Caesar's Column, by Ignatius Donnelly

Chapter 3.

The Beggar’s Home

The house we entered was furnished with a degree of splendor of which the external appearance gave no prophecy. We passed up the stairs and into a handsome room, hung around with pictures, and adorned with book-cases. The beggar left me.

I sat for some time looking at my surroundings, and wondering over the strange course of events which had brought me there, and still more at the actions of my mysterious companion. I felt assured now that his rags were simply a disguise, for he entered the house with all the air of a master; his language was well chosen and correctly spoken, and possessed those subtle tones and intonations which mark an educated mind. I was thinking over these matters when the door opened and a handsome young gentleman, arrayed in the height of the fashion, entered the room. I rose to my feet and began to apologize for my intrusion and to explain that I had been brought there by a beggar to whom I had rendered some trifling service in the street. The young gentleman listened, with a smiling face, and then, extending his hand, said:

“I am the beggar; and I do now what only the hurry and excitement prevented me from doing before — I thank you for the life you have saved. If you had not come to my rescue I should probably have been trampled to death under the feet of those vicious horses, or sadly beaten at least by that brutal driver.”

The expression of my face doubtless showed my extreme astonishment, for he proceeded:

“I see you are surprised; but there are many strange things in this great city. I was disguised for a particular purpose, which I cannot explain to you. But may I not request the name of the gentleman to whom I am under so many obligations? Of course, if you have any reasons for concealing it, consider the question as not asked.”

“No,” I replied, Smiling, “I have no concealments. My name is Gabriel Weltstein; I live in the new state of Uganda, in the African confederation, in the mountains of Africa, near the town of Stanley; and I am engaged in sheep-raising, in the mountains. I belong to a colony of Swiss, from the canton of Uri, who, led by my grandfather, settled there. seventy years ago. I came to this city yesterday to see if I could not sell my wool directly to the manufacturers, and thus avoid the extortions of the great Wool Ring, which has not only our country but the whole world in its grasp; but I find the manufacturers are tied hand and foot, and afraid of that powerful combination; they do not dare to deal with me; and thus I shall have to dispose of my product at the old price. It is a shameful state of affairs in a country which calls itself free.”

“Pardon me for a moment,” said the young gentleman, and left the room. On his return I resumed:

“But now that I have told you who I am, will you be good enough to tell me something about yourself?”

“Certainly,” he replied, “and with pleasure. I am a native of this city; my name is Maximilian Petion; by profession I am an attorney; I live in this house with my mother, to whom I shall soon have the pleasure of introducing you.”

“Thank you,” I replied, still studying the face of my new acquaintance. His complexion was dark, the eyes and hair almost black; the former very bright and penetrating; his brow was high, broad and square; his nose was prominent, and there was about the mouth an expression of firmness, not unmixed with kindness. Altogether it was a face to inspire respect and confidence. But I made up my mind not to trust too much to appearances. I could not forget the transformation which I had witnessed, from the rags of the ancient beggar to this well-dressed young gentleman. I knew that the criminal class were much given to such disguises. I thought it better therefore to ask some questions that might throw light upon the subject.

“May I inquire,” I said, “what were your reasons for hurrying me away so swiftly and mysteriously from the gate of the Park?”

“Because,” he replied, “you were in great danger, and you had rendered me a most important service. I could not leave you there to be arrested, and punished with a long period of imprisonment, because, following the impulse of your heart, you had saved my life and scourged the wretch who would have driven his horses over me.”

“But why should I be punished with a long term of imprisonment? In my own country the act I performed would have received the applause of every one. Why did you not tell me to throw away that whip on the instant, so as to avoid the appearance of stealing it, and then remain to testify in my behalf if I had been arrested?”

“Then you do not know,” he replied, “whose driver it was you horsewhipped?”

“No,” I said; “how should I? I arrived here but yesterday.”

“That was the carriage of Prince Cabano, the wealthiest and most vindictive man in the city. If you had been taken you would have been consigned to imprisonment for probably many years.”

“Many years,” I replied; “imprisoned for beating an insolent driver! Impossible. No jury would convict me of such an offense.”

“Jury!” he said, with a bitter smile; “it is plain to see you are a stranger and come from a newly settled part of the world, and know nothing of our modern civilization. The jury would do whatever Prince Cabano desired them to do. Our courts, judges and juries are the merest tools of the rich. The image of justice has slipped the bandage from one eye, and now uses her scales to weigh the bribes she receives. An ordinary citizen has no more prospect of fair treatment in our courts, contending with a millionaire, than a new-born infant would have of life in the den of a wolf.”

“But,” I replied, rather hotly, “I should appeal for justice to the public through the newspapers.”

“The newspapers!” he said, and his face darkened as he spoke; “the newspapers are simply the hired mouthpieces of power; the devil’s advocates of modern civilization; their influence is always at the service of the highest bidder; it is their duty to suppress or pervert the truth, and they do it thoroughly. They are paid to mislead the people under the guise of defending them. A century ago this thing began, and it has gone on, growing worse and worse, until now the people laugh at the opinions of the press, and doubt the truth even of its reports of occurrences.”

“Can this be possible?” I said.

“Let me demonstrate it to you,” he replied, and, stepping to the wall, he spoke quietly into a telephone tube, of which there were a number ranged upon the wall, and said:

“Give me the particulars of the whipping of Prince Cabano’s coachman, this afternoon, at the south gate of Central Park.”

Almost immediately a bell rang, and on the opposite wall, in what I had supposed to be a mirror, appeared these words:

From the Evening Guardian:

A HORRIBLE OUTRAGE!

HIGHWAY ROBBERY! — ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS REWARD!

This afternoon, about three o’clock, an event transpired at the south gate of Central Park which shows the turbulent and vicious spirit of the lower classes, and reinforces the demand we have so often made for repressive measures and a stronger government.

As the carriage of our honored fellow-citizen Prince Cabano, containing two ladies, members of his family, was quietly entering the Park, a tall, powerful ruffian, apparently a stranger, with long yellow hair, reaching to his shoulders, suddenly grasped a valuable gold-mounted whip out of the hands of the driver, and, because he resisted the robbery, beat him across the face, inflicting very severe wounds. The horses became very much terrified, and but for the fact that two worthy men, John Henderson of 5222 Delavan Street, and William Brooks of 7322 Bismarck Street, seized them by the head, a terrible accident would undoubtedly have occurred. Policeman number B 17822 took the villain prisoner, but he knocked the guardian of the law down and escaped, accompanied by a ragged old fellow who seemed to have been his accomplice. It is believed that the purpose of the thieves was to rob the occupants of the carriage, as the taller one approached the ladies, but just then his companion saw the policeman coming and gave him warning, and they fled together. Prince Cabano is naturally very much incensed at this outrage, and has offered a reward of one thousand dollars for the apprehension of either of the ruffians. They have been tracked for a considerable distance by the detectives; but after leaving the elevated cars all trace of them was suddenly and mysteriously lost. The whip was subsequently found on Bomba Street and identified. Neither of the criminals is known to the police. The taller one was quite young and fairly well dressed, and not ill-looking, while his companion had the appearance of a beggar, and seemed to be about seventy years of age. The Chief of Police will pay liberally for any information that may lead to the arrest of the robbers.

“There,” said my companion, “what do you think of that?”

I need not say that I was paralyzed with this adroit mingling of fact and falsehood. I realized for the first time the perils of my situation. I was a stranger in the great city, without a friend or acquaintance, and hunted like a felon! While all these thoughts passed through my brain, there came also a pleasing flash of remembrance of that fair face, and that sweet and gentle smile, and that beaming look of gratitude and approval of my action in whipping the brutal driver. But if my new acquaintance was right; if neither courts nor juries nor newspapers nor public opinion could be appealed to for justice or protection, then indeed might I be sent to prison as a malefactor, for a term of years, for performing a most righteous act. If it was true, and I had heard something of the same sort in my far-away African home, that money ruled everything in this great country; and if his offended lordship desired to crush me, he could certainly do so. While I was buried in these reflections I had not failed to notice that an electric bell rang upon the side of the chamber and a small box opened, and the young gentleman advanced and took from the box a sheet of tissue paper, closely written. I recognized it as a telegram. He read it carefully, and I noticed him stealing glances at me, as if comparing the details of my appearance with something written on the paper. When he finished he advanced toward me, with a brighter look on his face, and, holding out his hand, said:

“I have already hailed you as my benefactor, my preserver; permit me now to call you my friend.”

“Why do you say so?” I asked.

“Because,” he replied, “I now know that every statement you made to me about yourself is literally true; and that in your personal character you deserve the respect and friendship of all men. You look perplexed. Let me explain. You told me some little time since your name and place of residence. I belong to a society which has its ramifications all over the world. When I stepped out of this room I sent an inquiry to the town near which you reside, and asked if such a person as you claimed to be lived there; what was his appearance, standing and character, and present residence. I shall not shock your modesty by reading the reply I have just received. You will pardon this distrust, but we here in the great city are suspicious, and properly so, of strangers, and even more so of each other. I did not know but that you were in the employment of the enemies of our society, and sought to get into my confidence by rendering me a service — for the tricks to which the detectives resort are infinite. I now trust you implicitly, and you can command me in everything.”

I took his hand warmly and thanked him cordially. It was impossible to longer doubt that frank and beaming face.

“But,” I said, “are we not in great danger? Will not that hackman, for the sake of the reward, inform the police of our whereabouts?”

“No!” he said; “have no fears upon that score. Did you not observe that I permitted about a dozen hacks to pass me before I hailed the one that brought us here? That man wore on his dress a mark that told me he belonged to our Brotherhood. He knows that if he betrays us he will die within twenty-four hours, and that there is no power on earth could save him; if he fled to the uttermost ends of the earth his doom would overtake him with the certainty of fate. So have no uneasiness. We are as safe here as if a standing army of a hundred thousand of our defenders surrounded this house.”

“Is that the explanation,” I asked, “of the policeman releasing his grip upon my coat?”

“Yes,” he replied, quietly.

“Now,” said I, “who is this Prince Cabano, and how does he happen to be called Prince? I thought your Republic eschewed all titles of nobility.”

“So it does,” he replied, “by law. But we have a great many titles which are used socially, by courtesy. The Prince, for instance, when he comes to sign his name to a legal document, writes it Jacob Isaacs. But his father, when he grew exceedingly rich and ambitious, purchased a princedom in Italy for a large sum, and the government, being hard up for money, conferred the title of Prince with the estate. His son, the present Isaacs, succeeded, of course, to his estates and his title.”

“‘Isaacs,” I said, “is a Jewish name?”

“Yes,” he replied, “the aristocracy of the world is now almost altogether of Hebrew origin.”

“Indeed,” I asked, “how does that happen?”

“Well,” he replied, “it was the old question of the survival of the fittest. Christianity fell upon the Jews, originally a race of agriculturists and shepherds, and forced them, for many centuries, through the most terrible ordeal of persecution the history of mankind bears any record of. Only the strong of body, the cunning of brain, the long-headed, the persistent, the men with capacity to live where a dog would starve, survived the awful trial. Like breeds like; and now the Christian world is paying, in tears and blood, for the sufferings inflicted by their bigoted and ignorant ancestors upon a noble race. When the time came for liberty and fair play the Jew was master in the contest with the Gentile, who hated and feared him.

“They are the great money-getters of the world. They rose from dealers in old clothes and peddlers of hats to merchants, to bankers, to princes. They were as merciless to the Christian as the Christian had been to them. They said, with Shylock: ‘The villainy you teach me I will execute; and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.’ The ‘wheel of fortune has come full circle;’ and the descendants of the old peddlers now own and inhabit the palaces where their ancestors once begged at the back doors for secondhand clothes; while the posterity of the former lords have been, in many cases, forced down into the swarming misery of the lower classes. This is a sad world, and to contemplate it is enough to make a man a philosopher; but he will scarcely know whether to belong to the laughing or the weeping school — whether to follow the example of Democritus or Heraclitus.”

“And may I ask,” I said, “what is the nature of your society?”

“I cannot tell you more at this time,” he replied, “than that it is a political secret society having a membership of millions, and extending all over the world. Its purposes are the good of mankind. Some day, I hope, you may learn more about it. Come,” he added, “let me show you my house, and introduce you to my mother.”

Touching a secret spring in the wall, a hidden door flew open, and we entered a small room. I thought I had gotten into the dressing-room of a theater. Around the walls hung a multitude of costumes, male and female, of different sizes, and suited for all conditions of life. On the table were a collection of bottles, holding what I learned were hair dyes of different colors; and there was also an assortment of wigs, beards and mustaches of all hues. I thought I recognized among the former the coarse white hair of the quondam beggar. I pointed it out to him.

“Yes,” he said, with a laugh, “I will not be able to wear that for some time to come.”

Upon another table there was a formidable array of daggers, pistols and guns; and some singular-looking iron and copper things, which he told me were cartridges of dynamite and other deadly explosives.

I realized that my companion was a conspirator. But of what kind? I could not believe evil of him. There was a manliness and kindliness in his face which forbade such a thought; although the square chin and projecting jaws and firm-set mouth indicated a nature that could be most dangerous; and I noticed sometimes a restless, wild look in his eyes.

I followed him into another room, where he introduced me to a sweet-faced old lady, with the same broad brow and determined, but gentle, mouth which so distinguished her son. It was evident that there was great love between them, although her face wore a troubled and anxious look, at times, as she regarded him. It seemed to me that she knew he was engaged in dangerous enterprises.

She advanced to me with a smile and grasped both my hands with her own, as she said:

“My son has already told me that you have this day rendered him and me an inestimable service. I need not say that I thank you with all my heart.”

I made light of the matter and assured her that I was under greater obligations to her son than he was to me. Soon after we sat down to dinner, a sumptuous meal, to which it seemed to me all parts of the world had contributed. We had much pleasant conversation, for both the host and hostess were persons of ripe information. In the old days our ancestors wasted years of valuable time in the study of languages that were no longer spoken on the earth; and civilization was thus cramped by the shadow of the ancient Roman Empire, whose dead but sceptered sovereigns still ruled the spirits of mankind from their urns. Now every hour is considered precious for the accumulation of actual knowledge of facts and things, and for the cultivation of the graces of the mind; so that mankind has become wise in breadth of knowledge, and sweet and gentle in manner. I expressed something of this thought to Maximilian, and he replied:

“Yes; it is the greatest of pities that so noble and beautiful a civilization should have become so hollow and rotten at the core.”

“Rotten at the core!” I exclaimed, in astonishment; “what do you mean?”

“What I mean is that our civilization has grown to be a gorgeous shell; a mere mockery; a sham; outwardly fair and lovely, but inwardly full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. To think that mankind is so capable of good, and now so cultured and polished, and yet all above is cruelty, craft and destruction, and all below is suffering, wretchedness, sin and shame.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“That civilization is a gross and dreadful failure for seven-tenths of the human family; that seven-tenths of the backs of the world are insufficiently clothed; seven-tenths of the stomachs of the world are insufficiently fed; seven-tenths of the minds of the world are darkened and despairing, and filled with bitterness against the Author of the universe. It is pitiful to think what society is, and then to think what it might have been if our ancestors had not cast away their magnificent opportunities — had not thrown them into the pens of the swine of greed and gluttony.”

“But,” I replied, “the world does not look to me after that fashion. I have been expressing to my family my delight at viewing the vast triumphs of man over nature, by which the most secret powers of the universe have been captured and harnessed for the good of our race. Why, my friend, this city preaches at every pore, in every street and alley, in every shop and factory, the greatness of humanity, the splendor of civilization!”

“True, my friend,” replied Maximilian; “but you see only the surface, the shell, the crust of life in this great metropolis. To-morrow we will go out together, and I shall show you the fruits of our modern civilization. I shall take you, not upon the upper deck of society, where the flags are flying, the breeze blowing, and the music playing, but down into the dark and stuffy depths of the hold of the great vessel, where the sweating gnomes, in the glare of the furnace-heat, furnish the power which drives the mighty ship resplendent through the seas of time. We will visit the Under–World.”

But I must close for tonight, and subscribe myself affectionately your brother,

Gabriel

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