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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGreifenstein - Chapter 13
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Greifenstein - Chapter 13 Post by :Marie Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :1059

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Greifenstein - Chapter 13

CHAPTER XIII

Rex sat in a careless attitude in a corner of Greif's small room, watching his friend as he arrayed himself in the official dress of a Korps student for the coming festivity. It was to be Greif's last appearance in public as a fellow. To-morrow there would be a meeting of the Korps and he would resign his functions, and some one else would be elected in his stead. Rex watched him curiously and hummed the first stanza of the 'Gaudeamus'--


'Give our hearts to gladness, then,
While the young life flashes!
When our joyous youth is gone,
When old age's aches are done,
Earth shall have our ashes!'


'I wish you would not sing that song!' exclaimed Greif, a little impatiently. 'There will be time enough to exercise your voice upon it when we begin to throw away the torches.'

'It is the only song I ever heard that has any truth in it,' answered Rex.

'You ought to write one about the vortex, and call it the physicist's Lament,' laughed the other.

'The idea is not new. Scheffel made geological jokes in verse and sang them.'

'Go thou and do likewise! But do not make the idea of turning into a philistine more unpleasant than it naturally is.'

'We have all been through it,' said Rex, 'and most of us have survived the change. With insects, the caterpillar turns into the pretty moth. With Korps students, the butterfly becomes sooner or later a crawling, philistine grub. The moral superiority of the worm over the moth is manifest in his works. Have you read your speech over?'

'I know it by heart. Help me with the scarf, will you?' 'Vanity of vanities!' laughed Rex as he began to knot the coloured silk.

Greif's costume is worth a word of description. He wore a close-fitting yellow jacket, heavily trimmed with black, white and yellow frogs and crossed cords, in the hussar fashion, and finished at the neck in the military manner with a stiff high collar. His legs were encased in tight breeches of white leather, and long polished boots with riding flaps were drawn above the knee. The long straight rapier hung in its gleaming sheath by his side, the colours of the Korps being done in velvet upon the basket-hilt. Over his right shoulder he wore a heavy silk scarf of the three colours, which was tied in a big knot near the sword-hilt. Upon his bright hair a very small round cap, no bigger than a saucer, and richly embroidered with gold, was held in its place by mysterious means, involving the concealment of a piece of elastic beneath his short curls. Upon the table lay a pair of white leather gauntlets. The whole effect was theatrical, but in the surroundings for which the dress was intended, it could not fail to be both striking and harmonious. It displayed to the best advantage the young man's fine proportions and athletic figure, and where there were to be hundreds similarly arrayed, with only a difference of colour to distinguish their even ranks, the result could not differ greatly from a military parade. Indeed the costume is not more gaudy than many modern uniforms and is certainly as tasteful.

'I am sorry it is the last time,' said Greif sadly, as his friend finished the knot. Then he went to the window and looked once more at the dim outline of the cathedral spire and listened to the water rushing through its cold bed in the dusk far below. He knew that he should look out but a few times more. He did not know that this time was the last. Rex was looking for his overcoat, and as he moved about the room he sang softly another stanza of the old song--


'Short and sweet this life of ours,
Soon its cord must sever!
Death comes quick, nor brooks delay,
Ruthless, he tears us away,
No man spares he ever.'


'For heaven's sake, do not sing that song any more!' cried Greif. 'I am sad enough, as it is, without your cat's music.'

Rex laughed oddly.

'I am as sad as you,' he said, a moment later, with an abrupt change of manner. 'You do not act as though you were,' observed Greif. 'What are you sad about?'

'World-sorrow.'

'Has the vortex fallen ill?' inquired Greif ironically.

'It is likely to, I fear. Come along! It is time to be off. You must not keep everybody waiting.'

Something in the tone of his voice struck Greif and affected him disagreeably. He held up the light to Rex's face, and saw that he was pale, and that his strange eyes looked weary and lifeless.

'What is the matter, Rex?' he asked earnestly. 'Are you in any trouble? Can I do anything for you?'

'Nothing, thank you,' answered the other quietly.

Greif set down the lamp upon the table and seemed to hesitate a moment. Then he turned again and laid his hand upon his friend's arm.

'Rex, do you want money?' asked Greif. 'You know I have plenty.'

In the eyes of a Korps student the want of cash appears to be the only ill to which flesh is heir. Rex smiled rather sadly.

'No, I do not want money. I thank you, all the same.'

'What is it then? In love?'

'In love!' Rex laughed. 'I would tell you that soon enough,' he added carelessly. 'No--it is a more serious matter.'

'If I can be of no use to you--'

'Look here, Greif,' interrupted the other, 'we have grown to be good friends, you and I, during this term. You are going away, and I may never see you again. You may as well know why I fraternised with you so readily. I have had your friendship so far, and if I must lose it, I may as well lose it at once.'

Greif opened his bright eyes and stared at his friend in considerable astonishment. He thought that he knew him well, and he could not imagine what was coming.

'I do not see what could happen to cause that,' he answered.

'Do you remember that evening when you first came to my rooms?'

'Of course.'

'Have I gained any advantage from our acquaintance, excepting your society and that of your Korps? Think well before you answer.'

'Certainly not,' replied Greif. 'I am quite sure that you have not. What a foolish question!'

'It seems so to you, no doubt. But it is far from foolish. You say that you remember that evening well. Then you recollect that I told you I knew nothing of you or your family. I made certain predictions. Well, I made them according to the figure, as you saw by the unexpected arrival of that telegram. But I lied to you about the rest. I knew perfectly well who you were, whence you came, and what your father's half-brother had done.'

Greif had drawn back a little during the first part of this declaration. At the statement that Rex had deceived him he started and drew himself up, his face showing plainly enough that his wrath was not far off.

'And may I ask your reasons for practising this deception upon me?' he inquired coldly.

'There is but one reason, and that is of a somewhat startling nature,' returned Rex, leaning back against the table and resting his two hands upon it. 'You allow that I have got no personal advantage out of your friendship. I desired none. I only wanted to know you.'

'Why?'

'Because I am your cousin. My name is Rieseneck. I am the only son of your father's half-brother.'

Greif's eyes flashed, and the hot blood mounted to his face. The information was surprising enough, and his hatred of his uncle was likely to produce trouble.

'How did you dare to impose upon me in such a way?' he cried angrily.

'No one ever speaks to me of daring,' answered Rex, who seemed quite unmoved. 'I dare do most things, because I have nothing to lose but a little money, my good name of Rex, and my life. As for my not calling myself Rieseneck, I have not imposed upon you any more than upon any one else, by doing so. My father calls himself Rex, and I have never been known by any other appellation.'

'But you should have told me--'

'Doubtless, and so I have. It is true that I have chosen my own time, and that I have allowed myself the pleasure of knowing you before disclosing my identity. You would have refused to have anything to do with me had you known who I was. After all, you are the only relation I have in the world, and I have asked you for nothing, nor ever shall. I learned that you were a student here, and I came to Schwarzburg expressly to meet you. I noted your usual seat at the lecture where we met, and I put myself next to you with the intention of making your acquaintance. Now I have told you everything. You are at liberty to know me or not, henceforth. You prefer not to know me. Is it so? Well, I have done you no injury. Good-bye. I wish you good luck.'

Thereupon Rex took up his hat and with a slight inclination of the head went towards the door. His stony eyes did not turn to Greif, who might have seen in them a strangely pained expression, which would have surprised him. Greif hesitated between his sincere friendship for Rex and his horror of any one so closely connected with Rieseneck. It was very hard to choose the right course with so little preparation, and he was thrown off his balance by the sudden disclosure. But his natural generosity, combined with an undefinable attraction he felt towards the man, overcame all other considerations.

'Rex!' he called out, as his friend was already passing through the doorway.

Rex stopped and stood still where he was, turning his head so that he could see Greif.

'Stay,' said Greif almost involuntarily. 'We cannot part company in this way.'

'If it must be at all, it were best that it were done quickly,' answered Rex, holding the handle of the door.

'It must not be done,' returned Greif in a decided tone. 'If I am attached to you, it is for what you are, not for what your father was, or is.'

'Think the matter over,' replied the other. 'I will wait, if you please. I deceived you once. It is fair that I should submit to your decision now.'

He closed the door and went to the window, where he stood still, looking out into the dusk, and turning his back upon Greif. The latter paused an instant, and then came forward and laid one hand upon his friend's shoulder. He acted still under the same impulse of generosity which had first prompted him to keep Rex back.

'Rex--it depends upon you. If you will, we shall be friends as ever.'

'I?' exclaimed Rex, turning suddenly. 'With all my heart. Is there anything I desire more?'

'Good--so be it, then!' answered Greif taking his hand boldly.

'So be it!' repeated Rex.

'And now,' said Greif, 'why did you choose this moment to tell me your secret?'

'Do you want to know? There is a reason for that, too, and not a pleasant one.'

'I can hear it.' 'To-night my father will sleep under your father's house. You will hear the news before morning. To-morrow I shall leave here to meet him in Switzerland--or not, as the case may be. He has been refused the benefit of the amnesty, but he will be allowed to leave the country quietly. I cannot leave him alone any longer.'

Greif turned a little pale at the intelligence.

'Then this is the danger you foretold,' he said.

'Yes.'

'What will happen at Greifenstein to-night?'

'How can I tell!' exclaimed Rex. 'There may be an angry meeting. There may be worse. Or your father's heart may be softened--'

'You do not know him. Then my uncle has written to you?'

'I received the letter to-day, before coming here. Do you see that it was better to have this explanation now, rather than to wait for to- morrow?'

'Yes--it was better. Let us go, for the time presses--truly I have no heart for this sport to-night. I wish I were at home.'

'Do not wish,' said Rex gravely. 'You could not help matters.'

Greif extinguished the light and the two men groped their way down the dusky staircase in silence, both feeling that an exceptionally difficult situation had been passed through with singular ease, both recognising that the explanation had been hurried over in a way hardly to be accounted for, except by the theory that neither wished to lose the other's friendship. And yet, both Greif and Rex knew that their decision had been final. The one had nothing more to conceal. The other had nothing left to forgive. Rex, like Rieseneck himself, believed that his mother had died long ago. Greif, like all the rest, was ignorant of his own mother's identity. Sons of one mother they went out of the house side by side, not dreaming that they were anything more than cousins, whose fathers were half-brothers, little guessing that within a few short hours the father of each and the mother of both would be lying stiff and stark in the chambers of lofty Greifenstein.

They reached the great dark buildings of the University, and found themselves in a dense crowd of students of all colours, on the outskirts of a multitude of others who belonged to no associations. Here they parted, for Rex could not walk in the Swabian Korps and must go with the black hats.

'We shall meet in the hall,' said Greif hurriedly. 'Your place is at our table as usual.'

And so they parted. In a few moments, Greif had found his companions by the tall standard whose colours caught a few struggling rays of light from the street-lamps. Every one was talking, smoking, stamping cold feet upon the stones in the effort to keep warm, cracking jokes, both good and bad, craning necks to see the position of the standards, making agreements for pairing at the 'Landesvater,' and generally complaining that the town clocks were all slow that night in Schwarzburg. Occasionally, a roar of laughter arose in the distance, where some unlucky burgher had found his way into a group of students and was being made the butt of a good-humoured jest. And beneath the high, laughing tones, the perpetual hum of a thousand talking voices neither rose nor fell, but droned unceasingly like the long pedal in a fugue, whose full deep note stands still amidst the strife of moving sounds, as the sun stood while the battle was fought out in Ajalon. The very life of the multitude seemed to produce a sound of its own, in the breathing of a thousand pairs of strong young lungs, in the beating of a thousand young, untired hearts, in the pulsation of so much youth brought together to one place. A blind man might have thought himself in the presence of some one monstrous human giant, overflowing with enormous vitality, warming the whole night with his breath, stirring the whole air with each careless movement of his vast body. There is something mysterious in a crowd, most of all in a crowd at night. The throng has simultaneous perceptions and movements, a joint sense of power or of fear, a circulation of consciousness as complete as that which exists in the nerves of every individual. Thousands of men, of whom each alone would act differently from his fellows, are all irresistibly impelled to think the same thoughts, to feel the same emotions, to yield to the same influences, or to join in the same work of destruction. But no one of them all can tell why he so feels, thinks and acts; the mystery of the crowd is upon him, and sways him whither it will, powerless, half unconscious, and wholly irresponsible.

The deep cathedral bell tolled the hour of seven. Before the strokes were all counted, the hum of the multitude had swelled to twice its former strength, and every one felt himself jostled a little by his neighbour. Then came the sharp, clear voices of those who directed the forming of the procession, the shuffling of many feet, and the muffled but irritated movements of those who had to make way. Then rose a sudden flare of light in a corner of the dark mass, followed quickly by another and another, till many hundreds of torches were aflame, sputtering, smoking and sending up tongues of flame into the black air. Again a word of command, and the even tramp of footsteps began to be heard, a mere patter as of big raindrops upon stones at first, but swelling gradually, and increasing, till the sound roused great echoes from the glowing buildings, while the blazing pitch flared up, brighter and brighter, into a broad sea of flame that flowed away in a narrow stream of fire as the great company filed out of the square into the street beyond. Then, as the place of meeting was emptied, a breeze of cold air rushed into the vacant space; there was hurrying and scurrying of those who remained last, as they ran to take their places, and while a burst of march music was heard in the distance at the head of the column, the last stragglers fell into the file behind, the last torch disappeared into the narrow street, and the broad space that had been so full was left utterly deserted, illuminated only by a dozen dim gaslights in exchange for the lurid glow which a moment earlier had lit up every wall and house from corner stone to pointed gable.

In front of all, marched the Swabians, the high standard waving in front, the burly second of the Korps striding along upon its left with drawn rapier and clattering scabbard, while upon the right Greif walked, an erect and commanding figure, thrown into strong relief by the bright lights behind him. His face was pale, and his teeth were set, for as he led the head of the column he found time to reflect upon what had occurred during the last hour, and time to fear what was yet to happen. Willingly he would have left the rank and hastened to his lodging in time to be ready for the night train. A few short hours would have brought him to his home to learn the truth, were it good or evil. But the thing was impossible. He was of all others that night the man most watched, most admired, most envied. It was his last torchlight procession, his last turn of presiding at the great festival that was at hand, the last draught of that brilliant student's life he loved was at his lips. He could never again do what he was doing to-night. To- morrow another would be chosen in his place, and to-morrow he was to join the dull ranks of the outer philistines. The thought brought suddenly a flash of wild recklessness into the gloomy atmosphere of his reflexions, and as he halted the column before the Rector's house and started the ringing cheer for the 'Magnificus,' his voice rang out with a metallic clearness that surprised himself.

'Hoch! Hoch! Hoch!' The vast chorus that followed his lead cheered his heart.

What could Rieseneck do at Greifenstein, after all? There might be a disagreeable scene. Two of them, perhaps. That would be all, and Rieseneck would go away, never to return again. Rex and his predictions? Bah! The man believed in the power of the stars, and Greif, who trod so firmly at the head of a thousand torches, believed in youth, and would not forfeit his last draught of glorious youthfulness for any such nonsense.

On and on the procession marched, halting in the street where some favourite professor lived, in order to give him three thundering cheers, then tramping on to another and another, down the high street, round the cathedral, back at last to the square whence they had started.

Shoulder to shoulder the students ranged themselves against the walls of the houses in serried ranks, drawing back as much as possible, so as to leave a broad space in the middle. There was a pause, and a deep silence for several minutes. Then the trumpets and horns flared out the grand old hymn of student life, the 'Gaudeamus igitur, juvenes dum sumus,' and all those fresh young voices took up the strain with that perfect unison which only Germans know how to give to an improvised chorus--

Gaudeamus igitur, juvenes dum sumus, post jucundam juventutem, post molestam senectutem, nos habebit humus, nos habebit humus.

Ubi sunt, qui ante nos in mundo fuere? Vadite ad superos, transits ad inferos, ubi jam fuere.

Vita nostra brevis est, brevi finietur, venit mors velociter, rapit nos atrociter, nemini parcetur.

Vivant omnes virgines faciles, formosae, vivant et mulieres, vivant et mulieres bonae, laboriosae.

Vivat academia, vivant professores, vivat membrum quodlibet, vivant membra quaelibet, semper sint in flore.

As the last stanza was sung, in slow and solemn measure, the students began to throw away their torches. First one alone shot out from the belt of fire that surrounded the square, meteorlike in a wide arch, and fell in the centre of the open space amidst a shower of sparks. A dozen followed almost immediately, then a hundred, and hundreds more, till all the thousand lay together, a burning heap, throwing up clouds of lurid smoke into the night, and illuminating the great buildings with a broad red glare. Greif stood still a moment, watching the bonfire, and then sheathed his rapier and turned away. To him it was a sorrowful sight, this ending of his last torchlight procession. He remembered how, as a young novice, he had stood in the same place, his heart full of a strange enjoyment, and he wished that he could go back to those days and live his life again. During nearly three years since that time he had been a student; during more than one he had been a soldier, serving his time with the cuirassiers, and coming into the town as often as he could to spend an hour with his Korps. It was all over now, never to begin again. Only among those soldiers whom he had learned so easily to love, could he hope to find again something of that good fellowship he had enjoyed with the brethren of the Swabian Korps. Only in larger strife could he henceforth feel that glorious excitement of combat which had grown to be one of his nature's chief cravings. The Korps life had done its work in the direction of his character, developing his latent love of organisation and law, accustoming him to look upon cold steel as the arbiter of right, and upon his country as the strongest among those that draw the sword.

'Earth shall have our ashes!' he exclaimed sorrowfully as he turned away, quoting the last words of the song.

'Undoubtedly,' answered a familiar voice beside him. 'Undoubtedly-- wherefore the best thing we can do is to make the earth ours without delay.'

Greif laughed, as he recognised Rex. The latter had made his way round, during the throwing of the torches, in order to accompany his friend to the drinking-hall. They moved away together in the great crowd. One ceremony was ended, the next would begin in little more than half an hour, as soon as all the Korps were collected in the hall. This time, however, the company would include the Korps only, with their friends, and such members of other Universities as had come over to Schwarzburg to join in the festivity.

'And now for my last speech,' observed Greif, as they walked. 'I wonder what is happening at home.'

Rex did not make any answer, but Greif saw that he bent his head, and seemed to start nervously. The reply came long afterwards, as they were ascending the steps of the drinking-hall.

'I would rather not know what is happening,' said Rex. 'But I would like to know where you and I shall be, to-morrow at this hour.'

'Probably together, with all good Swabians, at my farewell feast.'

Rex shook his head. There was not time for more, as they were already within the building and Greif was obliged to attend to other matters.

The hall was splendidly decorated. Each of the Korps had a portion of the walls allotted to it, before which its tables were arranged in order. From the rafters to the floor vast draperies of coloured stuffs were hung and festooned so as to show off the insignia of each association to the best advantage, panoplies of swords and helmets, escutcheons with broad bands of gold, silver and black, scores of richly mounted drinking-horns, taken from every kind of beast, from the Italian ox, from the Indian buffalo, from the almost extinct ibex, and from the American mountain sheep--gifts from old members of the Korps who had wandered over the world, but had not forgotten their old companions--silver tankards upon brackets, old standards of softened hue projecting out above, or crossed above coats-of-arms, in short, every object of beauty and value which had become the property of the Swabians during the last fifty years. Every other Korps had done the same, till not a foot of the walls was left bare. High above, in a gallery, sat the musicians, who were to accompany the songs with their instruments, during the night.

The students assembled quickly and took their seats. As the clock struck nine, Greif, as president of the presiding Korps, called for silence, and ordered the opening 'Salamander.' Hundreds of glasses rattled upon the oak boards in strict time, and the official Kneipe was declared opened. The music burst out gloriously, echoing among the great wooden beams of the high roof, and song upon song rose full and melodious from below. At last Greif rose again to his feet, and all eyes were turned upon him in the dead silence which succeeded the joyous strains. He was very pale, but it was easy to see that his pallor was caused by the emotion of thus taking leave of his old comrades, rather than by any nervousness about his speech.

He spoke long and well, interrupted occasionally by a short loud burst of applause. It was his especial good fortune to address the assembled Korps for the second time since his name had been inscribed upon the rolls of their beloved Alma Mater; his greatest sorrow was caused by the thought that he had thrown his last torch, and must soon drain his last toast as one of their number. Life was divided by a sharp line into two portions, of which the sadder began when rapier and colours were hung up at home to accumulate the dust that falls from philistinism. Then the head must weary itself with staid matters, and the hand must loosen its hold upon the _schlager and forget its cunning fence. Happy were those who merely exchanged the whistling blade of the student for the heavy sabre of the soldier, the green forest glade of the _mensur for larger battlefields and the hope of brighter fame, who, having shed an ounce of blood in defence of their student colours, could look forward to shedding all, to the last drop, for king and country. Happy were those few to whom the Korps was the beginning of an active life, and not the mere breathing space of liberty and good fellowship between the school bench and the desk. But whatever was to follow, whatever had gone before, none knew so well as they themselves, how sweet was the first taste of freedom, and how swiftly the bright time glided away amidst the music of the rapiers, the clash of beakers, and the song of free German voices.

Greif dwelt upon the importance of the Korps in the life of the University, upon the part played by the University in the life of the whole land, and did not scruple to trace Germany's victories directly to their origin in the daily life of German students, so different from that in other countries. Moreover, in his own opinion, and in that of most of his hearers, Schwarzburg had no rival--certainly none, he added, in the eyes of those who belonged to it. Where, in all Germany, were there such professors, such monuments of learning? What schools had given more famous names to the land, or even so many? As the good mother at home was to each student in that assembly, so was their dear Alma Mater to them all. He drank his beaker to all good Korps students, to all the brave colours there assembled, to all the professors, to the University itself,

'Hoch, Schwarzburg! Hoch!' he cried in ringing tones as he raised his glass high in air.

'Hoch! Hoch! Hoch!' shouted hundreds of voices.

'Ad exercitium Salamandri! Eins! Zwei! Drei!'

Greif brought his glass down upon the table as he spoke the last words, and the long roll began, like rattling musketry, again and again, to the due number of times.

Greif sat down amidst thunders of applause. As a matter of fact, he had made a speech rather better than the average of such performances, but a cool observer, or one accustomed to such scenes would have known that he could not fail to be loudly applauded. He was the favourite hero of them all. Young, handsome, brave, popular, not lacking the assurance that leads a crowd, it might have been foreseen that his last feast would crown his University triumphs, with a success passing even his own not very modest expectations.

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