Chapter IX




The scene presented by the Palmengarten restaurant at four o'clock in the morning was extremely strange. Since Greif and Rex had dined together in the place on the previous evening, the arrangement of the hall had been considerably changed. The palms alone remained in their places around the four sides, and their long spiked leaves and gigantic fans cast fantastic shadows under the brilliant gaslight. The broad marble floor was cleared of furniture and strewn with sawdust, some fifty chairs being arranged at the upper end of the room, around and behind the fountain, whose tiny stream rose high into the air and tinkled as it fell back again into the basin below. A few small tables remained in the corners. The place was lighted by a corona of gas-jets, and was on the whole as bright and roomy a fencing ground as the heart of a Korps student could desire. The proprietor, who entered with enthusiasm into the scheme, moved about, followed by a confidential waiter in his white apron, examining every detail, adjusting the position of the tables and chairs, turning the principal key of the gas-jets a little so as to obtain the best possible flame, and every now and then running to the door which opened to the outer chambers, as he fancied that he heard some one tapping at the street entrance. The whole effect of the preparations suggested something between a concert and the reception of a deputation, and no one would have suspected that a party of young men were about to engage in a serious tournament amidst the fantastic decorations and the shadows of the beautiful plants, beneath the flood of light that bathed everything in warm lustre.

Presently the expected signal was heard, and the proprietor rushed breathlessly to the outer door. Greif, Rex and their companions entered swiftly and silently, followed by the liveried servant of the Korps who carried an extraordinary collection of bags and bundles, which he dropped upon the floor with a grunt of satisfaction as soon as he was inside. Then he took up his burden again, at the command of the burly second, and carried his traps into the illuminated hall. With the speed of a man accustomed to his work he began to unpack everything, laying out the basket-hilts of the rapiers, adorned with battered colours, side by side, and next to them half a dozen bright blades freshly ground and cleaned, each with its well oiled screw-nut upon the rough end that was to run through the guard, while the small iron wrench was placed in readiness at hand. Then three leathern jerkins were taken from their sacks and examined to see whether every string and buckle was in order, then the arm and neck bandages, the iron eye-pieces, the gauntlets padded in the wrist, the long gloves and stout caps with leathern visors worn by the seconds, the regulation shirts for the combatants, the bottle of spirits for rubbing their tired arms, a couple of sponges, and a dozen trifles of all sorts--in a word, all the paraphernalia of student warfare.

The next person to appear upon the ground was the surgeon, a young man with a young beard, who had not been many years out of a Korps himself, and who understood by experience the treatment of every scratch and wound that a rapier can inflict. He also carried a bag, though a small one, and began to lay out his instruments in a business-like fashion upon the table reserved for his use. Then there was another summons from the door and the members of the Rhine Korps filed silently in, their dark blue caps contrasting oddly with the brilliant yellow of the Swabians. They saluted gravely and kept together upon the opposite side of the room. Next came the Westphalians, in green caps, and the Saxons with black ones, till nearly a hundred students filled half the available space in the hall. Then the seconds in charge met together in the centre and looked over their lists of duels. There was a moment of total silence in the chamber, until the result was known, for no one could tell exactly which duel would be fought first. Then the four separated again and returned quickly to their comrades.

'We are to let fly first,' said the Swabian second to his chief. 'Now, Hollenstein, old man, jump into your drumming skin!'

'You will be next,' said Greif turning to Rex and speaking in an undertone. 'You had better dress while Hollenstein is out with the Saxon. The affair will not last long, I fancy.'

Hollenstein, a thickset fellow with a baby's complexion, but whose sharp eye showed his temper, went quietly about the operation of dressing, assisted by a couple of foxes, the second in charge and the Korps servant, who was as expert in preparations for duels as an English valet in dressing his master for following the hounds. In ten minutes everything was ready, the seconds on each side drew on their gloves, settled the long visors of their caps well over their eyes, took their blunt rapiers in hand and stepped forward. The witnesses of each party, also gloved, stood on the left of the combatants, it being their duty to watch the blades, and to see whether either fencer backed down the ground. The umpire took out his pocket-book and pencil and stop-watch, and placed himself where he could look across the fighting. The armed fighters stood up face to face at half the length of the room, a novice supporting the right arm of each high in air.

'Paukanten parat? Are the combatants ready?' inquired the umpire, who was the chief of the Westphalians.

'Parat! Ready!' was answered from both sides simultaneously.

'Silence!' cried the umpire. 'The duel begins. Auf die Mensur! Fertig! Los!'

Hollenstein and his adversary walked forward, accompanied by their seconds. Each struck a formal tierce cut at the other, and a halt was cried. They scarcely retired and the umpire repeated the words 'To the fight! Ready! Go!' and the duel began in earnest. Both were accomplished swordsmen, and the combat promised to be a long one. They exhibited to the admiring spectators every intricacy of schlager fencing, in all its wonderful neatness and quickness of cut and parry. From time to time a halt was called, and each man retired to his original place, his right arm being caught and held in air by the 'bearing-fox,' as the novice is called whose business it is to fill the office. The object of this proceeding is to prevent a rush of blood to the arm, which might cause pain and numbness in the member and interfere with the combatant's quickness.

'A couple of good fencers,' remarked Rex as he rose from his chair and went to prepare himself for what was before him.

'You will see what will happen,' answered Greif with a smile of confidence in his comrade.

The 'drumming,' as the students call it, proceeded for some minutes, and nothing was heard in the hall but the sharp whistle and ring of the blades and the sound of shuffling feet upon the sawdust-covered floor. All at once Hollenstein turned his hand completely round upon his wrist in the act of striking what is called a deep-carte, remained a moment in this singular position, which seemed to confuse his adversary, and then as the latter was making up his mind what to do, suddenly finished the movement and returned to his guard in time to parry the inevitable tierce. A thin line of scarlet instantly appeared upon the Saxon's face, straight across his left cheek.

'Halt!' cried both seconds at once.

'She sat!' exclaimed the second of the Swabians, throwing down his blunt sword and making for a goblet of beer that was placed in readiness for him, as though he took no further interest in the proceedings. Hollenstein stood as usual with his arm supported by the novice, while the Saxon was examined by the surgeon.

'Abfuhr!' said the latter. The word means that the wounded man must be removed.

'Please to declare the Abfuhr!' said the Swabian second relinquishing his glass and turning sharply to the umpire.

'Saxonia is led away,' declared the Westphalian chief, making a note of the fact in his pocket-book, and shutting up his watch.

Before he had finished speaking, Hollenstein had given up his sword and was beginning to disarm, while a fox wiped the perspiration from his placid pink face.

'Nicely done, old man,' said Greif, coming up to him.

'I like that way of doing it, do not you?' inquired Hollenstein with a childlike smile. 'I practised all last summer on my father's orderly. You know we always keep fencing things at home.'

'And how did the soldier like it?' asked Greif with a laugh.

'Better than you would,' replied the other laughing, too. 'He is a clever churl and has discovered the answer to the attack. Give me some beer, little fox!'

The novice obeyed, and a Homeric draught interrupted the interview. Greif turned to Rex, upon whose face the iron eyepieces were being adjusted. All the Swabians present were collected around him, excepting the second, who sat in solitary glory by his beer, opposite the Rhine Korps, awaiting events with stolid indifference.

'Take care!' said Greif whispering into the ear of his friend. 'I have never seen you fence, and Bauer's cartes are famous.'

'Remember the big horn!' said some of the men around him.

'I will not forget it,' answered Rex smiling, as he opened and shut his hand in the gauntlet, and then held out the palm to be chalked. 'And I hope you will not forget your promises either,' he added.

'Will you not have a glass of brandy?' asked some one with a scarcely perceptible tinge of irony.

'My friend,' replied Rex, turning sharply round in the direction of the speaker's voice, 'exactly fifteen minutes after the word "Go," I will drink a bottle of champagne with you, and I should be greatly obliged if you would direct the waiter to put the wine in ice at once, as it will scarcely be cool in so short a time.'

'Willingly,' said the student with a dry laugh, in which some of the bystanders joined, while all looked curiously at the man who seemed so absolutely sure of success. Greif's face was grave, however, and he himself selected the rapier for Rex's hand. All was ready and the adversaries stood up in their places. Bauer the Rhine Korps man, was an ugly sight. The eye-pieces gave a singularly sinister expression to his sallow face, and his disorderly hair looked like a wig of twisted black wire, while the jerkin he wore seemed almost dropping from his long, sinewy frame. He made his sharp weapon whistle three or four times in the air and tapped his foot impatiently upon the marble floor as though anxious to begin. Greif's heart beat quickly, and he was conscious that he would infinitely rather fight the duel himself.

The umpire began by declaring that the duel was between Herr Bauer of the Rhine Korps and Herr Rex, who fought with Swabian weapons.

'Formerly of the Heidelberg Saxo-Prussians,' said Rex quietly.

Every one started and looked at him, on hearing the name of the most renowned Korps in Germany.

'With a charge?' inquired the umpire, politely, and holding his pencil ready to enter the fact upon his note-book.

'First,' answered Rex laconically.

The students looked at each other and began to wonder how it was possible that such an important personage as a former chief of the Heidelberg Saxo-Prussians could have so long concealed his identity. But the umpire did not wait, though he reflected that Rex must have been in activity a very long time ago. Of course, the statement must be true, as any one might verify it instantly by a reference to the registers.

'Paukanten parat?' inquired the umpire.

'Parat!'

The spectators observed that Bauer's first tierce was more than formal, and that if Rex's guard had not been good, it might very well have done some damage. Rex's fencing was altogether different from Hollenstein's. He seemed to possess neither the grace nor the dexterity which distinguished that gentle swordsman, although in figure he was far lighter and more actively made. And yet Bauer could not get at him. He was one of those fencers who seem to work awkwardly, but who sometimes puzzle their adversaries more than any professional master of the art. His movements appeared to be slow and yet they were never behind time, and he had a curious instinct about what was coming. Bauer's famous deep-cartes were always met by a cut which at once parried the attack and confused the striker. Once or twice Rex's long blade shot out above his adversary's head with tremendous force, but Bauer was tall, quick and accomplished, and the attempt did not succeed. Greif began to feel that the match was by no means an uneven one, and he breathed more freely.

'I think you could manage it, if you tried harder,' he whispered to Rex, during a short halt.

'Of course,' answered Rex. 'What do you expect?' Even through the iron eye-pieces Greif could see the colourless, stony stare of his friend's eyes.

Greif would have been more than satisfied if the duel ended without a scratch on either side, and such a result would have more than surprised the spectators of the encounter. Every one present knew by experience that in schlager fencing a month's practice is worth all the theory and skill which a man might possess who had not touched a rapier for years. Nevertheless, as the encounter proceeded, and both remained unhurt, Greif regretted that Rex should have boasted that Bauer would be disabled and laid up for a long time. Meanwhile the saturnine Rhine man grew slowly angry, as his arm became wearied by the protracted effort. His wiry locks were matted with perspiration, his shaggy brows knit themselves into an ugly frown, which was made more hideous by the black iron spectacles, he stamped his foot angrily, and made desperate efforts to get at Rex's face with his favourite under- cut.

'I am going to try now,' said Rex during the next halt, and turning his head to Greif.

He went forward again, and every one noticed that his rapier was higher than usual and seemed not to cover him at all. He brandished it in the air in a way that looked utterly foolhardy. Bauer came on furiously, feeling that if he failed now he must be laughed at for ever. His long arm turned with the rapidity of lightning, and every one saw the whistling blade flash towards Rex's unprotected cheek. To the amazement of all present the cut did not take effect. There was a loud clash of steel, accompanied by a harsh, grating noise. With irresistible fury Rex had brought down his weapon, countering in carte, parrying with his basket-hilt and then tearing, as it were, the reverse edge of his flexible blade through his enemy's face, from forehead to chin. 'She sat!' exclaimed the Swabian second, mechanically. But instead of dropping his blunt sword and making for his beer, he stood open- mouthed, staring stupidly at the unfortunate Bauer, as though he could not believe his eyes. The surgeon ran forward, looked at the wound and almost immediately nodded to the umpire.

'Rhenania is led away!' said the latter, in the midst of a dead silence.

It would have been contrary to custom and etiquette for the Swabians to manifest any noisy satisfaction at the result of the affair, but as Rex drew back he was surrounded and hemmed in by Greif's comrades, who tore the rapier from his grasp, pressed his gloved hands, untied the strings and loosed the buckles of his jerkin, wiped the slight perspiration from his face, and divested him of all his defensive accoutrements almost before he had breath to speak. A couple of novices rubbed his arm, while twenty young fellows congratulated him in an undertone. The two who were nearest were the student whom Bauer had formerly hurt, and the one with whom Rex had promised to drink the wine. The latter held a glass of champagne to the conqueror's lips.

'Your health,' said Rex as he drank. 'It is not too cold to drink,' he added with a smile when he had tasted the liquid.

'With a little practice, you would have to drink it hot,' laughed the other.

'You must teach me that trick,' said the rosy-cheeked Hollenstein. 'It is the best I ever saw.'

'The Rhine Korps will have to make a contract for buying iron noses wholesale,' remarked some one else, referring to the story Rex had told on the previous evening.

Greif stood near by, looking on, with undisguised satisfaction, and not yet altogether recovered from his surprise. He could see at a glance that Rex's position with regard to the Korps was wholly changed, and that henceforth his friend was likely to be almost as popular as himself. The fact that Rex had been chief of the Saxo-Prussians was in itself a sufficient recommendation and would long since have inspired them with respect, had Rex chosen to disclose his former dignity. Greif wondered why he had been silent, but, on the whole he was glad that the man should have earned popularity by an exploit rather than upon the strength of his former importance.

For the present, conversation was impossible. A couple of Greif's novices were to go out for the first time, and it was necessary to encourage them and see that everything went well. Swabia was in luck on that day, for the two youths acquitted themselves honourably, each fighting fifteen rounds without being touched, and each inflicting a couple of very small scratches upon their enemies.

'A white day for the Swabians,' said Greif, when he at last sat down to a sausage and a glass of beer for breakfast.

His Korps had nothing more to do with the proceedings, for they had no more duels on the day's list, and as none of them had been hurt, they prepared to watch the subsequent fights over a glass of beer, collecting themselves round Greif, Rex, and the thirsty second. It was by this time about five o'clock in the morning. The gas burned steadily overhead and the meeting of arms proceeded as regularly and quickly as any Roman show of gladiators. From time to time the Korps servants washed the blood-stained marble floor and threw down fresh sawdust for the next encounter. The surgeon and the wounded were kept out of sight behind the plants, and nothing disagreeable met the eye. The gleam and flashing of the steel swords under the yellow light, the gay colours of the caps, the quick movements of combatants and seconds were all pleasant to see against the background of stately exotic plants which made the hall look like a great conservatory.

Greif looked at it all and enjoyed it, almost wishing that this might be the last scene of the kind which he should attend, and that he might always have the impression of it when he thought of his student life, so different from the dismal meetings that sometimes took place in deserted barns, or in outhouses of country inns. In some ways he preferred the Palmengarten as a fighting ground to the forest glades in which the summer duels were sometimes fought. He felt, as he sat there, chief of his Korps, and looked up to by every one, very much as he fancied a Roman emperor must have felt in his high seat over the arena. A deep sense of satisfaction descended upon his soul. He had the best place, his Korps had been victorious, his best friend had highly distinguished himself, justifying Greif's own opinion of him, and gaining in ten minutes the respect and admiration of all his comrades. Rex watched him in silence, as though trying to guess his thoughts.

'Yes, you are a lucky fellow,' he said at last, hitting the mark as usual. The words chilled Greif, and his expression changed. All at once, in that crowded place of meeting, amidst the satisfaction of victory and the excitement of other struggles, the memory of his home in the dark forest rose before him like a gloomy shadow. His mind went back to that evening when Rex's first prediction had been so suddenly fulfilled, and then, in an instant, it flashed upon him that only last night Rex had been drawing circles and strange figures upon the marble table at the moment when Bauer had approached them. He turned to his friend and spoke in a low voice.

'You knew it by the figure,' he said. 'That is the reason you were so confident.'

'Yes,' answered Rex quietly. 'Of course I did.'

'It is true that you are a first-rate fencer,' remarked Greif doubtfully.

'Nothing extraordinary. The man had not a chance, from the first, especially as we settled the matter so soon after the question was asked.'

'What question?'

'The question I asked when I set up the figure.'

Greif was silent. He could not bring himself to believe in what he regarded as a sham science, and he could not reconcile any belief in such absurdities with the indubitable fact that Rex was a most enlightened man, learned in his own department, cultivated in mind, a scorner of old-fashioned prejudices and ideas, distrustful of all cheap theories and of all scientific men who talked eloquently about the progress of learning. That such a person should put any faith in astrology was a monstrous incongruity. And yet Rex not only trusted in what he pretended to foretell, but was actually willing to risk serious personal injuries on the strength of his divinations. Greif thought of what he had read concerning fanatics and the almost incredible good fortune which sometimes attended them. Then a wild desire overcame him to know what Rex had seen in the figure on that memorable night which had brought the news of Rieseneck's intended return.

'We have not spoken of those things lately,' he said after a long pause. 'Will you tell me what it is that must happen to me, according to your theory?'

'There are some things of which it is best not to talk at all,' Rex answered, looking earnestly at his companion. His hard eyes softened a little.

'Is it as bad as that?' asked Greif with an attempt to laugh.

'It is as bad as that, and as it will all happen through no fault of yours, and since nothing which you, at least, can do, could prevent it, it is better that you should not know.'

'You will not tell me?'

'Not unless you insist upon it, and you will not.' 'Why not? I do insist, as much as one friend can with another.' Greif could not quite submit to Rex's way of saying what he would do, or would not do.

'There are good reasons why you should not,' returned the latter calmly. 'In the first place we are good friends, and if I told you what is before you, it would be impossible not to injure our amicable relations. You feel that, as well as I do. If warning could help you in the least, I would not be silent. If I had any advice to give you, I would offer it, at the risk of offending you. You know that in your heart you would not quite believe me, if I spoke, and that you would always fancy I had some object in view, until all were accomplished. Even then you might never forget the disagreeable association between my personality and your calamities. I prefer to remain where I am in your estimation. Besides, why should I cause you all the pain of anticipation, when it can do no good? After all, nobody is infallible. What if I had made a mistake in my calculations?'

'That is true.' answered Greif, though his tone showed some doubt. Although he really did not believe that calculation or mathematics of any sort had anything to do with Rex's seeming knowledge of future events, the possibility of a mistake seemed small indeed, when Rex himself suggested it.

'I knew you would not insist,' said Rex. 'Indeed it is much better to watch those two fellows drumming on each other's heads, and to drink our early draught in peace without speculating about the future. Look at them! It is nearly a quarter of an hour, and not a scratch yet, though they hit each other with every tierce, flat as a soup-plate falling upon a millpond. But it is a pretty sight.'

Greif did not answer. The gladiatorial show had lost its charms for him and his mind brooded gloomily over coming events. The sun was not up, though it was broad dawn when he and his companions went out into the cool, silent streets, realising when they breathed the morning air the closeness of the heated atmosphere they had quitted. They separated by degrees, dropping off, one after the other, as each approached his lodgings, but before going home they all accompanied Rex to the street door of his dwelling.

When Greif was alone he threw open his window to the fresh morning breeze, and sitting down as he was, drank in the air, which to him seemed so delightfully sweet, though it would have chilled a weaker man to the bone. It was all the refreshment he needed, in spite of a sleepless night, spent chiefly in an atmosphere heated by gas and heavy with the fumes of tobacco. The morning, too, was exceptionally clear and beautiful. A scarcely perceptible mist blended the neutral tints of the old town with the faint colours of the sky, which changed by gentle degrees from dark blue to violet, from violet to palest green, then to yellow and then at last to the living blue of day above, while a vast fan of golden light trembled above the spot whence the sun would presently rise. The level rays gilded the slender cathedral spire, and the glass of many a pointed gable-window in the town sent back the flaming reflexion. All above was warm, and all below was cold in the blue shadow that still darkened the flowing river and the narrow streets beyond.

For a time Greif gave himself up to the pleasure of the sight and sensation. His instinctive love of nature was strong enough to absorb his whole being at certain moments, for it was real, and not cultivated, thorough and altogether unconscious of itself. But when the exceptional loveliness of the dawn and sunrise was drowned in the flooding light of an ordinarily fine day, Greif rose from his seat by the window and went about the business of dressing regretfully, as though he wished that the morning might sink back again into the twilight, as quickly as in the far north, when the sun first shows the edge of his disc above the horizon in early spring.

He had no thought of taking any rest, and intended to go to the University as usual, for it was a part of his Teutonic character to take his amusement at the expense of his sleep rather than to the detriment of his work. After such a night an Italian would have gone to bed, a Frenchman would have swallowed a brimming glass of absinthe and would have passed the day in visiting his fellow-students, or fellow- artists, an Englishman would have taken a plunge in the icy river and would have gone for a walk in the country. But Greif did none of these things. He drank his coffee and went to his books and his lectures as though nothing unusual had happened. He did it mechanically and felt himself obliged to do it, as much as any guard-officer in Berlin, who comes home from a ball at dawn, exchanges the inadmissible kid gloves and varnished boots he wears in society for the regulation articles of leather, smooths his hair with the little brushes he always has in his pocket, draws his sword and marches out with his company of grenadiers to the exercising ground, as merrily and as naturally as though he had spent the night in bed.

Before he left the house again, Greif received a letter from his father. It was some time since the latter had mentioned Rieseneck and Greif did not now expect any news concerning him. He turned pale as he read the contents. It appeared that Rieseneck had landed in Europe and intended to proceed without delay to Berlin, in order to report himself at the Home Office as one who desired to take advantage of the amnesty with the intention of residing in his native country.

'I myself,' wrote Greifenstein, 'have serious doubts in this matter. I cannot believe that your uncle is included in the general pardon for political offenders. He committed a crime against both civil and military law and was condemned by a court-martial. It would have been more respectable to shoot him at once. As this was not done, I have actually been obliged to write to him, now, warning him that in my opinion he is not safe. In the meanwhile, be careful, my dear boy, and keep amongst your own Korps, where you are not likely to have trouble about your infamous relation. He is not worth fighting for, though you would of course be obliged to go out if a stranger made disagreeable remarks. Happily, in a little more than a month, you will be at home, where such things cannot occur. Praise be to Heaven, we are very well, though your mother continues to be more silent than usual. Hexerl has got over the distemper very well and is a fine pup. I have decided not to fell the old wood, though it is quite time. What need have I for the money? Let the trees stand till the wind blows them down. Perhaps you will be glad, though you do not often go to that part of the forest. I have sent your rifle to Stuttgardt to be re-sighted as you wished. And so, good-bye.'

Greif put the letter into his pocket and went gloomily on his way to the lecture, reflecting that at that very moment Rieseneck was probably on his way to Berlin.



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