Eugène Sue.

The Brass Bell; or, The Chariot of Death online

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top of the hill, at the foot of which was the tribe of Karnak. The
cohort, thus taken between two enemies, was destroyed. Slaughter was
beginning to tire Mikael's arm and my own when I noticed a Roman warrior
of medium height, whose magnificent armor announced his lofty rank. He
was on foot, and had lost his helmet in the fight. His large bald
forehead, his pale face and his terrible look gave him a terrifying
appearance. Armed with a sword, he was furiously beating his own
soldiers, all unable to arrest their flight. I called my brother's
attention to him.

"Guilhern," said he, "if they have fought everywhere as we have here, we
are victorious. That soldier, by his gold and steel armor, must be a
Roman general. Let us take him prisoner; he will be a good hostage. Help
me and we'll have him."

Mikael immediately hurled himself on the warrior of the golden armor,
while the latter was still trying to halt the fugitives. With a few
bounds of my horse, I rejoined my brother. After a brief struggle,
Mikael threw the Roman. Wishing not to kill, but to take him prisoner,
Mikael held him under his knees, with his axe uplifted, to signify to
the Roman that he would have to give himself up. The Roman understood;
no longer struggled to free himself; and raised to heaven the one hand
he had free that the gods might witness he yielded himself a prisoner.

"Off with him," said Mikael to me.

Mikael, who like myself, was stalwart and stout, while our prisoner was
slim and not above middle height, took the Roman in his arms and lifted
him from the ground. I grasped him by the collar of buffalo-hide which
he had on over his breastplate, drew him towards me, pulled him up, and
threw him across my horse, in front of the saddle. Then, taking the
reins in my teeth so as to have one hand to hold the prisoner, and the
other to threaten him with my axe, I pressed the flanks of my horse, and
set out in this fashion towards the reserve of our army, both for the
purpose of putting the prisoner in safe keeping, and to have my wounds
dressed. I had hardly started, when one of the horsemen of the
_Mahrek-Ha-Droad_, happening that way in his pursuit of the fleeing
Romans, cried out, as he recognized the man I was carrying:


Thus I became aware that I had on my horse the direst of Gaul's foes. So
far from entertaining any thought of killing him, and seized with
stupor, my axe slipped from my hand, and I leaned back in order the
better to contemplate that terrible Caesar whom I had in my power.

Unhappy me! Alas for Gaul! Caesar profited by my stupid astonishment,
jumped down from my horse, called to his aid a troop of Numidian
horsemen who were riding in search of him, and when I regained
consciousness from my stupid amazement, the blunder was irreparable.[10]
Caesar had leaped upon one of the Numidian riders' horse, while the
others surrounded me. Furious at having allowed Caesar to escape, I now
defended myself with frenzy. I received several fresh wounds and saw my
brother Mikael die at my side. That misfortune was only the signal for
others. Victory, so long hovering over our standards, went to the
Romans. Caesar rallied his wavering legions; a considerable
re-enforcement of fresh troops came to his aid; and our whole army was
driven back in disorder upon the reserve, where were also our
war-chariots, our wounded, our women and our children. Carried by the
press of retreating combatants, I arrived in the proximity of the
chariots, happy in the midst of defeat at having at least come near my
mother and family, and at being able to defend them - if indeed the
strength were spared me, for my wounds were weakening me more and more.
Alas! The gods had condemned me to a horrible trial. I can now repeat
the words of Albinik and his wife, both killed in the attack on the
Roman galleys, and battling on the water as we did on the land for the
freedom of our beloved country: "None ever saw, nor will ever see the
frightful scene that I witnessed."

Thrown back towards the chariots, still fighting, attacked at once by
the Numidian cavalry, by the legionaries and by the Cretan archers, we
yielded ground step by step. Already we could hear the bellowing of the
oxen, the shrill sound of the numerous brass bells which trimmed their
yokes, and the barking of the war dogs, still chained about the cars.
Husbanding my ebbing strength, I no longer sought to fight, I strove
only to reach the place where my family was in danger. Suddenly my
horse, which had already sustained several wounds, received on the flank
his death blow. The animal stumbled and rolled upon me. My leg and
thigh, pierced with two lance thrusts, were caught as in a vise between
the ground and the dead weight of my fallen steed. In vain I struggled
to disengage myself. One of my comrades who, at the time of my fall, was
following me, ran against the fallen horse. Steed and rider tumbled over
the obstacle, and were instantly despatched by the blows of the
legionaries. Our resistance became desperate. Corpse upon corpse piled
up, both on top of and around me. More and more enfeebled by the loss of
blood, overcome by the pains in my limbs, bruised under that heap of
dead and dying, unable to make a motion, all sense left me; my eyes
closed. Recalled to myself a moment later by the violent throbbing of my
wounds, I opened my eyes again. The sight which met them at first made
me believe I was seized with one of those frightful nightmares from
which escape is vain. It was the horrible reality.

Twenty paces from me I saw the car in which my mother, Henory my wife,
Martha the wife of Mikael, their children, and several young women and
girls of the family had taken refuge. Several men of our kindred and
tribe, who had run like myself to the cars, were defending them against
the Romans. Among the defenders I saw the two _saldunes_, fastened to
each other by the iron chain, the symbol of their pledge of brotherhood.
Both were young, beautiful and valiant. Their clothes were in tatters,
their heads and chests naked and bloody. But their eyes flashed fire,
and a scornful smile played on their lips, as, armed only with their
staffs, they fearlessly fought the Roman legionaries sheathed in iron,
and the Cretans clad in jackets and thigh-pieces of leather. The large
dogs of war, shortly unchained, leaped at the throats of their
assailants, often bearing them over backwards with their furious dashes.
Their terrible jaws not being able to pierce either helmet or
breastplate, they devoured the faces of their victims, killing without
once letting go their grips. The Cretan archers, almost without
defensive armor, were snatched by the legs, arms, shoulders, anywhere.
Each bite of these savage dogs carried away a chunk of bleeding flesh.

Several steps from where I lay, I saw an archer of gigantic stature,
calm in the midst of the tumult, choose from his quiver his sharpest
arrow, lay it on the string of his bow, pull it with a sinewy arm, and
take long aim at one of the two chained _saldunes_, who, dragged down by
the fall of his comrade, now dead by his side, could only fight on one
knee. But so much the more valiantly did he ply his iron-capped staff.
He swung it before him with such tireless dexterity that for some time
none dared to brave its blows, for each stroke carried death. The Cretan
archer, waiting for the proper moment, was again aiming at the
_saldune_, when old Deber-Trud bounded forth. Held tight where I lay
under the heap of dead which was crushing me, unable to move without
causing intense pain in my wounded thigh, I summoned all my remaining
strength to cry out:

"Hou! Hou! Deber-Trud - at the Roman."

The dog, increasingly excited by my voice, which he recognized, dashed
with one bound upon the Cretan, at the moment when the arrow hissed from
the string, and buried itself, still quivering, in the stalwart breast
of the _saldune_. With this new wound his eyes closed, his heavy arms
let fall the staff, his other knee gave way, his body sank to the
ground; but by a last effort, the _saldune_ rose on both knees, snatched
the arrow from the wound, and threw it back at the Roman legionaries,
calling in a voice still strong, and with a smile of supreme contempt:

"For you, cowards, who shelter your fear and your bodies under plates of
iron. The breastplate of the Gaul is his naked bosom."[11]

And the _saldune_ fell dead upon the body of his brother-in-arms.

Both of them were avenged by Deber-Trud. The terrible dog had hurled
down and was holding under his enormous paws the Cretan archer, who was
uttering frightful cries. With one bite of his fangs, as dangerous as
those of a lion, the dog tore his victim's throat so deeply that two
jets of warm blood poured out on the archer's chest. Though still alive,
the man could utter no sound. Deber-Trud, seeing that his prey still
lived, fell upon him, roaring furiously, swallowing or throwing aside
shreds of severed flesh. I heard the sides of the Cretan crack and grind
under the teeth of Deber-Trud, who dug and dug, burying his bloody
muzzle up to the eyes in the man's chest. Then a legionary ran up and
transfixed Deber-Trud with one thrust of his lance. The dog gave not a
groan. He died like a good war-dog, his monstrous head plunged in the
Roman's entrails.[12]

After the death of the two _saldunes_, the defenders of the chariots
fell one by one. My mother Margarid, Martha, Henory, and the young girls
of the family, with burning eyes and cheeks, their hair flying, their
clothes disordered from the struggle, their arms and bosoms half
uncovered, were running fearlessly from one end of the chariot to the
other, encouraging the combatants by voice and gesture, and casting at
the Romans with no feeble or untrained hands short pikes, knives, and
spiked clubs. At last the critical moment came. All the men were killed,
the chariot, surrounded by bodies piled half way up its sides, was
defended only by the women. There they were, with my mother Margarid,
five young women and six maidens, almost all of superb beauty,
heightened by the ardor of battle.

The Romans, sure of this prize of their obscene revels, and wishing to
take it alive, consulted a moment on a plan of attack. I understood not
their words, but from their coarse laugh, and the licentious looks which
they threw upon the Gallic women, there could be no doubt as to the
fate which awaited them. I lay there, broken, pinned fast; breathless,
full of despair, horror, and impotent rage I lay there, seeing a few
steps from me the chariot in which were my mother, my wife, my
children. - Oh, wrathful heavens! - like one unable to awake from a
horrible dream, I lay there condemned to see all, hear all, and yet to
remain motionless.

An officer of savage and insolent mien advanced alone towards the
chariot and addressed to the women some words in the Latin tongue which
the soldiers received with roars of revolting laughter. My mother, calm,
pale, and terrible, exhorted the young women around her to maintain
their self-control. Then the Roman, adding a word or two, closed with an
obscene gesture. Margarid happened at that moment to have in her hand a
heavy axe. So straight at the officer's head she hurled it, that he
reeled and fell. His fall was the signal for the attack. The legionaries
pressed forward to the capture of the chariot. Then the women rushed to
the scythes, which on each side defended the cart, and plied them with
such vigor and harmony, that the Romans, seeing a great number of their
men killed or disabled, conceived a wholesome fear for such terrible
arms, so intrepidly plied. They suspended the attack, and, applying
their long lances after the fashion of crow-bars, succeeded, without
approaching too near, in shattering the handles of the scythes. This
safeguard demolished, a new attack commenced. The issue was not
doubtful. While the scythes were falling under the blows of the
soldiers, my mother hurriedly said a few words to Martha and Henory. The
two, with a look of pride and determination on their faces, ran towards
the cover which sheltered the children. Margarid also spoke to the young
childless women, and they, as well as the young girls, took and piously
kissed her hands.

At that moment, the last scythes fell. Margarid seized a sword in one
hand and a white cloth in the other. She stepped to the front of the
chariot, waved the white cloth, and threw away the sword, as if to
announce to the enemy that all the women wished to give themselves up.
The soldiers, at first astonished at the proposed surrender, answered
with laughs of ironical consent. Margarid seemed to be awaiting a
signal. Twice she impatiently cast her eyes toward the shelter, where
the two women had gone. Evidently, as the signal she seemed to wait for
was not given, she was trying to distract the enemy's attention, and
again waved her cloth, pointing alternately to the town of Vannes and to
the sea.

The soldiers, unable to take in the meaning of these gestures, looked at
one another questioningly. Then Margarid, after another hasty glance at
the redoubt, exchanged a few words with the girls round about her,
seized a dagger, and, in quick succession struck three of the maidens,
who had nobly bared their chaste bosoms to the knife. Meanwhile the
other young women dispatched one another with steady hands. They had
just fallen when Martha reappeared from the enclosure where the children
had been hidden during the battle. Proud and serene, she held her two
little daughters in her arms. A spare wagon-pole stood in front of her,
the upper extremity of which was at a considerable elevation from the
ground. She leaped on the edge of the car; a cord was around her neck.
She passed the end of the cord through the ring at the extremity of the
pole. Margarid steadied it in both hands. Martha leaped into the air
with outspread arms, and hung there, strangled. Her two little children,
instead of falling to the ground, remained suspended on either side of
her breast, for she had passed the noose around their necks also.

All this occurred so rapidly, that the Romans, at first struck dumb with
astonishment and fear, had no time to prevent the heroic deaths. They
had barely recovered from their amazement when Margarid, seeing all her
family either dying or dead at her feet, raised to heaven her
blood-stained knife, and exclaimed in a calm and steady voice:

"Our daughters shall not be outraged; our children shall not be
enslaved; all of us, of the family of Joel the brenn of the tribe of
Karnak, dead, like our husbands and brothers, for the liberty of Gaul,
are on our way to rejoin them above. Perhaps, O Hesus, all this spilled
blood will appease you;" and with a hand which did not waver, she
plunged the dagger into her own heart.

All these terrible events which happened around the Chariot of Death I
was compelled to behold, as I lay nearby, pinned to the ground. My wife
Henory not having emerged from the enclosure, I concluded that she had
put an end to herself there, first putting to death my little ones
Sylvest and Syomara. My brain began to reel, my eyes closed; I felt
that I was dying, and thanked Hesus for not leaving me behind alone when
all my dear ones were to enter together upon the other life in the
unknown world.

But, no, it was here below, on earth, that I was to return to life - to
face new torments after those I had just undergone.



After I had beheld my mother and all the other women of the tribe die to
escape the shame and outrages of slavery, the blood which I had lost
caused me to swoon away. A long time passed in which I was bereft of
reason. When my senses returned, I found myself lying on straw, along
with a great number of other men, in a vast shed. At my first motion I
found myself chained by the leg to a stake driven into the ground. I was
half clad; they had left me my shirt and breeches, in a secret pocket of
which I had hidden the writings of my father and of my brother Albinik,
together with the little gold sickle, the gift of my sister Hena. A
dressing had been put on my wounds, which no longer occasioned me much
pain. I experienced only a great weakness and dizziness which made my
last memories a confused mass. I looked about me. I was one of perhaps
fifty wounded prisoners, all chained to their litters. At the further
end of the shed were several armed men, who did not bear the appearance
of regular Roman troops. They were seated round a table, drinking and
singing. Some among them, who carried short-handled scourges twisted of
several thongs and terminating in bits of lead, detached themselves
from time to time from the group, and walked here and there with the
uncertain gait of drunken men, casting jeering looks on the prisoners.
Next to me lay an aged man with white hair and beard, very pale and
thin. A bloody band half hid his forehead. He was sitting up, his elbows
on his knees, and his face between his hands. Seeing him wounded and a
prisoner, I concluded he was a Gaul. I did not err.

"Good father," I said to him, laying my hand lightly upon the old man's
arm, "where are we?"

Slowly raising his sad and mournful visage, the old prisoner answered

"Those are the first words you have spoken for two days."

"For two days?" I repeated, greatly astonished. I was unable to believe
so much time had passed since the battle of Vannes. I sought to recall
my wandering memory. "Is it possible? What, I have been here two days?"

"Yes, and you have been unconscious, in a delirium. The physician who
dressed your wounds made you take several potions."

"Now I recall it confusedly. And also - a ride in a chariot?"

"Yes, to come here from the battle-ground. I was with you in the
chariot, whither they carried you wounded and dying."

"And here we are - ?"

"At Vannes."

"Our army?"


"Our fleet?"


"O, my brother, and your courageous wife Meroë, both dead also!" flashed
through my mind. "And Vannes, where we are," I added aloud to my
companion, "Vannes is in the power of the Romans?"

"Even as the whole of Brittany, they say."

"And the Chief of the Hundred Valleys?"

"He has fled into the mountains of Ares with a handful of cavalry. The
Romans are in pursuit of him." Then raising his eyes to heaven, he
continued, "May Hesus and Teutates protect that last defender of the

I had put these questions while my thoughts were still disordered. But
when I recalled the struggle at the chariot of war, the death of my
mother, my father, my brother Mikael, my brother's wife and his two
children, and finally, the almost certain death of my own wife with her
son and daughter - for up to the moment when I lost consciousness I had
not seen Henory leave the shelter behind the chariot - when I recalled
all that, I heaved, in spite of myself, a great sigh of despair at
finding myself alone in the world. I buried my face in the straw to shut
out the light of day.

One of the tipsy keepers became irritated at hearing my moans, and
showered several cruel blows of the scourge, accompanied with oaths,
upon my shoulders. Forgetting the pain in the shame that I felt at the
thought of me, the son of Joel, being struck with the lash, I leaped to
my feet notwithstanding my weakness, intending to throw myself upon the
keeper. But my chain, sharply tightened by the jerk, checked me, and
made me trip and fall upon my knees. The keeper, enabled by the length
of his scourge to keep out of the prisoners' reach, thereupon redoubled
his blows, lashing me across the face, chest, and back. Other keepers
ran up, fell upon me, and slipped manacles of iron upon my wrists.

Oh, my son, my son! You, for whose eyes I write all this down, obedient
to the wishes of my father, never do yourself forget, and let also your
sons preserve the memory of this outrage, the first that our stock ever
underwent. Live, that you may avenge the outrage in due time. And if you
cannot, let your sons wreak vengeance upon the Romans therefore.

With my feet chained and my hands in irons, unable to move, I did not
wish to afford my tormentors the spectacle of impotent rage. I closed my
eyes and lay still, betraying neither anger nor grief, while the
keepers, provoked by my calmness, beat me furiously. Presently, however,
a strange voice having interposed and spoken a few angry words in the
Latin tongue, the blows ceased. I opened my eyes and three new
personages stood before me. One of them was speaking rapidly to the
keepers, gesticulating angrily, and pointing at me from time to time.
This man was short and stout; he had a very red face, white hair and
pointed grey beard. He wore a short robe of brown wool, buck-skin
stocks, and low leather boots; he was not dressed in the Roman fashion.
Of the two men who accompanied him, one, dressed in a long black robe,
had a grave and sinister mien. The other held a casket under his arm.
While I was gazing at these persons, my aged neighbor called my
attention with a rapid glance to the fat little man with the red face
and the white hair, who was conversing with the keepers, and said to me
with a look of anger and disgust:

"The horse-dealer; the horse-dealer!"

"What are you talking about?" I answered him, unable to understand what
he meant. "A horse-dealer?"

"That is what the Romans call the slave merchants."[14]

"How! They traffic in wounded men?" I asked the old man in surprise.
"Are there men who buy the dying?"

"Do you not know," he answered with a somber smile, "that after the
battle of Vannes there were more dead than living, and not an unwounded
Gaul? Upon these wounded men, in default of more able-bodied prey, the
slave-dealers who follow the Roman army fell like so many ravens upon

There was no more room for doubt. I realized that I was a slave. I had
been bought. I would be sold again. The "horse-dealer," having finished
speaking to the keepers, approached the old man, and said to him in
Gallic, but with an accent that proved his foreign origin:

"My old Pierce-Skin - how has your neighbor come on? Has he at last
recovered from his stupor? Is he at last able to speak?"

"Ask him," snapped the old man, turning over on the straw. "He'll answer
you himself."

The "horse-dealer" thereupon walked over to my side. He seemed no longer
angry. His countenance, naturally jovial, was beaming. Putting his two
hands on his knees, he stooped down to me; grinned at me; and spoke to
me hurriedly, often putting questions which he answered himself, not
seeming to care whether I heard him or not.

"You have, then, recovered your spirits, my fine Bull? Yes? Ah, so much
the better! By Jupiter, it's a good sign. Now your appetite will return,
and it is returning, isn't it? Still better! Before eight days you will
be in fine feather. Those brutes of keepers, always in their cups,
scourged you, did they? Yes? I'm not a bit surprised - they never do
anything else. The wine of Gaul makes them stupid. To strike you! To
strike you! And that when you can hardly stand up; besides the fact that
in men of the Gallic race, choler is likely to produce bad results. But
you are no longer angry, are you? No! So much the better! It is I who
should be provoked at those tipsters. Suppose the fury raging in your
blood had stifled you! But, bah! those brutes care little for making me
lose twenty-five or thirty gold sous,[15] which you will presently be
worth to me, my fine Bull. But for greater safety I'll have you taken to
a shelter where you will be alone and better off than here. It was
occupied by a wounded fellow who died last night - a superb fellow.
That was a loss! Ah, commerce is not all gain. Come, follow me."

He set to work to unfasten my chain by a secret spring. I asked him why
he always called me "Bull." I would have preferred by far the keeper's
lash to the jovial loquacity of this trafficker in human flesh. Certain
now that I was not dreaming, still I could hardly accept the reality of
what I saw. Unable to resist, I followed the man. At least I would no
longer be under the eyes of the keepers who beat me, and the sight of
whom made my blood boil. I made an effort to raise myself, but my
weakness was still excessive. The "horse-dealer" unhooked the chain, and
held one end. As my hands were still shackled, the man with the long
black robe and the one who carried the casket took me under the arms,
and led me to the extremity of the shed. They made me mount several
stairs and enter a small room that was lighted through an iron-barred

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Online LibraryEugène SueThe Brass Bell; or, The Chariot of Death → online text (page 5 of 9)