Salammbo, by Gustave Flaubert

Chapter IV

Beneath the Walls of Carthage

Some country people, riding on asses or running on foot, arrived in the town, pale, breathless, and mad with fear. They were flying before the army. It had accomplished the journey from Sicca in three days, in order to reach Carthage and wholly exterminate it.

The gates were shut. The Barbarians appeared almost immediately; but they stopped in the middle of the isthmus, on the edge of the lake.

At first they made no hostile announcement. Several approached with palm branches in their hands. They were driven back with arrows, so great was the terror.

In the morning and at nightfall prowlers would sometimes wander along the walls. A little man carefully wrapped in a cloak, and with his face concealed beneath a very low visor, was especially noticed. He would remain whole hours gazing at the aqueduct, and so persistently that he doubtless wished to mislead the Carthaginians as to his real designs. Another man, a sort of giant who walked bareheaded, used to accompany him.

But Carthage was defended throughout the whole breadth of the isthmus: first by a trench, then by a grassy rampart, and lastly by a wall thirty cubits high, built of freestone, and in two storys. It contained stables for three hundred elephants with stores for their caparisons, shackles, and food; other stables again for four thousand horses with supplies of barley and harness, and barracks for twenty thousand soldiers with armour and all materials of war. Towers rose from the second story, all provided with battlements, and having bronze bucklers hung on cramps on the outside.

This first line of wall gave immediate shelter to Malqua, the sailors’ and dyers’ quarter. Masts might be seen whereon purple sails were drying, and on the highest terraces clay furnaces for heating the pickle were visible.

Behind, the lofty houses of the city rose in an ampitheatre of cubical form. They were built of stone, planks, shingle, reeds, shells, and beaten earth. The woods belonging to the temples were like lakes of verdure in this mountain of diversely-coloured blocks. It was levelled at unequal distances by the public squares, and was cut from top to bottom by countless intersecting lanes. The enclosures of the three old quarters which are now lost might be distinguished; they rose here and there like great reefs, or extended in enormous fronts, blackened, half-covered with flowers, and broadly striped by the casting of filth, while streets passed through their yawning apertures like rivers beneath bridges.

The hill of the Acropolis, in the centre of Byrsa, was hidden beneath a disordered array of monuments. There were temples with wreathed columns bearing bronze capitals and metal chains, cones of dry stones with bands of azure, copper cupolas, marble architraves, Babylonian buttresses, obelisks poised on their points like inverted torches. Peristyles reached to pediments; volutes were displayed through colonnades; granite walls supported tile partitions; the whole mounting, half-hidden, the one above the other in a marvellous and incomprehensible fashion. In it might be felt the succession of the ages, and, as it were, the memorials of forgotten fatherlands.

Behind the Acropolis the Mappalian road, which was lined with tombs, extended through red lands in a straight line from the shore to the catacombs; then spacious dwellings occurred at intervals in the gardens, and this third quarter, Megara, which was the new town, reached as far as the edge of the cliff, where rose a giant pharos that blazed forth every night.

In this fashion was Carthage displayed before the soldiers quartered in the plain.

They could recognise the markets and crossways in the distance, and disputed with one another as to the sites of the temples. Khamon’s, fronting the Syssitia, had golden tiles; Melkarth, to the left of Eschmoun, had branches of coral on its roofing; beyond, Tanith’s copper cupola swelled among the palm trees; the dark Moloch was below the cisterns, in the direction of the pharos. At the angles of the pediments, on the tops of the walls, at the corners of the squares, everywhere, divinities with hideous heads might be seen, colossal or squat, with enormous bellies, or immoderately flattened, opening their jaws, extending their arms, and holding forks, chains or javelins in their hands; while the blue of the sea stretched away behind the streets which were rendered still steeper by the perspective.

They were filled from morning till evening with a tumultuous people; young boys shaking little bells, shouted at the doors of the baths; the shops for hot drinks smoked, the air resounded with the noise of anvils, the white cocks, sacred to the Sun, crowed on the terraces, the oxen that were being slaughtered bellowed in the temples, slaves ran about with baskets on their heads; and in the depths of the porticoes a priest would sometimes appear, draped in a dark cloak, barefooted, and wearing a pointed cap.

The spectacle afforded by Carthage irritated the Barbarians; they admired it and execrated it, and would have liked both to annihilate it and to dwell in it. But what was there in the Military Harbour defended by a triple wall? Then behind the town, at the back of Megara, and higher than the Acropolis, appeared Hamilcar’s palace.

Matho’s eyes were directed thither every moment. He would ascend the olive trees and lean over with his hand spread out above his eyebrows. The gardens were empty, and the red door with its black cross remained constantly shut.

More than twenty times he walked round the ramparts, seeking some breach by which he might enter. One night he threw himself into the gulf and swam for three hours at a stretch. He reached the foot of the Mappalian quarter and tried to climb up the face of the cliff. He covered his knees with blood, broke his nails, and then fell back into the waves and returned.

His impotence exasperated him. He was jealous of this Carthage which contained Salammbo, as if of some one who had possessed her. His nervelessness left him to be replaced by a mad and continual eagerness for action. With flaming cheek, angry eyes, and hoarse voice, he would walk with rapid strides through the camp; or seated on the shore he would scour his great sword with sand. He shot arrows at the passing vultures. His heart overflowed into frenzied speech.

“Give free course to your wrath like a runaway chariot,” said Spendius. “Shout, blaspheme, ravage and slay. Grief is allayed with blood, and since you cannot sate your love, gorge your hate; it will sustain you!”

Matho resumed the command of his soldiers. He drilled them pitilessly. He was respected for his courage and especially for his strength. Moreover he inspired a sort of mystic dread, and it was believed that he conversed at night with phantoms. The other captains were animated by his example. The army soon grew disciplined. From their houses the Carthaginians could hear the bugle-flourishes that regulated their exercises. At last the Barbarians drew near.

To crush them in the isthmus it would have been necessary for two armies to take them simultaneously in the rear, one disembarking at the end of the gulf of Utica, and the second at the mountain of the Hot Springs. But what could be done with the single sacred Legion, mustering at most six thousand men? If the enemy bent towards the east they would join the nomads and intercept the commerce of the desert. If they fell back to the west, Numidia would rise. Finally, lack of provisions would sooner or later lead them to devastate the surrounding country like grasshoppers, and the rich trembled for their fine country-houses, their vineyards and their cultivated lands.

Hanno proposed atrocious and impracticable measures, such as promising a heavy sum for every Barbarian’s head, or setting fire to their camp with ships and machines. His colleague Gisco, on the other hand, wished them to be paid. But the Ancients detested him owing to his popularity; for they dreaded the risk of a master, and through terror of monarchy strove to weaken whatever contributed to it or might re-establish it.

Outside the fortification there were people of another race and of unknown origin, all hunters of the porcupine, and eaters of shell-fish and serpents. They used to go into caves to catch hyenas alive, and amuse themselves by making them run in the evening on the sands of Megara between the stelae of the tombs. Their huts, which were made of mud and wrack, hung on the cliff like swallows’ nests. There they lived, without government and without gods, pell-mell, completely naked, at once feeble and fierce, and execrated by the people of all time on account of their unclean food. One morning the sentries perceived that they were all gone.

At last some members of the Great Council arrived at a decision. They came to the camp without necklaces or girdles, and in open sandles like neighbours. They walked at a quiet pace, waving salutations to the captains, or stopped to speak to the soldiers, saying that all was finished and that justice was about to be done to their claims.

Many of them saw a camp of Mercenaries for the first time. Instead of the confusion which they had pictured to themselves, there prevailed everywhere terrible silence and order. A grassy rampart formed a lofty wall round the army immovable by the shock of catapults. The ground in the streets was sprinkled with fresh water; through the holes in the tents they could perceive tawny eyeballs gleaming in the shade. The piles of pikes and hanging panoplies dazzled them like mirrors. They conversed in low tones. They were afraid of upsetting something with their long robes.

The soldiers requested provisions, undertaking to pay for them out of the money that was due.

Oxen, sheep, guinea fowl, fruit and lupins were sent to them, with smoked scombri, that excellent scombri which Carthage dispatched to every port. But they walked scornfully around the magnificent cattle, and disparaging what they coveted, offered the worth of a pigeon for a ram, or the price of a pomegranate for three goats. The Eaters of Uncleanness came forward as arbitrators, and declared that they were being duped. Then they drew their swords with threats to slay.

Commissaries of the Great Council wrote down the number of years for which pay was due to each soldier. But it was no longer possible to know how many Mercenaries had been engaged, and the Ancients were dismayed at the enormous sum which they would have to pay. The reserve of silphium must be sold, and the trading towns taxed; the Mercenaries would grow impatient; Tunis was already with them; and the rich, stunned by Hanno’s ragings and his colleague’s reproaches, urged any citizens who might know a Barbarian to go to see him immediately in order to win back his friendship, and to speak him fair. Such a show of confidence would soothe them.

Traders, scribes, workers in the arsenal, and whole families visited the Barbarians.

The soldiers allowed all the Carthaginians to come in, but by a single passage so narrow that four men abreast jostled one another in it. Spendius, standing against the barrier, had them carefully searched; facing him Matho was examining the multitude, trying to recognise some one whom he might have seen at Salammbo’s palace.

The camp was like a town, so full of people and of movement was it. The two distinct crowds mingled without blending, one dressed in linen or wool, with felt caps like fir-cones, and the other clad in iron and wearing helmets. Amid serving men and itinerant vendors there moved women of all nations, as brown as ripe dates, as greenish as olives, as yellow as oranges, sold by sailors, picked out of dens, stolen from caravans, taken in the sacking of towns, women that were jaded with love so long as they were young, and plied with blows when they were old, and that died in routs on the roadsides among the baggage and the abandoned beasts of burden. The wives of the nomads had square, tawny robes of dromedary’s hair swinging at their heels; musicians from Cyrenaica, wrapped in violet gauze and with painted eyebrows, sang, squatting on mats; old Negresses with hanging breasts gathered the animals’ dung that was drying in the sun to light their fires; the Syracusan women had golden plates in their hair; the Lusitanians had necklaces of shells; the Gauls wore wolf skins upon their white bosoms; and sturdy children, vermin-covered, naked and uncircumcised, butted with their heads against passers-by, or came behind them like young tigers to bite their hands.

The Carthaginians walked through the camp, surprised at the quantities of things with which it was running over. The most miserable were melancholy, and the rest dissembled their anxiety.

The soldiers struck them on the shoulder, and exhorted them to be gay. As soon as they saw any one, they invited him to their amusements. If they were playing at discus, they would manage to crush his feet, or if at boxing to fracture his jaw with the very first blow. The slingers terrified the Carthaginians with their slings, the Psylli with their vipers, and the horsemen with their horses, while their victims, addicted as they were to peaceful occupations, bent their heads and tried to smile at all these outrages. Some, in order to show themselves brave, made signs that they should like to become soldiers. They were set to split wood and to curry mules. They were buckled up in armour, and rolled like casks through the streets of the camp. Then, when they were about to leave, the Mercenaries plucked out their hair with grotesque contortions.

But many, from foolishness or prejudice, innocently believed that all the Carthaginians were very rich, and they walked behind them entreating them to grant them something. They requested everything that they thought fine: a ring, a girdle, sandals, the fringe of a robe, and when the despoiled Carthaginian cried —“But I have nothing left. What do you want?” they would reply, “Your wife!” Others even said, “Your life!”

The military accounts were handed to the captains, read to the soldiers, and definitively approved. Then they claimed tents; they received them. Next the polemarchs of the Greeks demanded some of the handsome suits of armour that were manufactured at Carthage; the Great Council voted sums of money for their purchase. But it was only fair, so the horsemen pretended, that the Republic should indemnify them for their horses; one had lost three at such a siege, another, five during such a march, another, fourteen in the precipices. Stallions from Hecatompylos were offered to them, but they preferred money.

Next they demanded that they should be paid in money (in pieces of money, and not in leathern coins) for all the corn that was owing to them, and at the highest price that it had fetched during the war; so that they exacted four hundred times as much for a measure of meal as they had given for a sack of wheat. Such injustice was exasperating; but it was necessary, nevertheless, to submit.

Then the delegates from the soldiers and from the Great Council swore renewed friendship by the Genius of Carthage and the gods of the Barbarians. They exchanged excuses and caresses with oriental demonstrativeness and verbosity. Then the soldiers claimed, as a proof of friendship, the punishment of those who had estranged them from the Republic.

Their meaning, it was pretended, was not understood, and they explained themselves more clearly by saying that they must have Hanno’s head.

Several times a day, they left their camp, and walked along the foot of the walls, shouting a demand that the Suffet’s head should be thrown to them, and holding out their robes to receive it.

The Great Council would perhaps have given way but for a last exaction, more outrageous than the rest; they demanded maidens, chosen from illustrious families, in marriage for their chiefs. It was an idea which had emanated from Spendius, and which many thought most simple and practicable. But the assumption of their desire to mix with Punic blood made the people indignant; and they were bluntly told that they were to receive no more. Then they exclaimed that they had been deceived, and that if their pay did not arrive within three days, they would themselves go and take it in Carthage.

The bad faith of the Mercenaries was not so complete as their enemies thought. Hamilcar had made them extravagant promises, vague, it is true, but at the same time solemn and reiterated. They might have believed that when they disembarked at Carthage the town would be abandoned to them, and that they should have treasures divided among them; and when they saw that scarcely their wages would be paid, the disillusion touched their pride no less than their greed.

Had not Dionysius, Pyrrhus, Agathocles, and the generals of Alexander furnished examples of marvellous good fortune? Hercules, whom the Chanaanites confounded with the sun, was the ideal which shone on the horizon of armies. They knew that simple soldiers had worn diadems, and the echoes of crumbling empires would furnish dreams to the Gaul in his oak forest, to the Ethiopian amid his sands. But there was a nation always ready to turn courage to account; and the robber driven from his tribe, the patricide wandering on the roads, the perpetrator of sacrilege pursued by the gods, all who were starving or in despair strove to reach the port where the Carthaginian broker was recruiting soldiers. Usually the Republic kept its promises. This time, however, the eagerness of its avarice had brought it into perilous disgrace. Numidians, Libyans, the whole of Africa was about to fall upon Carthage. Only the sea was open to it, and there it met with the Romans; so that, like a man assailed by murderers, it felt death all around it.

It was quite necessary to have recourse to Gisco, and the Barbarians accepted his intervention. One morning they saw the chains of the harbour lowered, and three flat-bottomed boats passing through the canal of Taenia entered the lake.

Gisco was visible on the first at the prow. Behind him rose an enormous chest, higher than a catafalque, and furnished with rings like hanging crowns. Then appeared the legion of interpreters, with their hair dressed like sphinxes, and with parrots tattooed on their breasts. Friends and slaves followed, all without arms, and in such numbers that they shouldered one another. The three long, dangerously-loaded barges advanced amid the shouts of the onlooking army.

As soon as Gisco disembarked the soldiers ran to him. He had a sort of tribune erected with knapsacks, and declared that he should not depart before he had paid them all in full.

There was an outburst of applause, and it was a long time before he was able to speak.

Then he censured the wrongs done to the Republic, and to the Barbarians; the fault lay with a few mutineers who had alarmed Carthage by their violence. The best proof of good intention on the part of the latter was that it was he, the eternal adversary of the Suffet Hanno, who was sent to them. They must not credit the people with the folly of desiring to provoke brave men, nor with ingratitude enough not to recognise their services; and Gisco began to pay the soldiers, commencing with the Libyans. As they had declared that the lists were untruthful, he made no use of them.

They defiled before him according to nationality, opening their fingers to show the number of their years of service; they were marked in succession with green paint on the left arm; the scribes dipped into the yawning coffer, while others made holes with a style on a sheet of lead.

A man passed walking heavily like an ox.

“Come up beside me,” said the Suffet, suspecting some fraud; “how many years have you served?”

“Twelve,” replied the Libyan.

Gisco slipped his fingers under his chin, for the chin-piece of the helmet used in course of time to occasion two callosities there; these were called carobs, and “to have the carobs” was an expression used to denote a veteran.

“Thief!” exclaimed the Suffet, “your shoulders ought to have what your face lacks!” and tearing off his tunic he laid bare is back which was covered with a bleeding scab; he was a labourer from Hippo-Zarytus. Hootings were raised, and he was decapitated.

As soon as night fell, Spendius went and roused the Libyans, and said to them:

“When the Ligurians, Greeks, Balearians, and men of Italy are paid, they will return. But as for you, you will remain in Africa, scattered through your tribes, and without any means of defence! It will be then that the Republic will take its revenge! Mistrust the journey! Are you going to believe everything that is said? Both the Suffets are agreed, and this one is imposing on you! Remember the Island of Bones, and Xanthippus, whom they sent back to Sparta in a rotten galley!”

“How are we to proceed?” they asked.

“Reflect!” said Spendius.

The two following days were spent in paying the men of Magdala, Leptis, and Hecatompylos; Spendius went about among the Gauls.

“They are paying off the Libyans, and then they will discharge the Greeks, the Balearians, the Asiatics and all the rest! But you, who are few in number, will receive nothing! You will see your native lands no more! You will have no ships, and they will kill you to save your food!”

The Gauls came to the Suffet. Autaritus, he whom he had wounded at Hamilcar’s palace, put questions to him, but was repelled by the slaves, and disappeared swearing he would be revenged.

The demands and complaints multiplied. The most obstinate penetrated at night into the Suffet’s tent; they took his hands and sought to move him by making him feel their toothless mouths, their wasted arms, and the scars of their wounds. Those who had not yet been paid were growing angry, those who had received the money demanded more for their horses; and vagabonds and outlaws assumed soldiers’ arms and declared that they were being forgotten. Every minute there arrived whirlwinds of men, as it were; the tents strained and fell; the multitude, thick pressed between the ramparts of the camp, swayed with loud shouts from the gates to the centre. When the tumult grew excessively violent Gisco would rest one elbow on his ivory sceptre and stand motionless looking at the sea with his fingers buried in his beard.

Matho frequently went off to speak with Spendius; then he would again place himself in front of the Suffet, and Gisco could feel his eyes continually like two flaming phalaricas darted against him. Several times they hurled reproaches at each other over the heads of the crowd, but without making themselves heard. The distribution, meanwhile, continued, and the Suffet found expedients to remove every obstacle.

The Greeks tried to quibble about differences in currency, but he furnished them with such explanations that they retired without a murmur. The Negroes demanded white shells such as are used for trading in the interior of Africa, but when he offered to send to Carthage for them they accepted money like the rest.

But the Balearians had been promised something better, namely, women. The Suffet replied that a whole caravan of maidens was expected for them, but the journey was long and would require six moons more. When they were fat and well rubbed with benjamin they should be sent in ships to the ports of the Balearians.

Suddenly Zarxas, now handsome and vigorous, leaped like a mountebank upon the shoulders of his friends and cried:

“Have you reserved any of them for the corpses?” at the same time pointing to the gate of Khamon in Carthage.

The brass plates with which it was furnished from top to bottom shone in the sun’s latest fires, and the Barbarians believed that they could discern on it a trail of blood. Every time that Gisco wished to speak their shouts began again. At last he descended with measured steps, and shut himself up in his tent.

When he left it at sunrise his interpreters, who used to sleep outside, did not stir; they lay on their backs with their eyes fixed, their tongues between their teeth, and their faces of a bluish colour. White mucus flowed from their nostrils, and their limbs were stiff, as if they had all been frozen by the cold during the night. Each had a little noose of rushes round his neck.

From that time onward the rebellion was unchecked. The murder of the Balearians which had been recalled by Zarxas strengthened the distrust inspired by Spendius. They imagined that the Republic was always trying to deceive them. An end must be put to it! The interpreters should be dispensed with! Zarxas sang war songs with a sling around his head; Autaritus brandished his great sword; Spendius whispered a word to one or gave a dagger to another. The boldest endeavoured to pay themselves, while those who were less frenzied wished to have the distribution continued. No one now relinquished his arms, and the anger of all combined into a tumultuous hatred of Gisco.

Some got up beside him. So long as they vociferated abuse they were listened to with patience; but if they tried to utter the least word in his behalf they were immediately stoned, or their heads were cut off by a sabre-stroke from behind. The heap of knapsacks was redder than an altar.

They became terrible after their meal and when they had drunk wine! This was an enjoyment forbidden in the Punic armies under pain of death, and they raised their cups in the direction of Carthage in derision of its discipline. Then they returned to the slaves of the exchequer and again began to kill. The word “strike,” though different in each language, was understood by all.

Gisco was well aware that he was being abandoned by his country; but in spite of its ingratitude he would not dishonour it. When they reminded him that they had been promised ships, he swore by Moloch to provide them himself at his own expense, and pulling off his necklace of blue stones he threw it into the crowd as the pledge of his oath.

Then the Africans claimed the corn in accordance with the engagements made by the Great Council. Gisco spread out the accounts of the Syssitia traced in violet pigment on sheep skins; and read out all that had entered Carthage month by month and day by day.

Suddenly he stopped with gaping eyes, as if he had just discovered his sentence of death among the figures.

The Ancients had, in fact, fraudulently reduced them, and the corn sold during the most calamitous period of the war was set down at so low a rate that, blindness apart, it was impossible to believe it.

“Speak!” they shouted. “Louder! Ah! he is trying to lie, the coward! Don’t trust him.”

For some time he hesitated. At last he resumed his task.

The soldiers, without suspecting that they were being deceived, accepted the accounts of the Syssitia as true. But the abundance that had prevailed at Carthage made them furiously jealous. They broke open the sycamore chest; it was three parts empty. They had seen such sums coming out of it, that they thought it inexhaustible; Gisco must have buried some in his tent. They scaled the knapsacks. Matho led them, and as they shouted “The money! the money!” Gisco at last replied:

“Let your general give it to you!”

He looked them in the face without speaking, with his great yellow eyes, and his long face that was paler than his beard. An arrow, held by its feathers, hung from the large gold ring in his ear, and a stream of blood was trickling from his tiara upon his shoulder.

At a gesture from Matho all advanced. Gisco held out his arms; Spendius tied his wrists with a slip knot; another knocked him down, and he disappeared amid the disorder of the crowd which was stumbling over the knapsacks.

They sacked his tent. Nothing was found in it except things indispensable to life; and, on a closer search, three images of Tanith, and, wrapped up in an ape’s skin, a black stone which had fallen from the moon. Many Carthaginians had chosen to accompany him; they were eminent men, and all belonged to the war party.

They were dragged outside the tents and thrown into the pit used for the reception of filth. They were tied with iron chains around the body to solid stakes, and were offered food at the point of the javelin.

Autaritus overwhelmed them with invectives as he inspected them, but being quite ignorant of his language they made no reply; and the Gaul from time to time threw pebbles at their faces to make them cry out.

The next day a sort of languor took possession of the army. Now that their anger was over they were seized with anxiety. Matho was suffering from vague melancholy. It seemed to him that Salammbo had indirectly been insulted. These rich men were a kind of appendage to her person. He sat down in the night on the edge of the pit, and recognised in their groanings something of the voice of which his heart was full.

All, however, upbraided the Libyans, who alone had been paid. But while national antipathies revived, together with personal hatreds, it was felt that it would be perilous to give way to them. Reprisals after such an outrage would be formidable. It was necessary, therefore, to anticipate the vengeance of Carthage. Conventions and harangues never ceased. Every one spoke, no one was listened to; Spendius, usually so loquacious, shook his head at every proposal.

One evening he asked Matho carelessly whether there were not springs in the interior of the town.

“Not one!” replied Matho.

The next day Spendius drew him aside to the bank of the lake.

“Master!” said the former slave, “If your heart is dauntless, I will bring you into Carthage.”

“How?” repeated the other, panting.

“Swear to execute all my commands and to follow me like a shadow!”

Then Matho, raising his arm towards the planet of Chabar, exclaimed:

“By Tanith, I swear!”

Spendius resumed:

“To-morrow after sunset you will wait for me at the foot of the aqueduct between the ninth and tenth arcades. Bring with you an iron pick, a crestless helmet, and leathern sandals.”

The aqueduct of which he spoke crossed the entire isthmus obliquely — a considerable work, afterwards enlarged by the Romans. In spite of her disdain of other nations, Carthage had awkwardly borrowed this novel invention from them, just as Rome herself had built Punic galleys; and five rows of superposed arches, of a dumpy kind of architecture, with buttresses at their foot and lions’ heads at the top, reached to the western part of the Acropolis, where they sank beneath the town to incline what was nearly a river into the cisterns of Megara.

Spendius met Matho here at the hour agreed upon. He fastened a sort of harpoon to the end of a cord and whirled it rapidly like a sling; the iron instrument caught fast, and they began to climb up the wall, the one after the other.

But when they had ascended to the first story the cramp fell back every time that they threw it, and in order to discover some fissure they had to walk along the edge of the cornice. At every row of arches they found that it became narrower. Then the cord relaxed. Several times it nearly broke.

At last they reached the upper platform. Spendius stooped down from time to time to feel the stones with his hand.

“Here it is,” he said; “let us begin!” And leaning on the pick which Matho had brought they succeeded in dislodging one of the flagstones.

In the distance they perceived a troop of horse-men galloping on horses without bridles. Their golden bracelets leaped in the vague drapings of their cloaks. A man could be seen in front crowned with ostrich feathers, and galloping with a lance in each hand.

“Narr’ Havas!” exclaimed Matho.

“What matter?” returned Spendius, and he leaped into the hole which they had just made by removing the flagstone.

Matho at his command tried to thrust out one of the blocks. But he could not move his elbows for want of room.

“We shall return,” said Spendius; “go in front.” Then they ventured into the channel of water.

It reached to their waists. Soon they staggered, and were obliged to swim. Their limbs knocked against the walls of the narrow duct. The water flowed almost immediately beneath the stones above, and their faces were torn by them. Then the current carried them away. Their breasts were crushed with air heavier than that of a sepulchre, and stretching themselves out as much as possible with their heads between their arms and their legs close together, they passed like arrows into the darkness, choking, gurgling, and almost dead. Suddenly all became black before them, and the speed of the waters redoubled. They fell.

When they came to the surface again, they remained for a few minutes extended on their backs, inhaling the air delightfully. Arcades, one behind another, opened up amid large walls separating the various basins. All were filled, and the water stretched in a single sheet throughout the length of the cisterns. Through the air-holes in the cupolas on the ceiling there fell a pale brightness which spread upon the waves discs, as it were, of light, while the darkness round about thickened towards the walls and threw them back to an indefinite distance. The slightest sound made a great echo.

Spendius and Matho commenced to swim again, and passing through the opening of the arches, traversed several chambers in succession. Two other rows of smaller basins extended in a parallel direction on each side. They lost themselves; they turned, and came back again. At last something offered a resistance to their heels. It was the pavement of the gallery that ran along the cisterns.

Then, advancing with great precautions, they felt along the wall to find an outlet. But their feet slipped, and they fell into the great centre-basins. They had to climb up again, and there they fell again. They experienced terrible fatigue, which made them feel as if all their limbs had been dissolved in the water while swimming. Their eyes closed; they were in the agonies of death.

Spendius struck his hand against the bars of a grating. They shook it, it gave way, and they found themselves on the steps of a staircase. A door of bronze closed it above. With the point of a dagger they moved the bar, which was opened from without, and suddenly the pure open air surrounded them.

The night was filled with silence, and the sky seemed at an extraordinary height. Clusters of trees projected over the long lines of walls. The whole town was asleep. The fires of the outposts shone like lost stars.

Spendius, who had spent three years in the ergastulum, was but imperfectly acquainted with the different quarters. Matho conjectured that to reach Hamilcar’s palace they ought to strike to the left and cross the Mappalian district.

“No,” said Spendius, “take me to the temple of Tanith.”

Matho wished to speak.

“Remember!” said the former slave, and raising his arm he showed him the glittering planet of Chabar.

Then Matho turned in silence towards the Acropolis.

They crept along the nopal hedges which bordered the paths. The water trickled from their limbs upon the dust. Their damp sandals made no noise; Spendius, with eyes that flamed more than torches, searched the bushes at every step; — and he walked behind Matho with his hands resting on the two daggers which he carried on his arms, and which hung from below the armpit by a leathern band.

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Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 21:53