And then all avenues were open. And like a huge flood, long damned up, turbulent, turbid, muddy, loaded with wrecks and debris, the gigantic mass broke loose, full of foam and terror, and flowed in every direction. A foul and brutal and ravenous multitude it was, dark with dust and sweat, armed with the weapons of civilization, but possessing only the instincts of wild beasts.
At first they were under the control of some species of discipline and moved toward the houses of the condemned, of whom printed catalogues had been furnished the officers. The shouts, the yells, the delight were appalling.
Now and then some poor wretch, whose sole offense was that he was well-dressed, would take fright and start to run, and then, like hounds after a rabbit, they would follow in full cry; and when he was caught a hundred men would struggle to strike him, and he would disappear in a vortex of arms, clubs and bayonets, literally torn to pieces.
A sullen roar filled the air as this human cyclone moved onward, leaving only wrecks behind it. Now it pauses at a house. The captain consults his catalogue. "This is it," he cries; and doors and windows give way before the thunderous mob; and then the scenes are terrible. Men are flung headlong, alive, out of the windows to the ravenous wretches below; now a dead body comes whirling down; then the terrified inhabitants fly to the roofs, and are pursued from house to house and butchered in sight of the delighted spectators. But when the condemned man--the head of the house--is at last found, hidden perhaps in some coal-hole or cellar, and
is brought up, black with dust, and wild with terror, his clothes half torn from his back; and he is thrust forth, out of door or window, into the claws of the wild beasts, the very heavens ring with acclamations of delight; and happy is the man who can reach over his fellows and know that he has struck the victim.
Then up and away for another vengeance. Before them is solitude; shops and stores and residences are closed and barricaded; in the distance teams are seen flying and men scurrying to shelter; and through crevices in shutters the horrified people peer at the mob, as at an invasion of barbarians.
Behind them are dust, confusion, dead bodies, hammered and beaten out of all semblance of humanity; and, worse than all, the criminal classes--that wretched and inexplicable residuum, who have no grievance against the world except their own existence--the base, the cowardly, the cruel, the sneaking, the inhuman, the horrible! These flock like jackals in the track of the lions. They rob the dead bodies; they break into houses; they kill if they are resisted; they fill their pockets. Their joy is unbounded. Elysium has descended upon earth for them this day. Pickpockets, sneak-thieves, confidence-men, burglars, robbers, assassins, the refuse and outpouring of grog-shops and brothels, all are here. And women, too--or creatures that pass for such--having the bodies of women and the habits of ruffians;--harpies--all claws and teeth and greed--bold--desperate--shameless--incapable of good. They, too, are here. They dart hither and thither; they swarm--they dance--they howl--they chatter--they quarrel and battle, like carrion-vultures, over the spoils.
Civilization is gone, and all the devils are loose! No more courts, nor judges, nor constables, nor prisons! That which it took the world ten thousand years to create has gone in an hour.
And still the thunderous cyclones move on through a hundred streets. Occasionally a house is fired; but this is not
part of the programme, for they have decided to keep all these fine residences for themselves! They will be rich. They will do no more work. The rich man's daughters shall be their handmaidens; they will wear his purple and fine linen.
But now and then the flames rise up--perhaps a thief kindles the blaze--and it burns and burns; for who would leave the glorious work to put it out? It burns until the streets stop it and the block is consumed. Fortunately, or unfortunately, there is no wind to breed a general conflagration. The storms to-day are all on earth; and the powers of the air are looking down with hushed breath, horrified at the exceeding wickedness of the little crawlers on the planet we call men.
They do not, as a rule, steal. Revenge--revenge--is all their thought. And why should they steal? Is it not all their own? Now and then a too audacious thief is caught and stuck full of bayonets; or he is flung out of a window, and dies at the hands of the mob the death of the honest man for whom he is mistaken; and thus, by a horrible travesty of fate, he perishes for that which he never was nor could be.
Think of the disgust of a thief who finds himself being murdered for an honest man, an aristocrat, and can get no one to believe his asseverations that he is simply and truly a thief--and nothing more! It is enough to make Death grin!
The rude and begrimed insurgents are raised by their terrible purposes to a certain dignity. They are the avengers of time--the God-sent--the righters of the world's wrongs--the punishers of the ineffably wicked. They do not mean to destroy the world; they will reform it--redeem it. They will make it a world where there shall be neither toil nor oppression. But, poor fellows! their arms are more potent for evil than their brains for good. They are omnipotent to destroy; they are powerless to create.
But still the work of ruin and slaughter goes on. The
mighty city, with its ten million inhabitants, lies prostrate, chained, helpless, at the mercy of the enraged canaille. The dogs have become lions.
The people cannot comprehend it. They look around for their defenders--the police, the soldiery. "Where are they? Will not this dreadful nightmare pass away?" No; no; never--never. This is the culmination--this is the climax--"the century's aloe flowers to-day." These are "the grapes of wrath" which God has stored up for the day of his vengeance; and now he is trampling them out, and this is the red juice--look you!--that flows so thick and fast in the very gutters.
You were blind, you were callous, you were indifferent to the sorrows of your kind. The cry of the poor did not touch you, and every pitiful appeal wrung from human souls, every groan and sob and shriek of men and women, and the little starving children--starving in body and starving in brain--rose up and gathered like a great cloud around the throne of God; and now, at last, in the fullness of time, it has burst and comes down upon your wretched heads, a storm of thunderbolts and blood.
You had money, you had power, you had leisure, you had intelligence, you possessed the earth; all things were possible unto you. Did you say to one another: "These poor souls are our brethren. For them Christ died on Calvary. What can we do to make their lives bright and happy?" No; no; you cried out, "'On with the dance!' Let them go down into the bottomless pit!"
And you smiled and said to one another, in the words of the first murderer, when he lied to God: "Am I my brother's keeper?" Nay, you said further to one another, "There is no God!" For you thought, if there was one, surely He would not permit the injustice manifest in the world. But, lo! He is here. Did you think to escape him? Did you think the great Father of Cause and Effect--the All-knowing, the universe-building God,--would pass you by?
As you sowed, so must you reap. Evil has but one child--Death! For hundreds of years you have nursed and nurtured Evil. Do you complain if her monstrous progeny is here now, with sword and torch? What else did you expect? Did you think she would breed angels?
Your ancestors, more than two centuries ago, established and permitted Slavery. What was the cry of the bondman to them? What the sobs of the mother torn from her child--the wife from her husband--on the auction block? Who among them cared for the lacerated bodies, the shameful and hopeless lives? They were merry; they sang and they danced; and they said, "Gods sleeps."
But a day came when there was a corpse at every fireside. And not the corpse of the black stranger--the African--the slave;--but the corpses of fair, bright-faced men; their cultured, their manly, their noble, their best-loved. And, North and South, they sat, rocking themselves to and fro, in the midst of the shards and ashes of desolation, crying aloud for the lives that would come back to bless them never, nevermore.
God wipes out injustice with suffering; wrong with blood; sin with death. You can no more get beyond the reach of His hand than you can escape from the planet.