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Caesar's Column eBook

Ignatius Donnelly
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 287 pages of information about Caesar's Column.
A more joyless, sullen crowd I never beheld.  Street after street they unrolled before us; there seemed to be millions of them.  They were all poorly clad, and many of them in rags.  The women, with the last surviving instinct of the female heart, had tried to decorate themselves; and here and there I could observe a bit of bright color on bonnet or apron; but the bonnets represented the fashions of ten years past, and the aprons were too often frayed and darned, and relics of some former, more opulent owners.  There were multitudes of children, but they were without the gambols which characterize the young of all animals; and there was not even the chirp of a winter bird about them; their faces were prematurely aged and hardened, and their bold eyes revealed that sin had no surprises for them.  And every one of these showed that intense look which marks the awful struggle for food and life upon which they had just entered.  The multitude seemed, so far as I could judge, to be of all nations commingled—­the French, German, Irish, English—­Hungarians, Italians, Russians, Jews, Christians, and even Chinese and Japanese; for the slant eyes of many, and their imperfect, Tartar-like features, reminded me that the laws made by the Republic, in the elder and better days, against the invasion of the Mongolian hordes, had long since become a dead letter.

What struck me most was their incalculable multitude and their silence.  It seemed to me that I was witnessing the resurrection of the dead; and that these vast, streaming, endless swarms were the condemned, marching noiselessly as shades to unavoidable and everlasting misery.  They seemed to me merely automata, in the hands of some ruthless and unrelenting destiny.  They lived and moved, but they were without heart or hope.  The illusions of the imagination, which beckon all of us forward, even over the roughest paths and through the darkest valleys and shadows of life, had departed from the scope of their vision.  They knew that to-morrow could bring them nothing better than today—­the same shameful, pitiable, contemptible, sordid struggle for a mere existence.  If they produced children it was reluctantly or unmeaningly; for they knew the wretches must tread in their footsteps, and enter, like them, that narrow, gloomy, high-walled pathway, out of which they could never climb; which began almost in infancy and ended in a pauper’s grave—­nay, I am wrong, not even in a pauper’s grave; for they might have claimed, perhaps, some sort of ownership over the earth which enfolded them, which touched them and mingled with their dust.  But public safety and the demands of science had long ago decreed that they should be whisked off, as soon as dead, a score or two at a time, and swept on iron tram-cars into furnaces heated to such intense white heat that they dissolved, crackling, even as they entered the chamber, and rose in nameless gases through the high chimney.  That towering structure was the sole memorial monument of millions of them. 

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