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- Caesar's Column - 6/54 -
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,
My Dear Heinrich:
Since I wrote you last night I have been through dreadful scenes. I have traversed death in life. I have looked with my very eyes on Hell. I am sick at heart. My soul sorrows for humanity.
Max (for so I have come to call my new-found friend) woke me very early, and we breakfasted by lamp-light.
Yesterday he had himself dyed my fair locks of a dark brown, almost black hue, and had cut off some of my hair's superfluous length. Then he sent for a tailor, who soon arrayed me in garments of the latest fashion and most perfect fit. Instead of the singular-looking mountaineer of the day before, for whom the police were diligently searching, and on whose head a reward of one thousand dollars had been placed (never before had my head been valued so highly), there was nothing in my appearance to distinguish me from the thousands of other gallant young gentlemen of this great city.
A carriage waited for us at the door. We chatted together as we drove along through the quiet streets.
I asked him:
"Are the degraded, and even the vicious, members of your Brotherhood?"
"No; not the criminal class," he replied, "for there is nothing in their wretched natures on which you can build confidence or trust. Only those who have fiber enough to persist in labor, under conditions which so strongly tend to drive them into crime, can be members of our Brotherhood."
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