Caesar's Column, by Ignatius Donnelly

Chapter 13.

The Council of the Oligarchy

Precisely as Rudolph had forecast, things came to pass. I arrived at the palace of the Prince at half past six; at half past seven, my ordinary suit was covered with a braided livery, and I accompanied Rudolph to the council-chamber. We placed the table, chairs, pens, ink, paper, etc., in order. Watching our opportunity, we drew aside a heavy box in which grew a noble specimen of the cactus grandiflorus in full bloom, the gorgeous flowers just opening with the sunset, and filling the chamber with their delicious perfume. I crawled through the opening; took off my liveried suit; handed it back to Rudolph; he pushed the box into its place again; I inserted the hooks in their staples, and the barricade was complete. With many whispered injunctions and directions he left me. I heard him go out and lock the door — not the door by which we had entered — and all was silence.

There was room, by doubling up my limbs, Turk-fashion, to sit down in the inclosure. I waited. I thought of Estella. Rudolph had assured me that she had not been disturbed. They were waiting for hunger to compel her to eat the drugged food. Then I wondered whether we would escape in safety. Then my thoughts dwelt on the words she had spoken of me, and I remembered the pleased look upon her face when we met in Rudolph’s room, and my visions became very pleasant. Even the dead silence and oppressive solitude of the two great rooms could not still the rapid beatings of my heart. I forgot my mission and thought only of Estella and the future.

I was recalled to earth and its duties by the unlocking of the farther door. I heard Rudolph say, as if in answer to a question:

“Yes, my lord, I have personally examined the rooms and made sure that there are no spies concealed anywhere.”

“Let me see,” said the Prince; “lift up the tapestry.”

I could hear them moving about the council-chamber, apparently going around the walls. Then I heard them advancing into the conservatory. I shrank down still lower; they moved here and there among the flowers, and even paused for a few moments before the mass of flowering cacti.

“That flagelliformis,” said the Prince, “looks sickly. The soil is perhaps too rich. Tell the gardener to change the earth about it.”

“I shall do so, my lord,” said Rudolph; and to my great relief they moved off. In a few minutes I heard them in the council-chamber. With great caution I rose slowly. A screen of flowers had been cunningly placed by Rudolph between the cacti and that apartment. At last, half-stooping, I found an aperture in the rich mass of blossoms. The Prince was talking to Rudolph. I had a good view of his person. He was dressed in an evening suit. He was a large man, somewhat corpulent; or, as Rudolph had said, bloated. He had a Hebraic cast of countenance; his face seemed to be all angles. The brow was square and prominent, projecting at the corners; the nose was quite high and aquiline; the hair had the look of being dyed; a long, thick black mustache covered his upper lip, but it could not quite conceal the hard, cynical and sneering expression of his mouth; great bags of flesh hung beneath the small, furtive eyes. Altogether the face reminded me of the portraits of Napoleon the Third, who was thought by many to have had little of Napoleon in him except the name.

There was about Prince Cabano that air of confidence and command which usually accompanies great wealth or success of any kind. Extraordinary power produces always the same type of countenance. You see it in the high-nosed mummied kings of ancient Egypt. There is about them an aristocratic hauteur which even the shrinking of the dry skin for four thousand years has not been able to quite subdue. We feel like taking off our hats even to their parched hides. You see it in the cross-legged monuments of the old crusaders, in the venerable churches of Europe; a splendid breed of ferocious barbarians they were, who struck ten blows for conquest and plunder where they struck one for Christ. And you can see the same type of countenance in the present rulers of the world — the great bankers, the railroad presidents, the gigantic speculators, the uncrowned monarchs of commerce, whose golden chariots drive recklessly over the prostrate bodies of the people.

And then there is another class who are everywhere the aides and ministers of these oppressors. You can tell them at a glance — large, coarse, corpulent men; red-faced, brutal; decorated with vulgar taste; loud-voiced, selfish, self-assertive; cringing sycophants to all above them, slave-drivers of all below them. They are determined to live on the best the world can afford, and they care nothing if the miserable perish in clusters around their feet. The howls of starvation will not lessen one iota their appetite or their self-satisfaction. These constitute the great man’s world. He mistakes their cringings, posturings and compliments for the approval of mankind. He does not perceive how shallow and temporary and worse than useless is the life he leads; and he cannot see, beyond these well-fed, corpulent scamps, the great hungry, unhappy millions who are suffering from his misdeeds or his indifference.

While I was indulging in these reflections the members of the government were arriving. They were accompanied by servants, black and white, who, with many bows and flexures, relieved them of their wraps and withdrew. The door was closed and locked. Rudolph stood without on guard.

I could now rise to my feet with safety, for the council-chamber was in a blaze of electric light, while the conservatory was but partially illuminated.

The men were mostly middle-aged, or advanced in years. They were generally large men, with finely developed brows — natural selection had brought the great heads to the top of affairs. Some were cleancut in feature, looking merely like successful business men; others, like the Prince, showed signs of sensuality and dissipation, in the baggy, haggard features. They were unquestionably an able assembly. There were no orators among them; they possessed none of the arts of the rostrum or the platform. They spoke sitting, in an awkward, hesitating manner; but what they said was shrewd and always to the point. They had no secretaries or reporters. They could trust no one with their secrets. Their conclusions were conveyed by the president — Prince Cabano — to one man, who at once communicated what was needful to their greater agents, and these in turn to the lesser agents; and so the streams of authority flowed, with lightninglike speed, to the remotest parts of the so-called Republic; and many a man was struck down, ruined, crushed, destroyed, who had little suspicion that the soundless bolt which slew him came from that faraway chamber.

The Prince welcomed each newcomer pleasantly, and assigned him to his place. When all were seated he spoke:

“I have called you together, gentlemen,” he said “because we have very important business to transact. The evidences multiply that we are probably on the eve of another outbreak of the restless canaille; it may be upon a larger scale than any we have yet encountered. The filthy wretches seem to grow more desperate every year; otherwise they would not rush upon certain death, as they seem disposed to do.

“I have two men in this house whom I thought it better that you should see and hear face to face. The first is General Jacob Quincy, commander of the forces which man our ten thousand air-ships, or Demons, as they are popularly called. I think it is understood by all of us that, in these men, and the deadly bombs of poisonous gas with which their vessels are equipped, we must find our chief dependence for safety and continued power. We must not forget that we are outnumbered a thousand to one, and the world grows very restive under our domination. If it were not for the Demons and the poison-bombs, I should fear the results of the coming contest — with these, victory is certain.

“Quincy, on behalf of his men, demands another increase of pay. We have already several times yielded to similar applications. We are somewhat in the condition of ancient Rome, when the prætorians murdered the emperor Pertinax, and sold the imperial crown to Didius Julianus. These men hold the control of the continent in their hands. Fortunately for us, they are not yet fully aware of their own power, and are content to merely demand an increase of pay. We cannot quarrel with them at this time, with a great insurrection pending. A refusal might drive them over to the enemy. I mention these facts so that, whatever demands General Quincy may make, however extravagant they may be, you will express no dissatisfaction. When he is gone we can talk over our plans for the future, and decide what course we will take as to these troublesome men when the outbreak is over. I shall have something to propose after he leaves us.”

There was a general expression of approval around the table.

“There is another party here to-night,” continued the Prince. “He is a very shrewd and cunning spy; a member of our secret police service. He goes by the name of Stephen Andrews in his intercourse with me. What his real name may be I know not.

“You are aware we have had great trouble to ascertain anything definitely about this new organization, and have succeeded but indifferently. Their plans seem to be so well taken, and their cunning so great, that all our attempts have come to naught. Many of our spies have disappeared; the police cannot learn what becomes of them; they are certainly dead, but none of their bodies are ever found. It is supposed that they have been murdered, loaded with weights and sunk in the river. This man Andrews has so far escaped. He works as a mechanic — in fact, he really is such — in one of the shops; and he is apparently the most violent and bitter of our enemies. He will hold intercourse with no one but me, for he suspects all the city police, and he comes here but seldom — not more than once in two or three months — when I pay him liberally and assign him to new work. The last task I gave him was to discover who are the leaders of the miserable creatures in this new conspiracy. He has found it very difficult to obtain any positive information upon this point. The organization is very cunningly contrived. The Brotherhood is made up in groups of ten. No one of the rank and file knows more than nine other members associated with him. The leaders of these groups of ten are selected by a higher power. These leaders are again organized in groups of ten, under a leader again selected by a higher power; but in this second group of ten no man knows his fellow’s name or face; they meet always masked. And so the scale rises. The highest body of all is a group of one hundred, selected out of the whole force by an executive committee. Andrews has at length, after years of patient waiting and working, been selected as one of this upper hundred. He is to be initiated to-morrow night. He came to me for more money; for he feels he is placing himself in great danger in going into the den of the chief conspirators. I told him that I thought you would like to question him, and so he has returned again to-night, disguised in the dress of a woman, and he is now in the library awaiting your pleasure. I think we had better see him before we hear what Quincy has to say. Shall I send for him?”

General assent being given, lie stepped to the door and told Rudolph to bring up the woman he would find in the library. In a few moments the door opened and a tall personage, dressed like a woman, with a heavy veil over her face, entered. The Prince said:

“Lock the door and come forward.”

The figure did so, advanced to the table and removed the bonnet and veil, disclosing the dark, bronzed face of a workman — a keen, shrewd, observant, watchful, strong face.

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