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- Greifenstein - 5/80 -


dance and change as sunshine does in falling water. Hilda's hair was yellow, and yellow hair is often lustreless as the pine dust in the woods; but hers glowed, as it were by its own colour, without reflection, out of the very abundance of vitality. Her features were delicate and aquiline, but were saved from any look of deficient strength by that perfection of evenly-distributed colour which comes only from matchless health and untainted blood, combined with a rare strength in the action of the heart. Hilda possessed one of those highly-favoured organisations which nature occasionally produces as normal types of what humanity should be. Such people bring with them a radiance that nothing can extinguish, not even extreme old age. Their beauty may not be of the highest type, but their vitality is irresistibly attractive, and spreads to their surroundings, undiminished by any effort they make.

When Hilda was told that if she and Greif loved each other they should marry, she was far less surprised than her mother had been when old Greifenstein had made his proposal. It seemed strange to the baroness that her daughter should not even blush a little on learning the news. But Hilda saw no reason for blushing and did not feel in the least disconcerted. To her it all seemed perfectly natural. She had always loved Greif, ever since she could remember anything. Why should he not love her? And if they loved each other, they would of course be married in due time. It was but the fulfilment of her life, after all. There was surely nothing in the idea to cause her any emotion. Did not Heaven dispose everything in the best possible way, and was not this the best possible thing that could happen? Did the hawk mate with the wren, or the wild boar with the doe? But the baroness did not understand. She asked Hilda if she should be very unhappy if Greif died, or if he married some one else.

'God will not be so unkind,' answered the young girl simply.

Frau von Sigmundskron was silent. It was clear that Hilda, in her innocence, had never expected anything else, but her mother trembled to think of what might happen if that simple faith were rudely disappointed. It was characteristic of the devoted mother that she thought of her child's heart, and not of the worldly difference to Hilda between single life at Sigmundskron and wedded life at Greifenstein, between starvation and plenty, extreme poverty and the state of enjoying all that money could give. It was long before she could comprehend what had passed in Hilda's mind, or the process of reasoning by which the young girl had reached such a calm certainty of anticipation. When she at last saw that it was an extremely simple matter, she realised how completely her daughter had been shut off from the world since her birth. At first she had doubted the reality of the girl's quiet manner in the circumstances, but she soon discovered that Hilda behaved during Greif's visits exactly as she had always done, meeting him gladly, parting from him regretfully, speaking with him as though there were no difference in their relations in the present, nor were to be in the future, excepting that Greif would always be present, instead of only coming from time to time. She knew that Greif himself was far from looking at the matter with such supreme calm. She saw the colour come and go in his fair face in a way that showed a constant emotion, and she feared lest such a very susceptible young man as he appeared to be should be entrapped, when away from home, by the designing mother, of whom every other mother sees the type in the background of her thoughts.

But Greif did not fall a victim to any such schemes. If Hilda had at all resembled most girls of her age, he could have compared her with them, and the comparison would not have been to her advantage. She could not have possessed their cheap accomplishments, their knowledge of waltzing, or their intimate acquaintance with their neighbours' affairs. She could not have put on their sentimentality with men, nor their cynicism with each other. She could not imitate their glances and she did not imitate their dress. She was a creature apart from them all. Deeply imbued as he was with all the prejudices of an exclusive caste, Greif could not have looked upon Hilda as he did, if she had been a peasant's child, even though she had been herself in all other respects. There was that in her position which appealed to the romanticism of his nature. The noble but unfortunate maiden, the last of an ancient race, dwelling in dignified retirement in her half-ruined ancestral home, was vastly more interesting than any equally well-born girl could have been, who chanced to be rich enough to be marched into society as a matrimonial investment for young men of her station. But it was precisely because Hilda possessed that one point in common with all such eligible young ladies that Greif regarded her with a romantic devotion he could never have felt for a village Gretchen. His pride in her nobility was indeed far less than his love for herself, but it made for that love a rampart against love's deadliest enemy, which is ridicule. He certainly did not tell himself so. He would have thought it an insult to Hilda to worship her for anything but her own self; but he was none the less aware that the pedestal upon which his idol stood was strong enough to withstand any assault. This being certain, it was the very impossibility of any further comparison that attracted him most. She was unlike any one whom he met, or was ever likely to meet, and his imagination invested her with many exceptional attributes, most of which she undoubtedly possessed in one degree or another.

Each time he returned and left the noisy train and the smart modern railway station behind him, to plunge into the silent forest, he felt more strongly that his real sympathies all lay between Greifenstein and Sigmundskron, and that his visits to the world were only disturbing dreams. They must be renewed from time to time, at ever-increasing intervals, but the real peace of his life awaited him in his home. He, too, like Hilda, was a child of the woods, and felt that the trees, the foaming streams and the changeless crags were all parts of himself, to lose which would be like forfeiting a limb of his body or a sense of his intelligence. The baroness need not have been afraid lest he should wander about the world to forget Sigmundskron or Hilda. Nature had made him constant, and circumstances had made him happy in his own place.

And so for years the lives of all these persons had run on, until the time was approaching when Greif and Hilda were to be married, and great changes were to be made at Sigmundskron. Greif had come home for the last time but one, and his next return would be final. During months and years the baroness and her daughter had been slowly preparing for the great event. The most unheard-of economies had been imagined and carried out in the attempt to give Hilda a little outfit for her wedding, just enough to hide the desperate poverty in which they had lived. Many a long winter's evening had the two ladies spun the fine flax by the smouldering fire; many a long day had Hilda and Berbel spent at the primitive loom in the sunny room of the south tower; through many a summer's noon had the long breadths of fine linen lain bleaching on the clean grey stone of the ramparts, watered by the faithful servant's careful hand. Endless had been the thought expended before cutting into each piece of the precious material; endless the labour lavished upon the fine embroideries by Hilda herself, upon the minute stitching by her brave-hearted mother. But the work had progressed well, and the finished garments that lay amidst bundles of sweet-smelling dried herbs in the great old press would have done credit to the spinning and weaving and handiwork of skilled craftsmen. It was fortunate that there had been time for it all, else Hilda would have made but a poor figure on the great day.

As for Berbel she believed that the forest itself had helped them, when she saw all that had been accomplished and remembered how she had bought the flax pound by pound at the market. Though a great share in the joint success was due to her own patient industry, the result seemed so fine as compared with the humble beginnings that she was much inclined to thank the Heinzelmannchen and their 'brownies' for the most part of it all. The baroness thanked Providence, and Hilda thought it was all due to her love for Greif. Perhaps they were all three right, and possibly each shared in some measure the views of the other two. At least so far as the gnomes are concerned, most people who have lived long in forests and solitary places have discovered that their work, if they like it, is performed with a rapidity and skill which is marvellous in their own eyes, and if you do not call the little gentleman who comes at night and helps you by the name of Rubezahl, you may call him the Spirit of Peace. But as long as you receive him kindly and give him his due it matters very little how you christen him, for he is an affectionate spirit and loves those who love him for himself, and does their work for them, or makes them think he does, which, in fact, is just the same.

Unfortunately there are other spirits as busy as he in the world, and he has a way of taking himself off at the slightest alarm, which is often very distressing to those who love him; and some of those other spirits had chosen for their abode the Castle of Greifenstein and for their companions the persons who dwelt there. The unforeseen plays a very great part in our lives; for if it did not, we should most of us know exactly what to do at the right moment, and should consequently approach perfection at an unnatural rate. While Greif and his father were slowly ascending the hill towards their home, while Frau von Greifenstein was looking at herself in her mirror and wondering whether she had not thrown away her youth after all, while Berbel was weaving and Hilda embroidering and the old baroness stitching steadily along the folded linen--while all these people were thus quietly and peaceably engaged, an event was brewing which was destined to produce some very remarkable results. And lest the justification of ordinary possibility should be required by the sceptical hereafter, I will at once state that the greater part of what follows is a matter of history, well known to many living persons; and that in writing it down I wish it to be understood that I am submitting to the judgment of humanity a strange case which actually occurred within this century, rather than constructing from my own imagination a mere romance for the delectation of such as will take the trouble to read it.

CHAPTER III

'Oh! Is it not too delightful to see my dear, dear cousins!' screamed Frau von Greifenstein, throwing herself into the arms of the pale and quiet baroness. 'And dear Hilda, too! Ach, ist es nicht herzig! Is it not too sweet!'

She was wonderfully arrayed in an exceedingly youthful costume, short enough to display her thin, elderly ankles, and adorned with many flying ribbands and furbelows. An impossibly high garden hat crowned her faded head, allowing certain rather unattached-looking ringlets of colourless blonde hair to stray about her cheeks. She made one think of a butterfly, no longer young, but attempting to keep up the illusions of spring. Hilda and her mother smiled and returned the salutation in their quiet way.

'And how have you been at Sigmundskron?' continued the sprightly lady. 'Do you know? It would be my dream to live at Sigmundskron! So romantic, so solitary, so deliciously poetic! It is no wonder that you look like Cinderella and the fairy godmother! I am sure they both lived at Sigmundskron--and Greif will be the Prince Charmant with his Puss in Boots--quite a Lohengrin in fact--dear me! I am afraid I am mixing them up--those old German myths are so confusing, and I am quite beside myself with the joy of seeing you!'

Greifenstein stood looking on, not a muscle of his face betraying the


Greifenstein - 5/80

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