. That is not it. A fellow of the Rhine Korps has quarrelled with both of us. He says his name is Bauer. Rex called him a silly boy and told him to hold his tongue before I could speak.'
'Rex!' exclaimed all the students in chorus.
'Ha, that is a good thing!' laughed the second, blowing the foam from his ale. 'Provided he will fight,' he added before he drank.
'Rex is my friend,' said Greif quietly.
The murmurs subsided as though by magic, and the burly second set down his measure almost untasted.
'I wanted to fight the man first,' continued Greif, 'but Rex objected and appealed to me as the head of a Korps to get the matter settled at once. He wants to fight to-morrow morning with the rest.'
'Prosit!' laughed the second. 'We thought he was a Philistine! He must be forty years old! What a sight it will be!' cried a dozen voices.
'As he demands it, we must oblige him,' observed Greif.
'A good thing! A very good thing!' exclaimed the second more solemnly than before. He rarely said much else, and his hand was infinitely more eloquent than his tongue.
'I hope it is,' said Greif. 'This is your affair. You had better go and see the second of the Rhine Korps at once. Rex is waiting for the answer at the Palmengarten. Remember he is determined to fight at once.'
'He shall drum till the hair flies about the place,' answered the second, with an unusual flight of rhetoric, as he slipped on his overcoat and went out.
'You are not going?' asked the students as Greif showed signs of following his brother-officer.
'I cannot leave Rex waiting,' objected Greif.
'Send for him to come here! If he really means to fight, he is not such a Philistine as we thought!' cried two or three.
'If you like, I will send for him,' answered Greif. 'Here, little fox!' he exclaimed, addressing a beardless youth of vast proportions who sat silent at the end of the table. 'Go to the Palmengarten and say that Greifenstein wishes Herr Rex to come here. Introduce yourself properly before speaking to him.'
The huge-limbed boy rose without a word, gravely saluted and left the room. Greif was his idol, the type which he aspired to imitate, and he obeyed him like a lamb.
'So Rex means to fight,' remarked one of the young men, who sat opposite to Greif. 'Was he ever in a Korps?'
'Possibly,' answered the chief.
'"The Pinschgau lads went out to fight,"' hummed the student rather derisively, but he did not proceed further than the first line of the old song. Some of the others laughed, and all smiled at the allusion to the comic battle.
'Look here, my good Korps brothers,' said Greif in his dominating tones, 'I will tell you what it is. Rex means to have it out with Bauer to-morrow morning. If he turns out a coward and backs down the ground before the Rhine fellow, you can make game of him as you please, and you know very well that I shall have nothing more to do with him, and that he will be suspended from all intercourse with the Korps. I have my own ideas about what he will do, though Bauer is a devil at deep- carte and has a long arm. Until the question is settled you have no right to laugh at an honourable man who is to be our guest-at-arms, because he is not a Korps student. He is our guest as much as the chief of the Heidelberg Saxo-Prussians was when he came over last spring to fight the first in charge of the Franks. Every man who wants to fight deserves respect until he has shown that he is afraid to stand by his words. There—that is all I have to say, and you know I am right. Here is a full measure to the health of all good Swabians, and may the yellow and black schlager do good work whether in the hands of guest or fellow. One, two and three! Suabia Hoch!'
'Hoch! Hoch! Hoch!' roared twenty lusty young voices.
The speech had produced its effect, as Greif's speeches usually did, and every student drained his cup to the toast with a good will.
'But after all,' said the young fellow who had hummed the offensive song, 'your friend has not handled a schlager since the days of the flood. It is not likely that he can get the better of such a fellow as Bauer—may the incarnate thunder fly into his body! I can feel that splinter in my jaw to this day!'
'My dear boy,' said Greif, 'one of two things will happen. Either Rex will give Bauer a dose, and in that case you will feel better; or else Bauer will set a deep-carte into Rex's jaw, exactly where he hit you, and if that happens you will feel that you are not alone in your misfortunes, which is also a certain satisfaction.'
'You seem remarkably hopeful about Rex,' observed the student. 'Here he comes,' he added as the door opened and Rex appeared attended by the fox.
Every one rose, as usual when a visitor appears under such circumstances. Rex bowed and smiled serenely. He had often been a guest of the Swabians and knew all present. In a few moments he was seated on the chief's right hand. Greif rapped on the table.
'Korps brothers,' he said, 'our friend Rex visits us in a new capacity. He comes not as usual to share the drinking-horn and the yellow-black song-book. He is with us to-day as a guest-at-arms. Let us drink to his especial welfare.'
'To your especial welfare,' said each student, holding his cup out towards Rex, and then drinking a short draught.
'I revenge myself immediately,' answered Rex, rising as he moved his glass in a circle and glanced round the table. The phrases are consecrated by immemorial usage. He drank, bowed and resumed his seat. He knew well enough that the Swabians did not like him over well, but he was determined that, sooner or later, they should change their minds.
'I congratulate you,' said the same student who had been talking with Greif, 'upon your quarrel with Bauer. You could not have picked out a man whom I detest more cordially. Observe this slash in my jaw—two bone splinters, an artery and nine stitches. It is a reminiscence, not dear but near.'
'A fine cut,' answered Rex, gravely examining the scar. 'A regular renommir schmiss, a gash to boast of. A deep-carte, I suppose?'
'Of course,' said the other, with the superiority of a man who knows the exact part of the face exposed to each cut. 'It could not be anything else. He has the most surprising limberness of wrist, and he never hits the bandage by mistake—never! You strike high tierce like lightning and your blade is back in guard—oh yes! but before you are there his deep-carte sits in the middle of your cheek. Whatever you do, it is the same.'
Every one was listening, and Greif frowned at the speaker, whose intention was evident. He wanted to frighten Rex by an account of his adversary's prowess. Rex looked grave but did not appear in the least disturbed.
'So?' he ejaculated. 'Really! Well, I can put a silver thaler in my cheek and save my teeth, at all events. They are very good.'
A roar of laughter greeted this response.
'But that is contrary to the code,' objected the student, laughing with the rest. He was not an ill-humoured man in reality.
'Yes—I was joking,' said Rex. 'But I once saw a man fight with an iron nose on his face.'
'How was that?' was asked by every one.
'He was a brave fellow of the right sort,' said Rex, 'but he had a long nose and a short arm. In fact he had formed the habit of parrying with his nose, like a Greek statue—you know, all those they find have had their noses knocked off by Turks. Now the nose is a noble feature, and is of great service to man, when he wants to find out whether he is in Italy or Germany. But as a weapon of defence it leaves much to be desired. The man of whom I am telling you had grown so much used to using it in this way, that whenever he saw anything coming in the shape of a carte he thrust it forward as naturally as a pig does when he sees an acorn. After a couple of semesters the cartes sat on his nose from bridge to tip, one after the other, like the days of the week in a calendar. But when the third semester began, and the cartes began to fall too near together, and sometimes two in the same place, the doctors said that the nose was worn-out, though it had once been good. And the man told the second in charge, and the second told the first, and the first laid the matter before the assembled Korps. Thereupon the whole Seniorum Conventus sat in solemn committee upon this war-worn nose, and decided that its owner need fight no more. But he was not only brave; he possessed the invention of Prometheus, combined with the diabolical sense of humour which so much distinguished the late Mephistopheles. He offered to go on fighting if he might be allowed an iron nose. Goetz of Berliehingen, he said, had won battles with an iron hand, and the case was analogous. The proposition was put to the vote and carried unanimously amidst thunders of applause. The iron nose was made and fitted to the iron eye-pieces, and my friend appeared on the fighting ground looking like a figure of Kladderadatsch disguised as Arminius. He wore out two iron noses while he remained in the Korps, but the destruction of the enemy's weapons more than counterbalanced this trifling expense. When he left, his armour was attached to a life- sized photograph of his head, which hangs to this day above two crossed rapiers in the Kneipe. That is the history of the man with the iron nose.'
There had been much half-suppressed laughter while Rex was telling his story, and when he had finished, the students roared with delight. Rex had never before given himself so much trouble to amuse them, and the effect of his narrative was immense.
'He talks as if he knew something about it,' said one, nudging his neighbour.
'Perhaps he helped to wear out the nose,' answered the other still laughing.
'A health to you all,' cried Rex, draining his full measure.
'And may none of you parry carte with the proboscis,' he added, as he set down the empty cup.
'Ha! That is a good thing!' laughed the voice of the burly second as he entered the room, his face beaming with delight.
'Out with the foxes, there is business here for a few minutes.' The foxes, who were not privileged to hear the deliberations of their elders upon such grave matters, rose together and filed out, carrying their pipes and drinking-cups with them. Then the second sat down in his vacant place.
'Well?' asked Greif. 'Is it all settled.'
'Yes. The cattle wanted to fight you first. I said the Philistine insisted—excuse me, no offence. Good. Now—that was all.'
The second buried his nose in a foaming tankard.
'Is it for to-morrow morning?' asked Rex calmly.
'Palmengarten, back entrance, four sharp.'
'What do you mean?' asked Greif. 'Are we to fight in the Palmengarten, in the restaurant?'
The second nodded, and lighted his pipe.
'Poetic,' he observed. 'Marble floor—fountain playing—palm trees in background.' 'Then we must go there at that hour so as not to be seen?'
'The Poodle thinks it is at Schneckenwinkel, and is going out by the early train to lie in wait,' chuckled the burly student.
'There he will sit all the morning like a sparrow limed on a twig.'
'Have we any other pairs?' asked Greif absently.
'Three others. Two foxes and Hollenstein. He is gone to bed and I am going to send the foxes after him. We can make a night of it, if you like.'
'I will stay with you,' said Rex, who seemed jovially inclined.
Neither Greif nor the second thought it their business to suggest that their combatant had better get some rest before the battle. When two o'clock struck, Rex was teaching them all a new song, which was not in the book, his clear strong voice ringing out steadily and tunefully through the smoky chamber, his smooth complexion neither flushed nor pale from the night's carousal, his stony eyes as colourless and forbidding, as his smile was genial and unaffected.
As they rose to go, he caught sight of a huge silver-mounted horn that hung behind his chair.
'I will drink that out to-morrow night, with your permission,' he said with a light laugh.
'Bravo!' shouted the excited chorus.
'He is a little drunk,' whispered the student whom Bauer had wounded, addressing his neighbour.
'Or a boaster, who will back down the floor,' answered the other shrugging his shoulders.
'I hope you may do it,' said the first speaker aloud and turning to Rex. 'If you do, I will empty it after you to your health, and so will every Swabian here.'
'Ay, that will we!' exclaimed Greif, and the others joined readily in the promise. Seeing how probable it was that by the next evening Rex would be in bed, with a bag of ice on his head, it was not likely that they would be called upon to perform the feat.
'It is a beer-oath then!' said Rex. 'Let us go and fight.'
And they filed out into the narrow street, silently and quietly, in fear of attracting attention to their movements.
The scene presented by the Palmengarten restaurant at four o'clock in the morning was extremely strange. Since Greif and Rex had dined together in the place on the previous evening, the arrangement of the hall had been considerably changed. The palms alone remained in their places around the four sides, and their long spiked leaves and gigantic fans cast fantastic shadows under the brilliant gaslight. The broad marble floor was cleared of furniture and strewn with sawdust, some fifty chairs being arranged at the upper end of the room, around and behind the fountain, whose tiny stream rose high into the air and tinkled as it fell back again into the basin below. A few small tables remained in the corners. The place was lighted by a corona of gas-jets, and was on the whole as bright and roomy a fencing ground as the heart of a Korps student could desire. The proprietor, who entered with enthusiasm into the scheme, moved about, followed by a confidential waiter in his white apron, examining every detail, adjusting the position of the tables and chairs, turning the principal key of the gas-jets a little so as to obtain the best possible flame, and every now and then running to the door which opened to the outer chambers, as he fancied that he heard some one tapping at the street entrance. The whole effect of the preparations suggested something between a concert and the reception of a deputation, and no one would have suspected that a party of young men were about to engage in a serious tournament amidst the fantastic decorations and the shadows of the beautiful plants, beneath the flood of light that bathed everything in warm lustre.
Presently the expected signal was heard, and the proprietor rushed breathlessly to the outer door. Greif, Rex and their companions entered swiftly and silently, followed by the liveried servant of the Korps who carried an extraordinary collection of bags and bundles, which he dropped upon the floor with a grunt of satisfaction as soon as he was inside. Then he took up his burden again, at the command of the burly second, and carried his traps into the illuminated hall. With the speed of a man accustomed to his work he began to unpack everything, laying out the basket-hilts of the rapiers, adorned with battered colours, side by side, and next to them half a dozen bright blades freshly ground and cleaned, each with its well oiled screw-nut upon the rough end that was to run through the guard, while the small iron wrench was placed in readiness at hand. Then three leathern jerkins were taken from their sacks and examined to see whether every string and buckle was in order, then the arm and neck bandages, the iron eye-pieces, the gauntlets padded in the wrist, the long gloves and stout caps with leathern visors worn by the seconds, the regulation shirts for the combatants, the bottle of spirits for rubbing their tired arms, a couple of sponges, and a dozen trifles of all sorts—in a word, all the paraphernalia of student warfare.
The next person to appear upon the ground was the surgeon, a young man with a young beard, who had not been many years out of a Korps himself, and who understood by experience the treatment of every scratch and wound that a rapier can inflict. He also carried a bag, though a small one, and began to lay out his instruments in a business-like fashion upon the table reserved for his use. Then there was another summons from the door and the members of the Rhine Korps filed silently in, their dark blue caps contrasting oddly with the brilliant yellow of the Swabians. They saluted gravely and kept together upon the opposite side of the room. Next came the Westphalians, in green caps, and the Saxons with black ones, till nearly a hundred students filled half the available space in the hall. Then the seconds in charge met together in the centre and looked over their lists of duels. There was a moment of total silence in the chamber, until the result was known, for no one could tell exactly which duel would be fought first. Then the four separated again and returned quickly to their comrades.
'We are to let fly first,' said the Swabian second to his chief. 'Now, Hollenstein, old man, jump into your drumming skin!'
'You will be next,' said Greif turning to Rex and speaking in an undertone. 'You had better dress while Hollenstein is out with the Saxon. The affair will not last long, I fancy.'
Hollenstein, a thickset fellow with a baby's complexion, but whose sharp eye showed his temper, went quietly about the operation of dressing, assisted by a couple of foxes, the second in charge and the Korps servant, who was as expert in preparations for duels as an English valet in dressing his master for following the hounds. In ten minutes everything was ready, the seconds on each side drew on their gloves, settled the long visors of their caps well over their eyes, took their blunt rapiers in hand and stepped forward. The witnesses of each party, also gloved, stood on the left of the combatants, it being their duty to watch the blades, and to see whether either fencer backed down the ground. The umpire took out his pocket-book and pencil and stop-watch, and placed himself where he could look across the fighting. The armed fighters stood up face to face at half the length of the room, a novice supporting the right arm of each high in air.
'Paukanten parat? Are the combatants ready?' inquired the umpire, who was the chief of the Westphalians.
'Parat! Ready!' was answered from both sides simultaneously.
'Silence!' cried the umpire. 'The duel begins. Auf die Mensur! Fertig! Los!'
Hollenstein and his adversary walked forward, accompanied by their seconds. Each struck a formal tierce cut at the other, and a halt was cried. They scarcely retired and the umpire repeated the words 'To the fight! Ready! Go!' and the duel began in earnest. Both were accomplished swordsmen, and the combat promised to be a long one. They exhibited to the admiring spectators every intricacy of schlager fencing, in all its wonderful neatness and quickness of cut and parry. From time to time a halt was called, and each man retired to his original place, his right arm being caught and held in air by the 'bearing-fox,' as the novice is called whose business it is to fill the office. The object of this proceeding is to prevent a rush of blood to the arm, which might cause pain and numbness in the member and interfere with the combatant's quickness.
'A couple of good fencers,' remarked Rex as he rose from his chair and went to prepare himself for what was before him.
'You will see what will happen,' answered Greif with a smile of confidence in his comrade.
The 'drumming,' as the students call it, proceeded for some minutes, and nothing was heard in the hall but the sharp whistle and ring of the blades and the sound of shuffling feet upon the sawdust-covered floor. All at once Hollenstein turned his hand completely round upon his wrist in the act of striking what is called a deep-carte, remained a moment in this singular position, which seemed to confuse his adversary, and then as the latter was making up his mind what to do, suddenly finished the movement and returned to his guard in time to parry the inevitable tierce. A thin line of scarlet instantly appeared upon the Saxon's face, straight across his left cheek.
'Halt!' cried both seconds at once.
'She sat!' exclaimed the second of the Swabians, throwing down his blunt sword and making for a goblet of beer that was placed in readiness for him, as though he took no further interest in the proceedings. Hollenstein stood as usual with his arm supported by the novice, while the Saxon was examined by the surgeon.
'Abfuhr!' said the latter. The word means that the wounded man must be removed.
'Please to declare the Abfuhr!' said the Swabian second relinquishing his glass and turning sharply to the umpire.
'Saxonia is led away,' declared the Westphalian chief, making a note of the fact in his pocket-book, and shutting up his watch.
Before he had finished speaking, Hollenstein had given up his sword and was beginning to disarm, while a fox wiped the perspiration from his placid pink face.
'Nicely done, old man,' said Greif, coming up to him.
'I like that way of doing it, do not you?' inquired Hollenstein with a childlike smile. 'I practised all last summer on my father's orderly. You know we always keep fencing things at home.'
'And how did the soldier like it?' asked Greif with a laugh.
'Better than you would,' replied the other laughing, too. 'He is a clever churl and has discovered the answer to the attack. Give me some beer, little fox!'
The novice obeyed, and a Homeric draught interrupted the interview. Greif turned to Rex, upon whose face the iron eyepieces were being adjusted. All the Swabians present were collected around him, excepting the second, who sat in solitary glory by his beer, opposite the Rhine Korps, awaiting events with stolid indifference.
'Take care!' said Greif whispering into the ear of his friend. 'I have never seen you fence, and Bauer's cartes are famous.'
'Remember the big horn!' said some of the men around him.
'I will not forget it,' answered Rex smiling, as he opened and shut his hand in the gauntlet, and then held out the palm to be chalked. 'And I hope you will not forget your promises either,' he added.
'Will you not have a glass of brandy?' asked some one with a scarcely perceptible tinge of irony.
'My friend,' replied Rex, turning sharply round in the direction of the speaker's voice, 'exactly fifteen minutes after the word "Go," I will drink a bottle of champagne with you, and I should be greatly obliged if you would direct the waiter to put the wine in ice at once, as it will scarcely be cool in so short a time.'
'Willingly,' said the student with a dry laugh, in which some of the bystanders joined, while all looked curiously at the man who seemed so absolutely sure of success. Greif's face was grave, however, and he himself selected the rapier for Rex's hand. All was ready and the adversaries stood up in their places. Bauer the Rhine Korps man, was an ugly sight. The eye-pieces gave a singularly sinister expression to his sallow face, and his disorderly hair looked like a wig of twisted black wire, while the jerkin he wore seemed almost dropping from his long, sinewy frame. He made his sharp weapon whistle three or four times in the air and tapped his foot impatiently upon the marble floor as though anxious to begin. Greif's heart beat quickly, and he was conscious that he would infinitely rather fight the duel himself.
The umpire began by declaring that the duel was between Herr Bauer of the Rhine Korps and Herr Rex, who fought with Swabian weapons.
'Formerly of the Heidelberg Saxo-Prussians,' said Rex quietly.
Every one started and looked at him, on hearing the name of the most renowned Korps in Germany.
'With a charge?' inquired the umpire, politely, and holding his pencil ready to enter the fact upon his note-book.
'First,' answered Rex laconically.
The students looked at each other and began to wonder how it was possible that such an important personage as a former chief of the Heidelberg Saxo-Prussians could have so long concealed his identity. But the umpire did not wait, though he reflected that Rex must have been in activity a very long time ago. Of course, the statement must be true, as any one might verify it instantly by a reference to the registers.
'Paukanten parat?' inquired the umpire.
The spectators observed that Bauer's first tierce was more than formal, and that if Rex's guard had not been good, it might very well have done some damage. Rex's fencing was altogether different from Hollenstein's. He seemed to possess neither the grace nor the dexterity which distinguished that gentle swordsman, although in figure he was far lighter and more actively made. And yet Bauer could not get at him. He was one of those fencers who seem to work awkwardly, but who sometimes puzzle their adversaries more than any professional master of the art. His movements appeared to be slow and yet they were never behind time, and he had a curious instinct about what was coming. Bauer's famous deep-cartes were always met by a cut which at once parried the attack and confused the striker. Once or twice Rex's long blade shot out above his adversary's head with tremendous force, but Bauer was tall, quick and accomplished, and the attempt did not succeed. Greif began to feel that the match was by no means an uneven one, and he breathed more freely.
'I think you could manage it, if you tried harder,' he whispered to Rex, during a short halt.
'Of course,' answered Rex. 'What do you expect?' Even through the iron eye-pieces Greif could see the colourless, stony stare of his friend's eyes.
Greif would have been more than satisfied if the duel ended without a scratch on either side, and such a result would have more than surprised the spectators of the encounter. Every one present knew by experience that in schlager fencing a month's practice is worth all the theory and skill which a man might possess who had not touched a rapier for years. Nevertheless, as the encounter proceeded, and both remained unhurt, Greif regretted that Rex should have boasted that Bauer would be disabled and laid up for a long time. Meanwhile the saturnine Rhine man grew slowly angry, as his arm became wearied by the protracted effort. His wiry locks were matted with perspiration, his shaggy brows knit themselves into an ugly frown, which was made more hideous by the black iron spectacles, he stamped his foot angrily, and made desperate efforts to get at Rex's face with his favourite under- cut.
'I am going to try now,' said Rex during the next halt, and turning his head to Greif.
He went forward again, and every one noticed that his rapier was higher than usual and seemed not to cover him at all. He brandished it in the air in a way that looked utterly foolhardy. Bauer came on furiously, feeling that if he failed now he must be laughed at for ever. His long arm turned with the rapidity of lightning, and every one saw the whistling blade flash towards Rex's unprotected cheek. To the amazement of all present the cut did not take effect. There was a loud clash of steel, accompanied by a harsh, grating noise. With irresistible fury Rex had brought down his weapon, countering in carte, parrying with his basket-hilt and then tearing, as it were, the reverse edge of his flexible blade through his enemy's face, from forehead to chin. 'She sat!' exclaimed the Swabian second, mechanically. But instead of dropping his blunt sword and making for his beer, he stood open- mouthed, staring stupidly at the unfortunate Bauer, as though he could not believe his eyes. The surgeon ran forward, looked at the wound and almost immediately nodded to the umpire.
'Rhenania is led away!' said the latter, in the midst of a dead silence.
It would have been contrary to custom and etiquette for the Swabians to manifest any noisy satisfaction at the result of the affair, but as Rex drew back he was surrounded and hemmed in by Greif's comrades, who tore the rapier from his grasp, pressed his gloved hands, untied the strings and loosed the buckles of his jerkin, wiped the slight perspiration from his face, and divested him of all his defensive accoutrements almost before he had breath to speak. A couple of novices rubbed his arm, while twenty young fellows congratulated him in an undertone. The two who were nearest were the student whom Bauer had formerly hurt, and the one with whom Rex had promised to drink the wine. The latter held a glass of champagne to the conqueror's lips.
'Your health,' said Rex as he drank. 'It is not too cold to drink,' he added with a smile when he had tasted the liquid.
'With a little practice, you would have to drink it hot,' laughed the other.
'You must teach me that trick,' said the rosy-cheeked Hollenstein. 'It is the best I ever saw.'
'The Rhine Korps will have to make a contract for buying iron noses wholesale,' remarked some one else, referring to the story Rex had told on the previous evening.
Greif stood near by, looking on, with undisguised satisfaction, and not yet altogether recovered from his surprise. He could see at a glance that Rex's position with regard to the Korps was wholly changed, and that henceforth his friend was likely to be almost as popular as himself. The fact that Rex had been chief of the Saxo-Prussians was in itself a sufficient recommendation and would long since have inspired them with respect, had Rex chosen to disclose his former dignity. Greif wondered why he had been silent, but, on the whole he was glad that the man should have earned popularity by an exploit rather than upon the strength of his former importance.
For the present, conversation was impossible. A couple of Greif's novices were to go out for the first time, and it was necessary to encourage them and see that everything went well. Swabia was in luck on that day, for the two youths acquitted themselves honourably, each fighting fifteen rounds without being touched, and each inflicting a couple of very small scratches upon their enemies.
'A white day for the Swabians,' said Greif, when he at last sat down to a sausage and a glass of beer for breakfast.
His Korps had nothing more to do with the proceedings, for they had no more duels on the day's list, and as none of them had been hurt, they prepared to watch the subsequent fights over a glass of beer, collecting themselves round Greif, Rex, and the thirsty second. It was by this time about five o'clock in the morning. The gas burned steadily overhead and the meeting of arms proceeded as regularly and quickly as any Roman show of gladiators. From time to time the Korps servants washed the blood-stained marble floor and threw down fresh sawdust for the next encounter. The surgeon and the wounded were kept out of sight behind the plants, and nothing disagreeable met the eye. The gleam and flashing of the steel swords under the yellow light, the gay colours of the caps, the quick movements of combatants and seconds were all pleasant to see against the background of stately exotic plants which made the hall look like a great conservatory.
Greif looked at it all and enjoyed it, almost wishing that this might be the last scene of the kind which he should attend, and that he might always have the impression of it when he thought of his student life, so different from the dismal meetings that sometimes took place in deserted barns, or in outhouses of country inns. In some ways he preferred the Palmengarten as a fighting ground to the forest glades in which the summer duels were sometimes fought. He felt, as he sat there, chief of his Korps, and looked up to by every one, very much as he fancied a Roman emperor must have felt in his high seat over the arena. A deep sense of satisfaction descended upon his soul. He had the best place, his Korps had been victorious, his best friend had highly distinguished himself, justifying Greif's own opinion of him, and gaining in ten minutes the respect and admiration of all his comrades. Rex watched him in silence, as though trying to guess his thoughts.
'Yes, you are a lucky fellow,' he said at last, hitting the mark as usual. The words chilled Greif, and his expression changed. All at once, in that crowded place of meeting, amidst the satisfaction of victory and the excitement of other struggles, the memory of his home in the dark forest rose before him like a gloomy shadow. His mind went back to that evening when Rex's first prediction had been so suddenly fulfilled, and then, in an instant, it flashed upon him that only last night Rex had been drawing circles and strange figures upon the marble table at the moment when Bauer had approached them. He turned to his friend and spoke in a low voice.
'You knew it by the figure,' he said. 'That is the reason you were so confident.'
'Yes,' answered Rex quietly. 'Of course I did.'
'It is true that you are a first-rate fencer,' remarked Greif doubtfully.
'Nothing extraordinary. The man had not a chance, from the first, especially as we settled the matter so soon after the question was asked.'
'The question I asked when I set up the figure.'
Greif was silent. He could not bring himself to believe in what he regarded as a sham science, and he could not reconcile any belief in such absurdities with the indubitable fact that Rex was a most enlightened man, learned in his own department, cultivated in mind, a scorner of old-fashioned prejudices and ideas, distrustful of all cheap theories and of all scientific men who talked eloquently about the progress of learning. That such a person should put any faith in astrology was a monstrous incongruity. And yet Rex not only trusted in what he pretended to foretell, but was actually willing to risk serious personal injuries on the strength of his divinations. Greif thought of what he had read concerning fanatics and the almost incredible good fortune which sometimes attended them. Then a wild desire overcame him to know what Rex had seen in the figure on that memorable night which had brought the news of Rieseneck's intended return.
'We have not spoken of those things lately,' he said after a long pause. 'Will you tell me what it is that must happen to me, according to your theory?'
'There are some things of which it is best not to talk at all,' Rex answered, looking earnestly at his companion. His hard eyes softened a little.
'Is it as bad as that?' asked Greif with an attempt to laugh.
'It is as bad as that, and as it will all happen through no fault of yours, and since nothing which you, at least, can do, could prevent it, it is better that you should not know.'
'You will not tell me?'
'Not unless you insist upon it, and you will not.' 'Why not? I do insist, as much as one friend can with another.' Greif could not quite submit to Rex's way of saying what he would do, or would not do.
'There are good reasons why you should not,' returned the latter calmly. 'In the first place we are good friends, and if I told you what is before you, it would be impossible not to injure our amicable relations. You feel that, as well as I do. If warning could help you in the least, I would not be silent. If I had any advice to give you, I would offer it, at the risk of offending you. You know that in your heart you would not quite believe me, if I spoke, and that you would always fancy I had some object in view, until all were accomplished. Even then you might never forget the disagreeable association between my personality and your calamities. I prefer to remain where I am in your estimation. Besides, why should I cause you all the pain of anticipation, when it can do no good? After all, nobody is infallible. What if I had made a mistake in my calculations?'
'That is true.' answered Greif, though his tone showed some doubt. Although he really did not believe that calculation or mathematics of any sort had anything to do with Rex's seeming knowledge of future events, the possibility of a mistake seemed small indeed, when Rex himself suggested it.
'I knew you would not insist,' said Rex. 'Indeed it is much better to watch those two fellows drumming on each other's heads, and to drink our early draught in peace without speculating about the future. Look at them! It is nearly a quarter of an hour, and not a scratch yet, though they hit each other with every tierce, flat as a soup-plate falling upon a millpond. But it is a pretty sight.'
Greif did not answer. The gladiatorial show had lost its charms for him and his mind brooded gloomily over coming events. The sun was not up, though it was broad dawn when he and his companions went out into the cool, silent streets, realising when they breathed the morning air the closeness of the heated atmosphere they had quitted. They separated by degrees, dropping off, one after the other, as each approached his lodgings, but before going home they all accompanied Rex to the street door of his dwelling.
When Greif was alone he threw open his window to the fresh morning breeze, and sitting down as he was, drank in the air, which to him seemed so delightfully sweet, though it would have chilled a weaker man to the bone. It was all the refreshment he needed, in spite of a sleepless night, spent chiefly in an atmosphere heated by gas and heavy with the fumes of tobacco. The morning, too, was exceptionally clear and beautiful. A scarcely perceptible mist blended the neutral tints of the old town with the faint colours of the sky, which changed by gentle degrees from dark blue to violet, from violet to palest green, then to yellow and then at last to the living blue of day above, while a vast fan of golden light trembled above the spot whence the sun would presently rise. The level rays gilded the slender cathedral spire, and the glass of many a pointed gable-window in the town sent back the flaming reflexion. All above was warm, and all below was cold in the blue shadow that still darkened the flowing river and the narrow streets beyond.
For a time Greif gave himself up to the pleasure of the sight and sensation. His instinctive love of nature was strong enough to absorb his whole being at certain moments, for it was real, and not cultivated, thorough and altogether unconscious of itself. But when the exceptional loveliness of the dawn and sunrise was drowned in the flooding light of an ordinarily fine day, Greif rose from his seat by the window and went about the business of dressing regretfully, as though he wished that the morning might sink back again into the twilight, as quickly as in the far north, when the sun first shows the edge of his disc above the horizon in early spring.
He had no thought of taking any rest, and intended to go to the University as usual, for it was a part of his Teutonic character to take his amusement at the expense of his sleep rather than to the detriment of his work. After such a night an Italian would have gone to bed, a Frenchman would have swallowed a brimming glass of absinthe and would have passed the day in visiting his fellow-students, or fellow- artists, an Englishman would have taken a plunge in the icy river and would have gone for a walk in the country. But Greif did none of these things. He drank his coffee and went to his books and his lectures as though nothing unusual had happened. He did it mechanically and felt himself obliged to do it, as much as any guard-officer in Berlin, who comes home from a ball at dawn, exchanges the inadmissible kid gloves and varnished boots he wears in society for the regulation articles of leather, smooths his hair with the little brushes he always has in his pocket, draws his sword and marches out with his company of grenadiers to the exercising ground, as merrily and as naturally as though he had spent the night in bed.
Before he left the house again, Greif received a letter from his father. It was some time since the latter had mentioned Rieseneck and Greif did not now expect any news concerning him. He turned pale as he read the contents. It appeared that Rieseneck had landed in Europe and intended to proceed without delay to Berlin, in order to report himself at the Home Office as one who desired to take advantage of the amnesty with the intention of residing in his native country.
'I myself,' wrote Greifenstein, 'have serious doubts in this matter. I cannot believe that your uncle is included in the general pardon for political offenders. He committed a crime against both civil and military law and was condemned by a court-martial. It would have been more respectable to shoot him at once. As this was not done, I have actually been obliged to write to him, now, warning him that in my opinion he is not safe. In the meanwhile, be careful, my dear boy, and keep amongst your own Korps, where you are not likely to have trouble about your infamous relation. He is not worth fighting for, though you would of course be obliged to go out if a stranger made disagreeable remarks. Happily, in a little more than a month, you will be at home, where such things cannot occur. Praise be to Heaven, we are very well, though your mother continues to be more silent than usual. Hexerl has got over the distemper very well and is a fine pup. I have decided not to fell the old wood, though it is quite time. What need have I for the money? Let the trees stand till the wind blows them down. Perhaps you will be glad, though you do not often go to that part of the forest. I have sent your rifle to Stuttgardt to be re-sighted as you wished. And so, good-bye.'
Greif put the letter into his pocket and went gloomily on his way to the lecture, reflecting that at that very moment Rieseneck was probably on his way to Berlin.
The snow fell heavily in the Black Forest during the third week of December. It lay in great white drifts against the huge rampart of Greifenstein, blown against the rough masonry by the bitter north wind, until the approach to the main gate was a deep trench dug in the white covering of the earth. The driving blast had driven great patches of flakes against the lofty wall so that they stuck to the stones and looked like broad splashes of white paint. The north sides of the pointed roofs on the towers were white, too, and gleamed in the occasional bursts of sunshine that interrupted the fierce weather. In the forest, the slanting branches of the firs were loaded down with irregular masses of snow, through which the needle foliage looked as black as ink. Not a spot of colour was visible anywhere, for everything was either black or white.
Old Greifenstein was no more afraid of the weather than he was of anything else. Day after day he went out with his gun and his dog, to fight his way for miles through the drifts, up and down hill, over the open moor where the snow was not knee-deep, under the giant trees from which great lumps of it fell now and then upon his fur cap and grizzled hair, down into the dells and gorges where it was nearly up to his neck, and where his sturdy dog struggled wildly through the passage his master had made. Greifenstein pursued the only amusement of his life in his own solitary fashion, rarely shooting at anything, never missing when he did, killing a buck once or twice in a week and bringing it home on his own shoulders for the use of his household, or lying in wait for six or seven hours at a time to get a shot at a stag; grimly pleased to be always alone, and silently satisfied in the thought that all was his, and his only, to kill or to let live at his seigneurial discretion. The keepers knew that he wanted no companions, and they kept out of his way when he was abroad, not dissatisfied perhaps that their tireless master should do most of their work in the bitter weather, leaving them to smoke their pipes in their cottages or to drink their beer and cherry spirits in the inn of the distant village. He left the house in the morning and rarely returned before dusk. It is not strange that his humour should have grown more stern and melancholy under such circumstances.
Greifenstein and his wife seemed to understand each other, however, and though days passed during which they scarcely exchanged a word, neither complained of the other's silence nor felt the slightest desire to do so. From time to time one of the servants declared that he could bear the life no longer, and gave up his large wages and gorgeous apparel to return to the city. He was replaced by another, without any remark. Contrary to German custom, Greifenstein never expected any one to stay long in the house, and merely stipulated that any one who wished to leave should give warning a fortnight previously. Neither he nor his wife were yet so old as to tempt servants to stay on for the death, in the hope of picking up something worth having in the general confusion. There was something strange in the way the pair lived, lonely and unloved in their ancient home, amidst a crowd of ever-changing attendants, who succumbed one by one to the awful dreariness of the isolated life, and went away to give place to others, who, in their turn would give it up after six months or a year. And yet neither Greifenstein nor Clara would have changed their existence.
Greifenstein had abandoned the attempt to explain his wife's illness, if she were really ill, but he could not help seeing the alteration that was going on for the worse in her appearance and character, and the sight did not contribute to his peace. He himself looked much the same as ever. After receiving the news that his half-brother intended to return, he stiffened his stiff neck to meet whatever misfortune was in store for him; and when he learned that Rieseneck was in Europe, he only set his teeth a little closer and tramped a little more savagely through the snow-drifts after the game. He knew that he could do nothing to hinder the progress of events, and he knew that if his brother came to Greifenstein, he should need all his strength and energy in dealing with him. There was nothing to do but to wait. As for Clara's secret, the more he thought about it, the more persuaded he was that it was not connected with Rieseneck, but with some other person. He grew anxious, however, as he watched her, for it was now clear that unless something occurred to revive her vital energy and her spirits, she must soon become an invalid altogether, even if she did not die of her sufferings. More than once, Greifenstein proposed to go away, to travel, to spend the winter in a southern climate, but she refused to leave her home, with a firmness that surprised him. There was Greif, she said, and Greif must be considered. When he was married they might go away and leave the castle to the young couple. Until then she would not move. Greifenstein could not but see the wisdom of this course. Meanwhile he attempted to induce his wife to live more in the open air, to ride, to drive, to do anything. But she confessed that she was too weak to face the inclement weather.
Greifenstein was a kind-hearted man in his own peculiar way, and he began to be sorry for her. She no longer distressed his sense of fitness, as formerly, by her inopportune interruptions, her wild smiles, her hysterical laughter, her pitifully flippant talk. He said to himself that she must be ill indeed, to be so serious and quiet. Perhaps she needed amusement. His ideas of diversion were not of a very gay nature, and since she would neither leave the house nor the country he did not quite see what he could do to amuse her. But the thought that it was necessary for her health grew until he felt that it was his duty to do something. Then he hesitated no longer and made a desperate attempt, involving a considerable sacrifice to his own inclinations. He proposed to read aloud to her out of the best German authors. Even poor Clara, whose sense of humour was almost wholly gone, smiled faintly and opened her faded eyes very wide at the suggestion.
'What an extraordinary idea!' she exclaimed.
The time when Greifenstein made his proposition was the evening, when the two sat in their easy-chairs on each side of the great heraldically carved chimney-piece in the drawing-room. They generally read to themselves, and each had a small table with a shaded lamp and a pile of books.
'My dear,' answered Greifenstein, 'it is not a question of ideas. I have examined the matter and I have come to the conclusion that you must be amused. It is therefore my duty to provide you with amusement. As I cannot sing, nor dance, and as you do not play cards, I cannot think of any more fitting method of diverting you than by reading aloud. German literature offers much variety. You have only to choose the author you prefer, and I will read as much as you like.'
Greifenstein was absolutely in earnest, and delivered his remarks in his usual dry and matter-of-fact way. When he had finished speaking he took up the volumes that were on his table, one after the other, and looked at the titles on the covers, as though already trying to decide upon the one which would best suit his purpose. Clara did not find a ready answer to his arguments, and her smile had disappeared. Her wasted hands lay idly in her lap, and her tired head sank forward upon her breast. She wished it were all over, and that she might fall asleep without the dread of waking. Greifenstein did not notice her.
'What shall it be?' he asked. She raised her face slowly and looked at him.
'Oh, Hugo, I would rather not!' she exclaimed faintly.
Her husband laid down the volume he had last taken up, leaned back in his chair, folded his knotted hands over his knee and looked at her intently.
'Clara,' he said after a few moments, 'what is the matter with you?'
'Nothing, nothing at all!' she answered, with a feeble effort to look cheerful.
'There is no object in telling me that,' returned Greifenstein, still keeping his eyes fixed upon her. 'There is something the matter with you, and it is something serious. I have watched you for a long time. Either you are bodily ill, or else some matter troubles your mind.'
'Oh no! Nothing, I assure you,' she replied in a scarcely audible tone.
'I repeat that it is of no use. I do not wish to question you, my dear,' he continued, almost kindly. 'Whatever your thoughts are, they are your own. But I cannot see you wasting away before my eyes without wishing to help you. It is part of my duty. Now a man is stronger than a woman, and less imaginative. It may be that you are distressing yourself with little reason, and that, if you would confide in me, I might demonstrate to you that you have no cause for repining. Consider well, whether you can tell me your trouble, and give me an answer.'
Clara listened, at first scarcely heeding what he said. Then as she realised the nature of his request and thought of her secret, she fancied that she must go mad. It seemed as though some diabolical power were at hand, forcing her slowly, slowly, against her will, to rise up from her chair, to tell the story, to speak the truth. Her brain reeled. She could hear the fatal words ringing through the room in the familiar tones of her own voice, distinctly, one by one, omitting nothing in the immensity of her self-accusation. She could feel the icy horror creeping through bone and marrow, as the truth tortured her in the utterance of it. She could see Greifenstein's grey face transformed with rage and hatred, she trembled under the inhuman savageness of his fiery eyes, she saw his tall body rise up before her, and his hand raised to strike, and she covered her face to die.
It was only a waking dream. The stillness roused her to life, her hands dropped from her eyes, and she saw her husband sitting quietly in his place and gazing at her with the same kindly, anxious glance as before. She had not spoken, nor uttered any sound, and Greifenstein had not seen the death-pallor under her paint. He had only seen her lift her hands to her face and take them away again almost immediately. In that moment she had suffered the pain of hell, but her secret was still her own. That terrible, unseen power that had pressed her to speak was gone, and no one knew what was in her heart.
'You are certainly very far from well,' said Greifenstein, returning to the attack with characteristic pertinacity. 'Can you not make up your mind to tell me?'
'No!' she cried suddenly in a terrified voice. Then out of sheer fright she made an enormous effort over herself, and laughed aloud. Under the influence of that mortal dread, in the supreme exertion she made to destroy the effect of the monosyllable that had escaped her lips, the laugh sounded natural. It was well done, for it was done for life or death, and if it failed she was betrayed. That single 'No' had been almost enough to ruin all, but her laugh saved her, though she trembled in every weakened joint when its echoes died away among the carved rafters of the great room, and she felt the drops of cold perspiration moving softly over her forehead towards the rouge on her cheeks.
'Ah,' exclaimed Greifenstein, 'that sounds more like yourself. Perhaps we ought to talk more in the evening. It does me good to hear you laugh nowadays. Let us talk, by all means. I am sure all this is only a foolish fit of melancholy, is it not?'
'Oh, no doubt it is. Let us try and talk, if you like.'
'I am too silent a man for you, Clara,' said her husband reflectively. 'It is certainly my duty to make an effort.'
'It is just as much mine,' she answered with an earnestness that attracted his notice. She was thinking that unless she roused herself, the fearful scene that had been enacted in her imagination might some day take place in reality.
'No,' said Greifenstein. 'It is you who are ill, and it is you who must be amused. Now, what do you say to my proposition? Shall I read something to you? Shall it be Goethe, or Schiller, or Heine? You know all the modern writers well enough.' 'Something from Heine then, if you will,' answered Clara. 'You are so kind! Perhaps he will make us laugh.'
'Yes,' echoed her husband. 'Perhaps Heine will make us laugh.'
The ghastly entertainment began, and continued for an hour, but the merriment was not as great as had been anticipated. The writer's marvellous wit was lost upon Greifenstein who, in the conscientiousness of his attempt to read well and expressively, confused his own mind to such an extent as to understand very little of what passed his lips. As for Clara, she closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair, scarcely knowing what her mind was dwelling on, but conscious of an added horror in her miserable life, so great that all before seemed well-nigh insignificant. She tried to listen from time to time, but her husband's voice sounded as though it were far away, reaching her through some muffling medium that intervened between her and him.
The clock of the castle struck ten, and Greifenstein closed the book with a sort of military precision when he reached the end of the sentence he was reading. Clara roused herself to thank him.
'It has been so good of you!' she said. 'I have enjoyed it very much.'
'We will read every evening, until you are better,' answered her husband with great determination. And he kept his word, although his plan for diverting the poor lady was not attended with much success.
Night after night he took his seat by the fire, exactly half an hour after the evening meal was ended. Night after night Clara sat with half-closed eyes, hearing his wooden voice, as in a dream, and wondering how all would end. There was no change in their lives or habits beyond the introduction of what Greifenstein called the amusement of his wife. It was all the same, the monotonous succession of morning and evening, of night and noon and evening again. Possibly the lives of these two persons might have continued to crawl along in the narrow channel they had made for themselves during many years more, if the events which had been so long preparing had been retarded; for Greifenstein was a man of habit in everything, incapable of weariness in the performance of what he considered to be his duty, and Clara's really strong health might have carried her through half a lifetime of exasperating stagnation. Indeed, if things altered at all after the conversation about her state, the change was for the better. A fictitious calm descended upon the old house, and a certain gentleness found its way into the relations of the couple which was agreeable to both. With Clara this was the result of exhaustion and despair. She felt herself wholly unable to bear any great disaster should it fall upon her, and she was grateful to her husband, and prayed, if she prayed at all, that both might die peacefully during those days. She even had a vague belief that Heaven would not really bring about that hideous catastrophe that haunted her dreams, and that forced her to dream of it when she was waking. Had she not been a faithful wife to the stern, grey man who had sat opposite to her for five and twenty years? Had she not been a fairly good mother to Greif, if not very loving, nor very wise, at least what people call a good mother? Her conscience told her that, at least, and she felt how great a comfort it was to think that she had not been wholly bad. Moreover, she had been placed in strange circumstances when she had done the deed, whatever it was, and if she had not been as young at that time as she had pretended to be, she had yet not been so old as to understand thoroughly what she was doing. Heaven would surely not be so unkind as to visit upon her now the sins of her youth; now, when a quarter of a century of peaceful married life had intervened between that day and this; now, when Greif himself was grown to a man's estate and was to be married in his turn. Surely, there was mercy for her. But if there were none, if Heaven were to be more just than kind, what would become of her? The thin blood beat in her hollow temples as she thought of it, and then sank back suddenly to the tired heart whence it had risen. Above all else, the thought of Greif was unbearable. He, too, must know, if anything were known. He, too, would turn upon her, and force her to drain the last dregs of the death-draught. But she still believed and hoped, hoped and believed, that the day would never come.