The Announcer of the Moons, who watched on the summit of the temple of Eschmoun every night in order to signal the disturbances of the planet with his trumpet, one morning perceived towards the west something like a bird skimming the surface of the sea with its long wings.
It was a ship with three tiers of oars and with a horse carved on the prow. The sun was rising; the Announcer of the Moons put up his hand before his eyes, and then grasping his clarion with outstretched arms sounded a loud brazen cry over Carthage.
People came out of every house; they would not believe what was said; they disputed with one another; the mole was covered with people. At last they recognised Hamilcar’s trireme.
It advanced in fierce and haughty fashion, cleaving the foam around it, the lateen-yard quite square and the sail bulging down the whole length of the mast; its gigantic oars kept time as they beat the water; every now and then the extremity of the keel, which was shaped like a plough-share, would appear, and the ivory-headed horse, rearing both its feet beneath the spur which terminated the prow, would seem to be speeding over the plains of the sea.
As it rounded the promontory the wind ceased, the sail fell, and a man was seen standing bareheaded beside the pilot. It was he, Hamilcar, the Suffet! About his sides he wore gleaming sheets of steel; a red cloak, fastened to his shoulders, left his arms visible; two pearls of great length hung from his ears, and his black, bushy beard rested on his breast.
The galley, however, tossing amid the rocks, was proceeding along the side of the mole, and the crowd followed it on the flag-stones, shouting:
“Greeting! blessing! Eye of Khamon! ah! deliver us! ’Tis the fault of the rich! they want to put you to death! Take care of yourself, Barca!”
He made no reply, as if the loud clamour of oceans and battles had completely deafened him. But when he was below the staircase leading down from the Acropolis, Hamilcar raised his head, and looked with folded arms upon the temple of Eschmoun. His gaze mounted higher still, to the great pure sky; he shouted an order in a harsh voice to his sailors; the trireme leaped forward; it grazed the idol set up at the corner of the mole to stay the storms; and in the merchant harbour, which was full of filth, fragments of wood, and rinds of fruit, it pushed aside and crushed against the other ships moored to stakes and terminating in crocodiles’ jaws. The people hastened thither, and some threw themselves into the water to swim to it. It was already at the very end before the gate which bristled with nails. The gate rose, and the trireme disappeared beneath the deep arch.
The Military Harbour was completely separated from the town; when ambassadors arrived, they had to proceed between two walls through a passage which had its outlet on the left in front of the temple of Khamon. This great expanse of water was as round as a cup, and was bordered with quays on which sheds were built for sheltering the ships. Before each of these rose two pillars bearing the horns of Ammon on their capitals and forming continuous porticoes all round the basin. On an island in the centre stood a house for the marine Suffet.
The water was so limpid that the bottom was visible with its paving of white pebbles. The noise of the streets did not reach so far, and Hamilcar as he passed recognised the triremes which he had formerly commanded.
Not more than twenty perhaps remained, under shelter on the land, leaning over on their sides or standing upright on their keels, with lofty poops and swelling prows, and covered with gildings and mystic symbols. The chimaeras had lost their wings, the Pataec Gods their arms, the bulls their silver horns; — and half-painted, motionless, and rotten as they were, yet full of associations, and still emitting the scent of voyages, they all seemed to say to him, like mutilated soldiers on seeing their master again, “’Tis we! ’tis we! and YOU too are vanquished!”
No one excepting the marine Suffet might enter the admiral’s house. So long as there was no proof of his death he was considered as still in existence. In this way the Ancients avoided a master the more, and they had not failed to comply with the custom in respect to Hamilcar.
The Suffet proceeded into the deserted apartments. At every step he recognised armour and furniture — familiar objects which nevertheless astonished him, and in a perfuming-pan in the vestibule there even remained the ashes of the perfumes that had been kindled at his departure for the conjuration of Melkarth. It was not thus that he had hoped to return. Everything that he had done, everything that he had seen, unfolded itself in his memory: assaults, conflagrations, legions, tempests, Drepanum, Syracuse, Lilybaeum, Mount Etna, the plateau of Eryx, five years of battles — until the fatal day when arms had been laid down and Sicily had been lost. Then he once more saw the woods of citron-trees, and herdsmen with their goats on grey mountains; and his heart leaped at the thought of the establishment of another Carthage down yonder. His projects and his recollections buzzed through his head, which was still dizzy from the pitching of the vessel; he was overwhelmed with anguish, and, becoming suddenly weak, he felt the necessity of drawing near to the gods.
Then he went up to the highest story of his house, and taking a nail-studded staple from a golden shell, which hung on his arm, he opened a small oval chamber.
It was softly lighted by means of delicate black discs let into the wall and as transparent as glass. Between the rows of these equal discs, holes, like those for the urns in columbaria, were hollowed out. Each of them contained a round dark stone, which appeared to be very heavy. Only people of superior understanding honoured these abaddirs, which had fallen from the moon. By their fall they denoted the stars, the sky, and fire; by their colour dark night, and by their density the cohesion of terrestrial things. A stifling atmosphere filled this mystic place. The round stones lying in the niches were whitened somewhat with sea-sand which the wind had no doubt driven through the door. Hamilcar counted them one after another with the tip of his finger; then he hid his face in a saffron-coloured veil, and, falling on his knees, stretched himself on the ground with both arms extended.
The daylight outside was beginning to strike on the folding shutters of black lattice-work. Arborescences, hillocks, eddies, and ill-defined animals appeared in their diaphanous thickness; and the light came terrifying and yet peaceful as it must be behind the sun in the dull spaces of future creations. He strove to banish from his thoughts all forms, and all symbols and appellations of the gods, that he might the better apprehend the immutable spirit which outward appearances took away. Something of the planetary vitalities penetrated him, and he felt withal a wiser and more intimate scorn of death and of every accident. When he rose he was filled with serene fearlessness and was proof against pity or dread, and as his chest was choking he went to the top of the tower which overlooked Carthage.
The town sank downwards in a long hollow curve, with its cupolas, its temples, its golden roofs, its houses, its clusters of palm trees here and there, and its glass balls with streaming rays, while the ramparts formed, as it were, the gigantic border of this horn of plenty which poured itself out before him. Far below he could see the harbours, the squares, the interiors of the courts, the plan of the streets, and the people, who seemed very small and but little above the level of the pavement. Ah! if Hanno had not arrived too late on the morning of the Aegatian islands! He fastened his eyes on the extreme horizon and stretched forth his quivering arms in the direction of Rome.
The steps of the Acropolis were occupied by the multitude. In the square of Khamon the people were pressing forwards to see the Suffet come out, and the terraces were gradually being loaded with people; a few recognised him, and he was saluted; but he retired in order the better to excite the impatience of the people.
Hamilcar found the most important men of his party below in the hall: Istatten, Subeldia, Hictamon, Yeoubas and others. They related to him all that had taken place since the conclusion of the peace: the greed of the Ancients, the departure of the soldiers, their return, their demands, the capture of Gisco, the theft of the zaimph, the relief and subsequent abandonment of Utica; but no one ventured to tell him of the events which concerned himself. At last they separated, to meet again during the night at the assembly of the Ancients in the temple of Moloch.
They had just gone out when a tumult arose outside the door. Some one was trying to enter in spite of the servants; and as the disturbance was increasing Hamilcar ordered the stranger to be shown in.
An old Negress made her appearance, broken, wrinkled, trembling, stupid-looking, wrapped to the heels in ample blue veils. She advanced face to face with the Suffet, and they looked at each other for some time; suddenly Hamilcar started; at a wave of his hand the slaves withdrew. Then, signing to her to walk with precaution, he drew her by the arm into a remote apartment.
The Negress threw herself upon the floor to kiss his feet; he raised her brutally.
“Where have you left him, Iddibal?”
“Down there, Master;” and extricating herself from her veils, she rubbed her face with her sleeve; the black colour, the senile trembling, the bent figure disappeared, and there remained a strong old man whose skin seemed tanned by sand, wind, and sea. A tuft of white hair rose on his skull like the crest of a bird; and he indicated his disguise, as it lay on the ground, with an ironic glance.
“You have done well, Iddibal! ’Tis well!” Then piercing him, as it were, with his keen gaze: “No one yet suspects?”
The old man swore to him by the Kabiri that the mystery had been kept. They never left their cottage, which was three days’ journey from Hadrumetum, on a shore peopled with turtles, and with palms on the dune. “And in accordance with your command, O Master! I teach him to hurl the javelin and to drive a team.”
“He is strong, is he not?”
“Yes, Master, and intrepid as well! He has no fear of serpents, or thunder, or phantoms. He runs bare-footed like a herdsman along the brinks of precipices.”
“He invents snares for wild beasts. Would you believe it, that last moon he surprised an eagle; he dragged it away, and the bird’s blood and the child’s were scattered in the air in large drops like driven roses. The animal in its fury enwrapped him in the beating of its wings; he strained it against his breast, and as it died his laughter increased, piercing and proud like the clashing of swords.”
Hamilcar bent his head, dazzled by such presages of greatness.
“But he has been for some time restless and disturbed. He gazes at the sails passing far out at sea; he is melancholy, he rejects bread, he inquires about the gods, and he wishes to become acquainted with Carthage.”
“No, no! not yet!” exclaimed the Suffet.
The old slave seemed to understand the peril which alarmed Hamilcar, and he resumed:
“How is he to be restrained? Already I am obliged to make him promises, and I have come to Carthage only to buy him a dagger with a silver handle and pearls all around it.” Then he told how, having perceived the Suffet on the terrace, he had passed himself off on the warders of the harbour as one of Salammbo’s women, so as to make his way in to him.
Hamilcar remained for a long time apparently lost in deliberation; at last he said:
“To-morrow you will present yourself at sunset behind the purple factories in Megara, and imitate a jackal’s cry three times. If you do not see me, you will return to Carthage on the first day of every moon. Forget nothing! Love him! You may speak to him now about Hamilcar.”
The slave resumed his costume, and they left the house and the harbour together.
Hamilcar went on his way alone on foot and without an escort, for the meetings of the Ancients were, under extraordinary circumstances, always secret, and were resorted to mysteriously.
At first he went along the western front of the Acropolis, and then passed through the Green Market, the galleries of Kinisdo, and the Perfumers’ suburb. The scattered lights were being extinguished, the broader streets grew still, then shadows glided through the darkness. They followed him, others appeared, and like him they all directed their course towards the Mappalian district.
The temple of Moloch was built at the foot of a steep defile in a sinister spot. From below nothing could be seen but lofty walls rising indefinitely like those of a monstrous tomb. The night was gloomy, a greyish fog seemed to weigh upon the sea, which beat against the cliff with a noise as of death-rattles and sobs; and the shadows gradually vanished as if they had passed through the walls.
But as soon as the doorway was crossed one found oneself in a vast quadrangular court bordered by arcades. In the centre rose a mass of architecture with eight equal faces. It was surmounted by cupolas which thronged around a second story supporting a kind of rotunda, from which sprang a cone with a re-entrant curve and terminating in a ball on the summit.
Fires were burning in cylinders of filigree-work fitted upon poles, which men were carrying to and fro. These lights flickered in the gusts of wind and reddened the golden combs which fastened their plaited hair on the nape of the neck. They ran about calling to one another to receive the Ancients.
Here and there on the flag-stones huge lions were couched like sphinxes, living symbols of the devouring sun. They were slumbering with half-closed eyelids. But roused by the footsteps and voices they rose slowly, came towards the Ancients, whom they recognised by their dress, and rubbed themselves against their thighs, arching their backs with sonorous yawns; the vapour of their breath passed across the light of the torches. The stir increased, doors closed, all the priests fled, and the Ancients disappeared beneath the columns which formed a deep vestibule round the temple.
These columns were arranged in such a way that their circular ranks, which were contained one within another, showed the Saturnian period with its years, the years with their months, and the months with their days, and finally reached to the walls of the sanctuary.
Here it was that the Ancients laid aside their sticks of narwhal’s-horn — for a law which was always observed inflicted the punishment of death upon any one entering the meeting with any kind of weapon. Several wore a rent repaired with a strip of purple at the bottom of their garment, to show that they had not been economical in their dress when mourning for their relatives, and this testimony to their affliction prevented the slit from growing larger. Others had their beards inclosed in little bags of violet skin, and fastened to their ears by two cords. They all accosted one another by embracing breast to breast. They surrounded Hamilcar with congratulations; they might have been taken for brothers meeting their brother again.
These men were generally thick-set, with curved noses like those of the Assyrian colossi. In a few, however, the more prominent cheek-bone, the taller figure, and the narrower foot, betrayed an African origin and nomad ancestors. Those who lived continually shut up in their counting-houses had pale faces; others showed in theirs the severity of the desert, and strange jewels sparkled on all the fingers of their hands, which were burnt by unknown suns. The navigators might be distinguished by their rolling gait, while the men of agriculture smelt of the wine-press, dried herbs, and the sweat of mules. These old pirates had lands under tillage, these money-grubbers would fit out ships, these proprietors of cultivated lands supported slaves who followed trades. All were skilled in religious discipline, expert in strategy, pitiless and rich. They looked wearied of prolonged cares. Their flaming eyes expressed distrust, and their habits of travelling and lying, trafficking and commanding, gave an appearance of cunning and violence, a sort of discreet and convulsive brutality to their whole demeanour. Further, the influence of the god cast a gloom upon them.
They first passed through a vaulted hall which was shaped like an egg. Seven doors, corresponding to the seven planets, displayed seven squares of different colours against the wall. After traversing a long room they entered another similar hall.
A candelabrum completely covered with chiselled flowers was burning at the far end, and each of its eight golden branches bore a wick of byssus in a diamond chalice. It was placed upon the last of the long steps leading to a great altar, the corners of which terminated in horns of brass. Two lateral staircases led to its flattened summit; the stones of it could not be seen; it was like a mountain of heaped cinders, and something indistinct was slowly smoking at the top of it. Then further back, higher than the candelabrum, and much higher than the altar, rose the Moloch, all of iron, and with gaping apertures in his human breast. His outspread wings were stretched upon the wall, his tapering hands reached down to the ground; three black stones bordered by yellow circles represented three eyeballs on his brow, and his bull’s head was raised with a terrible effort as if in order to bellow.
Ebony stools were ranged round the apartment. Behind each of them was a bronze shaft resting on three claws and supporting a torch. All these lights were reflected in the mother-of-pearl lozenges which formed the pavement of the hall. So lofty was the latter that the red colour of the walls grew black as it rose towards the vaulted roof, and the three eyes of the idol appeared far above like stars half lost in the night.
The Ancients sat down on the ebony stools after putting the trains of their robes over their heads. They remained motionless with their hands crossed inside their broad sleeves, and the mother-of-pearl pavement seemed like a luminous river streaming from the altar to the door and flowing beneath their naked feet.
The four pontiffs had their places in the centre, sitting back to back on four ivory seats which formed a cross, the high-priest of Eschmoun in a hyacinth robe, the high-priest of Tanith in a white linen robe, the high-priest of Khamon in a tawny woollen robe, and the high-priest of Moloch in a purple robe.
Hamilcar advanced towards the candelabrum. He walked all round it, looking at the burning wicks; then he threw a scented powder upon them, and violet flames appeared at the extremities of the branches.
Then a shrill voice rose; another replied to it, and the hundred Ancients, the four pontiffs, and Hamilcar, who remained standing, simultaneously intoned a hymn, and their voices — ever repeating the same syllables and strengthening the sounds — rose, grew loud, became terrible, and then suddenly were still.
There was a pause for some time. At last Hamilcar drew from his breast a little three-headed statuette, as blue as sapphire, and placed it before him. It was the image of Truth, the very genius of his speech. Then he replaced it in his bosom, and all, as if seized with sudden wrath, cried out:
“They are good friends of yours, are the Barbarians! Infamous traitor! You come back to see us perish, do you not? Let him speak! — No! no!”
They were taking their revenge for the constraint to which political ceremonial had just obliged them; and even though they had wished for Hamilcar’s return, they were now indignant that he had not anticipated their disasters, or rather that he had not endured them as well as they.
When the tumult had subsided, the pontiff of Moloch rose:
“We ask you why you did not return to Carthage?”
“What is that to you?” replied the Suffet disdainfully.
Their shouts were redoubled.
“Of what do you accuse me? I managed the war badly, perhaps! You have seen how I order my battles, you who conveniently allow Barbarians —”
He went on in a low voice so as to make himself the better listened to:
“Oh! that is true! I am wrong, lights of the Baals; there are intrepid men among you! Gisco, rise!” And surveying the step of the altar with half-closed eyelids, as if he sought for some one, he repeated:
“Rise, Gisco! You can accuse me; they will protect you! But where is he?” Then, as if he remembered himself: “Ah! in his house, no doubt! surrounded by his sons, commanding his slaves, happy, and counting on the wall the necklaces of honour which his country has given to him!”
They moved about raising their shoulders as if they were being scourged with thongs. “You do not even know whether he is living or dead!” And without giving any heed to their clamours he said that in deserting the Suffet they had deserted the Republic. So, too, the peace with Rome, however advantageous it might appear to them, was more fatal than twenty battles. A few — those who were the least rich of the Council and were suspected of perpetual leanings towards the people or towards tyranny — applauded. Their opponents, chiefs of the Syssitia and administrators, triumphed over them in point of numbers; and the more eminent of them had ranged themselves close to Hanno, who was sitting at the other end of the hall before the lofty door, which was closed by a hanging of hyacinth colour.
He had covered the ulcers on his face with paint. But the gold dust in his hair had fallen upon his shoulders, where it formed two brilliant sheets, so that his hair appeared whitish, fine, and frizzled like wool. His hands were enveloped in linen soaked in a greasy perfume, which dripped upon the pavement, and his disease had no doubt considerably increased, for his eyes were hidden beneath the folds of his eyelids. He had thrown back his head in order to see. His partisans urged him to speak. At last in a hoarse and hideous voice he said:
“Less arrogance, Barca! We have all been vanquished! Each one supports his own misfortune! Be resigned!”
“Tell us rather,” said Hamilcar, smiling, “how it was that you steered your galleys into the Roman fleet?”
“I was driven by the wind,” replied Hanno.
“You are like a rhinoceros trampling on his dung: you are displaying your own folly! be silent!” And they began to indulge in recriminations respecting the battle of the Aegatian islands.
Hanno accused him of not having come to meet him.
“But that would have left Eryx undefended. You ought to have stood out from the coast; what prevented you? Ah! I forgot! all elephants are afraid of the sea!”
Hamilcar’s followers thought this jest so good that they burst out into loud laughter. The vault rang with it like the beating of tympanums.
Hanno denounced the unworthiness of such an insult; the disease had come upon him from a cold taken at the siege of Hecatompylos, and tears flowed down his face like winter rain on a ruined wall.
“If you had loved me as much as him there would be great joy in Carthage now! How many times did I not call upon you! and you always refused me money!”
“We had need of it,” said the chiefs of the Syssitia.
“And when things were desperate with me — we drank mules’ urine and ate the straps of our sandals; when I would fain have had the blades of grass soldiers and made battalions with the rottenness of our dead, you recalled the vessels that I had left!”
“We could not risk everything,” replied Baat-Baal, who possessed gold mines in Darytian Gaetulia.
“But what did you do here, at Carthage, in your houses, behind your walls? There are Gauls on the Eridanus, who ought to have been roused, Chanaanites at Cyrene who would have come, and while the Romans send ambassadors to Ptolemaeus —”
“Now he is extolling the Romans to us!” Some one shouted out to him: “How much have they paid you to defend them?”
“Ask that of the plains of Brutium, of the ruins of Locri, of Metapontum, and of Heraclea! I have burnt all their trees, I have pillaged all their temples, and even to the death of their grandchildren’s grandchildren —”
“Why, you disclaim like a rhetor!” said Kapouras, a very illustrious merchant. “What is it that you want?”
“I say that we must be more ingenious or more terrible! If the whole of Africa rejects your yoke the reason is, my feeble masters, that you do not know how to fasten it to her shoulders! Agathocles, Regulus, Coepio, any bold man has only to land and capture her; and when the Libyans in the east concert with the Numidians in the west, and the Nomads come from the south, and the Romans from the north”— a cry of horror rose —“Oh! you will beat your breasts, and roll in the dust, and tear your cloaks! No matter! you will have to go and turn the mill-stone in the Suburra, and gather grapes on the hills of Latium.”
They smote their right thighs to mark their sense of the scandal, and the sleeves of their robes rose like large wings of startled birds. Hamilcar, carried away by a spirit, continued his speech, standing on the highest step of the altar, quivering and terrible; he raised his arms, and the rays from the candelabrum which burned behind him passed between his fingers like javelins of gold.
“You will lose your ships, your country seats, your chariots, your hanging beds, and the slaves who rub your feet! The jackal will crouch in your palaces, and the ploughshare will upturn your tombs. Nothing will be left but the eagles’ scream and a heap of ruins. Carthage, thou wilt fall!”
The four pontiffs spread out their hands to avert the anathema. All had risen. But the marine Suffet, being a sacerdotal magistrate under the protection of the Sun, was inviolate so long as the assembly of the rich had not judged him. Terror was associated with the altar. They drew back.
Hamilcar had ceased speaking, and was panting with eye fixed, his face as pale as the pearls of his tiara, almost frightened at himself, and his spirit lost in funereal visions. From the height on which he stood, all the torches on the bronze shafts seemed to him like a vast crown of fire laid level with the pavement; black smoke issuing from them mounted up into the darkness of the vault; and for some minutes the silence was so profound that they could hear in the distance the sound of the sea.
Then the Ancients began to question one another. Their interests, their existence, were attacked by the Barbarians. But it was impossible to conquer them without the assistance of the Suffet, and in spite of their pride this consideration made them forget every other. His friends were taken aside. There were interested reconciliations, understandings, and promises. Hamilcar would not take any further part in any government. All conjured him. They besought him; and as the word treason occurred in their speech, he fell into a passion. The sole traitor was the Great Council, for as the enlistment of the soldiers expired with the war, they became free as soon as the war was finished; he even exalted their bravery and all the advantages which might be derived from interesting them in the Republic by donations and privileges.
Then Magdassin, a former provincial governor, said, as he rolled his yellow eyes:
“Truly Barca, with your travelling you have become a Greek, or a Latin, or something! Why speak you of rewards for these men? Rather let ten thousand Barbarians perish than a single one of us!”
The Ancients nodded approval, murmuring:—“Yes, is there need for so much trouble? They can always be had?”
“And they can be got rid of conveniently, can they not? They are deserted as they were by you in Sardinia. The enemy is apprised of the road which they are to take, as in the case of those Gauls in Sicily, or perhaps they are disembarked in the middle of the sea. As I was returning I saw the rock quite white with their bones!”
“What a misfortune!” said Kapouras impudently.
“Have they not gone over to the enemy a hundred times?” cried the others.
“Why, then,” exclaimed Hamilcar, “did you recall them to Carthage, notwithstanding your laws? And when they are in your town, poor and numerous amid all your riches, it does not occur to you to weaken them by the slightest division! Afterwards you dismiss the whole of them with their women and children, without keeping a single hostage! Did you expect that they would murder themselves to spare you the pain of keeping your oaths? You hate them because they are strong! You hate me still more, who am their master! Oh! I felt it just now when you were kissing my hands and were all putting a constraint upon yourselves not to bite them!”
If the lions that were sleeping in the court had come howling in, the uproar could not have been more frightful. But the pontiff of Eschmoun rose, and, standing perfectly upright, with his knees close together, his elbows pressed to his body, and his hands half open, he said:
“Barca, Carthage has need that you should take the general command of the Punic forces against the Mercenaries!”
“I refuse,” replied Hamilcar.
“We will give you full authority,” cried the chiefs of the Syssitia.
“With no control, no partition, all the money that you want, all the captives, all the booty, fifty zereths of land for every enemy’s corpse.”
“No! no! because it is impossible to conquer with you!”
“He is afraid!”
“Because you are cowardly, greedy, ungrateful, pusillanimous and mad!”
“He is careful of them!”
“In order to put himself at their head,” said some one.
“And return against us,” said another; and from the bottom of the hall Hanno howled:
“He wants to make himself king!”
Then they bounded up, overturning the seats and the torches: the crowd of them rushed towards the altar; they brandished daggers. But Hamilcar dived into his sleeves and drew from them two broad cutlasses; and half stooping, his left foot advanced, his eyes flaming and his teeth clenched, he defied them as he stood there beneath the golden candelabrum.
Thus they had brought weapons with them as a precaution; it was a crime; they looked with terror at one another. As all were guilty, every one became quickly reassured; and by degrees they turned their backs on the Suffet and came down again maddened with humiliation. For the second time they recoiled before him. They remained standing for some time. Several who had wounded their fingers put them to their mouths or rolled them gently in the hem of their mantles, and they were about to depart when Hamilcar heard these words:
“Why! it is a piece of delicacy to avoid distressing his daughter!”
A louder voice was raised:
“No doubt, since she takes her lovers from among the Mercenaries!”
At first he tottered, then his eye rapidly sought for Schahabarim. But the priest of Tanith had alone remained in his place; and Hamilcar could see only his lofty cap in the distance. All were sneering in his face. In proportion as his anguish increased their joy redoubled, and those who were behind shouted amid the hootings:
“He was seen coming out of her room!”
“One morning in the month of Tammouz!”
“It was the thief who stole the zaimph!”
“A very handsome man!”
“Taller than you!”
He snatched off the tiara, the ensign of his rank — his tiara with its eight mystic rows, and with an emerald shell in the centre — and with both hands and with all his strength dashed it to the ground; the golden circles rebounded as they broke, and the pearls rang upon the pavement. Then they saw a long scar upon the whiteness of his brow; it moved like a serpent between his eyebrows; all his limbs trembled. He ascended one of the lateral staircases which led on to the altar, and walked upon the latter! This was to devote himself to the god, to offer himself as a holocaust. The motion of his mantle agitated the lights of the candelabrum, which was lower than his sandals, and the fine dust raised by his footsteps surrounded him like a cloud as high as the waist. He stopped between the legs of the brass colossus. He took up two handfuls of the dust, the mere sight of which made every Carthaginian shudder with horror, and said:
“By the hundred torches of your Intelligences! by the eight fires of the Kabiri! by the stars, the meteors, and the volcanoes! by everything that burns! by the thirst of the desert and the saltness of the ocean! by the cave of Hadrumetum and the empire of Souls! by extermination! by the ashes of your sons and the ashes of the brothers of your ancestors with which I now mingle my own! — you, the Hundred of the Council of Carthage, have lied in your accusation of my daughter! And I, Hamilcar Barca, marine Suffet, chief of the rich and ruler of the people, in the presence of bull-headed Moloch, I swear”— they expected something frightful, but he resumed in a loftier and calmer tone —“that I will not even speak to her about it!”
The sacred servants entered wearing their golden combs, some with purple sponges and others with branches of palm. They raised the hyacinth curtain which was stretched before the door; and through the opening of this angle there was visible behind the other halls the great pink sky which seemed to be a continuation of the vault and to rest at the horizon upon the blue sea. The sun was issuing from the waves and mounting upwards. It suddenly struck upon the breast of the brazen colossus, which was divided into seven compartments closed by gratings. His red-toothed jaws opened in a horrible yawn; his enormous nostrils were dilated, the broad daylight animated him, and gave him a terrible and impatient aspect, as if he would fain have leaped without to mingle with the star, the god, and together traverse the immensities.
The torches, however, which were scattered on the ground, were still burning, while here and there on the mother-of-pearl pavement was stretched from them what looked like spots of blood. The Ancients were reeling from exhaustion; they filled their lungs inhaling the freshness of the air; the sweat flowed down their livid faces; they had shouted so much that they could now scarcely make their voices heard. But their wrath against the Suffet was not at all abated; they hurled menaces at him by way of farewells, and Hamilcar answered them again.
“Until the next night, Barca, in the temple of Eschmoun!”
“I shall be there!”
“We will have you condemned by the rich!”
“And I you by the people!”
“Take care that you do not end on the cross!”
“And you that you are not torn to pieces in the streets!”
As soon as they were on the threshold of the court they again assumed a calm demeanour.
Their runners and coachmen were waiting for them at the door. Most of them departed on white mules. The Suffet leaped into his chariot and took the reins; the two animals, curving their necks, and rhythmically beating the resounding pebbles, went up the whole of the Mappalian Way at full gallop, and the silver vulture at the extremity of the pole seemed to fly, so quickly did the chariot pass along.
The road crossed a field planted with slabs of stone, which were painted on the top like pyramids, and had open hands carved out in the centre as if all the dead men lying beneath had stretched them out towards heaven to demand something. Next there came scattered cabins built of earth, branches, and bulrush-hurdles, and all of a conical shape. These dwellings, which became constantly denser as the road ascended towards the Suffet’s gardens, were irregularly separated from one another by little pebble walls, trenches of spring water, ropes of esparto-grass, and nopal hedges. But Hamilcar’s eyes were fastened on a great tower, the three storys of which formed three monster cylinders — the first being built of stone, the second of brick, and the third all of cedar — supporting a copper cupola upon twenty-four pillars of juniper, from which slender interlacing chains of brass hung down after the manner of garlands. This lofty edifice overlooked the buildings — the emporiums and mercantile houses — which stretched to the right, while the women’s palace rose at the end of the cypress trees, which were ranged in line like two walls of bronze.
When the echoing chariot had entered through the narrow gateway it stopped beneath a broad shed in which there were shackled horses eating from heaps of chopped grass.
All the servants hastened up. They formed quite a multitude, those who worked on the country estates having been brought to Carthage through fear of the soldiers. The labourers, who were clad in animals’ skins, had chains riveted to their ankles and trailing after them; the workers in the purple factories had arms as red as those of executioners; the sailors wore green caps; the fishermen coral necklaces; the huntsmen carried nets on their shoulders; and the people belonging to Megara wore black or white tunics, leathern drawers, and caps of straw, felt or linen, according to their service or their different occupations.
Behind pressed a tattered populace. They lived without employment remote from the apartments, slept at night in the gardens, ate the refuse from the kitchens — a human mouldiness vegetating in the shadow of the palace. Hamilcar tolerated them from foresight even more than from scorn. They had all put a flower in the ear in token of their joy, and many of them had never seen him.
But men with head-dresses like the Sphinx’s, and furnished with great sticks, dashed into the crowd, striking right and left. This was to drive back the slaves, who were curious to see their master, so that he might not be assailed by their numbers or inconvenienced by their smell.
Then they all threw themselves flat on the ground, crying:
“Eye of Baal, may your house flourish!” And through these people as they lay thus on the ground in the avenue of cypress trees, Abdalonim, the Steward of the stewards, waving a white miter, advanced towards Hamilcar with a censer in his hand.
Salammbo was then coming down the galley staircases. All her slave women followed her; and, at each of her steps, they also descended. The heads of the Negresses formed big black spots on the line of the bands of the golden plates clasping the foreheads of the Roman women. Others had silver arrows, emerald butterflies, or long bodkins set like suns in their hair. Rings, clasps, necklaces, fringes, and bracelets shone amid the confusion of white, yellow, and blue garments; a rustling of light material became audible; the pattering of sandals might be heard together with the dull sound of naked feet as they were set down on the wood; — and here and there a tall eunuch, head and shoulders above them, smiled with his face in air. When the shouting of the men had subsided they hid their faces in their sleeves, and together uttered a strange cry like the howling of a she-wolf, and so frenzied and strident was it that it seemed to make the great ebony staircase, with its thronging women, vibrate from top to bottom like a lyre.
The wind lifted their veils, and the slender stems of the papyrus plant rocked gently. It was the month of Schebaz and the depth of winter. The flowering pomegranates swelled against the azure of the sky, and the sea disappeared through the branches with an island in the distance half lost in the mist.
Hamilcar stopped on perceiving Salammbo. She had come to him after the death of several male children. Moreover, the birth of daughters was considered a calamity in the religions of the Sun. The gods had afterwards sent him a son; but he still felt something of the betrayal of his hope, and the shock, as it were, of the curse which he had uttered against her. Salammbo, however, continued to advance.
Long bunches of various-coloured pearls fell from her ears to her shoulders, and as far as her elbows. Her hair was crisped so as to simulate a cloud. Round her neck she wore little quadrangular plates of gold, representing a woman between two rampant lions; and her costume was a complete reproduction of the equipment of the goddess. Her broad-sleeved hyacinth robe fitted close to her figure, widening out below. The vermilion on her lips gave additional whiteness to her teeth, and the antimony on her eyelids greater length to her eyes. Her sandals, which were cut out in bird’s plumage, had very high heels, and she was extraordinarily pale, doubtless on account of the cold.
At last she came close to Hamilcar, and without looking at him, without raising her head to him:
“Greeting, eye of Baalim, eternal glory! triumph! leisure! satisfaction! riches! Long has my heart been sad and the house drooping. But the returning master is like reviving Tammouz; and beneath your gaze, O father, joyfulness and a new existence will everywhere prevail!”
And taking from Taanach’s hands a little oblong vase wherein smoked a mixture of meal, butter, cardamom, and wine: “Drink freely,” said she, “of the returning cup, which your servant has prepared!”
He replied: “A blessing upon you!” and he mechanically grasped the golden vase which she held out to him.
He scanned her, however, with such harsh attention, that Salammbo was troubled and stammered out:
“They have told you, O Master!”
“Yes! I know!” said Hamilcar in a low voice.
Was this a confession, or was she speaking of the Barbarians? And he added a few vague words upon the public embarrassments which he hoped by his sole efforts to clear away.
“O father!” exclaimed Salammbo, “you will not obliterate what is irreparable!”
Then he drew back and Salammbo was astonished at his amazement; for she was not thinking of Carthage but of the sacrilege in which she found herself implicated. This man, who made legions tremble and whom she hardly knew, terrified her like a god; he had guessed, he knew all, something awful was about to happen. “Pardon!” she cried.
Hamilcar slowly bowed his head.
Although she wished to accuse herself she dared not open her lips; and yet she felt stifled with the need of complaining and being comforted. Hamilcar was struggling against a longing to break his oath. He kept it out of pride or from the dread of putting an end to his uncertainty; and he looked into her face with all his might so as to lay hold on what she kept concealed at the bottom of her heart.
By degrees the panting Salammbo, crushed by such heavy looks, let her head sink below her shoulders. He was now sure that she had erred in the embrace of a Barbarian; he shuddered and raised both his fists. She uttered a shriek and fell down among her women, who crowded around her.
Hamilcar turned on his heel. All the stewards followed him.
The door of the emporiums was opened, and he entered a vast round hall form which long passages leading to other halls branched off like the spokes from the nave of a wheel. A stone disc stood in the centre with balustrades to support the cushions that were heaped up upon carpets.
The Suffet walked at first with rapid strides; he breathed noisily, he struck the ground with his heel, and drew his hand across his forehead like a man annoyed by flies. But he shook his head, and as he perceived the accumulation of his riches he became calm; his thoughts, which were attracted by the vistas in the passages, wandered to the other halls that were full of still rarer treasures. Bronze plates, silver ingots, and iron bars alternated with pigs of tin brought from the Cassiterides over the Dark Sea; gums from the country of the Blacks were running over their bags of palm bark; and gold dust heaped up in leathern bottles was insensibly creeping out through the worn-out seams. Delicate filaments drawn from marine plants hung amid flax from Egypt, Greece, Taprobane and Judaea; mandrepores bristled like large bushes at the foot of the walls; and an indefinable odour — the exhalation from perfumes, leather, spices, and ostrich feathers, the latter tied in great bunches at the very top of the vault — floated through the air. An arch was formed above the door before each passage with elephants’ teeth placed upright and meeting together at the points.
At last he ascended the stone disc. All the stewards stood with arms folded and heads bent while Abdalonim reared his pointed mitre with a haughty air.
Hamilcar questioned the Chief of the Ships. He was an old pilot with eyelids chafed by the wind, and white locks fell to his hips as if dashing foam of the tempests had remained on his beard.
He replied that he had sent a fleet by Gades and Thymiamata to try to reach Eziongaber by doubling the Southern Horn and the promontory of Aromata.
Others had advanced continuously towards the west for four moons without meeting with any shore; but the ships prows became entangled in weeds, the horizon echoed continually with the noise of cataracts, blood-coloured mists darkened the sun, a perfume-laden breeze lulled the crews to sleep; and their memories were so disturbed that they were now unable to tell anything. However, expeditions had ascended the rivers of the Scythians, had made their way into Colchis, and into the countries of the Jugrians and of the Estians, had carried off fifteen hundred maidens in the Archipelago, and sunk all the strange vessels sailing beyond Cape Oestrymon, so that the secret of the routes should not be known. King Ptolemaeus was detaining the incense from Schesbar; Syracuse, Elathia, Corsica, and the islands had furnished nothing, and the old pilot lowered his voice to announce that a trireme was taken at Rusicada by the Numidians — “for they are with them, Master.”
Hamilcar knit his brows; then he signed to the Chief of the Journeys to speak. This functionary was enveloped in a brown, ungirdled robe, and had his head covered with a long scarf of white stuff which passed along the edge of his lips and fell upon his shoulder behind.
The caravans had set out regularly at the winter equinox. But of fifteen hundred men directing their course towards the extreme boundaries of Ethiopia with excellent camels, new leathern bottles, and supplies of painted cloth, but one had reappeared at Carthage — the rest having died of fatigue or become mad through the terror of the desert; — and he said that far beyond the Black Harousch, after passing the Atarantes and the country of the great apes, he had seen immense kingdoms, wherein the pettiest utensils were all of gold, a river of the colour of milk and as broad as the sea, forests of blue trees, hills of aromatics, monsters with human faces vegetating on the rocks with eyeballs which expanded like flowers to look at you; and then crystal mountains supporting the sun behind lakes all covered with dragons. Others had returned from India with peacocks, pepper, and new textures. As to those who go by way of the Syrtes and the temple of Ammon to purchase chalcedony, they had no doubt perished in the sands. The caravans from Gaetulia and Phazzana had furnished their usual supplies; but he, the Chief of the Journeys, did not venture to fit one out just now.
Hamilcar understood; the Mercenaries were in occupation of the country. He leaned upon his other elbow with a hollow groan; and the Chief of Farms was so afraid to speak that he trembled horribly in spite of his thick shoulders and his big red eyeballs. His face, which was as snub-nosed as a mastiff’s, was surmounted by a net woven of threads of bark. He wore a waist-belt of hairy leopard’s skin, wherein gleamed two formidable cutlasses.
As soon as Hamilcar turned away he began to cry aloud and invoke all the Baals. It was not his fault! he could not help it! He had watched the temperature, the soil, the stars, had planted at the winter solstice and pruned at the waning of the moon, had inspected the slaves and had been careful of their clothes.
But Hamilcar grew angry at this loquacity. He clacked his tongue, and the man with the cutlasses went on in rapid tones:
“Ah, Master! they have pillaged everything! sacked everything! destroyed everything! Three thousand trees have been cut down at Maschala, and at Ubada the granaries have been looted and the cisterns filled up! At Tedes they have carried off fifteen hundred gomors of meal; at Marrazana they have killed the shepherds, eaten the flocks, burnt your house — your beautiful house with its cedar beams, which you used to visit in the summer! The slaves at Tuburbo who were reaping barley fled to the mountains; and the asses, the mules both great and small, the oxen from Taormina, and the antelopes — not a single one left! all carried away! It is a curse! I shall not survive it!” He went on again in tears: “Ah! if you knew how full the cellars were, and how the ploughshares shone! Ah! the fine rams! ah! the fine bulls! —”
Hamilcar’s wrath was choking him. It burst forth:
“Be silent! Am I a pauper then? No lies! speak the truth! I wish to know all that I have lost to the last shekel, to the last cab! Abdalonim, bring me the accounts of the ships, of the caravans, of the farms, of the house! And if your consciences are not clear, woe be on your heads! Go out!”
All the stewards went out walking backwards, with their fists touching the ground.
Abdalonim went up to a set of pigeon-holes in the wall, and from the midst of them took out knotted cords, strips of linen or papyrus, and sheeps’ shoulder-blades inscribed with delicate writing. He laid them at Hamilcar’s feet, placed in his hands a wooden frame furnished on the inside with three threads on which balls of gold, silver, and horn were strung, and began:
“One hundred and ninety-two houses in the Mappalian district let to the New Carthaginians at the rate of one bekah a moon.”
“No! it is too much! be lenient towards the poor people! and you will try to learn whether they are attached to the Republic, and write down the names of those who appear to you to be the most daring! What next?”
Abdalonim hesitated in surprise at such generosity.
Hamilcar snatched the strips of linen from his hands.
“What is this? three palaces around Khamon at twelve kesitahs a month! Make it twenty! I do not want to be eaten up by the rich.”
The Steward of the stewards, after a long salutation, resumed:
“Lent to Tigillas until the end of the season two kikars at three per cent., maritime interest; to Bar-Malkarth fifteen hundred shekels on the security of thirty slaves. But twelve have died in the salt-marshes.”
“That is because they were not hardy,” said the Suffet, laughing. “No matter! if he is in want of money, satisfy him! We should always lend, and at different rates of interest, according to the wealth of the individual.”
Then the servant hastened to read all that had been brought in by the iron-mines of Annaba, the coral fisheries, the purple factories, the farming of the tax on the resident Greeks, the export of silver to Arabia, where it had ten times the value of gold, and the captures of vessels, deduction of a tenth being made for the temple of the goddess. “Each time I declared a quarter less, Master!” Hamilcar was reckoning with the balls; they rang beneath his fingers.
“Enough! What have you paid?”
“To Stratonicles of Corinth, and to three Alexandrian merchants, on these letters here (they have been realised), ten thousand Athenian drachmas, and twelve Syrian talents of gold. The food for the crews, amounting to twenty minae a month for each trireme —”
“I know! How many lost?”
“Here is the account on these sheets of lead,” said the Steward. “As to the ships chartered in common, it has often been necessary to throw the cargo into the seas, and so the unequal losses have been divided among the partners. For the ropes which were borrowed from the arsenals, and which it was impossible to restore, the Syssitia exacted eight hundred kesitahs before the expedition to Utica.”
“They again!” said Hamilcar, hanging his head; and he remained for a time as if quite crushed by the weight of all the hatreds that he could feel upon him. “But I do not see the Megara expenses?”
Abdalonim, turning pale, went to another set of pigeon-holes, and took from them some planchettes of sycamore wood strung in packets on leathern strings.
Hamilcar, curious about these domestic details, listened to him and grew calm with the monotony of the tones in which the figures were enumerated. Abdalonim became slower. Suddenly he let the wooden sheets fall to the ground and threw himself flat on his face with his arms stretched out in the position of a condemned criminal. Hamilcar picked up the tablets without any emotion; and his lips parted and his eyes grew larger when he perceived an exorbitant consumption of meat, fish, birds, wines, and aromatics, with broken vases, dead slaves, and spoiled carpets set down as the expense of a single day.
Abdalonim, still prostrate, told him of the feast of the Barbarians. He had not been able to avoid the command of the Ancients. Moreover, Salammbo desired money to be lavished for the better reception of the soldiers.
At his daughter’s name Hamilcar leaped to his feet. Then with compressed lips he crouched down upon the cushions, tearing the fringes with his nails, and panting with staring eyes.
“Rise!” said he; and he descended.
Abdalonim followed him; his knees trembled. But seizing an iron bar he began like one distraught to loosen the paving stones. A wooden disc sprang up and soon there appeared throughout the length of the passage several of the large covers employed for stopping up the trenches in which grain was kept.
“You see, Eye of Baal,” said the servant, trembling, “they have not taken everything yet! and these are each fifty cubits deep and filled up to the brim! During your voyage I had them dug out in the arsenals, in the gardens, everywhere! your house is full of corn as your heart is full of wisdom.”
A smile passed over Hamilcar’s face. “It is well, Abdalonim!” Then bending over to his ear: “You will have it brought from Etruria, Brutium, whence you will, and no matter at what price! Heap it and keep it! I alone must possess all the corn in Carthage.”
Then when they were alone at the extremity of the passage, Abdalonim, with one of the keys hanging at his girdle, opened a large quadrangular chamber divided in the centre by pillars of cedar. Gold, silver, and brass coins were arranged on tables or packed into niches, and rose as high as the joists of the roof along the four walls. In the corners there were huge baskets of hippopotamus skin supporting whole rows of smaller bags; there were hillocks formed of heaps of bullion on the pavement; and here and there a pile that was too high had given way and looked like a ruined column. The large Carthaginian pieces, representing Tanith with a horse beneath a palm-tree, mingled with those from the colonies, which were marked with a bull, star, globe, or crescent. Then there might be seen pieces of all values, dimensions, and ages arrayed in unequal amounts — from the ancient coins of Assyria, slender as the nail, to the ancient ones of Latium, thicker than the hand, with the buttons of Egina, the tablets of Bactriana, and the short bars of Lacedaemon; many were covered with rust, or had grown greasy, or, having been taken in nets or from among the ruins of captured cities, were green with the water or blackened by fire. The Suffet had speedily calculated whether the sums present corresponded with the gains and losses which had just been read to him; and he was going away when he perceived three brass jars completely empty. Abdalonim turned away his head to mark his horror, and Hamilcar, resigning himself to it, said nothing.
They crossed other passages and other halls, and at last reached a door where, to ensure its better protection and in accordance with a Roman custom lately introduced into Carthage, a man was fastened by the waist to a long chain let into the wall. His beard and nails had grown to an immoderate length, and he swayed himself from right to left with that continual oscillation which is characteristic of captive animals. As soon as he recognised Hamilcar he darted towards him, crying:
“Pardon, Eye of Baal! pity! kill me! For ten years I have not seen the sun! In your father’s name, pardon!”
Hamilcar, without answering him, clapped his hands and three men appeared; and all four simultaneously stiffening their arms, drew back from its rings the enormous bar which closed the door. Hamilcar took a torch and disappeared into the darkness.
This was believed to be the family burying-place; but nothing would have been found in it except a broad well. It was dug out merely to baffle robbers, and it concealed nothing. Hamilcar passed along beside it; then stooping down he made a very heavy millstone turn upon its rollers, and through this aperture entered an apartment which was built in the shape of a cone.
The walls were covered with scales of brass; and in the centre, on a granite pedestal, stood the statue of one of the Kabiri called Aletes, the discoverer of the mines in Celtiberia. On the ground, at its base, and arranged in the form of a cross, were large gold shields and monster close-necked silver vases, of extravagant shape and unfitted for use; it was customary to cast quantities of metal in this way, so that dilapidation and even removal should be almost impossible.
With his torch he lit a miner’s lamp which was fastened to the idol’s cap, and green, yellow, blue, violet, wine-coloured, and blood-coloured fires suddenly illuminated the hall. It was filled with gems which were either in gold calabashes fastened like sconces upon sheets of brass, or were ranged in native masses at the foot of the wall. There were callaides shot away from the mountains with slings, carbuncles formed by the urine of the lynx, glossopetrae which had fallen from the moon, tyanos, diamonds, sandastra, beryls, with the three kinds of rubies, the four kinds of sapphires, and the twelve kinds of emeralds. They gleamed like splashes of milk, blue icicles, and silver dust, and shed their light in sheets, rays, and stars. Ceraunia, engendered by the thunder, sparkled by the side of chalcedonies, which are a cure for poison. There were topazes from Mount Zabarca to avert terrors, opals from Bactriana to prevent abortions, and horns of Ammon, which are placed under the bed to induce dreams.
The fires from the stones and the flames from the lamp were mirrored in the great golden shields. Hamilcar stood smiling with folded arms, and was less delighted by the sight of his riches than by the consciousness of their possession. They were inaccessible, exhaustless, infinite. His ancestors sleeping beneath his feet transmitted something of their eternity to his heart. He felt very near to the subterranean deities. It was as the joy of one of the Kabiri; and the great luminous rays striking upon his face looked like the extremity of an invisible net linking him across the abysses with the centre of the world.
A thought came which made him shudder, and placing himself behind the idol he walked straight up to the wall. Then among the tattooings on his arm he scrutinised a horizontal line with two other perpendicular ones which in Chanaanitish figures expressed the number thirteen. Then he counted as far as the thirteenth of the brass plates and again raised his ample sleeve; and with his right hand stretched out he read other more complicated lines on his arm, at the same time moving his fingers daintily about like one playing on a lyre. At last he struck seven blows with his thumb, and an entire section of the wall turned about in a single block.
It served to conceal a sort of cellar containing mysterious things which had no name and were of incalculable value. Hamilcar went down the three steps, took up a llama’s skin which was floating on a black liquid in a silver vat, and then re-ascended.
Abdalonim again began to walk before him. He struck the pavement with his tall cane, the pommel of which was adorned with bells, and before every apartment cried aloud the name of Hamilcar amid eulogies and benedictions.
Along the walls of the circular gallery, from which the passages branched off, were piled little beams of algummim, bags of Lawsonia, cakes of Lemnos-earth, and tortoise carapaces filled with pearls. The Suffet brushed them with his robe as he passed without even looking at some gigantic pieces of amber, an almost divine material formed by the rays of the sun.
A cloud of odorous vapour burst forth.
“Push open the door!”
They went in.
Naked men were kneading pastes, crushing herbs, stirring coals, pouring oil into jars, and opening and shutting the little ovoid cells which were hollowed out all round in the wall, and were so numerous that the apartment was like the interior of a hive. They were brimful of myrobalan, bdellium, saffron, and violets. Gums, powders, roots, glass phials, branches of filipendula, and rose-petals were scattered about everywhere, and the scents were stifling in spite of the cloud-wreaths from the styrax shrivelling on a brazen tripod in the centre.
The Chief of the Sweet Odours, pale and long as a waxen torch, came up to Hamilcar to crush a roll of metopion in his hands, while two others rubbed his heels with leaves of baccharis. He repelled them; they were Cyreneans of infamous morals, but valued on account of the secrets which they possessed.
To show his vigilance the Chief of the Odours offered the Suffet a little malobathrum to taste in an electrum spoon; then he pierced three Indian bezoars with an awl. The master, who knew the artifices employed, took a horn full of balm, and after holding it near the coals inclined it over his robe. A brown spot appeared; it was a fraud. Then he gazed fixedly at the Chief of the Odours, and without saying anything flung the gazelle’s horn full in his face.
However indignant he might be at adulterations made to his own prejudice, when he perceived some parcels of nard which were being packed up for countries beyond the sea, he ordered antimony to be mixed with it so as to make it heavier.
Then he asked where three boxes of psagdas designed for his own use were to be found.
The Chief of the Odours confessed that he did not know; some soldiers had come howling in with knives and he had opened the boxes for them.
“So you are more afraid of them then of me!” cried the Suffet; and his eyeballs flashed like torches through the smoke upon the tall, pale man who was beginning to understand. “Abdalonim! you will make him run the gauntlet before sunset: tear him!”
This loss, which was less than the others, had exasperated him; for in spite of his efforts to banish them from his thoughts he was continually coming again across the Barbarians. Their excesses were blended with his daughter’s shame, and he was angry with the whole household for knowing of the latter and for not speaking of it to him. But something impelled him to bury himself in his misfortune; and in an inquisitorial fit he visited the sheds behind the mercantile house to see the supplies of bitumen, wood, anchors and cordage, honey and wax, the cloth warehouse, the stores of food, the marble yard and the silphium barn.
He went to the other side of the gardens to make an inspection in their cottages, of the domestic artisans whose productions were sold. There were tailors embroidering cloaks, others making nets, others painting cushions or cutting out sandals, and Egyptian workmen polished papyrus with a shell, while the weavers’ shuttles rattled and the armourers’ anvils rang.
Hamilcar said to them:
“Beat away at the swords! I shall want them.” And he drew the antelope’s skin that had been steeped in poisons from his bosom to have it cut into a cuirass more solid than one of brass and unassailable by steel or flame.
As soon as he approached the workmen, Abdalonim, to give his wrath another direction, tried to anger him against them by murmured disparagement of their work. “What a performance! It is a shame! The Master is indeed too good.” Hamilcar moved away without listening to him.
He slackened his pace, for the paths were barred by great trees calcined from one end to the other, such as may be met with in woods where shepherds have encamped; and the palings were broken, the water in the trenches was disappearing, while fragments of glass and the bones of apes were to be seen amid the miry puddles. A scrap of cloth hung here and there from the bushes, and the rotten flowers formed a yellow muck-heap beneath the citron trees. In fact, the servants had neglected everything, thinking that the master would never return.
At every step he discovered some new disaster, some further proof of the thing which he had forbidden himself to learn. Here he was soiling his purple boots as he crushed the filth under-foot; and he had not all these men before him at the end of a catapult to make them fly into fragments! He felt humiliated at having defended them; it was a delusion and a piece of treachery; and as he could not revenge himself upon the soldiers, or the Ancients, or Salammbo, or anybody, and his wrath required some victim, he condemned all the slaves of the gardens to the mines at a single stroke.
Abdalonim shuddered each time that he saw him approaching the parks. But Hamilcar took the path towards the mill, from which there might be heard issuing a mournful melopoeia.
The heavy mill-stones were turning amid the dust. They consisted of two cones of porphyry laid the one upon the other — the upper one of the two, which carried a funnel, being made to revolve upon the second by means of strong bars. Some men were pushing these with their breasts and arms, while others were yoked to them and were pulling them. The friction of the straps had formed purulent scabs round about their armpits such as are seen on asses’ withers, and the end of the limp black rag, which scarcely covered their loins, hung down and flapped against their hams like a long tail. Their eyes were red, the irons on their feet clanked, and all their breasts panted rhythmically. On their mouths they had muzzles fastened by two little bronze chains to render it impossible for them to eat the flour, and their hands were enclosed in gauntlets without fingers, so as to prevent them from taking any.
At the master’s entrance the wooden bars creaked still more loudly. The grain grated as it was being crushed. Several fell upon their knees; the others, continuing their work, stepped across them.
He asked for Giddenem, the governor of the slaved, and that personage appeared, his rank being displayed in the richness of his dress. His tunic, which was slit up the sides, was of fine purple; his ears were weighted with heavy rings; and the strips of cloth enfolding his legs were joined together with a lacing of gold which extended from his ankles to his hips, like a serpent winding about a tree. In his fingers, which were laden with rings, he held a necklace of jet beads, so as to recognise the men who were subject to the sacred disease.
Hamilcar signed to him to unfasten the muzzles. Then with the cries of famished animals they all rushed upon the flour, burying their faces in the heaps of it and devouring it.
“You are weakening them!” said the Suffet.
Giddenem replied that such treatment was necessary in order to subdue them.
“It was scarcely worth while sending you to the slaves’ school at Syracuse. Fetch the others!”
And the cooks, butlers, grooms, runners, and litter-carriers, the men belonging to the vapour-baths, and the women with their children, all ranged themselves in a single line in the garden from the mercantile house to the deer park. They held their breath. An immense silence prevailed in Megara. The sun was lengthening across the lagoon at the foot of the catacombs. The peacocks were screeching. Hamilcar walked along step by step.
“What am I to do with these old creatures?” he said. “Sell them! There are too many Gauls: they are drunkards! and too many Cretans: they are liars! Buy me some Cappadocians, Asiatics, and Negroes.”
He was astonished that the children were so few. “The house ought to have births every year, Giddenem. You will leave the huts open every night to let them mingle freely.”
He then had the thieves, the lazy, and the mutinous shown to him. He distributed punishments, with reproaches to Giddenem; and Giddenem, ox-like, bent his low forehead, with its two broad intersecting eyebrows.
“See, Eye of Baal,” he said, pointing out a sturdy Libyan, “here is one who was caught with the rope round his neck.”
“Ah! you wish to die?” said the Suffet scornfully.
“Yes!” replied the slave in an intrepid tone.
Then, without heeding the precedent or the pecuniary loss, Hamilcar said to the serving-men:
“Away with him!”
Perhaps in his thoughts he intended a sacrifice. It was a misfortune which he inflicted upon himself in order to avert more terrible ones.
Giddenem had hidden those who were mutilated behind the others. Hamilcar perceived them.
“Who cut off your arm?”
“The soldiers, Eye of Baal.”
Then to a Samnite who was staggering like a wounded heron:
“And you, who did that to you?”
It was the governor, who had broken his leg with an iron bar.
This silly atrocity made the Suffet indignant; he snatched the jet necklace out of Giddenem’s hands.
“Cursed be the dog that injures the flock! Gracious Tanith, to cripple slaves! Ah! you ruin your master! Let him be smothered in the dunghill. And those that are missing? Where are they? Have you helped the soldiers to murder them?”
His face was so terrible that all the women fled. The slaves drew back and formed a large circle around them; Giddenem was frantically kissing his sandals; Hamilcar stood upright with his arms raised above him.
But with his understanding as clear as in the sternest of his battles, he recalled a thousand odious things, ignominies from which he had turned aside; and in the gleaming of his wrath he could once more see all his disasters simultaneously as in the lightnings of a storm. The governors of the country estates had fled through terror of the soldiers, perhaps through collusion with them; they were all deceiving him; he had restrained himself too long.
“Bring them here!” he cried; “and brand them on the forehead with red-hot irons as cowards!”
Then they brought and spread out in the middle of the garden, fetters, carcanets, knives, chains for those condemned to the mines, cippi for fastening the legs, numellae for confining the shoulders, and scorpions or whips with triple thongs terminating in brass claws.
All were placed facing the sun, in the direction of Moloch the Devourer, and were stretched on the ground on their stomachs or on their backs, those, however, who were sentenced to be flogged standing upright against the trees with two men beside them, one counting the blows and the other striking.
In striking he used both his arms, and the whistling thongs made the bark of the plane-trees fly. The blood was scattered like rain upon the foliage, and red masses writhed with howls at the foot of the trees. Those who were under the iron tore their faces with their nails. The wooden screws could be heard creaking; dull knockings resounded; sometimes a sharp cry would suddenly pierce the air. In the direction of the kitchens, men were brisking up burning coals with fans amid tattered garments and scattered hair, and a smell of burning flesh was perceptible. Those who were under the scourge, swooning, but kept in their positions by the bonds on their arms, rolled their heads upon their shoulders and closed their eyes. The others who were watching them began to shriek with terror, and the lions, remembering the feast perhaps, stretched themselves out yawning against the edge of the dens.
Then Salammbo was seen on the platform of her terrace. She ran wildly about it from left to right. Hamilcar perceived her. It seemed to him that she was holding up her arms towards him to ask for pardon; with a gesture of horror he plunged into the elephants’ park.
These animals were the pride of the great Punic houses. They had carried their ancestors, had triumphed in the wars, and they were reverenced as being the favourites of the Sun.
Those of Megara were the strongest in Carthage. Before he went away Hamilcar had required Abdalonim to swear that he would watch over them. But they had died from their mutilations; and only three remained, lying in the middle of the court in the dust before the ruins of their manger.
They recognised him and came up to him. One had its ears horribly slit, another had a large wound in its knee, while the trunk of the third was cut off.
They looked sadly at him, like reasonable creatures; and the one that had lost its trunk tried by stooping its huge head and bending its hams to stroke him softly with the hideous extremity of its stump.
At this caress from the animal two tears started into his eyes. He rushed at Abdalonim.
“Ah! wretch! the cross! the cross!”
Abdalonim fell back swooning upon the ground.
The bark of a jackal rang from behind the purple factories, the blue smoke of which was ascending slowly into the sky; Hamilcar paused.
The thought of his son had suddenly calmed him like the touch of a god. He caught a glimpse of a prolongation of his might, an indefinite continuation of his personality, and the slaves could not understand whence this appeasement had come upon him.
As he bent his steps towards the purple factories he passed before the ergastulum, which was a long house of black stone built in a square pit with a small pathway all round it and four staircases at the corners.
Iddibal was doubtless waiting until the night to finish his signal. “There is no hurry yet,” thought Hamilcar; and he went down into the prison. Some cried out to him: “Return”; the boldest followed him.
The open door was flapping in the wind. The twilight entered through the narrow loopholes, and in the interior broken chains could be distinguished hanging from the walls.
This was all that remained of the captives of war!
Then Hamilcar grew extraordinarily pale, and those who were leaning over the pit outside saw him resting one hand against the wall to keep himself from falling.
But the jackal uttered its cry three times in succession. Hamilcar raised his head; he did not speak a word nor make a gesture. Then when the sun had completely set he disappeared behind the nopal hedge, and in the evening he said as he entered the assembly of the rich in the temple of Eschmoun:
“Luminaries of the Baalim, I accept the command of the Punic forces against the army of the Barbarians!”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50