Caesar's Column, by Ignatius Donnelly

Chapter 32.

The Rat-Trap

Some of the troops advanced toward the barricade. Instantly the long line of its top bristled with fire; the fire was returned; the rattle was continuous and terrible, mingled with the rapid, grinding noise of the machine guns. The sound spread in every direction. The barricades were all attacked.

Suddenly the noise began to decrease. It was as if some noble orator had begun to speak in the midst of a tumultuous assembly. Those nearest him catch his utterances first, and become quiet; the wave of silence spreads like a great ripple in the water; until at last the whole audience is as hushed as death. So something — some extraordinary thing — had arrested the battle; down, down, dropped the tumult; and at last there were only a few scattering shots to be heard, here and there; and then these, too, ceased.

I could see the soldiers looking to the west. I swept the sky with my glass. Yes, something portentous had indeed happened! Instead of the whole dark flight of thousands of airships for which the soldiers had been looking, there came, athwart the sky, like a great black bird, a single Demon.

As it approached it seemed to be signaling some one. Little flags of different colors were run up and taken down. I turned and looked to the barricaded district. And there on the top of a very high building, in its midst, I could see a group of men. They, too, were raising and lowering little flags. Nearer and nearer swept the great bird; every eye and many a field-glass in all that great throng were fastened upon it, with awe-struck interest — the insurgents rejoicing; the soldiers perplexed. Nearer and nearer it comes.

Now it pauses right over the tall building; it begins to descend, like a sea-gull about to settle in the waves. Now it is but a short distance above the roof. I could see against the bright sky the gossamer traces of a rope ladder, falling down from the ship to the roof. The men below take hold of it and steady it. A man descends. Something about him glitters in the rising sun. He is probably an officer. He reaches the roof. They bow and shake hands. I can see him wave his hand to those above him. A line of men descend; they disappear in the building; they reappear; they mount the ladder; again and again they come and go.

“They are removing the treasure,” I explain to our party, gathering around me.

Then the officer shakes hands again with the men on the roof; they bow to each other; he reascends the ladder; the air-ship rises in the air, higher and higher, like an eagle regaining its element; and away it sails, back into the west.

An age of bribery terminates in one colossal crime of corruption!

I can see the officers gathering in groups and taking counsel together. They are alarmed. Then they write. They must tell the Oligarchy of this singular scene, and their suspicions, and put them on their guard. There is danger in the air. In a moment orderlies dash down the street in headlong race, bearing dispatches. In a little while they come back, hurrying, agitated. I took to the north. I can see a black line across the street. It is a high barricade. It has been quietly constructed while the fight raged. And beyond, far as my eyes can penetrate, there are dark masses of armed men.

The orderlies report — there is movement — agitation. I can see the imperious motions of an officer. I can read the signs. He is saying, “Back — back — for your lives! Break out through the side streets!” They rush away; they divide; into every street they turn. Alas! in a few minutes, like wounded birds, they come trailing back. There is no outlet. Every street is blockaded, barricaded, and filled with huge masses of men. The rat-trap has another rat-trap outside of it!

The Oligarchy will wait long for those dispatches. They will never read them this side of eternity. The pear has ripened. The inevitable has come. The world is about to shake off its masters.

There is dead silence. Why should the military renew the fight in the midst of the awful doubt that rests upon their souls?

Ah! we will soon know the best or worst; for, far away to the west, dark, portentous as a thundercloud — spread out like the wings of mighty armies — moving like a Fate over the bright sky, comes on the vast array of the Demons.

“Will they be faithful to their bargain?” I ask myself; “or will old loyalty and faith to their masters rise up in their hearts?”

No, no, it is a rotten age. Corruption sticks faster than love.

On they come! Thousands of them. They swoop, they circle; they pause above the insurgents. The soldiers rejoice! Ah, no! No bombs fall, a meteor of death. They separate; they move north, south, east, west; they are above the streets packed full of the troops of the government!

May God have mercy on them now! The sight will haunt me to my dying day. I can see, like a great black rain of gigantic drops, the lines of the falling bombs against the clear blue sky.

And, oh, my God! what a scene below, in those close-packed streets, among those gaily dressed multitudes! The dreadful astonishment! The crash — the bang — the explosions; the uproar, the confusion; and, most horrible of all, the inevitable, invisible death by the poison.

The line of the barricade is alive with fire. With my glass I can almost see the dynamite bullets exploding in the soldiers, tearing them to pieces, like internal volcanoes.

An awful terror is upon them. They surge backward and forward; then they rush headlong down the streets. The farther barricades open upon them a hail of death; and the dark shadows above — so well named Demons — slide slowly after them; and drop, drop, drop, the deadly missiles fall again among them.

Back they surge. The poison is growing thicker. They scream for mercy; they throw away their guns; they are panic-stricken. They break open the doors of houses and hide themselves. But even here the devilish plan of Prince Cabano is followed out to the very letter. The triumphant mob pour in through the back yards; and they bayonet the soldiers under beds, or in closets, or in cellars; or toss them, alive and shrieking, from windows or roofs, down into the deadly gulf below.

And still the bombs drop and crash, and drop and crash; and the barricades are furnaces of living fire. The dead lie in heaps and layers in the invisible, pernicious poison.

But, lo! the fire slackens; the bombs cease to fall; only now and then a victim flies out of the houses, cast into death. There is nothing left to shoot at. The grand army of the Plutocracy is annihilated; it is not.

“The Demons” moved slowly off. They had earned their money. The Mamelukes of the Air had turned the tables upon the Sultan. They retired to their armory, doubtless to divide the fifty millions equitably between them.

The mob stood still for a few minutes. They could scarcely realize that they were at last masters of the city. But quickly a full sense of all that their tremendous victory signified dawned upon them. The city lay prostrate, chained, waiting to be seized upon.

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