Caesar's Column, by Ignatius Donnelly

Chapter 34.

The Prince Gives His Last Bribe

But it was when the mob reached the wealthier parts of the city that the horrors of the devastation really began. Here almost every grand house was the abode of one of the condemned. True, many of them had fled. But the cunning cripple — the vice-president — had provided for this too. At the railroad stations, at the bridges and ferries, even on the yachts of the princes, men were stationed who would recognize and seize them; and if they even escaped the dangers of the suburbs, and reached the country, there they found armed bands of desperate peasants, ranging about, slaying every one who did not bear on his face and person the traces of the same wretchedness which they themselves had so long endured. Nearly every rich man had, in his own household and among his own servants, some bitter foe, who hated him, and who had waited for this terrible day and followed him to the death.

The Prince of Cabano, through his innumerable spies, had early received word of the turn affairs had taken. He had hurriedly filled a large satchel with diamonds and other jewels of great value, and, slinging it over his shoulders, and arming himself with sword, knife and pistols, he had called Frederika to him (he had really some little love for his handsome concubine), and loading her pockets and his own with gold pieces, and taking her by the hand, he had fled in great terror to the river side. His fine yacht lay off in the stream. He called and shouted until he was hoarse, but no one replied from the vessel. He looked around. The wharves were deserted; the few boats visible were chained and padlocked to their iron rings. The master of many servants was helpless. He shouted, screamed, tore his hair, stamped and swore viciously. The man who had coolly doomed ten million human beings to death was horribly afraid he would have to die himself. He ran back, still clinging to Frederika, to hide in the thick shrubbery of his own garden; there, perhaps, he might find a faithful servant who would get him a boat and take him off to the yacht in safety.

But then, like the advancing thunder of a hurricane, when it champs the earth and tears the trees to pieces with its teeth, came on the awful mob.

Now it is at his gates. He buries himself and companion in a thick grove of cedars, and they crouch to the very ground. Oh, how humble is the lord of millions! How all the endowments of the world fall off from a man in his last extremity! He shivers, he trembles — yea, he prays! Through his bloodshot eyes he catches some glimpses of a God — of a merciful God who loves all his creatures. Even Frederika, though she has neither love nor respect for him, pities him, as the bloated mass lies shivering beside her. Can this be the same lordly gentleman, every hair of whose mustache bespoke empire and dominion, who a few days since plotted the abasement of mankind?

But, hark! the awful tumult. The crashing of glass, the breaking of furniture, the beating in of doors with axes; the canaille have taken possession of the palace. They are looking for him everywhere. They find him not.

Out into the grounds and garden; here, there, everywhere, they turn and wind and quarter, like bloodhounds that have lost the scent.

And then the Prince hears, quite near him, the piping voice of a little ragged boy — a bare-footed urchin — saying: “They came back from the river; they went in here. ——(He is one of the cripple’s spies, set upon him to watch him.)—— This way, this way!” And the next instant, like a charge of wild cattle, the mob bursts through the cedars, led by a gigantic and ferocious figure, black with dust and mantled with blood — the blood of others.

The Prince rose from his lair as the yell of the pursuers told he was discovered; he turned as if to run; his trembling legs failed him; his eyes glared wildly; he tried to draw a weapon, but his hand shook so it was in vain. The next instant there was a crack of a pistol in the hands of one of the mob. The ball struck the Prince in the back of the neck, even in the same spot where, a century before, the avenging bullet smote the assassin of the good President Lincoln. With a terrible shriek he fell down, and moaned in the most exquisite torture. His suffering was so great that, coward as he was, he cried out: “Kill me! kill me!” A workman, stirred by a human sentiment, stepped forward and pointed his pistol, but the cripple struck the weapon up.

“No, no,” he said; “let him suffer for a few hours something of the misery he and his have inflicted on mankind during centuries. A thousand years of torture would not balance the account. The wound is mortal — his body is now paralyzed — only the sense of pain remains. The damned in hell do not suffer more. Come away.”

But Cæsar had seen a prize worth pursuing. Frederika had risen, and when the Prince was shot she fled. Cæsar pursued her, crashing through the shrubbery like an enraged mammoth; and soon the cripple laughed one of his dreadful laughs — for he saw the giant returning, dragging the fair girl after him, by the hair of her head, as we have seen, in the pictures, ogres hauling off captured children to destruction.

And still the Prince lay upon his back; and still he shrieked and moaned and screamed in agony, and begged for death.

An hour passed, and there was dead silence save for his cries; the mob had swept off to new scenes of slaughter.

The Prince heard the crackling of a stick, and then a stealthy step. A thief, hunting for plunder, was approaching. The Prince, by great effort, hushed his outcries.

“Come here,” said he, as the pale, mean face peered at him curiously through the shrubbery. “Come nearer.”

The thief stood close to him.

“Would you kill a man for a hundred thousand dollars?” asked the Prince.

The thief grinned, and nodded his head; it signified that he would commit murder for the hundred thousandth part of that sum.

“I am mortally wounded and in dreadful pain,” growled the Prince, the suppressed sobs interrupting his speech. “If I tell you where you can find a hundred thousand dollars, will you drive my knife through my heart?”

“Yes,” said the thief.

“Then take the knife,” he said.

The thief did so, eying [sic] it rapaciously — for it was diamond-studded and gold-mounted.

“But,” said the Prince — villain himself and anticipating all villainy in others — “if I tell you where the money is you will run away to seek it, and leave me here to die a slow and agonizing death.”

“No,” said the thief; “I promise you on my honor.”

A thief’s honor!

“I tell you what you must do,” said the Prince, after thinking a moment. “Kneel down and lean over me; put your arms around me; I cannot hold you with my hands, for they are paralyzed; but put the lapel of your coat between my teeth. I will then tell you where the treasure is; but I will hold on to you by my teeth until you kill me. You will have to slay me to escape from me.

The thief did as he was directed; his arms were around the Prince; the lapel of his coat was between the Prince’s teeth; and then through his shut teeth, tight clenched on the coat, the Prince muttered:

“It is in the satchel beneath me.”

Without a word the thief raised his right hand and drove the knife sidewise clear through the Prince’s heart.

The last of the accumulations of generations of wrong and robbery and extortion and cruelty had sufficed to purchase their heritor a miserable death — in the embrace of a thief!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/donnelly/ignatius/caesars-column/chapter34.html

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