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- Caesar's Column - 5/54 -
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
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