Caesar's Column, by Ignatius Donnelly

Chapter 28.

Max’s Story Concluded — The Unexpected Happens

“I used to run out every other day, and I was as welcome as if I had been really a member of the family. The day before yesterday I found the whole household in a state of joyous excitement. Christina had been enjoined to put the baby to sleep; and while rocking it in its cradle she had, all unconsciously, begun to sing a little nursery song. Suddenly she sprang to her feet, and, running to her mother, cried out:

“‘Oh, mother! I can sing! Listen.’

“She found, however, that the voice was still quite weak, and that if she tried to touch any of the higher notes there was a pain in her throat.

“I advised her to forbear singing for some time, and permit the organs of the voice to resume their natural condition. It might be that the doctor was wrong in his prognosis of her case; or it might be that the injured nerve, as he had said was possible, had resumed its function, through the curative power of nature. But it was a great delight to us all, and especially to the poor girl herself, to think that her grand voice might yet be restored to her.

“To-day I went out again.

“I thought that Mr. Jansen met me with a constrained manner; and when Mrs. Jansen saw me, instead of welcoming me with a cordial smile, as was usual with her, she retreated into the house. And when I went into the parlor, Christina’s manner was still more embarrassing. She blushed as she extended her hand to me, and seemed very much confused; and yet her manner was not unkind or unfriendly. I could not understand it.

“‘What is the matter, Christina?’ I asked.

“The little woman was incapable of double-dealing, and so she said:

“‘You know it came into my head lately, very often, that Mrs. Brederhagan had been exceedingly, I might say extraordinarily, kind to me. It is true her son had done me a great injury, and might have killed me; and I refused to testify against him. But she had not only given me that deed of gift you brought me, but she had also presented papa with this charming home. And so I said to myself that she must think me very rude and ungrateful, since I had never called upon her to thank her in person. And so, knowing that Nathan had been sent to Europe, I made up my mind, yesterday, that I would go into town, and call upon Mrs. Brederhagan, and thank her for all her kindness.

“‘I took a hack to her house from the station, and sent up my card. She received me quite kindly. After a few inquiries and commonplaces I thanked her as I had intended doing. She smiled and made light of it; then I spoke of the house and the garden, and the blacksmith shop, and how grateful we all were to her.

“’“Why,” said she, “what on earth are you talking about? I never gave you a house, or a garden, or a blacksmith shop.”

“‘You may imagine my surprise.

“’“Why,” said I, “did you not give Mr. Frank Montgomery the money to purchase it, and tell him to have the deed made out to my father?”

“’“My dear,” said she, “you bewilder me; I never in all my life heard of such a person as Mr. Frank Montgomery; and I certainly never gave him any money to buy a house for anybody.”

“’“Why,” said I, “do you pretend you do not know Mr. Frank Montgomery, who brought me your deed of gift?”

“That,” she said, “was not Mr. Frank Montgomery, but Mr. Arthur Phillips.”

“’“No, no,” I said, “you are mistaken; it was Frank Montgomery, a printer by trade, who owns the house we used to live in, at 1252 Seward Street. I am well acquainted with him.”

“’“Well,” said she, “this is certainly astonishing! Mr. Arthur Phillips, whom I have known for years, a young gentleman of large fortune, a lawyer by profession, comes to me and tells me, the very day you said my son was not the man who assaulted you, that unless I settled fifty dollars a week on you for life, by a deed of gift, he would have Nathan rearrested for an attempt to murder you, and would prove his guilt by your mother; and now you come and try to make me believe that Arthur Phillips, the lawyer, is Frank Montgomery, the printer; that he lives in a little house on Seward Street, and that I have been giving him money to buy you houses and gardens and blacksmith shops in the country! I hope, my dear, that the shock you received, on that dreadful night, has not affected your mind. But I would advise you to go home to your parents.”

“‘And therewithal she politely bowed me out.’

“‘I was very much astonished and bewildered. I stood for some time on the doorstep, not knowing what to do next. Then it occurred to me that I would go to your house and ask you what it all meant; for I had no doubt Mrs. Brederhagan was wrong, and that you were, indeed, Frank Montgomery, the printer. I found the house locked up and empty. A bill on the door showed that it was to rent, and referred inquiries to the corner grocery. They remembered me very well there. I asked them where you were. They did not know. Then I asked whether they were not agents for you to rent the house. Oh, no; you did not own the house. But had you not lived in it for years? No; you rented it the very morning of the same day we moved in. I was astounded, and more perplexed than ever. What did it all mean? If you did not own the house and had not been born in it, or lived there all your life, as you said, then the rest of your story was probably false also, and the name you bore was assumed. And for what purpose? And why did you move into that house the same day we rented it from you? It looked like a scheme to entrap us; and yet you had always been so kind and good that I could not think evil of you. Then it occurred to me that I would go and see Peter Bingham, the proprietor of the theater. I desired, anyhow, to tell him that I thought I would recover my voice, and that I might want another engagement with him after awhile. When I met him I fancied there was a shade of insolence in his manner. When I spoke of singing again he laughed, and said he guessed I would never want to go on the boards again. Why? I asked. Then he laughed again, and said “Mr. Phillips would not let me;” and then he began to abuse you, and said you “had forced him to give me fifty dollars a week for my singing when it wasn’t worth ten dollars; but he understood then what it all meant, and that now every one understood it; — that you had lived in the same house with me for months, and now you had purchased a cage for your bird in the country.” At first I could not understand what he meant; and when at last I comprehended his meaning and burst into tears, he began to apologize; but I would not listen to him, and hurried home and told everything to papa and mamma.

“‘Now,’ she continued, looking me steadily in the face with her frank, clear eyes, ‘we have talked it all over for hours, and we have come to several conclusions. First, you are not Francis Montgomery, but Arthur Phillips; second, you are not a poor printer, but a rich young gentleman; third, you have done me a great many kindnesses and attributed them to others. You secured me a large salary from Bingham; you made Mrs. Brederhagan settle an income upon me; you nursed me through all my sickness, with the tenderness of a brother, and you have bought this beautiful place and presented it to papa. You have done us all nothing but good; and you claimed no credit for it; and we shall all be grateful to you and honor you and pray for you to the end of our lives. But,’ and here she took my hand as a sister might, ‘but we cannot keep this place. You will yourself see that we cannot. You a poor printer, we met on terms of equality. From a rich young gentleman this noble gift would be universally considered as the price of my honor and self-respect. It is so considered already. The deed of gift from Mrs. Brederhagan I shall avail myself of until I am able to resume my place on the stage; but here is a deed, signed by my father and mother, for this place, and tomorrow we must leave it. We may not meet again’— and here the large eyes began to swim in tears —‘but — but — I shall never forget your goodness to me.’

“‘Christina,’ I said, ‘suppose I had really been Frank Montgomery, the printer, would you have driven me away from you thus?’

“‘Oh! no! no!’ she cried; ‘you are our dearest and best friend. And I do not drive you away. I must leave you. The world can have only one interpretation of the relation of two people so differently situated — a very wealthy young gentleman and a poor little singer, the daughter of a poor, foreign-born workman.’

“‘Well, then,’ said I, taking her in my arms, ‘let the blabbing, babbling old world know that that poor little singer sits higher in my heart, yes, in my brain and judgment, than all the queens and princesses of the world. I have found in her the one inestimable jewel of the earth — a truly good and noble woman. If I deceived you it was because I loved you; loved you with my whole heart and soul and all the depths of my being. I wanted to dwell in the same house with you; to study you; to see you always near me. I was happier when I was nursing you through your sickness than I have ever been before or since. I was sorry, to tell the truth, when you got well, and were no longer dependent on me. And now, Christina, if you will say yes, we will fix the day for the wedding.’

“I knew as soon as I began to speak that I had won my case. There was no struggle to escape from my arms; and, as I went on, she relaxed even her rigidity, and reposed on my breast with trusting confidence.

“‘Frank,’ she said, not looking up, and speaking in a low tone —‘I shall always call you Frank — I loved the poor printer from the very first; and if the rich man can be content with the affection I gave the poor one, my heart and life are yours. But stop,’ she added, looking up with an arch smile, ‘you must not forget the promise you made me about New Year’s day!’

“‘Ah, my dear,’ I replied, ‘that was part of poor Frank’s character, and I suppose that is what you loved him for; but if you will marry a rich man you must be content to forego all those attractions of the poor, foolish printer. I shall not stand up next New Year’s day and make a vow to drink no more; but I make a vow now to kiss the sweetest woman in the world every day in the year.’

“And, lest I should forget so sacred an obligation, I began to put my vow into execution right then and there.

“Afterward the old folks were called in, and I told them my whole story. And I said to them, moreover, that there was storm and danger ahead; that the great convulsion might come any day; and so it is agreed that we are to be married, at Christina’s home, the day after to-morrow. And to-morrow I want my dear mother, and you, my dear friends, to go with me to visit the truest and noblest little woman that ever promised to make a man happy.”

When Max had finished his long story, his mother kissed and cried over him; and Estella and I shook hands with him; and we were a very happy party; and no one would have thought, from our jests and laughter, that the bloodhounds of the aristocracy were hunting for three of us, and that we were sitting under the dark presaging shadow of a storm that was ready to vomit fire and blood at any moment.

Before we retired that night Estella and I had a private conference, and I fear that at the end of it I made the same astonishing vow which Max had made to Christina. And I came to another surprising conclusion — that is, that no woman is worth worshiping unless she is worth wooing. But what I said to Estella, and what she said to me, will never be revealed to any one in this world; — the results, however, will appear hereafter, in this veracious chronicle.

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