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The Brass Bell; or, The Chariot of Death online

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that so unfortunately proved the safety of my country's butcher.

Caesar drew rein a short distance from the platform, and made a sign
with his hand. Immediately the twenty-five prisoners, the bard and
druids passing last, mounted with calm tread the steps of the scaffold.
One by one they placed their white heads on the block, and each one of
the venerable heads, stricken off by the axe of the Moor, rolled at the
feet of the bound captives.

The bard and the two druids were the only ones left. The three rushed
together in a final embrace, they raised their faces and their hands
towards heaven, and intoned in a loud voice the song of Hena, the virgin
of the isle of Sen, uttered at the hour of her voluntary sacrifice on
the rocks of Karnak, that song which had been the signal for the rising
of Brittany against the Romans:

"Hesus, Hesus! By the blood which is about to flow, clemency for Gaul!"

"Gauls, by the blood which is about to flow, victory to our arms!"

And the bard added:

"The Chief of the Hundred Valleys is safe. There is hope for our arms!"

Thereupon all the Gallic captives, men, women, and children present at
the execution, all together repeated the last words of the druids,
acclaiming them with so powerful a voice that the air shook even in my
prison. After that supreme chant, the three placed their sacred heads in
turn upon the block, and went the same way as the elders of Vannes. As
the bard's and the druids' heads rolled upon the scaffold, all the
captives took up the war-cry of the druids - "Strike the Roman! Strike at
the head!" - in a voice so fierce and menacing that the legionaries,
lowering their lances, hurriedly surrounded the unarmed and chained
prisoners in a circle of iron, bristling with lance heads. But that
mighty voice of their brothers and sisters had reached the wounded men
shut up in the slave-shed, and all, myself included, answered the
refrain:

"Strike the Roman! Strike! Strike at the head! Strike the Roman hard!"

Thus ended the war in Brittany. Thus ended the call to arms made by the
druids from the heights of the sacred rocks of the forest of Karnak,
after the sacrifice of Hena - the call to arms that led to the battle of
Vannes. But in my lonely cell I did not yet lose hope. Our native Gaul,
although invaded on all sides, would still resist. The Chief of the
Hundred Valleys, forced to leave Brittany, had gone to arouse the
regions still unvanquished.




CHAPTER XI.

THE SLAVES' TOILET.


Night fell, and with it my spirits, in my lonely prison.

Hesus! Hesus! I was left to the torture, not alone of my thoughts about
my sacred and beloved country, but also of my reflections concerning the
misfortunes of my family. Alas, at every wound inflicted upon our
country our families bleed.

Forcibly resigned to my lot, I little by little regained my natural
strength, encouraged each day by the hope of obtaining from the
"horse-dealer" some intelligence of my children. I described them to him
as accurately as possible. Every day his report was that among the
captives seen there were none answering to my description, but that
several merchants made a practice of hiding their choice slaves from all
eyes until the day of the public sale. The dealer also informed me that
the patrician Trymalcion, whose very name now made me shudder with
horror, had arrived at Vannes in his galley.

The evening before the sale, the dealer entered my room. It was, almost
dark. He brought in the meal himself, and waited on me. He brought as an
extra a flagon of old Gallic wine.

"Friend Bull," said he, with his habitual joviality, "I am satisfied
with you. Your skin is almost filled up. You have no more crazy spells
of anger, and if you don't appear exceedingly joyous, at least I no
longer find you sad and tearful. We will drink this flagon together, to
your happy placing with a good master, and to the gain which I shall get
by you."

"No," I answered, "I shall not drink."

"And why not?"

"Servitude sours wine, especially the wine of the country where one was
born."

"You respond ill to my kindness. You do not wish to drink? Suit
yourself. I would have liked to empty one cup to your happy placing, and
a second to your reunion with your children. I have my reasons for the
latter."

"What say you!" I cried aloud, filled with hope and anguish. "You know
something about them?"

"I know nothing about them," he answered curtly, rising to go out. "You
refuse my friendly advance. You have supped well - now sleep well."

"But what do you know of my children? Speak, I beg you, speak!"

"Wine alone loosens my tongue, friend Bull, and I am not one of those
men who loves to drink by himself. You are too proud to empty a cup with
your master. Sleep well till to-morrow, the day of the auction."

He took another step toward the door. I feared that by refusing to yield
to the man's fancy I would anger him, and above all lose the chance of
obtaining news of my beloved children.

"Do you really wish it?" I said. "Then I shall drink, and especially
shall I drink to the hope of soon meeting my son and daughter."

"You pray well," answered the "horse-dealer" approaching his chattel,
but keeping the chain's length away; then he poured me a full cup of
wine, and another for himself. I later recollected that the man had held
the cup a long time to his lips, but without my being able to see
whether he drank or not. "Come," he added. "Come, let us drink to the
good gain I shall make on you!"

"Yes, let us drink to the hope of meeting my children."

I emptied my cup. The wine seemed excellent.

"I made you a promise," began the dealer, "I shall keep my promise. You
told me that the chariot which held your family on the day of the battle
of Vannes was harnessed to four black oxen?"

"Yes."

"Four black oxen, with a little white mark in the middle of their
foreheads?"

"Yes, all four were brothers, and alike," I answered, unable to repress
a sigh at the thought of that fine yoke, raised on our own meadows,
which my father and mother had always admired.

"Those oxen carried on their necks leathern collars trimmed with little
brass bells like this one?" continued the "horse-dealer," fumbling in
his pocket, out of which he drew a little brass bell that he held up
before me.

I recognized it. It had been made by my brother Mikael, the armorer,
and bore the mark with which he stamped all the articles of his
fashioning.

"This bell comes from our oxen," I answered. "Will you give it to me? It
has no value."

"What," asked the dealer, laughing, "do you want to hang bells at your
neck too, friend Bull? It is your right. Here, take it. I brought it
only to know from you if the yoke it came from was of your family's
chariot."

"Yes," I replied, putting the bell into my breeches pocket, as, perhaps,
the only reminder of the past which might be left to me. "Yes, that yoke
was ours. But it seems to me that I saw two of the oxen fall wounded in
the fight."

"You are not mistaken. Two of the oxen were killed in the battle. The
other two, though slightly wounded, are alive, and were bought by one of
my companions, who also bought three children left in the chariot. Two
of them, a little boy and a little girl of about eight or nine, still
had the cord around their necks. But my companion who found them was
luckily able to bring them back to life."

"Where is that merchant?" I asked, in a tremble.

"Here, at Vannes. You will see him to-morrow. We drew lots for our
places at the auction, our stands are opposite to each other. If the
children he is to sell are yours, you will be near them."

"Shall I be really close?"

"You will be as close to them as twice the length of your room. But why
do you press your hands to your forehead?"

"I don't know. It is a long time since I have drunk wine. The glow of
what you poured out to me has gone to my head - a few seconds ago - I feel
giddy."

"That proves, friend Bull, that my wine is generous," answered the
"horse-dealer" with a strange smile, and stepping out, he called to one
of the keepers. Presently he returned with a chest under his arm. He
carefully shut the door, and hung a piece of curtain before the window,
to prevent anyone looking from without into the room, which was now
lighted by a lamp. That done, he again passed his eyes very attentively
over me, without saying a word, all the while opening his chest, from
which he took several flasks, sponges, a little silver vase with a long
curved tube, and also several instruments, one of which seemed very
keen. I watched my master closely, feeling an inexplicable numbness
gradually creeping over me. My heavy eye-lids fell once or twice in
spite of myself. I had been seated on my bed of straw, to which I was
still chained; but now I was compelled to lean my head against the wall,
so heavy had it grown. Noticing the effect of the wine upon me, the
"horse-dealer" said:

"Friend Bull, do not be disturbed at what is happening to you."

"What - " I answered, trying to shake off my stupor, "What is happening
to me?"

"You feel a sort of half-drowse creeping over you in spite of your
resistance."

"True."

"You hear me, you see me, but as if your ears and eyes were covered with
a veil."

"It is true," I murmured, for my voice also was growing weak, and
without experiencing any pain, my whole life seemed to be little by
little ebbing out. Nevertheless, I made an effort, and said to the man:

"Why am I in this condition!"

"Because I have prepared you for the slaves' toilet."

"A toilet?"

"I possess, friend Bull, certain magic philters to increase the
attractiveness of my merchandise. Although you are now quite well filled
out, the deprivation of exercise and the open air, the fever which your
wounds caused, the sadness which captivity always occasions, and many
other things, have dried and dulled your skin, and turned you yellow.
But thanks to my philters, to-morrow morning you will have a skin as
fresh and sleek, and a color as ruddy as if you were coming in from the
fields some lovely spring morning, my fine rustic. That appearance will
last barely a day or two, but I expect, by Jupiter, to have you sold by
to-morrow evening, free to turn yellow and waste away under your new
master. So I am going to commence by stripping you, and anointing you
with this preparation of oil." The "horse-dealer" unlocked one of his
flasks.[23]

The performance affected me as so deep a disgrace put upon my dignity,
that in spite of the numbness which was more and more depressing me, I
sprang to my feet, and shaking my hands and arms, then unshackled, cried
out:

"To-day I have no manacles on. If you come near I will strangle you!"

"I foresaw all that, friend Bull," chuckled the "horse-dealer," calmly
pouring the oil of his flask into a vase and soaking a sponge in it. "I
knew you would get hot and resist. I might have had you bound by the
keepers, but in your violence you would have bruised your limbs, a
detestable sign for the sale. These bruises always denote a stubborn
slave. And all the time, what cries you would have let out! What a
rebellion, when your head had to be shaved, in token of your slavery!"

At this last insulting threat, I called up all my remaining strength. I
arose, and threateningly cried out at the dealer:

"By Ritha-Gaur, the saint of the Gauls, who made himself a shirt of the
beards of the kings he had shaved, if you dare to touch a single hair of
my head, I'll kill you!"[24]

"Oh, oh! Reassure yourself, friend Bull," answered the "horse-dealer,"
pointing to his little sharp instrument. "Reassure yourself. I shall not
cut a single one of your hairs - but all."

I could retain my standing position no longer. Swaying on my legs like a
drunken man, I fell back on the straw, and heard the "horse-dealer"
burst out laughing, and, while still pointing at his steel instrument,
say:

"Thanks to this, your forehead will soon be as bald as that of the great
Caesar, whom, you say, you carried on your horse in full armor. And the
magic philter which you drank in that Gallic wine will put you at my
mercy, quiet as a corpse."

The "horse-dealer" spoke true. These words were the last I remember. A
leaden torpor fell upon me, and I lost all knowledge of what was done
with me.




CHAPTER XII.

SOLD INTO BONDAGE.


The experience of that evening was only the prelude for a horrid day, a
day doubly horrid due to the mystery that surrounded it.

Aye, to this hour, when I write this for you, O my son Sylvest, to the
end that from this truthful and detailed account, in which I recite to
you one by one the torments and the indignities heaped upon our country
and our race, you may contract a hate implacable for the Romans, while
awaiting the day of vengeance and deliverance; - aye, to this hour the
mysteries of that horrid day of sale are still impenetrable to me,
unless they be explained by the sorceries of the "horse-dealer," many of
his people being given to magic. But our venerable druids affirm that
magic does not exist.

The day of the auction I was roused from my stupor by my master. I had
slept profoundly. I remembered what had occurred the previous evening.
My first movement was to carry my hands to my head. It was shaved, and
my beard also! A thrill of anguish shot through me at the discovery; but
instead of flying into a rage, as I would have done the evening before,
I only shed a few tears, fearfully regarding the "horse-dealer." Aye, I
cried before that man - aye, I looked at him with fear.

What could have come over me during the night? Was I still under the
influence of the philter poured into the wine? No, my torpor had gone. I
found myself active of body, and in sound mind, but in character and
heart I found myself softened, enervated, timid, - and, why not say the
word? - cowardly! Aye, cowardly! I, Guilhern, son of Joel, the brenn of
the tribe of Karnak. I looked timidly around me. Every minute my heart
seemed to sink, and tears came to my eyes, as formerly the flush of
anger and pride had mantled my forehead. Of this inexplicable
transformation, due, perhaps, to sorcery, I was dimly conscious and
wondered thereat. Down to this day, when I recall the incident, I
wonder, and none of the details of the horrid day has escaped from my
memory.

The "horse-dealer" observed me in silence with an air of triumph. He had
left me my breeches only. I was stripped to the waist. I was seated on
my bed of straw. The dealer addressed me:

"Get up!" said he.

I hastened to obey. My master drew from his pocket a steel mirror,
handed it to me, and resumed:

"Look at yourself!"

I looked at myself. Thanks to the witch-craft of my master, my cheeks
were red, my face clear, as if awful misfortune had not settled upon me
and my family. Nevertheless, on seeing for the first time in the mirror
my face and head completely shaved, as the badge of my bondage, I shed
fresh tears, but tried to hide them from the "horse-dealer," for fear
of annoying him. He replaced the mirror in his pocket, took from the
table a braided wreath of beech leaves,[25] and said:

"Put your head down."

I obeyed. The dealer put the wreath on my head. Then he took a parchment
on which were written several lines in large Roman characters, and hung
the inscription on my chest by means of two strings which he tied behind
my neck. Over my shoulders he threw a woolen covering. Then he opened
the secret spring which held my chain to the end of the bed, and
fastened it to another iron ring which had been riveted on my other
ankle during my heavy sleep. This way, although chained by both legs, I
could still walk with short steps. Finally, my hands were bound behind
me.

Obedient to the "horse-dealer's" orders, whom I followed as quiet and
submissive as a dog does his master, I descended the stairs which led
from my cell to the shed. The descent was affected not without pain to
my limbs owing to the shortness of the chain. In the shed I found
several captives, among whom I had passed my first night, lying upon
straw. No doubt their recovery was far enough advanced to admit of their
being put up for sale. Other slaves whose heads had likewise been
shaved, either by trick or by force, also wore wreaths on their
foreheads, inscriptions on their breasts, handcuffs on their hands and
heavy shackles on their feet. They had started, under the supervision of
armed keepers, to defile by a door which opened on the town square. It
was there the auction sale was to be held. Nearly all the captives
seemed to me to be mournful, depressed and submissive like myself. They
lowered their eyes like men ashamed to look at one another. Among the
last, I recognized two or three men of my own tribe. One of them passed
close to me, and said in a low voice:

"Guilhern, we are shaven; but hair will grow again, and nails also."

I comprehended that the Gaul wished to give me to understand that some
day would come the hour of vengeance. But in the great cowardice which
paralyzed me since my awakening, such was my fear of the "horse-dealer"
that I pretended not to understand my countryman.[26]

The space engaged by the "horse-dealer" for the auction was not a great
way from the shed where we had been kept prisoners. We speedily arrived
at a sort of booth or stall, surrounded on three sides by planks,
covered with canvas, and with the floor strewn with straw. Other booths,
similar to it, were arranged to the right and left of a long space like
a street. In this space Roman officers and soldiery walked in crowds,
together with the buyers and sellers of slaves and various other men who
follow in the wake of armies. They looked at the captives chained in the
booths with a jeering and insulting curiosity. My master had informed
me that his stall in the market was directly opposite that of his
companion in whose possession were the two children. A cloth was lowered
over the opening. I only heard, a few moments later, imprecations and
piercing shrieks, mingled with mournful moans, from women, who were
crying in Gallic:

"Death, death, but not disgrace!"

"Those timorous fools are playing the vestals, because they are stripped
naked to be shown to the customers," said the "horse-dealer," who had
kept near me. Presently he took me to the rear of the booth. On the way
I counted nine captives, some in their youth, others middle-aged, and
only two were past their prime. Some were seated on the straw, their
faces turned down to escape the looks of the curious, others were lying
prone, their faces to the ground; a few stood erect casting fierce
glances around them. The keepers, their scourges in their hands, their
swords at their sides, kept watch. The "horse-dealer" pointed to a
wooden cage, a sort of large box at the back of the booth, and said to
me:

"Friend Bull, you are the pearl, the carbuncle of my assortment. Enter
this cage. The comparisons which would be made between you and my other
slaves would lower their value too much. As a thrifty merchant, I will
try to sell first what is of least value. One sells the small fry before
the big fish."[27]

I obeyed. I went into the cage, and the door was closed upon me. I
found that I could stand up. An opening through the top permitted me to
breathe without being seen from the outside. Just then a bell sounded.
It was the signal for the sale. On all sides arose the squeaky voices of
the auctioneers announcing the bids of the purchasers of human flesh.
The merchants bragged their slaves in the Roman tongue, and invited the
purchaser into their booths. Several customers entered to inspect the
"horse-dealer's" stock. Without understanding the words that he spoke, I
guessed by the inflections of his voice that he strove to capture them,
while the auctioneer all the while called out the bids. From time to
time a loud tumult arose in the booth, mingled with the sound of the
keepers' lashes, and the curses of the dealer. Evidently they were
scourging some of my companions in slavery who refused to follow the new
master to whom they had been "knocked down." But speedily the clamor
ceased, choked off by the gag. Other times I heard the trampings of a
confused struggle, desperate, though muffled. These struggles also came
to an end under the efforts of the keepers. I was frightened at the
courage displayed by the captives. I no longer understood resistance or
boldness. I was plunged into my cowardly sluggishness. All at once the
door of my cage opened, and the "horse-dealer" cried out in great glee:

"All sold, save you, my pearl, my carbuncle. And by Mercury, to whom I
promise an offering in recognition of my day's profits, I believe I have
found for you a purchaser by private contract."

My master made me step out of my cage; I traversed the booth, in which I
saw not a single slave left. I found myself face to face with a gray
haired man, of a cold, hard countenance. He wore the military dress,
limped very badly, and supported himself on a vine-wood cane, which was
the mark of the centurion rank in the Roman army. The dealer lifted from
my shoulders the woolen covering in which I was wrapped, and left me
stripped to the waist; he then made me get out of my breeches also. My
master, with the air of a man proud of his merchandise, thus exposed my
nakedness to the customer. Several of the curious, assembled outside of
the stall, looked in and contemplated me. I dropped my eyes in shame and
sorrow, not in anger.

After the prospective purchaser read the writing which hung from my
neck, he looked me over carefully, answering with affirmative nods of
the head to what the merchant, with his usual volubility, was saying to
him in Latin. Often he stopped to measure, with his spread out fingers,
the size of my chest, the thickness of my arms, or the width of my
shoulders.

His first examination must have pleased the centurion, for my master
said to me: "Be proud for your master, friend Bull, your build is found
faultless. 'See' - I just said to the customer - 'would not the Grecian
sculptors have taken this superb slave as a model for a Hercules?' My
customer agreed with me. Now you must show him that your strength and
agility are not inferior to your appearance."

My master pointed to a lead weight in readiness for the trial, and said
to me while loosening my arms:

"Now put on your breeches again, then take this weight in your two
hands, lift it over your head, and hold it there as long as you can."

I was about, in my stupid docility, to do as I was bid, when the
centurion stooped towards the weight, and attempted to lift it from the
ground, which he did, with much difficulty, while my master said to me:

"This mischievous cripple is as foxy as myself. He knows that many
dealers use hollow weights which appear to weigh two or three times as
much as they actually do. Come, friend Bull, show this suspicious fellow
that you are as powerful as you are well built."

My strength was not yet entirely returned. Nevertheless, I took the
heavy weight in my hands, throwing it over my head, and balanced it
there a moment. A vague idea flitted at that instant across my mind to
let the weight fall on my master's skull, and thus crush him at my feet.
But that gleam of my bygone courage died out, and I dropped the weight
on the ground. The lame Roman seemed satisfied.

"Better and better, friend Bull," said my master to me, "by Hercules,
your patron god, never did a slave do more honor to his owner. Your
strength is demonstrated. Now let us witness your agility. Two keepers
will hold this wooden bar about half a yard from the ground. Although
your feet are in chains, you will jump over the bar several times.
Nothing will better prove the strength and nimbleness of your muscles."

In spite of my recent wounds, and the weight of my chain, I leaped
several times with my joined feet over the bar, to the increasing
satisfaction of the centurion.[28]

"Better and better," repeated my master. "You are proven as strong as
you are powerfully built, and as limber as both. It now remains to
exhibit the inoffensive gentleness of your nature. As to this last
proof, I am, in advance, certain of your success," saying which he again
bound my hands behind my back.

At first I did not understand what the dealer meant. But he took a
scourge from the hand of a keeper, and pointing with its handle to me,
spoke to the purchaser in a low voice. The latter made a gesture of
assent, and my master passed the scourge over to the centurion.

"The old fox, still suspicious, fears that I would not strike you hard


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