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- Greifenstein - 6/80 -
slightest emotion at his wife's incoherent speech. But Greif had turned away and appeared to be examining one of the guns that stood in a rack against the wall. The meeting had taken place in the great hall, and he was glad that there was something to look at, for he did not know whether he was most amused by his mother's chatter, or ashamed of the ridiculous figure she made. The impression was certainly a painful one, and he had not attained to his father's grim indifference, for he was not obliged to assist daily at such scenes. He could not help comparing Hilda's mother with his own, and he inwardly determined that when he was married he would take up his abode at Sigmundskron during the greater part of the year.
Hilda looked at her hostess and wondered whether all women of the world were like Frau von Greifenstein. The situation did not last long, however, and half an hour later she found herself sitting beside Greif on a block of stone by the ruined Hunger-Thurm.
'At last!' exclaimed Greif, with a sigh of satisfaction. 'Is there anything so tiresome as the sight of affectionate greetings?'
'Greif--' Hilda paused, as though reconsidering the question she was about to ask.
'Yes--what is it, sweetheart?'
'When we are married, I must love your mother, must I not?'
'Oh yes--no doubt,' answered the young man with a puzzled expression. 'At least, I suppose you must try.'
'But I mean, if I do not love her as much as my own mother, will it be very wrong?'
'No, not so much, of course.'
'Do you love her, Greif?'
'Oh yes,' replied Greif cheerfully. 'Not as I love you--'
'Or your father?'
'That is different, a man feels more sympathy for his father, because he is a man.'
'But I am not a man--'
'No, and you are not my mother either. That is again different, you see.'
'Greif--you do not love your mother at all!' exclaimed Hilda, turning her bright eyes to his. But he looked away and his face grew grave.
'Please do not say that to me, dear,' he answered quietly. 'Let us talk of other things.'
'Does it pain you? I am sorry. I asked you because--well, I wanted to know if it was exactly my duty--because--you see, I do not think I ever could, quite, as I ought to. You are not angry?'
'No, darling. I quite understand. It will be enough if you behave to her as you do now. Besides, I was going to propose something, if your mother will agree to it. When we are married, we might live at Sigmundskron.'
'Oh! Greif, are you in earnest?'
'Yes. Why not?'
'You do not know what a place it is!' exclaimed Hilda with an uneasy laugh. She had visions of her husband discovering the utter desolation of the old castle, but at the same time she felt a sudden wild desire to see it all restored and furnished and kept up as it should be.
'Yes, I know. But there are many reasons why I should like it. Of course it has gone to ruin, more or less, and there would be something to be done.'
'Something!' cried Hilda. 'Everything! The great rooms are perfectly desolate, no furniture, hardly any glass in the windows. We are so poor, Greif!'
'But I can put panes into the frames and get some furniture. We need not have so much at first.'
'But you will have to get everything, everything. You are used to so much here.'
'I should not need much if I had you,' answered Greif looking at her, as the colour rose in his own face.
'I do not know. Perhaps not.'
'I should be happy with you in a woodman's hut,' said Greif earnestly.
'Perhaps,' replied Hilda a little doubtfully.
'There is no "perhaps." I am quite sure of it.'
'How can you be sure?' asked the young girl turning suddenly and laying her hands upon his arm. 'Did not your father say the same--no, forgive me! I will not speak of that. Oh Greif! What is love--really--the meaning of it, the true spirit of it? Why does it sometimes last and sometimes--not? Are all men so different one from another, and women too? Is it not like religion, that when you once believe you always believe? I have thought about it so much, and I cannot understand it. And yet I know I love you. Why can I not understand what I feel? Is it very foolish of me? Am I less clever than other girls?'
'No, indeed!' Greif drew her to him, and kissed her cheek. Her colour never changed. With innocent simplicity she turned her face and kissed him in return.
'Then why is it?' she asked. 'And none of my books tell me what it means, though I have read them all. Can you not tell me, you who know so much? What is the use of all your studies and your universities, if you cannot tell me what it is I feel, what love is?'
'Does love need explanation? What does the meaning matter, when one has it?'
'Ah, you may say that of anything. Would the air be sweeter, if I knew what it was? Would the storm be louder, or grander, or more angry, if I knew what made it? And besides, I do know, for I have learned about storms in my books. But it is not the same thing. Love is not part of nature, I am sure. It is a part of the soul. But then, why should it sometimes change? The soul does not change, for it is eternal.'
'But true love does not change either--'
'And yet people seem to think it is true, until it changes,' argued Hilda. 'There must be something by which one can tell whether it is true or not.'
'One must not be too logical with love, any more than with religion.'
'Religion? Why, that is the most logical thing we know anything about!'
'And yet people have differed very much in their opinions of it,' said Greif with a smile.
'Is it not logical that good people should go to heaven and bad people to hell?' inquired Hilda calmly. 'Religion would be illogical if it taught that sinners should all be saved and saints burnt in everlasting fire. How can you say it is not logical?'
'It certainly cannot be said if one takes your view,' Greif answered, laughing. 'But then, if you look at love in the same way, you get the same result. People who love each other are happy and people who quarrel are not.'
'Yes; but then, love does not only consist in not quarrelling.'
'Nor religion in not being a sinner--but I am not sure--' Greif interrupted himself. 'Perhaps that is just what religion means.'
'Then why cannot love mean something quite as simple?'
'It seems simple enough to me. So long as we are everything to each other we shall understand it quite enough.'
'Just so long--'
'And that means for ever.'
'How do you know, unless you have some knowledge by which you can tell whether your love is true or not?'
'Why not yours, sweetheart?'
'Oh! I know myself well enough. I shall never change. But you--you might--'
'Do you not believe me?'
'Yes, I suppose so. But it always comes to that in the end, whenever we talk about it, and I am never any nearer to knowing what love is, after all!'
The young girl rested her chin upon her hand and looked wistfully through the trees, as though she wished and half expected that some wise fairy would come flitting through the shadow and the patches of sunshine to tell her the meaning of her love, of her life, of all she felt, of all she did not feel. She read in books that maidens blushed when the man they loved spoke to them, that their hearts beat fast and that their hands grew cold--simple expressions out of simple and almost childish tales. But none of these things happened to her. Why should they? Had she not expected to meet Greif that day? Why should she feel surprise, or fear, or whatever it was, that made the hearts of maidens in fiction behave so oddly? He was very handsome, as he sat there glancing sideways at her, and she could see him distinctly, though she seemed to be looking at the trees. But that was no reason why she should turn red and pale, and tremble as though she had done something very wrong. It was all quite right, and quite sanctioned. She had nothing to say to Greif, nothing to think about him, that her mother might not have heard or known.
'I am no nearer to knowing,' she repeated after a long interval of silence.
'And I am no nearer to the wish to know,' answered Greif, clasping his
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