Caesar's Column, by Ignatius Donnelly

Chapter 36.

Cæsar Erects His Monument

“What other news have you?” I asked.

“The strangest you ever heard,” replied Max.

“What is it?”

“Cæsar,” said Max, “has fallen upon a scheme of the most frenzied and extraordinary kind.”

“Are the members of the Executive Committee all going crazy together?” I asked.

“Surely,” replied Max, “the terrible events we are passing through would be our excuse if we did. But you shall hear. After I had avenged my father I proceeded to find Cæsar. I heard from members of the Brotherhood, whom I met on the streets, that he was at Prince Cabano’s palace. I hurried there, as it was necessary I should confer with him on some matters. A crowd had reassembled around the building, which had become in some sort a headquarters; and, in fact, Cæsar has confiscated it to his own uses, and intends to keep it as his home hereafter. I found him in the council-chamber. You never saw such a sight. He was so black with dust and blood that he looked like a negro. He was hatless, and his mat of hair rose like a wild beast’s mane. He had been drinking; his eyes were wild and rolling; the great sword he held in his right hand was caked with blood to the hilt. He was in a fearful state of excitement, and roared when he spoke. A king-devil, come fresh out of hell, could scarcely have looked more terrible. Behind him in one corner, crouching and crying together, were a bevy of young and handsome women. The Sultan had been collecting his harem. When he caught sight of me he rushed forward and seized my hand, and shouted out:

“‘Hurrah, old fellow! This is better than raising potatoes on the Saskatchewan, or hiding among the niggers in Louis — hic — iana. Down with the Oligarchy. To hell with them. Hurrah! This is my palace. I am a king! Look-a-there,’ he said, with a roll and a leer, pointing over his shoulder at the shrinking and terrified women; ‘ain’t they beauties — hic — all mine — every one of ’em.’

“Here one of his principal officers came up, and the following dialogue occurred:

“‘I came, General, to ask you what we are to do with the dead.’

“‘Kill ’em,’ roared Cæsar, ‘kill ’em, d — n ’em.’

“‘But, General, they are dead already,’ replied the officer who was a steady fellow and perfectly sober.

“Well, what’s the matter with ’em, then?’ replied Cæsar. ‘Come, come, Bill, if they’re dead, that’s the end of them. Take a drink,’ and he turned, unsteadily, toward the council-table, on which stood several bottles and demijohns.

“‘But some of us have talked it over,’ said the officer. ‘A number of the streets are impassable already with the dead. There must be a quarter of a million of soldiers and citizens lying about, and the number is being added to every minute. The weather is warm, and they will soon breed a pestilence that will revenge them on their slayers. Those killed by the poison are beginning to smell already. We couldn’t take any action without your authority, and so I came to ask you for your orders.’

“‘Burn ’em up,’ said Cæsar.

“‘We can’t,’ said the man; ‘we would have to burn up the city to destroy them in that way; there are too many of them; and it would be an immense task to bury them.’

“‘Heap ’em all up in one big pile,’ said Cæsar.

“‘That wouldn’t do — the smell they would make in decaying would be unbearable, to say nothing of the sickness they would create.’

“Cæsar was standing unsteadily, looking at us with lackluster eyes. Suddenly an idea seemed to dawn in his monstrous head — an idea as monstrous and uncouth as the head itself. His eyes lighted up.

“‘I have it!’ he shouted. ‘By G-d, I have it! Make a pyramid of them, and pour cement over them, and let it stand forever as a monument of this day’s glorious work! Hoorrah!”

“‘That’s a pretty good idea,’ said the officer, and the others present, courtier-like — for King Cæsar already has his courtiers — applauded the idea vociferously.

“‘We’ll have a monument that shall last while the earth stands,’ cried Cæsar. ‘And, hold on, Bill,’ he continued, ‘you shall build it; — and — I say — we won’t make a pyramid of it — it shall be a column —Cæsar’s Column— by G-d. It shall reach to the skies! And if there aren’t enough dead to build it of, why, we’ll kill some more; we’ve got plenty to kill. Old Thingumbob, who used to live here — in my palace — said he would kill ten million of us to-day. But he didn’t. Not much! Max’s friend — that d —— d long-legged fellow, from Africa — he dished him, for he told old Quincy all about it. And now I’ve got old Thingumbob’s best girl in the corner yonder. Oh, it’s jolly. But build the column, Bill — build it high and strong. I remember — hic — how they used to build houses on the Saskatchewan, when I was grubbing for potatoes there. They had a board frame the length of a wall, and three or four feet high. They would throw in stones, bowlders, pebbles, dirt, anything, and, when it was full, they would pour cement over it all; and when it hardened — hic — which it did in a few minutes, they lifted up the frame and made another course. I say, Bill, that’s the way you must build Cæsar’s column. And get Charley Carpenter to help you; he’s an engineer. And, hold on, Bill, put a lot of dynamite — Jim has just told me they had found tons of it — put a lot of dynamite — hic — in the middle of it, and if they try to tear down my monument, it will blow them to the d —— l. And, I say, Max, that long-legged, preaching son-of-thunder — that friend of yours — he must write an inscription for it. Do you hear? He’s the man to do it. Something fine. By G-d, we will build a monument that will beat the pyramids of all the other Caesars. Cæsar’s Column! Hoorrah!’

“And the great brute fairly jumped and danced with delight over his extraordinary conception.

“Bill hurried out. They have sixty thousand prisoners — men who had not been among the condemned — but merchants, professional men, etc. They were debating, when I came up, whether they would kill them, but I suggested that they be set to work on the construction of Cæsar’s Column, and if they worked well, that their lives be spared. This was agreed to. They are now building the monument on Union Square. Thousands of wagons are at work bringing in the dead. Other wagons are hauling cement, sand, etc. Bill and his friend Carpenter are at work. They have constructed great wooden boxes, about forty feet from front to rear, about four feet high and fifty feet long. The dead are to be laid in rows — the feet of the one row of men near the center of the monument, and the feet of the next row touching the heads of the first, and so on. In the middle of the column there is to be a cavity, about five feet square, running from the top to the bottom of the monument, in which the dynamite is to be placed; while wires will lead out from it among the bodies, so arranged, with fulminating charges, that any attempt to destroy the monument or remove the bodies will inevitably result in a dreadful explosion. But we will go up after dinner and look at the work,” he said, “for they are to labor night and day until it is finished. The members of the Brotherhood have entered with great spirit into the idea of such a monument, as a symbol and memorial of their own glory and triumph.”

“I remember,” said I, “reading somewhere that, some centuries ago, an army of white men invaded one of the Barbary states. They were defeated by the natives, and were every one slain. The Moors took their bodies and piled them up in a great monument, and there the white bones and grinning skulls remain to this day, a pyramid of skeletons; a ghastly warning to others who might think to make a like attempt at invasion of the country. Cæsar must have read of that terrible trophy of victory.”

“Perhaps so,” said Maximilian; “but the idea may have been original with him; for there is no telling what such a monstrous brain as his, fired by whisky and battle, might or might not produce.”

At dinner poor Mr. Phillips was looking somewhat better. He had a great many questions to ask his son about the insurrection.

“Arthur,” he said, “if the bad man and his accomplices, who so cruelly used me, should be made prisoners, I beg you, as a favor to me, not to punish them. Leave them to God and their own consciences.”

“I shall,” said Max, quietly.

Mrs. Phillips heartily approved of this sentiment. I looked down at my plate, but before my eyes there came a dreadful picture of that fortress of flame, with the chained man in the midst, and high above it I could see, swung through the air by powerful arms, manacled figures, who descended, shrieking, into the vortex of fire.

After many injunctions to his guards, to look well after the house, Max and I, well armed and wearing our red crosses, and accompanied by two of our most trusted men, sallied forth through the back gate.

What a scene! Chaos; had come. There were no cars or carriages. Thieves and murderers were around us; scenes of rapine and death on every hand. We moved together in a body; our magazine rifles ready for instant use.

Our red crosses protected us from the members of the Brotherhood; and the thieves gave our guns a wide berth. At a street crossing we encountered a wagon-load of dead bodies; they were being hauled to the monument. The driver, one of the Brotherhood, recognized Max, and invited us to seats beside him. Familiarity makes death as natural as life. We accepted his offer — one of our men sitting on the tailboard of the wagon; and in this gory chariot we rode slowly through Broadway, deserted now by everything but crime. The shops had all been broken open; dead bodies lay here and there; and occasionally a burned block lifted its black arms appealingly to heaven. As we drew near to Union Square a wonderful sight — such as the world had never before beheld — expanded before us. Great blazing bonfires lighted the work; hundreds of thousands had gathered to behold the ghastly structure, the report of which had already spread everywhere. These men nearly all belonged to the Brotherhood, or were members of the lower orders, who felt that they had nothing to fear from insurrection. There were many women among them, and not a few thieves, who, drawn by curiosity, for awhile forgot their opportunities and their instincts. Within the great outer circle of dark and passionate and exultant faces, there was another assemblage of a very different appearance. These were the prisoners at work upon the monument. Many of them were gray-haired; some were bloody from wounds upon their heads or bodies; they were all pale and terrified; not a few were in rags, or half naked, their clothes having been literally torn from their backs. They were dejected, and yet moved with alacrity, in fear of the whips or clubs in the hands of their masters, who passed among them, filling the air with oaths. Max pointed out to me prominent merchants, lawyers and clergymen. They were all dazed-looking, like men after a terrific earthquake, who had lost confidence in the stability of everything. It was Anarchy personified:— the men of intellect were doing the work; the men of muscle were giving the orders. The under-rail had come on top. It reminded me of Swift’s story of the country where the men were servants to the horses.

The wagons rolled up, half a dozen at a time, and dumped their dreadful burdens on the stones, with no more respect or ceremony than if they had been cord-wood. Then the poor trembling prisoners seized them by the head and feet, and carried them to other prisoners, who stood inside the boxes, and who arranged them like double lines from a central point:— it was the many-rayed sun of death that had set upon civilization. Then, when the box was full and closely packed, they poured the liquid cement, which had been mixed close at hand, over them. It hardened at once, and the dead were entombed forever. Then the box was lifted and the work of sepulture went on.

While I stood watching the scene I heard a thrilling, ear-piercing shriek — a dreadful cry! A young man, who was helping to carry a corpse, let go his hold and fell down on the pavement. I went over to him. He was writhing and moaning. He had observed something familiar about the form he was bearing — it was the body of a woman. He had peered through the disheveled hair at the poor, agonized, blood-stained features, and recognized —his wife!

One of the guards raised his whip to strike him, and shouted:

“Here! Get up! None of this humbugging.”

“I caught the ruffian’s arm. The poor wretch was embracing the dead body, and moaning pitiful expressions of love and tenderness into the ears that would never hear him more. The ruffian threatened me. But the mob was moved to mercy, and took my part; and even permitted the poor creature to carry off his dead in his arms, out into the outer darkness. God only knows where he could have borne it.

I grew sick at heart. The whole scene was awful.

I advanced toward the column. It was already several feet high, and ladders were being made, up which the dead might be borne. Coffee and bread and meat were served out to the workers.

I noticed a sneaking, ruffianly fellow, going about among the prisoners, peering into every face. Not far from me a ragged, hatless, gray-haired man, of over seventy, was helping another, equally old, to bear a heavy body to the ladders. The ruffian looked first into the face of the man at the feet of the corpse; then he came to the man at the head. He uttered an exclamation of delight.

“Ha! you old scoundrel,” he cried, drawing his pistol. “So I’ve found you. You’re the man that turned my sick wife out of your house, because she couldn’t pay the rent. I’ve got you now.”

The old man fell on his knees, and held up his hands, and begged for mercy. I heard an explosion — a red spot suddenly appeared on his forehead, and he fell forward, over the corpse he had been carrying — dead.

“Come! move lively!” cried one of the guards, snapping his whip; “carry them both to the workmen.”

I grew dizzy. Maximilian came up.

“How pale you are,” he said.

“Take me away!” I exclaimed, “or I shall faint.”

We rode back in another chariot of revolution — a death-cart.

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