Caesar's Column, by Ignatius Donnelly

Chapter 14.

The Spy’s Story

“Andrews,” said the Prince, “tell these gentlemen what you have found out about the extent of this organization and the personality of its leaders?”

“My lord,” replied the man, “I can speak only by hearsay — from whispers which I have heard in a thousand places, and by piecing together scraps of information which I have gathered in a great many ways. I do not yet speak positively. After to-morrow night I hope to be able to tell you everything.”

“I understand the difficulties you have to contend with,” replied the Prince; “and these gentlemen will not hold you to a strict accountability for the correctness of what you have gathered in that way.”

“You can have no idea,” said Andrews, “of the difficulty of obtaining information. It is a terrible organization. I do not think that anything like it has every existed before on the earth. One year ago there were fifteen of us engaged in this work; I am the only one left alive to-night.”

His face grew paler as he spoke, and there was a visible start and sensation about the council board.

“This organization,” he continued, “is called ‘The Brotherhood of Destruction.’ It extends all over Europe and America, and numbers, I am told, one hundred million members.”

“Can that be possible?” asked one gentleman, in astonishment.

“I believe it to be true,” said Andrews, solemnly. “Nearly every workman of good character and sober habits in New York belongs to it; and so it is in all our great cities; while the blacks of the South are members of it to a man. Their former masters have kept them in a state of savagery, instead of civilizing and elevating them; and the result is they are as barbarous and bloodthirsty as their ancestors were when brought from Africa, and fit subjects for such a terrible organization.”

“What has caused such a vast movement?” asked another gentleman.

“The universal misery and wretchedness of the working classes, in the cities, on the farms — everywhere,” replied Andrews.

“Are they armed?” asked another of the Council.

“It is claimed,” said Andrews, “that every one of the hundred millions possesses a magazine rifle of the most improved pattern, with abundance of fixed ammunition.”

“I fear, my good man,” said another member of the Council, with a sneer, “that you have been frightened by some old woman’s tales. Where could these men buy such weapons? What would they buy them with? Where would they hide them? Our armories and manufacturers are forbidden by law to sell firearms, unless under special permit, signed by one of our trusty officers. The value of those guns would in itself be a vast sum, far beyond the means of those miserable wretches. And our police are constantly scouring the cities and the country for weapons, and they report that the people possess none, except a few old-fashioned, worthless fowling-pieces, that have come down from father to son.”

“As I said before,” replied Andrews, “I tell you only what I have gleaned among the workmen in those secret whispers which pass from one man’s mouth to another man’s ear. I may be misinformed; but I am told that these rifles are manufactured by the men themselves (for, of course, all the skilled work of all kinds is done by workingmen) in some remote and desolate parts of Europe or America; they are furnished at a very low price, at actual cost, and paid for in small installments, during many years. They are delivered to the captains of tens and by them buried in rubber bags in the earth.”

“Then that accounts,” said one man, who had not yet spoken, “for a curious incident which occurred the other day near the town of Zhitomir, in the province of Volhynia, Russia, not very far from the borders of Austria. A peasant made an offer to the police to deliver up, for 200 rubles, and a promise of pardon for himself, nine of his fellow conspirators and their rifles. His terms were accepted and he was paid the money. He led the officers to a place in his barnyard, where, under a manure-heap, they dug up ten splendid rifles of American make, with fixed ammunition, of the most improved kind, the whole inclosed in a rubber bag to keep out the damp. Nine other peasants were arrested; they were all subjected to the knout; but neither they nor their captain could tell anything more than he had at first revealed. The Russian newspapers have been full of speculations as to how the rifles came there, but could arrive at no reasonable explanation.”

“What became of the men?” asked Andrews, curiously.

“Nine of them were sent to Siberia for life; the tenth man, who had revealed the hiding-place of the guns, was murdered that night with his wife and all his family, and his house burned up. Even two of his brothers, who lived near him, but had taken no part in the matter, were also slain.”

“I expected as much,” said Andrews quietly.

This unlooked-for corroboration of the spy’s story produced a marked sensation, and there was profound silence for some minutes.

At last the Prince spoke up:

“Andrews,” said he, “what did you learn about the leaders of this organization?”

“There are three of them, I am told,” replied the spy; they constitute what is known as ‘the Executive Committee.’ The commander-in-chief, it is whispered, is called, or was called — for no one can tell what his name is now — Cæsar Lomellini; a man of Italian descent, but a native of South Carolina. He is, it is said, of immense size, considerable ability, and the most undaunted courage. His history is singular. He is now about forty-five years of age. In his youth, so the story goes, he migrated to the then newly settled State of Jefferson, on the upper waters of the Saskatchewan. He had married early, like all his race, and had a family. He settled down on land and went to farming. He was a quiet, peaceable, industrious man. One year, just as he was about to harvest his crops, a discharge of lightning killed his horses; they were the only ones he had. He was without the means to purchase another team, and without horses he could not gather his harvest. He was therefore forced to mortgage his land for enough to buy another pair of horses. The money-lender demanded large interest on the loan and an exorbitant bonus besides; and as the ‘bankers,’ as they called themselves, had an organization, he could not get the money at a lower rate anywhere in that vicinity. It was the old story. The crops failed sometimes, and when they did not fail the combinations and trusts of one sort or another swept away Cæsar’s profits; then he had to renew the loan, again and again, at higher rates of interest, and with still greater bonuses; then the farm came to be regarded as not sufficient security for the debt; and the horses, cattle, machinery, everything he had was covered with mortgages. Cæsar worked like a slave, and his family toiled along with him. At last the crash came; he was driven out of his home; the farm and all had been lost for the price of a pair of horses. Right on the heels of this calamity, Cæsar learned that his eldest daughter — a beautiful, dark-eyed girl — had been seduced by a lawyer — the agent of the money-lender — and would in a few months become a mother. Then all the devil that lay hid in the depths of the man’s nature broke forth. That night the lawyer was attacked in his bed and literally hewed to pieces: the same fate overtook the money-lender. Before morning Cæsar and his family had fled to the inhospitable mountain regions north of the settlement. There he gathered around him a band of men as desperate as himself, and waged bloody and incessant war on society. He seemed, however, to have a method in his crimes, for, while he spared the poor, no man who preyed upon his fellow-men was safe for an hour. At length the government massed a number of troops in the vicinity; the place got too hot for him; Cæsar and his men fled to the Pacific coast; and nothing more was heard of him for three or four years. Then the terrible negro insurrection broke out in the lower Mississippi Valley, which you all remember, and a white man, of gigantic stature, appeared as their leader, a man of great daring and enterprise. When that rebellion had been suppressed, after many battles, the white man disappeared; and it is now claimed that he is in this city at the head of this terrible Brotherhood of Destruction; and that he is the same Cæsar Lomellini who was once a peaceful farmer in the State of Jefferson.”

The spy paused. The Prince said:

“Well, who are the others?”

“It is reported that the second in command, but really ‘the brains of the organization,’ as he is called by the men, is a Russian Jew. His name I could not learn; very few have seen him or know anything about him. He is said to be a cripple, and to have a crooked neck. It is reported he was driven out of his synagogue in Russia, years ago, for some crimes he had committed. He is believed to be the man who organized the Brotherhood in Europe, and he has come here to make the two great branches act together. If what is told of him be true, he must be a man of great ability, power and cunning.”

“Who is the third?” asked the Prince.

“There seems to be more obscurity about him than either of the others,” replied the spy. “I heard once that he was an American, a young man of great wealth and ability, and that he had furnished much of the money needed to carry on the Brotherhood. But this again is denied by others. Jenkins, who was one of our party, and who was killed some months since, told me, in our last interview, that he had penetrated far enough to find out who the third man was; and he told me this curious story, which may or may not be true. He said that several years ago there lived in this city a man of large fortune, a lawyer by education, but not engaged in the practice of his profession, by the name of Arthur Phillips. He was a benevolent man, of scholarly tastes, and something of a dreamer. He had made a study of the works of all the great socialist writers, and had become a convert to their theories, and very much interested in the cause of the working people. He established a monthly journal for the dissemination of his views. He spoke at the meetings of the workmen, and was very much beloved and respected by them. Of course, so Jenkins said, all this was very distasteful to the ruling class (I am only repeating the story as it was told to me, your lordships will please remember), and they began to persecute him. First he was ostracised from his caste. But this did not trouble him much. He had no family but his wife and one son who was away at the university. He redoubled his exertions to benefit the working classes. At this time he had a lawsuit about some property with a wealthy and influential man, a member of the government. In the course of the trial Phillips produced a writing, which purported to be signed by two men, and witnessed by two others; and Phillips swore he saw all of them sign it. Whereupon not only the men themselves, but the two witnesses to the paper, came up and swore, point-blank, that their alleged signatures were forgeries. There were four oaths against one. Phillips lost his case. But this was not the worst of it. The next day he was indicted for forgery and perjury; and, despite his wealth and the efforts of the ablest counsel he could employ, he was convicted and sentenced to twenty years’ penal servitude in the state prison. His friends said he was innocent; that he had been sacrificed by the ruling class, who feared him and desired to destroy him; that all the witnesses had been suborned by large sums of money to swear as they did; that the jury was packed, the judge one of their tools, and even his own lawyers corrupted. After several years his son — who bore the same name as himself — Arthur Phillips — returned from the university; and Jenkins told me that he had learned, in some mysterious way, that this was really the man who, out of revenge for the wrongs inflicted on his father, was now the third member of the Executive Committee of the Brotherhood, and had furnished them with large sums of money.”

As this story progressed, listened to most attentively by all, I noticed that one large man, flashily dressed, flushed somewhat, and that the rest turned and looked at him. When Andrews stopped, the Prince said, quietly:

“Count, that is your man.”

“Yes,” replied the man spoken to, very coolly. “There is, however, no truth,” he added, “in the latter part of the story; for I have had detectives shadow young Phillips ever since he returned to the city, and they report to me that he is a shallow, dissipated, drunken, worthless fellow, who spends his time about saloons and running after actresses and singers; and that it will not be long until he will have neither health nor fortune left.”

I need not say that I was an intent listener to everything, and especially to the latter part of the spy’s story. I pieced it out with what Maximilian had told me, and felt certain that Maximilian Petion and Arthur Phillips were one and the same person. I could now understand why it was that a gentleman so intelligent, frank and kindly by nature could have engaged in so desperate and bloody a conspiracy. Nor could I, with that awful narrative ringing in my cars, blame him much. What struck me most forcibly was that there was no attempt, on the part of the Count, to deny the sinister part of Jenkins’ story; and the rest of the Council evidently had no doubt of its truth; nor did it seem to lessen him a particle in their esteem. In fact, one man said, and the rest assented to the sentiment:

“Well, it is a lucky thing the villain is locked up, anyhow.”

There were some among these men whose faces were not bad. Under favorable circumstances they might have been good and just men. But they were the victims of a pernicious system, as fully as were the poor, shambling, ragged wretches of the streets and slums, who had been ground down by their acts into drunkenness and crime.

“When will the outbreak come?” asked one of the Council.

“That I cannot tell,” said Andrews. “They seem to be waiting for something, or there is a hitch in their plans. The men are eager to break forth, and are only held back by the leaders. By their talk they are confident of success when the insurrection does come.”

“What are their plans?” asked the Prince.

“They have none,” replied Andrews, “except to burn, rob, destroy and murder. They have long lists of the condemned, I am told, including all those here present, and hundreds of thousands besides. They will kill all the men, women and children of the aristocracy, except the young girls, and these will be reserved for a worse fate — at least that is what the men about the beer-houses mutter between their cups.”

The members of the government looked uneasy; some even were a trifle pale.

“Can you come here Wednesday night next and tell us what you learn during your visit to their ‘Council of One Hundred’?” asked the Prince.

“Yes,” replied Andrews —“if I am alive. But it is dangerous for me to come here.”

“Wait in the library,” said the Prince, “until I am at liberty, and I will give you an order for the thousand dollars I promised you; and also a key that will admit you to this house at any hour of the day or night. Gentlemen,” he said, turning to his associates, “have you any further questions to ask this man?”

They had none, and Andrews withdrew.

“I think,” said the Prince, “we had better reassemble here on Wednesday night. Matters are growing critical.”

This was agreed to. The Prince stepped to the door and whispered a few words to Rudolph.

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