Greif's first sensation was that of astonishment, almost amounting to stupefaction. Rex could have desired no more striking fulfilment of a prediction than chance had vouchsafed to him in the present instance. For he admitted to himself that fortune had favoured him, even though the arrival of the news within twenty-four hours was not in his belief a mere coincidence. The telegram might have come at any other moment and might have found Greif in any other place. As for Greif, he saw at a glance how impossible it was that Rex should have foreseen the incident, or planned the circumstances in which it occurred. He could not have known that Greif was coming that evening, unless he knew everything, and moreover the despatch was fresh from the office, and twenty minutes had not elapsed between the time of its reception over the wires and of its delivery into Greif's hands.
If the occurrence was strange, its effect upon the young man was at least equally unforeseen. Greif had always despised persons who professed to dabble in the supernatural, and had laughed to scorn all the so-called manifestations of spiritualism, mesmerism, and super- rational force. When he had heard that the great astronomer Zollner had written a book to explain the performances of Slade, the medium, by means of a mathematical theory of a fourth dimension in space, Greif had believed that the scientist was raving mad. Up to the moment when the telegram had arrived, he had been convinced that Rex was a cheat, who had accidentally learned certain facts connected with the Greifensteins and was attempting to play the magician by making an adroit use of what he knew. When brought suddenly face to face with a phenomenon he could not explain, Greif's reason ceased altogether to perform its functions. The news he had just received was startling, but the bewilderment caused by its arrival at that precise juncture made even Rieseneck's return seem insignificant, in comparison with Rex's power to foretell the announcement of it.
'I do not understand,' said Greif, staring at his companion.
'Nor I, beyond a certain point,' replied the elder man, looking up from his paper.
'How could you know?'
'I did not, until a few minutes before I told you. Of course you thought I did. It is very natural.'
'It could hardly have been a coincidence,' said Greif, almost to himself.
'Hardly.' Rex smiled.
'And yet,' continued Greif, 'I do not see any way of explaining it all.'
'I could show you, but it would need several years to do so.'
'It is not a personal gift?'
'No, it is a science.'
'Of what kind?'
'It is that part of astronomy in which the public does not believe. Do you understand?'
'Astrology?' inquired Greif with a rather foolish and yet incredulous smile. 'I thought that was considered to be nothing but mediaeval ignorance.'
'It is considered so. Whether it is really nothing better than a superstition you have had an opportunity of judging.'
'But how can you reconcile it with serious science?'
'The vortex reconciles everything--even men who are on the point of quarrelling, when the circumstances are favourable.'
'But if all this is true, there is no reason why you should not know everything--'
'Not everything. There are cases when it is clear from the first that a question cannot be answered. With better tools, a man might do much more. But one may foretell much, if one will take the trouble. Will you hear more of what I have discovered about you?'
Greif hesitated. His strongly rational bent of mind suggested to him that after all there might be some trickery in the prediction so lately fulfilled, though he was unable to detect it. But if Rex foretold the future Greif felt that he must be influenced, and perhaps made very unhappy by the prophecy, which might in the end prove utterly false. It would be more prudent, he thought, to wait and lay a trap for the pretended astrologer, by asking him at another time to answer a different question, of which it should be certain that he had no previous knowledge. The conclusion was quite in accordance with Greif's prudent nature, which instinctively distrusted the evidence of its senses beyond a certain point, and desired to prepare its experiments with true German scepticism, leaving nothing to chance and fortifying the conclusion by the purification of the means.
'Thank you,' he said at last. 'I will not hear any more at present.'
'Which means that you will ask me an unforeseen question one of these days to test my strength,' observed Rex with a smile.
Greif laughed rather nervously, for the remark expressed exactly what was passing in his mind.
'I confess, I meant to do so. How did you know what I was thinking?'
'By experience. Are not the nine-tenths of every human being precisely like the nine-tenths of the next? The difficulties of life are connected with that tenth which is not alike in any two.'
'Your experience must have been very great.'
'It has been just great enough to teach me to recognise the point at which no experience is of any use whatever.'
'And what is that point?'
'Generally the sweetest in life, and the most dangerous.'
'You speak in riddles, Herr Rex.'
'One man's life is another man's riddle, and if he succeeds in guessing its solution he cries out that it is a sham and was not worth guessing at all.'
'I believe you are a man-hater,' said Greif.
'Why should I be? The world gives me all I ask of it, and if that is not much the fault lies in my scanty imagination. The world is a flower-garden. If you like the flowers, pluck them. Happiness consists in knowing what we want, or in imagining that we want something. To take it is an easy matter.'
'Then everybody ought to be happy.'
'Everybody might be--if everybody would take the consequences. That is the stumbling-block--the lack of an ounce of determination and a drachm of courage.'
'Paradoxes!' exclaimed Greif. 'Life is a more serious matter--'
'Than death? Certainly.' Rex laughed.
'I did not say that,' returned Greif gravely. 'Death is the most serious of all earthly matters. No one can laugh at it.'
'Then I am alone in the world. I laugh at it. Serious? Why, it is the affair of a moment compared with a lifetime of enjoyment!'
'And what may come afterwards does not disturb you?'
'Why should it? Is there any sense in being made miserable by the concoctions of other people's hysterical imagination?'
Greif was silent. He was young enough and simple enough to be shocked by Rex's indifference and unbelief, and yet the man exercised an influence over him which he felt and did not resent. Phrases which would have sounded shallow in the mouth of a Korps student, discussing the immortality of the soul over his twentieth measure of beer, produced a very different impression when they fell from the lips of the sober astronomer with the strange eyes. Greif felt uncomfortable, and yet he knew that he would certainly seek the society of Rex again at no distant date. At present all his ideas were unsettled, and after a moment's silence he rose to go.
'Do not forget your telegram,' said Rex, handing it to him.
'Shall you go to the philosophy lecture to-morrow?' asked Greif as he reached the door.
Rex insisted on showing his guest down the stairs to the outer door, a civility which was almost necessary, considering the darkness of the descent. As Greif went down the narrow street, Rex stood on the threshold, shading the light with his hand and listening to the decreasing echo of the footsteps in the distance. Then he re-entered the house and climbed to his lodging.
'So much for astrology!' he exclaimed, as he sat down opposite the empty chair which Greif had lately occupied. For a long time he did not move, but remained in his place, with half-closed eyes, apparently ruminating upon the past conversation. When he rose at last, he had reached the conclusion that his coming to Schwarzburg was a step upon which he might congratulate himself.
From that day his acquaintance with Greif gradually ripened into an intimacy. Its growth was almost imperceptible at first, but before a month had passed the two met every day. Greif's companions murmured. It was a sad sight in their eyes, and they could not be reconciled to it. But Greif explained that he was thinking seriously of his final degree, and that he must be excused for frequenting the society of a much older man, after having given the Korps the best years of his University life. He even offered to resign his position as first in charge, but the proposition raised a storm of protests and he continued to wear the yellow cap as before.
He wrote to his father frequently, but after the first confirmation of the telegram he got no further news of Rieseneck. He described Rex, and spoke of his growing friendship with the remarkable student, who seemed to know everything, and old Greifenstein was glad to learn that his son's mind was taking a serious direction. He wrote to his mother more than once, in terms more affectionate than he had formerly used, but her answers were short and unsatisfactory, and never evoked in his heart that thrill of pity and love which had so much surprised him in himself during the last weeks at home. He wrote to Hilda, but her letters in reply had a sadness in them that made him almost fear to break the seal. It was at such moments that the anxiety for the future came upon him with redoubled force, until he began to believe that the person most directly threatened by that fatal catastrophe which had been foretold must be Hilda herself. He thought more than once of putting the question to Rex directly, to be decided by his mysterious art. It would have been a relief to him if the decision had chanced to be contrary to his own vague forebodings, but on the other hand, it seemed like a profanation of his love to explain the situation to his friend. He never spoke of Hilda, and Rex did not know of her existence.
And yet Rex was constantly at his side, a part of his life, an element in his plans, a contributor to all his thoughts. He would not have admitted that he was under the man's influence, and the student of astronomy would never have claimed any such superiority. It was nevertheless a fact that Greif asked his friend's advice almost daily, and profited greatly thereby, as well as by the inexhaustible fund of information which the mathematician placed at his disposal. Nevertheless Greif did not lay the trap by which he had intended to test Rex's science, or expose his charlatanism, as the result should determine. He could not make up his mind to try the experiment, for he liked Rex more and more, and began to dread lest anything should occur to cause a breach in their friendship.
It chanced that on a certain evening of November Greif and Rex were sitting at a small marble table in the corner of the principal restaurant. They often came to this place to dine, because it was not frequented by the students, and they were more free from interruption than in one of the ordinary beer saloons of the town. They had finished their meal and, the cloth having been removed, were discussing what remained of a bottle of Makgrader wine. Greif was smoking, and Rex, as he talked, made sketches of his companion's head upon the marble table.
A student entered the hall, looked about at its occupants, and presently installed himself in a seat near the two friends, touching his blue cap as he sat down. The pair returned the salutation and continued their conversation. The student was of the Rhine Korps, a tall, saturnine youth, evidently strong and active, but very sallow and lean. Greif knew him by sight. His name was Bauer, and he had of late gained a considerable reputation as a fighter. Rex glanced curiously at him once, and then, as though one look had been enough to fix his mental photograph, did not turn his eyes towards him again. Bauer ordered a measure of beer, lighted a black cigar and leaned back against the wall, gloomily eyeing the people at more distant tables. He looked like a man in a singularly bad humour, to whom any piece of mischief would be a welcome diversion. Rex abandoned his sketch of Greif's head, looked surreptitiously at his watch and then began to draw circles and figures instead. Presently he slipped his hand into his pocket and drew out the almanac he always carried about him.
'What are you doing?' asked Greif, interrupting himself in the midst of what he had been saying.
'Nothing particular,' answered Rex. 'Go on. I am listening.'
'I was saying,' continued Greif, 'that I preferred my own part of the country, though you may call it less civilised if you please.'
'It is natural,' assented Rex, without looking up from his figure. 'Every man prefers the place where he is born, I suppose, provided his associations with it are agreeable.' Then he unconsciously spoke a few words to himself, unnoticed by Greif.
'Saturn in his fall and term-cadent peregrine.'
'It is not only that,' said Greif. 'Look at the Rhine, how flat and dull and ugly it grows--'
He was suddenly interrupted by the close presence of the other student, who had risen and stood over him, touching his cap and bowing stiffly.
'Excuse me,' he said in a harsh voice, 'my name is Bauer--from Cologne--I must beg you not to insult the Rhine in a public place, nor in my hearing.'
Greif rose to his feet at once, very much astonished that any one should wish to quarrel with him upon such a pretence. Before he could answer, however, Rex anticipated him by addressing the student in a tone that rang through the broad room.
'Hold your tongue, you silly boy!' he said, and for the first time since they had become friends Greif recognised the angry accents he had heard through the door when he had first gone to Rex's lodging.
'Prosit!' growled Bauer. 'Who are you, if you please?'
'My name is Rex. My friends the Swabians will manage this affair.'
'I also desire to cross swords with you,' said Greifenstein politely, using a stock phrase.
'Prosit!' growled Bauer again. He took the card Rex offered him, and then, with a scarcely perceptible salute, turned on his heel and walked away.
Greif remained standing during some seconds, gazing after the departing student. His face expressed his annoyance at the quarrel, and a shade of anger darkened its usual radiance.
'Sit down,' suggested Rex quietly.
'We must be off at once,' said Greif, mechanically resuming his seat. 'There is to be fighting to-morrow morning, a dozen duels or more, and I will settle with that fellow before breakfast.'
'That is to say, I will,' observed the other, putting his pencil and his almanac into his pocket.
'You?' exclaimed Greif in surprise.
'Why not? I can demand it. I insulted him roundly, before you challenged him.'
'Do you mean to say that you, Rex, a sober old student of Heaven knows how many semesters, want to go out and drum with schlagers like one of us?'
'Yes, I do. And I request you as the head of your Korps to arrange the matter for to-morrow morning.'
'You insist? How long is it since you have fenced? I should be sorry for that brown beard of yours, if a deep-carte necessitated shaving half of it.' Greif laughed merrily at the idea, and Rex smiled.
'Yes, my friend, I insist. Never mind my beard. That young man will not fight another round for many a long semester after I have done with him.'
'Were you such a famous schlager formerly?'
'No. Nothing especial. But I can settle Herr Bauer.'
'I do not know about that,' said Greif shaking his head. 'He is one of the best. He came here expressly to pick a quarrel with me, who am supposed to be the best in the University. He is in search of a reputation. You had better be careful.'
'Never fear. Go and arrange matters. I will stay here till you come back. It is too early to go home yet.'
Greif was amazed at his friend's determination, though he had no choice but to do as he was requested. He walked quickly towards the brewery where he was sure of finding the second in charge of his Korps, and probably a dozen others. At every step the situation seemed more disagreeable, and more wholly unaccountable. He could not imagine why Rex should have cared to mix in the quarrel, and he was annoyed at not being able to settle matters with Bauer at once. His mind was still confused, when he pushed open the door of the room in which his companions were sitting. He was hailed by a chorus of joyful cries.
A couple of novices sprang forward to help him to remove his heavy overcoat. Another hastened to get his favourite drinking-cup filled with beer. The second in charge, a burly fellow with many scars on his face and a hand like a Westphalia ham, made a place for the chief next to his own.
'We have had a row,' Greif remarked when he was seated at the board and had drunk a health to all present.
'Ha, that is a good thing!' laughed the second. 'Tell us all about it.' He drank what remained in his huge measure and handed the mug to a fox to be filled. Then he took a good puff at his pipe and settled himself in an attitude of attention.
'We have had a row at the Palmengarten,' said Greif. 'Rex and I--'
'You have quarrelled with Rex?' interrupted the second. He and all his companions detested the man because he took Greif away from them. There was a gleam of hope for the chief if he had quarrelled with his Philistine acquaintance, and all present exchanged significant glances.
'No. That is not it. A fellow of the Rhine Korps has quarrelled with both of us. He says his name is Bauer. Rex called him a silly boy and told him to hold his tongue before I could speak.'
'Rex!' exclaimed all the students in chorus.
'Ha, that is a good thing!' laughed the second, blowing the foam from his ale. 'Provided he will fight,' he added before he drank.
'Rex is my friend,' said Greif quietly.
The murmurs subsided as though by magic, and the burly second set down his measure almost untasted.
'I wanted to fight the man first,' continued Greif, 'but Rex objected and appealed to me as the head of a Korps to get the matter settled at once. He wants to fight to-morrow morning with the rest.'
'Prosit!' laughed the second. 'We thought he was a Philistine! He must be forty years old! What a sight it will be!' cried a dozen voices.
'As he demands it, we must oblige him,' observed Greif.
'A good thing! A very good thing!' exclaimed the second more solemnly than before. He rarely said much else, and his hand was infinitely more eloquent than his tongue.
'I hope it is,' said Greif. 'This is your affair. You had better go and see the second of the Rhine Korps at once. Rex is waiting for the answer at the Palmengarten. Remember he is determined to fight at once.'
'He shall drum till the hair flies about the place,' answered the second, with an unusual flight of rhetoric, as he slipped on his overcoat and went out.
'You are not going?' asked the students as Greif showed signs of following his brother-officer.
'I cannot leave Rex waiting,' objected Greif.
'Send for him to come here! If he really means to fight, he is not such a Philistine as we thought!' cried two or three.
'If you like, I will send for him,' answered Greif. 'Here, little fox!' he exclaimed, addressing a beardless youth of vast proportions who sat silent at the end of the table. 'Go to the Palmengarten and say that Greifenstein wishes Herr Rex to come here. Introduce yourself properly before speaking to him.'
The huge-limbed boy rose without a word, gravely saluted and left the room. Greif was his idol, the type which he aspired to imitate, and he obeyed him like a lamb.
'So Rex means to fight,' remarked one of the young men, who sat opposite to Greif. 'Was he ever in a Korps?'
'Possibly,' answered the chief.
'"The Pinschgau lads went out to fight,"' hummed the student rather derisively, but he did not proceed further than the first line of the old song. Some of the others laughed, and all smiled at the allusion to the comic battle.
'Look here, my good Korps brothers,' said Greif in his dominating tones, 'I will tell you what it is. Rex means to have it out with Bauer to-morrow morning. If he turns out a coward and backs down the ground before the Rhine fellow, you can make game of him as you please, and you know very well that I shall have nothing more to do with him, and that he will be suspended from all intercourse with the Korps. I have my own ideas about what he will do, though Bauer is a devil at deep- carte and has a long arm. Until the question is settled you have no right to laugh at an honourable man who is to be our guest-at-arms, because he is not a Korps student. He is our guest as much as the chief of the Heidelberg Saxo-Prussians was when he came over last spring to fight the first in charge of the Franks. Every man who wants to fight deserves respect until he has shown that he is afraid to stand by his words. There--that is all I have to say, and you know I am right. Here is a full measure to the health of all good Swabians, and may the yellow and black schlager do good work whether in the hands of guest or fellow. One, two and three! Suabia Hoch!'
'Hoch! Hoch! Hoch!' roared twenty lusty young voices.
The speech had produced its effect, as Greif's speeches usually did, and every student drained his cup to the toast with a good will.
'But after all,' said the young fellow who had hummed the offensive song, 'your friend has not handled a schlager since the days of the flood. It is not likely that he can get the better of such a fellow as Bauer--may the incarnate thunder fly into his body! I can feel that splinter in my jaw to this day!'
'My dear boy,' said Greif, 'one of two things will happen. Either Rex will give Bauer a dose, and in that case you will feel better; or else Bauer will set a deep-carte into Rex's jaw, exactly where he hit you, and if that happens you will feel that you are not alone in your misfortunes, which is also a certain satisfaction.'
'You seem remarkably hopeful about Rex,' observed the student. 'Here he comes,' he added as the door opened and Rex appeared attended by the fox.
Every one rose, as usual when a visitor appears under such circumstances. Rex bowed and smiled serenely. He had often been a guest of the Swabians and knew all present. In a few moments he was seated on the chief's right hand. Greif rapped on the table.
'Korps brothers,' he said, 'our friend Rex visits us in a new capacity. He comes not as usual to share the drinking-horn and the yellow-black song-book. He is with us to-day as a guest-at-arms. Let us drink to his especial welfare.'
'To your especial welfare,' said each student, holding his cup out towards Rex, and then drinking a short draught.
'I revenge myself immediately,' answered Rex, rising as he moved his glass in a circle and glanced round the table. The phrases are consecrated by immemorial usage. He drank, bowed and resumed his seat. He knew well enough that the Swabians did not like him over well, but he was determined that, sooner or later, they should change their minds.
'I congratulate you,' said the same student who had been talking with Greif, 'upon your quarrel with Bauer. You could not have picked out a man whom I detest more cordially. Observe this slash in my jaw--two bone splinters, an artery and nine stitches. It is a reminiscence, not dear but near.'
'A fine cut,' answered Rex, gravely examining the scar. 'A regular renommir schmiss, a gash to boast of. A deep-carte, I suppose?'
'Of course,' said the other, with the superiority of a man who knows the exact part of the face exposed to each cut. 'It could not be anything else. He has the most surprising limberness of wrist, and he never hits the bandage by mistake--never! You strike high tierce like lightning and your blade is back in guard--oh yes! but before you are there his deep-carte sits in the middle of your cheek. Whatever you do, it is the same.'
Every one was listening, and Greif frowned at the speaker, whose intention was evident. He wanted to frighten Rex by an account of his adversary's prowess. Rex looked grave but did not appear in the least disturbed.
'So?' he ejaculated. 'Really! Well, I can put a silver thaler in my cheek and save my teeth, at all events. They are very good.'
A roar of laughter greeted this response.
'But that is contrary to the code,' objected the student, laughing with the rest. He was not an ill-humoured man in reality.
'Yes--I was joking,' said Rex. 'But I once saw a man fight with an iron nose on his face.'
'How was that?' was asked by every one.
'He was a brave fellow of the right sort,' said Rex, 'but he had a long nose and a short arm. In fact he had formed the habit of parrying with his nose, like a Greek statue--you know, all those they find have had their noses knocked off by Turks. Now the nose is a noble feature, and is of great service to man, when he wants to find out whether he is in Italy or Germany. But as a weapon of defence it leaves much to be desired. The man of whom I am telling you had grown so much used to using it in this way, that whenever he saw anything coming in the shape of a carte he thrust it forward as naturally as a pig does when he sees an acorn. After a couple of semesters the cartes sat on his nose from bridge to tip, one after the other, like the days of the week in a calendar. But when the third semester began, and the cartes began to fall too near together, and sometimes two in the same place, the doctors said that the nose was worn-out, though it had once been good. And the man told the second in charge, and the second told the first, and the first laid the matter before the assembled Korps. Thereupon the whole Seniorum Conventus sat in solemn committee upon this war-worn nose, and decided that its owner need fight no more. But he was not only brave; he possessed the invention of Prometheus, combined with the diabolical sense of humour which so much distinguished the late Mephistopheles. He offered to go on fighting if he might be allowed an iron nose. Goetz of Berliehingen, he said, had won battles with an iron hand, and the case was analogous. The proposition was put to the vote and carried unanimously amidst thunders of applause. The iron nose was made and fitted to the iron eye-pieces, and my friend appeared on the fighting ground looking like a figure of Kladderadatsch disguised as Arminius. He wore out two iron noses while he remained in the Korps, but the destruction of the enemy's weapons more than counterbalanced this trifling expense. When he left, his armour was attached to a life- sized photograph of his head, which hangs to this day above two crossed rapiers in the Kneipe. That is the history of the man with the iron nose.'
There had been much half-suppressed laughter while Rex was telling his story, and when he had finished, the students roared with delight. Rex had never before given himself so much trouble to amuse them, and the effect of his narrative was immense.
'He talks as if he knew something about it,' said one, nudging his neighbour.
'Perhaps he helped to wear out the nose,' answered the other still laughing.
'A health to you all,' cried Rex, draining his full measure.
'And may none of you parry carte with the proboscis,' he added, as he set down the empty cup.
'Ha! That is a good thing!' laughed the voice of the burly second as he entered the room, his face beaming with delight.
'Out with the foxes, there is business here for a few minutes.' The foxes, who were not privileged to hear the deliberations of their elders upon such grave matters, rose together and filed out, carrying their pipes and drinking-cups with them. Then the second sat down in his vacant place.
'Well?' asked Greif. 'Is it all settled.'
'Yes. The cattle wanted to fight you first. I said the Philistine insisted--excuse me, no offence. Good. Now--that was all.'
The second buried his nose in a foaming tankard.
'Is it for to-morrow morning?' asked Rex calmly.
'Palmengarten, back entrance, four sharp.'
'What do you mean?' asked Greif. 'Are we to fight in the Palmengarten, in the restaurant?'
The second nodded, and lighted his pipe.
'Poetic,' he observed. 'Marble floor--fountain playing--palm trees in background.' 'Then we must go there at that hour so as not to be seen?'
'The Poodle thinks it is at Schneckenwinkel, and is going out by the early train to lie in wait,' chuckled the burly student.
'There he will sit all the morning like a sparrow limed on a twig.'
'Have we any other pairs?' asked Greif absently.
'Three others. Two foxes and Hollenstein. He is gone to bed and I am going to send the foxes after him. We can make a night of it, if you like.'
'I will stay with you,' said Rex, who seemed jovially inclined.
Neither Greif nor the second thought it their business to suggest that their combatant had better get some rest before the battle. When two o'clock struck, Rex was teaching them all a new song, which was not in the book, his clear strong voice ringing out steadily and tunefully through the smoky chamber, his smooth complexion neither flushed nor pale from the night's carousal, his stony eyes as colourless and forbidding, as his smile was genial and unaffected.
As they rose to go, he caught sight of a huge silver-mounted horn that hung behind his chair.
'I will drink that out to-morrow night, with your permission,' he said with a light laugh.
'Bravo!' shouted the excited chorus.
'He is a little drunk,' whispered the student whom Bauer had wounded, addressing his neighbour.
'Or a boaster, who will back down the floor,' answered the other shrugging his shoulders.
'I hope you may do it,' said the first speaker aloud and turning to Rex. 'If you do, I will empty it after you to your health, and so will every Swabian here.'
'Ay, that will we!' exclaimed Greif, and the others joined readily in the promise. Seeing how probable it was that by the next evening Rex would be in bed, with a bag of ice on his head, it was not likely that they would be called upon to perform the feat.
'It is a beer-oath then!' said Rex. 'Let us go and fight.'
And they filed out into the narrow street, silently and quietly, in fear of attracting attention to their movements.
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