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The Brass Bell; or, The Chariot of Death online

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enough, friend Bull," my master explained to me. "Come, do not make a
slip. Do me this last honor, and gain me this last profit, by showing
that you endure chastisement patiently."

Hardly had he pronounced the words, when the cripple rained a shower of
blows on my shoulders and chest. I felt neither shame nor indignation,
only pain. I fell down on my knees in tears and begged for mercy.
Outside, the curious crowd, gathered at the door, roared with laughter.

The centurion, surprised at so much resignation in a Gaul, dropped the
whip, and looked at my master who by his gesture seemed to say:

"Did I deceive you?"

Thereupon, patting me with the flat of his hand on my lacerated back,
the same as one would pat an animal that pleased him, my master said to
me:

"If you are a bull for strength, you are a lamb for meekness. I expected
so. Now some questions as to your laborer's trade, and the sale is
concluded. The customer wishes to know in what place you were employed."

"In the tribe of Karnak," I answered, with a cowardly sigh, "there my
family and I cultivated the lands of our fathers."

The "horse-dealer" reported my answer to the cripple, who seemed both
surprised and pleased. He exchanged a few words with the dealer, who
continued:

"The customer asks where the lands and house of your fathers were
situated."

"Not far to the east of the rocks of Karnak, on the heights of Craig'h."

At this answer the Roman was so pleased that he seemed hardly to believe
what he heard, and the "horse-dealer" turned to me:

"That cripple beats all for distrustfulness. To be certain that I do not
deceive him, and that I have translated your words faithfully to him, he
demands that you trace before him on the sand, the position of the lands
and house of your family with reference to the rocks of Karnak and the
sea-shore. Unfortunately I don't know his reasons, for if it were a
convenience to him, I would make him pay for it. But do as he bids
you."

My hands were once more loosed. I took the handle of a lash from one of
the keepers, and traced with it on the sand, followed by the eager eyes
of the centurion, the location of the rocks of Karnak and the coast of
Craig'h, and then the place of our dwelling to the east of Karnak.

The cripple clapped his hands for joy. He drew from his pocket a long
purse, took out a certain number of gold pieces, and offered them to the
"horse-dealer." After a long chaffer, seller and buyer finally reached
an agreement.

"By Mercury," said the dealer to me; "I have sold you for thirty-eight
sous of gold, one-half cash as a deposit, the other half at the close of
the market, when the lame fellow will come to fetch you. Was I wrong
when I called you the carbuncle of my stock?" After exchanging a few
words with the centurion, he turned to me:

"Your new master - and I can understand it, seeing he has paid so good a
price for you - your new master is of the opinion that you are not
chained securely enough. He wants clogs fastened to your chain. He will
come for you in a chariot."

In addition to my chain, I was loaded down with two heavy clogs of iron,
which would have prevented me from moving except by leaping with both
feet; even if I could lift so heavy a weight. My manacles were carefully
inspected and locked on my wrists, and I sat down in a corner of the
stall while the dealer counted and recounted his gold.




CHAPTER XIII.

THE BOOTH ACROSS THE WAY.


While I sat in my former master's stall awaiting the arrival of my new
purchaser to take me away, the cloth that covered the entrance of the
opposite stall was raised.

On one side were three beautiful young women, the same, I doubted not,
who a little before had filled the air with groans and supplications
while their clothes were being torn off them, in order to exhibit their
charms to purchasers. They were still half nude, their feet bare,
plastered with chalk[29] and fastened by rings to a long iron bar.
Huddled close together, these three held one another in such close
embrace that two of them, still crushed down with shame, hid their faces
in the bosom of the third. The latter, pale and somber, hung her head,
letting her disheveled black hair fall before her bruised and naked
breast - bruised no doubt in the vain struggle against the keepers who
disrobed her. A short distance from them, two little children, three or
four years old, bound around their waists merely by a light cord
fastened to a stake, laughed and played in the straw with the
heedlessness common to their age. The children evidently did not belong
to either of the three women.

At the other side of the stall I saw a matron of the noble carriage of
my mother Margarid. Manacles were on her wrists, shackles on her ankles.
She was standing, leaning against a beam to which she was chained by the
waist. She stood still as a statue; her grey hair disordered, her eyes
fixed, her face livid and fearful. Time and again she gave vent to a
burst of threatening and crazy laughter. Finally, at the rear of the
stall, was a cage resembling the one which I myself had occupied. In
that cage, if what the "horse-dealer" said was true, would be my two
children. Tears filled my eyes. In spite of my weakness, the thought of
my children, so close to me, caused a flush of warmth to rise to my
face - a symptom of my returning powers.

And now, Sylvest, my son, you for whom I write this report, read slowly
what is now about to follow. Aye, read slowly, to the end that every
word may imbue your soul with its indelible hatred for the Romans - a
hatred that I feel certain must some day, the day of vengeance, break
out with terrific force. Read, my son, and you will understand how your
mother, after having given life to you and your sister, after having
heaped all her tenderness upon you, could in the end give you no
stronger proof of her maternal love than by endeavoring to kill you, to
the end that she might carry you hence, to return to life in the other
world at her side and in the circle of our family. Alas! You survived
her foresight!

This, my son, is what happened!

I had my eyes fixed on the cage in which I surmised you and your sister
were imprisoned, when I saw an old man, richly dressed, enter the stall.
It was the rich patrician Trymalcion, worn out as much by debauchery as
by years. His dull, cold, corpse-like eyes seemed to look into vacancy.
His hideously wrinkled visage was half hidden under a coat of thick
paint. He wore a frizzled yellow wig, earrings blazing with precious
stones, and in the girdle of his robe a large bouquet, of which his red
plush mantle off and on allowed a glimpse.[30] He painfully dragged his
limbs after him, leaning on the shoulders of two young slaves fifteen or
sixteen years of age, who were luxuriously dressed, but in such a style,
and so effeminately, that it was impossible to tell whether they were
young men or girls. Two other and older slaves followed. One carried
under his arm his master's thick cloak, the other a golden
night-vessel.[31]

The proprietor of the stall hastened to receive his patrician customer
with tokens of reverence, exchanged a few words with him, and then moved
forward a stool on which the old man let himself down. As the seat had
no back, one of the young slaves immediately stationed himself
motionless behind his master, to serve him as a support, while the other
slave lay down on the ground at a sign from the patrician, lifted his
feet, which were encased in rich sandals, and wrapping them in a fold of
his own robe, held them to his breast to warm them.[32]

Thus supported with his back and feet on the bodies of his slaves, the
old man spoke some words to the merchant. The latter first pointed
toward the three half-naked women. At sight of them, Trymalcion turned
half way round and spat at them, as if to evince the most sovereign
disdain.

At this indignity, the old man's slaves and the Romans, assembled in the
vicinity of the stall, broke into coarse laughter. Then the merchant
pointed out to lord Trymalcion the two children playing on the straw.
The senile debauchee shrugged his shoulders, while he uttered some
horrible words. His words must have been horrible, because the laughter
redoubled.

The merchant, hoping at last to please so fastidious a customer, went up
to the cage, opened it, and brought out three children, draped in long
white veils which hid their faces. Two of the children corresponded in
height to my son and daughter; the other was smaller. The smallest one
was the first to be unveiled to the eyes of the old man. I recognized
her as the daughter of one of my relatives, whose husband was killed in
the defense of the chariot; the mother had killed herself with the other
women of the family, forgetting in that supreme moment, to kill the
little one. The girl was sickly and without beauty. Patrician Trymalcion
looked her over rapidly and made an impatient gesture with his hand, as
if annoyed that they should dare to offer to his sight so unattractive
an object. She was, accordingly, taken back to the cage by a keeper. The
other two children remained, still veiled.

I was eagerly watching these events from the corner of the
"horse-dealer's" stall, my arms pinioned behind my back with double iron
manacles, my legs chained and my feet fastened by fetters of enormous
weight. I still felt under the influence of the sorcery that had been
practiced upon me. Nevertheless, my blood, so long frozen in my veins,
began to circulate more and more freely. A slight tremor occasionally
went through my limbs. The spell was breaking. I was not the only one to
tremble. The young Gallic women and the matron, forgetting their own
shame and despair, experienced in their hearts of maid, of wife, or
mother, a frightful horror at the fate of the children offered to that
detestable old man.

Although half nude, they no longer thought of withdrawing themselves
from the licentious looks of the spectators who were crowding at the
entrance to the booth. Their eyes brooded with motherly terror upon the
two veiled children, while the matron, bound to the post, her eyes
glittering and her teeth set in impotent fury, raised her chained arms
to heaven as if to call down the punishments of the gods upon such
monstrosities.

At a sign from lord Trymalcion, the veils dropped - I recognized you
both - you, my son Sylvest and your sister Syomara. You were both pale
and wan; you were shivering with fear. Anguish was depicted in your
tear-bathed faces. The long blonde hair of my little girl fell upon her
shoulders. She dared not raise her eyes, neither did you; you held each
other by the hand, closely clasped. Despite the terror that disfigured
her face, I beheld my daughter in her singular and infantine
beauty - accursed beauty! At sight of her Trymalcion's dead eyes lighted
up and glistened like glowing coals in the middle of his wrinkled,
paint-covered visage. He stood up, stretched out his emaciated arms
towards my daughter as if to seize his prey, while a shocking smile
disclosed his yellow teeth. Terror-stricken, Syomara threw herself back
and clung to your neck. The merchant quickly tore you from each other
and brought Syomara to the old man. The latter impatiently pushed away
with his foot the slave that crouched on the ground before him, and
grabbing my little girl, took her between his knees. He easily subdued
the efforts she made to escape, while she uttered piercing cries; he
violently snapped the strings that fastened my little girl's robe, and
stripped her half naked in order to examine her chest and shoulders.
While this was going on, the merchant was holding you back, my son, and
I - the father of the two victims - I, loaded with chains, beheld the
spectacle. At the sight of this crime of the patrician Trymalcion,
outraging the chastity of a child, the three fettered Gallic women and
the matron made a desperate but vain effort to break from their irons,
and began to pour out a torrent of imprecations and groans.

Trymalcion finished complacently his disgusting examination, and said a
few words to the merchant. Immediately a keeper replaced the robe on my
girl, who was more dead than alive, wrapped her up in her long white
veil, which he tied around her, and taking the slender burden under his
arm, held himself in readiness to follow the old man, who was taking
some gold from his purse to pay the merchant. At that moment of supreme
despair - you and your sister, poor little ones bewildered with terror,
cried out as if you believed you would be heard and succored:

"Mother! Father!"

Up to that moment I had witnessed the scene panting, almost crazy with
grief and rage. Slowly my heart, struggling against the sorcery of the
"horse-dealer," was gaining the upper hand. But at that cry, uttered by
you and your sister, the charm broke with a clap. All my intelligence,
all my courage rushed back to me. The sight of you two gave me such a
shock, it threw me into such a transport of rage that, unable to break
my irons, I rose upon my feet, and, with my hands still pinioned behind
me, my legs still loaded with heavy chains, I bounded out of my stall
with two leaps, and fell like a thunderbolt upon the old patrician. The
shock caused the old man to roll under me. In default of the liberty of
my hands to strangle him, I bit him in the face, near the neck. The
"horse-dealers" and their keepers threw themselves upon me; but bearing
with all my weight upon the hideous old debauchee, who was howling at
the top of his voice, I kept my teeth in his flesh. The monster's blood
filled my mouth - a shower of whip lashes and blows from sticks and
stones rained upon me - yet I budged not. No more than our old war dog
Deber-Trud the man-eater did I drop my prey. - No! - Like the dog, when I
did let go, it was only to carry away between my teeth - a strip of
flesh, a bleeding mouthful that I spat back into Trymalcion's hideous,
tortured face, as he had spat at the Gallic women.

"Father! Father!" you cried out to me through the tumult. Wishing then
to approach you two, my children, I stood up, an object of terror - aye,
terror. For a moment a circle of fear surrounded the Gallic slave, with
his load of irons.

"Father! Father!" you cried again, stretching out your little arms, in
spite of the keepers who held you back. I made a bound toward you, but
the merchant, from the top of the cage where you had been confined,
suddenly threw a large piece of cloth over my head. At the same time I
was seized by the legs, thrown down, and tied with a thousand bonds. The
cloth, which covered my head and shoulders, was tied down around my
neck, and through it they made a gap, which unfortunately permitted me
to breathe - I had hoped to smother.

I felt myself being carried across to my own booth, where I was thrown
on the straw, incapable of making the slightest motion. Quite a while
later I heard the centurion, my new master, in a sharp altercation with
the "horse-dealer" and the merchant who had sold Syomara to Trymalcion.
Presently they all went out. Silence reigned around me. Some time later,
the dealer returned; he approached me; he kicked me angrily; he tore off
the cover from my face, and said to me in a voice trembling with rage:

"Scoundrel! Do you know what it has cost me, that mouthful of flesh you
tore out of the face of the noble Trymalcion? Do you know, ferocious
beast? That mouthful of flesh cost me twenty sous of gold! More than
half of what I sold you for, for I am responsible for your misdeeds,
wretch! while you are in my stall, double villain! So that it is I who
have made a present of your daughter to the old man. She was sold to him
for twenty gold sous, which I paid in his stead. He insisted upon it.
And even so I got off cheaply. He demanded that indemnity."[33]

"That monster is not dead! Hena! he is not dead!" I cried in despair.
"And my daughter is not dead either! Hesus, Teutates, take pity on my
daughter!"

"Your daughter, gallows bird! Your daughter is in Trymalcion's hands,
and it is upon her he will wreak his revenge on you. He rejoices over
the circumstance in advance. He sometimes is taken with savage caprices,
and is rich enough to indulge them."

I was unable to make answer to these words, save with long drawn out
moans.

"And that is not all, infamous scoundrel! I have lost the confidence of
the centurion to whom I sold you. He reproached me with having
outrageously deceived him; with having sold him, instead of a lamb, a
tiger who exercised his teeth upon rich patricians. He wanted to sell
you right back. To sell you back, as if anyone would consent to
buy - after such an exhibition! As well buy a wild beast. Luckily for me,
I received the deposit before witnesses. The fierceness of your nature
will not set aside the contract; the centurion has no choice but to keep
you. He'll keep you, I warrant, but he'll make you pay dear for your
criminal instincts. Oh, you don't know the life that awaits you in the
_ergastula_! You don't know - "

"But my son," I asked, interrupting the "horse-dealer," well knowing
that he would answer out of cruelty. "Is my son also sold? To whom?"

"Sold? And who do you think would still want him? Sold? Better say given
away. You bring bad luck to everybody, double traitor. Did not your
ragings and the shrieks of that mis-born limb teach everyone that he is
of your beastly blood? No one offered even an obole for him! Who would
buy a wolf's whelp? Anyway, I was going to speak to you about that son
of yours, to delight your father's heart. Know that he was given to boot
by my partner at the end of the sale, to the same purchaser to whom he
sold the grey-haired matron, who will be good to turn a mill-wheel."

"And that purchaser," I enquired, "who is he? What is he going to do
with my son?"

"That purchaser is the centurion - your master!"

"Hesus!" I exclaimed, hardly able to believe what I heard. "Hesus, you
are kind and merciful. At least I shall have my son near me."

"Your son near you! Then you are as stupid as you are scoundrelly. Ah,
do you imagine that it is for your paternal contentment that your master
has burdened himself with that wolf-cub? Do you know what your master
said to me? 'I have only one means of subduing that savage beast you
sold me, you egregious cheat. - The chances are, that madman loves his
little one. I'll keep the wolf-whelp in a cage, and the son will answer
to me for the father's docility. - At the father's first, and least
offence, he will see the tortures which he will make his cub suffer,
under my very eyes.'"

I paid no further attention to what the "horse-dealer" said - I was at
least sure of seeing you, or of knowing that you were near me, my child.
That will help me to bear the awful grief caused to me by the fate of my
little daughter Syomara, who, two days later, was carried into Italy on
board the galley of the patrician Trymalcion.

* * * * *

My father Guilhern was not granted time to finish his narrative.

Death - oh, what a death! - death overtook him the very day after he
traced the above last lines. I preserve them together with the little
brass bell that my father got from the "horse-dealer."

The narrative of the sufferings of our race, I, Sylvest, shall continue
in obedience to my father Guilhern, the same as he obeyed the behest of
his father Joel the brenn of the tribe of Karnak.

Hesus was merciful to you, O, my father. - You died ignorant of the life
of your daughter Syomara -

It is left to me to narrate my sister's fate.


THE END.


FOOTNOTES:

[1] A short distance from the town of St. Nazaire, which is still in
existence.

[2] The patriotism of the Russians in burning Moscow in order to starve
and drive out Napoleon's army is justly admired. But how much more
admirable was the heroic patriotism of these old Gauls! Not only
Brittany, but almost a third of Gaul was delivered to the flames. See
Caesar, _De Bello Gallico_, lib. VII, ch. XIV. Also Amedée Thierry,
_History of the Gauls_, vol. III, p. 103: "The Chief of the Hundred
Valleys was heard with calm and resignation. Not a murmur interrupted
him, not an objection was raised against the heavy sacrifice which he
demanded. It was with one voice that the heads of the tribes voted the
ruin of their fortunes and the scattering of their families. This
terrible remedy was at once applied to the country which they feared
would be occupied by the enemy ... On every hand one perceived nothing
but the fire and smoke of burning habitations. In the light of these
flames, across the ruins and the ashes of their homes, an innumerable
population wended their way towards the frontier, where shelter and food
awaited them. Their sorrow and suffering was not without consolation,
since it would lead to the safety of their country."

[3] The shark.

[4] A Gallic war cry, signifying "Strike at the head - down with them."

[5] A troop composed of cavalry (_mahrek_) and footmen (_droad_).

"A certain number of Gallic cavalrymen chose among the foot-soldiers an
equal number of the most agile and courageous. Each of the latter
attended a horseman, and followed him in battle. The cavalry fell back
upon them if it was in danger, and the footmen ran up; if a wounded
horseman fell from his charger, the foot-soldier succored and defended
him. When it became necessary to make a rapid advance or retreat,
exercise had made these foot-soldiers so agile that, hanging on by the
manes of the horses, they kept up with the cavalry in its rapid
movement." - Caesar, _De Bello Gallico_, book I, ch. XLVIII.

[6] In this body of cavalry each horseman was followed by two equerries,
mounted and equipped, who remained behind in the body of the army. When
the battle was on, should the horseman be dismounted, the equerries gave
him one of their horses. If then the horseman's horse was killed, or the
horseman himself dangerously wounded, he was carried from the field by
one of the equerries, while the other took his place in the ranks. This
body of cavalry was called the _trimarkisia_, from two words which in
the Gallic tongue signify "three horses." - Amedée Thierry, _History of
the Gauls_, vol. I, p. 130. See also Pausanius, book X.

[7] "The Gauls had also their Pindars and their Tyrteuses, bards
exercising their talent to sing in heroic verse the deeds of great men,
and to inculcate in the people the love of glory." - Latour d'Auvergne,
_Gallic Origins_, p. 158.

[8] "The Gauls hold that it is a disgrace to live subjugated, and that
in all war there are but two outcomes for the man of courage - to conquer
or to die." - Nicolas Damasc; see also Strabo, serm. XII.

[9] "Caesar in his Commentaries, and after him the later historians,
took the title of command held by this hero of Gaul for his proper name,
and, by corruption, wrote _Vercingetorix_ in place of
Ver-cinn-cedo-righ, Chief of the Hundred Valleys," observes Amedée
Thierry (_History of the Gauls_, vol. III, p. 86). "Vercingetorix, a
native of Auvergne, was the son of Celtil, who, guilty of conspiring
against the freedom of his city, expiated on the pyre his ambition and
his crime. The young Gaul thus became heir to the goods of his father,
whose name he nevertheless blushed to bear. Having become the idol of
his people, he traveled to Rome and saw Caesar, who attempted to win his
good graces. But the Gaul rejected the friendship of his country's
enemy. Returned to his native land he labored secretly to reawaken among
his people the spirit of independence, and to raise up enemies against
the Romans. When the hour to call the people to arms was come, he showed
himself openly, in druid ceremonies, in political meetings; everywhere,
in short, he was seen employing his eloquence, his fortune, his credit,
in a word all his means of action upon the chiefs and on the multitude,
to spur them on to reconquer the rights of old Gaul." - Thierry.

[10] Here are Caesar's own words on this extraordinary event, taken from
his _Ephemerides_, or diary, wherein with his own hand he was accustomed
to enter day by day what of interest had occurred to him. These words
are transmitted to us by Servius:

"Caius Julius Caesar, cum dimicaret in Gallia, et ab hoste raptus, equo
ejus portaretur armatus, occurrit quidam ex hostibus qui cum nosset et
insultans ait: Ceco Caesar! quod in lingua Gallorum dimitte significat.
Et ita factum est ut dimitteretur.

"Hoc autem dicit ipse Caesar in Ephemeride sua ubi propriam commemorat
felicitatem." - Ex Servio LXI. Aeneid, edit. Amstelod, type Elsevir,
1650, ex antiquo Vatic. Extemp. cap. VIII.


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