Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1861–1889
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889
 
The Tragedy of Greifenstein
By Francis Marion Crawford (1854–1909)
 
[Born at the Baths of Lucca, Italy, 1854. Died in Sorrento, Italy, 1909. Greifenstein. 1889.]

IT is doubtful whether Greifenstein would have recognized his brother, if he had met him under any other circumstances. Forty years had passed since they had met, and both were old men. The difference between their ages was not great, for Greifenstein’s father had died within the year of his son’s birth, and his mother had married again three years later. In her turn she had died when both were young men, and from that time Greifenstein had seen little of his half-brother, who had been brought up by his own father in a different part of the country. Then young Rieseneck had entered the Prussian service, and a few years later had been ruined by the consequences of his evil deeds.
  1
  Greifenstein saw before him a tall man, with abundant white hair and a snowy beard, of bronzed complexion, evidently strong in spite of his years, chiefly remarkable for the heavy black eyebrows that shaded his small gray eyes. The latter were placed too near together, and the eyelids slanted downward at the outer side, which gave the face an expression of intelligence and great cunning. Deep lines furrowed the high forehead, and descended in broad curves from beneath the eyes till they lost themselves in the beard. Kuno von Rieseneck was evidently a man of strong feelings and passions, of energetic temperament, clever, unscrupulous, but liable to go astray after strange ideas, and possibly capable of something very like fanaticism. It was indeed not credible that he should have done the deeds which had wrecked his life out of cold calculation, and yet it was impossible to believe that he could be wholly disinterested in anything he did. The whole effect of his personality was disquieting.  2
  He entered the room with slow steps, keeping his eyes fixed upon his brother. The servant closed the door behind him, and the two men were alone. Rieseneck paused when he reached the middle of the apartment. For a moment his features moved a little uneasily, and then he spoke.  3
  “Hugo, do you know me?”  4
  “Yes,” answered Greifenstein, “I know you very well.” He kept his hands behind him and did not change his position as he stood before the fire.  5
  “You got my letter?” inquired the fugitive.  6
  “Yes. I will do what you ask of me.”  7
  The answers came in a hard, contemptuous voice, for Greifenstein was almost choking with rage at being thus forced to receive and protect a man whom he both despised and hated. But Rieseneck did not expect any very cordial welcome, and his expression did not vary.  8
  “I thank you,” he answered. “It is the only favor I ever asked of you, and I give you my word it shall be the last.”  9
  Greifenstein’s piercing eyes gleamed dangerously, and for an instant the anger that burned in him glowed visibly in his face.  10
  “Your—” He would have said “your word,” throwing into the two syllables all the contempt he felt for one whose word had been so broken. But he checked himself gallantly. In spite of all, Rieseneck was his guest and had come to him for protection, and he would not insult him. “You shall be safe to-morrow night,” he said, controlling his tongue.  11
  But Rieseneck had heard the first word, and knew what should have followed it. He turned a little pale, bronzed though he was, and he let his hand rest upon the back of a chair beside him.  12
  “I will not trouble you further,” he said. “If you will show me a place where I can sleep, I will be ready in the morning.”  13
  “No,” answered Greifenstein. “That will not do. The servants know that a visitor is in the house. They will expect to see you at dinner. Besides, you are probably hungry.”  14
  Perhaps he regretted having shown his brother, even by the suggestion of a phrase, what was really in his heart, and the feeling of the ancient guest-right made him relent a little.  15
  “Sit down,” he added, as Rieseneck seemed to hesitate. “It will be necessary that you dine with us and meet my wife. We must not excite suspicion.”  16
  “You are married then?” said Rieseneck. It was more like a thoughtful reflection than a question. Though he had written to his brother more than once, the latter’s answers, when he vouchsafed any, had been curt and businesslike in the extreme.  17
  “I have been married five and twenty years,” Greifenstein replied. It was strange to be informing his brother of the fact.  18
  Rieseneck sat down upon a high chair and rested his elbow upon the table. Neither spoke for a long time, but Greifenstein resumed his seat, relighted his pipe, and placed his feet upon the fender, taking precisely the attitude in which he had been when his brother was announced. The situation was almost intolerable, but his habits helped him to bear it.  19
  “I was also married,” said Rieseneck at last, in a low voice, as though speaking to himself. “You never saw my wife?” he asked rather suddenly.  20
  “No.”  21
  “She died,” continued the other. “It was very long ago—more than thirty years.”  22
  “Indeed,” said Greifenstein, as though he cared very little to hear more.  23
  Again there was silence in the room, broken only by the crackling of the fir logs in the fire and by the ticking of the clock in its tall carved case in the corner. A full hour must elapse before the evening meal, and Greifenstein did not know what to do with his unwelcome guest. At last the latter took out a black South American cigar and lit it. For a few moments he smoked thoughtfully, and then, as though the fragrant fumes had the power to unloose his tongue, he again began to talk.  24
  “She died,” he said. “She ruined me. Yes; did you never hear how it was? And yet I loved her. She would not follow me. Then they sent me some of her hair and the boy. But for her, it might never have happened; and yet I forgive her. You never heard how it all happened?”  25
  “I never inquired,” answered Greifenstein. “You say she ruined you. How do you mean?”  26
  “She made me do it. She was an enthusiast for liberty and revolution. She filled my mind with ideas of the people’s sovereignty. She talked of nothing else. She besought me on her knees to join her party, as she called it. She flattered me with dreams of greatness in a great republic, she illuminated crime in the light of heroism, she pushed me into secret societies, and laughed at me for my want of courage. I loved her, and she made a fool of me, worse than a fool, a traitor, worse than a traitor, a murderer, for she persuaded me to give the arms to the mob; she made me an outlaw, an exile, an object of hatred to my countrymen, a thing loathsome to all who knew me. And yet I loved her, even when it was all over, and I would have given my soul to have her with me.”  27
  Greifenstein’s face expressed unutterable contempt for this man who in the strength and pride of youth had laid down his honor for a woman’s word, not even for her love, since he had possessed that already.  28
  “It seems to me,” he said, “that there was one very simple remedy for you.”  29
  “A little lead in the right place. I know. And yet I lived, and I live still. Why? I do not know. I believed in the revolution, though she had forced the belief upon me, and I continued to believe in it until long after I went to South America. And when I had ceased to believe in it, no one cared whether I lived or died. Then came this hope, and this blow. I could almost do it now.”  30
  Greifenstein looked at him curiously for a moment, and then rose from his place and went deliberately to a huge, dark piece of furniture that stood between the windows. He brought back a polished mahogany case, unlocked it, and set it beside his brother upon the table, under the light of the lamp.  31
  Rieseneck knew what he meant well enough, but he did not wince. On the contrary he opened the case and looked at the beautiful weapon, as it lay all loaded and ready for use in its bed of green baize cloth. Then he laid it on the table again, and pushed it a little away from him.  32
  “Not now,” he said quietly. “I am in your house. You would have to declare my identity. It would make a scandal. I will not do it.”  33
  “You had better put it into your pocket,” answered Greifenstein grimly, but without a trace of unkindness in his voice. “You may like to have it about you, you know.”  34
  Rieseneck looked at his brother in silence for a few seconds, and then took the thing once more in his hands.  35
  “Do you mean it as a gift?” he asked. “You might not care to claim it afterwards.”  36
  “Yes.”  37
  “I thank you.” He took the revolver from the case, examined it attentively, and then slipped it into his breast-pocket. “I thank you,” he repeated. “I do not possess one.”  38
  Greifenstein wondered whether Rieseneck would have the courage to act upon the suggestion. To him there was nothing horrible in the idea. He was merely offering this despicable creature the means of escape from the world’s contempt. He himself, in such a case, would have taken his own life long ago, and he could not understand that any man should hesitate when the proper course lay so very clear before him. He went back to his seat as if nothing unusual had happened. Then, as though to turn the conversation, he began to speak of the plans for the morrow. He did not really believe in his brother’s intentions, but as an honorable man, according to his lights, he considered that he had done his duty in giving the weapon.  39
  “We can ride a long distance,” he said, “and then we can walk. When you are once at the lake, you can find a boat which will take you over. I warn you that it is far.”  40
  “It will be enough if you show me the way,” answered Rieseneck absently. “You are very kind.”  41
  “It is my interest,” said Greifenstein, unwilling that his feelings should be misinterpreted. Then he relapsed into silence….  42
 
  When Clara heard that there was to be a guest at dinner, her first sensation was one of extreme terror, but she was reassured by the information her maid gave concerning the general appearance of Herr Brandt. The woman had not seen him, but had of course heard at once a full description of his personality. He was described as a tall old gentleman, exceedingly well dressed, though he had arrived on foot and without luggage. The maid supposed that his effects would follow him, since he had chosen to walk. Beyond that, Clara could ascertain nothing, but it was clear that she did not consider the details she learned as descriptive of the person whose coming she feared. On the contrary, the prospect of a little change from the usual monotony of the evening had the effect of exhilarating her spirits, and she bestowed even more attention than usual upon the adornment of her thin person. The nature of the woman could not die. Her natural vanity was so extraordinary that it might have been expected to survive death itself. She belonged to that strange class of people who foresee even the effect they will produce when they are dead, who leave elaborate directions for the disposal of their bodies in the most becoming manner, and who build for themselves appropriate tombs while they are alive, decorated in a style agreeable to their tastes. Clara arrayed herself in all her glory for the feast; she twisted the ringlets of her abundant faded hair, until each covered at least one obnoxious line of forehead and temples; she laid the delicate color upon her sunken cheeks with amazing precision, and shaded it artistically with the soft hare’s foot, till it was blended with the whiteness of the adjacent pearl powder; she touched the colorless eyebrows with the pointed black stick of cosmetic that lay ready to her hand in its small silver case, and made her yellow nails shine with pink paste and doeskin rubbers till they reflected the candle-light like polished horn. With the utmost care she adjusted the rare old lace to hide the sinewy lines of her emaciated throat, and then, observing the effect as her maid held a second mirror beside her face, she hastened to touch the shrivelled lobes of her ears with a delicate rose color that set off the brilliancy of the single diamonds she wore as earrings. She opened and shut her eyelids quickly to make her eyes brighter, and held up her hands so that the blood should leave the raised network of the purple veins less swollen and apparent. The patient tire-woman gave one last scrutinizing glance and adjusted the rich folds of the silk gown with considerable art, although such taste as she possessed was outraged at the effect of the pale straw-color when worn by such an aged beauty. Another look into the tall mirror, and Clara von Greifenstein was satisfied. She had done what she could do to beautify herself, to revive in her own eyes some faint memory of that prettiness she had once seen reflected in her glass, and she believed that she had not altogether failed. She even smiled contentedly at her maid, before she left the chamber to go to the drawing-room. It was a satisfaction to show herself to some one, it was a relief from the thoughts that had tormented her so long, it was a respite from her husband’s perpetual effort to amuse her by reading aloud. For a few hours at least she was to hear the sound of an unfamiliar voice, to enjoy the refreshing effect of a slight motion in the stagnant pool of worn-out ideas that surrounded her little island of life.  43
  She drew herself up and walked delicately as she went into the drawing-room. She had judged that her entrance would be effective, and had timed her coming so as to be sure that her husband and Herr Brandt should be there before her. The room looked just as it usually did; it was luxurious, large, warm, and softly lighted. Clara almost forgot her age so far as to wish that there had been more lamps, though the shade was undeniably advantageous to her looks. She came forward, and saw that the two men were standing together before the fire. The door had moved noiselessly on its hinges, but the rustle of the silk gown made Greifenstein and Rieseneck turn their heads simultaneously. Clara’s eyes rested on the stranger with some curiosity, and she noticed with satisfaction that his gaze fixed itself upon her own face. He was evidently impressed by her appearance, and her vain old heart fluttered pleasantly.  44
  “Permit me to present Herr Brandt,” said Greifenstein, making a step forward.  45
  Clara inclined her head with an expression that was intended to be affable, and Rieseneck bowed gravely. She sank into a chair, and, looking up, saw that he was watching her with evident interest. It struck her that he was a very pale man, and though she had at first been pleased by his stare, she began to feel uncomfortable as it continued.  46
  “You are old friends, I suppose?” she remarked, glancing at her husband with a smile.  47
  Both men bent their heads in assent.  48
  “I had the honor of knowing Herr von Greifenstein when we were both very young,” said Rieseneck after a pause that had threatened to be awkward.  49
  “Indeed? And you have not met for a long time! How very strange! But life is full of such things, you know.” She laughed nervously.  50
  While she was speaking, the intonations of Rieseneck’s voice seemed to be still ringing in her ears, and the vibrations touched a chord of her memory very painfully, so that she forgot what she was saying and hid her confusion in a laugh. Greifenstein was staring at the ceiling and did not see his brother start and steady himself against the chimney-piece.  51
  At that moment dinner was announced. Clara rose with an effort from her seat, and stood still. She supposed that Herr Brandt would offer her his arm, but he did not move from his place. Greifenstein said nothing. A violent conflict arose in his mind and made him hesitate. He could not bear the idea of seeing his wife touch even the sleeve of the man he so despised, and yet he dreaded lest any exhibition of his feelings should make Clara suspicious. The last consideration outweighed everything else.  52
  “Will you give my wife your arm?” he said, addressing Rieseneck very coldly.  53
  There was no choice, and the tall old man went to Clara’s side, and led her out of the room, while Greifenstein followed alone. They sat down to the round table, which was laden with heavy plate and curious pieces of old German silver, and was illuminated by a hanging lamp. A hundred persons might have dined in the room, and the shadows made the panelled walls seem even further from the centre than they really were. Vast trophies of skulls and antlers and boars’ heads loomed up in the distance, indistinctly visible through the dim shade, but lighted up occasionally by the sudden flare of the logs from the wide hearth. The flashes of flame made the stags’ skulls seem to grin horribly and gleamed strangely upon the white tusks that protruded from the black boars’ heads, and reflected a deep-red glare from their artificial eyes of colored glass. The servants stepped noiselessly upon the dark carpet, while the three persons who shared the solemn banquet sat silently in their places, pretending to partake of the food that was placed before them.  54
  The meal was a horrible farce. There was something sombrely contemptible to each one in the idea of being forced into the pretence of eating for the sake of the hired attendants who carried the dishes. For the first time in his life Greifenstein’s hardy nature was disgusted by the sight of food. Rieseneck sat erect in his chair, from time to time swallowing a glass of strong wine, and looking from Clara’s face to the fork he held in his hand. She herself exercised a woman’s privilege and refused everything, staring consistently at the monumental silver ornament in the midst of the table. When she looked up, Rieseneck’s white face scared her. She had no need to see it now, for she knew who he was better than any one, better than Greifenstein himself. That power whose presence she had once felt, when alone with her husband, was not with her now. A deadly fear overcame every other instinct save that of self-preservation. She struggled to maintain her place at the table, to control the shriek of horror that was on her lips, as she had struggled to produce that feigned laugh ten days ago, with all her might. But the protracted strain was almost more than she could bear, and she felt that her exhausted nerves might leave her helpless at any moment. She had read in books vivid descriptions of the agony of death, but she had never fancied that it could be so horrible as this, so long drawn out, so overwhelmingly bitter.  55
  In truth, a more fearful ordeal could not be imagined than was imposed by a relentless destiny upon this miserable, painted, curled, and jewelled old woman as she sat at the head of her own table. It would have been easier for her had she known that she was to meet him. It would have been far less hard if she had lived her life in the whirl of the world, where we are daily forced to look our misdeeds in the face and to meet with smiling indifference those who know our past and have themselves been a part of it. Even a quarter of an hour for preparation would have been better than this gradual recognition, in which each minute made certainty more positive. There was but one ray of consolation or hope for her, and she tried to make the most of it. He had come because he had failed to obtain hits pardon, and his brother was helping him to leave the country quietly. She was as sure of it as though she had been acquainted with all the details. To-morrow he would be gone, and once gone he would never return, and her last years would be free from fear. The fact that he came under a false name showed that she was right. In an hour she could excuse herself and go to her room, never to see his face again. Her hands grasped and crushed the damask of the cloth beneath the table as she tried to steady her nerves by contemplating her near deliverance from torture.  56
  Greifenstein was the bravest of the three, as he had also the least cause for anxiety. He saw that it was impossible to continue the meal in total silence, and he made a tremendous effort to produce a show of conversation.  57
  “There has been much snow this year, Herr Brandt,” he said, raising his head and addressing his brother.  58
  Rieseneck did not understand, but he heard Greifenstein’s voice, and slowly turned his ghastly face toward him.  59
  “I beg your pardon,” he said, “I did not quite hear.”  60
  “There has been much snow this year,” Greifenstein repeated with forcible distinctness.  61
  “Yes,” replied his brother, “it seems so.”  62
  “After all, it is nearly Christmas,” said Clara, trembling in every limb at the sound of her own voice.  63
  Only an hour more to bear, and she would be safe forever. Only another effort, and Greifenstein would suspect nothing. Rieseneck looked mechanically at his brother, as though he were trying to find something to say. In reality he was almost insensible, and he hardly knew why he did not fall from his chair. A servant brought another dish, and Clara helped herself unconsciously. The man went on to Rieseneck, and waited patiently until the latter should turn his head and see what was offered to him.  64
  Clara saw an opportunity of speaking again. She could call his attention by addressing him. One, two, three seconds passed, and then she spoke. It would be enough to utter his name, so that he should look round and see the attendant at his elbow. “Herr Brandt”—the two syllables were short and simple enough.  65
  “Herr von Rieseneck,” she said quietly.  66
  In the extremity of her nervousness, her brain had become suddenly confused, and she was lost.  67
 
  As the words escaped Clara’s lips, Greifenstein started violently and made as though he would rise, laying his hands on the edge of the table and leaning forward toward his wife. The echo of Rieseneck’s name had not died away when the unhappy woman realized what she had done. Rieseneck himself turned suddenly toward her and the blood rushed to his pale face. Clara’s head fell forward and she covered her eyes with her hands, uttering a short, sharp cry like that of an animal mortally wounded. The servant stood still at Rieseneck’s side, staring stupidly from one to the other. Fully ten seconds elapsed before Greifenstein recovered his presence of mind.  68
  “You are ill, Clara,” he said in a choking voice. “I will take you to your room.”  69
  He did not understand the situation, and he could not guess how his wife had learned that the visitor was not Herr Brandt but Kuno von Rieseneck. But he was horrified by the thought that she should have made the discovery, and his first idea was to get her away as soon as possible. He came to her side, and saw that she was helpless, if not insensible. Then he lifted her from her chair and carried her through the wide door and the small apartment beyond into the drawing-room. Rieseneck followed at a distance.  70
  “You can go,” said Greifenstein to the servant. “We shall not want any more dinner to-night.”  71
  The man went out and left the three together. Clara lay upon a great divan, her husband standing at her side, and Rieseneck at her feet. Her eyes were open, but they were glassy with terror, though she was quite conscious.  72
  “Clara—are you better?” asked Greifenstein anxiously.  73
  She gasped for breath and seemed unable to speak. Greifenstein looked at his brother.  74
  “I cannot imagine how she knew your name,” he said. “Did you know her before?”  75
  Rieseneck had turned white again, and stood twisting his fingers as though in some terrible distress. Greifenstein had not noticed his manner before, and gazed at him now in considerable surprise. He fancied that Rieseneck feared discovery and danger to himself.  76
  “What is the matter?” he asked impatiently. “You are safe enough yet”——  77
  While he spoke Clara endeavored to rise, supporting herself upon one hand, and staring wildly at Rieseneck. The presentiment of a great unknown evil came upon Greifenstein, and he laid his hand heavily upon his brother’s arm.  78
  “What is the meaning of this?” he asked sternly. “Do you know each other?”  79
  The words roused Rieseneck. He drew back from his brother’s touch and answered in a broken voice:  80
  “Let me go. Let me leave this house”——  81
  “No!” exclaimed the other firmly. “You shall not go yet.”  82
  Again he grasped Rieseneck’s arm, this time with no intention of relinquishing his hold.  83
  “Let him go, Hugo!” gasped Clara. She struggled to her feet and tried to unloose the iron grip of her husband’s fingers, straining her weak hands in the useless attempt. “Let him go!” she repeated frantically. “For God’s sake, let him go!”  84
  “What is he to you?” asked Greifenstein. Then, as though he guessed some fearful answer to his question, he repeated it in a fiercer tone: “What is he to you? And what are you to her?” he cried, facing his brother as he shook him by the arm.  85
  “You have cause to be angry,” said Rieseneck. “And so have I.” He fixed his eyes on Clara’s, and something like a smile flitted over his features.  86
  “Speak!” commanded Greifenstein, to whom the suspense was becoming unbearable.  87
  Clara saw that Rieseneck was about to utter the fatal words, and with a last remnant of energy she made a desperate attempt to cover his mouth with her hand. But she was too late.  88
  “This woman is my wife, not yours!” he cried in ringing tones.  89
  In an instant Greifenstein thrust his brother from him, so that he reeled back against the wall.  90
  “Liar!” he almost yelled.  91
  Clara fell upon the floor between the two men, a shapeless heap of finery. Rieseneck looked his brother in the face and answered the insult calmly. From the moment when he had recognized Clara, he had felt that he must see the whole horror of her fall with his own eyes in order to be avenged for his wrongs.  92
  “I told you my wife was dead,” he said slowly. “I believed it. She is alive. She has lived to ruin you as she ruined me. Clara von Rieseneck—that is your name—stand upon your feet—lift up your infamous face, and own your lawful husband!”  93
  Even then Clara might have saved herself. One vigorous protest, and Greifenstein would without doubt have slain his brother with his hands. But she had not the strength left to speak the strong lie. She dragged herself to her accuser’s feet and threw her arms about his knees.  94
  “Mercy!” She could not utter any other word.  95
  “You see,” said Rieseneck. “She is alive; she knows me!”  96
  “Mercy!” groaned the wretched creature, fawning upon him with her wasted hands.  97
  “Down, beast!” answered the tall old man with savage contempt. “There is no mercy for such as you.”  98
  Greifenstein had stood still for some seconds, overcome by the horror of his shame. One glance told him that his brother had spoken the truth. He turned away and stood facing the empty room. His face was convulsed, his teeth ground upon each other, his hands were clenched as in the agony of death. From his straining eyes great tears rolled down his gray cheeks, the first and the last that he ever shed. And yet by that strange instinct of his character which abhorred all manifestation of emotion, he stood erect and motionless as a soldier on parade. The death-blow had struck him, but he must die on his feet.  99
  Then after a long pause, broken only by Clara’s incoherent groans and sobs, he heard Rieseneck’s footstep behind him, and then his brother’s voice, calling him by his name.  100
  “Hugo—what has this woman deserved?”  101
  “Death,” answered Greifenstein solemnly.  102
  “She helped to ruin me through my faults; she has ruined you through no fault of yours. She must die.”  103
  “She must die,” repeated Greifenstein.  104
  “She has given you a son who is nameless. She cast off the son she bore to me because through me his name was infamous. She must pay the penalty.”  105
  “She must die.”  106
  Greifenstein did not turn round even then. He crossed the room to the chimney-piece and laid his two hands upon it. Still he heard his brother’s voice, though the words were no longer addressed to him.  107
  “Clara von Rieseneck, your hour is come.”  108
  “Mercy, Kuno! For God’s sake”——  109
  “There is no mercy. Confess your crime. The time is short.”  110
  The wretched old woman tried to rise, but Rieseneck’s hand kept her upon her knees.  111
  “You shall do me this justice before you go,” he said. “Repeat your misdeeds after me. You, Clara Kurtz, were married to me in the year eighteen hundred and forty-seven.”  112
  “Yes—it is true,” answered the poor creature in broken tones.  113
  “Say it! You shall say the words!”  114
  Her teeth chattered. Transfixed by fear, her lips moved mechanically.  115
  “I, Clara Kurtz, was married to you in the year eighteen hundred and forty-seven.”  116
  The woman’s incredible vanity survived everything. Her voice sank to a whisper at the two last words of the date, for Greifenstein had never known her real age.  117
  “Yon caused me to betray the arsenal,” continued Rieseneck inexorably.  118
  “I did.”  119
  “You abandoned me when I was in prison. When I escaped you refused to follow me. You sent me false news of your death, with a lock of your hair and the child.”  120
  Clara repeated each word, like a person hypnotized and subject to the will of another.  121
  “Then you must have changed your name.”  122
  “I changed my name.”  123
  “And you induced Hugo von Greifenstein to marry you, knowing that he was my brother and that I was alive. I had often told you of him.”  124
  Clara made the statement in the words dictated.  125
  “And now you are to die, and may the Lord have mercy upon your sinful soul.”  126
  “And now I am to die. May the Lord have mercy upon my sinful soul.”  127
  Released from the stern command of her judge, Clara uttered a low cry and fell upon her face at his feet.  128
  “You have heard,” said Rieseneck to his brother. “It is time.”  129
  Greifenstein turned. He saw the tall old man’s great figure standing flat against the opposite wall, and he saw the ghastly face, half-hidden by the snowy beard. He glanced down, and beheld a mass of straw-colored silk, crumpled and disordered, and just beyond it a coil of faded hair adorned with jewelled pins that reflected the soft light. He crossed the room, and his features were ashy pale, firmly set, and utterly relentless. He had heard her condemnation from her own lips; he thought of his son, nameless through this woman’s crime, and his heart was hardened.  130
  “It is time,” he said. “Have you anything more to say?”  131
  He waited for an answer, but none came. Clara’s hour had struck and she knew it. There was deep silence in the room. Then the stillness was broken by a gasp for breath and by a little rustling of the delicate silk. That was all.  132
  When it was done, the two brothers stooped down again and lifted their burden and bore it silently away, till they reached the room in which they had first met. Then Greifenstein made sign that they should go further, and they entered the chamber beyond, and upon the bed that was there they laid down the dead woman, and covered her poor painted face decently with a sheet and went away, closing the door softly behind them.  133
  For a moment they stood looking at each other earnestly. Then Rieseneck took from his pocket his brother’s gift and laid it upon the table.  134
  “It is time for us also,” he said.  135
  “Yes. I must write to Greif first.”  136
  Half an hour later the short and terrible tragedy was completed, and of the three persons who had sat together at the table, suffering each in his or her own way as much as each could bear, not one was left alive to tell the tale.  137
  Outside the house of death, the silent, spotless snow gleamed in the light of the waning moon. Not a breath of wind sighed amongst the stately black trees. Only, far below, the tumbling torrent roared through its half-frozen bed, and high above, from the summit of the battlement that had sheltered so many generations of Greifensteins from danger in war, and in peace from the bitter north wind, the great horned owls sent forth their melancholy note from time to time, and opened wide their cruel hungry eyes as the dismal sound echoed away among the dark firs.  138
 
 
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