"I ought to have carried her off!" Matho said in the evening to Spendius. "I should have seized her, and torn her from her house! No one would have dared to touch me!"
Spendius was not listening to him. Stretched on his back he was taking delicious rest beside a large jar filled with honey-coloured water, into which he would dip his head from time to time in order to drink more copiously.
"What is to be done? How can we re-enter Carthage?"
"I do not know," said Spendius.
Such impassibility exasperated Matho and he exclaimed:
"Why! the fault is yours! You carry me away, and then you forsake me, coward that you are! Why, pray, should I obey you? Do you think that you are my master? Ah! you prostituter, you slave, you son of a slave!" He ground his teeth and raised his broad hand above Spendius.
The Greek did not reply. An earthen lamp was burning gently against the tent-pole, where the zaimph shone amid the hanging panoply. Suddenly Matho put on his cothurni, buckled on his brazen jacket of mail, and took his helmet.
"Where are you going?" asked Spendius.
"I am returning! Let me alone! I will bring her back! And if they show themselves I will crush them like vipers! I will put her to death, Spendius! Yes," he repeated, "I will kill her! You shall see, I will kill her!"
But Spendius, who was listening eagerly, snatched up the zaimph abruptly and threw it into a corner, heaping up fleeces above it. A murmuring of voices was heard, torches gleamed, and Narr' Havas entered, followed by about twenty men.
They wore white woollen cloaks, long daggers, copper necklaces, wooden earrings, and boots of hyena skin; and standing on the threshold they leaned upon their lances like herdsmen resting themselves. Narr' Havas was the handsomest of all; his slender arms were bound with straps ornamented with pearls. The golden circlet which fastened his ample garment about his head held an ostrich feather which hung down behind his shoulder; his teeth were displayed in a continual smile; his eyes seemed sharpened like arrows, and there was something observant and airy about his whole demeanour.
He declared that he had come to join the Mercenaries, for the Republic had long been threatening his kingdom. Accordingly he was interested in assisting the Barbarians, and he might also be of service to them.
"I will provide you with elephants (my forests are full of them), wine, oil, barley, dates, pitch and sulphur for sieges, twenty thousand foot-soldiers and ten thousand horses. If I address myself to you, Matho, it is because the possession of the zaimph has made you chief man in the army. Moreover," he added, "we are old friends."
Matho, however, was looking at Spendius, who, seated on the sheep-skins, was listening, and giving little nods of assent the while. Narr' Havas continued speaking. He called the gods to witness he cursed Carthage. In his imprecations he broke a javelin. All his men uttered simultaneously a loud howl, and Matho, carried away by so much passion, exclaimed that he accepted the alliance.
A white bull and a black sheep, the symbols of day and night, were then brought, and their throats were cut on the edge of a ditch. When the latter was full of blood they dipped their arms into it. Then Narr' Havas spread out his hand upon Matho's breast, and Matho did the same to Narr' Havas. They repeated the stain upon the canvas of their tents. Afterwards they passed the night in eating, and the remaining portions of the meat were burnt together with the skin, bones, horns, and hoofs.
Matho had been greeted with great shouting when he had come back bearing the veil of the goddess; even those who were not of the Chanaanitish religion were made by their vague enthusiasm to feel the arrival of a genius. As to seizing the zaimph, no one thought of it, for the mysterious manner in which he had acquired it was sufficient in the minds of the Barbarians to justify its possession; such were the thoughts of the soldiers of the African race. The others, whose hatred was not of such long standing, did not know how to make up their minds. If they had had ships they would immediately have departed.
Spendius, Narr' Havas, and Matho despatched men to all the tribes on Punic soil.
Carthage was sapping the strength of these nations. She wrung exorbitant taxes from them, and arrears or even murmurings were punished with fetters, the axe, or the cross. It was necessary to cultivate whatever suited the Republic, and to furnish what she demanded; no one had the right of possessing a weapon; when villages rebelled the inhabitants were sold; governors were esteemed like wine-presses, according to the quantity which they succeeded in extracting. Then beyond the regions immediately subject to Carthage extended the allies roamed the Nomads, who might be let loose upon them. By this system the crops were always abundant, the studs skilfully managed, and the plantations superb.
The elder Cato, a master in the matters of tillage and slaves, was amazed at it ninety-two years later, and the death-cry which he repeated continually at Rome was but the exclamation of jealous greed.
During the last war the exactions had been increased, so that nearly all the towns of Libya had surrendered to Regulus. To punish them, a thousand talents, twenty thousand oxen, three hundred bags of gold dust, and considerable advances of grain had been exacted from them, and the chiefs of the tribes had been crucified or thrown to the lions.
Tunis especially execrated Carthage! Older than the metropolis, it could not forgive her her greatness, and it fronted her walls crouching in the mire on the water's edge like a venomous beast watching her. Transportation, massacres, and epidemics did not weaken it. It had assisted Archagathas, the son of Agathocles, and the Eaters of Uncleanness found arms there at once.
The couriers had not yet set out when universal rejoicing broke out in the provinces. Without waiting for anything they strangled the comptrollers of the houses and the functionaries of the Republic in the baths; they took the old weapons that had been concealed out of the caves; they forged swords with the iron of the ploughs; the children sharpened javelins at the doors, and the women gave their necklaces, rings, earrings, and everything that could be employed for the destruction of Carthage. Piles of lances were heaped up in the country towns like sheaves of maize. Cattle and money were sent off. Matho speedily paid the Mercenaries their arrears, and owing to this, which was Spendius's idea, he was appointed commander-in-chief—the schalishim of the Barbarians.
Reinforcements of men poured in at the same time. The aborigines appeared first, and were followed by the slaves from the country; caravans of Negroes were seized and armed, and merchants on their way to Carthage, despairing of any more certain profit, mingled with the Barbarians. Numerous bands were continually arriving. From the heights of the Acropolis the growing army might be seen.
But the guards of the Legion were posted as sentries on the platform of the aqueduct, and near them rose at intervals brazen vats, in which floods of asphalt were boiling. Below in the plain the great crowd stirred tumultuously. They were in a state of uncertainty, feeling the embarrassment with which Barbarians are always inspired when they meet with walls.
Utica and Hippo-Zarytus refused their alliance. Phoenician colonies like Carthage, they were self-governing, and always had clauses inserted in the treaties concluded by the Republic to distinguish them from the latter. Nevertheless they respected this strong sister of theirs who protected them, and they did not think that she could be vanquished by a mass of Barbarians; these would on the contrary be themselves exterminated. They desired to remain neutral and to live at peace.
But their position rendered them indispensable. Utica, at the foot of the gulf, was convenient for bringing assistance to Carthage from without. If Utica alone were taken, Hippo-Zarytus, six hours further distant along the coast, would take its place, and the metropolis, being revictualled in this way, would be impregnable.
Spendius wished the siege to be undertaken immediately. Narr' Havas was opposed to this: an advance should first be made upon the frontier. This was the opinion of the veterans, and of Matho himself, and it was decided that Spendius should go to attack Utica, and Matho Hippo-Zarytus, while in the third place the main body should rest on Tunis and occupy the plain of Carthage, Autaritus being in command. As to Narr' Havas, he was to return to his own kingdom to procure elephants and to scour the roads with his cavalry.
The women cried out loudly against this decision; they coveted the jewels of the Punic ladies. The Libyans also protested. They had been summoned against Carthage, and now they were going away from it! The soldiers departed almost alone. Matho commanded his own companions, together with the Iberians, Lusitanians, and the men of the West, and of the islands; all those who spoke Greek had asked for Spendius on account of his cleverness.
Great was the stupefaction when the army was seen suddenly in motion; it stretched along beneath the mountain of Ariana on the road to Utica beside the sea. A fragment remained before Tunis, the rest disappeared to re-appear on the other shore of the gulf on the outskirts of the woods in which they were lost.
They were perhaps eighty thousand men. The two Tyrian cities would offer no resistance, and they would return against Carthage. Already there was a considerable army attacking it from the base of the isthmus, and it would soon perish from famine, for it was impossible to live without the aid of the provinces, the citizens not paying contributions as they did at Rome. Carthage was wanting in political genius. Her eternal anxiety for gain prevented her from having the prudence which results from loftier ambitions. A galley anchored on the Libyan sands, it was with toil that she maintained her position. The nations roared like billows around her, and the slightest storm shook this formidable machine.
The treasury was exhausted by the Roman war and by all that had been squandered and lost in the bargaining with the Barbarians. Nevertheless soldiers must be had, and not a government would trust the Republic! Ptolemaeus had lately refused it two thousand talents. Moreover the rape of the veil disheartened them. Spendius had clearly foreseen this.
But the nation, feeling that it was hated, clasped its money and its gods to its heart, and its patriotism was sustained by the very constitution of its government.
First, the power rested with all, without any one being strong enough to engross it. Private debts were considered as public debts, men of Chanaanitish race had a monopoly of commerce, and by multiplying the profits of piracy with those of usury, by hard dealings in lands and slaves and with the poor, fortunes were sometimes made. These alone opened up all the magistracies, and although authority and money were perpetuated in the same families, people tolerated the oligarchy because they hoped ultimately to share in it.
The societies of merchants, in which the laws were elaborated, chose the inspectors of the exchequer, who on leaving office nominated the hundred members of the Council of the Ancients, themselves dependent on the Grand Assembly, or general gathering of all the rich. As to the two Suffets, the relics of the monarchy and the less than consuls, they were taken from distinct families on the same day. All kinds of enmities were contrived between them, so that they might mutually weaken each other. They could not deliberate concerning war, and when they were vanquished the Great Council crucified them.
The power of Carthage emanated, therefore, from the Syssitia, that is to say, from a large court in the centre of Malqua, at the place, it was said, where the first bark of Phoenician sailors had touched, the sea having retired a long way since then. It was a collection of little rooms of archaic architecture, built of palm trunks with corners of stone, and separated from one another so as to accommodate the various societies separately. The rich crowded there all day to discuss their own concerns and those of the government, from the procuring of pepper to the extermination of Rome. Thrice in a moon they would have their beds brought up to the lofty terrace running along the wall of the court, and they might be seen from below at table in the air, without cothurni or cloaks, with their diamond-covered fingers wandering over the dishes, and their large earrings hanging down among the flagons,—all fat and lusty, half-naked, smiling and eating beneath the blue sky, like great sharks sporting in the sea.
But just now they were unable to dissemble their anxiety; they were too pale for that. The crowd which waited for them at the gates escorted them to their palaces in order to obtain some news from them. As in times of pestilence, all the houses were shut; the streets would fill and suddenly clear again; people ascended the Acropolis or ran to the harbour, and the Great Council deliberated every night. At last the people were convened in the square of Khamon, and it was decided to leave the management of things to Hanno, the conqueror of Hecatompylos.
He was a true Carthaginian, devout, crafty, and pitiless towards the people of Africa. His revenues equalled those of the Barcas. No one had such experience in administrative affairs.
He decreed the enrolment of all healthy citizens, he placed catapults on the towers, he exacted exorbitant supplies of arms, he even ordered the construction of fourteen galleys which were not required, and he desired everything to be registered and carefully set down in writing. He had himself conveyed to the arsenal, the pharos, and the treasuries of the temples; his great litter was continually to be seen swinging from step to step as it ascended the staircases of the Acropolis. And then in his palace at night, being unable to sleep, he would yell out warlike manoeuvres in terrible tones so as to prepare himself for the fray.
In their extremity of terror all became brave. The rich ranged themselves in line along the Mappalian district at cockcrow, and tucking up their robes practised themselves in handling the pike. But for want of an instructor they had disputes about it. They would sit down breathless upon the tombs and then begin again. Several even dieted themselves. Some imagined that it was necessary to eat a great deal in order to acquire strength, while others who were inconvenienced by their corpulence weakened themselves with fasts in order to become thin.
Utica had already called several times upon Carthage for assistance; but Hanno would not set out until the engines of war had been supplied with the last screws. He lost three moons more in equipping the one hundred and twelve elephants that were lodged in the ramparts. They were the conquerors of Regulus; the people loved them; it was impossible to treat such old friends too well. Hanno had the brass plates which adorned their breasts recast, their tusks gilt, their towers enlarged, and caparisons, edged with very heavy fringes, cut out of the handsomest purple. Finally, as their drivers were called Indians (after the first ones, no doubt, who came from the Indies) he ordered them all to be costumed after the Indian fashion; that is to say, with white pads round their temples, and small drawers of byssus, which with their transverse folds looked like two valves of a shell applied to the hips.
The army under Autaritus still remained before Tunis. It was hidden behind a wall made with mud from the lake, and protected on the top by thorny brushwood. Some Negroes had planted tall sticks here and there bearing frightful faces,—human masks made with birds' feathers, and jackals' or serpents' heads,—which gaped towards the enemy for the purpose of terrifying him; and the Barbarians, reckoning themselves invincible through these means, danced, wrestled, and juggled, convinced that Carthage would perish before long. Any one but Hanno would easily have crushed such a multitude, hampered as it was with herds and women. Moreover, they knew nothing of drill, and Autaritus was so disheartened that he had ceased to require it.
They stepped aside when he passed by rolling his big blue eyes. Then on reaching the edge of the lake he would draw back his sealskin cloak, unfasten the cord which tied up his long red hair, and soak the latter in the water. He regretted that he had not deserted to the Romans along with the two thousand Gauls of the temple of Eryx.
Often the sun would suddenly lose his rays in the middle of the day. Then the gulf and the open sea would seem as motionless as molten lead. A cloud of brown dust stretching perpendicularly would speed whirling along; the palm trees would bend and the sky disappear, while stones would be heard rebounding on the animals' cruppers; and the Gaul, his lips glued against the holes in his tent, would gasp with exhaustion and melancholy. His thoughts would be of the scent of the pastures on autumn mornings, of snowflakes, or of the bellowing of the urus lost in the fog, and closing his eyelids he would in imagination behold the fires in long, straw-roofed cottages flickering on the marshes in the depths of the woods.
Others regretted their native lands as well as he, even though they might not be so far away. Indeed the Carthaginian captives could distinguish the velaria spread over the courtyards of their houses, beyond the gulf on the slopes of Byrsa. But sentries marched round them continually. They were all fastened to a common chain. Each one wore an iron carcanet, and the crowd was never weary of coming to gaze at them. The women would show their little children the handsome robes hanging in tatters on their wasted limbs.
Whenever Autaritus looked at Gisco he was seized with rage at the recollection of the insult that he had received, and he would have killed him but for the oath which he had taken to Narr' Havas. Then he would go back into his tent and drink a mixture of barley and cumin until he swooned away from intoxication,—to awake afterwards in broad daylight consumed with horrible thirst.
Matho, meanwhile, was besieging Hippo-Zarytus. But the town was protected by a lake, communicating with the sea. It had three lines of circumvallation, and upon the heights which surrounded it there extended a wall fortified with towers. He had never commanded in such an enterprise before. Moreover, he was beset with thoughts of Salammbo, and he raved in the delight of her beauty as in the sweetness of a vengeance that transported him with pride. He felt an acrid, frenzied, permanent want to see her again. He even thought of presenting himself as the bearer of a flag of truce, in the hope that once within Carthage he might make his way to her. Often he would cause the assault to be sounded and waiting for nothing rush upon the mole which it was sought to construct in the sea. He would snatch up the stones with his hands, overturn, strike, and deal sword-thrusts everywhere. The Barbarians would dash on pell-mell; the ladders would break with a loud crash, and masses of men would tumble into the water, causing it to fly up in red waves against the walls. Finally the tumult would subside, and the soldiers would retire to make a fresh beginning.
Matho would go and seat himself outside the tents, wipe his blood-splashed face with his arm, and gaze at the horizon in the direction of Carthage.
In front of him, among the olives, palms, myrtles and planes, stretched two broad ponds which met another lake, the outlines of which could not be seen. Behind one mountain other mountains reared themselves, and in the middle of the immense lake rose an island perfectly black and pyramidal in form. On the left, at the extremity of the gulf, were sand-heaps like arrested waves, large and pale, while the sea, flat as a pavement of lapis-lazuli, ascended by insensible degrees to the edge of the sky. The verdure of the country was lost in places beneath long sheets of yellow; carobs were shining like knobs of coral; vine branches drooped from the tops of the sycamores; the murmuring of the water could be heard; crested larks were hopping about, and the sun's latest fires gilded the carapaces of the tortoises as they came forth from the reeds to inhale the breeze.
Matho would heave deep sighs. He would lie flat on his face, with his nails buried in the soil, and weep; he felt wretched, paltry, forsaken. Never would he possess her, and he was unable even to take a town.
At night when alone in his tent he would gaze upon the zaimph. Of what use to him was this thing which belonged to the gods?—and doubt crept into the Barbarian's thoughts. Then, on the contrary, it would seem to him that the vesture of the goddess was depending from Salammbo, and that a portion of her soul hovered in it, subtler than a breath; and he would feel it, breathe it in, bury his face in it, and kiss it with sobs. He would cover his shoulders with it in order to delude himself that he was beside her.
Sometimes he would suddenly steal away, stride in the starlight over the sleeping soldiers as they lay wrapped in their cloaks, spring upon a horse on reaching the camp gates, and two hours later be at Utica in Spendius's tent.
At first he would speak of the siege, but his coming was only to ease his sorrow by talking about Salammbo. Spendius exhorted him to be prudent.
"Drive away these trifles from your soul, which is degraded by them! Formerly you were used to obey; now you command an army, and if Carthage is not conquered we shall at least be granted provinces. We shall become kings!"
But how was it that the possession of the zaimph did not give them the victory? According to Spendius they must wait.
Matho fancied that the veil affected people of Chanaanitish race exclusively, and, in his Barbarian-like subtlety, he said to himself: "The zaimph will accordingly do nothing for me, but since they have lost it, it will do nothing for them."
Afterwards a scruple troubled him. He was afraid of offending Moloch by worshipping Aptouknos, the god of the Libyans, and he timidly asked Spendius to which of the gods it would be advisable to sacrifice a man.
"Keep on sacrificing!" laughed Spendius.
Matho, who could not understand such indifference, suspected the Greek of having a genius of whom he did not speak.
All modes of worship, as well as all races, were to be met with in these armies of Barbarians, and consideration was had to the gods of others, for they too, inspired fear. Many mingled foreign practices with their native religion. It was to no purpose that they did not adore the stars; if a constellation were fatal or helpful, sacrifices were offered to it; an unknown amulet found by chance at a moment of peril became a divinity; or it might be a name and nothing more, which would be repeated without any attempt to understand its meaning. But after pillaging temples, and seeing numbers of nations and slaughters, many ultimately ceased to believe in anything but destiny and death;—and every evening these would fall asleep with the placidity of wild beasts. Spendius had spit upon the images of Jupiter Olympius; nevertheless he dreaded to speak aloud in the dark, nor did he fail every day to put on his right boot first.
He reared a long quadrangular terrace in front of Utica, but in proportion as it ascended the rampart was also heightened, and what was thrown down by the one side was almost immediately raised again by the other. Spendius took care of his men; he dreamed of plans and strove to recall the stratagems which he had heard described in his travels. But why did Narr' Havas not return? There was nothing but anxiety.
Hanno had at last concluded his preparations. One night when there was no moon he transported his elephants and soldiers on rafts across the Gulf of Carthage. Then they wheeled round the mountain of the Hot Springs so as to avoid Autaritus, and continued their march so slowly that instead of surprising the Barbarians in the morning, as the Suffet had calculated, they did not reach them until it was broad daylight on the third day.
Utica had on the east a plain which extended to the large lagoon of Carthage; behind it a valley ran at right angles between two low and abruptly terminated mountains; the Barbarians were encamped further to the left in such a way as to blockade the harbour; and they were sleeping in their tents (for on that day both sides were too weary to fight and were resting) when the Carthaginian army appeared at the turning of the hills.
Some camp followers furnished with slings were stationed at intervals on the wings. The first line was formed of the guards of the Legion in golden scale-armour, mounted on their big horses, which were without mane, hair, or ears, and had silver horns in the middle of their foreheads to make them look like rhinoceroses. Between their squadrons were youths wearing small helmets and swinging an ashen javelin in each hand. The long files of the heavy infantry marched behind. All these traders had piled as many weapons upon their bodies as possible. Some might be seen carrying an axe, a lance, a club, and two swords all at once; others bristled with darts like porcupines, and their arms stood out from their cuirasses in sheets of horn or iron plates. At last the scaffoldings of the lofty engines appeared: carrobalistas, onagers, catapults and scorpions, rocking on chariots drawn by mules and quadrigas of oxen; and in proportion as the army drew out, the captains ran panting right and left to deliver commands, close up the files, and preserve the intervals. Such of the Ancients as held commands had come in purple cassocks, the magnificent fringes of which tangled in the white straps of their cothurni. Their faces, which were smeared all over with vermilion, shone beneath enormous helmets surmounted with images of the gods; and, as they had shields with ivory borders covered with precious stones, they might have been taken for suns passing over walls of brass.
But the Carthaginians manoeuvred so clumsily that the soldiers in derision urged them to sit down. They called out that they were just going to empty their big stomachs, to dust the gilding of their skin, and to give them iron to drink.
A strip of green cloth appeared at the top of the pole planted before Spendius's tent: it was the signal. The Carthaginian army replied to it with a great noise of trumpets, cymbals, flutes of asses' bones, and tympanums. The Barbarians had already leaped outside the palisades, and were facing their enemies within a javelin's throw of them.
A Balearic slinger took a step forward, put one of his clay bullets into his thong, and swung round his arm. An ivory shield was shivered, and the two armies mingled together.
The Greeks made the horses rear and fall back upon their masters by pricking their nostrils with the points of their lances. The slaves who were to hurl stones had picked such as were too big, and they accordingly fell close to them. The Punic foot-soldiers exposed the right side in cutting with their long swords. The Barbarians broke their lines; they slaughtered them freely; they stumbled over the dying and dead, quite blinded by the blood that spurted into their faces. The confused heap of pikes, helmets, cuirasses and swords turned round about, widening out and closing in with elastic contractions. The gaps increased more and more in the Carthaginian cohorts, the engines could not get out of the sand; and finally the Suffet's litter (his grand litter with crystal pendants), which from the beginning might have been seen tossing among the soldiers like a bark on the waves, suddenly foundered. He was no doubt dead. The Barbarians found themselves alone.
The dust around them fell and they were beginning to sing, when Hanno himself appeared on the top of an elephant. He sat bare-headed beneath a parasol of byssus which was carried by a Negro behind him. His necklace of blue plates flapped against the flowers on his black tunic; his huge arms were compressed within circles of diamonds, and with open mouth he brandished a pike of inordinate size, which spread out at the end like a lotus, and flashed more than a mirror. Immediately the earth shook,—and the Barbarians saw all the elephants of Carthage, with their gilt tusks and blue-painted ears, hastening up in single line, clothed with bronze and shaking the leathern towers which were placed above their scarlet caparisons, in each of which were three archers bending large bows.
The soldiers were barely in possession of their arms; they had taken up their positions at random. They were frozen with terror; they stood undecided.
Javelins, arrows, phalaricas, and masses of lead were already being showered down upon them from the towers. Some clung to the fringes of the caparisons in order to climb up, but their hands were struck off with cutlasses and they fell backwards upon the swords' points. The pikes were too weak and broke, and the elephants passed through the phalanxes like wild boars through tufts of grass; they plucked up the stakes of the camp with their trunks, and traversed it from one end to the other, overthrowing the tents with their breasts. All the Barbarians had fled. They were hiding themselves in the hills bordering the valley by which the Carthaginians had come.
The victorious Hanno presented himself before the gates of Utica. He had a trumpet sounded. The three Judges of the town appeared in the opening of the battlements on the summit of a tower.
But the people of Utica would not receive such well-armed guests. Hanno was furious. At last they consented to admit him with a feeble escort.
The streets were too narrow for the elephants. They had to be left outside.
As soon as the Suffet was in the town the principal men came to greet him. He had himself taken to the vapour baths, and called for his cooks.
Three hours afterwards he was still immersed in the oil of cinnamomum with which the basin had been filled; and while he bathed he ate flamingoes' tongues with honied poppy-seeds on a spread ox-hide. Beside him was his Greek physician, motionless, in a long yellow robe, directing the re-heating of the bath from time to time, and two young boys leaned over the steps of the basin and rubbed his legs. But attention to his body did not check his love for the commonwealth, for he was dictating a letter to be sent to the Great Council, and as some prisoners had just been taken he was asking himself what terrible punishment could be devised.
"Stop!" said he to a slave who stood writing in the hollow of his hand. "Let some of them be brought to me! I wish to see them!"
And from the bottom of the hall, full of a whitish vapour on which the torches cast red spots, three Barbarians were thrust forward: a Samnite, a Spartan, and a Cappadocian.
"Proceed!" said Hanno.
"Rejoice, light of the Baals! your Suffet has exterminated the ravenous hounds! Blessings on the Republic! Give orders for prayers!" He perceived the captives and burst out laughing: "Ah! ha! my fine fellows of Sicca! You are not shouting so loudly to-day! It is I! Do you recognise me? And where are your swords? What really terrible fellows!" and he pretended to be desirous to hide himself as if he were afraid of them. "You demanded horses, women, estates, magistracies, no doubt, and priesthoods! Why not? Well, I will provide you with the estates, and such as you will never come out of! You shall be married to gibbets that are perfectly new! Your pay? it shall be melted in your mouths in leaden ingots! and I will put you into good and very exalted positions among the clouds, so as to bring you close to the eagles!"
The three long-haired and ragged Barbarians looked at him without understanding what he said. Wounded in the knees, they had been seized by having ropes thrown over them, and the ends of the great chains on their hands trailed upon the pavement. Hanno was indignant at their impassibility.
"On your knees! on your knees! jackals! dust! vermin! excrements! And they make no reply! Enough! be silent! Let them be flayed alive! No! presently!"
He was breathing like a hippopotamus and rolling his eyes. The perfumed oil overflowed beneath the mass of his body, and clinging to the scales on his skin, made it look pink in the light of the torches.
"For four days we suffered greatly from the sun. Some mules were lost in crossing the Macaras. In spite of their position, the extraordinary courage—Ah! Demonades! how I suffer! Have the bricks reheated, and let them be red-hot!"
A noise of rakes and furnaces was heard. The incense smoked more strongly in the large perfuming pans, and the shampooers, who were quite naked and were sweating like sponges, crushed a paste composed of wheat, sulphur, black wine, bitch's milk, myrrh, galbanum and storax upon his joints. He was consumed with incessant thirst, but the yellow-robed man did not yield to this inclination, and held out to him a golden cup in which viper broth was smoking.
"Drink!" said he, "that strength of sun-born serpents may penetrate into the marrow of your bones, and take courage, O reflection of the gods! You know, moreover, that a priest of Eschmoun watches those cruel stars round the Dog from which your malady is derived. They are growing pale like the spots on your skin, and you are not to die from them."
"Oh! yes, that is so, is it not?" repeated the Suffet, "I am not to die from them!" And his violaceous lips gave forth a breath more nauseous than the exhalation from a corpse. Two coals seemed to burn in the place of his eyes, which had lost their eyebrows; a mass of wrinkled skin hung over his forehead; both his ears stood out from his head and were beginning to increase in size; and the deep lines forming semicircles round his nostrils gave him a strange and terrifying appearance, the look of a wild beast. His unnatural voice was like a roar; he said:
"Perhaps you are right, Demonades. In fact there are many ulcers here which have closed. I feel robust. Here! look how I am eating!"
And less from greediness than from ostentation, and the desire to prove to himself that he was in good health, he cut into the forcemeats of cheese and marjoram, the boned fish, gourds, oysters with eggs, horse-radishes, truffles, and brochettes of small birds. As he looked at the prisoners he revelled in the imagination of their tortures. Nevertheless he remembered Sicca, and the rage caused by all his woes found vent in the abuse of these three men.
"Ah! traitors! ah! wretches! infamous, accursed creatures! And you outraged me!—me! the Suffet! Their services, the price of their blood, say they! Ah! yes! their blood! their blood!" Then speaking to himself:—"All shall perish! not one shall be sold! It would be better to bring them to Carthage! I should be seen—but doubtless, I have not brought chains enough? Write: Send me—How many of them are there? go and ask Muthumbal! Go! no pity! and let all their hands be cut off and brought to me in baskets!"
But strange cries at once hoarse and shrill penetrated into the hall above Hanno's voice and the rattling of the dishes that were being placed around him. They increased, and suddenly the furious trumpeting of the elephants burst forth as if the battle were beginning again. A great tumult was going on around the town.
The Carthaginians had not attempted to pursue the Barbarians. They had taken up their quarters at the foot of the walls with their baggage, mules, serving men, and all their train of satraps; and they made merry in their beautiful pearl-bordered tents, while the camp of the Mercenaries was now nothing but a heap of ruins in the plain. Spendius had recovered his courage. He dispatched Zarxas to Matho, scoured the woods, rallied his men (the losses had been inconsiderable),—and they were re-forming their lines enraged at having been conquered without a fight, when they discovered a vat of petroleum which had no doubt been abandoned by the Carthaginians. Then Spendius had some pigs carried off from the farms, smeared them with bitumen, set them on fire, and drove them towards Utica.
The elephants were terrified by the flames and fled. The ground sloped upwards, javelins were thrown at them, and they turned back;—and with great blows of ivory and trampling feet they ripped up the Carthaginians, stifled them, flattened them. The Barbarians descended the hill behind them; the Punic camp, which was without entrenchments was sacked at the first rush, and the Carthaginians were crushed against the gates, which were not opened through fear of the Mercenaries.
Day broke, and Matho's foot-soldiers were seen coming up from the west. At the same time horsemen appeared; they were Narr' Havas with his Numidians. Leaping ravines and bushes they ran down the fugitives like greyhounds pursuing hares. This change of fortune interrupted the Suffet. He called out to be assisted to leave the vapour bath.
The three captives were still before him. Then a Negro (the same who had carried his parasol in the battle) leaned over to his ear.
"Well?" replied the Suffet slowly. "Ah! kill them!" he added in an abrupt tone.
The Ethiopian drew a long dagger from his girdle and the three heads fell. One of them rebounded among the remains of the feast, and leaped into the basin, where it floated for some time with open mouth and staring eyes. The morning light entered through the chinks in the wall; the three bodies streamed with great bubbles like three fountains, and a sheet of blood flowed over the mosaics with their powdering of blue dust. The Suffet dipped his hand into this hot mire and rubbed his knees with it: it was a cure.
When evening had come he stole away from the town with his escort, and made his way into the mountain to rejoin his army.
He succeeded in finding the remains of it.
Four days afterward he was on the top of a defile at Gorza, when the troops under Spendius appeared below. Twenty stout lances might easily have checked them by attacking the head of their column, but the Carthaginians watched them pass by in a state of stupefaction. Hanno recognised the king of the Numidians in the rearguard; Narr' Havas bowed to him, at the same time making a sign which he did not understand.
The return to Carthage took place amid all kinds of terrors. They marched only at night, hiding in the olive woods during the day. There were deaths at every halting-place; several times they believed themselves lost. At last they reached Cape Hermaeum, where vessels came to receive them.
Hanno was so fatigued, so desperate—the loss of the elephants in particular overwhelmed him—that he demanded poison from Demonades in order to put an end to it all. Moreover he could already feel himself stretched upon the cross.
Carthage had not strength enough to be indignant with him. Its losses had amounted to one hundred thousand nine hundred and seventy-two shekels of silver, fifteen thousand six hundred and twenty-three shekels of gold, eighteen elephants, fourteen members of the Great Council, three hundred of the rich, eight thousand citizens, corn enough for three moons, a considerable quantity of baggage, and all the engines of war! The defection of Narr' Havas was certain, and both sieges were beginning again. The army under Autaritus now extended from Tunis to Rhades. From the top of the Acropolis long columns of smoke might be seen in the country ascending to the sky; they were the mansions of the rich, which were on fire.
One man alone could have saved the Republic. People repented that they had slighted him, and the peace party itself voted holocausts for Hamilcar's return.
The sight of the zaimph had upset Salammbo. At night she thought that she could hear the footsteps of the goddess, and she would awake terrified and shrieking. Every day she sent food to the temples. Taanach was worn out with executing her orders, and Schahabarim never left her.