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behind them.

At first they followed the foot of the ramparts for a time, and at the
height of the cisterns they took their way along the Taenia, a narrow
strip of yellow earth separating the gulf from the lake and extending as
far as Rhades.

No one was to be seen around Carthage, whether on the sea or in the
country. The slate-coloured waves chopped softly, and the light wind
blowing their foam hither and thither spotted them with white rents.
In spite of all her veils, Salammbo shivered in the freshness of the
morning; the motion and the open air dazed her. Then the sun rose; it
preyed on the back of her head, and she involuntarily dozed a little.
The two animals rambled along side by side, their feet sinking into the
silent sand.

When they had passed the mountain of the Hot Springs, they went on at a
more rapid rate, the ground being firmer.

But although it was the season for sowing and ploughing, the fields were
as empty as the desert as far as the eye could reach. Here and there
were scattered heaps of corn; at other places the barley was shedding
its reddened ears. The villages showed black upon the clear horizon,
with shapes incoherently carved.

From time to time a half-calcined piece of wall would be found standing
on the edge of the road. The roofs of the cottages were falling in, and
in the interiors might be distinguished fragments of pottery, rags of
clothing, and all kinds of unrecognisable utensils and broken things.
Often a creature clothed in tatters, with earthy face and flaming eyes
would emerge from these ruins. But he would very quickly begin to run or
would disappear into a hole. Salammbo and her guide did not stop.

Deserted plains succeeded one another. Charcoal dust which was raised by
their feet behind them, stretched in unequal trails over large spaces
of perfectly white soil. Sometimes they came upon little peaceful spots,
where a brook flowed amid the long grass; and as they ascended the other
bank Salammbo would pluck damp leaves to cool her hands. At the corner
of a wood of rose-bays her horse shied violently at the corpse of a man
which lay extended on the ground.

The slave immediately settled her again on the cushions. He was one of
the servants of the Temple, a man whom Schahabarim used to employ on
perilous missions.

With extreme precaution he now went on foot beside her and between the
horses; he would whip the animals with the end of a leathern lace wound
round his arm, or would perhaps take balls made of wheat, dates, and
yolks of eggs wrapped in lotus leaves from a scrip hanging against his
breast, and offer them to Salammbo without speaking, and running all the

In the middle of the day three Barbarians clad in animals' skins crossed
their path. By degrees others appeared wandering in troops of ten,
twelve, or twenty-five men; many were driving goats or a limping cow.
Their heavy sticks bristled with brass points; cutlasses gleamed in
their clothes, which were savagely dirty, and they opened their eyes
with a look of menace and amazement. As they passed some sent them a
vulgar benediction; others obscene jests, and Schahabarim's man replied
to each in his own idiom. He told them that this was a sick youth going
to be cured at a distant temple.

However, the day was closing in. Barkings were heard, and they
approached them.

Then in the twilight they perceived an enclosure of dry stones shutting
in a rambling edifice. A dog was running along the top of the wall. The
slave threw some pebbles at him and they entered a lofty vaulted hall.

A woman was crouching in the centre warming herself at a fire of
brushwood, the smoke of which escaped through the holes in the ceiling.
She was half hidden by her white hair which fell to her knees; and
unwilling to answer, she muttered with idiotic look words of vengeance
against the Barbarians and the Carthaginians.

The runner ferreted right and left. Then he returned to her and demanded
something to eat. The old woman shook her head, and murmured with her
eyes fixed upon the charcoal:

"I was the hand. The ten fingers are cut off. The mouth eats no more."

The slave showed her a handful of gold pieces. She rushed upon them, but
soon resumed her immobility.

At last he placed a dagger which he had in his girdle beneath her
throat. Then, trembling, she went and raised a large stone, and brought
back an amphora of wine with fish from Hippo-Zarytus preserved in honey.

Salammbo turned away from this unclean food, and fell asleep on the
horses' caparisons which were spread in a corner of the hall.

He awoke her before daylight.

The dog was howling. The slave went up to it quietly, and struck off
its head with a single blow of his dagger. Then he rubbed the horses'
nostrils with blood to revive them. The old woman cast a malediction at
him from behind. Salammbo perceived this, and pressed the amulet which
she wore above her heart.

They resumed their journey.

From time to time she asked whether they would not arrive soon. The road
undulated over little hills. Nothing was to be heard but the grating of
the grasshoppers. The sun heated the yellowed grass; the ground was all
chinked with crevices which in dividing formed, as it were, monstrous
paving-stones. Sometimes a viper passed, or eagles flew by; the slave
still continued running. Salammbo mused beneath her veils, and in spite
of the heat did not lay them aside through fear of soiling her beautiful

At regular distances stood towers built by the Carthaginians for the
purpose of keeping watch upon the tribes. They entered these for the
sake of the shade, and then set out again.

For prudence sake they had made a wide detour the day before. But they
met with no one just now; the region being a sterile one, the Barbarians
had not passed that way.

Gradually the devastation began again. Sometimes a piece of mosaic would
be displayed in the centre of a field, the sole remnant of a vanished
mansion; and the leafless olive trees looked at a distance like large
bushes of thorns. They passed through a town in which houses were burnt
to the ground. Human skeletons might be seen along the walls. There were
some, too, of dromedaries and mules. Half-gnawed carrion blocked the

Night fell. The sky was lowering and cloudy.

They ascended again for two hours in a westerly direction, when suddenly
they perceived a quantity of little flames before them.

These were shining at the bottom of an ampitheatre. Gold plates, as they
displaced one another, glanced here and there. These were the cuirasses
of the Clinabarians in the Punic camp; then in the neighbourhood they
distinguished other and more numerous lights, for the armies of the
Mercenaries, now blended together, extended over a great space.

Salammbo made a movement as though to advance. But Schahabarim's man
took her further away, and they passed along by the terrace which
enclosed the camp of the Barbarians. A breach became visible in it, and
the slave disappeared.

A sentry was walking upon the top of the entrenchment with a bow in his
hand and a pike on his shoulder.

Salammbo drew still nearer; the Barbarian knelt and a long arrow pierced
the hem of her cloak. Then as she stood motionless and shrieking, he
asked her what she wanted.

"To speak to Matho," she replied. "I am a fugitive from Carthage."

He gave a whistle, which was repeated at intervals further away.

Salammbo waited; her frightened horse moved round and round, sniffing.

When Matho arrived the moon was rising behind her. But she had a yellow
veil with black flowers over her face, and so many draperies about her
person, that it was impossible to make any guess about her. From the top
of the terrace he gazed upon this vague form standing up like a phantom
in the penumbrae of the evening.

At last she said to him:

"Lead me to your tent! I wish it!"

A recollection which he could not define passed through his memory. He
felt his heart beating. The air of command intimidated him.

"Follow me!" he said.

The barrier was lowered, and immediately she was in the camp of the

It was filled with a great tumult and a great throng. Bright fires were
burning beneath hanging pots; and their purpled reflections illuminating
some places left others completely in the dark. There was shouting and
calling; shackled horses formed long straight lines amid the tents; the
latter were round and square, of leather or of canvas; there were huts
of reeds, and holes in the sand such as are made by dogs. Soldiers were
carting faggots, resting on their elbows on the ground, or wrapping
themselves up in mats and preparing to sleep; and Salammbo's horse
sometimes stretched out a leg and jumped in order to pass over them.

She remembered that she had seen them before; but their beards were
longer now, their faces still blacker, and their voices hoarser. Matho,
who walked before her, waved them off with a gesture of his arm which
raised his red mantle. Some kissed his hands; others bending their
spines approached him to ask for orders, for he was now veritable and
sole chief of the Barbarians; Spendius, Autaritus, and Narr' Havas had
become disheartened, and he had displayed so much audacity and obstinacy
that all obeyed him.

Salammbo followed him through the entire camp. His tent was at the end,
three hundred feet from Hamilcar's entrenchments.

She noticed a wide pit on the right, and it seemed to her that faces
were resting against the edge of it on a level with the ground, as
decapitated heads might have done. However, their eyes moved, and from
these half-opened mouths groanings escaped in the Punic tongue.

Two Negroes holding resin lights stood on both sides of the door. Matho
drew the canvas abruptly aside. She followed him. It was a deep tent
with a pole standing up in the centre. It was lighted by a large
lamp-holder shaped like a lotus and full of a yellow oil wherein floated
handfuls of burning tow, and military things might be distinguished
gleaming in the shade. A naked sword leaned against a stool by the
side of a shield; whips of hippopotamus leather, cymbals, bells, and
necklaces were displayed pell-mell on baskets of esparto-grass; a
felt rug lay soiled with crumbs of black bread; some copper money was
carelessly heaped upon a round stone in a corner, and through the rents
in the canvas the wind brought the dust from without, together with the
smell of the elephants, which might be heard eating and shaking their

"Who are you?" said Matho.

She looked slowly around her without replying; then her eyes were
arrested in the background, where something bluish and sparkling fell
upon a bed of palm-branches.

She advanced quickly. A cry escaped her. Matho stamped his foot behind

"Who brings you here? why do you come?"

"To take it!" she replied, pointing to the zaimph, and with the other
hand she tore the veils from her head. He drew back with his elbows
behind him, gaping, almost terrified.

She felt as if she were leaning on the might of the gods; and looking at
him face to face she asked him for the zaimph; she demanded it in words
abundant and superb.

Matho did not hear; he was gazing at her, and in his eyes her garments
were blended with her body. The clouding of the stuffs, like the
splendour of her skin, was something special and belonging to her alone.
Her eyes and her diamonds sparkled; the polish of her nails continued
the delicacy of the stones which loaded her fingers; the two clasps of
her tunic raised her breasts somewhat and brought them closer together,
and he in thought lost himself in the narrow interval between them
whence there fell a thread holding a plate of emeralds which could be
seen lower down beneath the violet gauze. She had as earrings two little
sapphire scales, each supporting a hollow pearl filled with liquid
scent. A little drop would fall every moment through the holes in the
pearl and moisten her naked shoulder. Matho watched it fall.

He was carried away by ungovernable curiosity; and, like a child laying
his hand upon a strange fruit, he tremblingly and lightly touched
the top of her chest with the tip of his finger: the flesh, which was
somewhat cold, yielded with an elastic resistance.

This contact, though scarcely a sensible one, shook Matho to the very
depths of his nature. An uprising of his whole being urged him towards
her. He would fain have enveloped her, absorbed her, drunk her. His
bosom was panting, his teeth were chattering.

Taking her by the wrists he drew her gently to him, and then sat down
upon a cuirass beside the palm-tree bed which was covered with a lion's
skin. She was standing. He looked up at her, holding her thus between
his knees, and repeating:

"How beautiful you are! how beautiful you are!"

His eyes, which were continually fixed upon hers, pained her; and the
uncomfortableness, the repugnance increased in so acute a fashion that
Salammbo put a constraint upon herself not to cry out. The thought of
Schahabarim came back to her, and she resigned herself.

Matho still kept her little hands in his own; and from time to time,
in spite of the priest's command, she turned away her face and tried to
thrust him off by jerking her arms. He opened his nostrils the better
to breathe in the perfume which exhaled from her person. It was a fresh,
indefinable emanation, which nevertheless made him dizzy, like the smoke
from a perfuming-pan. She smelt of honey, pepper, incense, roses, with
another odour still.

But how was she thus with him in his tent, and at his disposal? Some one
no doubt had urged her. She had not come for the zaimph. His arms fell,
and he bent his head whelmed in sudden reverie.

To soften him Salammbo said to him in a plaintive voice:

"What have I done to you that you should desire my death?"

"Your death!"

She resumed:

"I saw you one evening by the light of my burning gardens amid fuming
cups and my slaughtered slaves, and your anger was so strong that you
bounded towards me and I was obliged to fly! Then terror entered into
Carthage. There were cries of the devastation of the towns, the burning
of the country-seats, the massacre of the soldiery; it was you who had
ruined them, it was you who had murdered them! I hate you! Your very
name gnaws me like remorse! You are execrated more than the plague, and
the Roman war! The provinces shudder at your fury, the furrows are full
of corpses! I have followed the traces of your fires as though I were
travelling behind Moloch!"

Matho leaped up; his heart was swelling with colossal pride; he was
raised to the stature of a god.

With quivering nostrils and clenched teeth she went on:

"As if your sacrilege were not enough, you came to me in my sleep
covered with the zaimph! Your words I did not understand; but I could
see that you wished to drag me to some terrible thing at the bottom of
an abyss."

Matho, writhing his arms, exclaimed:

"No! no! it was to give it to you! to restore it to you! It seemed to me
that the goddess had left her garment for you, and that it belonged to
you! In her temple or in your house, what does it matter? are you not
all-powerful, immaculate, radiant and beautiful even as Tanith?" And
with a look of boundless adoration he added:

"Unless perhaps you are Tanith?"

"I, Tanith!" said Salammbo to herself.

They left off speaking. The thunder rolled in the distance. Some sheep
bleated, frightened by the storm.

"Oh! come near!" he went on, "come near! fear nothing!

"Formerly I was only a soldier mingled with the common herd of the
Mercenaries, ay, and so meek that I used to carry wood on my back for
the others. Do I trouble myself about Carthage! The crowd of its people
move as though lost in the dust of your sandals, and all its treasures,
with the provinces, fleets, and islands, do not raise my envy like the
freshness of your lips and the turn of your shoulders. But I wanted to
throw down its walls that I might reach you to possess you! Moreover,
I was revenging myself in the meantime! At present I crush men like
shells, and I throw myself upon phalanxes; I put aside the sarissae with
my hands, I check the stallions by the nostrils; a catapult would
not kill me! Oh! if you knew how I think of you in the midst of war!
Sometimes the memory of a gesture or of a fold of your garment suddenly
seizes me and entwines me like a net! I perceive your eyes in the flames
of the phalaricas and on the gilding of the shields! I hear your voice
in the sounding of the cymbals. I turn aside, but you are not there! and
I plunge again into the battle!"

He raised his arms whereon his veins crossed one another like ivy on
the branches of a tree. Sweat flowed down his breast between his square
muscles; and his breathing shook his sides with his bronze girdle all
garnished with thongs hanging down to his knees, which were firmer than
marble. Salammbo, who was accustomed to eunuchs, yielded to amazement at
the strength of this man. It was the chastisement of the goddess or the
influence of Moloch in motion around her in the five armies. She was
overwhelmed with lassitude; and she listened in a state of stupor to the
intermittent shouts of the sentinels as they answered one another.

The flames of the lamp kindled in the squalls of hot air. There came
at times broad lightning flashes; then the darkness increased; and she
could only see Matho's eyeballs like two coals in the night. However,
she felt that a fatality was surrounding her, that she had reached a
supreme and irrevocable moment, and making an effort she went up again
towards the zaimph and raised her hands to seize it.

"What are you doing?" exclaimed Matho.

"I am going back to Carthage," she placidly replied.

He advanced folding his arms and with so terrible a look that her heels
were immediately nailed, as it were, to the spot.

"Going back to Carthage!" He stammered, and, grinding his teeth,

"Going back to Carthage! Ah! you came to take the zaimph, to conquer me,
and then disappear! No, no! you belong to me! and no one now shall tear
you from here! Oh! I have not forgotten the insolence of your large
tranquil eyes, and how you crushed me with the haughtiness of your
beauty! 'Tis my turn now! You are my captive, my slave, my servant!
Call, if you like, on your father and his army, the Ancients, the
rich, and your whole accursed people! I am the master of three hundred
thousand soldiers! I will go and seek them in Lusitania, in the Gauls,
and in the depths of the desert, and I will overthrow your town and burn
all its temples; the triremes shall float on the waves of blood! I will
not have a house, a stone, or a palm tree remaining! And if men fail me
I will draw the bears from the mountains and urge on the lions! Seek not
to fly or I kill you!"

Pale and with clenched fists he quivered like a harp whose strings are
about to burst. Suddenly sobs stifled him, and he sank down upon his

"Ah! forgive me! I am a scoundrel, and viler than scorpions, than mire
and dust! Just now while you were speaking your breath passed across my
face, and I rejoiced like a dying man who drinks lying flat on the edge
of a stream. Crush me, if only I feel your feet! curse me, if only I
hear your voice! Do not go! have pity! I love you! I love you!"

He was on his knees on the ground before her; and he encircled her form
with both his arms, his head thrown back, and his hands wandering; the
gold discs hanging from his ears gleamed upon his bronzed neck; big
tears rolled in his eyes like silver globes; he sighed caressingly, and
murmured vague words lighter than a breeze and sweet as a kiss.

Salammbo was invaded by a weakness in which she lost all consciousness
of herself. Something at once inward and lofty, a command from the gods,
obliged her to yield herself; clouds uplifted her, and she fell back
swooning upon the bed amid the lion's hair. The zaimph fell, and
enveloped her; she could see Matho's face bending down above her breast.

"Moloch, thou burnest me!" and the soldier's kisses, more devouring than
flames, covered her; she was as though swept away in a hurricane, taken
in the might of the sun.

He kissed all her fingers, her arms, her feet, and the long tresses of
her hair from one end to the other.

"Carry it off," he said, "what do I care? take me away with it! I
abandon the army! I renounce everything! Beyond Gades, twenty days'
journey into the sea, you come to an island covered with gold dust,
verdure, and birds. On the mountains large flowers filled with smoking
perfumes rock like eternal censers; in the citron trees, which are
higher than cedars, milk-coloured serpents cause the fruit to fall upon
the turf with the diamonds in their jaws; the air is so mild that it
keeps you from dying. Oh! I shall find it, you will see. We shall live
in crystal grottoes cut out at the foot of the hills. No one dwells in
it yet, or I shall become the king of the country."

He brushed the dust off her cothurni; he wanted her to put a quarter of
a pomegranate between her lips; he heaped up garments behind her head to
make a cushion for her. He sought for means to serve her, and to humble
himself, and he even spread the zaimph over her feet as if it were a
mere rug.

"Have you still," he said, "those little gazelle's horns on which your
necklaces hang? You will give them to me! I love them!" For he spoke
as if the war were finished, and joyful laughs broke from him. The
Mercenaries, Hamilcar, every obstacle had now disappeared. The moon was
gliding between two clouds. They could see it through an opening in the
tent. "Ah, what nights have I spent gazing at her! she seemed to me like
a veil that hid your face; you would look at me through her; the memory
of you was mingled with her beams; then I could no longer distinguish
you!" And with his head between her breasts he wept copiously.

"And this," she thought, "is the formidable man who makes Carthage

He fell asleep. Then disengaging herself from his arm she put one foot
to the ground, and she perceived that her chainlet was broken.

The maidens of the great families were accustomed to respect these
shackles as something that was almost religious, and Salammbo, blushing,
rolled the two pieces of the golden chain around her ankles.

Carthage, Megara, her house, her room, and the country that she had
passed through, whirled in tumultuous yet distinct images through her
memory. But an abyss had yawned and thrown them far back to an infinite
distance from her.

The storm was departing; drops of water splashing rarely, one by one,
made the tent-roof shake.

Matho slept like a drunken man, stretched on his side, and with one arm
over the edge of the couch. His band of pearls was raised somewhat, and
uncovered his brow; his teeth were parted in a smile; they shone through
his black beard, and there was a silent and almost outrageous gaiety in
his half-closed eyelids.

Salammbo looked at him motionless, her head bent and her hands crossed.

A dagger was displayed on the table of cypress-wood at the head of the
bed; the sight of the gleaming blade fired her with a sanguinary desire.
Mournful voices lingered at a distance in the shade, and like a chorus
of geniuses urged her on. She approached it; she seized the steel by the
handle. At the rustling of her dress Matho half opened his eyes, putting
forth his mouth upon her hands, and the dagger fell.

Shouts arose; a terrible light flashed behind the canvas. Matho raised
the latter; they perceived the camp of the Libyans enveloped in great

Their reed huts were burning, and the twisting stems burst in the smoke
and flew off like arrows; black shadows ran about distractedly on the
red horizon. They could hear the shrieks of those who were in the
huts; the elephants, oxen, and horses plunged in the midst of the crowd
crushing it together with the stores and baggage that were being rescued
from the fire. Trumpets sounded. There were calls of "Matho! Matho!"
Some people at the door tried to get in.

"Come along! Hamilcar is burning the camp of Autaritus!"

He made a spring. She found herself quite alone.

Then she examined the zaimph; and when she had viewed it well she was
surprised that she had not the happiness which she had once imagined to
herself. She stood with melancholy before her accomplished dream.

But the lower part of the tent was raised, and a monstrous form
appeared. Salammbo could at first distinguish only the two eyes and
a long white beard which hung down to the ground; for the rest of the

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Online LibraryGustave FlaubertSalammbo → online text (page 16 of 25)