Caesar's Column, by Ignatius Donnelly

Chapter 25.

Max’s Story Continued — The Dark Shadow

“But a cloud was moving up to cover the fair face of this pleasant prospect; and yet the sun was shining and the birds singing.

“Christina was very busy during the day with her teachers. She loved music and was anxious to excel. She had her lessons on the piano; she improved her mind by a judicious course of reading, in which I helped her somewhat; she went twice a week to a grand Italian maestro, who perfected her in her singing. And she took long walks to the poor neighborhood where she had formerly lived, to visit the sick and wretched among her old acquaintances, and she never left them empty-handed.

“At the theater she grew more and more popular. Even the rudest of the audience recognized instinctively in her the goodness which they themselves lacked. Every song was an ovation. Her praises began to resound in the newspapers; and she had already received advances from the manager of one of the grand opera-houses. A bright future opened before her — a vista of light and music and wealth and delight.

“She did not escape, however, the unpleasant incidents natural to such a career. Her mother accompanied her to every performance, and was, in so far, a shield to her; but she was beset with visitors at the house; she was annoyed by men who stopped and claimed acquaintance with her on the streets; she received many gifts, flowers, fruit, jewelry, and all the other tempting sweet nothings which it is thought bewitch the heart of frail woman. But they had no effect upon her. Only goodness seemed to cling to her, and evil fell far off from her. You may set two plants side by side in the same soil — one will draw only bitterness and poison from the earth; while the other will gather, from the same nurture, nothing but sweetness and perfume.

‘For virtue, as it never will be moved,

Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven;

So lust, though to a radiant angel linked,

Will sate itself in a celestial bed,

And prey on garbage.”

“Among the men who pestered Christina with their attentions was a young fellow named Nathan Brederhagan, the son of a rich widow. He was one of those weak and shallow brains to whom wealth becomes only a vehicle in which to ride to destruction. He was in reality all that I pretended to be — a reckless, drunken, useless spendthrift, with no higher aim in life than wine and woman. He spent his days in vanity and his nights in debauchery. Across the clouded portal of this fool’s brain came, like a vision, the beautiful, gentle, gifted Christina. She was a new toy, the most charming he had ever seen, and, like a child, he must possess it. And so he began a series of persecutions. He followed her everywhere; he fastened himself upon her at the theater; he showered all sorts of gifts on her; and, when he found she returned his presents, and that she refused or resisted all his advances, he grew so desperate that he at last offered to marry her, although with a consciousness that he was making a most heroic and extraordinary sacrifice of himself in doing so. But even this condescension — to his unbounded astonishment — she declined with thanks. And then the silly little fool grew more desperate than ever, and battered up his poor brains with strong drink, and wept in maudlin fashion to his acquaintances. At last one of these — a fellow of the same kidney, but with more enterprise than himself — said to him: ‘Why don’t you carry her off?’ Nathan opened his eyes very wide, stopped his sniffling and blubbering, and made up his mind to follow this sage advice. To obtain the necessary nerve for such a prodigious undertaking he fired up with still more whisky; and when the night came he was crazy with drink. Obtaining a carriage and another drunken fool to help him, he stationed himself beside the pavement, in the quiet street where Christina lived, and but a few doors distant from her house; and then, as she came along with her mother, he seized upon her, while his companion grasped Mrs. Jansen. He began to drag Christina toward the carriage; but the young girl was stronger than he was, and not only resisted him, but began to shriek, ably seconded by her mother, until the street rang. The door of their house flew open, and Mr. Jansen, who had recognized the voices of his wife and daughter, was hurrying to their rescue; whereupon the little villain cried in a tone of high tragedy, ‘Then die!’ and stabbed her in the throat with a little dagger he carried. He turned and sprang into the carriage; while the poor girl, who had become suddenly silent, staggered and fell into the arms of her father.

“It chanced that I was absent from the house that night, on some business of the Brotherhood, and the next morning I breakfasted in another part of the city, at a restaurant. I had scarcely begun my meal when a phonograph, which, in a loud voice, was proclaiming the news of the day before for the entertainment of the guests, cried out:

PROBABLE MURDER— A YOUNG GIRL STABBED.

Last night, at about half-past eleven, on Seward Street, near Fifty-first Avenue, a young girl was assaulted and brutally stabbed in the throat by one of two men. The girl is a singer employed in Peter Bingham’s variety theater, a few blocks distant from the place of the attack. She was accompanied by her mother, and they were returning on foot from the theater, where she had been singing. The man had a carriage ready, and while one of them held her mother, the other tried to force the young girl into the carriage; it was plainly the purpose of the men to abduct her. She resisted, however; whereupon the ruffian who had hold of her, hearing the footsteps of persons approaching, and seeing that he could not carry her off, drew a knife and stabbed her in the throat, and escaped with his companion in the carriage. The girl was carried into her father’s house, No. 1252 Seward Street, and the distinguished surgeon, Dr. Hemnip, was sent for. He pronounced the wound probably fatal. The young girl is named Christina Jansen; she sings under the stage-name of Christina Carlson, and is the daughter of Carl Jansen, living at the place named. Inquiry at the theater showed her to be a girl of good character, very much esteemed by her acquaintances, and greatly admired as a very brilliant singer.

LATER. — A young man named Nathan Brederhagan, belonging to a wealthy and respectable family, and residing with his mother at No. 637 Sherman Street, was arrested this morning at one o’clock, in his bed, by police officer No. 18,333, on information furnished by the family of the unfortunate girl. A bloody dagger was found in his pocket. As the girl is likely to die he was committed to jail and bail refused. He is represented to be a dissipated, reckless young fellow, and it seems was in love with the girl, and sought her hand in marriage; and she refused him; whereupon, in his rage, he attempted to take her life. His terrible deed has plunged a large circle of relatives and friends into great shame and sorrow.

“I had started to my feet as soon as I heard the words, ‘The girl is a singer in Peter Bingham’s Variety Theater,’ but, when her name was mentioned and her probable death, the pangs that shot through me no words of mine can describe.

“It is customary with us all to think that our intellect is our self, and that we are only what we think; but there are in the depths of our nature feelings, emotions, qualities of the soul, with which the mere intelligence has nothing to do; and which, when they rise up, like an enraged elephant from the jungle, scatter all the conventionalities of our training, and all the smooth and automaton-like operations of our minds to the winds. As I stood there, listening to the dead-level, unimpassioned, mechanical voice of the phonograph, pouring forth those deadly sentences, I realized for the first time what the sunny-haired little songstress was to me.

“‘Wounded! Dead!’

“I seized my hat, and, to the astonishment of the waiters, I rushed out. I called a hack. I had to alter my appearance. I grudged the time necessary for this very necessary precaution, but, paying the driver double fare, I went, as fast as his horses’ legs could carry me, to the place, in a saloon kept by one of the Brotherhood, where I was in the habit of changing my disguises. I dismissed the hack, hurried to my room, and in a few minutes I was again flying along, in another hack, to 1252 Seward Street. I rushed up the steps. Her mother met me in the hall. She was crying.

“‘Is she alive?’ I asked.

“‘Yes, yes,’ she replied.

“‘What does the doctor say?’ I inquired.

“‘He says she will not die — but her voice is gone forever,’ she replied.

“Her tears burst forth afresh. I was shocked — inexpressibly shocked. True, it was joy to know she would live; but to think of that noble instrument of grace and joy and melody silenced forever! It was like the funeral of an angel! God, in the infinite diversity of his creation, makes so few such voices — so few such marvelous adjustments of those vibrating chords to the capabilities of the air and the human sense and the infinite human soul that dwells behind the sense — and all to be the spoil of a ruffian’s knife. Oh! if I could have laid my hands on the little villain! I should have butchered him with his own dagger — sanctified, as it was, with her precious blood. The infamous little scoundrel! To think that such a vicious, shallow, drunken brute could have power to ‘break into the bloody house of life’ and bring to naught such a precious and unparalleled gift of God. I had to clutch the railing of the stairs to keep from falling. Fortunately for me, poor Mrs. Jansen was too much absorbed in her own sorrows to notice mine. She grieved deeply and sincerely for her daughter’s sufferings and the loss of her voice; but, worse than all, there rose before her — the future! She looked with dilated eyes into that dreadful vista. She saw again the hard, grinding, sordid poverty from which they had but a little time before escaped-she saw again her husband bent down with care, and she heard her children crying once more for bread. I read the poor woman’s thoughts. It was not selfishness — it was love for those dear to her; and I took her hand, and — scarcely knowing what I said — I told her she must not worry, that she and her family should never suffer want again. She looked at me in surprise, and thanked me, and said I was always good and kind.

“In a little while she took me to Christina’s room. The poor girl was under the influence of morphine and sleeping a troubled sleep. Her face was very pale from loss of blood; and her head and neck were all bound up in white bandages, here and there stained with the ghastly fluid that flowed from her wounds. It was a pitiable sight: her short, crisp yellow curls broke here and there, rebelliously, through the folds of the linen bandages; and I thought how she used to shake them, responsive to the quiverings of the cadenzas and trills that poured from her bird-like throat. ‘Alas!’ I said to myself, ‘poor throat! you will never sing again! Poor little curls, you will never tremble again in sympathy with the dancing delight of that happy voice.’ A dead voice! Oh! it is one of the saddest things in the world! I went to the window to hide the unmanly tears which streamed down my face.

“When she woke she seemed pleased to see me near her, and extended her hand to me with a little smile. The doctor had told her she must not attempt to speak. I held her hand for awhile, and told how grieved I was over her misfortune. And then I told her I would bring her a tablet and pencil, so that she might communicate her wants to us; and then I said to her that I was out of a job at my trade (I know that the angels in heaven do not record such lies), and that I had nothing to do, and could stay and wait upon her; for the other children were too small, and her mother too busy to be with her all the time, and her father and I could divide the time between us. She smiled again and thanked me with her eyes.

“And I was very busy and almost happy — moving around that room on tiptoe in my slippers while she slept, or talking to her in a bright and chatty way, about everything that I thought would interest her, or bringing her flowers, or feeding her the liquid food which alone she could swallow.

“The doctor came every day. I questioned him closely. He was an intelligent man, and had, I could see, taken quite a liking to his little patient. He told me that the knife had just missed, by a hair’s breadth, the carotid artery, but unfortunately it had struck the cervical plexus, that important nerve-plexus, situated in the side of the neck; and had cut the recurrent laryngeal nerve, which arises from the cervical plexus and supplies the muscles of the larynx; and it had thereby caused instant paralysis of those muscles, and aphonia, or loss of voice. I asked him if she would ever be able to sing again. He said it was not certain. If the severed ends of the nerve reunited fully her voice might return with all its former power. He hoped for the best.

“One morning, I was called down stairs by Mrs. Jansen; it was three or four days after the assault had been made on Christina. There I found the chief of police of that department. He said it had become necessary, in the course of the legal proceedings, that Brederhagan should be identified by Christina as her assailant. The doctor had reported that there was now no danger of her death; and the family of the little rascal desired to get him out on bail. I told him I would confer with the physician, when he called, as to whether Christina could stand the excitement of such an interview, and I would notify him. He thanked me and took his leave. That day I spoke upon the subject to Dr. Hemnip, and he thought that Christina had so far recovered her strength that she might see the prisoner the day after the next. At the same time he cautioned her not to become nervous or excited, and not to attempt to speak. She was simply to write ‘Yes’ on her tablet, in answer to the question asked her by the police. The interview was to be as brief as possible. I communicated with the chief of police, as I had promised, giving him these details, and fixed an hour for him to call.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37