'Yes—I suppose they would. I had not thought of it.'
'It seems to me that this constitutes an additional argument in favour of the plan I suggested.'
Greif did not answer at once, for he felt the weight of Rex's words, though he did not understand the whole intention of his cousin.
'I cannot argue with you now,' he said at last, as though wishing to be left to his thoughts.
Rex was too wise to be annoyed, for he saw that Greif's refusal to discuss the matter any further was the result of his inclination to yield, rather than of a hardening determination. The only point immediately important to Rex was that the marriage should not be broken off abruptly at once. He did not know what Hilda's nature might be, and this was an uncertain element in his calculations. It was certainly most probable that if she loved Greif sincerely she would not part with him easily, nor suffer him to sacrifice himself without making a desperate effort to hold him back. On the other hand, and for all Rex knew, Hilda might be a foolishly sentimental, half-frivolous nonentity, who would take offence at the first word which spoke of parting and consider herself insulted by Greif's chivalrous determination. She might be a suspicious girl, who would immediately be attacked with jealousy and would imagine that Greif loved another and wished to be free from herself. On the whole, Rex, in his worldly wisdom, thought it improbable that Hilda would turn out to be sincere, simple and loving, whereas for her own interest it was important that she should possess these qualifications. Lastly, Rex reflected that Hilda might very well be a selfish, reticent, scheming young woman, who would know how to manage Greif as though he were a child. He almost wished that she might have enough worldly guile to cling to Greif for his fortune as well as for his love—anything, rather than that the marriage should be broken off.
If that disaster occurred, if by Greif's impatient desire to be generous to the extreme limit of what honour could demand, or by Hilda von Sigmundskron's possible lack of affection or of wisdom, the two were to be permanently separated, Rex confessed that he should not know what to do. His own position would in that case be very far from enviable, for he would certainly have been a party in a fraud, of which the practical result had been that the Sigmundskrons were kept out of their property. The moral point presented to his conscience was an extremely delicate one to decide. His nature, as well as his education, impelled him to tell the truth regardless of all consequences, for its own sake; but the question arose, whether he was bound to tell what he knew, when no one asked him for the information. When the consequences might be so tremendous, and when the least effect that could be anticipated must be the immediate ruin of his brother, he believed that he should be justified in his silence, provided that those who would legitimately profit by the secret he withheld should receive all the advantages to which they were entitled. It seemed to him a case in which his conscience must gamble upon the probabilities. If it turned out well, he might congratulate himself upon having produced much happiness; if he lost the game, he must endure the humiliation of being obliged to communicate the truth to both parties. It would have been far easier, if he had been called upon to induce Greif to make an apparent sacrifice for the sake of a good he could not understand. The young man's noble disposition was more easily led in the direction of chivalrous self-renunciation, than towards an end involving personal advantage. Indeed Greif would almost invariably have chosen to give rather than to receive. The present difficulty consisted in making him take Hilda, in order that he might unconsciously give her what was hers. At first Rex had considered only Greif's happiness; now, he must think before all things of Hilda's fortune. He knew Greif well enough to be sure that if the marriage were broken off, he would certainly bestow a considerable portion upon the Sigmundskrons if they were really poor, but this could not be enough. Either Hilda must have all that was hers, by marrying Greif, or Rex must tell the story and precipitate the catastrophe. The only condition of his concealing what he knew, was that every one except himself should gain by his reticence. If this could not be accomplished justice must be done in spite of the consequences.
Though Rex's blood was German, his character had suffered a certain modification by the manner of his bringing up. His mode of thought certainly differed from Greif's to an extent which could not be accounted for upon the ground of temperament alone. Brave, manly and sufficiently generous though he was, Rex undeniably had a preference for accomplishing his ends mysteriously and by diplomatic means, a characteristic more southern than northern, and assuredly not German. He was a man well able to sustain whatever part he chose to play, and it was at least to his credit that he never employed his remarkable powers of concealment to a bad purpose. In his place, Greif would have told everything, and would then have offered everything he possessed to compensate the mischief done by the truth; he would not have been able to hide what he knew for a week, in such a case, for his extreme love of frankness would have tortured him until it was out, but if there were no justice to be accomplished, he could have held his peace as well as another. Rex saw far and clearly before him. His sceptical mind could not accept the conventional traditions of truthfulness at any price, of honourable sentiment exaggerated to Quixotism. He felt the necessity of weighing results before acting, rather than of following moral precepts and letting the results take care of themselves. To him ultimate good was everything, and religious morality was an empty bubble, unless it could be made to contribute directly and clearly to a good result. With Greif's more simple and straightforward nature, truthfulness, and such virtues as go with it, were invested with all the superior importance which religion gives to each present act of life, and so far as the future was concerned, a semi-conscious faith in the efficacy of principle supplied the place of Rex's well thought-out combinations and philosophical disquisitions about relative right and wrong.
The effect of what Rex had said was to hasten Greif's action. After listening to his cousin's arguments, he felt that what was to be done must be done quickly, lest his courage should fail him. If he had been left to himself he would never have doubted his own strength, and would very possibly have waited a day or two before going to Sigmundskron to bid Hilda farewell. Now, however, he felt that to hesitate or delay would be fatal, and he resolved to lose no time in carrying out his intentions. In order to isolate himself more completely from all outward influences he would have sent Frau von Sigmundskron back alone and would have followed her a few hours later; but his sense of common decency, as well as his profound gratitude, forbade such a course. He could not by any means avoid the long drive in her company, and he tried to harden his heart as he submitted to his destiny. It was certain that, unless she had changed her mind, she would talk of the matter of his visit, and would repeat in his unwilling ear all those arguments which appealed to his heart so strongly, and which so grievously shook his chivalrous resolution.
During the long night that succeeded the day of the funeral ceremony, the sorrow of the parting which was before him assumed such proportions as made the past seem less horrible, and the change from one kind of suffering to another afforded his exhausted nature a relief of which he was not conscious, but which was nevertheless very real. He himself could not understand how it had been possible for him to discuss with Rex matters so closely connected with his future happiness, scarcely an hour after the heavy gates of the mausoleum had closed upon the father he had so deeply loved, and upon the mother he so tenderly regretted. For he did mourn for her sincerely, in spite of his earlier indifference. He was yet too near the catastrophe to attempt to explain it, but in the confusion of his grief her words came vividly to his mind. He recalled the expression of her face when she had implored him not to forsake her, whatever happened, and he knew that in some way she must, even then, have had a forewarning of her end. He remembered many strange incongruities in her manner, which he had once disliked intensely, but which now pointed to the existence of a secret in her quiet life, and which, having seemed contemptible when she had been alive, took a tragic importance now that she was gone. He recalled very clearly that morning when he had felt a thrill of pitying tenderness for the lonely woman, and when she had responded so suddenly and passionately to his simple words. He had never loved her, and had perhaps had little cause for any affection, but the suddenness and the horror of her death strengthened in him every kind memory, and overshadowed by its dark presence whatever in her life had lacked dignity and worth.
As for his father, he had felt for him a passionate devotion of which he dared not think now. And yet he had been able to talk with Rex, if not freely, at least with a complete command of his faculties. He would have reproached himself with heartlessness, but when his thoughts dwelt upon those he had lost, he knew that the self-accusation was unmerited. Not comprehending what passed in his own mind, and finding himself face to face with a problem that seemed to involve his own life or death, it is not altogether surprising that he should have persisted in undergoing a self-imposed suffering which he almost unconsciously regarded as a test of heroism.
But as he did his best to fortify himself in his intention another power stood before him, not a gloomy presence of evil, not a sorrowful but relentless fate, not a thing in itself terrible, grand or heroic, and yet stronger and more real than any of those other shadows which surrounded his life. He had not known that it was with him in such a shape, he had not realised what it would be to face that which has conquered all men sooner or later. The love of Hilda, which had softened all his youth, but which in its unopposed calm had seemed so gentle and tender that by an effort of his strong will he might put it off if he would, the quiet spirit of calm which had been with him so long, purifying his thoughts, simplifying his hopes for the future, encouraging him ever in each present day, the love of untarnished youth for spotless maidenhood rose up like the dawn upon a traveller in a strange land, shedding its universal light upon the secret places of his soul. It was a wonderful revelation of beauty appearing in the midst of his sorrow, contrasting the magnificence of its splendour with the darkness in which he would have hidden himself. He groaned as he lay alone in his solitary chamber, and the passionate tears burst from his eyes. He had met at last that which must vanquish all his resolutions, and turn all his desperate efforts into vanity. That sudden flash of radiance in the midst of his grief was but a dark shadow compared with the light of Hilda's face. If the mere thought of her made all resistance seem impossible, would he be able to go to her to-morrow and tell her that they must part? But it was not a mere thought, as he called it. He had thought of her for years, but never in this way; she had dwelt in his heart a long time but he had never felt anything like this. It was true that he had never resisted her presence before. Could that be the reason? Could it be that love was a companion for the weakest of mankind, if kindly entertained, and yet, if resisted, the master of the very strongest? Greif in his pride of youth believed himself as strong as any, and the sensation of being thus utterly overpowered was crushing and humiliating. He would not yield, but he well knew that he was conquered beforehand, and must be led away captive in the end.
He sat up and tried to reason with himself. It was but an illusion after all, and it was just such an illusion as should strengthen his purpose. If Hilda were indeed, as she doubtless was, this exquisitely lovely creature, could anything be more contemptible than to give her a name which must be a reproach, a position in which her beautiful life must be made half shameful by the memory of hideous crimes?
Momentarily satisfied with himself, he once more laid his head upon the pillow, but he had hardly closed his eyes when Rex's suggestion flashed through his brain, and Hilda's clear voice seemed to cry 'Sigmundskron!' in his ears. The thought of bearing another name, of being no longer Greifenstein, of being the father of a new race in a new home, presented itself to him in all its attractions. After all, said Rex to his conscience, you are wholly innocent, and it is only the sound of the name to which you object or which you fear for her. Take hers and be happy under it, since you would be miserable under your own. After all, one is as good as another, and it would be better to be plain Herr Rex than to throw over the joy of a lifetime for the sake of three syllables that have a disagreeable ring. Names are nonsense and a man's reputation is his own, not to be made or marred by his father's evil deeds. The Sigmundskrons know all, and it is for them to judge, not for you. If they will make you one of them, what right have you to make them unhappy for the sake of your own prejudices?
Greif was very young to cope with such difficulties, when even love itself was against him. Though Rex said little, that little was eloquent and full of practical sense, like many of Rex's sayings. Greif shed bitter tears and ground his teeth and wrung his hands.
'Hilda! Hilda!' he cried aloud in his solitude, 'what would you have me do, if you knew all, if you knew me, if you knew my heart!'
When a man appeals against his love to the woman who loves him, his resolutions are at their last gasp for existence. Hilda answered his heart before the spoken words were out of his mouth.
'Love me, dear—that is all I ask!' It was as though her voice mingling with his own sounded aloud in the lonely room, and Greif started up, his eyes wide open, his breath caught upon his lips.
It was the merest illusion, but its vividness showed him the power of what produced it. He was struggling bravely for an idea, trying to do what seemed knightly, and noble, and high, and vanquished though he was, he would fight to the very end.
The cold, bright morning rose over the sombre trees and suddenly entered his chamber like the broad reflexion of polished steel, a chilly glare of snow and cloudless sky seen through a window high above the earth in midwinter. Greif awoke from the broken slumber that had come to him at last, and looked anxiously about him. Somehow the sweet vision that had so much disturbed him, when he could see nothing real but the glow of the dying embers on the hearth, was dissipated and gone under the cruelty of the icy daylight. With a heavy heart he rose and looked out upon the forest. From the place where he stood he could see the tall trees that surrounded the burial-ground of his race, and his eyes grew dark and gloomy as he thought of those who lay there. He was sadder and stronger than he had been a few hours ago. He would sit beside the baroness during the long drive to Sigmundskron, and what she might say would make no impression upon him, no more than the ringing of the horses' bells made upon the frozen snow. He would meet Hilda in the well-remembered sitting-room, and Hilda's mother would leave them alone. It would be cold there, for there was never much fire. She would perhaps be pale—a little pale, and her eyes would be cast down. She would sit upon one side of the stone chimney-piece, and he would stand upon the other. There would be a moment's pause, and then he would tell her everything. It could not last long, and when it was over he would have conquered in the struggle.
He would drive back alone in the late afternoon through the dismal forest. To-morrow he would leave Greifenstein and go to his lawyer in the city. Half of his fortune should be Hilda's, and she should restore Sigmundskron and marry whomsoever she would. Then he would be free, and he would go away with Rex to some distant country, not to return for half a lifetime, if he ever returned at all.
The plan was simple, comprehensive and satisfactory. Nothing remained but to put it into immediate execution. He had given the necessary orders on the previous night and, as soon as Frau von Sigmundskron was ready, they would start upon their drive. He finished dressing and went in search of Rex. The latter looked even more pale and disturbed than Greif himself, though with characteristic determination he was attempting to eat his breakfast.
'I am going to Sigmundskron,' said Greif entering the room. 'Will you wait for me here? To-morrow we will go away, or tonight, if you like.'
'I will wait willingly. Where should I go?' Rex rose, pushing the silver salver away from him.
'Very good. I shall be back at dusk. Good-bye.' Greif held out his hand in evident anxiety to get away, for he did not want to hear any more of his cousin's plausible reasoning, and dreaded lest Rex should broach the subject of his errand. But the latter detained him in spite of himself.
'Do nothing rash or hasty, Greif,' he said earnestly. 'A life's happiness is easily thrown away, and hardly found again when you have parted with it—and more than half of life's happiness is the love of woman. Good-bye.'
Greif made his escape as quickly as he could, but Rex had found time and words to touch the strongest cord in his heart. As he descended the stairs he felt again something of the influence that had visited him in the night, and he wished that he had not gone to Rex's room before leaving the house.
The sight of Frau von Sigmundskron, wrapped in her dark mantle for the journey, recalled him to himself. Her kind eyes looked at him almost lovingly from beneath the hood that covered her white hair, as he bent and kissed her hand. Neither spoke as they gained the court and got into the carriage, but while Greif was wrapping her in the heavy furs and arranging a cushion behind her, he felt that she meant to do all she could to dissuade him from his intention on the way, and he knew that the real struggle was yet to come. Then Rex appeared again, bareheaded, to bid farewell to the baroness and to say a few words of heartfelt thanks. He alone knew how much both he and Greif owed to her discretion; far more than she dreamed of, as she answered him and gave him her hand.
The horses plunged forward, their hoofs clashing noisily upon the pavement of the court; out of the bright light the carriage disappeared into the darkness of the gateway and as quickly rolled out again upon the dazzling snow beyond. After that there would be snow and trees and rocks, and rocks and trees and snow, until the grey towers of Sigmundskron loomed up above the tops of the firs.
Greif leaned back in silence, as they spun over the white road. Every moment now was a moment gained, provided that nothing were said to weaken his purpose. He braced himself in his seat, with his feet and his back, as though he expected the carriage to upset, and closed his lips tightly as if to meet a physical accident.
Frau von Sigmundskron glanced at him once or twice and noticed his expression, and his resolution to look straight before him. Had she possessed Rex's penetration, she would have guessed what was passing in his mind. As it was, she vaguely suspected that he had not altogether given up his plan, and the thought made her uneasy. She could see the clearly cut outline of his handsome face without turning her head. He had put on a fur coat, and she thought that fur was singularly becoming to fair men who had good complexions—a frivolous observation, apparently, but in reality not so worthless as it appeared. She was thinking of the impression Greif would make upon Hilda, and wondering whether the girl would find him greatly changed or not. She was woman enough to suppose that much would depend upon the first moments of the meeting which was about to take place, and upon the look Greif should first see in Hilda's eyes. If he found her sad, pale, ready to pity him, his nature would be hardened, partly because he hated to be pitied by any one, partly because that same irritation would help him to execute his purpose. But if, on the contrary, Hilda met him with an ill-concealed joy, if there were light in her bright eyes and colour in her cheeks, if her voice spoke sympathy in his sorrows while her face told him of her gladness in the meeting, then things might turn out very differently. After all, thought Frau von Sigmundskron, Greif was only a man, and could not be expected to act altogether wisely unless a woman helped him.
She had certainly not always held such beliefs, but in latter years they had grown upon her. Sigmundskron was a women's establishment and naturally independent. The baroness had grown to think that, after all, women, when thrown entirely upon their own resources, can manage better than men. She was sure that no three men could have lived so decently and fairly well upon as little as sufficed for herself, Hilda and Berbel. It is true that the distance from such daily forethought and hourly prudence as she needed in her life, to such wisdom as Rex, for instance, possessed so abundantly, was considerable; but the baroness looked upon that as an insignificant argument, if indeed it presented itself to her mind at all. She thought little of Greif's determination to persist, if only Hilda could seem more glad to see him, than sympathising in his misfortunes. With a woman's wholesale faith in woman, she believed utterly in the power of one of Hilda's glances to keep Greif at Sigmundskron for ever. Especially good women believe in all other women, more than those who are neither notably good nor notably bad. A man's faith in his fellows bears little or no relation to his own moral character, the best men being often the most distrustful, and not always the most agreeable companions. But the better a woman is, the more she believes all other women to be both good and wise, a phenomenon not hitherto explained, though very frequently observed. The baroness held views of this sort concerning Hilda and old Berbel. It was characteristic of her that, as soon as her generosity had got the better of her hesitation in regard to the marriage, she began to consider Greif in the light of a well-beloved adversary, whom the feminine powers of Sigmundskron must vanquish for his own good. It was characteristic, too, that in all her uncertainty she had never considered for a moment the great worldly advantages to be gained or lost.
'We might have sent word that we were coming,' she said, when they had driven more than a mile without speaking. 'Hilda would have come to meet us on the road.'
'It is better so,' answered Greif mournfully.
'I do not see why—it would have given the child such pleasure,' remarked his companion, glancing at his face to see whether his expression would change or not.
'Would it, do you think?' asked Greif in an indifferent tone, though a very slight colour rose in his pale face.
'Indeed it would. It is wrong in you to doubt it. Poor Hilda! She has not too many pleasures of any sort, and meeting you is one of the greatest.'
The blush in Greif's cheek deepened. Again he set his feet firmly before him and braced himself in his seat as though to resist a shock. He hated himself for betraying his feeling in his face, and wished it were night. The baroness continued to speak in gentle tones, determined to obtain an answer from him, and if possible to make him engage in argument, for she believed that if he argued he was lost.
'Yes,' she said. 'It is a lonely life she leads up there. I am too old to be a real companion, and there is only old Berbel besides. It is pathetic to see her begin to count the days as soon as you are gone, and to watch her face as it gradually turns less grave when more than half the score is marked away.'
'Does she do that?' asked Greif, conscious that he was growing crimson.
'Always. She used to do it, when she was a mere child, and you were only an overgrown boy. It seems to me that she always loved you, long before—long ago, I mean.'
Greif sighed, and looked away. The half-boyish blush faded slowly from his cheeks and left his face paler than before. The good lady saw the change with regret, and wondered whether the slip of the tongue she had made in her last sentence could have anything to do with it. But she did not despair, though she allowed a few moments to pass in silence. To her surprise it was Greif who renewed the conversation, and in a manner she had not in the least expected.
'I have always loved Hilda,' he said, avoiding her eyes resolutely. 'Ever since I first remember your bringing her to Greifenstein. We were very small, and it must have been in the spring, for we picked mayflowers and found strawberries in the woods.'
'She was not more than six years old then,' observed Frau von Sigmundskron.
'And I was eleven, I think,' replied Greif, forgetting his effort to be silent in the childish reminiscence. 'Was that the first time you came?'
'I believe so. It was four years after we came to live in Sigmundskron.'
'Why did you not come sooner?' Greif asked. It seemed to him that it would be wise to keep the conversation upon the doings of twelve years ago. Another mile of the road was passed, and he was still unshaken.
'There were many reasons,' answered the baroness. 'We had not always been on the best of terms, perhaps because we had scarcely ever met, and I did not care to seem to be forcing my acquaintance upon my relations, so I stayed away for a while. After all, what really brought us together more than anything else, was the fondness of you two children for each other, which showed itself from the first. They brought you to see Hilda, and then we went to your house again—and so —gradually—'
'I remember that Hilda wore a blue frock the first time she came,' remarked Greif quickly, with an attempt to check the baroness's advance towards present times. The intention was so evident that she could not help smiling a little under her hood, and reflecting with some satisfaction that upon this subject, at least, she was more than a match for him.
'Perhaps she did,' she answered. 'I remember that she once had a blue frock.'
The triviality of what they were saying to each other struck Greif all at once, as compared with the horror of what they had left behind them at Greifenstein. It was but the third day since that fearful catastrophe had darkened his life, and he was exchanging remarks about the clothes Hilda had worn when she was a child. He thought he must be shamefully heartless, unless he were going mad, which, considering his words, seemed probable to himself. He leaned back again, and stared absently at the moving landscape. It seemed to him that his father's spirit was gliding along, high in the black trees beside the road, like mighty Wodin in the northern forests, watching the son he had left behind and listening to the foolish words that fell from his lips. The baroness attributed the sudden chill of his manner, and the gloomy look on his face to another cause.
'That was very long ago,' she said, taking advantage of his silence. 'Since then, Hilda has grown up, and you have become a man, and the love that began when you were children has—'
'I cannot marry her!' exclaimed Greif, so sharply and suddenly that his companion started and looked anxiously into his face.
'Then you will kill her,' answered Frau von Sigmundskron, after a short and painful pause. She, too, was roused to abandon the harmless attempt at diplomacy which had failed, and to speak out what was in her heart.
She was indignant with Greif, and she forgot altogether that she had at first felt precisely as he did himself in regard to the marriage. As the trees flew past and every effort of the strong horses brought her nearer to her home, she knew Hilda was first, and the instinct to defend her child from pain and sorrow gradually began to dominate her. Mild and gentle as she was, she was ready to attack Greif and to force him to marry her daughter whether he would or not. She grew nervous, for the coming meeting between the two might decide their fate, and every moment lost might be the most important. Greif did not reply at once to what she had said, but a shiver passed through his limbs and he drew the furs more closely about him.
'You are wrong,' he said at last. 'Hilda will forget me in time and will marry a better man and a happier one. I did not mean to tell you— I may as well—I shall make arrangements to give her half of what I have in the world. She will be an heiress then, and can marry well.'
Frau von Sigmundskron did not understand him. To her, the speech seemed cynical and brutal, an insult to Hilda's love, a slight upon her own poverty. The gentle lady's pale and delicate face flushed suddenly with righteous anger and her small hands were clenched tightly beneath the furs. There was a bright light in her soft blue eyes as she answered him.
'Hilda will neither accept your fortune, nor forget you—though it would be better, perhaps, if you could pass out of her memory.'
Greif could not see her face which was hidden by the hood she wore, without leaning forward, but her words and her tone surprised him. He had been very far from supposing that he should offend her by making such a proposal or by hinting that Hilda might marry happily at some future time. The emotion he had felt had probably made his voice sound harshly, and after all, he had perhaps shown little delicacy in speaking of the money, but he was quite unprepared for his companion's freezing answer. With Greif, however, it was impossible that any misunderstanding should last long, for he was too honest and frank to submit to being misunderstood himself.
'I do not know what you thought that I meant,' he said, turning towards her. 'But you would not be angry if I had explained myself better.'
Frau von Sigmundskron gave him no assistance, but sat quite still in her seat. In her view he had spoken lightly of her child's love and had proposed to set matters right by giving her some of his money. She was angry, and she believed that she had a right to be.
'I love Hilda,' continued Greif, and his voice trembled a little. If there were a phrase which he had not meant to pronounce, or to think of during the day, it was that. He found himself in a position which obliged him to affirm the strength of his love, and the mere sound of the words disturbed him so that he stopped short, to collect his thoughts.
'You do not act as though you loved her,' said Frau von Sigmundskron coldly. Two days earlier it had seemed to her that in renouncing Hilda he was giving proof of a heroic devotion, and yet she was not really an inconsistent woman.
'I mean to,' answered Greif rather hotly. 'If I refuse to marry her, it is because I love her too much to do her such an irreparable injury. I do not see how I could love her more. As for the rest, it has nothing to do with my love or hers. You are the only heir to Greifenstein after me, and when I die it will in any case be all yours, or Hilda's. I can do nothing with so much, and you may as well have the benefit of what will be yours some day—perhaps very soon. Is that unreasonable? Does that offend you? If it does, let us say no more about it, and forgive me for having said as much.'
'It would be better not to speak of the fortune,' said the baroness, beginning to relent.
'And you understand me—about Hilda?'
'I cannot say that I do,' replied Frau von Sigmundskron with all the obstinacy of a good woman thoroughly roused in what she believes to be a good cause. 'You love her, and yet you are willing to make her miserably unhappy. The two facts do not agree.'
Greif suppressed a groan and looked at the trees before he answered. If she would only have left him alone, it would have been so much easier to do what he knew was right.
'It is perhaps better that she should be unhappy for a time, now, while she is young, than regret her name when she has taken mine.' His own words had a sententious sound in his ear and he felt that they were utterly inadequate, but he was fighting against heavy odds and did not know what to say.
'I tell you that the child would die of a broken heart!' exclaimed the baroness with the greatest conviction. 'You say you love her, but you do not know her as I do. I suppose you will allow that it would be better that she should have moments of regret in a lifetime of happiness, than that she should die.'
She was certainly using strong language, but the time was passing rapidly and in the distance she could distinguish already the grey towers of Sigmundskron crowning the beetling crag. She was to be pardoned if she seemed to exaggerate Hilda's danger, but she believed every word she spoke, and she was growing more and more nervous at every turn of the road.
'If I believed that, if I even thought that were better for Hilda's happiness—'
Greif left the sentence unfinished, for he felt that he was on the edge of the precipice, though he was still inwardly convinced that he was right and that she was wrong. The baroness thought the day was almost won. All her anger melted away in the prospect of success and she talked much and earnestly, dilating upon the situation and using every argument of persuasion which she could devise. But Greif said little, and though he was careful not to offend her afresh, he did not again come so near to committing himself, as he had done once.
'And for that matter,' said the baroness, as the carriage swung round the curve and began the last ascent that ended at the castle gate, 'for that matter, you can call yourself Sigmundskron instead of Greifenstein.'
Greif moved uneasily in his furs. It seemed as though everything were conspiring against him.
Hilda's quick eyes had discerned the carriage when it was still far down upon the road, a mere moving speck in the distance. She had thought it probable that her mother would return on that day, and she knew that she would be driven over from Greifenstein. Moreover, it was very likely that Greif would accompany her, and from the moment when she first saw the vehicle, she watched it and followed it along the winding road until she could clearly see that a man was seated beside her mother. Then the look of anxiety disappeared all at once from her fair face, and was followed by an expression of satisfied happiness which would have been good to see if any one had been there to watch her.
She was standing upon a high part of the half-ruined building, on the northern side, and a person looking up from the road below could have seen her tall figure in strong relief against the pale winter sky. She had dressed herself all in black, but a wide mantle of coarse grey woollen stuff, gathered into a hood at the top and drawn tightly round her against the biting wind, concealed all her figure, leaving only her face visible. Rough and poor as the material was, it became her well, better perhaps than the richest furs could have done. Its folds fell gracefully to her feet as she held the cloak closely about her, and the unbroken neutral tint showed her height more plainly, and set off the marvellous beauty of her skin with a better contrast than any brighter colour.
Sigmundskron had been very desolate and lonely during the last two days, since Hilda's mother had ridden away through the bitter night to do her duty in the house of death. Of course both Hilda and the faithful Berbel had their occupations as usual, and talked over them when they were together, but the time had passed slowly and heavily. Hilda could form no clear conception of what had taken place, from the confused account of the groom who had brought the news. The idea that her uncle Greifenstein and her aunt Clara were both dead, as well as another unknown gentleman who had been with them, was very dreadful; but Hilda knew so little of death, that the story seemed melancholy and weird to her imagination rather than ghastly and vivid with realised horror. By no effort of her mind could she fancy how the three looked, for she had never seen any one dead in her whole life. She had read of violent deeds in history, but they seemed more like ugly fairy stories than realities, and the tragedy of Greifenstein struck her in a very similar light. It was as though some strange evil genius had passed through the forest, scarce twenty miles from her home, destroying all that he found in his way. They were gone, suddenly, like the light of a candle extinguished, and she should never see them again. They had crossed the boundary into the wonderful land beyond, and perhaps from where they were now they could see her dreaming about them, and asking herself what that great change meant which only takes place once for each man and each woman in the world. Perhaps—Hilda trembled at the heresy, but let her thoughts run on nevertheless, because after all it was only her imagination that was talking—perhaps that was the end, and there was nothing beyond it. It would be infinitely horrible to be put out of existence altogether, without hope of any life at all afterwards. That might be what was meant by hell, and outer darkness, but upon this point Hilda was not decided. She made up her mind, however, after a little more reflexion, that the Greifensteins could not possibly have been bad enough to deserve to be put out entirely, though she frankly owned to herself that she had never liked her aunt Clara. She was sorry for her now, at all events, and she wished that she had at least made an effort to be more fond of her.
Hilda tried to decide what she should say to Greif when she met him. She never doubted that he would come to Sigmundskron, and in her ignorance of formalities she almost dared to hope that he would stay with her mother for a time. He would certainly not care to remain in Greifenstein for the present. If indeed he should wish to spend a few days with his relations, Hilda foresaw many and great difficulties, but she was surprised that such important household questions as those of bed and board for a possible guest should seem so insignificant when that guest was to be Greif himself.
The real trouble lay in deciding what she should say. It was clear that she could not help looking pleased when he arrived, though it would be her duty to look somewhat sad and sorrowful. Of course she felt for him and he knew it, but he would perhaps expect her to show it very clearly in the first minute and would be hurt if she even smiled. It was not easy not to smile when she saw Greif after a long separation. Perhaps the best way to look very mournful would be to think that he could not marry her for a long time, now, on account of the mourning. But then, Greif had finished his studies and would henceforth be always at home, which in Hilda's opinion would be almost the same thing as being married, provided she could see him all the time.
Then she thought of that strange warning she had given him when they last parted. She had not understood why she spoke, and yet, she had not been able to keep silence. Surely this could not be what was meant. Besides, it was superstitious to believe in such things, and she had been thoughtless in yielding to the impulse. Greif was safe, at all events, and she supposed that everybody's parents must die some day, though not necessarily in such a strange way. Her own father had been killed, too, before she could know him—if she had known him, she would have loved him, as Greif had loved the old gentleman who was now dead.
Hilda became aware that her reflexions were growing more and more heartless and that they did not help her at all, especially as she could not communicate them to Berbel. She resolved not to reflect any more for the present, and applied herself diligently to her household occupations until the morning on which she expected her mother to return. And now she was not to be alone any longer, for the carriage was advancing up the hill and she could plainly see Greif sitting beside the baroness in the big carriage. She knew his fur cap, for it was the same he had worn last year. She gazed a few moments longer at the pair, regretting that she must be thought heartless if she waved her handkerchief as a signal of welcome, and then she swiftly descended the broken steps that led down into the house, closing as well as she could the crazy door of the turret, to keep out at least a little of the strong north wind.
'Berbel! Berbel! Mamma is coming with Herr Greif!' she cried, before she was really within hearing of the room where Berbel was at work.
Her clear voice rang through the stone passages before her as she ran on, repeating the news until Berbel answered her at last.
'Is there anything for dinner?' asked Hilda breathlessly, as she stood in the doorway.
The grey-haired woman looked up from her sewing, over her horn-rimmed glasses. She had a hard, good face, with rough brows, sharp eyes and a large mole upon her chin. She was spotlessly clean, and everything about her was supernaturally neat.
She was broad-shouldered, rather bony than otherwise, and she moved as though nothing were any trouble which merely required exertion.
'There are potatoes,' she answered laconically, but a strangely genial, half comical little smile was twitching at the corners of her solid mouth.
'Nothing else? Oh, Berbel, there must be something else!' Hilda's voice was full of a sudden distress, and her face exhibited considerable dismay.
'I shall find something,' replied the other. 'Better see first whether they are hungry. Poor Herr Greif will not eat much—'
'No—but only potatoes, Berbel!'
'Potato dumplings are good things,' observed the woman.
'And fried potatoes with a stewed hare are better,' she added after a pause.
'Is there a hare, then? Oh, Berbel, you dear old thing, how could you frighten me in that way! Where did you get it? We have not had one for ever so long!'
'Wastei,' answered Berbel. Being interpreted, the name signifies Sebastian.
'And Wastei must have got it by poaching—?' Hilda's face fell.
'No—the forester has given him a licence this year, and I mended his breeches. There you have the whole history.'
Hilda's spirits revived immediately and she broke into a merry laugh, just as the sound of the horses' bells was heard jingling in the castle-yard below the window. She ran down the stairs to meet her mother and Greif. The story of the hare and Wastei's breeches had almost chased away her good intentions to look appropriately sad. The hideous tragedy of the Greifensteins was very far from her simple young life.
The great carriage swung round and drew up before the door of the hall, and Hilda was already standing upon the low steps. She had thrown back her hood when she had descended from the battlements, and had not replaced it. Her glorious hair looked like bright gold against the darkness of the hall behind her, and as the cloak fell from her on each side, the black of her dress suddenly threw out by contrast the brilliancy of her face. In another moment her mother and she were clasped in each other's arms, while Greif stood beside them on the steps.
He closed his eyes for an instant, just as hers were turning toward him. This was the woman he had come to renounce, this was she whose love he could put away at a moment's notice for the sake of an idea— his heart beat violently and then stood still, so that he turned very pale. Her hand was already in his, and he scarcely dared to look at her.
'Greif—are you ill?' she asked anxiously.
He had not seen her smile. He had escaped that, he thought. But as he looked up he saw what was harder to bear than any look of joy at his coming. She, who never used to change colour, was pale to the lips, and in her eyes was a look of terror for him which betrayed all her love, and devotion and power of suffering for him, in the flash of an instant. She had indeed been terrified, for he had turned ashy white as he closed his eyes, and his figure had swayed a little unsteadily as though he had been about to fall.
'Are you ill, Greif?' she repeated, unconsciously drawing him nearer to her.
'It is nothing. My head turned for a moment,' he said.
Hilda was not satisfied, but she saw that whatever had been the matter, he had recovered himself for the present, at least, and she supposed that he was exhausted with the fatigue and grief which had filled the last days. She became silent and preoccupied, as they all entered the hall together and ascended the steps to the sunny sitting-room over the court. Then Frau von Sigmundskron left her alone with Greif, on pretence of taking off her mantle and smoothing her hair, but as she went away she gave him a look which signified that she would not disturb them for some time.
There was the great stone chimney-piece, just as Greif had seen it in his vision of the meeting, and Hilda sat down beside it, as he had fancied that she would. But the room was not cold, as he had anticipated, for the fire was clear and big, and the sun streamed brightly in through the southern window. He had imagined the place chill and dreary, for he knew that he should need the impression of dreariness to help him. Instead, it was warm and sunny, and though Hilda was still a little pale, her pallor did not produce the effect he had expected. He tried to begin, for in spite of all, his resolution was still unbroken, but the words stuck in his throat.
'Greif,' said Hilda, looking up suddenly into his face. 'I do not know how to tell you—I am so sorry, so sorry for you, dear. I have not the words, but it is all in my heart. You understand, do you not?'
She had risen, seeing that he was still standing, and she came to him, and clasped both her hands upon his shoulder and looked up into his eyes. It would have been easier if she had begun in any other way than that. With her touch upon him, her eyes on his, her breath and soft voice so near, he could not play coldness. But he was strong still.
His arms went round her swiftly and pressed her to him, and he kissed her as he had never kissed her before, three times in quick succession. Then he gently led her back to her chair and returned to his own place, standing as he had meant to do, to give himself more courage. She submitted wonderingly, without understanding why he made her sit down, and for a few seconds neither spoke. At last he turned away from her and began to talk, looking at the window to avoid her eyes.
'Hilda, a very terrible thing has happened, and I must explain it to you, in order that you may comprehend what I must do. Will you promise me to listen patiently and to forgive me beforehand for all I am going to say?'
'Yes,' answered the young girl rather faintly. The strong presentiment of evil had come upon her again, as it had come that day when he was leaving Greifenstein. She bent her head and covered her eyes with her hand, as though not to see the blow that was to descend, though she must feel its weight. It was all instinctive, for not the faintest thought of what he was going to say could ever have suggested itself to her mind.
'Yes,' said Greif, 'it is very terrible. But I have come here to say it and I must say it all. You know what has happened. My poor mother is dead, and those who murdered her, have killed themselves—my father and his half-brother. You did not know that I had an uncle?'
Hilda shook her head, looking up for a moment.
'He was a bad man, too,' continued Greif. 'He had been an officer and had betrayed his trust in the times of revolution, was sentenced and imprisoned; he escaped from the fortress, made his way to South America, and lived there for forty years in exile, until the amnesty was proclaimed. He was not Greifenstein, he was Rieseneck, half-brother to my father by the mother's side and younger than he. That was bad enough, however. It was the reason why my father lived here in the forest so quietly. He was afraid that people would remember he was Rieseneck's brother. You see, the affair made a great noise at the time. Your mother knows all about it. Well, it was hard enough, as I say, to have such a disgrace in the family. We did not know that Rieseneck had a son—I found that my best friend—his name is Rex—is he.'
'How strange!' exclaimed Hilda. 'Why is his name Rex?'
'It is not, exactly. He and his father called themselves so in order not to be identified. It was almost necessary for them—as it may be for me now.'
'For you ?' asked Hilda in the utmost astonishment. 'You would change your name—why?'
Greif stared at her. She seemed not to understand at all, and yet he had gone into Rieseneck's story merely to make his own seem more terrible by comparison.
'You must know that, in the world, such calamities as have befallen me leave a mark, a stain even upon the innocent,' said Greif. 'The world looks askance at the sons of murderers.'
'And are you afraid of the world, Greif?' asked Hilda. 'That is not like you. For the Riesenecks, well, I understand—he was disgraced, condemned, imprisoned. But you! It is like a dreadful story of the dark ages, but there is no shame in it, nothing to be ashamed of. It is terrible, awful, appalling, but you can hold your head as high as any one. Do you suppose it is the first tragedy that ever occurred in your family or in mine? Did not old Sigmund strangle his own brother with his hands, here in this house, seven hundred years ago, and am I ashamed to call him my forefather?'
'That is very different from what has happened to me,' answered Greif. 'You cannot understand, but the world judges according to its light. If I, the son of a man who murdered his wife and killed himself, were to present myself to any man of my own rank and ask him for his daughter in marriage I should receive a refusal, and perhaps an indignant one. I am not considered a fit person to marry an innocent girl of my class, I am stamped with a stained name, branded with the sign of others' crimes, ruined before my life is begun, cut off from happiness, from ambition, from you—O Hilda! that is what I came to tell you—I have spoken very badly—it is best to say it clearly. My beloved, this has taken you from me, and me from you, and has cast me adrift from all that remained, from the greatest and best of all. If I could dare to marry you now, to give you my miserable name, to take you to the home that is darkened by so many deaths—I should be the last and lowest of men! It is of no use, for I feel it—the only honourable thing left for me to do, in so much dishonour, is to leave you for ever and at once. If I were willing still to make you my wife you ought to despise me, and trample the memory of my love under foot as a vile thing. O Hilda, Hilda! it is death to me, but it is best for you.'
The blow had fallen, and Hilda sat quite still in her place, covering her eyes with one hand, as she had done at first. All through his long preamble, she had felt that there was something dreadful to come, and now it had come indeed, in the shape she least expected, in the shape which of all others she would most have feared. She did not move, but the soft, fresh colour faded from her face, till it was whiter than the white hand she held before it. Greif looked at her, and his head swam. He thought neither of her suffering nor of his own, as the words came fast and incoherent from his pale lips. He went on, insisting, repeating, lamenting with the vehemence of a passionate man who has overcome all that is gentlest in himself and takes a savage delight in rending his own wounds.
'It is done, and you know, now,' he cried bitterly. 'I have fought against myself, against every one, to do this thing—do you think it is easy to give up such a love as you have been to me? And yet, I would not take you, no, not if you pursued me across the world—what right have I to you? The right of loving better than anything God has made was ever loved before? It is gone, that right, gone with my name, gone with all I once was, buried with my father and my mother in the old place beyond Greifenstein. Right? I have no rights any longer—neither to love, nor to hate, nor to be happy in the thought of love, nor of Hilda. And yet, in all the years to come, you will be with me. I cannot give up the right to remember you, and to think of your dear eyes. Ah, if it were but my own fault, how easy it would be to bear! I wish I had wronged you—you would thrust me from you—it would help me—at least, if I had done you harm, I could die for it, and that would be so easy and simple, and would end all so well. I wish I had done some hideous, nameless deed with my own hands, that I might be driven out by men, and forced to leave you by others stronger than I! Anything, anything, anything but this!'
He bent his head against the cold stones of the high chimney-piece, and beat his brow against the hewn carvings of it, closing his eyelids over his dry and smarting eyes, wishing that every moment might be the last of his wretched existence, and at the same time miserably conscious that his strength would outlast all his sufferings. He had meant to be so calm and gentle, he had planned how he would gradually explain all to Hilda and break the shock for her, he had thought that when it was over, he could firmly say one solemn good-bye, and go back to his home alone. He had not known what love could do, nor how he should be tortured and wounded and bruised in the conflict. But yet he was strong and victorious. His dignity and self-respect had been sorely shaken in the fight, and he had not found the calm and tactful speeches he had planned before; but in spite of every one, and chiefly in spite of his own heart, he had bravely done what he had come to do. The victory was more agonising than any defeat could have been, but it was victory, notwithstanding.
Manlike, in his utmost distress, he had forgotten Hilda's self in the overwhelming thoughts of her that rushed through his confused brain. Her hands had fallen upon her knee and she sat like a statue in the deep old chair, whiter than any marble, her colourless lips parted, her wonderful eyes fixed upon him in a glassy stare. Even her hair seemed to have lost its golden sheen, as though it were suddenly dead or turning into stone. And yet she was not unconscious. A very strong and perfect organisation rarely breaks down under the first shock it receives, no matter how violent. Hilda was not only conscious, she was even able to speak.
'Greif!' She spoke his name clearly, in a low voice.
He started, for he had almost forgotten her presence. He lifted his haggard face and turned towards her, supporting himself with one hand on the chimney-piece.
'Do you mean all you have said?' she asked very slowly, as though each word cost her an effort.
'I mean it all, Hilda,' he answered, his tones still trembling with the violence of the storm that had passed through him.
'You mean that because your father did this deed, you are ashamed to marry me?'
'More than ashamed—'
'And you will go away and leave me for ever, for the sake of this idea alone?'
'Ah, Hilda—you have not understood—'
'I have understood all, because I love you, and now I know that you love me with all your heart—'
'Oh, thank you, my beloved! God bless you for seeing the truth—'
'Do not thank me—'
She caught her breath, then with a swift movement she was on her feet, standing beside him. The glassy stare was gone from her eyes, and they shone with a blue light like fire. Her strong white hands suddenly laid hold of his wrists and held him firmly.
'Do not thank me, Greif—or thank me, if you will—as you please. I will not let you go.'
There was a power in her tone which struck him with amazement, a concentrated, unrelenting, almost furious energy that startled him. He had expected tears, protestations, laments; he had thought that she might faint away, that the sight of her sufferings would treble his own. But he had not expected the short sharp outburst of a passion as strong as his, or stronger, he had not foreseen or guessed that this simple girl, brought up so far from the world, would take him by the hands and hold him, and tell him that she would not let him go, with an accent of determination that might have staggered the strongest man.
'You will not?' he exclaimed, aghast at the prospect of a battle worse than the first.
'No,' she answered, still grasping his wrists and gazing into his face with her fiery eyes. 'I will not, and I know that I am strong. I feel it.'
During nearly a minute neither spoke, but Hilda's hold did not relax for a second, and her lids did not once veil the intensity of her look. Even if Greif had possessed a wider experience of women than he had, it would not have helped him much. He was utterly at a loss. His manly nature would have provided him with weapons to rid himself of a woman of coarser instincts, even if he had loved her to distraction, provided he had felt that he must part from her. He would have felt that he could dominate a baser affection and force it down to his will, by sheer strength of purpose, no matter at what cost; but he was met here by something he had never understood, and he did not know what to do. The childlike innocence of Hilda's maiden love gave an extraordinary character to her passion. The absence of anything like the common expressions of love made the transcendent power of what moved her stand out in magnificent grandeur. Never in his life had he dreamt that her quiet and undemonstrative affection was capable of anything but a calm and beautiful development. He had not guessed the existence of such resistless force as blazed from her eyes, he had believed her only capable of receiving, he had not imagined that she was strong enough to take boldly what was refused her. The radiance of a spotless soul, burning in the white-heat of a passion as pure as itself, dazzled and awed him. As he looked, he felt as though he were held in the grasp of a splendid, wrathful angel, who disputed the possession of him, not with himself, but with the opposing powers of evil.
It is amazing that in such a case he should still have found strength and courage to resist this last great trial of his sincerity. Most men would have yielded and would have accepted their fate. But though Greif was young, and not very wise, he had stern and obstinate blood in his veins, and he was acting under the strongest conviction that had ever possessed him. Knowing her only as he had known her before, the fair and innocent idol of his boyish heart, he had felt that he could never allow her to take his darkened name. In the beginning his intention had been very honourable, in his struggle with himself it had grown high and chivalrous, but in the face of such opposition as he met from her mother and now from herself, it had assumed proportions that bordered upon the grotesque. And yet as he looked now upon her noble face, illuminated and radiant with a beauty almost too pure for him to understand, he felt even more than before that such a creature could never be allowed to ally herself with one whose name was a reproach among men. He did not know how to oppose her, but he knew that she must be opposed, at any cost, for her own sake.
His eyes fell before her gaze, and his hands trembled nervously in her grasp, so that she began to think that he was yielding, whereas he was in reality making a supreme effort to concentrate his courage and to keep the mastery of himself. While he seemed to be sinking to her will, he was gathering his strength, saying in his heart that if he lost this battle he should never hold up his head again.
The sun streamed broadly through the diamond panes of the casement upon the patched and faded carpet, creeping slowly along his accustomed path in which the hours were marked, as on a dial, by threadbare seams and the leaves and flowers of a half-obliterated design. In the huge chimney the logs burned steadily with a low, roaring sound, and the shabby furniture of the place seemed to doze lazily in the warmth, as old men do whose strength is far spent. And in the midst of the commonplace scene a drama was being enacted, less horrible in outward appearance than the tragedy of Greifenstein, but scarcely less fearful to the two young hearts that beat so fiercely and full of life.
The sunlight moved but a very little, as far as would show the passing of a minute, perhaps, and then Greif looked up once more and again met the gaze of Hilda's eyes.
'Hilda, I will die for you, but I cannot marry you.' Greif spoke quietly, but with the utmost decision.
'I have said that I will not let you go,' she answered, 'and I will not. You are my life, and I will not die—I should if you left me.'
'You will forget me,' he said.
'Forget you!' Her voice rang through the room. She dropped his hands with a passionate gesture and turned away from him, making one or two steps towards the window. Then she came back and stood before him.
'Forget you!' she exclaimed again. 'You do not know what you are saying. You do not know me, if you can say it. Do you think, because I am a girl, that I am weak? I tell you I am stronger than you, and I tell you that you are mad. Do you think that if I would have shed the last drop of my blood to save you from pain yesterday, I love you less to-day? I love you a thousand times more for what you would do, but you shall not do it. I love you as no woman can love, who has not lived long life. And you say that you can go away, and that I shall forget you! As I am a Christian woman, if I forget you, may God forget me, now and in the hour of death! I could not if I would. And you say that you will leave me—for what? Because your father has done a terrible deed, and has taken his own life. For a name—for nothing else! What is a name to me, compared with you yourself? I love you so, that if you had yourself done the most monstrous crime, I would not leave you, not if we were to die a shameful death together. And you would leave me, for my own good! For my advantage—oh, I would not have heaven itself without you. Forget! What would there be left to remember, if you were taken? The emptiness of the place where you were, the wide emptiness that all heaven could never fill! Your name—do you love it better than me? But I know that you love me, though you are mad. Then put your name away, cast it from you to whomsoever will have it. Do you think that Hilda von Sigmundskron cares for names, or wants new ones? Am I a peasant's child, to sigh for a coronet and to give you up because you have put it off? Be what you will, you are only Greif to me, and Greif, only, means more to me than heaven or earth and all that are in them. You shake your head—what would you say? That it is not true? My love needs no oaths to bind it, nor to prove it. You can see it in my face, for I know that it is there. Yes—you cannot meet my eyes—honest as you are, and good, and noble, and true-hearted as any man that ever drew breath. Do you know why? You dare not—you who dare anything else. I love you the more for having dared this—but you shall not do it. I will not let you go, I will not, never, never!'
Greif had turned his head away and stood leaning against the chimney almost in the same attitude he had taken from the first. She had spoken quickly and passionately and he had not been able to answer anything she said, for she did not pause, replying herself to the questions she asked and giving him no time to oppose her.
'I was wrong,' he said, half bitterly, half tenderly. 'You will not forget me any more than I can forget you. It will make it harder to say good-bye.'
'It shall never be said, until one of us two is dying, Greif.'
'We cannot change our fate, though we love ever so dearly,' he answered. 'Think, Hilda, if you took me as I am, what you might suffer in after years, what our children would surely suffer when they went out into the world, and the world began to whisper that they were the grandsons of that Greifenstein—'
'What is the world to us, dear? And as for our sons, if God sends us any, I know that if they grow up to be brave gentlemen, loyal and true, the world will leave them in peace.'
'The world is a hard place—'
'Then why have anything to do with it? I have been happy, here in the forest, for so many years—could you not be happy here with me?'
'I should still be my father's son—I should still be Greifenstein.'
'Would I have you anything else?'
'Hilda, it is impossible!' cried Greif with suddenly renewed energy. 'I have said all. Must I say it again?' 'If you were to say it a thousand times, it would not make it more true. But I will listen to all you tell me, if you like,'
With a calmness that showed how certain she felt of her victory, Hilda resumed her seat at the opposite side of the fireplace, folded her hands together, and leaning her head against the back of the easy- chair, watched him with half-closed eyes. She was not tired, and would very probably be able to sustain the contest longer than he. After the first shock of the announcement was over, under which she had suffered more in one moment than would have sufficed to fill a week with agonising pain, the strong impulse to hold him had come upon her and her elastic strength had been roused to its fullest energy. But the memory of that one moment of agony was enough to make her guess what she would feel if he left her.
Arguments repeated a second time rarely seem so forcible as when they are first heard. Painfully and conscientiously Greif recapitulated his reasons, trying to speak coldly and concisely, exerting himself to the utmost and summoning all the skill he could command in order to state his case convincingly. Hilda could not have put the idea that possessed him to a more cruel test than this. It began to dawn even upon himself that he was in pursuit of a chimera, and the necessity for the enormous self-sacrifice, upon which he insisted, was breaking down in the face of such a determined opposition on the part of those who were more interested than himself. Doggedly and persistently he continued, nevertheless, fighting his love as though it had been a devil, thrusting Hilda's from his thoughts as though it had been an evil temptation, savagely determined not to part with his belief in what he took for his duty. It was a strange sight, and would have afforded material for reflexion to an older and wiser person than Hilda.
'That is all I have to say,' he concluded. 'It seems to me that I cannot say it more clearly. You know what it costs me to repeat it all.'
An expression of intense pain passed over his face, and he turned away in order to hide it from Hilda. He was hardly able to make his strained lips pronounce the last words.
'I am not convinced,' said Hilda after a moment's pause. 'No eloquence in the world would convince me that you and I should sacrifice our lives for an idea, merely to save ourselves from the possibility of a few ill-natured remarks hereafter. That is all it comes to in the end. I will tell you the history of this idea.'
She seemed calmer than ever, but the light had not faded from her eyes, and Greif felt that she was ready to spring upon him in an instant, to grasp his hands in hers and to say again that she would not let him go. He glanced nervously towards her, and the look of suffering returned to his face.
'The history is this,' she said. 'When the dreadful thing happened, you thought of me. Then it seemed to you that you should free me from our engagement. That seemed hard to you, because you love me so much—it was so hard that it took all your strength to make the resolution. You have spoken to my mother and to me. Now, I ask you whether my mother, at least, is not old enough to judge what is right? Did she agree with you, and tell you that you should give me up?'
'No—she did all she could to persuade me—'
'Of course,' interrupted Hilda. 'Of course she did. Now shall I tell you why you will not allow yourself to be persuaded, and why you insist on ruining your life as well as mine?'
She rose again, gently this time, and came and stood beside him. He turned his head away as though it hurt him, and as she spoke she could see only his short, bright curling hair.
'You will not be persuaded, because it was so hard for you to make the resolution at first, that you believe it must be right in spite of every other right, and you would sacrifice yourself and me for an idea which is strong only because it hurt you to accept it at first. Everything you have done and said is brave, noble, generous—but you have gone too far—you have lost sight of the true truth in pursuing a truth that was true yesterday. It never was your duty to do more than offer to set me free. And as for the name, Greif dear,—I have heard that such things are done—would you, if it pleases you—that is, if it would help you to forget—would you take mine, darling, instead of letting me take yours? Perhaps it would make it easier—you are only Greif to me, but perhaps if you could be Greif Sigmundskron to yourself, and live here, and never go to Greifenstein nor think of it again—perhaps, my beloved, I could help you to forget it all, to the very name that pains you so.'
She laid her hand upon his shoulder and pressed her cheek softly against his curls as she spoke the last words, though she could not see his face. The accents were so low and tender that her voice sounded like soft music breathed into his ear.
'No—no! I must never do it!' he tried to say, but the words were very indistinct.
Hilda felt him move nervously, and she saw that he was grasping the chimney-piece with both hands as though to support himself by it. In another moment his broad shoulders seemed to heave and then shrink together. He staggered and almost fell to the ground, though Hilda did her best to hold him. With a great effort he gained the chair in which she had sat and fell back in it. His eyes were closed and the lids were blue, while his tightly compressed lips moved as though he were biting them.
Hilda knelt beside him and took his cold hands. The colour was all gone from her face, for she was terribly frightened.
'Greif, Greif!' she cried in anguish. 'What is it, my beloved? Speak, darling—do not look like that!'
'I am in great pain,' he answered, not opening his eyes, but faintly trying to press her fingers.
She saw that he was ill, and that his suffering had nothing to do with his previous emotion. She opened the door quickly and called for help. Her mother's room was very near and Frau von Sigmundskron appeared immediately.
'Greif is ill—dying perhaps!' exclaimed Hilda dragging her into the little sitting-room to the young man's side.
The baroness leaned over him anxiously, and at the touch of a strange hand his purple lids opened slowly and he looked up into her face.
'It is in my head—in the back,' he succeeded in saying.
Greif had fallen in harness, fighting his battle with the morbid energy of a man already ill. To the very end he had held his position, resisting even that last tender appeal Hilda had made to him, but the strain upon his nerves had been too great. He was strong, indeed, but he was young and not yet toughened into that strange material of which men of the world are made. The loss of sleep, the deadly impression made upon him by the death of his father and mother, the terrible struggle he had sustained with himself, all had combined together to bring about the crisis. At first it was but a shooting pain in the head, so sharp as to make his features contract. Then it came again and again, till it left him no breathing space, and he sank down overcome by physical torture, but firm in his intention as he had been in the beginning. It was all over, and he would not argue his case again for many a long day.
'Take me home—I am very ill,' he gasped, as the baroness tried to feel his pulse.
But she shook her head, for it seemed to her that it was too late.
'You must stay here until you are better,' she answered softly. 'The jolting of the carriage would hurt you.'
He closed his eyes again, unable to speak, far less to discuss the matter. The mother and daughter whispered together and then both left the room, casting a last anxious glance at Greif as he lay almost unconscious with pain.
Great was the consternation of Berbel when she heard that the young lord of Greifenstein had suddenly fallen ill in the house, but she was not a woman to waste words when time pressed. There was but one thing to be done. Greif must have Hilda's room and Hilda must take up her quarters with her mother. His carriage must fetch the physician from the nearest town, and bring such things as might be necessary. To Berbel's mind everything seemed already organised, and before any one had time to make a remark she had set about arranging matters to her own satisfaction. There was only one difficulty in the way, and that was Greif himself, who, in spite of his acute suffering had not the slightest intention of submitting to an illness at Sigmundskron.
In the first moment the pain had altogether overcome him, but he gradually became so much accustomed to it as to be able to think more connectedly. The idea of remaining where he was seemed intolerable. To be taken care of by Frau von Sigmundskron, to be under the same roof with Hilda, would be to give up the contest for which he had sacrificed so much. He did not understand that his mind would act very differently when he had recovered, and that much which seemed disagreeable at present, might be attractive then.
He rose to his feet without assistance, and he saw that he was alone. Hilda had gone in one direction and her mother in another in search of something to alleviate his suffering. To get out of the house was the work of a moment. In the court there was the groom who had driven him, still rubbing down his horses and setting things to rights before going inside to warm himself. The man was the same who had brought Greif the news at Schwarzburg, a devoted fellow, born and bred on the estate, unlike the house servants who had been changed so often.
'Karl,' said Greif, going up to him, 'you must harness and drive me back to Greifenstein at once. I am sorry for you, but I am too ill to stay here. I will walk down the road—come after me as soon as you can.'
There was nothing to be done but to obey the simple order. Karl looked surprised but lost no time, especially as Greif was already going out of the gate. In a trice the collars were on the horses again, the traces hitched, the reins unwound, and Karl was seated upon the box. He was glad for himself, though he thought it a very long pull for the horses. The road went downhill over most of the way, however, and Karl reflected that when his master was once in the carriage behind him, he could drive as slowly as he pleased. Just as he was ready, Frau von Sigmundskron and Hilda appeared upon the threshold of the hall, both looking pale and anxious. They had found Greif gone from the sitting-room and had at first imagined that he had lost his way in the house; but Hilda's quick ears caught the sounds that came from the court and she knew that the groom was putting the horses in.
'What is that?' asked Hilda, addressing the groom. 'Why have you harnessed again?'
'The merciful lord has ordered it,' returned Karl, lifting his military cap with one hand while he held the reins with the other. 'The merciful lord has walked down the road, and I am to overtake him.'
Therewith Karl turned his pair neatly and the horses trotted slowly towards the gate.
'Stop, stop!' cried Hilda, running down the steps and following him, while her mother came after her more slowly.
Karl drew up and looked back.
'Herr von Greifenstein is very ill,' the girl said. 'He will never be able to drive alone so far—indeed he ought to stay here and you should go for the doctor.'
She was so much confused that she hardly knew what to say, when her mother joined her, calmer and more sensible.
'You say that he went out of the gate. How long ago?' inquired the elder lady.
'It may be five minutes.'
'Did he say anything besides ordering the carriage?'
'He said he was ill and must go home at once, and that he was sorry for me.'
Frau von Sigmundskron hesitated. It was clear that Greif had not been so ill as she had at first supposed, or he could not have walked out alone, ordered the carriage and gone on without support. Karl interrupted her meditations.
'Merciful ladyships forgive me,' he observed, 'but if he walks farther he will be more ill.' He gathered the reins and prepared to move on.
'Go, Karl,' said the baroness, and in a moment he was gone.
'Mother—you ought to have gone, too—' Hilda began, looking into her face with an expression of mingled anxiety and disappointment.
'I do not see how I could, my child,' answered the baroness. 'If Greif was strong enough to go it was best that he should do so. It would be hard for us to take care of him. He has his cousin at Greifenstein, and they can send for me if he is worse. Besides—' She hesitated and stopped.
'What?' asked Hilda anxiously.
'He showed good sense, since he was able to go. It is not the custom in the world for young men to make long visits in such cases.'
'The world, the world!' exclaimed Hilda wearily. 'I have heard so much of the world this morning. Mother—He will not send for you. We shall not know how he is—'
'I will take care that we may know,' answered the baroness quietly. 'He is young and very strong. Perhaps it is only fatigue after all, and we shall hear that he is well to-morrow.'
Hilda's instinct told her to slip from her mother's side, to pass the gate and run down by the short and steep descent to the foot of the hill. The road made a wide sweep before passing this point and she would have been certain to reach it long before the carriage. But she knew that such wildness could produce no good result. She would stand there waiting for the carriage, it would come, Greif would tell Karl to stop, and then—what could happen? There would be a sort of momentary renewal of the scene which had ended a quarter of an hour ago, with the unpleasant addition of the driver as a witness. She could not get in and drive with him, and so the situation would have to end abruptly, perhaps in another attack of that pain which had so suddenly prostrated Greif. It was very hard that he should have escaped in this way, and nothing but his suffering could excuse his conduct; but to have him return now would be almost worse. After all, Hilda was woman enough to know that she had got the best of the argument at the last, and that Greif's abrupt departure looked very much like a precipitate flight. She knew also that he loved her, and that it would be impossible for him to leave the country without seeing her again. No woman would believe the man she loves capable of that. It was therefore madness to think of intercepting him upon the road, in order to exchange another word. With hands loosely joined together and hanging down, Hilda stood gazing at the vacant gateway. The happiness she had anticipated an hour earlier, when she had descried the distant carriage that brought Greif to her, had been strangely interrupted, and yet she was not altogether unhappy now, though she was very sad and silent. For all the world she would not have unlived that hour, nor unsaid the words that had passed her lips. The time had been very short, and yet it had sufficed to show her what Greif's love for her really was, and what he was willing to suffer for her sake. She had, too, the satisfaction of feeling that this suffering had not been brought upon him by herself, and that she had used all her strength to relieve him of it. He had indeed refused to give up the burden to the very end, but Hilda did not believe that he would bear it many days longer after what she had said. Her youth and strength refused to accept such an evil destiny, and her keen feminine perception told her that more than half of his obstinacy had been morbid and unnatural, and would disappear with the change wrought in him by rest and quiet. Her anxiety now was for him, and did not concern herself any longer. She knew nothing of illness save as a sort of vague misfortune, a state of undefined pain during which people stayed in bed and were visited by physicians. Never during her lifetime had any one of the three women who composed the little household been ailing even for a day, and though Hilda had sometimes been told, when she was visiting at Greifenstein, that Clara was not well enough to appear, she had only fancied how the poor lady would look when she was not painted and her hair was all out of curl. That did not help her to realise what an illness meant. She could only recall the look on Greif's face when he had reeled to the chair and then thrown his head back, while his closed lids turned purple. For a long time that was the only picture evoked in her mind when sickness was spoken of.
Frau von Sigmundskron looked at her daughter, without understanding her thoughts. She guessed what the nature of the interview had probably been, but she had no means of knowing how it had ended. Nevertheless she was willing to wait until Hilda chose to speak, and she knew that she would not wait long. Presently she passed her arm through her daughter's and led her gently back towards the house. The latter made no resistance, but walked quietly beside her across the sunny court. When they reached the door of the hall Hilda turned and looked again towards the gate.
'I wonder how it will be when he comes in by that way again!' she said.
Then she went in with her mother and entered the sitting-room, and sat down in her old place, in the chair into which Greif had fallen. She was left alone for a few minutes, while Frau von Sigmundskron went to tell Berbel that Greif was gone after all, and that there was no need to upset all the household arrangements.
The fire was still burning brightly, though one of the logs had fallen into two pieces, making a great cave of coals and flames in the midst. The slow sun had not crept as far as the next threadbare seam upon the faded carpet. The room was the same as it had been a quarter of an hour earlier. Hilda thought of all that had happened while that log was being burned through, and while the bright sunlight had moved across that narrow space. She spread her white hands to the blaze, and looked at the red glare between her fingers.
She was not altogether as calm as she looked, but she was certainly far less moved than might have been expected. There was a solidity about her nerves that would have driven to despair the morbid worshippers of the decadent school of romance, a natural force which made it very hard to understand her. Womanly she undoubtedly was, but of that type in woman which is rarely seen in cities and not often in the country. There is a hopefulness inherent in perfect physical organisations that have never been strained by unnatural means, which makes them seem hard and unfeeling to weaker natures. They have a way of sitting still without betraying their thoughts, when they are not called upon to act, which produces the impression that they feel nothing, and care for nothing but themselves. It is only in great moments that they are seen at their best, and that their overpowering strength in action excites wonder. They show none of those constant changes that belong to very nervous people, and make them interesting as studies of sensibility. Their faces do not reflect the light and shade of every passing circumstance, their voices are not full of quickly contrasted intonations which tell more than words themselves, they do not blush and turn pale at every suggestion of happiness or unhappiness to themselves, everyday speeches do not raise in their minds quick trains of association, linked and running on like an ascending scale in music, to culminate in a little moment of emotion, in a little flutter of the heart, half pleasant, half painful. Their strong pulses beat quietly, in an unvarying rhythm, the full and even flow of blood maintains a soft colour in their fresh faces; when they are tired they sleep, when they are awake they are rarely tired; what they could do yesterday, they can do as well to-day, and they feel that they will be able to do the same to-morrow. They never feel those sharp thrusts close to the heart that tell us how quickly one thrust a little sharper than the others would end all. They do not lie awake in the hours of the night counting the blows of the cruel little hammer that beats its prison to pieces at last and is broken in the ruin of the breast that confined it. And the world counts it all to them for dulness and lack of delicate feeling, with little discernment and less justice, until the day when it sees them roused by such passions as alone can rouse them, or suffering such deadly pain as only the strongest can live to suffer.
The baroness came back in a few minutes and stood beside Hilda, laying her hand upon her daughter's forehead, and bending down.
'What did he say to you, child?' she asked.
'He said that he would not marry me because it would be a shame that I should be called Greifenstein after what has happened.'
'That was what he told me,' replied her mother, leaving her and taking up a piece of needlework that lay on the table. She could not be idle. 'That was what he told me,' she repeated thoughtfully. 'And I answered that he was mistaken.'
'He said you had done your best to persuade him,' said Hilda, and then relapsed into silence.
'Do you know what I did?' she asked presently.
'I suppose you told him that you did not care for such things as names.'
'Yes—I said that. But I took his hands, and I told him that I would not let him go. I think I was very angry at something, but not at him.'
Frau von Sigmundskron laid her work upon her knees and looked at the young girl attentively for some seconds.
'Was I wrong?' Hilda asked, turning round as she felt her mother's gaze upon her.
'No. I do not see that it was wrong, but I think I should have acted differently. I think I would have tried to make him see—well, I never was like you.'
'I am sorry—I would do anything to be like you, mother dear.'
'You need not be sorry, child. You are like some one I loved better than myself—you remind me of your father. And what did Greif say to that?'
'He refused to the very last—then he had that pain in his head and I thought he was going to die. You know the rest. O mother, what will become of him, and when shall we see him again?'
'I do not know when we shall see him, dear, but I do not think he will be very ill. When a man has the strength to do what he has just done, and go away on foot, as he went, he is not in a dangerous state.'
Frau von Sigmundskron resumed her needlework and did not speak again for a long time. She had found time to think, and Greif's conduct was strange in her eyes.
Karl overtook Greif before the latter had walked half a mile. The rapid decision, the brisk walk and the biting air had contributed to alleviate the intolerable pain to which he had momentarily succumbed, and as he lay back among the furs he began to fancy that he should not be ill after all, and to regret the scarcely decent haste he had employed in making his escape. But when he tried to think over what had happened he found that his brain was confused and his memories indistinct. Of one thing only he was quite sure, that he had accomplished his intention and had renounced Hilda for ever. With the emotion caused by the thought the pain seized him again and he lay almost unconscious in his seat while Karl guided the horses carefully along the steep road. Before many miles were passed, Greif was aware of nothing but the indistinct shapes of trees and rocks that slipped in and out through the field of his aching vision. Everything else was a blank, and the least attempt at thought became agonising. At one time he could not remember whether he was going towards his home or away from it; at another, he was convinced that some one was in the carriage with him, either his father or Frau von Sigmundskron, and he tried vaguely to reconcile the fact of their presence with his inability to see their shapes.
At last he knew that he was being lifted from the carriage, and he made an effort to straighten himself and to walk upright. But strong arms were round him and bore him through bright halls where the low sun shot in level rays through stained windows, and along broad dim corridors that seemed as though they would never end, until at last he was laid upon a bed in a warm room. There, all at once, as in a dream, he recognised Rex, who was standing beside him and holding his hand.
'I must be ill, after all,' he said faintly.
'Very,' answered Rex. 'Do you know me? Can you tell me what has happened to you?'
Greif stared at him for a few seconds and then answered with an effort.
'I have done it,' he said, and closed his eyes.
After that, he was conscious of nothing more, neither of daylight nor of darkness, neither of solitude nor of the presence of Rex and of those who helped him in his incessant care. A day passed, and another, one physician came, then two, and then a great authority was summoned and installed himself in the castle, and visited the sick man six times during the day, and feasted royally in the meanwhile, after the manner of great authorities, who have an amazing discernment in regard to the good things of this life, as well as an astonishing capacity for enjoying them.
All manner of things were done to Greif of which he never knew anything. He had ice upon his head and burning leaves of mustard on his feet, he was fed with strange mixtures of wine and soup, of raw meat and preserves, all of which he swallowed unconsciously without getting any better. Still he tossed and raved, and moaned and laughed, and cried like a child and howled like a madman.
The great authority shook his head and pensively drank the old burgundy that was set before him, partaking of a delicate slice of game between one sip and another, and thoughtfully cropping the heads of the forced asparagus when he was tired of the venison. For a long time he and Rex said little to each other at their meals, and the physician was inclined to suppose that his companion was a man of merely ordinary intelligence. One day, however, as Greif grew no better, Rex determined to startle the good man, by ascertaining what he knew. In order to lead the conversation he threw out a careless remark about an unsettled question which he knew to be agitating the scientific world, and concerning which it was certain that the great doctor would have a firm opinion of his own. To the astonishment of the latter, Rex disputed the point, at first as though he cared little, but gradually and with matchless skill disclosing to his adversary a completeness of information and a keenness of judgment which fairly took away his breath.
'You almost convince me,' said the physician, who had quite forgotten to help himself a second time to green peas, though they were the first he had seen that year. 'Upon my word, Herr Rex, you almost convince me. And yet you are a very young man.'
'How old do you think I am?' inquired Rex with a faint smile.
The doctor examined his face attentively and then looked long at his hands. He became so much interested that he rose from his seat and came and scrutinised Rex's features as though he were studying the points of an animal.
'I am amazed,' he said, as he sat down again and adjusted his napkin upon his knees. 'I do not see anything to prove that you are more than two or three and thirty.'
'I was forty years old on my last birthday—and I was still a student at Schwarzburg,' replied Rex quietly.
'You have a very fine action of the heart,' observed the doctor, 'I would not have thought it, but your age heals the wound in my vanity.'
Now it is a very singular fact that from that hour the great physician should have paid more attention to Greif and less to the venison and asparagus, but it is certainly true that his manner changed, as well as his conversation, and that he bestowed more care upon his patient than he had ever given to any sick man since he had become celebrated. Ever afterwards, he told his learned acquaintances that the only man he had ever met who gave promise of greatness was a quiet person who lived in the Black Forest.
Rex had satisfied himself, however, that the doctor knew a great deal, though he had not a high opinion of medical science in general, and almost said so. Greif, nevertheless, continued to be very ill indeed, and his state seemed to go from bad to worse. Rex was anxious, and watched him and nursed him with unfailing care. He knew well enough what Grief had meant by the few words he had spoken after he was brought home, and he knew all that his cousin's action involved. His reflexions were not pleasant.
It seemed to him as though fate were about to solve the difficulty by cutting all the knots at once. If this terrible fever made an end of Greif, there would be an end also of the house of Greifenstein by the extinction of the last male descendant. Greif, the penniless and nameless orphan, would lie beside his father as Greif von Greifenstein, and the fortune would go in the ordinary course of the law to the Sigmundskrons, to whom it really belonged. But if Greif recovered and persisted in refusing to marry Hilda, the greatest injustice would be done to the widow and her daughter. Rex's views of right would not be satisfied if the Sigmundskrons received only a part of the fortune which was legitimately theirs, and Rex thought with horror of the moment when he might be obliged to go to Greif and disclose the truth. He was a man of very strong principles, which were detached from any sort of moral belief, but it seemed as though his intelligence were conscious of its failing, in spite of all his reasoning, and were always trying to supply the lacuna by binding itself to its own rules, to which its faith had been transferred. He knew perfectly well that if Greif could not be persuaded that he was acting foolishly it would be necessary to reveal the secret. Rather than that Greif himself should be made to suffer what such a revelation implied, it would be almost better that he should die in his unconscious delirium. Human life, in Rex's opinion, was not worth much, unless it afforded a fair share of happiness, and he knew well enough that Greif could never recover from such a blow. The loss of fortune would be nothing in comparison with the loss of name, and with the dishonour to his dead mother's memory. Rex knew what that meant, though even he had not been made to bear all that was in store for Greif in such a case.
In the dim room he looked at his brother's face. He had grown so much accustomed to the droning sound of his ceaseless ravings, as hardly to notice it when he was in the room, though it pursued him whenever he was alone. He watched Greif's pale features, and wondered what the result would be. If Greif died, the lonely man had nothing left to live for. Greif had come into his life, just when he was beginning to feel with advancing years that neither fortune nor science can fill the place of the human affections. As for the love of woman, Rex had never understood what it meant. He had entangled himself in more than one affair of little importance, partly from curiosity, partly out of vanity, but in his experience he had never found a companion in any woman, nor had he ever known one whom he would not have left at a moment's notice for the sake of any one out of half a dozen occupations and amusements which pleased him better than lovemaking. To this singular absence of emotions he perhaps owed his youthful looks, at an age when many men are growing grey and most show signs of stress of weather. He had never cared for his father's society, first, because he had lacked all the early associations of childhood on which alone such affection is often based, and, secondly, because he had differed from him in all his ideas and tastes as soon as he had been able to think for himself. Their relations had always been amicable, for Rex was not a man, even when young, to quarrel easily over small matters, and old Rieseneck had sent him at an early age to Germany, supplying him very bountifully with money, in the belief that he ought to atone in every way for the injury done to his son by his own disgrace. Beyond a regular correspondence, which had never savoured much of ardent affection, there had been nothing to unite the two during many years past. Then Rex had taken the trouble to find out his cousin, had liked him more and more, and had at last learned that he was not his cousin but his brother. Now, as he saw him lying there between life and death, he admitted to himself that he loved him, and that he took the trouble to remain alive merely for his sake. But for Greif, that fatal letter would have been enough to make him give it up.
In truth, the life which Rex had condescended to leave in himself did not promise well. The physician did his best, which was as good as any man's when he chose that it should be, but Greif was daily losing strength, and the inflammation of the brain showed no signs of disappearing. It is probable that if he had been thrown with any other companion than Rex, the great doctor would have shaken his head and would have announced that there was very little hope. But Rex acted upon him as a stimulant, and his impenetrable, stony eyes made the physician feel as though his whole reputation were at stake. The latter even went to the length of sitting up all night when the patient was at his worst, a thing he had not done for many a long year, and probably never did again during his comfortable existence.