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- Caesar's Column - 40/54 -
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.
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
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