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- Greifenstein - 10/80 -
wealth gives very little satisfaction unless there is a public to witness its effects, and the pleasure we derive from them. Frau von Greifenstein had no public, and to a nature that is fond of show the privation is a great one. She could dress herself as gorgeously as she pleased, but there was no one to envy her splendour, nor even to admire it. For years she had played to an empty house. If, by any fantastic combination of events, it were possible that a fairly good actress should ever be obliged to play the same part every night for five and twenty years in an absolutely empty theatre, and if she did not go mad under the ordeal, she would perhaps turn out very like the Lady of Greifenstein. The stage was always set; the scenery was always of the best and newest; the vacant boxes and the yawning pit were brilliantly lighted; the costumes were by the best makers; the stage manager was punctual and in his place; the curtain went up every day for the performance; but Frau von Greifenstein's theatre was silent and untenanted, not a voice broke the stillness, not a rustle of garments or a flutter of a programme in a spectator's hand made the silence less intense, not an echo of applause woke a thrill of pride or vanity in the heart of the solitary performer. And the poor actress was growing old, wasting her smiles, and her poses, and her bursts of laughter, and her sudden entries on the empty air, till by mechanical repetition they had grown so meaningless as to be almost terrifying and more than grotesque.
It was no wonder that she seemed so very silly. Incapable of finding any serious resource in her intellect, she had devoted her energies to outward things in a place where there was no one to applaud her efforts or flatter her vanity. Many women would have given it up and would have fallen into a state of listless indifference; some would have become insane. But with Frau von Greifenstein the desire to please by appearance and manner had outlasted any natural gift for pleasing which she might once have possessed, and had withstood the test of solitude and the damping atmosphere created by a total absence of appreciation. It cannot be denied that her mind dwelt with bitterness on the hardness of her situation. More than once she had thought of changing her mode of life to plunge into a pietist course of simplicity and asceticism. But when the morning came, the emptiness of her existence made the diversion of personal adornment a necessity. There was nothing else to do. And yet she never pressed her husband to go and live in town, nor to fill the castle with visitors. She had lost all hold upon the current of events in the outer world; and as she looked at herself in her mirror, and saw better than any one else the remorseless signature of time etched deep in the face that had once been pretty, she felt a sharp pain in her breast, and a sinking at the heart, for she knew that it was all over and that she had grown old. There were even moments when she feared lest she were becoming ridiculous, for she had not originally been without a certain acute perception in regard to herself. But the fear of ridicule is never strong unless a comparison of ourselves with others is possible, and Frau von Greifenstein lived too much alone to suffer long any such imaginary terrors. The time when she might still have made a figure in the world had gone by, however, and she knew it, and as any desire for change which she had formerly felt had sprung from the wish to be seen, rather than from the wish to see others, she was becoming resigned to her fate. She had reached that sad period at which half the pleasure of life consists in dreaming of what one might have done twenty years ago. It is a dreary amusement, but people who are very hopeless and solitary find it better than none at all.
Greifenstein read on, without much punctuation and with no change of tone. There was an article upon the European situation, another upon tariffs, the court news, the gazette, the festivities projected for a certain great event. It was all the same to him.
'In view of the solemnity of the occasion, his majesty has deigned to grant amnesty to all political--'
He stopped suddenly and coughed, running his eye along the lines that followed.
'To all what?' inquired his wife with a show of interest.
'To all political offenders concerned in the revolutionary movements of 1848 and 1849,' continued Greifenstein, who sat up very straight in his chair and tried to read more mechanically than usual, though his voice grew unaccountably husky. What followed was merely a eulogium upon the imperial clemency, and he read on rapidly without taking his eyes from the printed sheet. Frau von Sigmundskron uttered a little exclamation. She had pricked her thin white finger with her needle. The Lady of Greifenstein saw the tiny drop of blood, and immediately exhibited an amount of emotion out of all proportion with the accident.
'Oh, what have you done!' she cried, and she was pale with anxiety as she bent forward and insisted on seeing the scratch. 'But, my dear, you have wounded yourself! Your finger is bleeding! Oh, it is too dreadful! You must have some water, and I will go and get you some court-plaster --do be careful! Bind it up with your handkerchief till I come!'
She rose quickly, and Pretzel for once was forgotten, and rolled from her knees to the grass, falling upon all-fours with a pathetic little squeak. But Frau von Greifenstein picked him up and fled towards the house in search of the plaster before he could make any further protest against such rough treatment.
'My wife cannot bear the sight of blood,' observed Greifenstein, who had lowered the newspaper and was looking over his glasses at his cousin's hand.
'The wound is not dangerous,' she answered with an attempt to smile, but her eyes fixed themselves on Greifenstein's with a look of anxious inquiry.
'He will come back,' he said, in a low voice, and the colour slowly left his face.
'Do you think it possible?' asked his cousin in the same tone.
'It is certain. He is included in the amnesty. He has hoped for it these many years.'
'Even if he does--he will not come here. You will never see him.'
'No. I will not see him. But he will be in Germany. It is for Greif--' he stopped, as though he were choking with anger, but excepting by the pallor of his stern features, his face expressed nothing of what he felt.
'Greif will live here and will never see him either,' said Frau von Sigmundskron. 'Besides, he does not know--'
'He knows. Some student told him and got a sabre cut for his pains. He knows, for he told me so only yesterday.'
'That only makes it easier, then. Greif will be warned, and need never come into contact with him. Hilda would not understand, even if she were told. What can she know about revolutions and those wild times? I am sure he will never attempt to come here.'
'He shall not sleep under my roof, not if he is starving!' exclaimed Greifenstein fiercely. 'If he had not been the dog he is, he would have made an end of himself long ago.'
'Do not say that, cousin. It was better that he should live out his life in a foreign country than do such a bad thing.'
'I do not agree with you. When a man has taken Judas Iscariot for his model I think he ought to follow so eminent an example to the end.'
Frau von Sigmundskron did not wish to argue the point. Far down in her heart there existed an aristocratic and highly irreligious prejudice about such matters, and though her convictions told her that suicide was a crime, her personal sentiment of honour required that a man who had disgraced himself should put an end to his existence forthwith.
'He will write, if he means to come,' she observed, by way of changing the current of the conversation.
'It would be more like him to force himself upon me without warning,' said Greifenstein, folding the paper with his lean strong hands and drawing his thumb-nail sharply along the doubled edges. The action was unconscious, but was mechanically and neatly performed, like most things the man did. Then he opened it, spread it out and looked again at the passage that contained the news. Suddenly his expression changed.
'I do not believe he is included in the amnesty,' he said. 'He was not convicted for a political misdeed, but for a military crime involving a breach of trust. He aggravated his offence by escaping. I do not believe that he is included.'
'But will he not believe it himself?' asked Frau von Sigmundskron.
'It will be at his peril, then.' Greifenstein's face expressed a momentary satisfaction. Again he folded the paper with the utmost care, evidently reflecting upon the situation.
'I suppose he will be sent back to the fortress,' observed his companion.
'I would almost rather he were pardoned, than that,' answered Greifenstein gloomily. 'The whole scandal would be revived--my name would appear, it would be a fresh injury to Greif. And my wife knows nothing of it. She would hear it all.'
'Does she know nothing?' asked Frau von Sigmundskron, looking curiously at her cousin.
'Not a word. She never heard his name.'
'I could not help supposing that she left us just now because she was disturbed at the news--and she has not come back.'
'She is not so diplomatic as that,' answered Greifenstein with something like a grim smile. 'She forgets things easily, and has probably been detained by some household matter.'
Frau von Sigmundskron could not help admiring the way in which Greifenstein always spoke of his wife, excusing her more noticeable eccentricities, and affecting to ignore her minor peculiarities, with a consistent dignity few men could have sustained in the society of such a woman. It was a part of his principle of life, and he never deviated from it. It had perhaps been strengthened by the necessity of teaching Greif to respect his mother and to treat her with a proper show of reverence, but the prime feeling itself was inseparable from his character, and did honour to it. Whatever he might think of his wife, no living person should ever suspect that he could have wished her to be different. He had chosen her and he must abide by his choice.
But his cousin was a very keen-sighted person and understood him better than he guessed, admiring his forbearance and giving him full credit
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