Eugène Sue.

The Brass Bell; or, The Chariot of Death online

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me. That is why I have come here with my companion. Sharing my shame,
she shares my hatred. That hatred we offer to Caesar; let him use it as
he wills; let him try us. Our lives answer for our sincerity. As to
recompense, we want none."

"Vengeance - that is what we must have," interjected Meroë.

"In what can you serve Caesar against the Chief of the Hundred Valleys?"
queried the interpreter.

"I offer Caesar my service as a mariner, as a soldier, as a guide, as a
spy even, if he wishes it."

"Why did you not seek to kill the Chief of the Hundred Valleys, being
able to approach him in the Gallic camp?" suggested the interpreter.
"You would have been revenged."

"Immediately after the mutilation of my husband," answered Meroë, "we
were driven from the camp. We could not return."

The interpreter again conversed with the Roman general, who, while
listening, did not cease to empty his cup and to follow Meroë with
brazen looks.

"You are a mariner, you say!" resumed the interpreter. "You used to
command a merchantman?"


"And - are you a good seaman?"

"I am five and twenty years old. From the age of twelve I have traveled
on the sea; for four years I have commanded a vessel."

"Do you know well the coast between Vannes and the channel which
separates Great Britain from Gaul?"

"I am from the port of Vannes, near the forest of Karnak. For more than
sixteen years I have sailed these coasts continuously."

"Would you make a good pilot?"

"May I lose all the limbs which the Chief of the Hundred Valleys has
left me, if there is a bay, a cape, an islet, a rock, a sand-bank, or a
breaker, which I do not know from the Gulf of Aquitaine to Dunkirk."

"You are vaunting your skill as a pilot. How can you prove it?"

"We are near the shore. For him who is not a good and fearless sailor,
nothing is more dangerous than the navigation of the mouth of the Loire,
going up towards the north."

"That is true," answered the interpreter. "Even yesterday a Roman galley
ran aground on a sand-bank and was lost."

"Who pilots a boat well," observed Albinik, "pilots well a galley, I


"To-morrow conduct us to the shore. I know the fisher boats of the
country; my wife and I will suffice to handle one. From the top of the
bank Caesar will see us skim around the rocks and breakers, and play
with them as the sea raven plays with the wave it skims. Then Caesar
will believe me capable of safely piloting a galley on the coasts of

Albinik's offer having been translated to Caesar by the interpreter, the
latter proceeded:

"We accept your test. It shall be done to-morrow morning. If it proves
your skill as a pilot - and we shall take all precautions against
treachery, lest you should wish to trick us - perhaps you will be charged
with a mission which will serve your hatred, all the more seeing that
you can have no idea of what that mission is. But for that it will be
necessary to gain the entire confidence of Caesar."

"What must I do!"

"You must know the forces and plans of the Gallic army. Beware of
telling an untruth; we already have reports on that subject. We shall
see if you are sincere; if not, the chamber of torture is not far off."

"Arrived at Vannes in the morning, arrested, judged, and punished almost
immediately, and then driven from the Gallic camp, I could not learn the
decisions of the council which was held the previous evening," promptly
answered Albinik. "But the situation was grave, for the women were
called to the council; it lasted from sun-down to dawn. The current
rumor was that heavy re-enforcements to the Gallic army were on the

"Who were those re-enforcements?"

"The tribes of Finisterre and of the north coasts, those of Lisieux, of
Amiens, and of Perche. They said, even, that the warriors of Brabant
were coming by sea."

After translating to Caesar Albinik's answer, the interpreter resumed:

"You speak true. Your words agree with the reports which have been made
to us. But some scouts returned this evening and have brought the news
that, two or three leagues from here, they saw in the north the glare of
a conflagration. You come from the north. Do you know anything about

"From the outskirts of Vannes up to three leagues from here," answered
Albinik, "there remains not a town, not a borough, not a village, not a
house, not a sack of wheat, not a skin of wine, not a cow, not a sheep,
not a rick of fodder, not a man, woman, or child. Provisions, cattle,
stores, everything that could not be carried away, have been given up to
the flames by the inhabitants. At the hour that I speak to you, all the
tribes of the burned regions are rallied to the support of the Gallic
army, leaving behind them nothing but a desert of smouldering ruins."

As Albinik progressed with his account, the amazement of the interpreter
deepened, his terror increased. In his fright he seemed not to dare
believe what he heard. He hesitated to make Caesar aware of the awful
news. At last he resigned himself to the requirements of his office.

Albinik did not take his eyes from Caesar, for he wished to read in his
face what impression the words of the interpreter would make. Well
skilled in dissimulation, they say, was the Roman general. Nevertheless,
as the interpreter spoke, stupefaction, fear, frenzy and doubt betrayed
themselves in the face of Gaul's oppressor. His officers and
councillors looked at one another in consternation, exchanging under
their breaths words which seemed full of anguish. Then Caesar, sitting
bolt upright on his couch, addressed several short and violent words to
the interpreter, who immediately turned to the mariner:

"Caesar says you lie. Such a disaster is impossible. No nation is
capable of such a sacrifice. If you have lied, you shall expiate your
crime on the rack."

Great was the joy of Albinik and Meroë on seeing the consternation and
fury of the Roman, who could not make up his mind to believe the heroic
resolution, so fatal to his army. But the couple concealed their
emotions, and Albinik answered:

"Caesar has in his camp Numidian horsemen, with tireless horses. Let him
send out scouts instantly. Let them scour not only the country which we
have just crossed in one night and day of travel, but let them extend
their course into the east, to the boundary of Touraine. Let them go
still further, as far as Berri; and so much further as their horses can
carry them; they will traverse regions ravaged by fire, and deserted."

Hardly had Albinik pronounced these words, when the Roman general shot
some orders at several of his officers. They rushed from the tent in
haste, while he, relapsing into his habitual dissimulation, and no doubt
regretful of having betrayed his fears in the presence of the Gallic
fugitives, affected to smile, and stretched himself again on his lion
skin. He held out his cup to one of his cup-bearers, and emptied it
after saying to the interpreter some words which he translated thus:

"Caesar empties his cup to the honor of the Gauls - and, by Jupiter, he
gives them thanks for having done just what he wished to do himself. For
old Gaul shall humble herself vanquished and repentant, before Rome,
like the most humble slave - or not one of her towns shall remain
standing, not one of her warriors living, not one of her people free."

"May the gods hear Caesar," answered Albinik. "Let Gaul be enslaved or
devastated, and I shall be avenged on the Chief of the Hundred
Valleys - for he will suffer a thousand deaths in seeing subdued or
destroyed that fatherland which I now curse."

While the interpreter was translating these words, the general, either
to hide all the more his fears, or to drown them in wine, emptied his
cup several times, and began to cast at Meroë more and more ardent
looks. Then, a thought seeming to strike him, he smiled with a singular
air, made a sign to one of the freedmen, and spoke to him in a low
voice. He also whispered a few hurried words to the Moorish slave-girl,
until then seated at his feet, whereupon she and the freedman left the

The interpreter thereupon returned to Albinik: "So far your answers have
proved your sincerity. If the news you have just given is confirmed, if
to-morrow you show yourself a capable and courageous pilot, you will be
able to serve your revenge. If you satisfy Caesar, he will be generous.
If you play us false your punishment will be terrible. Did you see, at
the entrance to the camp, five men crucified!"

"I saw them."

"They are pilots who refused to serve us. They had to be carried to the
crosses, because their legs, crushed by the torture, could not sustain
them. Such will be your lot and that of your companion, upon the least

"I fear these threats no more than I expect a gift from the magnificence
of Caesar," haughtily returned Albinik. "Let him try me first, then
judge me."

"You and your companion will be taken to a nearby tent; you will be
guarded there like prisoners."

At a sign from the Roman, the two Gauls were led away and conducted
through a winding passage covered with cloth, into an adjacent tent,
where they were left alone.



So great was the distrust in which Albinik and his wife held everything
Roman, that before passing the night in the tent to which they had been
taken, they examined it carefully. The tent, round of form, was
decorated inside with woolen cloth, striped in strongly contrasting
colors. It was fixed on taut cords which were fastened to stakes driven
into the earth. The cloth of the tent did not come down close to the
ground, and Albinik remarked that between the coarsely tanned hides
which served as a carpet, and the lower edge of the tent, there remained
a space three times the width of his palm. There was no other visible
entrance to the tent but the one the couple had just crossed, which was
closed by two flaps of cloth overlapping each other. An iron bed
furnished with cushions was half enveloped in draperies, with which one
could shut himself in by pulling a cord hanging over the head of the
bed. A brass lamp, raised on a long shaft stuck into the ground, feebly
lighted the interior of the tent.

After examining silently and carefully the place where he was to pass
the night with his wife, Albinik said to her in a whisper:

"Caesar will have us spied upon to-night. They will listen to our
conversation. But no matter how softly they come, or how cunningly they
hide themselves, no one can approach the cloth from the outside to
listen to us, without our seeing, through that gap, the feet of the
spy," and he pointed out to his wife the circular space left between the
earth and the lower rim of the tent cloth.

"Do you think, then, Albinik, that Caesar has any suspicions? Could he
suppose that a man would have the courage to mutilate himself in order
to induce confidence in his feelings of revenge?"

"And our brothers, the inhabitants of the regions which we have just
traversed, have they not shown a courage a thousand times greater than
mine, in giving up their country to the flames? My one hope is in the
absolute need our enemy has of Gallic pilots to conduct his ships along
the Breton coasts. Now especially, when the land offers not a single
resource to his army, the way by sea is perhaps his only means of
safety. You saw, when he learned of that heroic devastation, that he
could not, even he, always so dissembling, they say, hide his
consternation and fury, which he then tried to forget in the fumes of
wine. And that is not the only debauchery to which he gives himself up.
I saw you blush under the obstinate looks of the infamous debauchee."

"Oh, Albinik! while my forehead reddened with shame and anger under the
eyes of Caesar, twice my hand sought and clasped under my garments the
weapon with which I am provided. Once I measured the distance which
separated me from him - it was too great."

"At the first movement, before reaching him, you would have been pierced
with a thousand sword thrusts. Our project is worth more. If it
thrives," added Albinik, throwing a meaning glance at his companion, and
instead of speaking low as he had been doing up till now, raising his
voice little by little, "if our project thrives, if Caesar has faith in
my word, we will be able at last to avenge ourselves on my tormentor.
Oh, I tell you, I feel now for Gaul the hatred with which the Romans
once inspired me!"

Surprised by Albinik's words, Meroë stared at him in amazement. But by a
sign he showed her, through the empty space left between the ground and
the cloth, of the tent, the toes of the sandals of the interpreter, who
had approached and now listened without. At once the young woman

"I share your hate, as I have shared your heart's love, and the peril of
your mariner's life. May Hesus cause Caesar to understand what services
you can render him, and I shall be the witness of your revenge as I was
the witness of your torture."

These words, and many others, exchanged by the couple to the end of
deceiving the interpreter, apparently reassured the spy of the honesty
of the two prisoners, for presently they saw him move away.

Shortly thereafter, at the moment that Albinik and Meroë, fatigued with
their long journey, were about to throw themselves into bed in their
clothes, the interpreter appeared at the entry. The uplifted cloth
disclosed several Spanish soldiers.

"Caesar wishes to converse with you immediately," said the interpreter
to the mariner. "Follow me."

Albinik felt certain that the suspicions of the Roman general, if he had
any, had just been allayed by the interpreter's report, and that the
moment had come when he was to learn the mission with which they wished
to charge him. Accordingly, he prepared to leave the tent, and Meroë
with him, when the interpreter said to the young woman, stopping her
with a gesture:

"You may not accompany us. Caesar wishes to speak with your companion

"And I," answered the seaman, taking his wife by the hand, "I shall not
leave Meroë."

"Do you really refuse my order?" cried the interpreter. "Beware,

"We go together to Caesar," began Meroë, "or we go not at all."

"Poor fools! Are you not prisoners at our mercy?" said the interpreter
to them, pointing to the soldiers, motionless at the door of the tent.
"Willingly or unwillingly, I will be obeyed."

Albinik reflected that resistance was impossible. Death he was not
afraid of; but to die was to renounce his plans at the moment when they
seemed to be prospering. Nevertheless, the thought of leaving Meroë
alone in the tent disturbed him. The young woman divined the fears of
her husband, and feeling, like him, that they must resign themselves,

"Go alone. I shall wait for you without fear, true as your brother is an
able armorer."

Reassured by his wife's significant words, Albinik followed the
interpreter. The door flaps of the tent, for the moment raised, fell
back into place. Immediately, from behind them, she heard a heavy thud.
She ran towards the place, and saw that a thick wicker screen had been
fastened outside, closing the door. The young woman was at first
surprised with this precaution, but she presently thought that it would
be better to remain thus secured while awaiting Albinik, and that
perhaps he himself had asked that the tent be closed till his return.

Meroë accordingly seated herself thoughtfully on the bed, full of hope
in the interview which undoubtedly her husband was then having with
Caesar. Suddenly her revery was broken by a singular noise. It came from
the part directly in front of the bed. Almost immediately, the cloth
parted its whole length. The young woman sprang to her feet. Her first
movement was to seize the poniard which she carried under her blouse.
Then, trusting in herself and in the weapon which she held, she waited,
calling to mind the Gallic proverb, "He who takes his own life in his
hands has nothing to fear but the gods!"

Against the background of dense shadows on which the tent cloth parted,
Meroë saw the young Moorish slave approach, wrapped in her white
garments. As soon as the slave had put her foot in the tent, she fell
upon her knees, and stretched out her clasped hands to Albinik's
companion. Touched by the suppliant gesture and the grief imprinted on
the face of the slave, Meroë felt neither suspicion nor fear, but
compassion mingled with curiosity, and she laid her poniard at the head
of the bed. The Moorish girl advanced, creeping on her knees, her two
hands still extended towards Meroë, who, full of pity, leaned towards
the suppliant, meaning to raise her up. But when the slave had
sufficiently approached the bed where the poniard was, she raised
herself with a bound, and leaped to the weapon. Evidently she had not
lost sight of it since entering the tent, and before Albinik's stupefied
companion could oppose her, the poniard was flung into the outer

By the peal of savage laughter which burst from the Moorish girl when
she had thus disarmed Meroë, the latter saw that she had been betrayed.
She ran toward the dark passage to recover her poniard, or to flee. But
out of those shadows, she saw coming - Caesar.

Stricken with fear, the Gallic woman recoiled several steps, Caesar
advanced likewise, and the slave disappeared by the opening, which was
immediately closed again. By the uncertain step of the Roman, by the
fire in his looks, the excitement which impurpled his cheeks, Meroë saw
that he was inebriate. Her terror subsided. He carried under his arm a
casket of precious wood. After silently gazing at the young woman with
such effrontery that the blush of shame again mounted to her forehead,
the Roman drew from the casket a rich necklace of chased gold. He went
closer to the lamp-light in order to improve its glitter in the eyes of
the woman whom he wished to tempt. Then, simulating an ironical
reverence, he stooped and placed the necklace at the feet of the Gaul.
Rising, he questioned her with an audacious look.

Meroë, standing with arms crossed on her breast, heaving with
indignation and scorn, looked haughtily at Caesar, and spurned the
collar with her foot.

The Roman made an insulting gesture of surprise; he laughed with an air
of disdainful confidence; and then drew from the casket a magnificent
gold net-work for the hair, all encrusted with carbuncles. After making
it sparkle in the lamp-light, he deposited the second trinket also at
the feet of Meroë. Redoubling his ironical respect, he rose, and seemed
to say:

"This time I am sure of my triumph!"

Meroë, pale with anger, smiled disdainfully.

Then Caesar emptied at the young woman's feet all the contents of the
casket. It was like a flood of gold, pearls, and precious stones, of
necklaces, zones, earrings, bracelets, jewels of all sorts.

This time Meroë did not push away the gewgaws with her foot. She ground
under the heel of her boot as many of the trinkets as she could rapidly
stamp upon, and drove back the infamous debauchee, who was advancing
toward her with confidently open arms.

Confused for a moment, the Roman put his hand to his heart, as if to
protest his adoration. The woman of Gaul answered the mute language with
a burst of laughter so scornful that Caesar, intoxicated with lust, wine
and anger, seemed to say:

"I have offered riches, I have offered prayers. All in vain; I shall use

Albinik's wife was alone and disarmed. She knew that her cries would
bring her no help. Her resolve was soon taken. The chaste, brave woman
leaped upon the bed, seized the long cord which served to lower the
draperies, and knotted it around her neck. Then she quickly climbed upon
the head of the bed-stead, ready to launch herself into the air, and
strangle herself by the weight of her own body at Caesar's first step
towards her. So desperate was the resolution depicted on Meroë's face
that the Roman general for an instant remained motionless. Then, urged
either by compunction for his violence; or by the certainty that, if he
attempted force, he would have but a corpse in his possession; or, as
the unscrupulous libertine later pretended, by a generous impulse that
had guided him throughout; - whatever his motive, Caesar stepped back
several paces, and raised his hand to heaven as if to call the gods to
witness that he would respect his prisoner. Still suspicious, the Gallic
woman kept herself in readiness to give up her life. The Roman turned
towards the secret opening of the tent, disappeared into the shadows for
a moment, and gave an order in a loud voice. Immediately he returned,
but kept himself at a wide distance from the bed, his arms crossed on
his toga. Not knowing whether the danger she ran was not still to be
increased, Meroë remained standing on the bed-stead with the cord about
her neck. After a few minutes she saw the interpreter enter, accompanied
by Albinik; with one bound she sprang to her husband.

"Your wife is a woman of manful virtue," said the interpreter to
Albinik. "Behold those treasures at her feet; she has spurned them.
Great Caesar's love she has scorned. He pretended to resort to
violence. Your companion, disarmed by a trick, was prepared to take her
own life. Thus gloriously has she come out of the test."

"The test?" answered Albinik, with an air of sinister doubt. "The test?
Who, here, has the right to test the virtue of my wife?"

"The thought of vengeance, which have brought you into the Roman camp,
are the thoughts of a haughty soul, roused by injustice and barbarity.
The mutilation which you have suffered seemed above all to prove the
truth of your words," resumed the interpreter. "But fugitives always
arouse a secret suspicion. The wife often is a test of the husband.
Yours is a valiant wife. To inspire such fidelity, you must be a man of
courage and of truth. That is what we wished to make sure of."

"I don't know," began the mariner doubtfully, "the licentiousness of
your general is well known - - "

"The gods have sent us in you a precious aid; you can become fatal to
the Gauls. Do you believe Caesar is foolish enough to wish to make an
enemy of you by outraging your wife, at the very moment, perhaps, when
he is about to charge you with a mission of trust? No, I repeat: he
wished to try you both, and so far the trials are favorable to you."

Caesar interrupted the interpreter, saying a few words to him. Then
bowing respectfully to Meroë, and saluting Albinik with a friendly
gesture, he slowly and majestically left the tent.

"You and your wife," said the interpreter, "are henceforth assured of
the general's protection. He gives you his word for it. You shall no
more be separated or disturbed. The wife of the courageous mariner has
scorned these rich ornaments," added the interpreter, collecting the
jewels and replacing them in the casket. "Caesar wishes to keep as a
reminder of Gallic virtue the poniard which she wore, and which he took
from her by ruse. Reassure yourself, she shall not remain unarmed."

Almost at the same instant, two young freedmen entered the tent. They
carried on a large silver tray a little oriental dagger of rich
workmanship, and a Spanish saber, short and slightly curved, hung from a
baldric of red leather, magnificently embroidered in gold. The
interpreter presented the dagger to Meroë and the saber to Albinik,
saying to them as he did so:

"Sleep in peace, and guard these gifts of the grandeur of Caesar."

"And do you assure him," returned Albinik, "that your words and his
generosity dissipate my suspicions. Henceforth he will have no more
devoted allies than my wife and myself, until our vengeance be

The interpreter left, taking with him the two freedmen. Albinik then
told his wife that when he had been taken into the Roman general's tent,
he had waited for Caesar, in company with the interpreter, up to the
moment when they both returned to the tent, under the conduct of a
slave. Meroë told in turn what had occurred to her. The couple concluded
that Caesar, half drunk, had at first yielded to a foul thought, but
that Meroë's desperate resolve, backed up by the reflection that he was
running the risk of estranging a fugitive from whom he might reap good
service, had curbed the Roman's passion. With his habitual trickery and
address, he had given, under the pretext of a "trial," an almost
generous appearance to the odious attempt.



The next morning Caesar, accompanied by his generals, set out for the

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