Caesar's Column, by Ignatius Donnelly

Chapter 29.

Elysium

It was a bright and sunny autumn day. We were a very happy party. Estella was disguised with gold spectacles, a black wig and a veil, and she looked like some middle-aged school-teacher out for a holiday. We took the electric motor to a station one mile and a half from Mr. Jansen’s, and walked the rest of the way. The air was pure and sweet and light; it seemed to be breathed right out of heaven. The breezes touched us and dallied with us and delighted us, like ministering angels. The whole panoply of nature was magnificent; the soft-hued, grassy fields; the embowered trees; the feeding cattle; the children playing around the houses; —

“Clowns cracking jokes, and lasses with sly eyes,

And the smile settling on their sun-flecked cheeks

Like noon upon the mellow apricot.”

My soul rose upon wings and swam in the ether like a swallow; and I thanked God that he had given us this majestic, this beautiful, this surpassing world, and had placed within us the delicate sensibility and capability to enjoy it. In the presence of such things death — annihilation — seemed to me impossible, and I exclaimed aloud:

“Hast thou not heard

That thine existence, here on earth, is but

The dark and narrow section of a life

Which was with God, long ere the sun was lit,

And shall be yet, when all the bold, bright stars

Are dark as death-dust?”

And oh, what a contrast was all this to the clouded world we had left behind us, in yonder close-packed city, with its poverty, its misery, its sin, its injustice, its scramble for gold, its dark hates and terrible plots. But, I said to myself, while God permits man to wreck himself, he denies him the power to destroy the world. The grass covers the graves; the flowers grow in the furrows of the cannon balls; the graceful foliage festoons with blossoms the ruins of the prison and the torture-chamber; and the corn springs alike under the foot of the helot or the yeoman. And I said to myself that, even though civilization should commit suicide, the earth would still remain — and with it some remnant of mankind; and out of the uniformity of universal misery a race might again arise worthy of the splendid heritage God has bestowed upon us.

Mr. Jansen had closed up his forge in honor of our visit, and had donned a new broadcloth suit, in which he seemed as comfortable as a whale in an overcoat. Christina ran out to meet us, bright and handsome, all in white, with roses in her curly hair. The sweet-faced old lady took her to her arms, and called her “my daughter,” and kissed her, and expressed her pleasure that her son was about to marry so good and noble a girl. Mrs. Jansen held back modestly at first, a little afraid of “the great folks,” but she was brought forward by Christina, and introduced to us all. And then we had to make the acquaintance of the whole flock of blue-eyed, curly-haired, rosy-cheeked little ones, gay in white dresses and bright ribbons. Even Master Ole forgot, for a time, his enrapturing hammer and nails, and stood, with eyes like saucers, contemplating the irruption of outside barbarians. We went into the house, and there, with many a laugh and jest, the spectacled school-teacher was transformed into my own bright and happy Estella. The two girls flowed into one another, by natural affinity, like a couple of drops of quicksilver; each recognized the transparent soul in the other, and in a moment they were friends for life.

We were a jolly party. Care flew far away from us, and many a laugh and jest resounded.

“There is one thing, Christina,” said Max, “that I cannot comprehend, and of which I demand an explanation. Your name is ‘Christina Jansen,’ and yet you appeared in public by the name of ‘Christina Carlson.’ Now I refuse to marry you until this thing is explained; for I may be arrested and charged with bigamy for marrying two women at once! I am willing to wed ‘Christina Jansen’— but what am I to do with ‘Christina Carlson’? I could be “happy with either were t’other dear charmer away.’”

Christina laughed and blushed and said:

“If you do not behave yourself you shall not have either of the Christinas. But I will tell you, my dear friend, how that happened. You must know that in our Sweden, especially in the northern part of it, where father and mother came from, we are a very primitive people — far ‘behind the age,’ you will say. And there we have no family names, like Brown or Jones or Smith; but each man is simply the son of his father, and he takes his father’s first name. Thus if ‘Peter’ has a son and he is christened ‘Ole,’ then he is ‘Ole Peterson,’ or Ole the son of Peter; and if his son is called ‘John,’ then he is ‘John Oleson.’ I think, from what I have read in the books you gave me, Frank, that the same practice prevailed, centuries ago, in England, and that is how all those English names, such as Johnson, Jackson, Williamson, etc., came about. But the females of the family, in Sweden, are called ‘daughters’ or ‘dotters;’ and hence, by the custom of my race, I am ‘Christina Carl’s Dotter.’ And when Mr. Bingham asked me my name to print on his play bills, that is what I answered him; but he said ‘Christina Carl’s Dotter’ was no name at all. It would never do; and so he called me ‘Christina Carlson.’ There you have the explanation of the whole matter.”

“I declare,” said Frank, “this thing grows worse and worse! Why, there are three of you. I shall have to wed not only ‘Christina Jansen,’ and ‘Christina Carlson,’ but ‘Christina Carl’s Dotter.’ Why, that would be not only bigamy, but trigamy!

And then Estella came to the rescue, and said that she felt sure that Max would be glad to have her even if there were a dozen of her.

And Frank, who had become riotous, said to me:

“You see, old fellow, you are about to marry a girl with a pedigree, and I another without one.”

“No,” said Christina, “I deny that charge; with us the very name we bear declares the pedigree. I am ‘Christina Carl’s Dotter,’ and ‘Carl’ was the son of ‘John,’ who was the son of ‘Frederick,’ who was the son of ‘Christian;’ and so on for a hundred generations. I have a long pedigree; and I am very proud of it; and, what is more, they were all good, honest, virtuous people.” And she heightened up a bit. And then Frank kissed her before us all, and she boxed his ears, and then dinner was announced.

And what a pleasant dinner it was: the vegetables, crisp and fresh, were from their own garden; and the butter and milk and cream and schmearkase from their own dairy; and the fruit from their own trees; and the mother told us that the pudding was of Christina’s own making; and thereupon Frank ate more of it than was good for him; and everything was so neat and bright, and everybody so happy; and Frank vowed that there never was before such luscious, golden butter; and Mrs. Jansen told us that that was the way they made it in Sweden, and she proceeded to explain the whole process. The only unhappy person at the table, it seemed to me, was poor Carl, and he had a wretched premonition that he was certainly going to drop some of the food on that brand-new broadcloth suit of his. I feel confident that when we took our departure he hurried to take off that overwhelming grandeur, with very much the feeling with which the dying saint shuffles off the mortal coil, and soars to heaven.

But then, in the midst of it all, there came across me the dreadful thought of what was to burst upon the world in a few days; and I could have groaned aloud in anguish of spirit. I felt we were like silly sheep gamboling on the edge of the volcano. But why not? We had not brought the world to this pass. Why should we not enjoy the sunshine, and that glorious light, brighter than all sunshine — the love of woman? For God alone, who made woman — the true woman — knows the infinite capacities for good which he has inclosed within her soul. And I don’t believe one bit of that orthodox story. I think Eve ate the apple to obtain knowledge, and Adam devoured the core because he was hungry.

And these thoughts, of course, were suggested by my looking at Estella. She and Christina were in a profound conference; the two shades of golden hair mingling curiously as they whispered to each other, and blushed and laughed. And then Estella came over to me, and smiled and blushed again, and whispered: “Christina is delighted with the plan.”

And then I said to Max, in a dignified, solemn way:

‘My dear Max, or Frank, or Arthur, or whatever thy name may be — and ‘if thou hast no other name to call thee by I will call thee devil’— I have observed, with great regret, that thou art very much afraid of standing up to-morrow and encountering in wedlock’s ceremony the battery of bright eyes of the three Christinas. Now I realize that a friend should not only ‘bear a friend’s infirmities,’ but that he should stand by him in the hour of danger; and so to-morrow, ‘when fear comes down upon you like a house,’ Estella and I have concluded to stand with you, in the imminent deadly breach, and share your fate; and if, when you get through, there are any of the Christinas left, I will — with Estella’s permission — even marry them myself ‘For I am determined that such good material shall not go to waste.’

There was a general rejoicing, and Max embraced me; and then he hugged Christina; and then I took advantage of the excuse — I was very happy in finding such excuses — to do likewise by my stately beauty; and then there was handshaking by the old folks all around, and kisses from the little folks.

Not long afterward there was much whispering and laughing between Christina and Estella; they were in the garden; they seemed to be reading some paper, which they held between them. And then that scamp, Max, crept quietly behind them, and, reaching over, snatched the paper out of their hands. And then Estella looked disturbed, and glanced at me and blushed; and Max began to dance and laugh, and cried out, “Ho! ho! we have a poet in the family!” And then I realized that some verses, which I had given Estella the day before, had fallen into the hands of that mocker. I would not give much for a man who does not grow poetical when he is making love. It is to man what song is to the bird. But to have one’s weaknesses exposed — that is another matter! And so I ran after Max; but in vain. He climbed into a tree, and then began to recite my love poetry:

“Listen to this,” he cried; “here are fourteen verses; each one begins and ends with the word ’thee.‘ Here’s a sample:

“‘All thought, all fear, all grief, all earth, all air,

Forgot shall be;

Knit unto each, to each kith, kind and kin —

Life, like these rhyming verses, shall begin

And end in —thee!

“And here,” he cried, “is another long poem. Phœbus! what a name —’Artesian Waters!‘

Here Christina, Estella and I pelted the rogue with apples.

“I know why they are called ‘Artesian Waters,’” he cried; “it is because it took a great bore to produce them. Hal ha! But listen to it:

“‘There is a depth at which perpetual springs

Fresh water, in all lands:

The which once reached, the buried torrent flings

Its treasures o’er the sands.’

“Ouch!” he cried, “that one hit me on the nose: I mean the apple, not the verse.

“‘One knows not how, beneath the dark, deep crust,

The clear flood there has come:

One knows not why, amid eternal dust,

Slumbers that sea of foam.’

“Plain enough,” he cried, dodging the apples; “the attraction of gravitation did the business for it.

“‘Dark-buried, sepulchred, entombed and deep,

Away from mortal ken,

It lies, till, summoned from its silent sleep,

It leaps to light again.’

“Very good,” he said, “and now here comes the application, the moral of the poem.

“‘So shall we find no intellect so dull,

No soul so cold to move,

No heart of self or sinfulness so full,

But still hath power to love.’

“Of course,” he said; “he knows how it is himself; the poet fills the bill exactly.

‘It lives immortal, universal all,

The tenant of each breast;

Locked in the silence of unbroken thrall,

And deep and pulseless rest;

Till, at a touch, with burst of power and pride,

Its swollen torrents roll,

Dash all the trappings of the mind aside,

And ride above the soul.’

“Hurrah!” he cried, “that’s splendid! But here’s some more: ’To Estella.‘

But I could stand no more, and so began to climb the tree. It was an apple-tree, and not a very big one at that, and Max was forced to retreat out upon a limb, and then drop to the ground. But the young ladies were too quick for him; they pounced upon him as he fell; and very soon my precious verses were hidden in Estella’s bosom, whence, in a burst of confidence and pride, they had been taken to exhibit to Christina.

“Yes,” said Estella, “it was nothing but mean jealousy, because he could not write such beautiful poetry to Christina.” “Exactly,” said Christina, “and I think I will refuse to marry him until he produces some verses equally fine.”

“Before I would write such poetry as that,” said Max, “I would go and hang myself.”

“No man ought to be allowed to marry,” said Estella, “until he has written a poem.”

“If you drive Max to that,” I said, “other people will hang themselves rather than hear his verses.”

And thus, with laugh and jest and badinage, the glorious hours passed away.

It was growing late; but we could not go until we had seen the cows milked, for that was a great event in the household; and “Bossy” especially was a wonderful cow. Never before in the world had there been such a cow as “Bossy.” The children had tied some ribbons to her horns, and little Ole was astride of her broad back, his chubby legs pointing directly to the horizon, and the rest of the juveniles danced around her; while the gentle and patient animal stood chewing her cud, with a profound look upon her peaceful face, much like that of a chief-justice considering “the rule in Shelley’s case,” or some other equally solemn and momentous subject.

And I could not help but think how kindly we should feel toward these good, serviceable ministers to man; for I remembered how many millions of our race had been nurtured through childhood and maturity upon their generous largess. I could see, in my imagination, the great bovine procession, lowing and moving, with their bleating calves trotting by their side, stretching away backward, farther and farther, through all the historic period; through all the conquests and bloody earth-staining battles, and all the sin and suffering of the race; and far beyond, even into the dim, pre-historic age, when the Aryan ancestors of all the European nations dwelt together under the same tents, and the blond-haired maidens took their name of “daughters” (the very word we now use) from their function of milkmaidens. And it seemed to me that we should love a creature so intimately blended with the history of our race, and which had done so much, indirectly, to give us the foundation on which to build civilization.

But we must away; and Carl, glad to do something in scenes in which he was not much fitted to shine, drove us to the station in his open spring wagon; Estella, once more the elderly, spectacled maiden, by my side; and the sunny little Christina beside Max’s mother — going to the station to see us off; while that gentleman, on the front seat, talked learnedly with Carl about the pedigree of the famous horse “Lightning,” which had just trotted its mile in less than two minutes.

And I thought, as I looked at Carl, how little it takes to make a happy household; and what a beautiful thing the human race is under favorable circumstances; and what a wicked and cruel and utterly abominable thing is the man who could oppress it, and drive it into the filth of sin and shame.

I will not trouble you, my dear brother, by giving you a detailed account of the double marriage the next day. The same person married us both — a Scandinavian preacher, a friend of the Jansen family. I was not very particular who tied the knot and signed the bill of sale of Estella, provided I was sure the title was good. But I do think that the union of man and wife should be something more than a mere civil contract. Marriage is not a partnership to sell dry goods —(sometimes, it is true, it is principally an obligation to buy them)— or to practice medicine or law together; it is, or should be, an intimate blending of two souls, and natures, and lives; and where the marriage is happy and perfect there is, undoubtedly, a growing-together, not only of spirit and character, but even in the physical appearance of man and wife. Now as these two souls came — we concede — out of heaven, it seems to me that the ceremony which thus destroys their individuality, and blends them into one, should have some touch and color of heaven in it also.

It was a very happy day.

As I look upon it now it seems to me like one of those bright, wide rays of glorious light which we have sometimes seen bursting through a rift in the clouds, from the setting sun, and illuminating, for a brief space of time, the black, perturbed and convulsed sky. One of our poets has compared it to —

“A dead soldier’s sword athwart his pall.”

But it faded away, and the storm came down, at last, heavy and dark and deadly.

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