Caesar's Column, by Ignatius Donnelly

Chapter 37.

The Second Day

It was a dreadful night. Crowds of farmers from the surrounding country kept pouring into the city. They were no longer the honest yeomanry who had filled, in the old time, the armies of Washington, and Jackson, and Grant, and Sherman, with brave patriotic soldiers; but their brutalized descendants — fierce serfs — cruel and bloodthirsty peasants. Every man who owned anything was their enemy and their victim. They invaded the houses of friend and foe alike, and murdered men, women and children. Plunder! plunder! They had no other thought.

One of our men came to me at midnight, and said:

“Do you hear those shrieks?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“They are murdering the family next door.”

These were pleasant, kindly people, who had never harmed any one. But this maelström swallows good and bad alike.

Another came running to me, and cried:

“They are attacking the house!”

“Where?” I asked.

“At the front door.”

“Throw over a hand-grenade,” I said.

There was a loud crash, and a scurrying of flying feet. The cowardly miscreants had fled. They were murderers, not warriors.

All night long the awful Bedlam raged. The dark streets swarmed. Three times we had to have recourse to the hand-grenades. Fires sprang up all over the city, licking the darkness with their hideous tongues of flame, and revealing by their crimson glare the awful sights of that unparalleled time. The dread came upon me: What if some wretch should fire a house in our block? How should we choose between the conflagration and those terrible streets? Would it not be better to be ashes and cinders, than to fall into the hands of that demoniacal mob?

No one slept. Max sat apart and thought. Was he considering — too late! — whether it was right to have helped produce this terrible catastrophe? Early in the morning, accompanied by three of his men, he went out.

We ate breakfast in silence. It seemed to me we had no right to eat in the midst of so much death and destruction.

There was an alarm, and the firing of guns above us. Some miscreants had tried to reach the roof of our house from the adjoining buildings. We rushed up. A lively fusillade followed. Our magazine rifles and hand-grenades were too much for them; some fell dead and the rest beat a hasty retreat. They were peasants, searching for plunder.

After awhile there came a loud rapping at the front door. I leaned over the parapet and asked who was there. A Tough-looking man replied:

“I have a letter for you.”

Fearing some trick, to break into the house, I lowered a long cord and told him to tie the letter to it. He did so. I pulled up a large sheet of dirty wrapping-paper. There were some lines scrawled upon it, in lead-pencil, in the large hand of a schoolboy — almost undecipherable. With some study I made out these words:

MISTER GABRIEL, MAX’S FRIEND: Cæsar wants that thing to put on the front of the column.

BILL.

It took me a few minutes to understand it. At last I realized that Cæsar’s officer — Bill — had sent for the inscription for the monument, about which Cæsar had spoken to Max.

I called down to the messenger to wait, and that I would give it to him.

I sat down, and, after some thought, wrote, on the back of the wrapping-paper, these words:

THIS GREAT MONUMENT
IS
ERECTED BY
CÆSAR LOMELLINI,
COMMANDING GENERAL OF
THE BROTHERHOOD OF DESTRUCTION,
IN COMMEMORATION OF THE DEATH AND BURIAL OF
MODERN CIVILIZATION.

It is composed of the bodies of a quarter of a million of human beings, who were once the rulers, or the instruments of the rulers, of this mighty, but, alas! this ruined city.

They were dominated by leaders who were altogether evil.

They corrupted the courts, the juries, the newspapers, the legislatures, the congresses, the ballot-boxes and the hearts and souls of the people.

They formed gigantic combinations to plunder the poor; to make the miserable more miserable; to take from those who had least and give it to those who had most.

They used the machinery of free government to effect oppression; they made liberty a mockery, and its traditions a jest; they drove justice from the land and installed cruelty, ignorance, despair and vice in its place.

Their hearts were harder than the nether mill-stone; they degraded humanity and outraged God.

At length indignation stirred in the vasty courts of heaven; and overburdened human nature rose in universal revolt on earth.

By the very instruments which their own wickedness had created they perished; and here they lie, sepulchred in stone, and heaped around explosives as destructive as their own lives. We execrate their vices, while we weep for their misfortunes. They were the culmination of centuries of misgovernment; and they paid an awful penalty for the sins of generations of short-sighted and selfish ancestors, as well as for their own cruelty and wickedness.

Let this monument, O man! stand forever.

Should civilization ever revive on earth, let the human race come hither and look upon this towering shaft, and learn to restrain selfishness and live righteously. From this ghastly pile let it derive the great lesson, that no earthly government can endure which is not built on mercy, justice, truth and love.

I tied the paper to the cord and lowered it down to the waiting messenger.

At noon Max returned. His clothes were torn, his face pale, his eyes wild-looking, and around his head he wore a white bandage, stained with his own blood. Christina screamed and his mother fainted.

“What is the matter, Max?” I asked.

“It is all in vain,” he replied despairingly; “I thought I would be able to create order out of chaos and reconstruct society. But that dream is past.”

“What has happened?” I asked.

“I went this morning to Prince Cabano’s palace to get Cæsar to help me. He had held high carnival all night and was beastly drunk, in bed. Then I went out to counsel with the mob. But another calamity had happened. Last night the vice-president — the Jew — fled, in one of the Demons, carrying away one hundred million dollars that had been left in his charge.”

“Where did he go?” I asked.

“No one knows. He took several of his trusted followers, of his own nation, with him. It is rumored that he has gone to Judea; that he proposes to make himself king in Jerusalem, and, with his vast wealth, re-establish the glories of Solomon, and revive the ancient splendors of the Jewish race, in the midst of the ruins of the world.”

“What effect has his flight had on the mob?” I asked.

“A terrible effect. They are wild with suspicions and full of rumors. They gathered, in a vast concourse, around the Cabano palace, to prevent Cæsar leaving them, like the cripple. They believe that he, too, has another hundred millions hidden in the cellars of the palace. They clamored for him to appear. The tumult of the mob was frightful.

“I rose to address them from the steps of the palace. I told them they need not fear that Cæsar would leave them — he was dead drunk, asleep in bed. If they feared treachery, let them appoint a committee to search the palace for treasure. But — I went on — there was a great danger before them which they had not thought of. They must establish some kind of government that they would all obey. If they did not they would soon be starving. I explained to them that this vast city, of ten million inhabitants, had been fed by thousands of carloads of food which were brought in, every day, from the outside world. Now the cars had ceased to run, The mob had eaten up all the food in the shops, and tomorrow they would begin to feel the pangs of starvation. And I tried to make them understand what it meant for ten million people to be starving together.

“They became very quiet. One man cried out:

“‘What would you have us do?’

“‘You must establish a provisional government. You must select one man to whose orders you will all submit. Then you must appoint a board of counselors to assist him. Then the men among you who are engineers and conductors of trains of cars and of air-lines must reassume their old places; and they must go forth into the country and exchange the spoils you have gathered for cattle and flour and vegetables, and all other things necessary for life.’

“‘He wants to make himself a king,’ growled one ruffian.

“‘Yes,’ said another, ‘and set us all at work again.’

“‘He’s a d —— d aristocrat, anyhow,’ cried a third.

“But there were some who had sense enough to see that I was right, and the mob at once divided into two clamorous factions. Words led to blows. A number were killed. Three wretches rushed at me. I shot one dead, and wounded another; the third gave me a flesh wound on the head with a sword; my hat broke the force of the blow, or it would have made an end of me. As he raised his weapon for a second stroke, I shot him dead. My friends forced me through the door of the palace, in front of which I had been standing; we double-locked it to keep out the surging wild beasts; I fled through the back door, and reached here.

“All hope is gone,” he added sadly; “I can do nothing now but provide for our own safety.”

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