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Greifenstein - Chapter 5 Post by :Toddq29 Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :3493

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Greifenstein - Chapter 5


From that day the life at Greifenstein became even more drearily monotonous than it had been before, for all the party excepting Greif and Hilda. To any one not accustomed to the atmosphere the existence would have been unbearable, but humanity can grow used to anything by degrees. A stranger finding himself unexpectedly at the castle would have felt that the sweet air of the forest was poisoned at that one point by some subtle and undefinable element, that appealed to none of the senses in particular, but oppressed them all alike. The sensation was not like that caused by a vague anxiety, or by the shadow of a coming event creeping mysteriously onward, a mere uneasiness as to the result which must soon be apparent, but of which it is not possible to say whether it will be good or bad. It was worse than that, for if there were to be any result at all, it must be very bad indeed. Greifenstein himself felt as he supposed a criminal might feel who was hourly expecting discovery. If his half-brother returned, the suffering caused by his presence in the country would be almost as great as the shame of having committed his crime could have been. Frau von Sigmundskron was more indifferent, for she had never known the man, and her knowledge of what he had done was less accurate than Greifenstein's. But she was nevertheless very uncomfortable when she thought of his appearance. It had been judged best to acquaint Greif with the proclamation of the amnesty, in order that he might be prepared for any contingency, but the news made very little impression upon him, for he had learned the existence of his disgraced relative so recently that he had from the first feared his return, and had thought of what he should do ever since. Moreover he had Hilda with him, and he was very young, two circumstances which greatly diminished his anxiety about the future. He was very glad, however, that his academical career was so near its end, for he reflected that it would be tiresome to be constantly fighting duels about his uncle. For the present, he had abandoned the idea of taking active service in the army.

Greifenstein was more silent, and stiff, and severely conscientious than ever, and his daily habits grew if possible more unbendingly regular, as though he were protesting already against any unpleasant disturbance in his course of life which might be in store for him. When he was alone with his cousin, he never recurred to the subject of Rieseneck or his return, though the baroness constantly expected him to do so, and watched his inscrutable face to detect some signs of a wish to discuss the matter. For two reasons, she would not take the initiative in bringing up the topic. In the first place, as he was the person most nearly concerned, her tact told her that it was for him to decide whether he would talk of his brother or not. Secondly she was silent, because she had noticed something, and knew that he had noticed it also. Frau von Greifenstein's behaviour was slowly changing, and the change had begun from the hour in which her husband had read from the paper the paragraph relating to the amnesty.

From the first moment, Frau von Sigmundskron had suspected that Clara was affected by the news, and her first impression had very naturally been that she knew the story and had learned it from her husband. There was nothing improbable in the idea, and but for Greifenstein's words, she would have taken it for granted that this was the true state of the case. He, however, had emphatically denied that Clara was in the secret, and had evidently looked forward with pain to the moment when he should be obliged to communicate it to her. He was the most scrupulously truthful of men, and could not have had any object in concealing the point from his cousin. And yet there was no doubt that his wife's manner had changed, and the baroness could see that Greifenstein was aware of it. Clara's vague absence of mind, which had formerly been only occasional, was increasing, while her fits of spasmodic laughter became fewer, till at last whole days passed during which her features were not disturbed by a single smile. There was indeed little to laugh at in her home, at the best, but she had laughed frequently nevertheless, because people had told her long ago that it was becoming to her style of beauty. But she was growing daily more silent and abstracted, scarcely speaking at all, and not even pretending to be amused at anything. Greifenstein watched her for a week, and then inquired whether she were ill. She thanked him and said there was nothing the matter, but during some hours after he had asked the question she made an evident effort to return to her former manner. The effect was painful in the extreme. Her affected mirth seemed more hollow than ever, and her words more incoherent. Frau von Sigmundskron began to fear that Clara was going mad, but the latter was not equal to sustaining the effort long, and soon relapsed into her former silence. Her face grew suddenly very old. She moved more slowly. The wrinkles deepened almost visibly, and she became daily thinner. It was evident that something was preying upon her, and that the mental suffering was reacting upon her body.

Greifenstein said nothing more, and he told no one what he thought. If his cousin had not suggested to him that Clara must know the story, he would have supposed that she was ill, and would have sent for a physician. It would never have entered his mind that she could have understood all that the proclamation of the amnesty meant to him. He would have supposed it a coincidence that she should have been first affected by the malady on that particular day. But the baroness's remark had had the effect of fixing in his mind what had immediately preceded it. He remembered how his wife had suddenly taken advantage of a most trivial excuse, to show an amount of exaggerated emotion unusual even for her. He remembered her long absence and her changed expression when she returned, her silence that evening and her increasing taciturnity ever since. The connexion between the paragraph and her conduct seemed certain, and Greifenstein set himself systematically to think out some explanation for the facts. In five and twenty years Rieseneck's name had never been mentioned in her presence. If she had ever heard of him it must have been before she had married Greifenstein. It was possible that she might feel the disgrace involved in the man's return so keenly as to suffer physically at the thought of it; but Greifenstein's common sense told him that this was very improbable. In such a case it would have been far more natural for her to come to her husband and ask to be told the whole truth. It was easier to believe that her conduct was due to some other cause, that she had really never heard of Rieseneck's existence, and that there was some other person whose possible return, in consequence of the amnesty, she dreaded as much as Greifenstein feared the reappearance of his half-brother. Many persons had been involved in the revolutionary movements of 1848 and had been obliged to leave the country in consequence. Clara's first husband had died of heart disease in Dresden in the year 1860, and consequently could not have been connected with the events of those times in any way to his discredit. She had shown Greifenstein the official notice of his death in an old gazette of the period. But it was not unlikely that in those unsettled times one of her relations might have got into trouble and been exiled or imprisoned. At the time of her marriage however she had acknowledged no relative excepting an elderly aunt who had been present at the wedding, but who had died since, without ever paying a visit to the castle, and no other connexion of hers had ever appeared upon the scene. Greifenstein was well aware that he had hurried the marriage by every means in his power. He had been fascinated by Clara, and had been madly in love. They had met in the Bavarian highlands and had been married two months later in Munich, with very little formality. Since that time Greifenstein had always avoided going to Dresden, on account of the painful associations the city must have for his wife, and had preferred not to visit Berlin, which had been the scene of his brother's crime and trial. The consequence was that neither of the two had ever been among people who had known them previously.

The idea that two disgraced persons might come back from exile, instead of one, was extremely disquieting to Greifenstein's peace of mind. He knew well enough what to do with Rieseneck if he appeared. He would shut the gates and let him shift for himself. But the other man would be in search of Clara. He wondered who he might be, and what their relations could have been, whether he would turn out to be a brother, an uncle, or merely some man who had loved her in former days, a mere rejected suitor. Even should he prove to be her brother, he could not reproach her for her silence, since he found himself in exactly the same situation. That contingency, however, was remote. It was extremely unlikely that each should have a brother who had been convicted of evil deeds in the revolution, considering how short a time the disturbance had lasted. The theory that the man was a disappointed pretender to her hand was infinitely more probable. In any case, Greifenstein made up his mind that a person existed whose return Clara feared, and the prospect of whose appearance was so painful as to affect her health.

For some time he hesitated as to the course he should pursue. He was certainly free to tell her his suspicions, on condition that he told her of his own apprehensions at the same time. To get her secret without giving his in return would be unfair, according to his notions of honour, even apart from the consideration that if Rieseneck came back he would ultimately be obliged to confide in her. But, on the other hand, there was a possibility that Rieseneck might not come back, after all, and in that case, if he had told her everything, he would have submitted himself to a painful humiliation without necessity. He resolved to keep his own counsel and at the same time to ask his wife no questions.

Rieseneck was in South America, but Greifenstein had no reason for supposing that the person whose possible return so greatly disturbed Clara had betaken himself to so distant a country. He might be in Italy, in France, in England, anywhere within eight and forty hours' journey. He might therefore arrive at any moment after the proclamation.

But no stranger came, though the days became weeks, and the weeks months, until it was almost time for Greif to go back to Schwarzburg. Greifenstein began to think that the problematical personage was dead, though Clara evidently did not share his opinion, for she never regained her former manner. Under any other circumstances Greifenstein would have enjoyed the change, the absence of irrelevant interruption, the rest from her unnatural laughter, the gravity of her tired face. He was far from being satisfied, however, and his earnest mind brooded constantly over the possibilities of the unknown future. His situation was the harder to bear because he could not explain it to his son, the only human being for whom he felt a strong natural sympathy. It would have seemed like teaching the boy to suspect his mother of some evil.

Greif secretly wondered what was happening in his home. The atmosphere was unbearably oppressive, and if he had not been able to spend most of his time with Hilda he would have asked his father's permission to take his knapsack and go for a walking expedition in Switzerland, on the chance of falling in with a fellow-student. He had noticed the change in his mother from the first, and asked her daily if she were not better. Clara would not admit that she was ill, but she looked at Greif with an expression to which he was not accustomed and which made him nervous. Hitherto he had never quite known whether she loved him or not. She had spoiled him as much as she dared when he was a child, but there had always been something in her way of indulging him which, even to the little boy, had not seemed genuine. Children rarely love those who spoil them, and never trust them. Their keen young sense detects the false note in the character, and draws its own conclusions, which are generally very just. Greif had found out when he was very young that his mother gave him everything he asked for, not because she loved him, but because she was too weak to refuse, and too indolent to care for the result. He had found her inaccurate in what she told him, and negligent in fulfilling the little promises upon which a child builds such great hopes, though she was always ready to pay damages for her forgetfulness by excessive indulgence in something else, when it was agreeable to her. Greif had discovered that his father rarely promised him anything, but that if he did, it was something worth having, and that he was scrupulously exact in keeping his word about such matters, even at the expense of his own convenience. He consequently admired his father and was proud to imitate him; whereas he very soon learned to consider his mother as a person of inferior intelligence, who did not know enough to be accurate, and who did not respect herself enough to fulfil her promises. But for his father's influence he would probably have ended by showing what he felt. Greifenstein, however, exacted from him an unvarying reverence and courtesy towards his mother, and never, even in moments of the greatest confidence, permitted the boy to criticise the least of her actions.

To tell Greif of the suspicions which agitated his own mind was therefore contrary to Greifenstein's fixed principles, and consequently utterly impossible. In reply to his questions about his mother's health the only answer which was at once plausible and in accordance with truth was the plain statement that Clara denied being ill, but that she nevertheless appeared to be suffering from some unknown complaint. Greif was not satisfied, but his own ingenuity could discover no explanation of the facts, and he was obliged to hold his peace. His mother's manner and her look when he spoke to her disturbed him. It was as though her uncertain and careless affection had suddenly developed into something more true and sincere. There was something wistful in the fixed gaze of her eyes, as though she feared to know what was in his heart, and yet longed for some more frank expression of his love for her than that mere reverential courtesy which he had been taught to show his mother since he was a child. Being very young and of a very kind heart, Greif began to wonder whether he had not misunderstood her throughout many years. He possessed that kind of nature which cannot long refrain from returning any sort of affection it receives, provided that affection appears to be genuine. He gradually began to feel a responsive thrill in his heart when he saw that his mother's sad eyes watched his movements and lingered upon his face. The tone of his voice began to change when he addressed her, though he was scarcely conscious of it. His words became gentler and more sympathetic, as his thoughts of her assumed a kindlier disposition. He began to reproach himself with his former coldness, and he frankly owned to himself that he had misunderstood her.

It had always been his custom to go to his mother's boudoir in the morning, when he had not already left the house before she was visible. It was rather a formal affair. Greif knocked at the door and waited for her answer. Being admitted, he went to his mother and kissed her hand. She kissed his forehead in return. He asked her how she was, and she inquired what he was going to do during the day. After five minutes of conversation, he generally took leave of her with the same ceremony, and departed. He usually avoided being with her at any other time, and accident rarely brought them together in the course of the day, for Greif was always with Hilda or with his father. Very gradually, he began to find this morning visit less irksome. He fancied that his mother would willingly have detained him a little longer, but that she felt how little he could care for her society as compared with that of Hilda. Then, too, she had grown so sad and silent as to excite in him a sort of pity. At last the feeling that was drawing them closer found expression.

Greif had made his usual visit one morning and was about to leave the room. Her sorrowful, faded eyes looked up to his, and slowly filled with tears. He felt an irresistible impulse to speak, and yielded to it.

'Mother,' he said, kneeling down beside her, and taking her hand affectionately in his, 'what is it? Why are you ill, and sad? Will you not tell me?'

She looked at him a moment longer, wonderingly, as though hardly believing what she saw. Then she broke down. The long restrained tears welled up and rolled over her thin cheeks, making lines and patches in the pink powder, at once grotesque and pitiful. The carefully curled ringlets of colourless hair contrasted strangely with the sudden havoc in her complexion. Perhaps she was conscious of it, for she tried to turn her face away, so that Greif should not see it. Then all at once, with a heartrending sob, she let her head fall forward upon his shoulder, while her nervous, wasted hands grasped his two arms convulsively.

'Oh Greif! I am a very miserable old woman!' she cried.

'What is it, mother? Oh, tell me what is the matter!' he exclaimed, not knowing what to say, but amazed at the outburst he had so little anticipated.

For some moments she could say nothing. Greif held her, and prevented her from slipping off her seat. Looking down, though he could not see her face, he could see well enough how the tears fell fast and thick upon the rough sleeve of his shooting coat and trickled down the woollen material till they rolled off at his elbow. He did not know what to do, for he had never seen her cry before, and was indeed little accustomed to woman's weeping.

'Dearest mother,' he said at last, 'I am so sorry for you! If you would only tell me--'

'Ah Greif-my son--if I thought you loved me--a little--I should be less unhappy!'

'But I do. Oh, forgive me, if I have never shown you that I do!' He was in great distress, for he was really moved, and a great wave of repentance for all his past coldness suddenly overwhelmed his conscience.

'If it were only true!' sobbed the poor lady. 'But it is all my fault-- oh, Greif, Greif--my boy--promise that you will not forsake me, whatever happens to me!'

'Indeed, I promise,' answered Greif in great surprise. 'But what can happen? What is it that you fear, mother?'

'Oh, I am very foolish,' she replied with a hysterical attempt at a laugh. 'Perhaps it is nothing, after all.'

Her tears burst out afresh. Greif attempted in vain to soothe her, calling her by endearing names he had never used to her before, and feeling vaguely surprised at the expressions of affection that fell from his lips. All at once, with a passionate movement, she threw her arms round his neck and kissed him. Then, pushing him aside, she rose quickly and fled to the next room before he could regain his feet.

For some moments he stood looking at the closed door. Then his instinct told him that she would not return, and he slowly left the room, pondering deeply on what he had seen and heard.

The next time they met she made no reference to what had passed, and Greif's natural delicacy warned him not to approach the subject. Had there been such previous intimacy between the two as might be expected to exist between mother and son, an explanation could scarcely have been avoided. As it was, however, both felt that it was better to leave the matter alone. The bond between them was stronger than before, and that was enough for Clara. She experienced a sense of comfort in Greif's mere existence which somewhat lightened the intolerable burthen of her secret. As for Greif himself, the situation appeared to him more mysterious than ever, and the air of the house more oppressive. It seemed to him that every one was watching every one else, and that at the same time each member of the household was concealing something from the others. He felt that it would be a relief to return to the thoughtless life of the University, even at the expense of a separation from Hilda.

Hilda had not failed to notice what was so apparent to every one else, and had asked her mother questions concerning the evident depression that reigned in the household. But the good baroness had only answered that, whatever might be the matter, it was no concern of Hilda's nor of her own; and that when disagreeable things occurred in other people's houses it was a duty not to see them. Hilda's ideas about ill health were exceedingly vague, and she contented herself with supposing that Frau von Greifenstein was ill, and that sick persons probably always behaved as she did. At last the time came for Greif's departure.

The sense of impending evil was in some measure accountable for the unusual emotion exhibited at the parting. He had never taken leave of his mother so affectionately before, nor had he before seen the tears start into her eyes as she kissed him and said good-bye. Never before had the grip of his father's hand seemed to convey so much of sympathy, nor did he remember that his own voice had ever at other times trembled as though it were sticking in his throat. Even Frau von Sigmundskron was a little moved and pressed his hand warmly when he kissed her, though she said nothing. Hilda was very silent, and never took her eyes from him. He had bidden her farewell before taking leave of the rest, at their old haunt by the Hunger-Thurm. There had not been many words, and there had been no tears, but it had been nevertheless the saddest parting Greif ever remembered. The day was cloudy and a soft wind was making melancholy music among the grand old trees. Their own voices had sounded discordant and out of tune, and the words that might have expressed what they felt would not be found, and perhaps were not needed.

But when the last minute was come the whole party went out together to the gate where the carriage was standing. Greif found himself with Hilda, separated for a moment from the rest. She laid her hand upon his arm and spoke in a low voice.

'Something evil is going to happen to you, Greif,' she said. There was something in the accents that chilled him, but he tried to smile.

'I hope not, sweetheart,' he answered.

'I am sure of it,' said Hilda in a tone of conviction. 'I cannot tell why--only, remember, whatever happens--it will be something terrible--I shall always love you--always, always.'

The others came up, and her voice sank to a whisper as she repeated the last word. Greif looked anxiously into her face, and saw that she was pale, and that her flashing blue eyes were veiled and dim. He was startled, for he had never seen such a change in her before. But there was no time for words. He whispered a loving answer, but she seemed not to hear his words as she stood against the huge rough masonry of the gate, gazing down the drive in the direction of the Hunger-Thurm. As he was driven rapidly away, he looked back and waved his hat. The others had stepped forward upon the pavement on one side of the gate, but Hilda had not moved. Then as the turn of the road was about to hide the castle from view, he saw her cover her face with both her hands and turn back into the shadow of the deep gateway.

Greif settled himself in his comfortable seat, wondering what it all meant. It was very strange that Hilda should have so suddenly and so forcibly expressed the same idea that had agitated his mother a few days earlier. It was impossible that they could have talked together, or that they could be thinking of the same thing. There was no sympathy between them, and besides, if Hilda had learned anything from Frau von Greifenstein which Greif did not know, she would certainly have told him of it, especially as this impending catastrophe threatened him as well as his mother. He was too firmly opposed to all sorts of superstition to believe that Hilda had received any supernatural warning of an event about to occur. But for the conversation that had taken place with his mother, he would unhesitatingly have told himself that Hilda was yielding to a foolish presentiment raised by the sorrow of parting. Persons in love are very apt to fancy each separation the last, and to imagine some dreadful disaster to be in store for the object of their affections. He flattered himself that his own common sense was too strong to be shaken by such absurdities, but he owned that the sensation was a natural one. Without giving way to presentiments he nevertheless always felt that something might happen to Hilda before his return, and it was not strange that she should feel the same anxiety in regard to him. The impulsive expression she had given to her fear was not in itself surprising, and if she had turned pale for the first time in her life, it was perhaps because her heart was really waking to something stronger than that even, emotionless affection she had hitherto bestowed upon him.

There was a similarity, however, between his mother's words and Hilda's, which was not so easily explained, and the coincidence was oddly in harmony with the oppressive constraint that had reigned at Greifenstein during the vacation. Greif could not help thinking very seriously of it all, as he drove rapidly through the forest to the railway station; so seriously indeed, that he at last shook himself with a movement of impatience, said to himself that he was growing superstitious as a girl, and lit a cigar with the strong determination not to give way to such nonsense.

Smoking did not help him, nor the prospect of meeting a fellow-student or two in the course of the afternoon. He tried to think of the life that was before him at the University, of the serious work he must do, of the opening festival of all the united Korps at the beginning of the term, of his own responsibilities as the head of the association to which he belonged, of the pleasant hours he would spend in discussing with youthful shallowness the deepest subjects that can occupy the human mind, deciding, between a draft of brown ale and a whiff of tobacco, that Schopenhauer was right in one point, and that Kant was wrong in another. But, for the present, at least, none of those things could by mere anticipation distract his thoughts from the matter which occupied them.

All through the long drive, Hilda's face was before him and her voice was in his ear, repeating her strange warning. She had said that she should always love him. His mother had implored him not to forsake her in her trouble, whatever it might be. At the same time, his father was in the greatest anxiety concerning Rieseneck's movements. Could there be any connexion between that affair and the conduct of the two women? Again his common sense rose up with an energetic protest, and displayed to him all the absurdity of the hypothesis. Could Rieseneck's possible return affect his mother more than his father? Could that doubtful event suffice to rouse Hilda's fears to such a pitch? If the man came back, he would come as a suppliant, entreating to be received once, at least, on tolerance. He would come as a penitent prodigal might, to get a word of compassion from his brother, perhaps to borrow money. He could do no harm to any one, beyond the moral shame he brought upon his relatives by prolonging his wretched existence. He was certainly not a particularly dangerous person to Greif himself, and Hilda's warning had been essentially personal, having no reference to any one else. He could not understand it, and grew impatient again, realising how deeply he had been impressed. The forest looked unusually gloomy, and added by its melancholy solemnity to the depression of his spirits. He was glad when he saw through the trees the smart wooden railway station with its coloured signals, its metal roof, and its air of animation. He could not help thinking that the effect was something like that once produced upon him when he had come back to the University town from the funeral of an eminent person whom he had never seen. He had been obliged to attend the burial with the whole body of the students, and had stood more than an hour in the churchyard before he could get away. He remembered how unusually bright and lively the town had appeared to him by contrast when he returned. Even the thought of Hilda could not now make the recollection of his home a pleasant one, for Hilda herself was intimately connected, by her last words, with the whole impression of funereal gloominess from which the busy railway station furnished him with the means of escape.

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Greifenstein - Chapter 6 Greifenstein - Chapter 6

Greifenstein - Chapter 6
CHAPTER VIThe system of student life in Germany with its duelling, its associations into Korps, its festivals, and its rabid tenacity to tradition, has frequently been pronounced ridiculous by European and American writers, though it does not appear that those who laugh at it have entered into Korps life themselves, even when they have resided during a considerable time at a German University. There is, however, much to be said in favour of its existence in the only country where it has taken root as a permanent institution; and since it is necessary to follow Greif's history from the time when

Greifenstein - Chapter 4 Greifenstein - Chapter 4

Greifenstein - Chapter 4
CHAPTER IVWhile Hilda and Greif were talking together the three older members of the family party had established themselves in a shady arbour of the garden, close to the low parapet, whence one could look down the sheer precipice to the leaping stream and watch the dark swallows shooting through the shadow and the sunshine, or the yellow butterflies and moths fluttering from one resting-place to another, drawn irresistibly to the gleaming water, out of which their wet wings would never bear them up again to the flower-garden of the castle above. Frau von Greifenstein had seated herself in a straw