Spendius and Matho commenced to swim again, and passing through the opening of the arches, traversed several chambers in succession. Two other rows of smaller basins extended in a parallel direction on each side. They lost themselves; they turned, and came back again. At last something offered a resistance to their heels. It was the pavement of the gallery that ran along the cisterns.
Then, advancing with great precautions, they felt along the wall to find an outlet. But their feet slipped, and they fell into the great centre-basins. They had to climb up again, and there they fell again. They experienced terrible fatigue, which made them feel as if all their limbs had been dissolved in the water while swimming. Their eyes closed; they were in the agonies of death.
Spendius struck his hand against the bars of a grating. They shook it, it gave way, and they found themselves on the steps of a staircase. A door of bronze closed it above. With the point of a dagger they moved the bar, which was opened from without, and suddenly the pure open air surrounded them.
The night was filled with silence, and the sky seemed at an extraordinary height. Clusters of trees projected over the long lines of walls. The whole town was asleep. The fires of the outposts shone like lost stars.
Spendius, who had spent three years in the ergastulum, was but imperfectly acquainted with the different quarters. Matho conjectured that to reach Hamilcar’s palace they ought to strike to the left and cross the Mappalian district.
“No,” said Spendius, “take me to the temple of Tanith.”
Matho wished to speak.
“Remember!” said the former slave, and raising his arm he showed him the glittering planet of Chabar.
Then Matho turned in silence towards the Acropolis.
They crept along the nopal hedges which bordered the paths. The water trickled from their limbs upon the dust. Their damp sandals made no noise; Spendius, with eyes that flamed more than torches, searched the bushes at every step;—and he walked behind Matho with his hands resting on the two daggers which he carried on his arms, and which hung from below the armpit by a leathern band.
After leaving the gardens Matho and Spendius found themselves checked by the rampart of Megara. But they discovered a breach in the great wall and passed through.
The ground sloped downwards, forming a kind of very broad valley. It was an exposed place.
“Listen,” said Spendius, “and first of all fear nothing! I shall fulfil my promise—”
He stopped abruptly, and seemed to reflect as though searching for words,—“Do you remember that time at sunrise when I showed Carthage to you on Salammbo’s terrace? We were strong that day, but you would listen to nothing!” Then in a grave voice: “Master, in the sanctuary of Tanith there is a mysterious veil, which fell from heaven and which covers the goddess.”