"You ought to think yourself a fortunate girl, Thyra," Adherbal said, smiling; "for your father might have taken it into his head to have done as Hamilcar Barca did, and married his daughters to Massilian and Numidian princes, to become queens of bands of nomad savages."
"Well, they were queens, that was something, even if only of nomads."
"I don't think that it would have suited you, Thyra—a seat on horseback for a throne, and a rough tent for a palace, would not be in your way at all. I think a snug villa on the slopes of the bay of Carthagena, will suit you better, not to mention the fact that I shall make an infinitely more pleasant and agreeable master than a Numidian chief would do."
"You are intolerable, Adherbal, with your conceit and your mastership. However, I suppose when the time comes I shall have to obey my father. What a pity it is we girls cannot choose our husbands for ourselves! Perhaps the time may come when we shall do so."
"Well, in your case, Thyra," Adherbal said, "it would make no difference, because you know you would have chosen me anyhow; but most girls would make a nice business of it. How are they to know what men really are? They might be gamesters, drunkards, brutal and cruel by nature, idle and spendthrift. What can maidens know of a man's disposition? Of course they only see him at his best. Wise parents can make careful inquiries, and have means of knowing what a man's disposition and habits really are."
"You don't think, Adherbal," Thyra said earnestly, "that girls are such fools that they cannot read faces; that we cannot tell the difference between a good man and a bad one."
"Yes, a girl may know something about every man save the one she loves, Thyra. She may see other's faults clearly enough; but she is blind to those of the man she loves. Do you not know that the Greeks depict Cupid with a bandage over his eyes?"
"I am not blind to your faults," Thyra said indignantly. "I know that you are a great deal more lazy than becomes you; that you are not sufficiently earnest in the affairs of life; that you will never rise to be a great general like my cousin Hannibal."
"That is all quite true," Adherbal laughed; "and yet you see you love me. You perceive my faults only in theory and not in fact, and you do not in your heart wish to see me different from what I am. Is it not so?"
"Yes," the girl said shyly, "I suppose it is. Anyhow, I don't like the thought of your going away from me to that horrid Iberia."
Although defeated for the moment by the popular vote, the party of Hanno were not discouraged. They had suffered a similar check when they had attempted to prevent Hannibal joining Hasdrubal in Spain.
Not a moment was lost in setting to work to recover their lost ground. Their agents among the lower classes spread calumnies against the Barcine leaders. Money was lavishly distributed, and the judges, who were devoted to Hanno's party, set their machinery to work to strike terror among their opponents. Their modes of procedure were similar to those which afterwards made Venice execrable in the height of her power. Arrests were made secretly in the dead of night. Men were missing from their families, and none knew what had become of them.
Dead bodies bearing signs of strangulation were found floating in the shallow lakes around Carthage; and yet, so great was the dread inspired by the terrible power of the judges, that the friends and relations of those who were missing dared make neither complaint nor inquiry. It was not against the leaders of the Barcine party that such measures were taken. Had one of these been missing the whole would have flown to arms. The dungeons would have been broken open, and not only the captives liberated, but their arrest might have been made the pretext for an attack upon the whole system under which such a state of things could exist.
It was chiefly among the lower classes that the agents of Hanno's vengeance operated. Among these the disappearance of so many men who were regarded as leaders among the rest spread a deep and mysterious fear. Although none dared to complain openly, the news of these mysterious disappearances was not long in reaching the leaders of the Barcine party.
These, however, were for the time powerless to act. Certain as they might be of the source whence these unseen blows descended, they had no evidence on which to assail so formidable a body as the judges. It would be a rash act indeed to accuse such important functionaries of the state, belonging, with scarcely an exception, to powerful families, of arbitrary and cruel measures against insignificant persons.
The halo of tradition still surrounded the judges, and added to the fear inspired by their terrible and unlimited power. In such an attack the Barcine party could not rely upon the population to side with them; for, while comparatively few were personally affected by the arrests which had taken place, the fear of future consequences would operate upon all.
Among the younger members of the party, however, the indignation aroused by these secret blows was deep. Giscon, who was continually brooding over the tyranny and corruption which were ruining his country, was one of the leaders of this section of the party; with him were other spirits as ardent as himself. They met in a house in a quiet street in the lower town, and there discussed all sorts of desperate projects for freeing the city of its tyrants.
One day as Giscon was making his way to this rendezvous he met Malchus riding at full speed from the port.
"What is it, Malchus, whither away in such haste?"
"It is shameful, Giscon, it is outrageous. I have just been down to the port to tell the old fisherman with whom I often go out that I would sail with him tomorrow, and find that four days ago he was missing, and his body was yesterday found by his sons floating in the lagoon. He had been strangled. His sons are as much overpowered with terror as by grief, they believe that he has suffered for the part he took in rousing the fishermen to declare for Hannibal a fortnight since, and they fear lest the terrible vengeance of Hanno should next fall upon them.
"How it happened they know not. A man arrived late in the evening and said that one of their father's best customers wanted a supply of fish for a banquet he was to give next day, and that he wanted to speak to him at once to arrange about the quantity and quality of fish he required. Suspecting nothing the old man left at once, and was never heard of afterwards. Next morning, seeing that he had not returned, one of his sons went to the house to which he had been fetched, but found that its owner knew nothing of the affair, and denied that he had sent any message whatever to him. Fearing that something was wrong they searched everywhere, but it was not until last night that his body was, as I have told you, found.
"They are convinced that their father died in no private feud. He had not, as far as they know, an enemy in the world. You may imagine how l feel this; not only did I regard him as a friend, but I feel that it was owing to his acting as I led him that he has come to his death."
"The tyrants!" Giscon exclaimed in a low voice. "But what can you do, Malchus?"
"I am going to my father," Malchus replied, "to ask him to take the matter up."
"What can he do?" Giscon said with a bitter laugh. "What can he prove? Can he accuse our most noble body of judges, without a shadow of proof, of making away with this unknown old fisherman. No, Malchus, if you are in earnest to revenge your friend come with me, I will introduce you to my friends, who are banded together against this tyranny, and who are sworn to save Carthage. You are young, but you are brave and full of ardour; you are a son of General Hamilcar, and my friends will gladly receive you as one of us."
Malchus did not hesitate. That there would be danger in joining such a body as Giscon spoke of he knew, but the young officer's talk during their expedition had aroused in him a deep sense of the tyranny and corruption which were sapping the power or his country, and this blow which had struck him personally rendered him in a mood to adopt any dangerous move.
"I will join you, Giscon," he said, "if you will accept me. I am young, but I am ready to go all lengths, and to give my life if needs be to free Carthage."
CHAPTER V: THE CONSPIRACY
Giscon led his companion along the narrow lanes until he reached the back entrance of the house where the meetings were held. Knocking in a particular way it was opened at once and closed behind them. As they entered a slave took Malchus' horse without a word and fastened it to a ring in the wall, where four or five other horses were standing.
"I rather wonder you are not afraid of drawing attention by riding on horseback to a house in such a quarter," Malchus said.
"We dare not meet secretly, you know. The city is full of spies, and doubtless the movements of all known to be hostile to Hanno and his party are watched, therefore we thought it best to meet here. We have caused it to be whispered as a secret in the neighbourhood, that the house has been taken as a place where we can gamble free from the presence of our elders. Therefore the only comments we excite is, 'There go those young fools who are ruining themselves.' It is only because you are on horseback that I have come round to this gate; had you come on foot we should have entered by the front. Fortunately there are among us many who are deemed to be mere pleasure seekers—men who wager fortunes on their horses, who are given to banquets, or whose lives seem to be passed in luxury and indolence, but who at heart are as earnest in the cause of Carthage as I am. The presence of such men among us gives a probability to the tale that this is a gambling house. Were we all of my stamp, men known to be utterly hostile to Hanno and his party, suspicion would fall upon our meetings at once. But here we are."
As he spoke he drew aside some heavy curtains and entered a large room. Some ten or twelve young men were assembled there. They looked up in surprise as Giscon entered followed by his companion.
"I have brought a recruit," Giscon said, "one whom all of you know by repute if not personally; it is Malchus, the son of General Hamilcar. He is young to be engaged in a business like ours, but I have been with him in a campaign and can answer for him. He is brave, ready, thoughtful and trustworthy. He loves his country and hates her tyrants. I can guarantee that he will do nothing imprudent, but can be trusted as one or ourselves. Being young he will have the advantage of being less likely to be watched, and may be doubly useful. He is ready to take the oath of our society."
As Giscon was the leading spirit of the band his recommendation was taken as amply sufficient. The young men rose and formed in a circle round Malchus. All drew their daggers, and one, whom Malchus recognized with a momentary feeling of surprise as Carthalon, whom Adherbal had pointed out at the Barcine Club as one who thought only of horse racing, said:
"Do you swear by Moloch and Astarte to be true to this society, to devote yourself to the destruction of the oppressors of Carthage, to carry out all measures which may be determined upon, even at the certain risk of your life, and to suffer yourself to be torn to pieces by the torture rather than reveal aught that passes within these walls?"
"That I swear solemnly," Malchus said.
"I need not say," Carthalon said carelessly, "that the punishment of the violation of the oath is death. It is so put in our rules. But we are all nobles of Carthage, and nobles do not break their oaths, so we can let that pass. When a man's word is good enough to make him beggar himself in order to discharge a wager, he can be trusted to keep his word in a matter which concerns the lives of a score of his fellows. And now that this business is arranged we can go on with our talk; but first let us have some wine, for all this talking is thirsty work at best."
The young men threw themselves upon the couches around the room and, while slaves brought round wine, chatted lightly with each other about horses, the play presented the day before, the respective merits of the reigning beauties of Carthage, and other similar topics, and Malchus, who was impressed with the serious nature of the secret conspiracy which he had just sworn to aid, could not help being surprised at the careless gaiety of the young men, although engaged in a conspiracy in which they risked their lives.
It was not until some minutes after the slaves had left the apartment that the light talk and banter ceased, as Giscon rose and said:
"Now to business. Malchus has told me that an old fisherman, who took a lead in stirring up his fellows to declare for Hannibal, has been decoyed away from his home and murdered; his body has been found floating in the lake, strangled. This is the nineteenth in the course of a week. These acts are spreading terror among the working classes, and unless they are put a stop to we can no longer expect assistance from them.
"That these deeds are the work of the officials of the tribunals we have no doubt. The sooner we strike the better. Matters are getting ripe. I have eight men sworn into my section among the weavers, and need but two more to complete it. We will instruct our latest recruit to raise a section among the fishermen. The sons of the man just murdered should form a nucleus. We agreed from the first that three hundred resolute men besides ourselves were required, and that each of us should raise a section of ten. Malchus brings up our number here to thirty, and when all the sections are filled up we shall be ready for action.
"Failure ought to be impossible. The houses of Hanno and thirty of his party will be attacked, and the tyrants slain before any alarm can be given. Another thirty at least should be slain before the town is fairly aroused. Maybe each section can undertake three if our plans are well laid, and each chooses for attack three living near each other. We have not yet settled whether it will be better to separate when this is done, content with the first blow against our tyrants, or to prepare beforehand for a popular rising, to place ourselves at the head of the populace, and to make a clean sweep of the judges and the leaders of Hanno's party."
Giscon spoke in an ordinary matter-of-fact tone, as if he were discussing the arrangements of a party of pleasure; but Malchus could scarcely repress a movement of anxiety as he heard this proposal for the wholesale destruction of the leading men of Carthage. The council thus opened was continued for three hours. Most of those present spoke, but, to the surprise of Malchus, there was an entire absence of that gloom and mystery with which the idea of a state conspiracy was associated in his mind.
The young men discussed it earnestly, indeed, but in the same spirit in which they would have agreed over a disputed question as to the respective merits of two horses. They laughed, joked, offered and accepted wagers and took the whole matter with a lightness of heart which Malchus imitated to the best of his power, but which he was very far from feeling; and yet he felt that beneath all this levity his companions were perfectly in earnest in their plans, but they joked now as they would have joked before the commencement of a battle in which the odds against them were overwhelming and great.
Even Giscon, generally grave and gloomy, was as light hearted as the rest. The aristocracy of Carthage were, like the aristocracy of all other countries, from tradition, training, and habit, brave to excess. Just as centuries later the noblesse of France chatted gaily on the tumbril on their way to execution, and offered each other their snuff boxes on the scaffold, so these young aristocrats of Carthage smiled and jested, though well aware that they were risking their lives.
No decision was arrived at, for this could only be decided upon at a special meeting, at which all the members of the society would be present. Among those now in council opinions were nearly equally divided. The one party urged that, did they take steps to prepare the populace for a rising, a rumour would be sure to meet the ears of their opponents and they would be on their guard; whereas, if they scattered quickly after each section had slain two of their tyrants, the operation might be repeated until all the influential men of Hanno's faction had been removed.
In reply to these arguments the other party urged that delays were always dangerous, that huge rewards would be offered after the first attempts, that some of the men of the sections might turn traitors, that Hanno's party would be on their guard in future, and that the judges would effect wholesale arrests and executions; whereas, were the populace appealed to in the midst of the excitement which would be caused by the death of Hanno and his principal adherents, the people would rise and finish with their tyrants.
After all who wished to speak on the subject had given their opinions, they proceeded to details; each gave a statement of the number of men enrolled in his section, with a few words as to the disposition of each. Almost without an exception each of these men was animated with a sense of private wrong. Some had lost near relatives, executed for some trifling offence by the tribunals, some had been ruined by the extortion of the tax gatherers. All were stated to be ready to give their lives for vengeance.
"These agents of ours, you see, Malchus, are not for the most part animated by any feeling of pure patriotism, it is their own wrongs and not the injuries of Carthage which they would avenge. But we must take them as we find them; one cannot expect any deep feeling of patriotism on the part of the masses, who, it must be owned, have no very great reason to feel any lively interest in the glories of the republic. So that they eat and drink sufficiently, and can earn their living, it matters not very greatly to them whether Carthage is great and glorious, or humbled and defeated. But this will not always be so. When we have succeeded in ridding Carthage of her tyrants we must next do all we can so to raise the condition of the common people that they may feel that they too have a common interest in the fate of our country. I should not, of course, propose giving to them a vote; to bestow the suffrage upon the ignorant, who would simply follow the demagogues who would use them as tools, would be the height of madness. The affairs of state, the government of the country, the making of the laws, must be solely in the hands of those fitted for the task—of the men who, by education, by birth, by position, by study and by leisure have prepared their minds for such a charge. But the people should share in the advantages of a good government; they should not be taxed more than they could reasonably pay, and any tax gatherers who should extort a penny beyond the legal amount should be disgraced and punished.
"The courts should be open to all, the judges should be impartial and incorruptible; every man should have his rights and his privileges, then each man, feeling an interest in the stability of the state, would be ready to bear arms in its defence, and Carthage, instead of being dependent entirely upon her tributaries and mercenaries, would be able to place a great army in the field by her own unaided exertions.
"The barbarian tribes would cease to revolt, knowing that success would be hopeless. And as we should be strong at home we should be respected abroad, and might view without apprehension the rising power of Rome. There is plenty of room for both of us. For us, Africa and Spain; for her all the rest of Europe and as much of Asia as she cares to take. We could look without jealousy at each other's greatness, each secure in his own strength and power. Yes, there may be a grand future before Carthage yet."
The meeting now broke up.
"Where are you going, Malchus?" Giscon asked the lad as they went out into the courtyard; "to see the sacrifices? You know there is a grand function today to propitiate Moloch and to pray for victory for our arms."
"No," Malchus said with a shudder. "I don't think I am a coward, Giscon, but these terrible rites frighten me. I was taken once by my father, and I then swore that never again, unless it be absolutely necessary for me in the performance of public office, will I be present at such a scene. For weeks afterwards I scarcely slept; day and night there was before me that terrible brazen image of Moloch. If I fell off to sleep, I woke bathed in perspiration as I heard the screams of the infants as they were dropped into those huge hands, heated to redness, stretched out to receive them. I cannot believe, Giscon, that the gods are so cruel.
"Then there was the slaughter of a score of captives taken in war. I see them now, standing pale and stern, with their eyes directed to the brazen image which was soon to be sprinkled with their blood, while the priests in their scarlet robes, with the sacrificial knives in hand, approached them. I saw no more, for I shut my eyes till all was over. I tell you again, Giscon, I do not believe the gods are so cruel. Why should the gods of Phoenicia and Carthage alone demand blood? Those of Greece and Rome are not so bloodthirsty, and yet Mars gives as many victories to the Roman arms as Moloch does to ours."
"Blaspheme not the gods, Malchus," Giscon said gloomily; "you may be sure that the wreath of a conquering general will never be placed around your brow if you honour them not."
"If honouring them means approval of shedding the blood of infants and captives, I will renounce all hopes of obtaining victory by their aid."
"I would you had spoken so before, Malchus; had I known that you were a scorner of the gods I would not have asked you to join in our enterprise. No good fortune can be expected to attend our efforts unless we have the help of the gods."
"The matter is easily mended, Giscon," Malchus said calmly. "So far I have taken no step towards carrying out your plans, and have but listened to what you said, therefore, no harm can yet have been done. Strike my name off the list, and forget that I have been with you. You have my oath that I will say nought of anything that I have heard. You can well make some excuse to your comrades. Tell them, for example, that though I fear not for myself, I thought that, being the son of Hamilcar, I had no right to involve his name and family in such an enterprise, unless by his orders."
"Yes, it were better so," Giscon said after a pause; "I dare not continue the enterprise with one who condemns the gods among us; it would be to court failure. I did not dream of this; who could have thought that a lad of your age would have been a spurner of the gods?"
"I am neither a condemner nor a spurner," Malchus said indignantly; "I say only that I believe you worship them wrongfully, that you do them injustice. I say it is impossible that the gods who rule the world can have pleasure in the screams of dying infants or the groans of slaughtered men."
Giscon placed his hand to his ears as if to shut out such blasphemy, and hurried away, while Malchus, mounting his horse, rode out slowly and thoughtfully to his father's villa. He was not at heart sorry that he was freed from this association into which, without knowing the measures by which it intended to carry out its aims, he had rashly entered. He was ready for armed insurrection against the tyrants of Carthage, but he revolted from the thought of this plan for a midnight massacre—it was not by such means that he would have achieved the regeneration of his country. He felt, too, that the reason which he had given Giscon was a valid one. He had no right, at his age, to involve his family in such a conspiracy. Did it fail, and were he found to be among the conspirators, Hanno and his associates would be sure to seize the fact as a pretext for assailing Hamilcar. They would say that Malchus would never have joined in such a plot had he not known that it had the approval of his father, and that he was in fact but the representative of his family in the design for overthrowing the constitution of the republic.
Fortunately for Malchus, a few days later orders were given for the instant embarkation of a portion of the reinforcements destined for Hannibal. Hamilcar was to proceed in command of them, and, busied with his preparation for the start, Malchus thought little more of the conspiracy which was brewing. Thirty large merchant ships were hired to convey the troops, who numbered six thousand. These were principally Libyan footmen. The main body, with the Numidian horse, were to follow shortly. At last the day for embarkation arrived, and the troops defiled through the temple of Moloch, where sacrifices were offered up for the success of the enterprise.
Malchus, under the pretense that something was not ready, at the last moment lingered at home, and only joined his comrades, a hundred young men of the Carthaginian horse, on the quays. This body, all composed of young men of the best families of Carthage, were to sail in the same ship which carried Hamilcar. The scene was a busy one—the docks of Carthage were extensive, and the ships which were to convey the expedition lay in deep water by the quays, so that the troops could march on board. A great crowd of the populace had assembled to view the embarkation. These were with difficulty kept from crowding the troops and impeding their movement by a cordon of soldiers.
As the troops marched on to the quay they were formed up in parties by the side of the ships which were to convey them. Very different was the demeanour of the men of the different nationalities. The Libyans were stern and silent, they were part of the contingent which their state was bound to furnish to Carthage, and went unwillingly, cursing in their hearts the power which tore them from their homes to fight in a war in which they had neither concern nor interest.
Near them were a body of Garamantes, wrapped in the long bernous which then as now was the garb of the children of the desert. Tall, swarthy figures these, lissome and agile, with every muscle standing out clear through the brown skin. Strange as must have been the scene to them, there was no wonder expressed in the keen glances which they shot around them from underneath their dark eyebrows. Silent and taciturn, scarce a word was to be heard among them as they stood awaiting the orders to embark; they were there unwillingly, and their hearts were far away in the distant desert, but none the less would they be willing to fight when the time came. Terrible foes these would be in a night attack, with their stealthy tiger-like tread, their gleaming, vengeful eyes, and their cruel mouths.
Very different were the band of Ethiopians from the distant Soudan, with their cloaks of lion skin, and the gaudy feathers fastened in a fillet round their heads. Their black faces were alive with merriment and wonder—everything was new and extraordinary to them. The sea, the ships, the mighty city, the gathered crowd, all excited their astonishment, and their white teeth glistened as they chatted incessantly with a very babel of laughter and noise.
Not less light hearted were the chosen band of young nobles grouped by the general's ship. Their horses were held in ranks behind them for the last time by their slaves, for in future they would have to attend to them themselves, and as they gathered in groups they laughed and jested over the last scandal in Carthage, the play which had been produced the night before at the theatre, or the horse race which was to be run on the following day. As to the desperate work on which they were to be engaged—for it was whispered that Hannibal had in preparation some mighty enterprise—it troubled them not at all, nor the thought that many of them might never look on Carthage again. In their hearts perhaps some of them, like Malchus, were thinking sadly of the partings they had just gone through with those they loved, but no signs of such thoughts were apparent in their faces or conversation.
Presently a blast of trumpets sounded, and the babel of voices was hushed as if by magic. The soldiers fell into military order, and stood motionless. Then Hamilcar walked along the quays inspecting carefully each group, asking questions of the captains of the ships as to their store of provisions and water, receiving from the officers charged with that duty the lists of the war machines and stores which were stored away in the hulls; and, having assured himself that everything was in order, he gave the signal to his trumpeter, who again blew a long and piercing blast.
The work of embarkation at once commenced. The infantry were soon on board, but the operation of shipping the horses of the cavalry took longer. Half of these were stored away in the hold of the general's ship, the rest in another vessel. When the troops were all on board the soldiers who had kept back the crowd were withdrawn, and the Carthaginians thronged down on to the quay. A small space was still kept clear on the wharf by whose side the admiral's ship was lying, and here was gathered a throng of the aristocracy of the city to see the last of their sons and relatives of the guard.
Having seen their horses safely stowed below the young men crowded to the side of the ship to exchange adieus with their friends. The parting was a brief one, for the wind was fair, and the general anxious to be well out of the bay before nightfall. Therefore the signal was hoisted. Numbers of slaves seized the hawsers of the ships and towed them along through the narrow passage which connected the docks with the sea. A shout of adieu rose from the crowd, the sails were hoisted, and the fleet proceeded on its way.
The arrangements for the comfort of the troops at sea were simple and primitive. Each man shifted for himself. The whole space below was occupied by cargo or horses. The troops lived and slept on deck. Here, on wide flat stones, they cooked their meals, whiled away the day by games of chance, and slept at night on skins or thick rugs. Fortunately the weather was fair. It was early in March, but the nights were not cold.
The fleet hugged the coast, anchoring at night, until the northern shores stood out clear and well defined as Spain stretched down towards Africa. Then they crossed and cruised along until they arrived at Carthagena. Short as was the time which had elapsed since the foundation of that city, its aspect was already imposing and extensive. It lay at the head of a gulf facing south, about a mile in depth and nearly double that width. Across the mouth of this bay was an island, with but a narrow passage on each side, protecting it from the southern winds, and forming with it a magnificent harbour.
On a bold hill at the head of the harbour stood the town. This hill rose from a wide lagoon, which communicated on one side with the sea, and was on the other separated from it only by a strip of land, four hundred yards wide. Through this a wide channel had been dug. Thus the hill, which was of considerable extent, rugged and precipitous, was isolated, and could only be attacked by sea.
The town was built in a sort of amphitheatre facing the sea, and was surrounded by a strong fortification two miles and a half in circumference, so that even should an assailant cross the lagoon, which in summer was nearly dry, he would have before him an almost impregnable defence to carry. Here, in buildings whose magnitude surprised the newcomers, acquainted as they were with the buildings of Carthage, were stored the treasures, the baggage, the ammunition of war, and the provisions of the army.
It had been the aim of the great Hamilcar, and of Hasdrubal after him, to render the army of Spain as far as possible independent of the mother country. They well knew how often the treasury of Carthage was empty owing to the extravagance and dishonesty of her rulers, and how impossible it would be to obtain thence the supplies required for the army. Therefore they established immense workshops, where arms, munitions of war, machines for sieges, and everything required for the use of the army were fabricated.
Vast as were the expenses of these establishments, the revenues of Iberia were amply sufficient not only to defray all the cost of occupation, but to transmit large sums to Carthage. These revenues were derived partly from the tribute paid by conquered tribes, partly from the spoils taken in captured cities, but most of all from the mines of gold and silver, which were at that time immensely rich, and were worked by the labour of slaves taken in war or of whole tribes subdued.
Some idea of the richness of these mines may be formed by the fact that one mine, which Hannibal had inherited from his father, brought in to him a revenue of nearly a thousand pounds a day; and this was but one of his various sources of wealth. This was the reason that Hamilcar, Hasdrubal, and Hannibal were able to maintain themselves in spite of the intrigues of their enemies in the capital. Their armies were their own rather than those of the country.
It was to them that the soldiers looked for their pay, as well as for promotion and rewards for valour, and they were able, therefore, to carry out the plans which their genius suggested untrammelled by orders from Carthage. They occupied, indeed, a position very similar to that of Wallenstein, when, with an army raised and paid from his private means, he defended the cause of the empire against Gustavus Adolphus and the princes of the Protestant league. It is true that the Carthaginian generals had always by their side two commissioners of the senate. The republic of Carthage, like the first republic of France, was ever jealous of her generals, and appointed commissioners to accompany them on their campaigns, to advise and control their movements and to report on their conduct; and many of the defeats of the Carthaginians were due in no small degree to their generals being hampered by the interference of the commissioners. They were present, as a matter of course, with the army of Hannibal, but his power was so great that their influence over his proceedings was but nominal.
The war which was about to break out with Rome is called the second Punic war, but it should rather be named the war of Hannibal with Rome. He conceived and carried it out from his own resources, without interference and almost without any assistance from Carthage. Throughout the war her ships lay idle in her harbour. Even in his greatest need Carthage never armed a galley for his assistance. The pay of the army came solely from his coffers, the material for the war from the arsenals constructed by his father, his brother-in-law, and himself. It was a war waged by a single man against a mighty power, and as such there is, with the exception of the case of Wallenstein, nothing to resemble it in the history of the world.
Passing through the narrow passage into the harbour the fleet sailed up to the end of the bay, and were soon alongside the spacious quays which had been erected. A large quantity of shipping already lay there, for the trade of Carthagena with the mother city and with the ports of Spain, Africa, and the East already rivaled that of Carthage. A group of officers were gathered on the quay as Hamilcar's ship, which was leading the fleet, neared it, and Hamilcar exclaimed, "There is Hannibal himself!"
As the ship moored alongside the quay Hannibal came on board and warmly embraced his cousin, and then bestowed a cordial greeting upon Malchus.
"Why, cousin Malchus," he said, "though it is but a year since I was in Carthage, I should scarce have known you, so much have you grown. I see you have entered the cavalry. That is well. You cannot begin too early to accustom yourself to war."
Then turning, he went among the young men of the guard, to all of whom he was personally known, greeting them with a cordiality and kindness which greatly gratified them. Malchus gazed at him with admiration. Fortunately an accurate description of Hannibal has come down to us. He was one who, even at first sight, won all hearts by his lofty and noble expression, by the kindness and sincerity which his face expressed. The Carthaginians, as a race, were short, but Hannibal was very tall, and his great width of shoulders testified to his immense strength.
The beauty of the Carthaginian race was proverbial, but even among them he was remarkable. His head was well placed on his shoulders; his carriage was upright and commanding; his forehead lofty; his eye, though soft and gentle at ordinary times, was said to be terrible in time of battle. His head was bare. His hair, of a golden brown, was worn long, and encircled by a golden band. His nose was long and straight, forming, with the forehead, a perfect profile. The expression of the mouth was kind but firm. His beard was short. The whole contour of the face was noble in the extreme.
In battle he wore a helmet of bronze closely fitting the head, behind which projected a curved metal plate covering his neck. A band of gold surrounded the helmet; in front were five laurel leaves in steel; at the temples two leaves of the lotus of the same metal. On the crest, rising from an ornament enriched with pearls, was a large plume of feathers, sometimes red and sometimes white. A tuft of white horsehair fell from the plate behind. A coat of mail, made of a triple tissue of chains of gold, covered his body. Above this he wore a shirt of the finest white linen, covered to the waist by a jerkin of leather overlaid with gold plates. A large mantle of purple embroidered with gold hung from his shoulders. He wore sandals and leggings of red morocco leather.
But it was only on special occasions that Hannibal was thus magnificently clad. On the march he dressed generally in a simple blouse like that worn by his soldiers. His arms were borne behind him by an esquire. These consisted of his shield, of Galatian manufacture. Its material was bronze, its shape circular. In the centre was a conical, sharply pointed boss. The face of the shield was ornamented with subjects taken from the history of Carthage in relief. The offensive arms were a sword, a lance, and a bow with arrows. But it was not to the splendour of his appearance that Hannibal owed the enthusiasm by which he was regarded by his troops. His strength and skill were far superior to those of any man in his army. His food was as simple as that of his soldiers, he was capable of going for days without eating, and it was seldom that he broke his fast until the day's work was over. When he ate it would be sitting on horseback, or as he walked about seeing to the needs of the soldiers.
At night he slept among them, lying on a lion skin without covering. He was indifferent to heat and cold, and in the heaviest tempest of wind and rain would ride bareheaded among his troops, apparently unconscious of the tempest against which he was struggling. So far as was known he was without a vice. He seldom touched wine. His morals were irreproachable. He never gave way to anger. His patience under trials and difficulties of all sorts was illimitable.
In the midst of the greatest trials and dangers he preserved his cheerfulness, and had ever an encouraging word for his soldiers. Various as were the nationalities of the troops who followed him, constrained as most of them had been to enter the service of Carthage, so great was their love and admiration for their commander that they were ready to suffer all hardships, to dare all dangers for his sake. It was his personal influence, and that alone, which welded this army, composed of men of various nationalities and tribes, into one whole, and enabled it to perform the greatest military exploits in the world's history, and for years to sustain a terrible struggle against the whole power of Rome.
CHAPTER VI: A CAMPAIGN IN SPAIN
Among the young officers who had followed Hannibal on board were some who had left Carthage only a few months before and were known to Malchus. From them he learned with delight that the troops would take the field at once.
"We are going on a campaign against the Vacaei," one of them said. "The army marched out two days since. Hannibal has been waiting here for your arrival, for a fast sailing ship which started a few hours after you brought the news that you were on your way, and you will set off to join the rest without delay. It is going to be a hard campaign."
"Where is the country of the Vacaei?" Malchus asked.
"A long way off," the other replied. "The marches will be long and tiresome. Their country lies somewhat to the northwest of the great plateau in the centre of Iberia. We shall have to ascend the mountains on this side, to cross the plateau, to follow the rivers which flow to the great ocean."
The Vacaei, in fact, dwelt in the lands bordered by the upper Duero, their country comprising a portion of old Castille, Leon, and the Basque provinces. The journey would indeed be a long and difficult one; and Hannibal was undertaking the expedition not only to punish the turbulent Vacaei, who had attacked some of the tribes which had submitted to Carthage, but to accustom the troops to fatigues and hardships, and to prepare them for the great expedition which he had in view. No time was indeed lost, for as soon as the troops were landed they were formed up and at once started on their march.
"This is more than we bargained for," Trebon, a young guardsman whose place in the ranks was next to Malchus, said to him. "I thought we should have had at least a month here before we set out. They say the city is as gay as Carthage; and as I have many friends here I have looked forward to a month of jollity before starting. Every night when I lay down on the hard planks of the deck I have consoled myself with the thought that a soft bed awaited me here; and now we have to take at once to the bare ground, with nothing but this skin strapped on the pommel of my saddle to sleep on, and my bernous to cover me. It is colder already a great deal than it was at Carthage; and if that is so here, what will it be on the tops of those jagged mountains we see before us? Why, as I live, that highest one over there is of dazzling white! That must be the snow we have heard of—the rain turned solid by cold, and which they say causes a pain to the naked limbs something like hot iron. Fancy having to sleep in such stuff!"
Malchus laughed at the complaints of his comrade.
"I confess I am glad we are off at once," he said, "for I was sick of doing nothing but idling away my time at Carthage; and I suppose it would be just the same here. How busy are the streets of the town! Except for the sight of the mountains which we see through the breaks of the houses, one might believe one's self still at home."
The aspect of Carthagena, indeed, closely resembled that of the mother city, and the inhabitants were of the same race and blood.
Carthagena had in the first place been formed by a great colony of Libyans. The inhabitants of that province inhabiting the seaports and coasts near Carthage were a mixture of Phoenician and native blood. They were ever impatient of the supremacy of Carthage, and their rebellions were frequent and often dangerous. After the suppression of these insurrections, Carthage, sensible of the danger arising from the turbulence of her neighbours, deported great numbers of them to form colonies. Vast numbers were sent up into the Soudan, which was then one of the most important possessions of the republic. The most extensive, however, of these forced emigrations was the great colony sent to found Carthagena, which had thus in a very few years, under the fostering genius of the great Hamilcar, become a great and prosperous city.
Carthage itself had thus suddenly sprung into existence. After many internal troubles the democracy of Tyre had gained the upper hand in that city; and finding their position intolerable, the whole of the aristocracy decided to emigrate, and, sailing with a great fleet under their queen Dido or Elisa—for she was called by both names—founded Carthage. This triumph of the democracy in Tyre, as might be expected, proved the ruin of that city. Very rapidly she fell from the lofty position she had held, and her place in the world and her proud position as Queen of the Seas was very speedily taken by Carthage.
The original Libyan colony of Carthagena had been very largely increased by subsequent emigration, and the populace presented an appearance very similar to that of the mother city, save that instead of the swarthy desert tribesmen, with their passive face and air of proud indifference, mingling with the population of the town, there was in Carthagena a large admixture of native Iberians, who, belonging to the tribes first subdued by Carthage, had either been forced to settle here to supply manual labour needed for the rising city, or who had voluntarily abandoned their wandering life and adopted the more settled habitudes and more assured comforts of existence in a great town.
Skirting the lower part of the city, Hamilcar's force marched along the isthmus and crossed the bridge over the canal cut through it, and was soon in the country beyond. The ground rose gradually, and after marching for six miles the brigade was halted at a spot to which Hannibal had, when the fleet was first discerned approaching along the coast, despatched some bullocks and other provisions for their use. The march was a short one, but after a week's confinement on board ship the men were little fitted for a long journey. The bullocks and other rations were served out to the various companies, and the work of preparing the repast began. Malchus was amused, although rather disgusted at his first experience in a real campaign. When with Hamilcar on the expedition against the Atarantes he had formed part of his father's suite and had lived in luxury. He was now a simple soldier, and was called upon to assist to cut up the bullock which had fallen to the share of the Carthaginian cavalry.
Some of the party went out to cut and bring in wood for the fires and cooking; others moistened the flour and made dough for the flat cakes which would be baked in the hot embers and eaten with the meat. Loud shouts of laughter rose as the young soldiers worked at their unaccustomed tasks, superintended by the officers, who, having all made several campaigns, were able to instruct them as to their duties. From a culinary point of view the meal could not be pronounced a success, and was, indeed, a contrast to the food to which the young nobles were accustomed. The march, however, and the keen bracing air had given them good appetites, and the novelty and strangeness of the experience gave a zest to the food; and in spite of the roughness of the meal, all declared that they had never dined better. Many fires were now lit; and round these, as the evening closed in, the men gathered in groups, all closely wrapped in their bernouses, which were worn alike by officers and men of the whole of the nationalities serving in the Carthaginian army, serving as a cloak by day and a blanket at night. Presently a trampling of horses was heard, and Hannibal and his personal staff rode into the encampment.
He had not started until several hours after them, when, having given his last orders and made all final arrangements for the management of affairs during his absence, he had ridden on to join the army. Dismounting, he went at once on foot among the troops, chatting gaily with them and inquiring how they fared. After visiting all the other detachments he came to the bivouac of the Carthaginian horse, and for an hour sat talking by their fires.
"Ah!" he said as he rose to go, "the others will sleep well enough tonight; but you sybarites, accustomed to your soft couches and your luxuries, will fare badly. I remember my first night on the hard ground, although 'tis now sixteen years back, how my limbs ached and how I longed for morning. Now, let me give you a hint how to make your beds comfortable. Mind, this is not for the future, but till your limbs get accustomed to the ground you may indulge in luxuries. Before you try to go off to sleep note exactly where your hip bones and shoulders will rest; take your daggers and scoop out the earth at these points so as to make depressions in which they may lie. Then spread your lion skins above them and lie down. You will sleep as comfortably as if on a soft couch."
Many of the young soldiers followed Hannibal's advice; others, among whom was Malchus, determined to accustom themselves at once to the hard ground. Malchus was not long in getting to sleep, his last thought being that the precaution advised by Hannibal to ensure repose was altogether unnecessary. But he changed his opinion when, two or three hours later, he woke up with acute pains in his hip and shoulder. After trying vainly, by changing his position, again to go off to sleep, he rose, rolled up the skin, and set to work to make the excavations recommended by the general. Then spreading out the skin again he lay down, and was astonished to find how immense was the relief afforded by this simple expedient.
At daybreak the party were in motion. Their march was a long one; for Hannibal wished to come up with the main army as soon as possible, and no less than thirty miles were encompassed before they halted for the night. They were now far up on the slopes of the Sierras. The latter part of the journey had been exceedingly toilsome. The route was mostly bare rock, which sorely tried the feet of the soldiers, these being in most cases unprotected even by sandals. Malchus and his mounted companions did not of course suffer in their feet. But they were almost as glad as the infantry when the camping place was reached, for nothing is more fatiguing to a horseman than to be obliged to travel in the saddle for ten hours at the pace of footmen. The halting place this time was near the upper edge of the forest which then clothed the lower slopes of the mountains.
Enough meat had been killed on the previous evening for three days' rations for the troops, and there was therefore no loss of time in preparing the meal. Wood, of course, was in abundance, and the pots were soon hanging from thick poles placed above the fires. The night was exceedingly cold, and the soldiers were grateful for the shelter which the trees afforded from the piercing wind which blew across the snow covered peaks of the higher range of mountains.
"What is that noise?" Malchus asked one of the officers as, after the meal was finished and silence began to reign in the camp, a deep sound was heard in the forest.
"That is the howling of a pack of wolves," the officer said. "They are savage brutes, and when in company will not hesitate to attack small parties of men. They abound in the mountains, and are a scourge to the shepherds of the plains, especially in the cold weather, when they descend and commit terrible damage among the flocks."
"I thought I did not know the sound," Malchus said. "The nights were noisy enough sometimes at the southern edge of the desert. The packs of jackals, with their sharp yelping cry, abounded; then there was the deeper note of the hyenas, and the barking cry of troops of monkeys, and the thundering roar of the lions. They were unpleasant enough, and at first used to keep one awake; but none of them were so lugubrious as that mournful howl I hear now. I suppose sometimes, when there is nothing else to do, we get up hunting parties?"
"Yes," the officer replied; "it is the chief amusement of our garrisons in winter among the wild parts of the country. Of course, near Carthagena these creatures have been eradicated; but among the mountains they abound, and the carcass of a dead horse is sure to attract plenty of them. It is a sport not without danger; and there are many instances where parties of five or six have gone out, taking with them a carcass to attract the wolves, and have never returned; and a search has resulted in the discovery of their weapons, injured and perhaps broken, of stains of blood and signs of a desperate struggle, but of them not so much as a bone has remained behind."
"I thought lion hunting was an exciting sport but the lions, although they may move and hunt in companies, do not fight in packs, as these fierce brutes seem to do. I hope some day to try it. I should like to send back two of their heads to hang on the wall by the side of that of the lion I killed up in the desert."
"Next winter you may do so," the officer said. "The season is nearly over now, and you may be sure that Hannibal will give us enough to do without our thinking of hunting wolves. The Vacaei are fierce enough. Perhaps two of their heads would do instead of those of wolves."
"I do not think my mother and sisters would approve of that," Malchus laughed; "so I must wait for the winter."
The night did not pass so quietly as that which had preceded it. The distant howling of the wolves, as they hunted in the forest, kept the horses in a tremor of terror and excitement, and their riders were obliged over and over again to rise and go among them, and by speaking to and patting them, to allay their fear. So long as their masters were near them the well trained horses were quiet and tractable, and would at a whispered order lie down and remain in perfect quiet; but no sooner had they left them and again settled to sleep than, at the first howl which told that the pack were at all approaching, the horses would lift their heads, prick their ears in the direction of the sound, and rise to their feet and stand trembling, with extended nostrils snuffing the unknown danger, pawing the ground, and occasionally making desperate efforts to break loose from their picket ropes.
The work of soothing had then to be repeated, until at last most of the riders brought their lions' skins and lay down by the prostrate horses, with their heads upon their necks. The animals, trained thus to sleep with their riders by their side, and reassured by the presence of their masters, were for the most part content to lie quiet, although the packs of wolves, attracted by the scent of the meat that had been cooked, approached close to the camp and kept up a dismal chorus round it until morning.
Day by day the march was continued. The country was wild and rugged, foaming torrents had to be crossed, precipices surmounted, barren tracts traversed. But after a week's hard marching the column had overcome the greater part of the difficulty, had crossed the Sierras and gained the plateau, which with a gradual fall slopes west down to the Atlantic, and was for the most part covered with a dense growth of forests. They now to their satisfaction overtook the main body of the army, and their marches would be somewhat less severe, for hitherto they had each day traversed extra distances to make up for the two days' loss in starting. Here Malchus for the first time saw the bands of Gaulish mercenaries.
The Spanish troops had excited the admiration and astonishment of the Carthaginians by their stature and strength; but the Gauls were a still more powerful race. They belonged to the tribes which had poured down over the Apennines, and occupied the northern portion of Spain long anterior to the arrival of the Carthaginians. Their countenances were rugged, and as it seemed to Malchus, savage. Their colour was much lighter than that of any people he had yet seen. Their eyes were blue, their hair, naturally fair or brown, was dyed with some preparation which gave it a red colour.
Some wore their long locks floating over their shoulders, others tied it in a knot on the top of their heads. They wore a loose short trouser fastened at the knee, resembling the baggy trousers of the modern Turks. A shirt with open sleeves came halfway down their thighs, and over it was a blouse or loose tunic decorated with ornaments of every description, and fastened at the neck by a metal brooch. Their helmets were of copper, for the most part ornamented with the horns of stags or bulls. On the crest of the helmet was generally the figure of a bird or wild beast. The whole was surmounted by immense tufts of feathers, something like those of our Highland bonnets, adding greatly to the height and apparent stature of the wearers.
The Gauls had a passion for ornaments, and adorned their persons with a profusion of necklaces, bracelets, rings, baldricks, and belts of gold. Their national arms were long heavy pikes—these had no metal heads, but the points were hardened by fire; javelins of the same description—these before going into battle they set fire to, and hurled blazing at the enemy—lighter darts called mat ras saunions, pikes with curved heads, resembling the halberds of later times; and straight swords. Hannibal, however, finding the inconvenience of this diversity of weapons, had armed his Gaulish troops only with their long straight swords. These were without point, and made for cutting only, and were in the hands of these powerful tribesmen terrible weapons. These swords were not those they had been accustomed to carry, which were made of copper only, and often bent at the first blow, but were especially made for them in Carthage of heavy steel, proof against all accident.
The march was conducted with all military precautions, although they were still traversing a country which had been already subdued. Nevertheless they moved as if expecting an instant attack. The light horse scoured the country. The lithe and active soldiers furnished by the desert tribes formed the advanced guard of the army, and marched also on its flanks, while the heavy armed soldiery marched in solid column ready for battle. Behind them came the long train of baggage protected by a strong rear guard.
At last they reached a fertile country, and were now in the land of the Vacaei and their allies. Arbocala, now called Tordesillas, was captured without much difficulty. The siege was then laid to Salamanca, the chief town of the enemy. In the actual siege operations the Carthaginian horse took no part. The place resisted vigourously, but the machines of Hannibal effected a breach in the walls, and the inhabitants, seeing that further resistance was impossible, offered to capitulate, stipulating that they should be allowed to depart unharmed, leaving behind them all their arms and their treasure.
The Carthaginian army were drawn up in readiness to march into the town as the Vacaei came out. As they filed past the Carthaginians they were inspected to see that they had carried out the terms of the agreement. It was found that they had done so rigidly—not an arm of any kind was found upon them. Their necklaces, bracelets, and ornaments had all been left behind.
"What a savage looking race!" Malchus remarked to Trebon; "they look at us as if they would gladly spring on us, unarmed as they are, and tear us with their hands. They are well nigh as dark skinned as the Numidians."
"Here come their women!" Trebon said; "verily I would as soon fight the men as these creatures. Look how they glare at us! You see they have all had to give up their ornaments, so they have each their private grievance as well as their national one."
When the whole of the population had filed out, the Carthaginian army entered the town, with the exception of a body of light horse who were ordered to remain without and keep an eye on the doings of the late garrison. Malchus was amused at the scene within. The members of the Carthaginian horse disdained to join in the work of plunder, and were, therefore, free to watch with amusement their comrades at work. The amount of booty was large, for the number of gold ornaments found in every house, deposited there by the inhabitants on departing, was very great; but not satisfied with this the soldiers dug up the floors in search of buried treasure, searched the walls for secret hiding places, and rummaged the houses from top to bottom. Besides the rich booty, the soldiers burdened themselves with a great variety of articles which it would be impossible for them to carry away.
Men were seen staggering under the weight of four or five heavy skins. Some had stuck feathers in their helmets until their heads were scarce visible. Some had great bundles of female garments, which they had collected with a vague idea of carrying them home to their families. The arms had in the first place been collected and placed under a strong guard, and picked troops were placed as sentries over the public treasury, whose contents were allotted to the general needs of the army.
Night fell soon after the sack commenced. Malchus with a number of his comrades took possession of one of the largest houses in the place, and, having cleared it of the rubbish with which it was strewn, prepared to pass the night there. Suddenly a terrible uproar was heard—shouts, cries, the clashing of arms, the yells of the enemy, filled the air. The cavalry charged to watch the Vacaei, believing that these had departed quietly, had abandoned their post, and had entered the town to join in the work of plunder.
As the garrison had marched out the men had been rigidly searched; but the women had been allowed to pass out without any close inspection. This carelessness cost the Carthaginians dear, for under their garments they had hidden the swords and daggers of the men. Relying upon the disorder which would reign in the city, the Vacaei had returned, and now poured in through the gates, slaying all whom they met.
For a short time a terrible panic reigned among the Carthaginians, great numbers were cut down, and it seemed as if the whole force would be destroyed. Hannibal and his generals rode about trying to get the scattered men to form and oppose the enemy; but the panic was too general, and had it not been for the Carthaginian legion all would have been lost. The horse and foot, however, of this body, having abstained from joining in the pillage, had, for the most part, kept together in bodies, and these now sallied out in close and regular order, and fell upon the attacking enemy.
The streets were too narrow for cavalry to act, and Malchus and his comrades fought on foot. The enemy, who had scattered on their work of slaughter, were in their turn taken at a disadvantage, and were unable to withstand the steady attack of the solid bodies. These, in the first place, cut their way to the square in the centre of the town, and there united. Hannibal, seeing he had now a solid body of troops under his command, at once broke them up into parties and advanced down all the streets leading from the central square. The hand-to-hand fight which was going on all over the town was soon terminated. The Carthaginians fell in in good order behind the ranks of their comrades, and the small bodies soon became columns which swept the enemy before them.
The enemy fought desperately, firing the houses, hurling stones from the roofs upon the columns, and throwing themselves with reckless bravery upon the spears, but their efforts were in vain. Foot by foot they were driven back, until they were again expelled from the town. Keeping together, and ever showing front to the Carthaginians, the Vacaei, now reduced to less than half their number, retired to an eminence near the town, and there prepared to sell their lives dearly. The Carthaginians now fell into their regular ranks, and prepared to storm the enemy's position; but Hannibal rode forward alone towards the Vacaei, being plainly visible to them in the broad blaze of light from the burning city.
From his long residence in Spain he was able to speak the Iberian tongue with fluency, and indeed could converse with all the troops of the various nationalities under the banner of Carthage in their own language.
"Men of Salamanca," he said, "resist no longer. Carthage knows how to honour a brave enemy, and never did men fight more valiantly in defence of their homes than you have done, and although further resistance would be hopeless, I will press you no further. Your lives are spared. You may retain the arms you know so well how to wield, and tomorrow my army will evacuate your town and leave you free to return to it."
Hannibal's clemency was politic. He would have lost many more men before he finally overcame the desperate band, and he was by no means desirous of exciting a deep feeling of hate among any of the tribes, just as he was meditating withdrawing the greater portion of the army for his enterprise against Rome. With the fall of Salamanca the resistance of the Vacaei ceased, and Hannibal prepared to march back to Carthagena.
A storm, however, had gathered in his rear. Great numbers of the Vacaei had sought refuge among the Olcades, who had been subdued the previous autumn, and together they had included the whole of the fierce tribes known as the Carpatans, who inhabited the country on the right bank of the upper Tagus, to make common cause with them against the invaders. As Hannibal approached their neighbourhood they took up their position on the right bank of the river near Toledo. Here the stream is rapid and difficult of passage, its bed being thickly studded with great boulders brought down in time of flood from the mountains. The country on each side of the river is sandy, free from forests or valleys, which would cover the movements of an army.
The host gathered to oppose the Carthaginians were fully one hundred thousand strong, and Hannibal saw at once that his force, weakened as it was with its loss at Salamanca, and encumbered by the great train laden with the booty they had gathered from the Vacaei, would have no chance whatever in a battle with so vast a body. The enemy separated as he approached the river, their object being evidently to fall upon his rear when engaged in the difficult operation of crossing. The Carthaginians moved in two heavy columns, one on each side of their baggage, and Hannibal's orders were stringent that on no account should they engage with the enemy.
The natives swarmed around the columns, hurling darts and javelins; but the Carthaginians moved forward in solid order, replying only with their arrows and slings, and contenting themselves with beating off the attacks which the bolder of their foes made upon them. Night was falling when they arrived on the bank of the river. The enemy then desisted from their attack, believing that in the morning the Carthaginians would be at their mercy, encumbered by their vast booty on one side and cut off from retreat by a well nigh impassable river on the other.
As soon as the army reached the river Hannibal caused the tents of all the officers to be erected. The baggage wagons were arranged in order, and the cattle unharnessed. The troops began to throw up intrenchments, and all seemed to show that the Carthaginians were determined to fight till the last on the ground they held. It was still light enough for the enemy to perceive what was being done, and, secure of their prey in the morning, they drew off to a short distance for the night. Hannibal had learned from a native that morning of a ford across the river, and it was towards this that he had been marching. As soon as it was perfectly dark a number of men entered the river to search for the ford. This was soon discovered.
Then the orders were passed noiselessly round to the soldiers, and these, in regular order and in the most perfect quiet, rose to their feet and marched down to the ford. A portion of the infantry first passed, then the wagons were taken over, the rest of the infantry followed, and the cavalry and the elephants brought up the rear. The point where the river was fordable was at a sharp angle, and Hannibal now occupied its outer side. As daylight approached he placed his archers on the banks of the river where, owing to the sharp bend, their arrows would take in flank an enemy crossing the ford, and would also sweep its approaches.
The cavalry were withdrawn some distance, and were ordered not to charge until the Spaniards had got across the river. The elephants, forty in number, were divided into two bodies. One of these was allotted to protect each of the bodies of infantry on the bank from attack, should the Spaniards gain a strong footing on the left bank. When day broke the enemy perceived that the Carthaginians had made the passage of the river. Believing that they had been too much alarmed to risk a battle, and were retreating hastily, the natives thronged down in a multitude to the river without waiting for their leaders or for orders to be given, and rushing forward, each for himself, leaped into the river.
Numbers were at once swept away by the stream, but the crowd who had struck upon the ford pressed forward. When they were in midstream in a tumultuous mass Hannibal launched his cavalry upon them, and a desperate conflict ensued in the river. The combat was too unequal to last long. The Spaniards, waist deep in the rapid stream, had difficulty in retaining their feet, they were ignorant of the width or precise direction of the ford, and were hampered by their own masses; the cavalry, on the other hand, were free to use their weapons, and the weight and impetus of their charge was alone sufficient to sweep the Spanish from their footing into deep water.
Many were drowned, many more cut down, and the rest driven in disorder back across the river. But fresh hordes had now arrived; Hannibal sounded the retreat, and the cavalry retired as the Spaniards again threw themselves into the stream. As the confused mass poured across the ford the two divisions of infantry fell upon them, while the arrows of the archers swept the struggling mass. Without order or discipline, bewildered at this attack by a foe whom they had regarded as flying, the Spaniards were driven back across the river, the Carthaginians crossing in their rear.
The flying Iberians scattered terror among their comrades still flocking down to the bank, and as the Carthaginian infantry in solid column fell upon them, a panic seized the whole host and they scattered over the plain. The Carthaginian cavalry followed close behind the infantry, and at once dashed forward among the broken masses, until the Spanish army, lately so confident of victory, was but a broken mass of panic stricken fugitives.
The victory of Toledo was followed at once by the submission of the whole of the tribes of Spain south of the Ebro, and Hannibal, having seen that the country was everywhere pacified, marched back with his army to Carthagena to pass the winter there (220-219 B.C.).
CHAPTER VII: A WOLF HUNT
The summer's work had been a hard one and the young soldiers of the Carthaginian cavalry rejoiced when they marched into Carthagena again, with the prospect of four months' rest and gaiety. When in the field their discipline was as strict and their work as hard as that of the other corps, but, whereas, when they went into winter quarters, the rest of the army were placed under tents or huts, this corps d'elite were for the time their own masters.
Two or three times a week they drilled and exercised their horses, but with these exceptions they were free to do as they chose. Scarce one but had relations or friends in Carthagena with whom they took up their abode, and those who were not so fortunate found a home at the great military club, of which, ranking as they did with the officers of other corps, they were all members.
Hamilcar and Malchus had rooms assigned to them in the splendid mansion of Hannibal, which was the centre of the life and gaiety of the place, for Hannibal had, before starting on his campaign in the spring, married Imilce, the daughter of Castalius, a Spaniard of noble blood, and his household was kept up with a lavish magnificence, worthy alike of his position as virtual monarch of Spain and of his vast private wealth. Fetes were given constantly for the amusement of the people. At these there were prizes for horse and foot racing, and the Numidian cavalry astonished the populace by the manner in which they maneuvered their steeds; bowmen and slingers entered the lists for prizes of value given by the general; and the elephants exhibited proof of their docility and training.
In the bay there were races between the galleys and triremes, and emulation was encouraged among the troops by large money prizes to the companies who maneuvered with the greatest precision and activity. For the nobles there were banquets and entertainments of music. The rising greatness of Carthagena had attracted to her musicians and artists from all parts of the Mediterranean. Snake charmers from the far Soudan and jugglers from the distant East exhibited their skill. Poets recited their verses, and bards sung their lays before the wealth and beauty of Carthagena. Hannibal, anxious at once to please his young wife and to increase his popularity, spared no pains or expense in these entertainments.
Gay as they were Malchus longed for a more stirring life, and with five or six of his comrades obtained leave of absence for a month, to go on a hunting expedition in the mountains. He had heard, when upon the campaign, the issue of the plot in which he had been so nearly engaged. It had failed. On the very eve of execution one of the subordinates had turned traitor, and Giscon and the whole of those engaged in it had been arrested and put to a cruel death.
Malchus himself had been denounced, as his name was found upon the list of the conspirators, and an order had been sent to Hannibal that he should be carried back a prisoner to Carthage. Hannibal had called the lad before him, and had inquired of him the circumstances of the case. Malchus explained that he had been to their meeting but once, being taken there by Giscon, and being in entire ignorance of the objects of the plot, and that he had refused when he discovered them to proceed in the matter. Hannibal and Hamilcar blamed him severely for allowing himself at his age to be mixed up in any way in public affairs; but they so represented the matter to the two Carthaginian commissioners with the army, that these had written home to say, that having inquired into the affair they found that beyond a boyish imprudence in accompanying Giscon to the place where the conspirators met, Malchus was not to blame in the matter.
The narrow escape that he had had was a lesson which was not lost upon Malchus. Hamilcar lectured him sternly, and pointed out to him that the affairs of nations were not to be settled by the efforts of a handful of enthusiasts, but that grievances, however great, could only be righted when the people at large were determined that a change should be made.
"There would be neither order nor stability in affairs, Malchus, if parties of desperate men of one party or another were ever striving for change, for revolution would be met by counter revolution. The affairs of nations march slowly; sudden changes are ever to be deprecated. If every clique of men who chance to be supported by a temporary wave of public opinion, were to introduce organic changes, there would be no stability in affairs. Capital would be alarmed; the rich and powerful, seeing their possessions threatened and their privileges attacked by the action of the demagogues of the hour, would do as did our forefathers of Tyre, when the whole of the aristocracy emigrated in a body to Carthage, and Tyre received a blow from which she has never recovered."
For some time after this event Malchus had felt that he was in disgrace, but his steadiness and good conduct in the campaign, and the excellent reports which his officers gave of him, had restored him to favour; and indeed his father and Hannibal both felt that a lad might well be led away by an earnest enthusiast like Giscon.
The hunting party took with them a hundred Iberian soldiers used to the mountains, together with six peasants acquainted with the country and accustomed to the chase. They took several carts laden with tents, wine, and provisions. Four days' journey from Carthagena took the party into the heart of the mountains, and here, in a sheltered valley through which ran a stream, they formed their camp.
They had good sport. Sometimes with dogs they tracked the bears to their lair, sometimes the soldiers made a wide sweep in the hills, and, having inclosed a considerable tract of forest, moved forward, shouting and clashing their arms until they drove the animals inclosed down through a valley in which Malchus and his companions had taken post.
Very various was the game which then fell before their arrows and javelins. Sometimes a herd of deer would dart past, then two bears with their family would come along growling fiercely as they went, and looking back angrily at the disturbers of their peace. Sometimes a pack of wolves, with their red tongues hanging out, and fierce, snarling barks, would hurry along, or a wild boar would trot leisurely past, until he reached the spot where the hunters were posted. The wolves and deer fell harmlessly before the javelins of the Carthaginians, but the bears and wild boars frequently showed themselves formidable opponents, and there were several desperate fights before these yielded to the spears and swords of the hunters.
Sometimes portions of the animals they had killed were hung up at night from the bough of a tree at a distance from the camp, to attract the bears, and one or two of the party, taking their post in neighbouring trees, would watch all night for the coming of the beasts. The snow was now lying thick on the tops of the mountains, and the wolves were plentiful among the forests.
One day Malchus and two of his companions had followed a wounded deer far up among the hills, and were some miles away from the camp when the darkness began to set in.
"I think we had better give it up," Malchus said; "we shall find it difficult as it is to find our way back; I had no idea that it was so late."
His companions at once agreed, and they turned their faces towards the camp. In another half hour it was perfectly dark under the shadow of the trees, but the moon was shining, and its position afforded them a means of judging as to the direction where the camp lay. But even with such assistance it was no easy matter making their way. The country was rough and broken; ravines had to be crossed, and hills ascended. After pushing on for two hours, Halcon, the eldest of the party, said:
"I am by no means sure that we are going right after all. We have had a long day's work now, and I do not believe we shall find the camp tonight. I think we had better light a fire here and wrap ourselves in our cloaks. The fire will scare wild beasts away, and we shall be easily able to find the camp in the morning."
The proposal was at once accepted; sticks were collected, and, with flint and steel and the aid of some dried fungus which they carried in their pouches, a fire was soon lit, and some choice portions of a deer which they had killed early in the day were soon broiling on sticks over it.
"We must keep watch by turns," Halcon said; "it will not do to let the fire burn low, for likely enough we may be visited by bears before morning."
After eating their meal and chatting for some time, Halcon and his companions lay down to rest, Malchus volunteering to keep the first watch. For some time he sat quietly, occasionally throwing logs on the fire from the store which they had collected in readiness. Presently his attitude changed, he listened intently and rose to his feet. Several times he had heard the howls of wolves wandering in the woods, but he now made out a long, deep, continuous howling; he listened for a minute or two and then aroused his companions.
"There is a large pack of wolves approaching," he said, "and by the direction of the sound I judge they are hunting on the traces of our footsteps. That is the line by which we came down from yonder brow, and it seems to me that they are ascending the opposite slope."
"Yes, and by the sound there must be a very large pack of them," Halcon agreed; "pile up the fire and set yourselves to gather more wood as quickly as possible; these beasts in large packs are formidable foes."
The three men set to work, vigourously cutting down brushwood and lopping off small boughs of trees with their swords.
"Divide the fire in four," Halcon said, "and pile the fuel in the centre; they will hardly dare to pass between the fires."
The pack was now descending the slope, keeping up a chorus of howls and short yelps which sent a shiver of uneasiness through Malchus. As the wolves approached the spot the howling suddenly ceased.
"They see us," Halcon said; "keep a sharp lookout for them, but do not throw away a shot, we shall need all our arrows before daylight."
Standing perfectly quiet, the friends could hear the pattering sound made by the wolves' feet upon the fallen leaves; but the moon had sunk now, and they were unable to make out their figures.
"It seems to me," Malchus said in a whisper, "that I can see specks of fire gleaming on the bushes."
"It is the reflection of the fire in their eyes," Halcon replied. "See! they are all round us! There must be scores of them."
For some time the wolves approached no closer; then, encouraged by the silence of the little group standing in the centre of the fire, two or three gray forms showed themselves in the circle of light. Three bows twanged. Two of the wolves fell, and the third, with a howl of pain, fled in the darkness. There was a sound of snarling and growling; a cry of pain, a fierce struggle, and then a long continued snarling.
"What are they doing?" Malchus asked with a shudder.
"I believe they are eating their wounded comrade," Halcon replied. "I have heard such is the custom of the savage brutes. See, the carcasses of the other two have disappeared already."
Short as had been the time which had elapsed since they had fallen, other wolves had stolen out, and had dragged away the bodies of the two which had been killed. This incident, which showed how extreme was the hunger of the wolves, and how noiseless were their motions, redoubled the vigilance of the party.
Malchus threw a handful of brushwood on to each of the fires.
"We must be careful of the fuel," Halcon said. "I would we had thought of this before we lay down to sleep. If we had collected fuel enough for our fires we should have been safe; but I doubt much if our supply will last now till morning."
As the hours went on the attitude of the wolves became more and more threatening, and in strong bodies they advanced close up to the fires. Every time that they did so armfuls of fuel were thrown on, and as the flames leaped up brightly they each time fell back, losing several of their numbers from the arrows of the little party. But the pile of fuel was now sinking fast, and except when the wolves advanced it was necessary to let the fires burn down.
"It must want four hours yet of daylight," Halcon said, as he threw on the last piece of wood. "Look round as the fire blazes up and see if you can make out any tree which may be climbed. I would that we had taken to them at first instead of trusting to our fires."
Unfortunately they had chosen a somewhat open space of ground for their encampment, for the brushwood grew thick among the trees.
"There is a tree over there," Malchus said, pointing to it, "with a bough but six feet from the ground. One spring on to that and we are safe."
"Very well," Halcon assented; "we will attempt it at once before the fire burns low. Put your swords into your sheaths, sling your bows and arrows behind you, and take each a burning brand. These will be better weapons in such a case than swords or spears. Now, are you ready? Now!"
Waving the burning brands over their heads, the three Carthaginians dashed across the intervening space towards the tree.
It seemed as if the wolves were conscious that their prey were attempting to escape them; for, with a fierce howl, they sprang from the bushes and rushed to meet them; and, undeterred by the blazing brands, sprang upon them.
Malchus scarce knew what passed in the short, fierce struggle. One wolf sprang upon his shield and nearly brought him to the ground; but the sharp boss pierced its body, and he flung it from him, at the same moment that he dashed the brand full in the face of another. A third sprang upon his shoulder, and he felt its hot breath in his face. Dropping his brand, he drove his dagger deep into its side. Then he hurled his heavy shield among the mass of wolves before him, took a bound into their midst, and grasping the bough, swung himself into the tree and sat there with his legs drawn up as a score of wolves leaped up towards him with open mouths.
He gave a cry of horror. His two friends were down, and a confused mass of struggling bodies alone showed where they had fallen. For an instant he hesitated, debating whether he should leap down and strive to rescue them; but a glance below showed him that he would be pulled down long before he could reach the spot where they had fallen.
Shifting himself along the arm until he reached the trunk, he rose to his feet and sent his arrows vengefully into the midst of the struggling mass of wolves until he had but three or four shafts left. These he reserved as a last resource.
There was nothing to do now, and he sat down on the branch, and burst into tears over the fate of his comrades. When he looked up again all was quiet. The fierce pack had devoured not only his comrades, but their own fallen companions, and now sat in a circle with their red tongues hanging out and their eyes fixed upon him. As the fire gradually died out their form disappeared; but he could hear their quick breathing, and knew that they were still on the watch.
Malchus climbed the tree until he reached a fork where he could sit at ease, and there waited for morning, when he hoped that his foes would disappear. But as the gray light dawned he saw them still on the watch; nor, as the dawn brightened into day, did they show any signs of moving.
When he saw they had no intention of leaving the place, Malchus began to consider seriously what he had best do. He might still be, for aught he knew, miles away from the camp, and his friends there would have no means of knowing the position in which he was placed. They would no doubt send out all the soldiers in search of the party; but in that broken wilderness of forest and mountain, it was the merest chance whether they would find the spot where he was prisoner. Still, it appeared to him that this was the only possibility of his rescue. The trees grew thickly together, and he could easily have climbed from that in which he was stationed to the next, and might so have made his way for some distance; but as the wolves were watching him, and could see as well by night as by day, there was no advantage in shifting his position.
The day passed slowly. The wolves had for the most part withdrawn from beneath the tree, but a few kept their station there steadily, and Malchus knew that the rest were only lying beneath the bushes round; for he could hear their frequent snarling, and sometimes a gray head was thrust out, and a pair of eager eyes looked hungrily towards him. From time to time Malchus listened breathlessly in hopes of hearing the distant shouts of his comrades; but all was still in the forest, and he felt sure that the wolves would hear anyone approaching before he should.
Once or twice, indeed, he fancied that by their pricked ears and attitude of attention they could hear sounds inaudible to him; but the alarm, if such it was, soon passed away, and it might have been that they were listening only to the distant footsteps of some stag passing through the forest. Night came again with its long, dreary hours. Malchus strapped himself by his belt to the tree to prevent himself from falling and managed to obtain a few hours of uneasy sleep, waking up each time with a start, in a cold perspiration of fear, believing that he was falling into the hungry jaws below. In the morning a fierce desire to kill some of his foes seized him, and he descended to the lowest branch.
The wolves, seeing their prey so close at hand, thronged thickly under it, and strove to leap up at him. Lying down on the bough, and twisting his legs firmly under it to give him a purchase, Malchus thrust his sword nearly to the hilt between the jaws, which snapped fiercely as a wolf sprang to within a few inches of the bough. Several were killed in this way, and the rest, rendered cautious, withdrew to a short distance. Suddenly an idea struck Malchus. He took off his belt and formed it into a running noose, and then waited until the wolves should summon up courage to attack again. It was not long. Furious with hunger, which the prey they had already devoured was only sufficient to whet, the wolves again approached and began to spring towards the bough.
Malchus dropped the noose over one of their necks, and with an effort, hauled it to the bough, and despatched it with his dagger. Then he moved along the bough and hung it on a branch some ten feet from the ground, slashing open with his dagger its chest and stomach. Having done this he returned to his place. Six wolves were one after the other so hauled up and despatched, and as Malchus expected, the smell of their blood rendered the pack more savage than ever. They assembled round the foot of the tree, and continued to spring at the trunk, making vain endeavours to get at the supply of food which hung tantalizingly at so short a distance beyond their reach.
So the day passed as before without signs of rescue. When it became dark Malchus again descended to the lowest trunk, and fired his three remaining arrows among the wolves below him. Loud howls followed each discharge, followed by a desperate struggle below. Then he tumbled from their position the six dead wolves to the ground below, and then as noiselessly as possible made his way along a bough into an adjoining tree, and so into another, till he had attained some distance from the spot where the wolves were fighting and growling over the remains of their companions, far too absorbed in their work for any thought of him.
Then he dropped noiselessly to the ground and fled at the top of his speed. It would be, he was sure, some time before the wolves had completed their feast; and even should they discover that he was missing from the tree, it would probably be some time before they could hit upon his scent, especially, as, having just feasted on blood, their sense of smell would for a time be dulled. His previsions were accurate. Several times he stopped and listened in dread lest he should hear the distant howl, which would tell him that the pack was again on his scent. All was quiet, save for the usual cries and noises in the forest. In two hours he saw a distant glow of light, and was soon in the encampment of his friends.
"Why, Malchus!" his comrades exclaimed as he entered the tent, "where have you been these two days? Why, you are splashed with blood. Where are Halcon and Chalcus?"
"Dead," Malchus said—"devoured by wolves."
A cry of horror broke from the three young guardsmen.
"'Tis too true," Malchus went on; "but give me food and wine. I have neither eaten nor drunk for the last two days, and I have gone through a terrible time. Even now I seem to see all round me countless cruel eyes, and hungry open mouths with their red tongues."
Seeing that Malchus was utterly worn and exhausted his companions hastened to place food and drink before him before asking any further questions.
Malchus drank a cup of wine and took a mouthful of bread; but he was too faint and exhausted at present to eat more. He had supported well the terrible strain for the last forty-eight hours, and as he had run through the forest he had not noticed how it had told upon him; but now that he was safe among his friends he felt as weak as a child. For a time he lay upon the lion skin on which he had thrown himself upon entering the tent, unable to reply to his comrades' questions. Then, as the cordial began to take effect, he roused himself and forced himself to eat more. After that he told his friends what had happened.
"You have indeed had an escape, Malchus; but how was it you did not take to the trees at once?"
"I did not think of it," Malchus said, "nor, I suppose, did the others. Halcon was our leader, and we did as he told us. He thought the fires would keep them off. Who could have thought the beasts would have ventured to attack us!"
"I have always heard they were terrible," one of the others said; "but I should have thought that three armed men would have been a match for any number of them."
"It would have been as much as thirty could have done to withstand them," Malchus replied; "they did not seem to care for their lives, but sought only to slay. There were hundreds and hundreds of them. I would rather march alone to the assault of a walled city than face those terrible beasts."
In the morning the whole party started for the scene of the encounter.
Malchus had some difficulty in discovering it; but at last, after searching a long time he came upon it.
The ground beneath the tree was everywhere trampled and torn by the wolves in their struggles, and was spotted with patches of dry blood. The helmets, shields and arms of Halcon and Chalcus lay there, but not a remnant of their bones remained, and a few fragments of skin and some closely gnawed skulls alone testified to the wolves which had fallen in the encounter. The arms were gathered up, and the party returned to their camp, and the next day started for Carthagena for, after that experience, none cared for any further hunting.
It was some weeks before Malchus completely recovered from the effects of the strain he had undergone. His nights were disturbed and restless. He would constantly start from his couch, thinking that he heard the howl of the wolves, and any sudden noise made him start and turn pale. Seeing how shaken his young kinsmen was, and what he had passed through, Hannibal sent him several times in ships which were going across to Africa for stores. He did not venture to send him to Carthage; for although his influence with the commissioners had been sufficient to annul the order of the council for the sending of Malchus as a prisoner there, it was probable that were he to return he would be seized and put to death—not for the supposed crime he had committed, but to gratify the hatred of Hanno against himself and his adherents.
The sea voyages soon restored Malchus to his accustomed health. Trained and disciplined as his body had been by constant exercise, his nerves were not easily shaken, and soon recovered their tone, and when, early in March, he rejoined his regiment, he was able to enter with zest and energy into the preparations which Hannibal was making for the siege of Saguntum. Difficult as this operation would be, the preparations which were being made appeared enormous. Every week ships brought over reinforcements of troops, and the Iberian contingents were largely increased.
One day Malchus entered an apartment where his father and Hannibal were talking earnestly together with a large map spread out before them. He would have retired at once, but Hannibal called him in.
"Come in, Malchus, I would have no secrets from you. Although you are young I know that you are devoted to Carthage, that you are brave and determined. I see in you what I was myself at your age, but nine years ago, and it may be that some day you will be destined to continue the work which I am beginning. You, too, have commenced early, your training has been severe. As your father's son and my cousin your promotion will naturally be rapid. I will, therefore, tell you my plans. It is clear that Rome and Carthage cannot both exist—one or the other must be destroyed. It is useless to strike at extremities, the blow must be dealt at the heart. Unfortunately our fleet is no longer superior to that of Rome, and victories at sea, however important, only temporarily cripple an enemy.
"It is by land the blow must be struck. Were the sea ours, I should say, land troops in southern Italy, and continue to pour over reinforcements until all the fighting men of North Africa are at the gates of Rome. But without the absolute command of the sea this cannot be done. Therefore I intend to make Spain our base, and to march through Southern Gaul over the Alps into Italy, and there to fight the Romans on their own ground. Already I have agents at work among the Gauls and the northern tribes of Italy, who will, I trust, join me in the war against our common enemy. The enterprise is a great one, but it is not impossible; if it succeeds, Rome will be destroyed and Carthage will reign, without a rival, mistress of the world. The plan was Hasdrubal's, but it has fallen to me to carry it out."
"It is a grand plan indeed," Malchus exclaimed enthusiastically—"a glorious plan, but the difficulties seem tremendous."