Caesar's Column, by Ignatius Donnelly

Chapter 26.

Max’s Story Continued — The Widow and Her Son

“The next day, about ten in the morning, I went out to procure some medicine for Christina. I was gone but a few minutes, and on my return, as I mounted the stairs, I was surprised to hear a strange voice in the sick-room. I entered and was introduced by Mrs. Jansen to ‘Mrs. Brederhagan,’ the rich widow, the mother of the little wretch who had assaulted Christina. She was a large, florid woman, extravagantly dressed, with one of those shallow, unsympathetic voices which betoken a small and flippant soul. Her lawyers had told her that Nathan would probably be sent to prison for a term of years; and so she had come to see if she could not beg his victim to spare him. She played her part well. She got down on her knees by the bedside in all her silks and furbelows, and seized Christina’s hand and wept; and told of her own desolate state as a widow — drawing, incidentally, a picture of the virtues of her deceased husband, which he himself — good man — would not have recognized in this world or any other. And then she descanted on the kind heart of her poor boy, and how he had been led off by bad company, etc., etc. Christina listened with an intent look to all this story; but she flushed when the widow proceeded to say how deeply her son loved her, Christina, and that it was his love for her that had caused him to commit his desperate act; and she actually said that, although Christina was but a poor singer, with no blood worth speaking of, in comparison with her own illustrious long line of nobodies, yet she brought Christina an offer from her son — sanctioned by her own approval — that he would — if she would spare him from imprisonment and his family from disgrace — marry her outright and off-hand; and that she would, as a magnanimous and generous, upper-crust woman, welcome her, despite all her disadvantages and drawbacks, to her bosom as a daughter! All this she told with a great many tears and ejaculations, all the time clinging to Christina’s hand.

“When she had finished and risen, and readjusted her disarranged flounces, Christina took her tablet and wrote:

“I could not marry your son. As to the rest, I will think it over. Please do not come again.’

“The widow would have gotten down on her knees and gone at it again; but I took her aside and said to her:

‘Do you not see that this poor girl is very weak, and your appeals distress her? Go home and I will communicate with you.’

“And I took her by the arm, and firmly but respectfully led her out of the room, furbelows, gold chains and all. She did not feel at all satisfied with the success of her mission; but I saw her into her carriage and told the driver to take her home. I was indignant. I felt that the whole thing was an attempt to play upon the sympathies of my poor little patient, and that the woman was a hollow, heartless old fraud.

“The next day, at the appointed hour, the chief of police came, accompanied by the prisoner. The latter had had no liquor for several days and was collapsed enough. All his courage and vanity had oozed out of him. He was a dilapidated wreck. He knew that the penitentiary yawned for him, and he felt his condition as deeply as such a shallow nature could feel anything. I scowled at the wretch in a way which alarmed him for his personal safety, and he trembled and hurried behind the policeman.

“Christina had been given a strengthening drink. The doctor was there with his finger on her pulse; she was raised up on some pillows. Her father and mother were present. When we entered she looked for an instant at the miserable, dejected little creature, and I saw a shudder run through her frame, and then she closed her eyes.

“‘Miss Jansen,’ said the chief of police, ‘be kind enough to say whether or not this is the man who tried to kill you.’

“I handed her the tablet and pencil. She wrote a few words. I handed it to the chief.

“‘What does this mean?’ he said, in evident astonishment.

“I took the tablet out of his hand, and was thunderstruck to find on it these unexpected words:

“’This is not the man.‘

“‘Then,’ said the chief of Police, ‘there is nothing more to do than to discharge the prisoner.’

“Her father and mother stepped forward; but she waved them back with her hand; and the chief led the culprit out, too much stunned to yet realize that he was free.

“‘What does this mean, Christina?’ I asked, in a tone that expressed indignation, if not anger.

“She took her tablet and wrote:

“‘What good would it do to send that poor, foolish boy to prison for many years? He was drunk or he would not have hurt me. It will do no good to bring disgrace on a respectable family. This great lesson may reform him and make him a good man.’

“At that moment I made up my mind to make Christina my wife, if she would have me. Such a soul was worth a mountain of rubies. There are only a few of them in each generation, and fortunate beyond expression is the man who can call one of them his own!

“But I was not going to see my poor love, or her family, imposed on by that scheming old widow. I hurried out of the house; I called a hack, and drove to Mrs. Brederhagan’s house. I found her and her son in the first paroxysm of joy — locked in each other’s arms.

“‘Mrs. Brederhagan,’ I said, ‘your vicious little devil of a son here has escaped punishment so far for his cruel and cowardly assault upon a poor girl. He has escaped through her unexampled magnanimity and generosity. But do you know what he has done to her? He has silenced her exquisite voice forever. He has ruthlessly destroyed that which a million like him could not create. That poor girl will never sing again. She was the sole support of her family. This imp here has taken the bread out of their mouths — they will starve. You owe it to her to make a deed of gift whereby you will endow her with the amount she was earning when your son’s dagger pierced her poor throat and silenced her voice; that is — fifty dollars a week.’

“The widow ruffled up her feathers, and said she did not see why she should give Christina fifty dollars a week. She had declared that her son was not the one who had assaulted her, and he was a free man, and that was the end of their connection with the matter.

“‘Ha! ha!’ said I, ‘and so, that is your position? Now you will send at once for a notary and do as I tell you, or in one hour your son shall be arrested again. Christina’s mother knows him perfectly well, and will identify him; and Christina herself will not swear in court to the generous falsehood she told to screen you and yours from disgrace. You are a worthy mother of such a son, when you cannot appreciate one of the noblest acts ever performed in this world.’

“The widow grew pale at these threats; and after she and her hopeful son — who was in a great fright — had whispered together, she reluctantly agreed to my terms. A notary was sent for, and the deed drawn and executed, and a check given, at my demand, for the first month’s payment.

“‘Now,’ said I, turning to Master Nathan, ‘permit me to say one word to you, young man. If you ever again approach, or speak to, or molest in any way, Miss Christina Carlson, I will,’-and here I drew close to him and put my finger on his breast — ‘I will kill you like a dog.’

“With this parting shot I left the happy pair.”

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