Gustave Flaubert.

Salammbo online

. (page 2 of 25)
Online LibraryGustave FlaubertSalammbo → online text (page 2 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the captains' tables among soldiers of his own nation. His girdle so
bristled with darts that it formed a swelling in his ample cloak,
which was fastened on his temples with a leather lace. The cloth parted
asunder as it fell upon his shoulders, and enveloped his countenance in
shadow, so that only the fires of his two fixed eyes could be seen. It
was by chance that he was at the feast, his father having domiciled him
with the Barca family, according to the custom by which kings used to
send their children into the households of the great in order to pave
the way for alliances; but Narr' Havas had lodged there fox six months
without having hitherto seen Salammbo, and now, seated on his heels,
with his head brushing the handles of his javelins, he was watching her
with dilated nostrils, like a leopard crouching among the bamboos.

On the other side of the tables was a Libyan of colossal stature, and
with short black curly hair. He had retained only his military jacket,
the brass plates of which were tearing the purple of the couch. A
necklace of silver moons was tangled in his hairy breast. His face was
stained with splashes of blood; he was leaning on his left elbow with a
smile on his large, open mouth.

Salammbo had abandoned the sacred rhythm. With a woman's subtlety she
was simultaneously employing all the dialects of the Barbarians in order
to appease their anger. To the Greeks she spoke Greek; then she turned
to the Ligurians, the Campanians, the Negroes, and listening to her each
one found again in her voice the sweetness of his native land. She now,
carried away by the memories of Carthage, sang of the ancient battles
against Rome; they applauded. She kindled at the gleaming of the naked
swords, and cried aloud with outstretched arms. Her lyre fell, she was
silent; and, pressing both hands upon her heart, she remained for some
minutes with closed eyelids enjoying the agitation of all these men.

Matho, the Libyan, leaned over towards her. Involuntarily she approached
him, and impelled by grateful pride, poured him a long stream of wine
into a golden cup in order to conciliate the army.

"Drink!" she said.

He took the cup, and was carrying it to his lips when a Gaul, the same
that had been hurt by Gisco, struck him on the shoulder, while in a
jovial manner he gave utterance to pleasantries in his native tongue.
Spendius was not far off, and he volunteered to interpret them.

"Speak!" said Matho.

"The gods protect you; you are going to become rich. When will the
nuptials be?"

"What nuptials?"

"Yours! for with us," said the Gaul, "when a woman gives drink to a
soldier, it means that she offers him her couch."

He had not finished when Narr' Havas, with a bound, drew a javelin from
his girdle, and, leaning his right foot upon the edge of the table,
hurled it against Matho.

The javelin whistled among the cups, and piercing the Lybian's arm,
pinned it so firmly to the cloth, that the shaft quivered in the air.

Matho quickly plucked it out; but he was weaponless and naked; at last
he lifted the over-laden table with both arms, and flung it against
Narr' Havas into the very centre of the crowd that rushed between them.
The soldiers and Numidians pressed together so closely that they were
unable to draw their swords. Matho advanced dealing great blows with his
head. When he raised it, Narr' Havas had disappeared. He sought for him
with his eyes. Salammbo also was gone.

Then directing his looks to the palace he perceived the red door with
the black cross closing far above, and he darted away.

They saw him run between the prows of the galleys, and then reappear
along the three staircases until he reached the red door against which
he dashed his whole body. Panting, he leaned against the wall to keep
himself from falling.

But a man had followed him, and through the darkness, for the lights
of the feast were hidden by the corner of the palace, he recognised
Spendius.

"Begone!" said he.

The slave without replying began to tear his tunic with his teeth;
then kneeling beside Matho he tenderly took his arm, and felt it in the
shadow to discover the wound.

By a ray of the moon which was then gliding between the clouds, Spendius
perceived a gaping wound in the middle of the arm. He rolled the piece
of stuff about it, but the other said irritably, "Leave me! leave me!"

"Oh no!" replied the slave. "You released me from the ergastulum. I am
yours! you are my master! command me!"

Matho walked round the terrace brushing against the walls. He strained
his ears at every step, glancing down into the silent apartments through
the spaces between the gilded reeds. At last he stopped with a look of
despair.

"Listen!" said the slave to him. "Oh! do not despise me for my
feebleness! I have lived in the palace. I can wind like a viper through
the walls. Come! in the Ancestor's Chamber there is an ingot of gold
beneath every flagstone; an underground path leads to their tombs."

"Well! what matters it?" said Matho.

Spendius was silent.

They were on the terrace. A huge mass of shadow stretched before them,
appearing as if it contained vague accumulations, like the gigantic
billows of a black and petrified ocean.

But a luminous bar rose towards the East; far below, on the left, the
canals of Megara were beginning to stripe the verdure of the gardens
with their windings of white. The conical roofs of the heptagonal
temples, the staircases, terraces, and ramparts were being carved by
degrees upon the paleness of the dawn; and a girdle of white foam rocked
around the Carthaginian peninsula, while the emerald sea appeared as if
it were curdled in the freshness of the morning. Then as the rosy sky
grew larger, the lofty houses, bending over the sloping soil, reared
and massed themselves like a herd of black goats coming down from the
mountains. The deserted streets lengthened; the palm-trees that topped
the walls here and there were motionless; the brimming cisterns seemed
like silver bucklers lost in the courts; the beacon on the promontory of
Hermaeum was beginning to grow pale. The horses of Eschmoun, on the very
summit of the Acropolis in the cypress wood, feeling that the light was
coming, placed their hoofs on the marble parapet, and neighed towards
the sun.

It appeared, and Spendius raised his arms with a cry.

Everything stirred in a diffusion of red, for the god, as if he were
rending himself, now poured full-rayed upon Carthage the golden rain
of his veins. The beaks of the galleys sparkled, the roof of Khamon
appeared to be all in flames, while far within the temples, whose
doors were opening, glimmerings of light could be seen. Large chariots,
arriving from the country, rolled their wheels over the flagstones
in the streets. Dromedaries, baggage-laden, came down the ramps.
Money-changers raised the pent-houses of their shops at the cross ways,
storks took to flight, white sails fluttered. In the wood of Tanith
might be heard the tabourines of the sacred courtesans, and the furnaces
for baking the clay coffins were beginning to smoke on the Mappalian
point.

Spendius leaned over the terrace; his teeth chattered and he repeated:

"Ah! yes - yes - master! I understand why you scorned the pillage of the
house just now."

Matho was as if he had just been awaked by the hissing of his voice, and
did not seem to understand. Spendius resumed:

"Ah! what riches! and the men who possess them have not even the steel
to defend them!"

Then, pointing with his right arm outstretched to some of the populace
who were crawling on the sand outside the mole to look for gold dust:

"See!" he said to him, "the Republic is like these wretches: bending on
the brink of the ocean, she buries her greedy arms in every shore, and
the noise of the billows so fills her ear that she cannot hear behind
her the tread of a master's heel!"

He drew Matho to quite the other end of the terrace, and showed him the
garden, wherein the soldiers' swords, hanging on the trees, were like
mirrors in the sun.

"But here there are strong men whose hatred is roused! and nothing binds
them to Carthage, neither families, oaths nor gods!"

Matho remained leaning against the wall; Spendius came close, and
continued in a low voice:

"Do you understand me, soldier? We should walk purple-clad like satraps.
We should bathe in perfumes; and I should in turn have slaves! Are you
not weary of sleeping on hard ground, of drinking the vinegar of the
camps, and of continually hearing the trumpet? But you will rest later,
will you not? When they pull off your cuirass to cast your corpse to
the vultures! or perhaps blind, lame, and weak you will go, leaning on
a stick, from door to door to tell of your youth to pickle-sellers and
little children. Remember all the injustice of your chiefs, the campings
in the snow, the marchings in the sun, the tyrannies of discipline, and
the everlasting menace of the cross! And after all this misery they have
given you a necklace of honour, as they hang a girdle of bells round
the breast of an ass to deafen it on its journey, and prevent it from
feeling fatigue. A man like you, braver than Pyrrhus! If only you had
wished it! Ah! how happy will you be in large cool halls, with the sound
of lyres, lying on flowers, with women and buffoons! Do not tell me that
the enterprise is impossible. Have not the Mercenaries already possessed
Rhegium and other fortified places in Italy? Who is to prevent you?
Hamilcar is away; the people execrate the rich; Gisco can do nothing
with the cowards who surround him. Command them! Carthage is ours; let
us fall upon it!"

"No!" said Matho, "the curse of Moloch weighs upon me. I felt it in her
eyes, and just now I saw a black ram retreating in a temple." Looking
around him he added: "But where is she?"

Then Spendius understood that a great disquiet possessed him, and did
not venture to speak again.

The trees behind them were still smoking; half-burned carcases of apes
dropped from their blackened boughs from time to time into the midst
of the dishes. Drunken soldiers snored open-mouthed by the side of the
corpses, and those who were not asleep lowered their heads dazzled by
the light of day. The trampled soil was hidden beneath splashes of red.
The elephants poised their bleeding trunks between the stakes of their
pens. In the open granaries might be seen sacks of spilled wheat, below
the gate was a thick line of chariots which had been heaped up by the
Barbarians, and the peacocks perched in the cedars were spreading their
tails and beginning to utter their cry.

Matho's immobility, however, astonished Spendius; he was even paler than
he had recently been, and he was following something on the horizon with
fixed eyeballs, and with both fists resting on the edge of the terrace.
Spendius crouched down, and so at last discovered at what he was gazing.
In the distance a golden speck was turning in the dust on the road to
Utica; it was the nave of a chariot drawn by two mules; a slave was
running at the end of the pole, and holding them by the bridle. Two
women were seated in the chariot. The manes of the animals were puffed
between the ears after the Persian fashion, beneath a network of blue
pearls. Spendius recognised them, and restrained a cry.

A large veil floated behind in the wind.



CHAPTER II

AT SICCA

Two days afterwards the Mercenaries left Carthage.

They had each received a piece of gold on the condition that they
should go into camp at Sicca, and they had been told with all sorts of
caresses:

"You are the saviours of Carthage! But you would starve it if you
remained there; it would become insolvent. Withdraw! The Republic will
be grateful to you later for all this condescension. We are going to
levy taxes immediately; your pay shall be in full, and galleys shall be
equipped to take you back to your native lands."

They did not know how to reply to all this talk. These men, accustomed
as they were to war, were wearied by residence in a town; there was
difficulty in convincing them, and the people mounted the walls to see
them go away.

They defiled through the street of Khamon, and the Cirta gate,
pell-mell, archers with hoplites, captains with soldiers, Lusitanians
with Greeks. They marched with a bold step, rattling their heavy
cothurni on the paving stones. Their armour was dented by the catapult,
and their faces blackened by the sunburn of battles. Hoarse cries issued
from their thick bears, their tattered coats of mail flapped upon the
pommels of their swords, and through the holes in the brass might be
seen their naked limbs, as frightful as engines of war. Sarissae, axes,
spears, felt caps and bronze helmets, all swung together with a single
motion. They filled the street thickly enough to have made the walls
crack, and the long mass of armed soldiers overflowed between the lofty
bitumen-smeared houses six storys high. Behind their gratings of iron or
reed the women, with veiled heads, silently watched the Barbarians pass.

The terraces, fortifications, and walls were hidden beneath the crowd
of Carthaginians, who were dressed in garments of black. The sailors'
tunics showed like drops of blood among the dark multitude, and nearly
naked children, whose skin shone beneath their copper bracelets,
gesticulated in the foliage of the columns, or amid the branches of
a palm tree. Some of the Ancients were posted on the platform of the
towers, and people did not know why a personage with a long beard stood
thus in a dreamy attitude here and there. He appeared in the distance
against the background of the sky, vague as a phantom and motionless as
stone.

All, however, were oppressed with the same anxiety; it was feared that
the Barbarians, seeing themselves so strong, might take a fancy to stay.
But they were leaving with so much good faith that the Carthaginians
grew bold and mingled with the soldiers. They overwhelmed them with
protestations and embraces. Some with exaggerated politeness and
audacious hypocrisy even sought to induce them not to leave the city.
They threw perfumes, flowers, and pieces of silver to them. They gave
them amulets to avert sickness; but they had spit upon them three times
to attract death, or had enclosed jackal's hair within them to put
cowardice into their hearts. Aloud, they invoked Melkarth's favour, and
in a whisper, his curse.

Then came the mob of baggage, beasts of burden, and stragglers. The sick
groaned on the backs of dromedaries, while others limped along leaning
on broken pikes. The drunkards carried leathern bottles, and the greedy
quarters of meat, cakes, fruits, butter wrapped in fig leaves, and snow
in linen bags. Some were to be seen with parasols in their hands, and
parrots on their shoulders. They had mastiffs, gazelles, and panthers
following behind them. Women of Libyan race, mounted on asses, inveighed
against the Negresses who had forsaken the lupanaria of Malqua for the
soldiers; many of them were suckling children suspended on their bosoms
by leathern thongs. The mules were goaded out at the point of the sword,
their backs bending beneath the load of tents, while there were numbers
of serving-men and water-carriers, emaciated, jaundiced with fever,
and filthy with vermin, the scum of the Carthaginian populace, who had
attached themselves to the Barbarians.

When they had passed, the gates were shut behind them, but the people
did not descend from the walls. The army soon spread over the breadth of
the isthmus.

It parted into unequal masses. Then the lances appeared like tall blades
of grass, and finally all was lost in a train of dust; those of the
soldiers who looked back towards Carthage could now only see its long
walls with their vacant battlements cut out against the edge of the sky.

Then the Barbarians heard a great shout. They thought that some from
among them (for they did not know their own number) had remained in the
town, and were amusing themselves by pillaging a temple. They laughed a
great deal at the idea of this, and then continued their journey.

They were rejoiced to find themselves, as in former days, marching all
together in the open country, and some of the Greeks sang the old song
of the Mamertines:

"With my lance and sword I plough and reap; I am master of the house!
The disarmed man falls at my feet and calls me Lord and Great King."

They shouted, they leaped, the merriest began to tell stories; the
time of their miseries was past. As they arrived at Tunis, some of
them remarked that a troop of Balearic slingers was missing. They were
doubtless not far off; and no further heed was paid to them.

Some went to lodge in the houses, others camped at the foot of the
walls, and the townspeople came out to chat with the soldiers.

During the whole night fires were seen burning on the horizon in the
direction of Carthage; the light stretched like giant torches across the
motionless lake. No one in the army could tell what festival was being
celebrated.

On the following day the Barbarian's passed through a region that was
covered with cultivation. The domains of the patricians succeeded one
another along the border of the route; channels of water flowed
through woods of palm; there were long, green lines of olive-trees;
rose-coloured vapours floated in the gorges of the hills, while blue
mountains reared themselves behind. A warm wind was blowing. Chameleons
were crawling on the broad leaves of the cactus.

The Barbarians slackened their speed.

They marched on in isolated detachments, or lagged behind one another at
long intervals. They ate grapes along the margin of the vines. They lay
on the grass and gazed with stupefaction upon the large, artificially
twisted horns of the oxen, the sheep clothed with skins to protect their
wool, the furrows crossing one another so as to form lozenges, and the
ploughshares like ships' anchors, with the pomegranate trees that were
watered with silphium. Such wealth of the soil and such inventions of
wisdom dazzled them.

In the evening they stretched themselves on the tents without unfolding
them; and thought with regret of Hamilcar's feast, as they fell asleep
with their faces towards the stars.

In the middle of the following day they halted on the bank of a river,
amid clumps of rose-bays. Then they quickly threw aside lances, bucklers
and belts. They bathed with shouts, and drew water in their helmets,
while others drank lying flat on their stomachs, and all in the midst of
the beasts of burden whose baggage was slipping from them.

Spendius, who was seated on a dromedary stolen in Hamilcar's parks,
perceived Matho at a distance, with his arm hanging against his breast,
his head bare, and his face bent down, giving his mule drink, and
watching the water flow. Spendius immediately ran through the crowd
calling him, "Master! master!"

Matho gave him but scant thanks for his blessings, but Spendius paid no
heed to this, and began to march behind him, from time to time turning
restless glances in the direction of Carthage.

He was the son of a Greek rhetor and a Campanian prostitute. He had at
first grown rich by dealing in women; then, ruined by a shipwreck, he
had made war against the Romans with the herdsmen of Samnium. He had
been taken and had escaped; he had been retaken, and had worked in the
quarries, panted in the vapour-baths, shrieked under torture, passed
through the hands of many masters, and experienced every frenzy. At
last, one day, in despair, he had flung himself into the sea from the
top of a trireme where he was working at the oar. Some of Hamilcar's
sailors had picked him up when at the point of death, and had brought
him to the ergastulum of Megara, at Carthage. But, as fugitives were to
be given back to the Romans, he had taken advantage of the confusion to
fly with the soldiers.

During the whole of the march he remained near Matho; he brought him
food, assisted him to dismount, and spread a carpet in the evening
beneath his head. Matho at last was touched by these attentions, and by
degrees unlocked his lips.

He had been born in the gulf of Syrtis. His father had taken him on a
pilgrimage to the temple of Ammon. Then he had hunted elephants in the
forests of the Garamantes. Afterwards he had entered the service of
Carthage. He had been appointed tetrarch at the capture of Drepanum.
The Republic owed him four horses, twenty-three medimni of wheat, and a
winter's pay. He feared the gods, and wished to die in his native land.

Spendius spoke to him of his travels, and of the peoples and temples
that he had visited. He knew many things: he could make sandals,
boar-spears and nets; he could tame wild beasts and could cook fish.

Sometimes he would interrupt himself, and utter a hoarse cry from the
depths of his throat; Matho's mule would quicken his pace, and others
would hasten after them, and then Spendius would begin again though
still torn with agony. This subsided at last on the evening of the
fourth day.

They were marching side by side to the right of the army on the side of
a hill; below them stretched the plain lost in the vapours of the night.
The lines of soldiers also were defiling below, making undulations in
the shade. From time to time these passed over eminences lit up by the
moon; then stars would tremble on the points of the pikes, the helmets
would glimmer for an instant, all would disappear, and others would come
on continually. Startled flocks bleated in the distance, and a something
of infinite sweetness seemed to sink upon the earth.

Spendius, with his head thrown back and his eyes half-closed, inhaled
the freshness of the wind with great sighs; he spread out his arms,
moving his fingers that he might the better feel the cares that streamed
over his body. Hopes of vengeance came back to him and transported him.
He pressed his hand upon his mouth to check his sobs, and half-swooning
with intoxication, let go the halter of his dromedary, which was
proceeding with long, regular steps. Matho had relapsed into his former
melancholy; his legs hung down to the ground, and the grass made a
continuous rustling as it beat against his cothurni.

The journey, however, spread itself out without ever coming to an end.
At the extremity of a plain they would always reach a round-shaped
plateau; then they would descend again into a valley, and the mountains
which seemed to block up the horizon would, in proportion as they were
approached, glide as it were from their positions. From time to time a
river would appear amid the verdure of tamarisks to lose itself at the
turning of the hills. Sometimes a huge rock would tower aloft like the
prow of a vessel or the pedestal of some vanished colossus.

At regular intervals they met with little quadrangular temples, which
served as stations for the pilgrims who repaired to Sicca. They were
closed like tombs. The Libyans struck great blows upon the doors to have
them opened. But no one inside responded.

Then the cultivation became more rare. They suddenly entered upon belts
of sand bristling with thorny thickets. Flocks of sheep were browsing
among the stones; a woman with a blue fleece about her waist was
watching them. She fled screaming when she saw the soldiers' pikes among
the rocks.

They were marching through a kind of large passage bordered by two
chains of reddish coloured hillocks, when their nostrils were greeted
with a nauseous odour, and they thought that they could see something
extraordinary on the top of a carob tree: a lion's head reared itself
above the leaves.

They ran thither. It was a lion with his four limbs fastened to a cross
like a criminal. His huge muzzle fell upon his breast, and his two
fore-paws, half-hidden beneath the abundance of his mane, were spread
out wide like the wings of a bird. His ribs stood severally out beneath
his distended skin; his hind legs, which were nailed against each other,
were raised somewhat, and the black blood, flowing through his hair,
had collected in stalactites at the end of his tail, which hung down
perfectly straight along the cross. The soldiers made merry around; they
called him consul, and Roman citizen, and threw pebbles into his eyes to
drive away the gnats.

But a hundred paces further on they saw two more, and then there
suddenly appeared a long file of crosses bearing lions. Some had been
so long dead that nothing was left against the wood but the remains
of their skeletons; others which were half eaten away had their jaws
twisted into horrible grimaces; there were some enormous ones; the
shafts of the crosses bent beneath them, and they swayed in the wind,



Online LibraryGustave FlaubertSalammbo → online text (page 2 of 25)