Eugène Sue.

The Brass Bell; or, The Chariot of Death online

. (page 1 of 9)
Online LibraryEugène SueThe Brass Bell; or, The Chariot of Death → online text (page 1 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Chuck Greif and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at (This book was
produced from scanned images of public domain material
from the Google Print project.)




A Tale of Caesar's Gallic Invasion









_The Brass Bell_; or, _The Chariot of Death_ is the second of Eugene
Sue's monumental serial known under the collective title of _The
Mysteries of the People; or History of a Proletarian Family Across the

The first story - _The Gold Sickle; or, Hena, the Virgin of the Isle of
Sen_ - fittingly preludes the grand drama conceived by the author. There
the Gallic people are introduced upon the stage of history in the
simplicity of their customs, their industrious habits, their bravery,
lofty yet childlike - such as they were at the time of the Roman invasion
by Caesar, 58 B. C. The present story is the thrilling introduction to
the class struggle, that starts with the conquest of Gaul, and, in the
subsequent seventeen stories, is pathetically and instructively carried
across the ages, down to the French Revolution of 1848.

D. D. L.


Preface to the Translation

Chapter 1. The Conflagration 1

Chapter 2. In the Lion's Den 8

Chapter 3. Gallic Virtue 24

Chapter 4. The Trial 35

Chapter 5. Into the Shallows 41

Chapter 6. The Eve of Battle 52

Chapter 7. The Battle of Vannes 59

Chapter 8. After the Battle 80

Chapter 9. Master and Slave 88

Chapter 10. The Last Call to Arms 102

Chapter 11. The Slaves' Toilet 107

Chapter 12. Sold into Bondage 115

Chapter 13. The Booth across the Way 126




The call to arms, sounded by the druids of the forest of Karnak and by
the Chief of the Hundred Valleys against the invading forces of the
first Caesar, had well been hearkened to.

The sacrifice of Hena, the Virgin of the Isle of Sen, seemed pleasing to
Hesus. All the peoples of Brittany, from North to South, from East to
West, rose to combat the Romans. The tribes of the territory of Vannes
and Auray, those of the Mountains of Ares, and many others, assembled
before the town of Vannes, on the left bank, close to the mouth of the
river which empties into the great bay of Morbihan. This redoubtable
position where all the Gallic forces were to meet, was situated ten
leagues from Karnak, and had been chosen by the Chief of the Hundred
Valleys, who had been elected Commander-in-Chief of the army.

Leaving behind them their fields, their herds, and their dwellings, the
tribes were here assembled, men and women, young and old, and were
encamped round about the town of Vannes. Here also were Joel, his
family, and his tribe.

Albinik the mariner, together with his wife Meroë left the camp towards
sunset, bent on an errand of many days' march. Since her marriage with
Albinik, Meroë; was the constant, companion of his voyages and dangers
at sea, and like him, she wore the seaman's costume. Like him she knew
at a pinch how to put her hand to the rudder, to ply the oar or the axe,
for stout was her heart, and strong her arm.

In the evening, before leaving the Gallic army, Meroë dressed herself in
her sailor's garments - a short blouse of brown wool, drawn tight with a
leather belt, large broad breeches of white cloth, which fell below her
knees, and shoes of sealskin. She carried on her left shoulder her
short, hooded cloak, and on her flowing hair was a leathern bonnet. By
her resolute air, the agility of her step, the perfection of her sweet
and virile countenance, one might have taken Meroë for one of those
young men whose good looks make maidens dream of marriage. Albinik also
was dressed as a mariner. He had flung over his back a sack with
provisions for the way. The large sleeves of his blouse revealed his
left arm, wrapped to the elbow in a bloody bandage.

Husband and wife had left Vannes for some minutes, when Albinik,
stopping, sad and deeply moved, said to Meroë:

"There is still time - consider. We are going to beard the lion in his
den. He is tricky, distrustful and savage. It may mean for us slavery,
torture, or death. Meroë, let me finish alone this trip and this
enterprise, beside which a desperate fight would be but a trifle. Return
to my father and mother, whose daughter you are also!"

"Albinik, you had to wait for the darkness of night to say that to me.
You would not see me blush with shame at the thought of your thinking
me a coward;" and the young woman, while making this answer, instead of
turning back, only hastened her step.

"Let it be as your courage and your love for me bid," replied her
husband. "May Hena, my holy sister, who is gone, protect us at the side
of Hesus."

The two continued their way along the crests of a chain of lofty hills.
They had thus at their feet and before their eyes a succession of deep
and fertile valleys. As far as eye could reach, they saw here villages,
yonder small hamlets, elsewhere isolated farms; further off rose a
flourishing town crossed by an arm of the river, in which were moored,
from distance to distance, large boats loaded with sheaves of wheat,
casks of wine, and fodder.

But, strange to say, although the evening was clear, not a single one of
those large herds of cattle and of sheep was to be seen, which
ordinarily grazed there till nightfall. No more was there a single
laborer in sight on the fields, although it was the hour when, by every
road, the country-folk ordinarily began to return to their homes; for
the sun was fast sinking. This country, so populous the preceding
evening, now seemed deserted.

The couple halted, pensive, contemplating the fertile lands, the
bountifulness of nature, the opulent city, the hamlets, and the houses.
Then, recollecting what they knew was to happen in a few moments, soon
as the sun was set and the moon risen, Albinik and Meroë; shivered with
grief and fear. Tears fell from their eyes, they sank to their knees,
their eyes fixed with anguish on the depths of the valleys, which the
thickening evening shade was gradually invading. The sun had
disappeared, but the moon, then in her decline, was not yet up. There
was thus, between sunset and the rising of the moon, a rather long
interval. It was a bitter one for husband and wife; bitter, like the
certain expectation of some great woe.

"Look, Albinik," murmured the young woman to her spouse, although they
were alone - for it was one of those awful moments when one speaks low in
the middle of a desert - "just look, not a light: not one in these
houses, hamlets, or the town. Night is come, and all within these
dwellings is gloomy as the night without."

"The inhabitants of this valley are going to show themselves worthy of
their brothers," answered Albinik reverently. "They also wish to respond
to the voice of our venerable druids, and to that of the Chief of the
Hundred Valleys."

"Yes; by the terror which is now come upon me, I feel we are about to
see a thing no one has seen before, and perhaps none will see again."

"Meroë, do you catch down there, away down there, behind the crest of
the forest, a faint white glimmer!"

"I do. It is the moon, which will soon be up. The moment approaches. I
feel terror-stricken. Poor women! Poor children!"

"Poor laborers; they lived so long, happy on this land of their fathers:
on this land made fertile by the labor of so many generations! Poor
workmen; they found plenty in their rude trades! Oh, the unfortunates!
the unfortunates! But one thing equals their great misfortune, and that
is their great heroism. Meroë! Meroë!" exclaimed Albinik, "the moon is
rising. That sacred orb of Gaul is about to give the signal for the

"Hesus! Hesus!" cried the young woman, her cheeks bathed in tears, "your
wrath will never be appeased if this last sacrifice does not calm you."

The moon had risen radiant among the stars. She flooded space with so
brilliant a light that Albinik and his wife could see as in full day,
and as far as the most distant horizon, the country that stretched at
their feet.

Suddenly, a light cloud of smoke, at first whitish, then black,
presently colored with the red tints of a kindling fire, rose above one
of the hamlets scattered in the plain.

"Hesus! Hesus!" exclaimed Meroë. Then, hiding her face in the bosom of
her husband who was kneeling near her, "You spoke truly. The sacred orb
of Gaul has given the signal for the sacrifice. It is fulfilled."

"Oh, liberty!" cried Albinik, "Holy liberty! - - "

He could not finish. His voice was smothered in tears, and he drew his
weeping wife close in his arms.

Meroë did not leave her face hidden in her husband's breast any longer
than it would take a mother to kiss the forehead, mouth, and eyes, of
her new born babe, but when she again raised her head and dared to look
abroad, it was no longer only one house, one village, one hamlet, one
town in that long succession of valleys at their feet that was
disappearing in billows of black smoke, streaked with red gleams. It was
all the houses, all the villages, all the hamlets, all the towns in the
laps of all those valleys, that the conflagration was devouring. From
North to South, from East to West, all was afire. The rivers themselves
seemed to roll in flame under their grain and forage-laden barges, which
in turn took fire, and sank in the waters.

The heavens were alternately obscured by immense clouds of smoke, or
reddened with innumerable columns of fire. From one end to the other,
the panorama was soon nothing but a furnace, an ocean of flame.

Nor were the houses, hamlets, and towns of only these valleys given over
to the flames. It was the same in all the regions which Albinik and
Meroë had traversed in one night and day of travel, on their way from
Vannes to the mouth of the Loire, where was pitched the camp of

All this territory had been burned by its inhabitants, and they
abandoned the smoking ruins to join the Gallic army, assembled in the
environs of Vannes. Thus the voice of the Chief of the Hundred Valleys
had been obeyed - the command repeated from place to place, from village
to village, from city to city:

"In three nights, at the hour when the moon, the sacred orb of Gaul
shall rise, let all the countryside, from Vannes to the Loire, be set on
fire. Let Caesar and his army find in their passage neither men nor
houses, nor provisions, nor forage, but everywhere, everywhere cinders,
famine, desolation, and death."

It was done as the druids and the Chief of the Hundred Valleys had

The two travelers, who witnessed this heroic devotion of each and all to
the safety of the fatherland, had thus seen a sight no one had ever seen
in the past; a sight which perhaps none will ever see in the future.

Thus were expiated those fatal dissensions, those rivalries between
province and province, which for too long a time, and to the triumph of
their enemies, had divided the people of Gaul.



The night passed. When the next day drew to its close Albinik and Meroë
had traversed all the burnt country, from Vannes to the mouth of the
Loire, which they were now approaching. At sunset they came to a fork in
the road.

"Of these two ways, which shall we take?" mused Albinik. "One ought to
take us toward the camp of Caesar, the other away from it."

Reflecting an instant, the young woman answered:

"Climb yonder oak. The camp fires will show us our route."

"True," said the mariner, and confident in his agility he was about to
clamber up the tree. But stopping, he added: "I forgot that I have but
one hand left. I cannot climb."

The face of the young woman saddened as she replied:

"You are suffering, Albinik? Alas, you, thus mutilated!"

"Is the sea-wolf[3] caught without a lure?"


"Let the fishing be good," answered Albinik, "and I shall not regret
having given my hand for bait."

The young woman sighed, and after looking at the tree a minute, said to
her husband:

"Come, then, put your back to the trunk. I'll step in the hollow of your
hand, then onto your shoulder, and from your shoulder I can reach that
large branch overhead."

"Fearless and devoted! You are always the dear wife of my heart, true as
my sister Hena is a saint," tenderly answered Albinik, and steadying
himself against the tree, he took in his hand the little foot of his
companion. With his good arm he supported his wife while she placed her
foot on his shoulder. Thence she reached the first large bough. Then,
mounting from branch to branch, she gained the top of the oak. Arrived
there, Meroë cast her eyes abroad, and saw towards the south, under a
group of seven stars, the gleam of several fires. She descended, nimble
as a bird, and at last, putting her feet on the mariner's shoulder, was
on the ground with one bound, saying:

"We must go towards the south, in the direction of those seven stars.
That way lie the fires of Caesar's camp."

"Let us take that road, then," returned the sailor, indicating the
narrower of the two ways, and the two travelers pursued their journey.
After a few steps, the young woman halted. She seemed to be searching in
her garments.

"What is the matter, Meroë?"

"In climbing the tree, I've let my poniard drop. It must have worked out
of the belt I was carrying it in, under my blouse."

"By Hesus; we must get that poniard back," said Albinik, retracing his
steps toward the tree. "You have need of a weapon, and this one my
brother Mikael forged and tempered himself. It will pierce a sheet of

"Oh; I shall find it, Albinik. In that well-tempered little blade of
steel one has an answer for all, and in all languages."

After some search up the foot of the oak, Meroë found her poniard. It
was cased in a sheath hardly as long as a hen's feather, and not much
thicker. Meroë fastened it anew under her blouse, and started again on
the road with her husband. After some little travel along deserted
paths, the two arrived at a plain. They heard far in the distance the
great roar of the sea. On a hill they saw the lights of many fires.

"There, at last, is the camp of Caesar," said Albinik, stopping short,
"the den of the lion."

"The den of the scourge of Gaul. Come, come, the evening is slipping

"Meroë, the moment has come."

"Do you hesitate now?"

"It is too late. But I would prefer a fair fight under the open heavens,
vessel to vessel, soldier to soldier, sword to sword. Ah, Meroë, for us,
Gauls, who despise ambuscade or cowardice, and hang brass bells on the
iron of our lances to warn the enemy of our approach, to come
here - traitorously!"

"Traitorously!" exclaimed the young woman. "And to oppress a free
people - is that loyalty? To reduce the inhabitants to slavery, to exile
them by herds with iron collars on their necks - is that loyalty? To
massacre old men and children, to deliver the women and virgins to the
lust of soldiers - is that loyalty? And now, you would hesitate, after
having marched a whole day and night by the lights of the conflagration,
through the midst of those smoking ruins which were caused by the horror
of Roman oppression? No! No! to exterminate savage beasts, all means are
good, the trap as well as the boar-spear. Hesitate? Hesitate? Answer,
Albinik. Without mentioning your voluntary mutilation, without
mentioning the dangers which we brave in entering this camp - shall we
not be, if Hesus aids our project, the first victims of that great
sacrifice which we are going to make to the Gods? Come, believe me; he
who gives his life has nothing to blush for. By the love which I bear
you, by the virgin blood of your sister Hena, I have at this moment, I
swear to you, the consciousness of fulfilling a holy duty. Come, come,
the evening is passing."

"What Meroë, the just and valiant, finds to be just and valiant, must be
so," said Albinik, pressing his companion to his breast.

"Yes, yes, to exterminate savage beasts all means are good, the trap as
well as the spear. Who gives his life has no cause to blush. Come!"

The couple hastened their pace toward the lights of the camp of Caesar.
After a few moments, they heard close at hand, resounding on the earth,
the measured tread of several soldiers, and the clashing of their swords
on their iron armor. Presently they distinguished the invaders' red
crested helmets glittering in the moonlight.

"They are the soldiers of the guard, who keep vigil around the camp,"
said Albinik. "Let us go to them."

Soon the travelers reached the Roman soldiers, by whom they were
immediately surrounded. Albinik, who had learned in the Roman tongue
these only words: "We are Breton Gauls; we would speak with Caesar,"
addressed them to his captors; but these, learning from Albinik's own
admission that he and his companion were of the provinces that had risen
in arms, forthwith took them prisoners, and treated them as such. They
bound them, and conducted them to the camp.

Albinik and Meroë were first taken to one of the gates of the
entrenchment. Beside the gate, they saw, a cruel warning, five large
wooden crosses. On each one of these a Gallic seaman was crucified, his
clothes stained with blood. The light of the moon illuminated the

"They have not deceived us," said Albinik in a low voice to his
companion. "The pilots have been crucified after having undergone
frightful tortures, rather than pilot the fleet of Caesar along the
coast of Brittany."

"To make them undergo torture, and death on the cross," flashed back
Meroë, "is that loyalty! Would you still hesitate? Will you still speak
of 'treachery'?"

Albinik answered not a word, but in the dark he pressed his companion's
hand. Brought before the officer who commanded the post, the mariner
repeated the only words which he knew in the Roman tongue:

"We are Breton Gauls; we would speak with Caesar." In these times of
war, the Romans would often seize or detain travelers, for the purpose
of learning from them what was passing in the revolted provinces. Caesar
had given orders for all prisoners and fugitives who could throw light
on the movements of the Gauls to be brought before him.

The husband and wife were accordingly not surprised to see themselves,
in fulfillment of their secret hope, conducted across the camp to
Caesar's tent, which was guarded by the flower of his Spanish veterans,
charged with watching over his person.

Arrived within the tent of Caesar, the scourge of Gaul, Albinik and
Meroë were freed of their bonds. Despite their souls' being stirred with
hatred for the invader of their country, they looked about them with a
somber curiosity.

The tent of the Roman general, covered on the outside with thick pelts,
like all the other tents of the camp, was decorated within with a
purple-colored material embroidered with gold and white silk. The beaten
earth was buried from sight under a carpet of tiger skins. Caesar was
finishing supper, reclining on a camp bed which was concealed under a
great lion-skin, decorated with gold claws and eyes of carbuncles.
Within his reach, on a low table, the couple saw large vases of gold and
silver, richly chased, and cups ornamented with precious stones. Humbly
seated at the foot of Caesar's couch, Meroë saw a young and beautiful
female slave, an African without doubt, for her white garments threw out
all the stronger the copper colored hue of her face. Slowly she raised
her large, shining back eyes to the two strangers, all the while petting
a large greyhound which was stretched out at her side. She seemed to be
as timid as the dog.

The generals, the officers, the secretaries, the handsome looking young
freedmen of Caesar's suite, were standing about his camp bed, while
black Abyssinian slaves, wearing coral ornaments at their necks, wrists
and ankles, and motionless as statues, held in their hands torches of
scented wax, whose gleam caused the splendid armor of the Romans to

Caesar, before whom Albinik and Meroë cast down their eyes for fear of
betraying their hatred, had exchanged his armor for a long robe of
richly broidered silk. His head was bare, nothing covered his large bald
forehead, on each side of which his brown hair was closely trimmed. The
warmth of the Gallic wine which it was his habit to drink to excess at
night, caused his eyes to shine, and colored his pale cheeks. His face
was imperious, his laugh mocking and cruel. He was leaning on one elbow,
holding in one hand, thinned with debauchery, a wide gold cup, enriched
with pearls. He looked at it leisurely and fitfully, still fixing his
piercing gaze on the two prisoners, who were placed in such a manner
that Albinik almost entirely hid Meroë.

Caesar said a few words in Latin to his officers, who had been preparing
to retire. One of them went up to the couple, brusquely shoved Albinik
back, and took Meroë by the hand. Thus he forced her to advance a few
steps, clearly for the purpose of permitting Caesar to look at her with
greater ease. He did so, while at the same time and without turning
around, reaching his empty cup to one of his young cup-bearers.

Albinik knew how to control himself. He remained quiet while he saw his
chaste wife blush under the bold looks of Caesar. After gazing at her
for a moment, the Roman general beckoned to one of his interpreters. The
two exchanged a few words, whereupon the interpreter drew close to
Meroë, and said to her in the Gallic tongue:

"Caesar asks whether you are a youth or a maiden!"

"My companion and I have fled the Gallic camp," responded Meroë
ingenuously. "Whether I am a youth or a maiden matters little to

At these words, translated by the interpreter to Caesar, the Roman
laughed cynically, while his officers partook of the gaiety of their
general. Caesar continued to empty cup after cup, fixing his eyes more
and more ardently on Albinik's wife. He said a few words to the
interpreter, who commenced to question the two prisoners, conveying as
he proceeded, their answers to the general, who would then prompt new

"Who are you!" said the interpreter, "Whence come you!"

"We are Bretons," answered Albinik. "We come from the Gallic camp, which
is established under the walls of Vannes, two days' march from here."

"Why have you deserted the Gallic camp!"

Albinik answered not a word, but unwrapped the bloody bandage in which
his arm was swathed. The Romans then saw that his left hand was cut off.
The interpreter resumed:

"Who has thus mutilated you?"

"The Gauls."

"But you are a Gaul yourself?"

"Little does that matter to the Chief of the Hundred Valleys."

At the name of the Chief of the Hundred Valleys, Caesar knit his brows,
and his face was filled with envy and hatred.

The interpreter resumed, addressing Albinik: "Explain yourself."

"I am a sailor, and command a merchant vessel. Several other captains
and I received the order to transport some armed men by sea, and to
disembark them in the harbor of Vannes, by the bay of Morbihan. I
obeyed. A gust of wind carried away one of my masts; my vessel arrived
the last of all. Then - the Chief of the Hundred Valleys inflicted upon
me the penalty for laggards. But he was generous. He let me off with my
life, and gave me the choice between, the loss of my nose, my ears, or
one hand. I have been mutilated, but not for having lacked courage or
willingness. That would have been just, I would have undergone it
according to the laws of my country, without complaint."

"But this wrongful torture," joined in Meroë, "Albinik underwent because
the sea wind came up against him. As well punish with death him who
cannot see clear in the pitchy night - him who cannot darken the light of
the sun."

"And this mutilation covers me for ever with shame!" exclaimed Albinik.
"Everywhere it is said: 'That fellow's a coward!' I have never known
hatred; now my heart is filled with it. Perish that Fatherland where I
cannot live but in dishonor! Perish its liberty! Perish the liberty of
my people, provided only that I be avenged upon the Chief of the Hundred
Valleys! For that I would gladly give the other hand which he has left

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryEugène SueThe Brass Bell; or, The Chariot of Death → online text (page 1 of 9)