THE LAST GALLEY IMPRESSIONS AND TALES
THE LAST GALLEY IMPRESSIONS AND TALES
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
THE LAST GALLEY
THROUGH THE VEIL
THE COMING OF THE HUNS
THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS
THE FIRST CARGO
THE RED STAR
THE SILVER MIRROR
THE BLIGHTING OF SHARKEY
THE MARRIAGE OF THE BRIGADIER
THE LORD OF FALCONBRIDGE
OUT OF THE RUNNING
THE GREAT BROWN-PERICORD MOTOR
THE TERROR OF BLUE JOHN GAP
THE LAST GALLEY
"Mutato nomine de te Britannia fabula narratur."
It was a spring morning one hundred and forty-six years before the
coming of Christ. The North African Coast with its broad hem of golden
sand its green belt of feathery palm trees and its background of
barren red-scarped hills shimmered like a dream country in the opal
light. Save for a narrow edge of snow-white surf the Mediterranean
lay blue and serene as far as the eye could reach. In all its vast
expanse there was no break but for a single galley which was slowly
making its way from the direction of Sicily and heading for the distant
harbour of Carthage.
Seen from afar it was a stately and beautiful vessel deep red in
colour double-banked with scarlet oars its broad flapping sail
stained with Tyrian purple its bulwarks gleaming with brass work.
A brazen three-pronged ram projected in front and a high golden figure
of Baal the God of the Phoenicians children of Canaan shone upon the
after deck. From the single high mast above the huge sail streamed the
tiger-striped flag of Carthage. So like some stately scarlet bird
with golden beak and wings of purple she swam upon the face of the
waters--a thing of might and of beauty as seen from the distant shore.
But approach and look at her now! What are these dark streaks which
foul her white decks and dapple her brazen shields? Why do the long red
oars move out of time irregular convulsive? Why are some missing from
the staring portholes some snapped with jagged yellow edges some
trailing inert against the side? Why are two prongs of the brazen ram
twisted and broken? See even the high image of Baal is battered and
disfigured! By every sign this ship has passed through some grievous
trial some day of terror which has left its heavy marks upon her.
And now stand upon the deck itself and see more closely the men who man
her! There are two decks forward and aft while in the open waist are
the double banks of seats above and below where the rowers two to an
oar tug and bend at their endless task. Down the centre is a narrow
platform along which pace a line of warders lash in hand who cut
cruelly at the slave who pauses be it only for an instant to sweep the
sweat from his dripping brow. But these slaves--look at them! Some are
captured Romans some Sicilians many black Libyans but all are in the
last exhaustion their weary eyelids drooped over their eyes their lips
thick with black crusts and pink with bloody froth their arms and
backs moving mechanically to the hoarse chant of the overseer. Their
bodies of all tints from ivory to jet are stripped to the waist and
every glistening back shows the angry stripes of the warders. But it is
not from these that the blood comes which reddens the seats and tints
the salt water washing beneath their manacled feet. Great gaping
wounds the marks of sword slash and spear stab show crimson upon their
naked chests and shoulders while many lie huddled and senseless athwart
the benches careless for ever of the whips which still hiss above them.
Now we can understand those empty portholes and those trailing oars.
Nor were the crew in better case than their slaves. The decks were
littered with wounded and dying men. It was but a remnant who still
remained upon their feet. The most lay exhausted upon the fore-deck
while a few of the more zealous were mending their shattered armour
restringing their bows or cleaning the deck from the marks of combat.
Upon a raised platform at the base of the mast stood the sailing-master
who conned the ship his eyes fixed upon the distant point of Megara
which screened the eastern side of the Bay of Carthage. On the
after-deck were gathered a number of officers silent and brooding
glancing from time to time at two of their own class who stood apart
deep in conversation. The one tall dark and wiry with pure Semitic
features and the limbs of a giant was Magro the famous Carthaginian
captain whose name was still a terror on every shore from Gaul to the
Euxine. The other a white-bearded swarthy man with indomitable
courage and energy stamped upon every eager line of his keen aquiline
face was Gisco the politician a man of the highest Punic blood a
Suffete of the purple robe and the leader of that party in the State
which had watched and striven amid the selfishness and slothfulness of
his fellow-countrymen to rouse the public spirit and waken the public
conscience to the ever-increasing danger from Rome. As they talked the
two men glanced continually with earnest anxious faces towards the
"It is certain" said the older man with gloom in his voice and
bearing "none have escaped save ourselves."
"I did not leave the press of the battle whilst I saw one ship which I
could succour" Magro answered. "As it was we came away as you saw
like a wolf which has a hound hanging on to either haunch. The Roman
dogs can show the wolf-bites which prove it. Had any other galley won
clear they would surely be with us by now since they have no place of
safety save Carthage."
The younger warrior glanced keenly ahead to the distant point which
marked his native city. Already the low leafy hill could be seen
dotted with the white villas of the wealthy Phoenician merchants.
Above them a gleaming dot against the pale blue morning sky shone the
brazen roof of the citadel of Byrsa which capped the sloping town.
"Already they can see us from the watch-towers" he remarked. "Even
from afar they may know the galley of Black Magro. But which of all of
them will guess that we alone remain of all that goodly fleet which
sailed out with blare of trumpet and roll of drum but one short month
The patrician smiled bitterly. "If it were not for our great ancestors
and for our beloved country the Queen of the Waters" said he
"I could find it in my heart to be glad at this destruction which has
come upon this vain and feeble generation. You have spent your life
upon the seas Magro. You do not know of know how it has been with us
on the land. But I have seen this canker grow upon us which now leads
us to our death. I and others have gone down into the market-place to
plead with the people and been pelted with mud for our pains. Many a
time have I pointed to Rome and said 'Behold these people who bear
arms themselves each man for his own duty and pride. How can you who
hide behind mercenaries hope to stand against them?'--a hundred times I
have said it."
"And had they no answer?" asked the Rover.
"Rome was far off and they could not see it so to them it was nothing"
the old man answered. "Some thought of trade and some of votes and
some of profits from the State but none would see that the State
itself the mother of all things was sinking to her end. So might the
bees debate who should have wax or honey when the torch was blazing
which would bring to ashes the hive and all therein. 'Are we not rulers
of the sea?' 'Was not Hannibal a great man?' Such were their cries
living ever in the past and blind to the future. Before that sun sets
there will be tearing of hair and rending of garments; what will that
now avail us?"
"It is some sad comfort" said Magro "to know that what Rome holds she
"Why say you that? When we go down she is supreme in all the world."
"For a time and only for a time" Magro answered gravely. "Yet you
will smile perchance when I tell you how it is that I know it.
There was a wise woman who lived in that part of the Tin Islands which
juts forth into the sea and from her lips I have heard many things but
not one which has not come aright. Of the fall of our own country
and even of this battle from which we now return she told me clearly.
There is much strange lore amongst these savage peoples in the west of
the land of Tin."
"What said she of Rome?"
"That she also would fall even as we weakened by her riches and her
Gisco rubbed his hands. "That at least makes our own fall less bitter"
said he. "But since we have fallen and Rome will fall who in turn may
hope to be Queen of the Waters?"
"That also I asked her" said Magro "and gave her my Tyrian belt with
the golden buckle as a guerdon for her answer. But indeed it was too
high payment for the tale she told which must be false if all else she
said was true. She would have it that in coining days it was her own
land this fog-girt isle where painted savages can scarce row a wicker
coracle from point to point which shall at last take the trident which
Carthage and Rome have dropped."
The smile which flickered upon the old patrician's keen features died
away suddenly and his fingers closed upon his companion's wrist.
The other had set rigid his head advanced his hawk eyes upon the
northern skyline. Its straight blue horizon was broken by two low
"Galleys!" whispered Gisco.
The whole crew had seen them. They clustered along the starboard
bulwarks pointing and chattering. For a moment the gloom of defeat was
lifted and a buzz of joy ran from group to group at the thought that
they were not alone--that some one had escaped the great carnage as well
"By the spirit of Baal" said Black Magro "I could not have believed
that any could have fought clear from such a welter. Could it be young
Hamilcar in the _Africa_ or is it Beneva in the blue Syrian ship?
We three with others may form a squadron and make head against them yet.
If we hold our course they will join us ere we round the harbour mole."
Slowly the injured galley toiled on her way and more swiftly the two
newcomers swept down from the north. Only a few miles off lay the green
point and the white houses which flanked the great African city.
Already upon the headland could be seen a dark group of waiting
townsmen. Gisco and Magro were still watching with puckered gaze the
approaching galleys when the brown Libyan boatswain with flashing
teeth and gleaming eyes rushed upon the poop his long thin arm
stabbing to the north.
"Romans!" he cried. "Romans!"
A hush had fallen over the great vessel. Only the wash of the water and
the measured rattle and beat of the oars broke in upon the silence.
"By the horns of God's altar I believe the fellow is right!" cried old
Gisco. "See how they swoop upon us like falcons. They are full-manned
"Plain wood unpainted" said Magro. "See how it gleams yellow where
the sun strikes it."
"And yonder thing beneath the mast. Is it not the cursed bridge they
use for boarding?"
"So they grudge us even one" said Magro with a bitter laugh. "Not even
one galley shall return to the old sea-mother. Well for my part I
would as soon have it so. I am of a mind to stop the oars and await
"It is a man's thought" answered old Gisco; "but the city will need us
in the days to come. What shall it profit us to make the Roman victory
complete? Nay Magro let the slaves row as they never rowed before
not for our own safety but for the profit of the State."
So the great red ship laboured and lurched onwards like a weary panting
stag which seeks shelter from his pursuers while ever swifter and ever
nearer sped the two lean fierce galleys from the north. Already the
morning sun shone upon the lines of low Roman helmets above the
bulwarks and glistened on the silver wave where each sharp prow shot
through the still blue water. Every moment the ships drew nearer and
the long thin scream of the Roman trumpets grew louder upon the ear.
Upon the high bluff of Megara there stood a great concourse of the
people of Carthage who had hurried forth from the city upon the news
that the galleys were in sight. They stood now rich and poor effete
and plebeian white Phoenician and dark Kabyle gazing with breathless
interest at the spectacle before them. Some hundreds of feet beneath
them the Punic galley had drawn so close that with their naked eyes they
could see those stains of battle which told their dismal tale.
The Romans too were heading in such a way that it was before their
very faces that their ship was about to be cut off; and yet of all this
multitude not one could raise a hand in its defence. Some wept in
impotent grief some cursed with flashing eyes and knotted fists some
on their knees held up appealing hands to Baal; but neither prayer
tears nor curses could undo the past nor mend the present. That
broken crawling galley meant that their fleet was gone. Those two
fierce darting ships meant that the hands of Rome were already at their
throat. Behind them would come others and others the innumerable
trained hosts of the great Republic long mistress of the land now
dominant also upon the waters. In a month two months three at the
most their armies would be there and what could all the untrained
multitudes of Carthage do to stop them?
"Nay!" cried one more hopeful than the rest "at least we are brave men
with arms in our hands."
"Fool!" said another "is it not such talk which has brought us to our
ruin? What is the brave man untrained to the brave man trained? When
you stand before the sweep and rush of a Roman legion you may learn the
"Then let us train!"
"Too late! A full year is needful to turn a man to a soldier. Where
will you--where will your city be within the year? Nay there is but
one chance for us. If we give up our commerce and our colonies if we
strip ourselves of all that made us great then perchance the Roman
conqueror may hold his hand."
And already the last sea-fight of Carthage was coming swiftly to an end
before them. Under their very eyes the two Roman galleys had shot in
one on either side of the vessel of Black Magro. They had grappled with
him and he desperate in his despair had cast the crooked flukes of
his anchors over their gunwales and bound them to him in an iron grip
whilst with hammer and crowbar he burst great holes in his own
sheathing. The last Punic galley should never be rowed into Ostia a
sight for the holiday-makers of Rome. She would lie in her own waters.
And the fierce dark soul of her rover captain glowed as he thought that
not alone should she sink into the depths of the mother sea.
Too late did the Romans understand the man with whom they had to deal.
Their boarders who had flooded the Punic decks felt the planking sink
and sway beneath them. They rushed to gain their own vessels; but they
too were being drawn downwards held in the dying grip of the great red
galley. Over they went and ever over. Now the deck of Magro's ship is
flush with the water and the Romans drawn towards it by the iron bonds
which held them are tilted downwards one bulwark upon the waves
one reared high in the air. Madly they strain to cast off the death
grip of the galley. She is under the surface now and ever swifter
with the greater weight the Roman ships heel after her. There is a
rending crash. The wooden side is torn out of one and mutilated
dismembered she rights herself and lies a helpless thing upon the
water. But a last yellow gleam in the blue water shows where her
consort has been dragged to her end in the iron death-grapple of her
foemen. The tiger-striped flag of Carthage has sunk beneath the
swirling surface never more to be seen upon the face of the sea.
For in that year a great cloud hung for seventeen days over the African
coast a deep black cloud which was the dark shroud of the burning city.
And when the seventeen days were over Roman ploughs were driven from
end to end of the charred ashes and salt was scattered there as a sign
that Carthage should be no more. And far off a huddle of naked
starving folk stood upon the distant mountains and looked down upon the
desolate plain which had once been the fairest and richest upon earth.
And they understood too late that it is the law of heaven that the world
is given to the hardy and to the self-denying whilst he who would
escape the duties of manhood will soon be stripped of the pride the
wealth and the power which are the prizes which manhood brings.
In the year of our Lord 66 the Emperor Nero being at that time in the
twenty-ninth year of his life and the thirteenth of his reign set sail
for Greece with the strangest company and the most singular design
that any monarch has ever entertained. With ten galleys he went forth
from Puteoli carrying with him great stores of painted scenery and
theatrical properties together with a number of knights and senators
whom he feared to leave behind him at Rome and who were all marked for
death in the course of his wanderings. In his train he took Natus
his singing coach; Cluvius a man with a monstrous voice who should
bawl out his titles; and a thousand trained youths who had learned to
applaud in unison whenever their master sang or played in public.
So deftly had they been taught that each had his own role to play.
Some did no more than give forth a low deep hum of speechless
appreciation. Some clapped with enthusiasm. Some rising from
approbation into absolute frenzy shrieked stamped and beat sticks
upon the benches. Some--and they were the most effective--had learned
from an Alexandrian a long droning musical note which they all uttered
together so that it boomed over the assembly. With the aid of these
mercenary admirers Nero had every hope in spite of his indifferent
voice and clumsy execution to return to Rome bearing with him the
chaplets for song offered for free competition by the Greek cities.
As his great gilded galley with two tiers of oars passed down the
Mediterranean the Emperor sat in his cabin all day his teacher by his
side rehearsing from morning to night those compositions which he had
selected whilst every few hours a Nubian slave massaged the Imperial
throat with oil and balsam that it might be ready for the great ordeal
which lay before it in the land of poetry and song. His food his
drink and his exercise were prescribed for him as for an athlete who
trains for a contest and the twanging of his lyre with the strident
notes of his voice resounded continually from the Imperial quarters.
Now it chanced that there lived in those days a Grecian goatherd named
Policles who tended and partly owned a great flock which grazed upon
the long flanks of the hills near Heroea which is five miles north of
the river Alpheus and no great distance from the famous Olympia.
This person was noted all over the countryside as a man of strange gifts
and singular character. He was a poet who had twice been crowned for
his verses and he was a musician to whom the use and sound of an
instrument were so natural that one would more easily meet him without
his staff than his harp. Even in his lonely vigils on the winter hills
he would bear it always slung over his shoulder and would pass the long
hours by its aid so that it had come to be part of his very self.
He was beautiful also swarthy and eager with a head like Adonis and
in strength there was no one who could compete with him. But all was
ruined by his disposition which was so masterful that he would brook no
opposition nor contradiction. For this reason he was continually at
enmity with all his neighbours and in his fits of temper he would spend
months at a time in his stone hut among the mountains hearing nothing
from the world and living only for his music and his goats.
One spring morning in the year of 67 Policles with the aid of his boy
Dorus had driven his goats over to a new pasturage which overlooked
from afar the town of Olympia. Gazing down upon it from the mountain
the shepherd was surprised to see that a portion of the famous
amphitheatre had been roofed in as though some performance was being
enacted. Living far from the world and from all news Policles could
not imagine what was afoot for he was well aware that the Grecian games
were not due for two years to come. Surely some poetic or musical
contest must be proceeding of which he had heard nothing. If so there
would perhaps be some chance of his gaining the votes of the judges; and
in any case he loved to hear the compositions and admire the execution
of the great minstrels who assembled on such an occasion. Calling to
Dorus therefore he left the goats to his charge and strode swiftly
away his harp upon his back to see what was going forward in the town.