Gustave Flaubert.

Salammbo online

. (page 18 of 25)
Online LibraryGustave FlaubertSalammbo → online text (page 18 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and remembering Hamilcar's warning, lately thrown into their midst, they
expected something unlooked for and terrible. The night was spent in
great distress; several even got rid of their weapons, so as to soften
the Suffet when he presented himself.

But on the following day, at the third watch, a second runner appeared,
still more breathless, and blackened with dust. The Greek snatched
from his hand a roll of papyrus covered with Phoenician writing. The
Mercenaries were entreated not to be disheartened; the brave men of
Tunis were coming with large reinforcements.

Spendius first read the letter three times in succession; and held up by
two Cappadocians, who bore him seated on their shoulders, he had
himself conveyed from place to place and re-read it. For seven hours he

He reminded the Mercenaries of the promises of the Great Council; the
Africans of the cruelties of the stewards, and all the Barbarians of the
injustice of Carthage. The Suffet's mildness was only a bait to capture
them; those who surrendered would be sold as slaves, and the vanquished
would perish under torture. As to flight, what routes could they follow?
Not a nation would receive them. Whereas by continuing their efforts
they would obtain at once freedom, vengeance, and money! And they would
not have long to wait, since the people of Tunis, the whole of Libya,
was rushing to relieve them. He showed the unrolled papyrus: "Look at
it! read! see their promises! I do not lie."

Dogs were straying about with their black muzzles all plastered with
red. The men's uncovered heads were growing hot in the burning sun.
A nauseous smell exhaled from the badly buried corpses. Some even
projected from the earth as far as the waist. Spendius called them to
witness what he was saying; then he raised his fists in the direction of

Matho, moreover, was watching him, and to cover his cowardice he
displayed an anger by which he gradually found himself carried away.
Devoting himself to the gods he heaped curses upon the Carthaginians.
The torture of the captives was child's play. Why spare them, and be
ever dragging this useless cattle after one? "No! we must put an end to
it! their designs are known! a single one might ruin us! no pity! Those
who are worthy will be known by the speed of their legs and the force of
their blows."

Then they turned again upon the captives. Several were still in the last
throes; they were finished by the thrust of a heel in the mouth or a
stab with the point of a javelin.

Then they thought of Gisco. Nowhere could he be seen; they were
disturbed with anxiety. They wished at once to convince themselves of
his death and to participate in it. At last three Samnite shepherds
discovered him at a distance of fifteen paces from the spot where
Matho's tent lately stood. They recognised him by his long beard and
they called the rest.

Stretched on his back, his arms against his hips, and his knees close
together, he looked like a dead man laid out for the tomb. Nevertheless
his wasted sides rose and fell, and his eyes, wide-opened in his pallid
face, gazed in a continuous and intolerable fashion.

The Barbarians looked at him at first with great astonishment. Since he
had been living in the pit he had been almost forgotten; rendered uneasy
by old memories they stood at a distance and did not venture to raise
their hands against him.

But those who were behind were murmuring and pressed forward when a
Garamantian passed through the crowd; he was brandishing a sickle; all
understood his thought; their faces purpled, and smitten with shame they

"Yes! yes!"

The man with the curved steel approached Gisco. He took his head, and,
resting it upon his knee, sawed it off with rapid strokes; it fell; to
great jets of blood made a hole in the dust. Zarxas leaped upon it, and
lighter than a leopard ran towards the Carthaginians.

Then when he had covered two thirds of the mountain he drew Gisco's
head from his breast by the beard, whirled his arm rapidly several
times, - and the mass, when thrown at last, described a long parabola and
disappeared behind the Punic entrenchments.

Soon at the edge of the palisades there rose two crossed standards, the
customary sign for claiming a corpse.

Then four heralds, chosen for their width of chest, went out with great
clarions, and speaking through the brass tubes declared that henceforth
there would be between Carthaginians and Barbarians neither faith, pity,
nor gods, that they refused all overtures beforehand, and that envoys
would be sent back with their hands cut off.

Immediately afterwards, Spendius was sent to Hippo-Zarytus to procure
provisions; the Tyrian city sent them some the same evening. They ate
greedily. Then when they were strengthened they speedily collected
the remains of their baggage and their broken arms; the women massed
themselves in the centre, and heedless of the wounded left weeping
behind them, they set out along the edge of the shore like a herd of
wolves taking its departure.

They were marching upon Hippo-Zarytus, resolved to take it, for they had
need of a town.

Hamilcar, as he perceived them at a distance, had a feeling of despair
in spite of the pride which he experienced in seeing them fly before
him. He ought to have attacked them immediately with fresh troops.
Another similar day and the war was over! If matters were protracted
they would return with greater strength; the Tyrian towns would join
them; his clemency towards the vanquished had been of no avail. He
resolved to be pitiless.

The same evening he sent the Great Council a dromedary laden with
bracelets collected from the dead, and with horrible threats ordered
another army to be despatched.

All had for a long time believed him lost; so that on learning his
victory they felt a stupefaction which was almost terror. The vaguely
announced return of the zaimph completed the wonder. Thus the gods and
the might of Carthage seemed now to belong to him.

None of his enemies ventured upon complaint or recrimination. Owing to
the enthusiasm of some and the pusillanimity of the rest, an army of
five thousand men was ready before the interval prescribed had elapsed.

This army promptly made its way to Utica in order to support the
Suffet's rear, while three thousand of the most notable citizens
embarked in vessels which were to land them at Hippo-Zarytus, whence
they were to drive back the Barbarians.

Hanno had accepted the command; but he intrusted the army to his
lieutenant, Magdassin, so as to lead the troops which were to be
disembarked himself, for he could no longer endure the shaking of
the litter. His disease had eaten away his lips and nostrils, and had
hollowed out a large hole in his face; the back of his throat could be
seen at a distance of ten paces, and he knew himself to be so hideous
that he wore a veil over his head like a woman.

Hippo-Zarytus paid no attention to his summonings nor yet to those of
the Barbarians; but every morning the inhabitants lowered provisions to
the latter in baskets, and shouting from the tops of the towers pleaded
the exigencies of the Republic and conjured them to withdraw. By means
of signs they addressed the same protestations to the Carthaginians, who
were stationed on the sea.

Hanno contented himself with blockading the harbour without risking an
attack. However, he permitted the judges of Hippo-Zarytus to admit three
hundred soldiers. Then he departed to the Cape Grapes, and made a
long circuit so as to hem in the Barbarians, an inopportune and even
dangerous operation. His jealousy prevented him from relieving the
Suffet; he arrested his spies, impeded him in all his plans, and
compromised the success of the enterprise. At last Hamilcar wrote to
the Great Council to rid himself of Hanno, and the latter returned to
Carthage furious at the baseness of the Ancients and the madness of his
colleague. Hence, after so many hopes, the situation was now still more
deplorable; but there was an effort not to reflect upon it and even not
to talk about it.

As if all this were not sufficient misfortune at one time, news came
that the Sardinian Mercenaries had crucified their general, seized the
strongholds, and everywhere slaughtered those of Chanaanitish race. The
Roman people threatened the Republic with immediate hostilities
unless she gave twelve hundred talents with the whole of the island of
Sardinia. They had accepted the alliance of the Barbarians, and they
despatched to them flat-bottomed boats laden with meal and dried meat.
The Carthaginians pursued these, and captured five hundred men; but
three days afterwards a fleet coming from Byzacena, and conveying
provisions to Carthage, foundered in a storm. The gods were evidently
declaring against her.

Upon this the citizens of Hippo-Zarytus, under pretence of an alarm,
made Hanno's three hundred men ascend their walls; then coming behind
them they took them by the legs, and suddenly threw them over the
ramparts. Some who were not killed were pursued, and went and drowned
themselves in the sea.

Utica was enduring the presence of soldiers, for Magdassin had acted
like Hanno, and in accordance with his orders and deaf to Hamilcar's
prayers, was surrounding the town. As for these, they were given wine
mixed with mandrake, and were then slaughtered in their sleep. At the
same time the Barbarians arrived; Magdassin fled; the gates were opened,
and thenceforward the two Tyrian towns displayed an obstinate devotion
to their new friends and an inconceivable hatred to their former allies.

This abandonment of the Punic cause was a counsel and a precedent. Hopes
of deliverance revived. Populations hitherto uncertain hesitated no
longer. Everywhere there was a stir. The Suffet learnt this, and he had
no assistance to look for! He was now irrevocably lost.

He immediately dismissed Narr' Havas, who was to guard the borders of
his kingdom. As for himself, he resolved to re-enter Carthage in order
to obtain soldiers and begin the war again.

The Barbarians posted at Hippo-Zarytus perceived his army as it
descended the mountain.

Where could the Carthaginians be going? Hunger, no doubt, was urging
them on; and, distracted by their sufferings, they were coming in spite
of their weakness to give battle. But they turned to the right: they
were fleeing. They might be overtaken and all be crushed. The Barbarians
dashed in pursuit of them.

The Carthaginians were checked by the river. It was wide this time and
the west wind had not been blowing. Some crossed by swimming, and the
rest on their shields. They resumed their march. Night fell. They were
out of sight.

The Barbarians did not stop; they went higher to find a narrower place.
The people of Tunis hastened thither, bringing those of Utica along with
them. Their numbers increased at every bush; and the Carthaginians, as
they lay on the ground, could hear the tramping of their feet in the
darkness. From time to time Barca had a volley of arrows discharged
behind him to check them, and several were killed. When day broke they
were in the Ariana Mountains, at the spot where the road makes a bend.

Then Matho, who was marching at the head, thought that he could
distinguish something green on the horizon on the summit of an eminence.
Then the ground sank, and obelisks, domes, and houses appeared! It was
Carthage. He leaned against a tree to keep himself from falling, so
rapidly did his heart beat.

He thought of all that had come to pass in his existence since the
last time that he had passed that way! It was an infinite surprise, it
stunned him. Then he was transported with joy at the thought of seeing
Salammbo again. The reasons which he had for execrating her returned to
his recollection, but he very quickly rejected them. Quivering and with
straining eyeballs he gazed at the lofty terrace of a palace above the
palm trees beyond Eschmoun; a smile of ecstasy lighted his face as if
some great light had reached him; he opened his arms, and sent kisses on
the breeze, and murmured: "Come! come!" A sigh swelled his breast, and
two long tears like pearls fell upon his beard.

"What stays you?" cried Spendius. "Make haste! Forward! The Suffet is
going to escape us! But your knees are tottering, and you are looking at
me like a drunken man!"

He stamped with impatience and urged Matho, his eyes twinkling as at the
approach of an object long aimed at.

"Ah! we have reached it! We are there! I have them!"

He had so convinced and triumphant an air that Matho was surprised from
his torpor, and felt himself carried away by it. These words, coming
when his distress was at its height, drove his despair to vengeance, and
pointed to food for his wrath. He bounded upon one of the camels that
were among the baggage, snatched up its halter, and with the long
rope, struck the stragglers with all his might, running right and left
alternately, in the rear of the army, like a dog driving a flock.

At this thundering voice the lines of men closed up; even the lame
hurried their steps; the intervening space lessened in the middle of the
isthmus. The foremost of the Barbarians were marching in the dust raised
by the Carthaginians. The two armies were coming close, and were on the
point of touching. But the Malqua gate, the Tagaste gate, and the great
gate of Khamon threw wide their leaves. The Punic square divided; three
columns were swallowed up, and eddied beneath the porches. Soon the
mass, being too tightly packed, could advance no further; pikes clashed
in the air, and the arrows of the Barbarians were shivering against the

Hamilcar was to be seen on the threshold of Khamon. He turned round
and shouted to his men to move aside. He dismounted from his horse; and
pricking it on the croup with the sword which he held, sent it against
the Barbarians.

It was a black stallion, which was fed on balls of meal, and would bend
its knees to allow its master to mount. Why was he sending it away? Was
this a sacrifice?

The noble horse galloped into the midst of the lances, knocked down men,
and, entangling its feet in its entrails, fell down, then rose again
with furious leaps; and while they were moving aside, trying to stop it,
or looking at it in surprise, the Carthaginians had united again; they
entered, and the enormous gate shut echoing behind them.

It would not yield. The Barbarians came crushing against it; - and for
some minutes there was an oscillation throughout the army, which became
weaker and weaker, and at last ceased.

The Carthaginians had placed soldiers on the aqueduct, they began to
hurl stones, balls, and beams. Spendius represented that it would be
best not to persist. The Barbarians went and posted themselves further
off, all being quite resolved to lay siege to Carthage.

The rumour of the war, however, had passed beyond the confines of
the Punic empire; and from the pillars of Hercules to beyond Cyrene
shepherds mused on it as they kept their flocks, and caravans talked
about it in the light of the stars. This great Carthage, mistress of the
seas, splendid as the sun, and terrible as a god, actually found men
who were daring enough to attack her! Her fall even had been asserted
several times; and all had believed it for all wished it: the subject
populations, the tributary villages, the allied provinces, the
independent hordes, those who execrated her for her tyranny or were
jealous of her power, or coveted her wealth. The bravest had very
speedily joined the Mercenaries. The defeat at the Macaras had checked
all the rest. At last they had recovered confidence, had gradually
advanced and approached; and now the men of the eastern regions were
lying on the sandhills of Clypea on the other side of the gulf. As soon
as they perceived the Barbarians they showed themselves.

They were not Libyans from the neighbourhood of Carthage, who had long
composed the third army, but nomads from the tableland of Barca, bandits
from Cape Phiscus and the promontory of Dernah, from Phazzana and
Marmarica. They had crossed the desert, drinking at the brackish wells
walled in with camels' bones; the Zuaeces, with their covering of
ostrich feathers, had come on quadrigae; the Garamantians, masked with
black veils, rode behind on their painted mares; others were mounted on
asses, onagers, zebras, and buffaloes; while some dragged after them the
roofs of their sloop-shaped huts together with their families and
idols. There were Ammonians with limbs wrinkled by the hot water of the
springs; Atarantians, who curse the sun; Troglodytes, who bury their
dead with laughter beneath branches of trees; and the hideous Auseans,
who eat grass-hoppers; the Achyrmachidae, who eat lice; and the
vermilion-painted Gysantians, who eat apes.

All were ranged along the edge of the sea in a great straight line.
Afterwards they advanced like tornadoes of sand raised by the wind. In
the centre of the isthmus the throng stopped, the Mercenaries who were
posted in front of them, close to the walls, being unwilling to move.

Then from the direction of Ariana appeared the men of the West,
the people of the Numidians. In fact, Narr' Havas governed only the
Massylians; and, moreover, as they were permitted by custom to abandon
their king when reverses were sustained, they had assembled on the
Zainus, and then had crossed it at Hamilcar's first movement. First were
seen running up all the hunters from Malethut-Baal and Garaphos, clad
in lions' skins, and with the staves of their pikes driving small lean
horses with long manes; then marched the Gaetulians in cuirasses of
serpents' skin; then the Pharusians, wearing lofty crowns made of wax
and resin; and the Caunians, Macarians, and Tillabarians, each holding
two javelins and a round shield of hippopotamus leather. They stopped at
the foot of the Catacombs among the first pools of the Lagoon.

But when the Libyans had moved away, the multitude of the Negroes
appeared like a cloud on a level with the ground, in the place which the
others had occupied. They were there from the White Harousch, the Black
Harousch, the desert of Augila, and even from the great country of
Agazymba, which is four months' journey south of the Garamantians, and
from regions further still! In spite of their red wooden jewels, the
filth of their black skin made them look like mulberries that had been
long rolling in the dust. They had bark-thread drawers, dried-grass
tunics, fallow-deer muzzles on their heads; they shook rods furnished
with rings, and brandished cows' tails at the end of sticks, after the
fashion of standards, howling the while like wolves.

Then behind the Numidians, Marusians, and Gaetulians pressed the
yellowish men, who are spread through the cedar forests beyond Taggir.
They had cat-skin quivers flapping against their shoulders, and they led
in leashes enormous dogs, which were as high as asses, and did not bark.

Finally, as though Africa had not been sufficiently emptied, and it had
been necessary to seek further fury in the very dregs of the races, men
might be seen behind the rest, with beast-like profiles and grinning
with idiotic laughter - wretches ravaged by hideous diseases, deformed
pigmies, mulattoes of doubtful sex, albinos whose red eyes blinked in
the sun; stammering out unintelligible sounds, they put a finger into
their mouths to show that they were hungry.

The confusion of weapons was as great as that of garments and peoples.
There was not a deadly invention that was not present - from wooden
daggers, stone hatchets and ivory tridents, to long sabres toothed
like saws, slender, and formed of a yielding copper blade. They handled
cutlasses which were forked into several branches like antelopes' horns,
bills fastened to the ends of ropes, iron triangles, clubs and bodkins.
The Ethiopians from the Bambotus had little poisoned darts hidden in
their hair. Many had brought pebbles in bags. Others, empty handed,
chattered with their teeth.

This multitude was stirred with a ceaseless swell. Dromedaries, smeared
all over with tar-like streaks, knocked down the women, who carried
their children on their hips. The provisions in the baskets were pouring
out; in walking, pieces of salt, parcels of gum, rotten dates, and
gourou nuts were crushed underfoot; and sometimes on vermin-covered
bosoms there would hang a slender cord supporting a diamond that the
Satraps had sought, an almost fabulous stone, sufficient to purchase
an empire. Most of them did not even know what they desired. They were
impelled by fascination or curiosity; and nomads who had never seen a
town were frightened by the shadows of the walls.

The isthmus was now hidden by men; and this long surface, whereon the
tents were like huts amid an inundation, stretched as far as the first
lines of the other Barbarians, which were streaming with steel and were
posted symmetrically upon both sides of the aqueduct.

The Carthaginians had not recovered from the terror caused by their
arrival when they perceived the siege-engines sent by the Tyrian towns
coming straight towards them like monsters and like buildings - with
their masts, arms, ropes, articulations, capitals and carapaces, sixty
carroballistas, eighty onagers, thirty scorpions, fifty tollenos, twelve
rams, and three gigantic catapults which hurled pieces of rock of the
weight of fifteen talents. Masses of men clinging to their bases pushed
them on; at every step a quivering shook them, and in this way they
arrived in front of the walls.

But several days were still needed to finish the preparations for
the siege. The Mercenaries, taught by their defeats, would not risk
themselves in useless engagements; and on both sides there was no haste,
for it was well known that a terrible action was about to open, and that
the result of it would be complete victory or complete extermination.

Carthage might hold out for a long time; her broad walls presented a
series of re-entrant and projecting angles, an advantageous arrangement
for repelling assaults.

Nevertheless a portion had fallen down in the direction of the
Catacombs, and on dark nights lights could be seen in the dens of Malqua
through the disjointed blocks. These in some places overlooked the top
of the ramparts. It was here that the Mercenaries' wives, who had been
driven away by Matho, were living with their new husbands. On seeing the
men again their hearts could stand it no longer. They waved their scarfs
at a distance; then they came and chatted in the darkness with the
soldiers through the cleft in the wall, and one morning the Great
Council learned that they had all fled. Some had passed through between
the stones; others with greater intrepidity had let themselves down with

At last Spendius resolved to accomplish his design.

The war, by keeping him at a distance, had hitherto prevented him;
and since the return to before Carthage, it seemed to him that the
inhabitants suspected his enterprise. But soon they diminished the
sentries on the aqueduct. There were not too many people for the defence
of the walls.

The former slave practised himself for some days in shooting arrows at
the flamingoes on the lake. Then one moonlight evening he begged Matho
to light a great fire of straw in the middle of the night, while all his
men were to shout at the same time; and taking Zarxas with him, he went
away along the edge of the gulf in the direction of Tunis.

When on a level with the last arches they returned straight towards the
aqueduct; the place was unprotected: they crawled to the base of the

The sentries on the platform were walking quietly up and down.

Towering flames appeared; clarions rang; and the soldiers on vedette,
believing that there was an assault, rushed away in the direction of

One man had remained. He showed black against the background of the
sky. The moon was shining behind him, and his shadow, which was of
extravagant size, looked in the distance like an obelisk proceeding
across the plain.

They waited until he was in position just before them. Zarxas seized his
sling, but whether from prudence or from ferocity Spendius stopped him.
"No, the whiz of the bullet would make a noise! Let me!"

Then he bent his bow with all his strength, resting the lower end of it
against the great toe of his left foot; he took aim, and the arrow went

The man did not fall. He disappeared.

"If he were wounded we should hear him!" said Spendius; and he mounted
quickly from story to story as he had done the first time, with the

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20 21 22 23 24 25

Online LibraryGustave FlaubertSalammbo → online text (page 18 of 25)