These clamourings of the populace did not alarm Hamilcar's daughter. She wa_isturbed by loftier anxieties: her great serpent, the black python, wa_rooping; and in the eyes of the Carthaginians, the serpent was at once _ational and a private fetish. It was believed to be the offspring of the dus_f the earth, since it emerges from its depths and has no need of feet t_raverse it; its mode of progression called to mind the undulations of rivers, its temperature the ancient, viscous, and fecund darkness, and the orbit whic_t describes when biting its tail the harmony of the planets, and th_ntelligence of Eschmoun.
Salammbo's serpent had several times already refused the four live sparrow_hich were offered to it at the full moon and at every new moon. Its handsom_kin, covered like the firmament with golden spots upon a perfectly blac_round, was now yellow, relaxed, wrinkled, and too large for its body. _ottony mouldiness extended round its head; and in the corners of its eyelid_ight be seen little red specks which appeared to move. Salammbo woul_pproach its silver-wire basket from time to time, and would draw aside th_urple curtains, the lotus leaves, and the bird's down; but it was continuall_olled up upon itself, more motionless than a withered bind-weed; and fro_ooking at it she at last came to feel a kind of spiral within her heart, another serpent, as it were, mounting up to her throat by degrees an_trangling her.
She was in despair of having seen the zaimph, and yet she felt a sort of joy, an intimate pride at having done so. A mystery shrank within the splendour o_ts folds; it was the cloud that enveloped the gods, and the secret of th_niversal existence, and Salammbo, horror-stricken at herself, regretted tha_he had not raised it.
She was almost always crouching at the back of her apartment, holding he_ended left leg in her hands, her mouth half open, her chin sunk, her ey_ixed. She recollected her father's face with terror; she wished to go awa_nto the mountains of Phoenicia, on a pilgrimage to the temple of Aphaka, where Tanith descended in the form of a star; all kinds of imagining_ttracted her and terrified her; moreover, a solitude which every day becam_reater encompassed her. She did not even know what Hamilcar was about.
Wearied at last with her thoughts she would rise, and trailing along he_ittle sandals whose soles clacked upon her heels at every step, she woul_alk at random through the large silent room. The amethysts and topazes of th_eiling made luminous spots quiver here and there, and Salammbo as she walke_ould turn her head a little to see them. She would go and take the hangin_mphoras by the neck; she would cool her bosom beneath the broad fans, o_erhaps amuse herself by burning cinnamomum in hollow pearls. At sunse_aanach would draw back the black felt lozenges that closed the openings i_he wall; then her doves, rubbed with musk like the doves of Tanith, suddenl_ntered, and their pink feet glided over the glass pavement, amid the grain_f barley which she threw to them in handfuls like a sower in a field. But o_ sudden she would burst into sobs and lie stretched on the large bed of ox- leather straps without moving, repeating a word that was ever the same, wit_pen eyes, pale as one dead, insensible, cold; and yet she could hear th_ries of the apes in the tufts of the palm trees, with the continuous grindin_f the great wheel which brought a flow of pure water through the stories int_he porphyry centre-basin.
Sometimes for several days she would refuse to eat. She could see in a drea_roubled stars wandering beneath her feet. She would call Schahabarim, an_hen he came she had nothing to say to him.
She could not live without the relief of his presence. But she rebelle_nwardly against this domination; her feeling towards the priest was one a_nce of terror, jealousy, hatred, and a species of love, in gratitude for th_ingular voluptuousness which she experienced by his side.
He had recognised the influence of Rabbet, being skilful to discern the god_ho send diseases; and to cure Salammbo he had her apartment watered wit_otions of vervain, and maidenhair; she ate mandrakes every morning; she slep_ith her head on a cushion filled with aromatics blended by the pontiffs; h_ad even employed baaras, a fiery-coloured root which drives back fata_eniuses into the North; lastly, turning towards the polar star, he murmure_hrice the mysterious name of Tanith; but Salammbo still suffered and he_nguish deepened.
No one in Carthage was so learned as he. In his youth he had studied at th_ollege of the Mogbeds, at Borsippa, near Babylon; had then visite_amothrace, Pessinus, Ephesus, Thessaly, Judaea, and the temples of th_abathae, which are lost in the sands; and had travelled on foot along th_anks of the Nile from the cataracts to the sea. Shaking torches with veil- covered face, he had cast a black cock upon a fire of sandarach before th_reast of the Sphinx, the Father of Terror. He had descended into the cavern_f Proserpine; he had seen the five hundred pillars of the labyrinth of Lemno_evolve, and the candelabrum of Tarentum, which bore as many sconces on it_haft as there are days in the year, shine in its splendour; at times h_eceived Greeks by night in order to question them. The constitution of th_orld disquieted him no less than the nature of the gods; he had observed th_quinoxes with the armils placed in the portico of Alexandria, and accompanie_he bematists of Evergetes, who measure the sky by calculating the number o_heir steps, as far as Cyrene; so that there was now growing in his thoughts _eligion of his own, with no distinct formula, and on that very account ful_f infatuation and fervour. He no longer believed that the earth was forme_ike a fir-cone; he believed it to be round, and eternally falling throug_mmensity with such prodigious speed that its fall was not perceived.
From the position of the sun above the moon he inferred the predominance o_aal, of whom the planet itself is but the reflection and figure; moreover, all that he saw in terrestrial things compelled him to recognise the mal_xterminating principle as supreme. And then he secretly charged Rabbet wit_he misfortune of his life. Was it not for her that the grand-pontiff had onc_dvanced amid the tumult of cymbals, and with a patera of boiling water take_rom him his future virility? And he followed with a melancholy gaze the me_ho were disappearing with the priestesses in the depths of the turpentin_rees.
His days were spent in inspecting the censers, the gold vases, the tongs, th_akes for the ashes of the altar, and all the robes of the statues down to th_ronze bodkin that served to curl the hair of an old Tanith in the thir_edicule near the emerald vine. At the same hours he would raise the grea_angings of the same swinging doors; would remain with his arms outspread i_he same attitude; or prayed prostrate on the same flag-stones, while aroun_im a people of priests moved barefooted through the passages filled with a_ternal twilight.
But Salammbo was in the barrenness of his life like a flower in the cleft of _epulchre. Nevertheless he was hard upon her, and spared her neither penance_or bitter words. His condition established, as it were, the equality of _ommon sex between them, and he was less angry with the girl for his inabilit_o possess her than for finding her so beautiful, and above all so pure. Ofte_e saw that she grew weary of following his thought. Then he would turn awa_adder than before; he would feel himself more forsaken, more empty, mor_lone.
Strange words escaped him sometimes, which passed before Salammbo like broa_ightnings illuminating the abysses. This would be at night on the terrac_hen, both alone, they gazed upon the stars, and Carthage spread below unde_heir feet, with the gulf and the open sea dimly lost in the colour of th_arkness.
He would set forth to her the theory of the souls that descend upon the earth, following the same route as the sun through the signs of the zodiac. Wit_utstretched arm he showed the gate of human generation in the Ram, and tha_f the return to the gods in Capricorn; and Salammbo strove to see them, fo_he took these conceptions for realities; she accepted pure symbols and eve_anners of speech as being true in themselves, a distinction not always ver_lear even to the priest.
"The souls of the dead," said he, "resolve themselves into the moon, as thei_odies do into the earth. Their tears compose its humidity; 'tis a dark abod_ull of mire, and wreck, and tempest."
She asked what would become of her then.
"At first you will languish as light as a vapour hovering upon the waves; an_fter more lengthened ordeals and agonies, you will pass into the forces o_he sun, the very source of Intelligence!"
He did not speak, however, of Rabbet. Salammbo imagined that it was throug_ome shame for his vanquished goddess, and calling her by a common name whic_esignated the moon, she launched into blessings upon the soft and fertil_lanet. At last he exclaimed:
"No! no! she draws all her fecundity from the other! Do you not see he_overing about him like an amorous woman running after a man in a field?" An_e exalted the virtue of light unceasingly.
Far from depressing her mystic desires, he sought, on the contrary, to excit_hem, and he even seemed to take joy in grieving her by the revelation of _itiless doctrine. In spite of the pains of her love Salammbo threw hersel_pon it with transport.
But the more that Schahabarim felt himself in doubt about Tanith, the more h_ished to believe in her. At the bottom of his soul he was arrested b_emorse. He needed some proof, some manifestation from the gods, and in th_ope of obtaining it the priest devised an enterprise which might save at onc_is country and his belief.
Thenceforward he set himself to deplore before Salammbo the sacrilege and th_isfortunes which resulted from it even in the regions of the sky. Then h_uddenly announced the peril of the Suffet, who was assailed by three armie_nder the command of Matho—for on account of the veil Matho was, in the eye_f the Carthaginians, the king, as it were, of the Barbarians,—and he adde_hat the safety of the Republic and of her father depended upon her alone.
"Upon me!" she exclaimed. "How can I—?"
But the priest, with a smile of disdain said:
"You will never consent!"
She entreated him. At last Schahabarim said to her:
"You must go to the Barbarians and recover the zaimph!"
She sank down upon the ebony stool, and remained with her arms stretched ou_etween her knees and shivering in all her limbs, like a victim at the altar'_oot awaiting the blow of the club. Her temples were ringing, she could se_iery circles revolving, and in her stupor she had lost the understanding o_ll things save one, that she was certainly going to die soon.
But if Rabbetna triumphed, if the zaimph were restored and Carthage delivered, what mattered a woman's life? thought Schahabarim. Moreover, she would perhap_btain the veil and not perish.
He stayed away for three days; on the evening of the fourth she sent for him.
The better to inflame her heart he reported to her all the invectives howle_gainst Hamilcar in open council; he told her that she had erred, that sh_wed reparation for her crime, and that Rabbetna commanded the sacrifice.
A great uproar came frequently across the Mappalian district to Megara.
Schahabarim and Salammbo went out quickly, and gazed from the top of th_alley staircase.
There were people in the square of Khamon shouting for arms. The Ancient_ould not provide them, esteeming such an effort useless; others who had se_ut without a general had been massacred. At last they were permitted t_epart, and as a sort of homage to Moloch, or from a vague need o_estruction, they tore up tall cypress trees in the woods of the temples, an_aving kindled them at the torches of the Kabiri, were carrying them throug_he streets singing. These monstrous flames advanced swaying gently; the_ransmitted fires to the glass balls on the crests of the temples, to th_rnaments of the colossuses and the beaks of the ships, passed beyond th_erraces and formed suns as it were, which rolled through the town. The_escended the Acropolis. The gate of Malqua opened.
"Are you ready?" exclaimed Schahabarim, "or have you asked them to tell you_ather that you abandoned him?" She hid her face in her veils, and the grea_ights retired, sinking gradually the while to the edge of the waves.
An indeterminate dread restrained her; she was afraid of Moloch and of Matho.
This man, with his giant stature, who was master of the zaimph, ruled Rabbetn_s much as did Baal, and seemed to her to be surrounded by the sam_ulgurations; and then the souls of the gods sometimes visited the bodies o_en. Did not Schahabarim in speaking of him say that she was to vanquis_oloch? They were mingled with each other; she confused them together; both o_hem were pursuing her.
She wished to learn the future, and approached the serpent, for auguries wer_rawn from the attitudes of serpents. But the basket was empty; Salammbo wa_isturbed.
She found him with his tail rolled round one of the silver balustrades besid_he hanging bed, which he was rubbing in order to free himself from his ol_ellowish skin, while his body stretched forth gleaming and clear like a swor_alf out of the sheath.
Then on the days following, in proportion as she allowed herself to b_onvinced, and was more disposed to succour Tanith, the python recovered an_rew; he seemed to be reviving.
The certainty that Salammbo was giving expression to the will of the gods the_ecame established in her conscience. One morning she awoke resolved, and sh_sked what was necessary to make Matho restore the veil.
"To claim it," said Schahabarim.
"But if he refuses?" she rejoined.
The priest scanned her fixedly with a smile such as she had never seen.
"Yes, what is to be done?" repeated Salammbo.
He rolled between his fingers the extremities of the bands which fell from hi_iara upon his shoulders, standing motionless with eyes cast down. At las_eeing that she did not understand:
"You will be alone with him."
"Well?" she said.
"Alone in his tent."
Schahabarim bit his lips. He sought for some phrase, some circumlocution.
"If you are to die, that will be later," he said; "later! fear nothing! an_hatever he may undertake to do, do not call out! do not be frightened! Yo_ill be humble, you understand, and submissive to his desire, which i_rdained of heaven!"
"But the veil?"
"The gods will take thought for it," replied Schahabarim.
"Suppose you were to accompany me, O father?" she added.
He made her kneel down, and keeping his left hand raised and his righ_xtended, he swore in her behalf to bring back the mantle of Tanith int_arthage. With terrible imprecations she devoted herself to the gods, and eac_ime that Schahabarim pronounced a word she falteringly repeated it.
He indicated to her all the purifications and fastings that she was t_bserve, and how she was to reach Matho. Moreover, a man acquainted with th_outes would accompany her.
She felt as if she had been set free. She thought only of the happiness o_eeing the zaimph again, and she now blessed Schahabarim for his exhortations.
It was the period at which the doves of Carthage migrated to Sicily to th_ountain of Eryx and the temple of Venus. For several days before thei_eparture they sought out and called to one another so as to collect together; at last one evening they flew away; the wind blew them along, and the bi_hite cloud glided across the sky high above the sea.
The horizon was filled with the colour of blood. They seemed to descen_radually to the waves; then they disappeared as though swallowed up, an_alling of themselves into the jaws of the sun. Salammbo, who watched the_etiring, bent her head, and then Taanach, believing that she guessed he_orrow, said gently to her:
"But they will come back, Mistress."
"Yes! I know."
"And you will see them again."
"Perhaps!" she said, sighing.
She had not confided her resolve to any one; in order to carry it out with th_reater discretion she sent Taanach to the suburb of Kinisdo to buy all th_hings that she required instead of requesting them from the stewards: vermilion, aromatics, a linen girdle, and new garments. The old slave wa_mazed at these preparations, without daring, however, to ask any questions; and the day, which had been fixed by Schahabarim, arrived when Salammbo was t_et out.
About the twelfth hour she perceived, in the depths of the sycamore trees, _lind old man with one hand resting on the shoulder of a child who walke_efore him, while with the other he carried a kind of cithara of black woo_gainst his hip. The eunuchs, slaves, and women had been scrupulously sen_way; no one might know the mystery that was preparing.
Taanach kindled four tripods filled with strobus and cadamomum in the corner_f the apartment; then she unfolded large Babylonian hangings, and stretche_hem on cords all around the room, for Salammbo did not wish to be seen eve_y the walls. The kinnor-player squatted behind the door and the young bo_tanding upright applied a reed flute to his lips. In the distance the roar o_he streets was growing feebler, violet shadows were lengthening before th_eristyles of the temples, and on the other side of the gulf the mountai_ases, the fields of olive-trees, and the vague yellow lands undulate_ndefinitely, and were blended together in a bluish haze; not a sound was t_e heard, and an unspeakable depression weighed in the air.
Salammbo crouched down upon the onyx step on the edge of the basin; she raise_er ample sleeves, fastening them behind her shoulders, and began he_blutions in methodical fashion, according to the sacred rites.
Next Taanach brought her something liquid and coagulated in an alabaste_hial; it was the blood of a black dog slaughtered by barren women on _inter's night amid the rubbish of a sepulchre. She rubbed it upon her ears, her heels, and the thumb of her right hand, and even her nail remaine_omewhat red, as if she had crushed a fruit.
The moon rose; then the cithara and the flute began to play together.
Salammbo unfastened her earrings, her necklace, her bracelets, and her lon_hite simar; she unknotted the band in her hair, shaking the latter for a fe_inutes softly over her shoulders to cool herself by thus scattering it. Th_usic went on outside; it consisted of three notes ever the same, hurried an_renzied; the strings grated, the flute blew; Taanach kept time by strikin_er hands; Salammbo, with a swaying of her whole body, chanted prayers, an_er garments fell one after another around her.
The heavy tapestry trembled, and the python's head appeared above the cor_hat supported it. The serpent descended slowly like a drop of water flowin_long a wall, crawled among the scattered stuffs, and then, gluing its tail t_he ground, rose perfectly erect; and his eyes, more brilliant tha_arbuncles, darted upon Salammbo.
A horror of cold, or perhaps a feeling of shame, at first made her hesitate.
But she recalled Schahabarim's orders and advanced; the python turne_ownwards, and resting the centre of its body upon the nape of her neck, allowed its head and tail to hang like a broken necklace with both end_railing to the ground. Salammbo rolled it around her sides, under her arm_nd between her knees; then taking it by the jaw she brought the littl_riangular mouth to the edge of her teeth, and half shutting her eyes, thre_erself back beneath the rays of the moon. The white light seemed to envelo_er in a silver mist, the prints of her humid steps shone upon the flag- stones, stars quivered in the depth of the water; it tightened upon her it_lack rings that were spotted with scales of gold. Salammbo panted beneath th_xcessive weight, her loins yielded, she felt herself dying, and with the ti_f its tail the serpent gently beat her thigh; then the music becoming stil_t fell off again.
Taanach came back to her; and after arranging two candelabra, the lights o_hich burned in crystal balls filled with water, she tinged the inside of he_ands with Lawsonia, spread vermilion upon her cheeks, and antimony along th_dge of her eyelids, and lengthened her eyebrows with a mixture of gum, musk, ebony, and crushed legs of flies.
Salammbo seated on a chair with ivory uprights, gave herself up to th_ttentions of the slave. But the touchings, the odour of the aromatics, an_he fasts that she had undergone, were enervating her. She became so pale tha_aanach stopped.
"Go on!" said Salammbo, and bearing up against herself, she suddenly revived.
Then she was seized with impatience; she urged Taanach to make haste, and th_ld slave grumbled:
"Well! well! Mistress!—Besides, you have no one waiting for you!"
"Yes!" said Salammbo, "some one is waiting for me."
Taanach drew back in surprise, and in order to learn more about it, said:
"What orders to you give me, Mistress? for if you are to remain away—"
But Salammbo was sobbing; the slave exclaimed:
"You are suffering! what is the matter? Do not go away! take me! When you wer_uite little and used to cry, I took you to my heart and made you laugh wit_he points of my breasts; you have drained them, Mistress!" She struck hersel_pon her dried-up bosom. "Now I am old! I can do nothing for you! you n_onger love me! you hide your griefs from me, you despise the nurse!" An_ears of tenderness and vexation flowed down her cheeks in the gashes of he_attooing.
"No!" said Salammbo, "no, I love you! be comforted!"
With a smile like the grimace of an old ape, Taanach resumed her task. I_ccordance with Schahabarim's recommendations, Salammbo had ordered the slav_o make her magnificent; and she was obeying her mistress with barbaric tast_ull at once of refinement and ingenuity.
Over a first delicate and vinous-coloured tunic she passed a secon_mbroidered with birds' feathers. Golden scales clung to her hips, and fro_his broad girdle descended her blue flowing silver-starred trousers. Nex_aanach put upon her a long robe made of the cloth of the country of Seres, white and streaked with green lines. On the edge of her shoulder she fastene_ square of purple weighted at the hem with grains of sandastrum; and abov_ll these garments she placed a black mantle with a flowing train; then sh_azed at her, and proud of her work could not help saying:
"You will not be more beautiful on the day of your bridal!"
"My bridal!" repeated Salammbo; she was musing with her elbow resting upon th_vory chair.
But Taanach set up before her a copper mirror, which was so broad and hig_hat she could see herself completely in it. Then she rose, and with a ligh_ouch of her finger raised a lock of her hair which was falling too low.
Her hair was covered with gold dust, was crisped in front, and hung dow_ehind over her back in long twists ending in pearls. The brightness of th_andelabra heightened the paint on her cheeks, the gold on her garments, an_he whiteness of her skin; around her waist, and on her arms, hands and toes, she had such a wealth of gems that the mirror sent back rays upon her like _un;—and Salammbo, standing by the side of Taanach, who leaned over to se_er, smiled amid this dazzling display.
Then she walked to and fro embarrassed by the time that was still left.
Suddenly the crow of a cock resounded. She quickly pinned a long yellow vei_pon her hair, passed a scarf around her neck, thrust her feet into blu_eather boots, and said to Taanach:
"Go and see whether there is not a man with two horses beneath the myrtles."
Taanach had scarcely re-entered when she was descending the galley staircase.
"Mistress!" cried the nurse.
Salammbo turned round with one finger on her mouth as a sign for discretio_nd immobility.
Taanach stole softly along the prows to the foot of the terrace, and from _istance she could distinguish by the light of the moon a gigantic shado_alking obliquely in the cypress avenue to the left of Salammbo, a sign whic_resaged death.
Taanach went up again into the chamber. She threw herself upon the groun_earing her face with her nails; she plucked out her hair, and uttere_iercing shrieks with all her might.
It occurred to her that they might be heard; then she became silent, sobbin_uite softly with her head in the hands and her face on the pavement.