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--"Art thou Prometheus, pierced with wounds? The Vulture thou that tugs at his heart?" J. CHR. V. ZEDLITZ'S Todtenkränze.
Not half an hour after this adventure a carriage rolled toward the city--a large carriage, containing three seats, but, beside the coachman, there was only one person within. This was Otto; his lips were pale; death, it is true, had touched them. Alone he dashed forward; his last words to Wilhelm had been his only ones.
"He has lost his wits," said one of the friends.
"It is a fit of madness," answered another, "such as he was seized with at the examination, when he only sent in a scrap of white paper for the mathematical examination, because he felt himself offended by the inspector."
"I could quite vex myself about my stupid joke," said Wilhelm. "I ought to have known him better; he is of a strange, unhappy character. Give me your hands! We will mention to no one what has occurred; it would only give occasion to a deal of gossip, and wound him deeply, and he is an excellent, glorious fellow."
They gave their hands upon it, and drove toward the city.
The same day, toward evening, we again seek Otto. We find him in his chamber. Silent, with crossed arms, he stands before a print, a copy of Horace Vernet's representation of Mazeppa, who, naked and bound upon a wild horse, rushes through the forest. Wolves thrust forth their heads and exhibit their sharp teeth.
"My own life!" sighed Otto. "I also am bound to this careering wild horse. And no friend, not a single one! Wilhelm, I could kill thee! I could see you all lying in your blood! O, Almighty God!" He pressed his hands before his face and threw himself into a seat; his eyes, however, again directed themselves toward the picture; it exhibited a moment similar to the condition of his own mind.
The door now opened, and Wilhelm stood before him.
"How do you find yourself, Thostrup?" he inquired. "We are still friends as before?" and he wished to give his hand. Otto drew back his. "I have done nothing which could so much offend you," said Wilhelm; "the whole was merely a joke! Give me your hand, and we will speak no more of the affair!"
"To the man whom I hate, I never reach my hand," replied Otto and his lips were white like his cheeks.
"A second time to-day you speak these words to me," said Wilhelm, and the blood rushed to his face. "We were friends, wherefore cannot we be so still? Have people slandered me to you? Have they told lies about me? Only tell me faithfully, and I shall be able to defend myself."
"You must fight with me!" said Otto; and his glance became more gloomy. Wilhelm was silent; there reigned a momentary stillness. Otto suppressed a deep sigh. At length Wilhelm broke silence, and said, with a grave and agitated voice,--"I am so thoughtless, I joke so often, and regard everything from the ridiculous side. But for all that I have both heart and feeling. You must have known how much dearer you were to me than most other people. You are so still, although you offend me. At this moment your blood is in a fever; not now, but after a few days, you yourself will best see which of us is the offended party. You demand that I fight with you; I will if your honor requires this satisfaction: but you must lay before me an acceptable reason. I will know wherefore we risk our lives. Let some days pass by; weigh all with your understanding and your heart! It will still depend upon yourself whether we remain friends as before. Farewell!" And Wilhelm went.
Each of his words had penetrated to Otto's heart. A moment he stood silent and undecided, then his limbs trembled involuntarily, tears streamed from his eyes--it was a convulsive fit of weeping; he pressed his head back. "God, how unfortunate I am!" were his only words.
So passed some minutes; he had ceased to weep, and was calm; suddenly he sprang up, shot the bolt in the door, drew down the blinds, lighted his candle, and once more looked searchingly around: the key-hole was also stopped up. He then flung his coat away from him and uncovered the upper part of his body.
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