The moon was rising just above the waves, and on the town which was stil_rapped in darkness there glittered white and luminous specks:—the pole of _hariot, a dangling rag of linen, the corner of a wall, or a golden necklac_n the bosom of a god. The glass balls on the roofs of the temples beamed lik_reat diamonds here and there. But ill-defined ruins, piles of black earth, and gardens formed deeper masses in the gloom, and below Malqua fishermen'_ets stretched from one house to another like gigantic bats spreading thei_ings. The grinding of the hydraulic wheels which conveyed water to th_ighest storys of the palaces, was no longer heard; and the camels, lyin_strich fashion on their stomachs, rested peacefully in the middle of th_erraces. The porters were asleep in the streets on the thresholds of th_ouses; the shadows of the colossuses stretched across the deserted squares; occasionally in the distance the smoke of a still burning sacrifice woul_scape through the bronze tiling, and the heavy breeze would waft the odour_f aromatics blended with the scent of the sea and the exhalation from th_un-heated walls. The motionless waves shone around Carthage, for the moon wa_preading her light at once upon the mountain-circled gulf and upon the lak_f Tunis, where flamingoes formed long rose-coloured lines amid the banks o_and, while further on beneath the catacombs the great salt lagoon shimmere_ike a piece of silver. The blue vault of heaven sank on the horizon in on_irection into the dustiness of the plains, and in the other into the mists o_he sea, and on the summit of the Acropolis, the pyramidal cypress trees, fringing the temple of Eschmoun, swayed murmuring like the regular waves tha_eat slowly along the mole beneath the ramparts.
Salammbo ascended to the terrace of her palace, supported by a female slav_ho carried an iron dish filled with live coals.
In the middle of the terrace there was a small ivory bed covered with lyn_kins, and cushions made with the feathers of the parrot, a fatidical anima_onsecrated to the gods; and at the four corners rose four long perfuming-pan_illed with nard, incense, cinnamomum, and myrrh. The slave lit the perfumes.
Salammbo looked at the polar star; she slowly saluted the four points o_eaven, and knelt down on the ground in the azure dust which was strewn wit_olden stars in imitation of the firmament. Then with both elbows against he_ides, her fore-arms straight and her hands open, she threw back her hea_eneath the rays of the moon, and said:
"O Rabetna!—Baalet!—Tanith!" and her voice was lengthened in a plaintiv_ashion as if calling to some one. "Anaitis! Astarte! Derceto! Astoreth!
Mylitta! Athara! Elissa! Tiratha!—By the hidden symbols, by the resoundin_istra,—by the furrows of the earth,—by the eternal silence and by the eterna_ruitfulness,—mistress of the gloomy sea and of the azure shores, O Queen o_he watery world, all hail!"
She swayed her whole body twice or thrice, and then cast herself fac_ownwards in the dust with both arms outstretched.
But the slave nimbly raised her, for according to the rites someone must catc_he suppliant at the moment of his prostration; this told him that the god_ccepted him, and Salammbo's nurse never failed in this pious duty.
Some merchants from Darytian Gaetulia had brought her to Carthage when quit_oung, and after her enfranchisement she would not forsake her old masters, a_as shown by her right ear, which was pierced with a large hole. A petticoa_f many-coloured stripes fitted closely on her hips, and fell to her ankles, where two tin rings clashed together. Her somewhat flat face was yellow lik_er tunic. Silver bodkins of great length formed a sun behind her head. Sh_ore a coral button on the nostril, and she stood beside the bed more erec_han a Hermes, and with her eyelids cast down.
Salammbo walked to the edge of the terrace; her eyes swept the horizon for a_nstant, and then were lowered upon the sleeping town, while the sigh that sh_eaved swelled her bosom, and gave an undulating movement to the whole lengt_f the long white simar which hung without clasp or girdle about her. He_urved and painted sandals were hidden beneath a heap of emeralds, and a ne_f purple thread was filled with her disordered hair.
But she raised her head to gaze upon the moon, and murmured, mingling he_peech with fragments of hymns:
"How lightly turnest thou, supported by the impalpable ether! It brighten_bout thee, and 'tis the stir of thine agitation that distributes the wind_nd fruitful dews. According as thou dost wax and wane the eyes of cats an_pots of panthers lengthen or grow short. Wives shriek thy name in the pang_f childbirth! Thou makest the shells to swell, the wine to bubble, and th_orpse to putrefy! Thou formest the pearls at the bottom of the sea!
"And every germ, O goddess! ferments in the dark depths of thy moisture.
"When thou appearest, quietness is spread abroad upon the earth; the flower_lose, the waves are soothed, wearied man stretches his breast toward thee, and the world with its oceans and mountains looks at itself in thy face as i_ mirror. Thou art white, gentle, luminous, immaculate, helping, purifying, serene!"
The crescent of the moon was then over the mountain of the Hot Springs, in th_ollow formed by its two summits, on the other side of the gulf. Below i_here was a little star, and all around it a pale circle. Salammbo went on:
"But thou art a terrible mistress!—Monsters, terrifying phantoms, and lyin_reams come from thee; thine eyes devour the stones of buildings, and the ape_re ever ill each time thou growest young again.
"Whither goest thou? Why dost thou change thy forms continually? Now, slende_nd curved thou glidest through space like a mastless galley; and then, ami_he stars, thou art like a shepherd keeping his flock. Shining and round, tho_ost graze the mountain-tops like the wheel of a chariot.
"O Tanith! thou dost love me? I have looked so much on thee! But no! tho_ailest through thine azure, and I—I remain on the motionless earth.
"Taanach, take your nebal and play softly on the silver string, for my hear_s sad!"
The slave lifted a sort of harp of ebony wood, taller than herself, an_riangular in shape like a delta; she fixed the point in a crystal globe, an_ith both hands began to play.
The sounds followed one another hurried and deep, like the buzzing of bees, and with increasing sonorousness floated away into the night with th_omplaining of the waves, and the rustling of the great trees on the summit o_he Acropolis.
"Hush!" cried Salammbo.
"What ails you, mistress? The blowing of the breeze, the passing of a cloud, everything disquiets you just now!"
"I do not know," she said.
"You are wearied with too long prayers!"
"Oh! Tanaach, I would fain be dissolved in them like a flower in wine!"
"Perhaps it is the smoke of your perfumes?"
"No!" said Salammbo; "the spirit of the gods dwells in fragrant odours."
Then the slave spoke to her of her father. It was thought that he had gon_owards the amber country, behind the pillars of Melkarth. "But if he does no_eturn," she said, "you must nevertheless, since it was his will, choose _usband among the sons of the Ancients, and then your grief will pass away i_ man's arms."
"Why?" asked the young girl. All those that she had seen had horrified he_ith their fallow-deer laughter and their coarse limbs.
"Sometimes, Tanaach, from the depths of my being there exhale as it were ho_umes heavier than the vapours from a volcano. Voices call me, a globe of fir_olls and mounts within my bosom, it stifles me, I am at the point of death; and then, something sweet, flowing from my brow to my feet, passes through m_lesh—it is a caress enfolding me, and I feel myself crushed as if some go_ere stretched upon me. Oh! would that I could lose myself in the mists of th_ight, the waters of the fountains, the sap of the trees, that I could issu_rom my body, and be but a breath, or a ray, and glide, mount up to thee, _other!"
She raised her arms to their full length, arching her form, which in its lon_arment was as pale and light as the moon. Then she fell back, panting, on th_vory couch; but Taanach passed an amber necklace with dolphin's teeth abou_er neck to banish terrors, and Salammbo said in an almost stifled voice: "G_nd bring me Schahabarim."
Her father had not wished her to enter the college of priestesses, nor even t_e made at all acquainted with the popular Tanith. He was reserving her fo_ome alliance that might serve his political ends; so that Salammbo live_lone in the midst of the palace. Her mother was long since dead.
She had grown up with abstinences, fastings and purifications, alway_urrounded by grave and exquisite things, her body saturated with perfumes, and her soul filled with prayers. She had never tasted wine, nor eaten meat, nor touched an unclean animal, nor set her heels in the house of death.
She knew nothing of obscene images, for as each god was manifested i_ifferent forms, the same principle often received the witness o_ontradictory cults, and Salammbo worshipped the goddess in her siderea_resentation. An influence had descended upon the maiden from the moon; whe_he planet passed diminishing away, Salammbo grew weak. She languished th_hole day long, and revived at evening. During an eclipse she nearly died.
But Rabetna, in jealousy, revenged herself for the virginity withdrawn fro_er sacrifices, and she tormented Salammbo with possessions, all the stronge_or being vague, which were spread through this belief and excited by it.
Unceasingly was Hamilcar's daughter disquieted about Tanith. She had learne_er adventures, her travels, and all her names, which she would repeat withou_heir having any distinct signification for her. In order to penetrate int_he depths of her dogma, she wished to become acquainted, in the most secre_art of the temple, with the old idol in the magnificent mantle, whereo_epended the destinies of Carthage, for the idea of a god did not stand ou_learly from his representation, and to hold, or even see the image of one, was to take away part of his virtue, and in a measure to rule him.
But Salammbo turned around. She had recognised the sound of the golden bell_hich Schahabarim wore at the hem of his garment.
He ascended the staircases; then at the threshold of the terrace he stoppe_nd folded his arms.
His sunken eyes shone like the lamps of a sepulchre; his long thin bod_loated in its linen robe which was weighted by the bells, the latte_lternating with balls of emeralds at his heels. He had feeble limbs, a_blique skull and a pointed chin; his skin seemed cold to the touch, and hi_ellow face, which was deeply furrowed with wrinkles, was as if it contracte_n a longing, in an everlasting grief.
He was the high priest of Tanith, and it was he who had educated Salammbo.
"Speak!" he said. "What will you?"
"I hoped—you had almost promised me—" She stammered and was confused; the_uddenly: "Why do you despise me? what have I forgotten in the rites? You ar_y master, and you told me that no one was so accomplished in the thing_ertaining to the goddess as I; but there are some of which you will no_peak. Is it so, O father?"
Schahabarim remembered Hamilcar's orders, and replied:
"No, I have nothing more to teach you!"
"A genius," she resumed, "impels me to this love. I have climbed the steps o_schmoun, god of the planets and intelligences; I have slept beneath th_olden olive of Melkarth, patron of the Tyrian colonies; I have pushed ope_he doors of Baal-Khamon, the enlightener and fertiliser; I have sacrificed t_he subterranean Kabiri, to the gods of woods, winds, rivers and mountains; but, can you understand? they are all too far away, too high, too insensible, while she—I feel her mingled in my life; she fills my soul, and I quiver wit_nward startings, as though she were leaping in order to escape. Methinks I a_bout to hear her voice, and see her face, lightnings dazzle me and then _ink back again into the darkness."
Schahabarim was silent. She entreated him with suppliant looks. At last h_ade a sign for the dismissal of the slave, who was not of Chanaanitish race.
Taanach disappeared, and Schahabarim, raising one arm in the air, began:
"Before the gods darkness alone was, and a breathing stirred dull an_ndistinct as the conscience of a man in a dream. It contracted, creatin_esire and Cloud, and from Desire and Cloud there issued primitive Matter.
This was a water, muddy, black, icy and deep. It contained senseless monsters, incoherent portions of the forms to be born, which are painted on the walls o_he sanctuaries.
"Then Matter condensed. It became an egg. It burst. One half formed the eart_nd the other the firmament. Sun, moon, winds and clouds appeared, and at th_rash of the thunder intelligent creatures awoke. Then Eschmoun spread himsel_n the starry sphere; Khamon beamed in the sun; Melkarth thrust him with hi_rms behind Gades; the Kabiri descended beneath the volcanoes, and Rabetn_ike a nurse bent over the world pouring out her light like milk, and he_ight like a mantle."
"And then?" she said.
He had related the secret of the origins to her, to divert her from sublime_rospects; but the maiden's desire kindled again at his last words, an_chahabarim, half yielding resumed:
"She inspires and governs the loves of men."
"The loves of men!" repeated Salammbo dreamily.
"She is the soul of Carthage," continued the priest; "and although she i_verywhere diffused, it is here that she dwells, beneath the sacred veil."
"O father!" cried Salammbo, "I shall see her, shall I not? you will bring m_o her! I had long been hesitating; I am devoured with curiosity to see he_orm. Pity! help me! let us go?"
He repulsed her with a vehement gesture that was full of pride.
"Never! Do you not know that it means death? The hermaphrodite Baals ar_nveiled to us alone who are men in understanding and women in weakness. You_esire is sacrilege; be satisfied with the knowledge that you possess!"
She fell upon her knees placing two fingers against her ears in token o_epentance; and crushed by the priest's words, and filled at once with ange_gainst him, with terror and humiliation, she burst into sobs. Schahabari_emained erect, and more insensible than the stones of the terrace. He looke_own upon her quivering at his feet, and felt a kind of joy on seeing he_uffer for his divinity whom he himself could not wholly embrace. The bird_ere already singing, a cold wind was blowing, and little clouds were driftin_n the paling sky.
Suddenly he perceived on the horizon, behind Tunis, what looked like sligh_ists trailing along the ground; then these became a great curtain of dus_xtending perpendicularly, and, amid the whirlwinds of the thronging mass, dromedaries' heads, lances and shields appeared. It was the army of th_arbarians advancing upon Carthage.