Caesar's Column, by Ignatius Donnelly

Chapter 7.

The Hiding-Place

I had seen something of the magnificence of this age, and of the splendor of its lordly habitations; but I was not prepared for the grandeur of the rooms through which Rudolph led me. It would be impossible to adequately describe them. We moved noiselessly over carpets soft and deep as a rich sward, but tinted with colors and designs, from the great looms of the world, beside which the comparison of nature’s carpets seemed insignificant. We passed up great winding stairs, over which, it seemed to me, three carriages might have been driven abreast; we were surrounded at every step by exquisite statuary and royal paintings; our course led through great libraries where the softened light fell on the endless arrays of richly-bound books. But they were as dead intelligence under the spell of a magician. No pale students sat at the tables here, availing themselves of the treasures which it had taken generations to assemble, and some of which could scarcely be found elsewhere. Men and women passed and repassed us; for the house was so full of servants that it seemed like a town in itself. Here and there were quiet-looking watchmen, who served the place of police in a great city, and whose duty it was to keep watch and ward over the innumerable articles which everywhere met the eye — costly books, works of art, bronzes, jeweled boxes, musical instruments, small groups of exquisite statuary, engravings, curios, etc., from all quarters of the earth. It represented, in short, the very profligacy and abandon of unbounded wealth. Each room seemed to contain a king’s ransom. I could not help but contrast this useless and extravagant luxury, which served no purpose but display and vanity, with the dreadful homes and working-places of the poor I had visited the day before. And it seemed to me as if a voice pierced my heart, crying out through all its recesses, in strident tones, “How long, O Lord, how long?” And then I thought how thin a crust of earth separated all this splendor from that burning hell of misery beneath it. And if the molten mass of horror should break its limitations and overflow the earth! Already it seemed to me the planet trembled; I could hear the volcanic explosions; I could see the sordid flood of wrath and hunger pouring through these halls; cataracts of misery bursting through every door and window, and sweeping away all this splendor into never-ending blackness and ruin. I stood still, lost in these engrossing reflections, when Rudolph touched me on the arm, and led the way through a great hall, covered with ancestral portraits, into a magnificent chamber. In the center stood a large table, and around it about two score chairs, all made of dark tropical wood. It was like the council chamber of some great government, with the throne of the king at one end.

“This,” said Rudolph, in a solemn whisper, “this is where they meet. This is the real center of government of the American continent; all the rest is sham and form. The men who meet here determine the condition of all the hundreds of millions who dwell on the great land revealed to the world by Columbus. Here political parties, courts, juries, governors, legislatures, congresses, presidents are made and unmade; and from this spot they are controlled and directed in the discharge of their multiform functions. The decrees formulated here are echoed by a hundred thousand newspapers, and many thousands of orators; and they are enforced by an uncountable army of soldiers, servants, tools, spies, and even assassins. He who stands in the way of the men who assemble here perishes. He who would oppose them takes his life in his hands. You are, young man, as if I had led you to the center of the earth, and I had placed your hand upon the very pivot, the well-oiled axle, upon which, noiselessly, the whole great globe revolves, and from which the awful forces extend which hold it all together.”

I felt myself overawed. It was as if mighty spirits even then inhabited that dusky and silent chamber; hostile and evil spirits of whom mankind were at once the subjects and the victims. I followed Rudolph on tiptoe as he advanced to the end of the room.

“Here,” he said, entering through a wide arch “is a conservatory which is constantly kept supplied and renewed, from the hot-houses of the palace, with the most magnificent flowers. The only humanizing trait the Prince seems to possess is an affection for flowers. And he especially loves those strange Mexican and South American plants, the cactaceæ, which unite the most exquisite flowers to the most grotesque and repulsive forms, covered with great spear-like spines, and which thrive only in barren lands, and on the poorest soil. I have taken advantage of the presence of these plants to construct the hiding-place about which I spoke to you. Here are some which are fifteen feet high. They touch the ceiling of the room. Around them I have arranged a perfect hedge or breast-work of smaller plants of the same family, growing in large boxes. Nothing could penetrate through this prickly wall; and I have united the boxes by hooks and staples on the inside. There is, however, one which a strong man can move aside; and through the opening thus formed he can crawl to the center of the barricade, and, having replaced the hooks, it would be almost impossible to reach him; while he could not be seen unless one were immediately over him and looked down upon him. Then between him and the council room I have arranged a screen of flowers, which will hide you when you stand up, while between the blossoms you can see everything with little risk of being seen. But in case you should be detected you will observe behind you a window, which, as the weather is warm, I shall leave open. On the outside is a great ivy vine that will bear your weight. You will have to dare the spines of the cacti behind you; make a great leap to the window and take your chances of escaping the fusillade of pistol shots, by flying in the darkness, into the garden. I will show you the grounds so that you will not be lost in them, if you get that far. If caught, you will have to pretend to be a burglar who entered at the window for purposes of plunder. It would do you no good to inculpate me, for it would doom us both to instant death as spies; while a supposed burglar would be simply turned over to the law and punished by a term of imprisonment. I give you these instructions although I hope there will be no necessity for them. This hiding-place has been several times used, and the deepest secrets of the aristocracy revealed to our Brotherhood, without detection; and if you are prudent and careful there will be little to fear. The council will meet at eight o’clock; at half past seven it will be my duty to see that the rooms are in order, and to make sure that there are no spies or intruders on the premises, and to so report in person to the Prince, and deliver him the key of the outer door. I shall cover your dress with the garments of one of the household servants, and take you with me to help make that last examination; and, watching an opportunity, you will slip into the hiding-place; having first taken off the disguise I have lent you, which we will hide among the plants. You must be armed and prepared for every emergency. I will meet you in the garden at half past six; before we part I will furnish you with a key to an outer gate, by which you can enter. As soon as the council has broken up, I will return to the room and again disguise you in the servant’s dress. The Prince always entertains his guests with a lunch and champagne before they separate.

“In the meantime I will bring Estella to my room; you can then pass out together and boldly advance to your carriage. You will first have to agree with Maximilian where it will stand; and the guard at the door will show you to it. When once in it, drive like the wind. You must arrange with Maximilian as to what is to be done in case you find you are followed, for in that event it will not do to drive directly to his house. You must enter the house of some one of the Brotherhood and pass rapidly through it, with Miss Washington, to a carriage that will be in waiting in a rear street. And you must be prepared with one or more such subterfuges, for you are dealing with men of terrible power and cunning, whose arms reach everywhere; and on the night of their councils — and in fact upon all other nights — the place abounds with spies. Come with me and I will show you the garden and how to enter it.”

I was struck with the intelligence, sagacity and executive capacity of the man; and I said to him:

“How comes it that you, holding such a position of trust and power, where your compensation must be all you can ask, are, at the same time, a member of a society which, if I understand aright, threatens to overturn the existing order of things. You are not driven to rebellion by want or oppression.”

“No,” he said; “I was educated at Heidelberg; I come of a wealthy family; but in my youth, while an enthusiastic lover of liberty and humanity, I became a member of a German branch of this now universal Brotherhood. I had my dreams, as many have, of reforming the world. But my membership, by a strange accident, became known, and I was forced to fly in disgrace, discarded by my relatives, to America. Here I lived in great poverty for a time, until the Brotherhood came to my assistance and secured me a servant’s place in this house. I have gradually risen to my present position. While I am not so enthusiastic as I once was, nor so sanguine of the good results of the promised revolution of the proletariat, I have nevertheless seen enough within these walls to show me the justice of our cause and the necessity for Some kind of reformation. I could not draw back now, if I desired to; and I do not know that I would if I could. We are all moving together on the face of the torrent, and whither it will eventually sweep us no one can tell. But come,” he added, “to the garden, or our long conversation may be noticed, and arouse suspicion.”

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