Caesar's Column, by Ignatius Donnelly

Chapter 31.


I looked down into the dark street. I could see nothing; but immediately a confused buzz and murmur, of motion everywhere, arose from the depths below me. As it grew louder and clearer I could hear the march of thousands of feet, moving rapidly; and then a number of wagons, heavily loaded, creaked and groaned over the pavements. I surmised that these wagons were loaded with stones, and were to be used in the construction of the barricades. There was no music, no shouting, not even the sound of voices; but tramp, tramp, tramp, in endless multitude, the heavy feet went by; and now and then, where the light yet streamed out of the window of some house, I could see the glitter of the steel barrels of rifles; and here and there I caught a glimpse of men on horseback, officers apparently, but dressed in the rough garb of workmen. Along the line of the houses near me, I could see, at opened, lighted windows, an array of pale faces, looking out with astonishment and terror at this dark and silent procession, which seemed to have arisen out of the earth, and was so vast that one might dream that the trumpet of the archangel had been blown, and all the dead of a thousand battle-fields had risen up for one last grand review. And not alone past our doors, but through all the streets near us, the same mighty, voiceless procession moved on; all converging to the quarter where the treasures of the great city lay, heaped up in safe and vault.

And then, several blocks away, but within the clear range of my vision, a light appeared in the street — it blazed — it rose higher and higher. I could see shadowy figures moving around it, heaping boxes, barrels and other combustibles upon the flame. It was a bonfire, kindled to light the work of building a barricade at that point. Across the street a line of wagons had been placed; the tail of each one touching the front of another, the horses having been withdrawn. And then hundreds of busy figures were to be seen at work, tearing up the pavements of the street and heaping the materials under the wagons; and then shovels flew, and the earth rose over it all; a deep ditch being excavated quite across the street, on the side near me. Then men, lit by the red light, looked, at the distance, like hordes of busy black insects. Behind them swarmed, as far as I could see, thousands upon thousands of dark forms, mere masses, touched here and there by the light of the bonfire, gleaming on glittering steel. They were the men within the barricades. There was a confused noise in other quarters, which I supposed was caused by the erection of a number of similar barricades elsewhere. Then the tramp of the marching masses past our doors ceased; and for a time the silence was profound.

So far not a soldier or policeman had been visible. The Oligarchy were evidently carrying out the plan of the Prince of Cabano. They were permitting the insurgents to construct their “rat-trap” without interruption. Only a few stragglers were upon the street, drawn there doubtless by curiosity; and still the pale faces were at the windows; and some even talked from window to window, and wondered what it all meant.

Suddenly there was a terrific explosion that shook the house. I could see a shower of stones and brick and timbers and dust, rising like a smoke, seamed with fire, high in the air, within the lines of the barricades. Then came another, even louder; then another, and another, and another, until it sounded like a bombardment. Then these ceased, and after a little time came the sounds of smaller explosions, muffled as if under ground or within walls.

“They are blowing open the banks,” I whispered to Estella.

Then all was quiet for a space. In a little while the bombardment began again, as if in another part of the territory inclosed in the barricades.

And still there was not a soldier to be seen in the deserted streets near me.

And again came other explosions.

At last I saw the red light beginning to touch the clouds along the eastern horizon with its crimson brush. The fateful day was dawning.

And then, in a little while, far away to the north, soft and dull at first, but swelling gradually into greater volume, a mighty sound arose; and through it I could hear bursts of splendid melody, rising and falling and fluttering, like pennons, above the tumult; and I recognized the notes of that grand old Scotch air, “The Campbells are Coming.”

It was the defenders of society advancing with the swinging step of assured triumph.

Oh, it was a splendid sight! In all the bravery of banners, and uniforms, and shining decorations, and amidst the majestic and inspiriting outpouring of music, they swept along, the thousands moving as one. How they did contrast with that gloomy, dark, ragged, sullen multitude who had preceded them. And with them came, rattling along, multitudes of those dreadful machine guns — those cataracts of fire and death — drawn by prancing, well-fed, shining horses. And the lips of the gunners were set for carnage; for they had received orders to take no prisoners! The world was to be taught a lesson to-day — a bloody and an awful lesson. Ah! little did they think how it would be taught!

In the gray light of the breaking day they came — an endless multitude. And all the windows were white with waving handkerchiefs, and the air stormy with huzzas and cries of “God bless you.” And at the head of every column, on exuberant steeds, that seemed as if they would leap out of their very skins with the mere delight of living, rode handsome officers, smiling and bowing to the ladies at the windows; — for was it not simply holiday work to slay the canaille— the insolent canaille— the unreasonable dogs — who demanded some share in the world’s delights — who were not willing to toil and die that others might live and be happy? And the very music had a revengeful, triumphant ring and sting to it, as if every instrument cried out: “Ah, we will give it to them!”

But it was splendid! It was the very efflorescence of the art of war — the culmination of the evolution of destruction — the perfect flower of ten thousand years of battle and blood.

But I heard one officer cry out to another, as they passed below me:

“What’s the matter with the Demons? Why are they not here?”

“I can’t say,” replied the one spoken to; “but they will be here in good time.”

The grand and mighty stream of men poured on. They halted close to the high barricade. It was a formidable structure at least fifteen feet high and many feet in thickness. The gray of dawn had turned into red, and a pale, clear light spread over all nature. I heard some sparrows, just awakened, twittering and conversing in a tall tree near me. They, too, wondered, doubtless, what it all meant, and talked it over in their own language.

The troops deployed right and left, and soon the insurgent mass was closely surrounded in every direction and every outlet closed. The “rat-trap” was set. Where were the rat-killers? I could see many a neck craned, and many a face lifted up, looking toward the west, for their terrible allies of the air. But they came not.

There was a dead pause. It was the stillness before the thunder.

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