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- Greifenstein - 4/80 -


assistance. So far as the ordinary observer could judge, however, she had obtained nothing from the world save a reputation for avarice. Hilda was too much accustomed to the state of things in which she had grown up, to appreciate her mother's sacrifices, or to feel towards her anything like warm gratitude. She herself did all she could, and that was not little, in the struggle for existence. It is even possible that she was more grateful to Berbel, than to the baroness herself. For Berbel voluntarily shared privations, to which the two ladies were obliged to submit. Berbel was faithful, devoted, uncomplaining, cheerful; and she was all this, not for the sake of a servant's pay, since her wages were infinitesimally small, but out of pure affection for her mistress.

Berbel had been the wife of Lieutenant von Sigmundskron's servant, who had fallen beside his master, rifle in hand, his face to the enemy. Mistress and maid were left alike widows on the same day, alike young and portionless, the only difference being that Frau von Sigmundskron had Hilda, while poor Berbel was childless. Then Berbel refused to go away, once and for ever, and the officer's widow accepted the lifelong devotion offered her, and the three cast in their lot together, to keep themselves alive as best they could beneath the only roof that was left to them.

Frau von Sigmundskron had been very much surprised when, on a sunny June morning, three years before the time of which I write, Greifenstein had appeared alone, arrayed in the most correct manner, instead of being clad in the shooting coat he usually wore. She had been still more astonished when he formally proposed to her an engagement by which Greif should marry Hilda so soon as he had finished his studies at the University. He told her frankly why he desired the alliance. She knew of Rieseneck's disgrace, and she would understand that the story was an injury to Greif. On the other hand he, Greif's father, had never done anything to be ashamed of, and the lad himself was growing up to be a very fine fellow and would be rich--Greifenstein did not state the amount of his fortune. He apprehended that his cousin would consider Greif a good match from a worldly point of view. Furthermore, though barely twenty, the young man was deeply attached to Hilda, who was just fifteen, The attachment was evidently likely to turn into love when both should be three or four years older. If Frau von Sigmundskron would consent, a preliminary, verbal agreement might be made, subject to the will of the two children when the right time should come, it being essentially necessary, as Greifenstein remarked in his stiffest manner, that two young people should love each other sincerely if they meant to marry.

The baroness opened her clear blue eyes very wide, as though she had seen a coach and four laden with sacks of gold driving through the old gates of the castle. But she was far too well bred to burst into tears, or to exhibit any embarrassment, or even an improper amount of satisfaction. She replied that she was much obliged; that she was poor, and that Hilda would inherit nothing whatsoever except Sigmundskron, a fact which her cousin must please to understand from the first; that, if the absence of any dower were not an obstacle, it was not for her to create difficulties; and, finally, that she believed Hilda to be quite as much attached to Greif, as Greif to her. Thereupon Berbel was sent to fetch a bottle of wine--there had been half a dozen bottles in the cellar thirteen years ago, and this was the first that had been opened-- and Greifenstein refreshed himself therewith and departed, as stiffly, courteously and kindly as he had come.

Greif had come over as often as he pleased during his vacations, and had written whenever he liked during his terms. Never having seen any one at home or abroad whom he considered comparable with Hilda, he had grown up to love her as naturally as he loved the pine-scented air of his home, the warm soft sun, or the still beauty of the forest. Hilda was an essential part of his life and being, without which he could imagine no future. Year by year it grew harder to say good-bye, and the happiness of meeting grew deeper and more real. There was a pride in the knowledge that she was for him only, which played upon the unconscious selfishness of his young nature and gave him the most profound and exquisite delight. At three and twenty he was old enough to understand the world about him, he had accomplished his year of obligatory service in the army, and had come into contact with all sorts of men, things and ideas. He was himself a man, and had outgrown most boyish fallacies and illusions, but he had not outgrown Hilda. She was there, in the heart of the forest, in the towers of Sigmundskron, away from the world he had seen, and maidenly ignorant of all it contained, waiting for him, the incarnation of all that was lovely, and young, and fair, and spotless. He pitied his fellow-students, who loved vulgarly whatever came into their way. He could not imagine what life would be without Hilda. It was a strange sort of love, too, for there had been no wooing; they had grown up for each other as naturally as the song-bird for its mate. There had been no hindrances, no jealousies, no alternate hopes and fears, none of those vicissitudes to which love is heir. Nothing but the calamity of death could interfere with the fulfilment of their happiness, and perhaps no two beings ever loved each other from whom death seemed so far.

Hilda was happy, too, in her own way, for what she knew of the outer world was what she saw through Greif's eyes. To him the greatest of all blessings would be to come back to the forest and never to leave it again, and Hilda argued that the world could not be worth seeing, if the woods were so vastly preferable as he seemed to think. She felt herself to be what she was in his imagination, a part of the nature in which she had grown up, as much as the oldest and tallest fir tree on the hillside. People who spend all their lives in unfrequented regions, feel a sense of property in the air, the earth and the water, which city-bred folks cannot readily understand. They have such an intimate, unconscious knowledge of the seasons, the weather, the growth of plants and the habits of animals, that it seems to them as though their own hearts beat in every corner of the world around them, and as though all the changes they see from day to day were only manifestations of their own vitality. They may not see, or know that they see, beauties which amaze the wanderer who visits their wilderness, but they feel them as he never can, and feed on them as he cannot feed. Their senses, not dulled by daily close contact with thousands of indifferent and similar objects, nor by the ceaseless chatter of their fellow-beings, see sights and hear sounds altogether beyond the perceptions of gregarious man. The infinite variety of nature, as compared with the pitiful monotony of the works of humanity, produces in their minds an activity of an especial kind. They do not know what mental weariness means, nor the desire for nervous excitement. The succession of morning and evening does not bore them, for it is a part of themselves, like hunger and the satisfaction of appetite, thirst and the refreshing draught from the spring. They are good, though their virtues be negative, and they are happy, for they have never heard of unhappiness. Their existence is the very opposite of ours, full where ours is empty, empty where ours is crowded to overflowing. They are never alone, for the world is their companion, they are never hurried, for they move with time itself, whereas our existence is but one long effort to outrun the revolution of the hours. They do not dream of fame, for they feel the eternity of perpetually renewed life in all that surrounds them; they have never heard of competition, for their only rival is God Himself.

Hilda's earliest recollections did not go back beyond the time when she had been brought to the Black Forest, and the singular simplicity of her life made the past years seem strangely short. Children whose first remembrances are full of new impressions, grow old quickly, while those to whose perceptions little is offered grow up more slowly, and more naturally. Other conditions being the same, these latter will be calmer, healthier and more reasonable. The best horse is not the one which is made to do the most work as a colt, though performing dogs must learn their tricks as puppies if they are to learn them at all. Much in life depends upon the truth of our first impressions, and as this, in its turn, depends directly upon our ability to judge what we see and hear, it is clear that children may be injured permanently if too many things be brought within the sphere of their observation before they have learned the uses of hearing and sight.

The grand solitudes of the forest, the imposing calm of nature when at rest, the indescribable magnificence of the winter storms, had furnished Hilda with her first deep impressions. That death, of which her mother sometimes spoke, was the disappearance of all that lived beneath the soft, silent snow. That mysterious resurrection of the dead was nature's irresistible glad leap to meet the sun, as the noonday shadows shortened day by day; that happy life to come was the far-off summer, when the wind would sigh and whisper again among the branches he had so rudely handled in his wrath, when all the air would smell of the warm pines, when the mayflower would follow the hawthorn, and the purple gentian take the mayflower's place, when the wild pea-blossom would elbow the forest violet, and the clover and wild thyme and mint would spring up thick and crisp and sweet for the dainty roebuck and his doe. Hilda used to think that the souls of the blessed would at last take their bodies again, just as the wildflowers in the wood sprang up with their own shape and beauty, each according to the little seed that had lain dead and forgotten since autumn had sighed its dirge above their myriad tiny graves, burying the summer as sadly as men bury those they dearly love.

And yet Hilda never put any of those thoughts into words, though in her books she loved best those words that expressed her half-formulated feelings. Had she been removed to the noise and the whirl of city life, she would very probably have known how to define what she had lost, she might even have made others feel what she herself had so keenly felt. But in the silent towers of her home, or amidst that noiseless, ever- growing life that belongs to undisturbed nature, all she could have wished to express was expressed for her, in a grander language than that of man. She had no need of spending long hours in reverie and contemplation, as people do who are not used to their surroundings, or who compare their present with their past. Constant occupation had become a part of her being, and unceasing small activity in household matters the condition of her life. Heaven knows, there was enough to do between making and mending everything she wore, keeping in order even the small part of the gigantic building which she and her mother inhabited, cultivating as best she could the plot of ground in the castle yard which was all the land left to her, the last of her name, and, in the midst of all this manual labour, in maintaining that prescribed amount of appearance, from which she had never been allowed to deviate since she had been a little child. A spotless perfection of neatness was indeed the only luxury left within reach of the two ladies, and for that one available satisfaction there was no trouble they would not cheerfully undergo. But these manifold household labours did not vulgarise Hilda's character. If she enjoyed the luxury of Greifenstein during her half-yearly visits, it was not because she disliked or despised her own home life. She was too thoroughly conscious of the inevitable to groan over her lot, she was too strong in mind and body to desire luxurious idleness, and she never imagined that a woman could find occupation except in household duties. Her whole existence had made her so simple that she could never have comprehended that complicated state of mind which is so delightful to society.

Something of nature's own freshness, too, had been infused into the young girl's veins, refreshing and renewing the life in that old blood of which she was the last descendant. Blue eyes are rarely very bright. Hilda's seemed to have a special vitality of their own, which gave the impression that they must shine in the dark as some crystals do for a few seconds when they have been long exposed to the sun. They were of that rare type which appear to sparkle even when not seen directly, not merely reflecting the light as a placid pool reflects it, but making it


Greifenstein - 4/80

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