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- Greifenstein - 60/80 -
The one does not concern us, for it is purely esthetic. As for the other sort, it means that tactful respect for tolerably sensible traditions, by which society expresses its wish to continue to exist in social bonds. It is founded on the necessity which exists, where many live together, of not hurting the feelings of our neighbours. If you can show me that you are offending any one's sensibilities by getting married now instead of five or six months hence, I will give up the contest and go to bed, for it is late. If you cannot, and if you persist, I am ready to argue with you all night.'
And so Greif suffered himself to be persuaded, and the wedding day was fixed in the end of August, and everything was got ready.
Long before this, Rex and Greif had done all that there was to be done in regard to the succession, and had sorted and arranged such papers as had to be examined. But though Greif had willingly left the bulk of the work to his cousin, and though the latter had searched everything far more thoroughly than Greif guessed, not a scrap of writing had been discovered which could be taken for a message from the dead man to his son. Rex wondered what had become of the letter, until at last he began to suspect that it had never been written. At first this appeared to be a wild and inexplicable supposition, but the more he thought of it, the more certain it grew, in his opinion, that Greifenstein had died without leaving a word of farewell to Greif. The letter Rex himself had received afforded a key to the situation. Old Greifenstein's character had been stern, resolute, moral, unbending. Rex felt certain that if he had written to Greif at all, the letter would have contained a solemn injunction, commanding him to take the consequences of his mother's crimes, to give over the whole fortune and estate to the Sigmundskrons, as lawful heirs thereto, and, after confessing frankly that he was nameless and penniless, to bear his poverty and shame like a brave man, because they were inevitable in the course of divine justice. He would probably have recommended him to enlist as a private soldier, and trust to his education and to his own strength of determination for advancement.
The stiff-necked old gentleman would in all human probability have expressed himself in this manner, and Rex knew Greif well enough to know the son would have fulfilled the father's injunctions and carried out his orders to the letter, no matter at what cost.
On the other hand it was possible that the grim nobleman might have relented at the last minute. He might even have torn up the letter after writing it, and burned the shreds in the library fire. If he did not write at all, it was clear that matters were likely to remain in their existing condition so far as Greif was concerned. He could not foresee that the circumstances of his death would make Greif go to such lengths as to break off the marriage. He would have guessed with a show of probability that Frau von Sigmundskron would not refuse Greif and his fortune for her daughter, on account of the evil associations created in the name of Greifenstein by the triple tragedy. He would have said to himself that he was not obliged to speak, since the money, the only thing which could be contested would, after all, go to the Sigmundskrons; and in that case he would have considered it justifiable to take his secret with him to the grave.
There was only one objection to this attractive theory, and that lay in the letter Rex himself had received. If Greifenstein had determined that his own son was never to have any key to the mystery, he would never have allowed his brother to write down the details for Rex, even with an injunction to secrecy. And he had been a man capable, especially at such a time, of enforcing his will upon Rieseneck. Unfortunately it was impossible to know which of the two men had died first, and here a third possibility presented itself which Rex could not afford to ignore, though it contained a considerable element of improbability. It was conceivable that Greifenstein should have been the first to die. In that case Rieseneck, who must have felt that he had ruined Greif by his revelations, might have burned his brother's letter, before pulling the trigger. It would have seemed more natural in that case that he should have also destroyed his own, but it might be that he had warned Rex for a good reason. Without such a warning, and if he had been a less devoted friend of Greif's, Rex might perhaps have instituted inquiries into his father's death which would have caused trouble, and which might even, by some wholly unforeseen accident, have revealed the whole truth to Greif himself. No one could tell what witnesses were still alive to swear to the identity of her who had been the wife of both. There must necessarily have been foul play in procuring the false papers upon which she had contracted her second marriage, and she assuredly could not have forged them alone. It was highly probable that some former associate of hers in the revolutionary times had remained unnoticed in a government office after the troubles were over, and had helped her to free herself from Rieseneck, who had been the instrument of the revolutionary powers, by procuring for her a set of false papers accurate enough to defy detection. Such things might well have happened at such an unquiet season. It would have sufficed that such a person should communicate what he knew, cleverly shielding himself at the same time, in order to reveal the whole story; and if no one had been warned of the danger, while Rex himself was using all the power of the law to account for his father's death, the result might have been fatal to Greif.
Nevertheless, Rex clung to the theory that Greifenstein had never written at all, and he met such difficulties as the theory presented, by supposing that he had not been aware that Rieseneck was writing to Rex. In any case, nothing had been found after the most exhaustive search, and Rex was beginning to believe, willingly enough, that nothing would ever be discovered. To avoid all risks, however, he did his utmost to hasten the marriage, feeling that after that event there would be less to fear from a disclosure of the truth.
Meanwhile Greif had obeyed the wishes of Frau von Sigmundskron and had taken immediate steps to change his name. In Germany the matter is an easy one, as it is managed chiefly through the Heralds' Office. Nothing is required beyond the formal and legal consent of all persons bearing the name which the petitioner desires to assume. When this is given, the necessary formalities are easily fulfilled, and a patent is placed in the hands of the person who has applied. After that, it is no longer in the power of the family who have given their consent to withdraw the name, under any circumstances whatsoever. In Greif's case, everything was done very easily. The Heralds' Office was well aware that the male line of the Sigmundskrons was extinct, and that the family was only represented by Hilda and her mother, the necessary documents were forwarded, signed and attested by the two ladies in the presence of the proper persons, and returned. A month later Greif received his patent, sealed and signed by the sovereign, setting forth that he, Greif von Greifenstein, only son of Hugo, deceased, was authorised and entitled to be called henceforth Greif von Greifenstein and Sigmundskron, that he was at liberty to use either or both names and to bear arms, three crowns proper, or, in field azure, either quartered with those of Greifenstein or separately, as good should seem in his own eyes.
And at mid-day on a certain day in June, the wood-cutters in the forest had looked towards the towers of Sigmundskron as they sat in the shade to eat their noon-tide meal, and they had seen a great standard rising slowly to the peak of a lofty staff, and catching the breeze and floating out bravely, displaying three golden crowns upon its azure breadth.
'What is it?' asked one, a young fellow of twenty years.
'It is the flag of the Sigmundskrons,' answered a grey-haired, beetle- browed man, pausing with a mouthful of cheese stuck on the end of his murderous knife. 'I have not seen that these twenty years, since the poor baron was killed in the war. There must be a new lord in Sigmundskron. We will ask to-night in the village.'
And as they talked, the banner, hoisted by Wastei's wiry arms, reached the very top of the staff, and remained there, waving majestically, where many a one like it had waved during eight hundred years and more. At that moment Greif, in his carriage, was coming up the last ascent. He saw the lordly standard, changed colour a little and then rose in the light vehicle and uncovered his head. He felt as though all the dead Sigmundskrons who lay side by side in the castle chapel had risen from their tombs to greet the new possessor of their name. He could not do less than rise himself, and salute their flag, though it was now to be his own. His young heart, full of knightly traditions and aspirations, felt something which a man of a younger race could not feel. It represented much to him, which is lost in the glare of modern life. It was easy for him to fancy the old Sigmundskrons in their gleaming mail, high on their armoured horses, riding out in a close squadron from their castle gate with their standard in their midst, some to die in defending it, and some of them to bear home its tattered glories in victory. It was an easy matter for him to identify himself with them and to feel that henceforth he also had a part in their history. And there was more, too, in the sight of the gleaming colours and dancing waves of the tall banner. It was to him the signal of a new life's starting-point, the emblem of a new name. Yesterday he had been burdened with the remembrance of blood shed in evil wise, to-day he began his existence with a fair scroll before him on which no shameful thing was written. As he stood bareheaded in his carriage, he was as it were saluting this new life before him, as well as doing homage to the memory of the dead Sigmundskrons.
So Greif was no longer Greifenstein now, and he informed the few persons whom he wished should know the fact. And the time passed quickly on to the wedding-day. In the meanwhile, between April and August, Rex and Hilda met more often than before, and to all appearances they met on the best of terms, to the no small satisfaction of Greif himself.
'Rex,' he had said one day, 'Hilda is to be my wife, and it is necessary that you should like her. You cannot have any good reason to the contrary, and yet you act as though she were positively repulsive to you.'
Thereupon Rex's stony eyes had expressed something as nearly like astonishment as they were capable of showing, for he was surprised at being found out, almost for the first time in his life, and he perceived that Greif had not found him out alone.
'I am sorry that she should think me capable of disliking her,' Rex answered. 'My position, indeed, is so different from what you both suppose it to be, that I would make any sacrifice rather than see this marriage broken off.'
Greif looked at him a moment, not quite understanding, for it was impossible that he should appreciate all that Rex meant by the words. He was pleased, nevertheless.
'I wish you would go and tell that to Hilda,' he said in answer.
'I will,' said Rex, and he did so on the first occasion that offered.
He and Greif went over to Sigmundskron together. Indeed, Rex went for the express purpose of making his speech to Hilda, and Greif occupied the attention of the baroness for a while in order that the two might talk undisturbed.
'So you have come at last,' said Hilda. 'It is long since we have seen you.'
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