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- Greifenstein - 20/80 -
'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.
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