Eugène Sue.

The Brass Bell; or, The Chariot of Death online

. (page 6 of 9)
Online LibraryEugène SueThe Brass Bell; or, The Chariot of Death → online text (page 6 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

opening. I looked through the opening and recognized the great square of
the town of Vannes, and, in the distance, the house where I had often
gone to see my brother Albinik and his wife. In the room were a stool, a
table, and a long box of fresh straw, in place of the one in which the
other slave had died. I was made to sit on the stool. The black-robed
man, a Roman physician, examined my two wounds, constantly conversing in
his own language with the "horse-dealer." He took various salves from
the casket which his companion was carrying, dressed my hurts, and went
to render his services to the other slaves, not, however, before helping
the "horse-dealer" to fasten my chain to the wooden box which served
as my bed. The physician then took his departure, and left me alone with
my master.



"By Jupiter," began my master immediately after the departure of the
physician. "By Jupiter," he repeated in his satisfied and hilarious
manner, so revolting to me: "Your injuries are healing so fast that you
can see them heal, a proof of the purity of your blood; and with pure
blood there are no such things as wounds, says the son of Aesculapius.
But here you are back in your senses, my brave Bull. You are going to
answer my questions, aren't you? Yes? Then, listen to me."

Drawing from his pocket a stylus and a tablet, covered with wax, the
"horse-dealer" continued:

"I do not ask your name. You have no longer any name but that which I
have given you, until your new owner shall name you differently. As for
me, I have named you Bull[16] - a proud name, isn't it? You are worthy to
bear it. It becomes you. So much the better."

"Why have you named me Bull?"

"Why did I name that old fellow, your late neighbor, Pierce-Skin?
Because his bones stick out through his skin. But you, apart from your
two wounds, what a strong constitution you have! What broad shoulders!
What a chest! What a back! What powerful limbs!" While pouring out these
praises, the "horse-dealer" rubbed his hands and gazed at me with
satisfaction and covetousness, already figuring in advance the price I
would fetch. "And your height! It exceeds by a palm that of the next
tallest captive in my lot. So, seeing you so robust, I have named you
Bull. Under that name you are entered in my inventory, at your number;
and under that name will you be cried at the auction!"

I knew that the Romans sold their slaves to the slave merchants. I knew
that slavery was horrible, and I approved of a mother's killing her
children sooner than have them live a captive's life. I knew that a
slave became a beast of burden. While the "horse-dealer" was speaking, I
drew my hand across my forehead to make sure that it was really I,
Guilhern, the son of Joel the brenn of the tribe of Karnak, a son of
that free and haughty race, whom they were treating like a beef for the
mart. The shame of a life of slavery seemed to me insupportable, and I
took heart at the resolve to flee at the first opportunity, or to kill
myself and thus rejoin my relatives. That thought calmed me. I had
neither the hope nor the desire to learn whether my wife and children
had escaped death; but remembering that I had seen neither Henory,
Sylvest nor Syomara come from the enclosure behind the war-chariot, I
said to the "horse-dealer":

"Where did you purchase me?"

"In the place where we make all our purchases, my fine Bull. On the
field of battle, after the combat."

"So it was on the battlefield of Vannes you bought me?"

"The same."

"You doubtlessly picked me up at the place where I fell?"

"Yes, there was a great pile of you Gauls there, in which there were
only you and three others worth taking, among them that great booby,
your neighbor - you know, Pierce-Skin. The Cretan archers gave him to me
for good measure[17] after the sale. That is the way with you Gauls. You
fight so desperately that after a battle live captives are exceedingly
rare, and consequently priceless. I simply can't put out much money, so
I must come down to the wounded ones. My partner, the son of
Aesculapius, goes with me to the battlefield to examine the wounded men
and guard the ones I choose. Thus, in spite of your two wounds and your
unconsciousness, the young doctor said to me, after examining you and
sounding your hurts, 'Buy, my pal, buy. Nothing but the flesh is cut,
and that is in good condition; that will lower the value of your
merchandise but little, and will prevent any breach of contract.'[18]
Then you see, I, a real 'horse-dealer' who knows the trade, I said to
the archers, poking you with my foot, 'As to that great corpse there,
who has no more than his breath, I don't want him in my lot at all.'"

"When I used to buy cattle in the market," I said to the "horse-dealer,"
mockingly, "when I used to buy cattle in the market, I was less skilful
than you."

"Oh, that is because I am an old hand, and know my trade. So the Cretans
answered me, seeing that I didn't think much of you, 'But this thrust of
the lance and this saber-cut are mere scratches.' 'Scratches, my
masters!' said I in my turn, 'but it's no use poking or turning him,'
and I kicked you and turned you over, 'See, he gives no sign of life. He
is dying, my noble sons of Mars. He is already cold.' In short, my fine
Bull, I had you for two sous of gold."

"I see I cost but little; but to whom will you sell me?"

"To the traffickers from Italy and the southern part of Gaul. They buy
their slaves second-hand. Several of them have already arrived here, and
have commenced making their purchases."

"And they will take me far away?"

"Yes, unless you are bought by one of those old Roman officers, who, too
much disabled to follow a life of war, wish to found military colonies
here, in accordance with the orders of Caesar."

"And thus rob us of our lands!"

"Of course. I hope to get out of you twenty-five or thirty gold sous, at
least, and more if you are of an occupation easy to dispose of, such as
a blacksmith, carpenter, mason, goldsmith, or some other good trade.
It is in order to find that out that I am questioning you, so as to
write it in my bill of sale. So, let us see:" (and the "horse-dealer"
took up his tablet and began writing with his stylus) "Your name? Bull.
Race, Breton Gaul. I can see that at a glance. I am a connoisseur. I
would not take a Breton for a Bourgignon, nor a Poitevin for an
Auvergnat. I sold lots of Auvergnats last year, after the battle of Puy.
Your age?"


"Age, twenty-nine," he wrote on his tablet. "Your occupation?"


"Laborer," repeated the "horse-dealer" in a surprised and injured tone,
scratching his ear with his stylus. "You are nothing but a laborer? You
have no other profession?"

"I am a soldier also."

"Oh, a soldier. He who wears the iron collar has no more to do with
lance or sword. So then," added the "horse-dealer," reading from his
tablet with a sigh:

"No. 7. Bull; race, Breton Gaul; of great strength and very great
height; aged twenty-nine years; excellent laborer." Then he said:

"Your character?"

"My character?"

"Yes, what is it? rebellious or docile? open or sly? violent or
peaceable? gay or moody? The buyers always inquire as to the character
of the slave they are buying, and although one may not be compelled to
answer them, it is a bad business to deceive them. Let us see, friend
Bull, what is your character? In your own interest, be truthful. The
master who buys you will sooner or later know the truth, and will make
you pay more dearly for your lie than I would."

"Then write upon your tablet: 'The draft-bull loves servitude, cherishes
slavery, and licks the hand that strikes him.'"

"You are joking. The Gallic race love service? As well say that the
eagle or the falcon loves his cage."

"Then write that when his strength has come back, the Bull at the first
chance will break his yoke, gore his master, and fly to the woods to
live in freedom."

"There is more truth in that. Those brutes of keepers who beat you told
me that at the first touch of the lash you gave a terrible jump the
length of your chain. But, you see, friend Bull, if I offer you to the
purchasers with the dangerous account which you give, I shall find few
customers. An honest merchant should not boast his merchandise too much,
no more should he underestimate it. So I shall announce your character
as follows." And he wrote:

"Of a violent character, sulky, because of his not being accustomed to
slavery, for he is still green; but he can be broken in by using at
different times gentleness, severity and chastisement."

"Go over it again."

"Over what?"

"The description I am to be sold under."

"You are right, my son. We must make sure that the description sounds
well to the ear. Imagine that I am the auctioneer, thus:

"No. 7. Bull; race, Breton Gaul; of great strength and very great
height; aged twenty-nine years; excellent laborer; of a violent
character, sulky, because of his not being accustomed to slavery, for he
is still green; but he can be broken in by application of gentleness,
severity, and chastisement."

"That is what is left of a free and proud man whose only crime is having
defended his country against Caesar!" I cried bitterly. "And yet I did
not kill that same Caesar, who has reduced our people to slavery and is
now about to divide among his soldiers the lands of our fathers, I did
not kill him when I was making off with him on my horse!"

"You, my fine Bull, you took great Caesar prisoner?" asked the
"horse-dealer" mockingly. "It's too bad I can't proclaim that at the
auction. It would make a rare slave of you."

I reproached myself for having uttered before that trafficker in human
flesh words which resembled a regret or a complaint. Coming back to my
first thought, which made me endure patiently the loquacity of the man,
I said to him:

"When you picked me up where I fell on the battlefield, did you see hard
by a war chariot harnessed to four black bulls, with a woman and two
children hanging from the pole?"

"Did I see them? Did I see them!" exclaimed the "horse-dealer" with a
mournful sigh. "Ah, what excellent goods lost! We counted in that
chariot eleven young women and girls, all beautiful - oh,
beautiful! - worth at least forty or fifty gold sous apiece - but dead.
They had all killed themselves. They were no good to anyone."

"And in the chariot were there no women nor children still alive?"

"Women? No, - alas, no. Not one, to the great loss of the Roman soldiers
and myself. But of children, there were, I believe, two or three who had
survived the death which those fierce Gallic women, furious as
lionesses, wished to inflict upon them."

"And where are they?" I exclaimed, thinking of my son and daughter, who
were, perhaps, among them, "where are those children? Answer! Answer!"

"I told you, my Bull, that I buy only wounded persons; one of my fellows
bought the lot of children, and also some other little ones, for they
picked up some alive from the other chariots. But what does it matter to
you whether or not there are children to sell?"

"Because I had a son and a daughter in that chariot," I answered, my
heart bursting.

"And how old were they?"

"The girl was eight, the boy nine."

"And your wife?"

"If none of those eleven women found in the chariot were living, my wife
is dead."

"Isn't that too bad - too bad! Your wife had already borne you two
children; you four would have made a fine deal. Ah, what a lost

I repressed a gesture of impotent anger at the scoundrel, and answered:

"Yes, they would have billed us as the Bull and the Heifer!"

"Surely! And since Caesar is going to distribute much of your
depopulated country among his veterans, those who have no reserve
prisoners will be under the necessity of buying slaves to cultivate and
re-people their parcels of land. You are of that strong rustic race, and
consequently I have hopes of getting a good price for you from some new

"Listen to me. I would rather know that my son and daughter were dead,
like their mother, than have them saved to be slaves. Nevertheless,
since there were found near the chariot some children who had
survived - a thing that astonishes me, since the women of Gaul always
strike with a firm and sure hand when it is a case of snatching their
race from shame - it is possible that my children may be among those
found. How can I find out?"

"What good will finding out do you?"

"I will at least have with me my two children."

The "horse-dealer" began to laugh, shrugged his shoulders, and answered:

"Then you didn't hear me? By Jupiter, I advise you not to be deaf - you
would be returned to me. I told you that I neither bought nor sold

"What does that matter to me?"

"Among a hundred purchasers of slaves for farm-hands, there would not be
ten so foolish as to buy a man and his two children, without their
mother. So that to offer you for sale with two brats, if they are still
living, would make me lose half your value by burdening your purchaser
with two useless mouths. Do you catch on; thick-head? No, for you look
at me with a ferocious and stupefied air. I repeat that if I had been
obliged to buy the two children in one lot with you, or even if they had
been given to me to boot, in the market, like old Pierce-Skin, my first
care would have been to have put you up for sale without them. Do you
understand at last, double and triple block that you are?"

At last I did understand; heretofore I had not dreamed of such
refinement of torture in slavery. To think that my two children, if
alive, might be sold, I know not where, or to whom, and taken far from
me! I had not thought it possible. My heart swelled with grief. So great
was my suffering that I almost supplicated the "horse-dealer." I said to

"You are deceiving me. What can my children do? Who would wish to buy
such poor little things, so young? useless mouths - as you said

"Oh, those who carry on the trade in children have a separate and
assured patronage, especially if the children are favored with pretty
features. Are your young ones good-looking?"

"Yes," I answered in spite of myself. Before me was the vision of the
charming fair faces of my little Sylvest and Syomara, who looked as much
alike as twins and whom I had embraced a moment before the battle of
Vannes. "Oh yes, they were good-looking. They were like their mother,
who was so beautiful - !"

"If they had good looks, be easy, my fine Bull. They will be easy to
dispose of. The dealers in children have for their especial patrons the
decrepit and surfeited Roman Senators, who love fresh fruits. By the
way, they have announced the near arrival of the patrician Trymalcion,
a very rich and very noble man, an old and very capricious expert. He is
traveling through the Roman colonies of southern Gaul, and is expected
here, they say, on his galley which is as splendid as a palace. No doubt
he would like to take back to Italy some graceful specimens of Gallic
brats. If your children are pretty, their fate is assured, for the
patrician Trymalcion is one of my partner's patrician customers."[19]

At first I listened to the "horse-dealer," without catching his meaning.
But I was presently seized with a vertigo of horror at the idea that my
children, who might unfortunately have escaped the death which their
far-sighted mother had intended for them, might be carried to Italy to
fulfill such a monstrous destiny. I felt neither anger nor fury, but a
grief so great, and a fear so terrible, that I kneeled on the straw, and
in spite of my manacles, stretched my pleading hands toward the
"horse-dealer." Not finding words to utter my feelings, I wept,

The "horse-dealer" looked at me in great surprise, and said:

"Well, well! What is it, my fine Bull? What ails you?"

"My children!" was all I could say, for sobs choked me. "My children! if
they are living!"

"Your children?"

"What you said - the fate that awaits them - if they are sold to those
men - "

"How? Their fate causes you alarm?"

"Hesus! Hesus!" I exclaimed, calling on the god in my lamentation. "It
is horrible!"

"Are you going crazy?" demanded the "horse-dealer." "And what is there
so horrible in the fate which awaits your children? Ah, what barbarians
you are in Gaul, indeed. But, know: there is no life easier nor more
flowery than that of these little flute-players and dancers with which
these rich old fellows amuse themselves. If you could see them, the
little rogues, their foreheads crowned with roses, their flowery robes
spangled with gold, their rich earrings adorning their heads. And the
little girls, if you could see them with their tunics and - "

I could contain myself no longer. A bloody mist passed before my eyes.
Furiously and desperately I leapt on the vile fellow. But my chain again
tightening sharply, I stumbled and fell back on the straw. I looked
around me - not a stick nor a stone. Then, crazed with rage, I doubled
upon my chain, and gnawed at it like a wild animal.

"What a brute of a Gaul!" exclaimed the "horse-dealer," shrugging his
shoulders, and keeping well out of reach. "There he is, roaring and
jumping and grinding at his chain like a staked wolf, and all because he
has been told that his children, if they are pretty, are to live in the
midst of wealth, ease and pleasure! What would it have been, then, fool
that you are, if they were ugly or deformed? Do you know to whom they
would have been sold? They would have been sold to those rich lords, who
are so curious to read the future in the palpitating entrails of
children freshly slaughtered for divination."[20]

"Oh, Hesus!" I cried, filled with hope at the thought, "let it be so
with mine, despite their beauty! Oh, death for them! Only let them enter
the other world in their innocence, and live near their chaste mother."
I could no longer hold back my tears.

"Friend Bull," began the "horse-dealer" in a dissatisfied tone, "I was
not a bit mistaken in putting you down in my tablet as violent and
hot-headed. But I fear lest you have a fault worse than these - I mean a
tendency towards tears. I have seen sullen slaves melt away like the
snows of winter under a spring sun, dry up like parchment, and cause
great loss to their owners by their pitiful appearance. So, look out for
yourself. There remain but fifteen days before the auction at which you
are to be sold. It is a short while to restore you to your natural
fleshiness, to give you a fresh and rested complexion, a sleek and
supple skin, in short, all those signs of vigor and health which allure
the experts, jealous of possessing a sound and robust slave. To obtain
this result, I wish to spare nothing, neither good food, nor care, nor
any of those little artifices known to us to make our merchandise show
off to advantage. On your part you must second my efforts. But if, on
the contrary, you do not get over your fits of anger, if you begin to
weep, if you begin to make yourself miserable, to waste away, so to
speak, vainly dreaming of your children, instead of affording me honor
and profit by your good figure, as a good slave should who is jealous
of his master's interests, - beware, friend Bull, beware! I am not a
novice in my business. I have carried it on for many years and in many
lands. I have subdued more intractable fellows than you. I have made
Sardinians docile, and Sarmatians as gentle as lambs, so you can judge
of my skill.[21] Therefore, believe me, do not expect yourself to cause
me harm by pining away. I am very mild, very gentle. I am not at all
fond of chastisements; often they leave marks which lower a slave's
value. Nevertheless, if you oblige me to, you will make the acquaintance
of the jail for recalcitrants. Consider that, friend Bull. It will soon
be meal-time; the physician says that you can now be put upon a
substantial diet. You will be brought boiled chicken, oatmeal wet with
gravy of roast sheep, good bread, and some good wine and water. I shall
know whether you have eaten with a good appetite and in a manner to
recuperate your strength, instead of losing it in weeping. So then, eat;
it is the only way of gaining my favor. Eat plenty, eat often - I'll see
that you have it. You will never eat too much to please me, for you are
far from being well-fed, and that's what you must be, well-fed, before
fifteen days, the time of the auction. I leave you to these reflections;
pray the gods that they improve you. If not - oh, if not, I weep for you,
friend Bull."

So saying the "horse-dealer" shut the heavy door of the room behind him,
leaving me chained within.



But for my uncertainty concerning the fate of my children, immediately
upon the "horse-dealer's" departure I would have killed myself by
butting my head against the wall of my prison, or by refusing all
nourishment. Many Gauls had thus escaped the doom of slavery. But I felt
that I should not die before doing what I could to snatch them from the
destiny which menaced them.

I examined my room to see whether, my strength once restored, there was
any chance for escape. Three sides of the room were solid wall, the
other was a thick partition re-enforced with beams, between two of which
opened the door which was always carefully bolted without. A bar of iron
crossed the window, leaving an opening too narrow to give me passage. I
examined my chain, and the rings, one of which was riveted to my leg,
the other to one of the cross-bars of the bed. It was impossible for me
to unchain myself, even at my greatest strength. I then thought of a
plan, a trick, to put myself in the good graces of the "horse-dealer,"
so as to obtain from him information of my little Sylvest and Syomara.
With that end in view, it would not do to repine, to appear sad or
afraid of the lot reserved for the children. I feared I might not be
able to carry out the role, for I came of a race unaccustomed to deceit
and lying. The Gauls either triumphed or died.

On the evening of that same day when, regaining consciousness, I had
become aware of my slavery, I witnessed a spectacle of terrible
grandeur. It raised my courage. I could no longer despair for the safety
and liberty of Gaul. The night was about to fall, when I heard the
tramping of several troops of cavalry arriving at a walk in the great
public square of Vannes, which I could see from the narrow window of my
prison. I looked out, and beheld the following scene.

Two cohorts of Roman infantry, and one of cavalry, both in battle array,
surrounded a vacant space, in the middle of which rose a large scaffold
of timber. On the platform was a heavy block, such as is used for
chopping meat on. Beside the block stood a Moor of gigantic stature and
bronzed of color. His arms and legs were bare, his hair was bound with a
scarlet band; he wore a coat and a pair of short trousers of tanned
skin, splashed here and there with dark red; in his hand was an axe.

In the distance sounded the long clarions of the Romans, playing a
funeral march. The sound drew nearer. One of the cohorts that were drawn
up on the square opened its ranks, forming a double row. Through this
lane the clarioneers entered. They preceded a troop of steel-clad
legionaries. After the troop came the prisoners taken in the Gallic
army, tied two and two. Then came the women and children, also in
bonds. More than two stone's throws separated me from these captives. At
such a distance I could not distinguish their features, try as I might.
Nevertheless, my little son and daughter might be among them. The
prisoners, of all ages and sexes, closed in by the two rows of soldiers,
were stationed at the foot of the platform. Still more troops marched
into the square; after them, five and twenty captives were led in, in
single file, but not chained. I recognized them by their free and
haughty pace. They were the chiefs and elders of the town and tribe of
Vannes, all white-haired fathers.[22] Among them, marching last, I
distinguished two druids and a bard of the college of the forest of
Karnak, marked, the first by their long white robes, the second by his
tunic striped with purple. Then appeared more Roman infantry; finally,
between two escorts of white-robed Numidian cavalry, Caesar, on
horse-back, in the midst of his officers. I recognized the scourge of
Gaul by his armor, which was the same he wore when, aided by my brother
Mikael the armorer, I was carrying him off in full panoply on my horse.
Oh, how at the sight of the man I cursed anew my stupid astonishment,

1 2 3 4 6 8 9

Online LibraryEugène SueThe Brass Bell; or, The Chariot of Death → online text (page 6 of 9)