So slowly did the hours pass, indeed, that he began at last to fear that something must have happened—perhaps that Nessus had been in some way recognized, and was now in the dungeons below the temple of Moloch. At last, however, to his joy Malchus saw the distant light; it burned steadily, and he at once set out to paddle towards it. He did not light his torch—it would have taken time, and he knew that, quietly as he paddled, the sound would be borne along the surface of the water to Nessus. At last he arrived at the steps. Nessus was there alone; beside him was a basket of fresh provisions.
"Well, Nessus, what news?"
"All is well, my lord; but Hanno is moving heaven and earth to find you. The gates of the citadel were kept closed all day yesterday; and although today they have again been opened, the examination of those who pass out is so strict that no disguise would avail to deceive the scrutiny of the searchers. One or other of the men who attended you in the prison is always at the gate. The barracks have been searched from end to end, the troops occupying them being all turned out while the agents of the law searched them from top to bottom. The same has been done with the stables; and it is well that we did not attempt to hide you above ground, for assuredly if we had done so they would have found you, however cunningly we had stowed you away. Of course the name of the prisoner who has escaped is known to none, but the report that an important prisoner had escaped from the state prisons beneath the temple has created quite an excitement in the city, for it is said that such an event never took place before. At present I can hit on no plan whatever for getting you free."
"Then I must be content to wait for a while, Nessus. After a time their vigilance is sure to relax, as they will think that I must have got beyond the walls."
"Are there any to whom you would wish me to bear news that you are here?"
This was a question which Malchus had debated with himself over and over again. It appeared to him, however, that Hanno's power was so great that it would be dangerous for anyone to come forward and accuse him. No doubt every one of the leading men of the Barcine party was strictly watched; and did Hanno suspect that any of them were in communication with the escaped prisoner, he would take instant steps against them. He thought it better, therefore, that none should be acquainted with the secret until he was free. He therefore replied in the negative to the question of Nessus.
"I must wait till I am free. Any action now might bring down the vengeance of Hanno upon others. He would find no difficulty in inventing some excuse for dealing a blow at them. You think here is no possibility of escape at present?"
"I can think on no plan, my lord. So strict is the search that when the elephants went down today to the fountains for water every howdah was examined to see that no one was hidden within it."
"It will be necessary also, Nessus, if you do hit upon some plan for getting me out, to arrange a hiding place in the city."
"That will be easy enough," Nessus replied. "My friends have many relations in the Arab quarter, and once free, you might be concealed there for any time. And now I will wait no longer, for last night visits were made in all the barracks and stables by the agents of the law, to see that every man was asleep in his place. Therefore I will return without delay. In two days I will be here again; but should anything occur which it is needful to tell you I will be here tomorrow night."
Malchus watched for the light on the following evening with but faint hope of seeing it, but at about the same hour as before he saw it suddenly appear again. Wondering what had brought Nessus before his time, he paddled to the stairs.
"Well, Nessus, what is your news?"
"We have hit upon a plan of escape, my lord. As I told you my friend and I are in the stable with the elephants, our duties being to carry in the forage for the great beasts, and to keep the stables in order. We have taken one of the Indian mahouts into our confidence, and he has promised his aid; the elephant of which he is in charge is a docile beast, and his driver has taught him many tricks. At his signal he will put up his trunk and scream and rush here and there as if in the state which is called must, when they are dangerous of approach. The mahout, who is a crafty fellow, taught him to act thus, because when in such a state of temper the elephants cannot be worked with the others, but remain in the stables, and their drivers have an easy time of it.
"On the promise of a handsome reward the mahout has agreed that tomorrow morning, before the elephants are taken out, you shall be concealed in the bottom of the howdah. He will manage that the elephant is the first in the procession. When we get out into the courtyard he will slyly prick the beast, and give him the signal to simulate rage; he will then so direct him that, after charging several times about the court, he shall make a rush at the gate. You may be sure that the guards there will step aside quickly enough, for a furious elephant is not a creature to be hindered.
"When he is once down to the foot of the hill the driver will direct him to some quiet spot. That he will find easily enough, for at his approach there will be a general stampede. When he reaches some place where no one is in sight he will halt the elephant and you will at once drop off him. I shall be near at hand and will join you. The elephant will continue his course for some little distance, and the mahout, feigning to have at last recovered control over him, will direct him back to the citadel."
"The idea is a capital one," Malchus said, "and if carried out will surely succeed. You and I have often seen during our campaigns elephants in this state, and know how every one flies as they come along screaming loudly, with their trunks high, and their great ears out on each side of their heads. At any rate it is worth trying, Nessus, and if by any chance we should fail in getting through the gate, the mahout would, of course, take his elephant back to the stable, and I might slip out there and conceal myself till night, and then make my way back here again."
"That's what we have arranged," Nessus said. "And now, my lord, I will leave you and go back to the stables, in case they should search them again tonight. If you will push off and lie a short distance away from the steps I will be here again half an hour before daybreak. I will bring you a garb like my own, and will take you direct to the stable where the animal is kept. There will be no one there save the mahout and my two friends, so that it will be easy for us to cover you in the howdah before the elephants go out. There is little chance of anyone coming into the stables before that, for they have been searched so frequently during the last two days that Hanno's agents must by this time be convinced that wherever you are hidden you are not there. Indeed, today the search has greatly relaxed, although the vigilance at the gate and on the walls is as great as ever; so I think that they despair of finding you, and believe that you must either have made your escape already, or that if not you will sooner or later issue from your hiding place and fall into their hands."
Malchus slept little that night, and rejoiced when he again saw Nessus descending the steps. A few strokes of his paddle sent the raft alongside. Nessus fastened a cord to it to prevent it from drifting away.
"We may need it again," he said briefly. Malchus placed his own clothes upon it and threw over his shoulders the bernous which Nessus had brought. He then mounted the steps with him, the gate was closed and the bolt shot, and they then made their way across to the stables. It was still perfectly dark, though a very faint light, low in the eastern sky, showed that ere long the day would break.
Five minutes' walking and they arrived at the stables of the elephants. These, like those of the horses and the oxen which drew the cumbrous war machines, were formed in the vast thickness of the walls, and were what are known in modern times as casemates. As Nessus had said, the Indian mahout and the other two Arabs were the only human occupants of the casemate. The elephant at once showed that he perceived the newcomer to be a stranger by an uneasy movement, but the mahout quieted him.
While they were waiting for morning, Nessus described, more fully than he had hitherto had an opportunity of doing, the attack made upon him on board the ship.
"I was," he said, "as my lord knows, uneasy when I found that they had recognized you, and when we were within a day's sail of Carthage I resolved to keep a lookout—therefore, although I wrapped myself in my cloak and lay down, I did not go to sleep. After a while I thought I heard the sound of oars, and, standing up, went to the bulwark to listen. Suddenly some of the sailors, who must have been watching me, sprang upon me from behind, a cloak was thrown over my head, a rope was twisted round my arms, and in a moment I was lifted and flung overboard.
"I did not cry out, because I had already made up my mind that it was better not to arouse you from sleep whatever happened, as, had you run out, you might have been killed, and I thought it likely that their object would be, if you offered no resistance, to take you a prisoner, in which case I trusted that I might later on hope to free you. As my lord knows, I am a good swimmer. I let myself sink, and when well below the surface soon got rid of the rope which bound me, and which was, indeed, but hastily twisted round my arms. I came up to the surface as noiselessly as possible, and after taking a long breath dived and swam under water as far as I could. When I came up the ship was so far away that there was little fear of their seeing me; however, I dived again and again until in perfect safety.
"I heard a boat rowed by many oars approach the vessel. I listened for a time and found that all was quiet, and then laid myself out for the long swim to shore, which I reached without difficulty. All day I kept my eye on the vessel, which remained at anchor. As I could not tell to which landing place you might be brought I went up in the evening and took my post on the road leading up here, and when towards morning a party entered, carrying one with them on a stretcher, I had little doubt that it was you.
"I was sure to find friends among the Arabs either belonging to the regiment stationed in Byrsa or those employed in the storehouses or stables; so the next morning I entered the citadel and soon met these men, who belonged to my tribe and village. After that my way was plain; my only fear was that they might kill you before I could discover the place in which you were confined, and my heart sank the first night when I found that, though I whispered down every one of the gratings, I could obtain no reply.
"I had many answers, indeed, but not from you. There might be many cells besides those with openings into the temple, and were you placed in one of these I might never hear of you again. I had resolved that if the next night passed without my being able to find you, I would inform some of those known to be friends of Hannibal that you were a prisoner, and leave it in their hands to act as they liked, while I still continued my efforts to communicate with you. You may imagine with what joy I heard your reply on the following night."
"I must have been asleep the first night," Malchus said, "and did not hear your voice."
"I feared to speak above a whisper, my lord; there are priests all night in the sanctuary behind the great image."
Day had by this time broken, and a stir and bustle commenced in front of the long line of casemates; the elephants were brought out from their stables and stood rocking themselves from side to side while their keepers rubbed their hides with pumice stone. Nessus was one of those who was appointed to make the great flat cakes of coarse flour which formed the principal food of the elephants. The other Arabs busied themselves in bringing in fresh straw, which Malchus scattered evenly over the stall; heaps of freshly cut forage were placed before each elephant.
In a short time one of the Arabs took the place of Nessus in preparing the cakes, while Nessus moved away and presently went down into the town to await the coming of Malchus. By this arrangement if the superintendent of the stables came round he would find the proper number of men at work, and was not likely to notice the substitution of Malchus for Nessus, with whose face he could not yet have become familiar. By this time numbers of the townsmen were as usual coming up to the citadel to worship in the temple or to visit friends dwelling there. Malchus learned that since his escape had been known each person on entrance received a slip of brass with a stamp on it which he had to give up on leaving.
All employed in the citadel received a similar voucher, without which none could pass the gate. The time was now come when the elephants were accustomed to be taken down to the fountains in the town below, and the critical moment was at hand. The mahout had already begun to prepare his elephant for the part he was to play. It had been trumpeting loudly and showing signs of impatience and anger. The animal was now made to kneel by the door of its stable, where Malchus had already lain down at the bottom of the howdah, a piece of sacking being thrown over him by the Arabs. The two Arabs and the mahout carried the howdah out, placed it on the elephant, and securely fastened it in its position.
These howdahs were of rough construction, being in fact little more than large open crates, for the elephants after being watered went to the forage yard, where the crates were filled with freshly cut grass or young boughs of trees, which they carried up for their own use to the citadel.
The mahout took his position on its neck, and the elephant then rose to its feet. The symptoms of bad temper which it had already given were now redoubled. It gave vent to a series of short vicious squeals, it trumpeted loudly and angrily, and, although the mahout appeared to be doing his best to pacify it, it became more and more demonstrative. The superintendent of the elephants rode up.
"You had better dismount and take that brute back to the stable," he said; "he is not safe to take out this morning." As he approached the elephant threw up his trunk, opened his mouth, and rushed suddenly at him. The officer fled hastily, shouting loudly to the other mahouts to bring their animals in a circle round the elephant, but the mahout gave him a sudden prod with his pricker and the elephant set off with great strides, his ears out, his trunk in the air, and with every sign of an access of fury, at the top of his speed. He rushed across the great courtyard, the people flying in all directions with shouts of terror; he made two or three turns up and down, each time getting somewhat nearer to the gate.
As he approached it for the third time the mahout guided him towards it, and, accustomed at this hour to sally out, the elephant made a sudden rush in that direction. The officer on guard shouted to his men to close the gate, but before they could attempt to carry out the order the elephant charged through, and at the top of his speed went down the road.
CHAPTER XVIII: CANNAE
As the elephant tore down the road to the town many were the narrow escapes that, as they thought, those coming up had of being crushed or thrown into the air by the angry beast. Some threw themselves on their faces, others got over the parapet and hung by their hands until he had passed, while some squeezed themselves against the wall; but the elephant passed on without doing harm to any.
On reaching the foot of the descent the mahout guided the animal to the left, and, avoiding the busy streets of the town, directed its course towards the more quiet roads of the opulent quarter of Megara. The cries of the people at the approach of the elephant preceded its course, and all took refuge in gardens or houses. The latter became less and less frequent, until, at a distance of two miles from the foot of the citadel, the mahout, on looking round, perceived no one in sight. He brought the elephant suddenly to a standstill.
"Quick, my lord," he exclaimed, "now is the time."
Malchus threw off the sack, climbed out of the howdah, and slipped down by the elephant's tail, the usual plan for dismounting when an elephant is on its feet. Then he sprang across the road, leaped into a garden, and hid himself among some bushes. The mahout now turned the elephant, and, as if he had succeeded at last in subduing it, slowly retraced his steps towards the citadel.
A minute or two later Malchus issued out and quietly followed it. He had gone some distance when he saw an Arab approaching him, and soon recognized Nessus. They turned off together from the main road and made their way by bystreets until they reached the lower city. At a spot near the port they found one of the Arabs from above awaiting them, and he at once led the way to the house inhabited by his family. The scheme had been entirely successful. Malchus had escaped from the citadel without the possibility of a suspicion arising that he had issued from its gates, and in his Arab garb he could now traverse the streets unsuspected.
Nessus was overjoyed at the success of the stratagem, and Malchus himself could hardly believe that he had escaped from the terrible danger which threatened him. Nessus and the Arab at once returned to the citadel. It was agreed that the former had better continue his work as usual until the evening, and then ask for his discharge on the plea that he had received a message requiring his presence in his native village, for it was thought that suspicion might be excited were he to leave suddenly without drawing his pay, and possibly a search might be instituted in the city to discover his whereabouts.
At nightfall he returned, and then went to the house of one of the leaders of the Barcine party with a message from Malchus to tell him where he was, and the events which had occurred since his landing at Carthage, and asking him to receive him privately in two hours' time, in order that he might consult him as to the best plan to be followed.
Nessus returned saying that Manon was at home and was awaiting him, and the two at once set out for his house. Manon, who was a distant relation of Malchus, received him most warmly, and listened in astonishment to his story of what had befallen him. Malchus then explained the mission with which Hannibal had charged him, and asked his advice as to the best course to be adopted. Manon was silent for a time.
"Hanno's faction is all powerful at present," he said, "and were Hannibal himself here I doubt whether his voice could stir the senate into taking action such as is needed. The times have been hard, and Hanno and his party have lavished money so freely among the lower classes that there is no hope of stirring the populace up to declare against him. I think it would be in the highest degree dangerous were we, as you propose, to introduce you suddenly to the senate as Hannibal's ambassador to them, and leave you to plead his cause. You would obtain no hearing. Hanno would rise in his place and denounce you as one already condemned by the tribunals as an enemy to the republic, and would demand your instant execution, and, as he has a great majority of votes in the senate, his demand would be complied with. You would, I am convinced, throw away your life for no good purpose, while your presence and your mysterious escape from prison would be made the pretense for a fresh series of persecutions of our partisans. I understand as well as you do the urgency for reinforcements being sent to Italy; but in order to do this the navy, now rotting in our harbours, must be repaired, the command of the sea must be regained, and fresh levies of troops made.
"To ask Carthage to make these sacrifices in her present mood is hopeless; we must await an opportunity. I and my friends will prepare the way, will set our agents to work among the people, and when the news of another victory arrives and the people's hopes are aroused and excited, we will strike while the iron is hot, and call upon them to make one great effort to bring the struggle to a conclusion and to finish with Rome forever.
"Such is, in my opinion, the only possible mode of proceeding. To move now would be to ensure a rejection of our demands, to bring fresh persecutions upon us, and so to weaken us that we should be powerless to turn to good account the opportunity which the news of another great victory would afford. I will write at once to Hannibal and explain all the circumstances of the situation, and will tell him why I have counselled you to avoid carrying out his instructions, seeing that to do so now would be to ensure your own destruction and greatly damage our cause.
"In the meantime you must, for a short time, remain in concealment, while I arrange for a ship to carry you back to Italy."
"The sooner the better," Malchus said bitterly, "for Carthage with its hideous tyranny, its foul corruption, its forgetfulness of its glory, its honour, and even its safety, is utterly hateful to me. I trust that never again shall I set foot within its walls. Better a thousand times to die in a battlefield than to live in this accursed city."
"It is natural that you should be indignant," Manon said, "for the young blood runs hotly in your veins, and your rage at seeing the fate which is too certainly impending over Carthage, and which you are powerless to prevent, is in no way to be blamed. We old men bow more resignedly to the decrees of the gods. You know the saying, 'Those whom the gods would destroy they first strike with madness.' Carthage is such. She sees unmoved the heroic efforts which Hannibal and his army are making to save her, and she will not stretch out a hand to aid him. She lives contentedly under the constant tyranny of Hanno's rule, satisfied to be wealthy, luxurious, and slothful, to carry on her trade, to keep her riches, caring nothing for the manly virtues, indifferent to valour, preparing herself slowly and surely to fall an easy prey to Rome.
"The end probably will not come in my time, it may come in yours, but come it certainly and surely will. A nation which can place a mere handful of its own citizens in the line of battle voluntarily dooms herself to destruction."
"Whether it comes in my time or not," Malchus said, "I will be no sharer in the fate of Carthage. I have done with her; and if I do not fall in the battlefield I will, when the war is over, seek a refuge among the Gauls, where, if the life is rough, it is at least free and independent, where courage and manliness and honour count for much, and where the enervating influence of wealth is as yet unknown. Such is my firm resolution."
"I say nothing to dissuade you, Malchus," the old man replied, "such are the natural sentiments of your age; and methinks, were my own time to come over again, I too would choose such a life in preference to an existence in the polluted atmosphere of ungrateful Carthage. And now, will you stop here with me, or will you return to the place where you are staying? I need not say how gladly I would have you here, but I cannot answer certainly for your safety. Every movement of those belonging to our party is watched by Hanno, and I doubt not that he has his spies among my slaves and servants.
"Therefore deem me not inhospitable if I say that it were better for you to remain in hiding where you are. Let your follower come nightly to me for instructions; let him enter the gate and remain in the garden near it. I will come down and see him; his visits, were they known, would excite suspicion. Bid him on his return watch closely to see that he is not followed, and tell him to go by devious windings and to mix in the thickest crowds in order to throw any one who may be following off his track before he rejoins you. I trust to be able to arrange for a ship in the course of three or four days. Come again and see me before you leave. Here is a bag of gold; you will need it to reward those who have assisted in your escape."
Malchus at once agreed that it would be better for him to return to his abode among the Arabs, and thanking Manon for his kindness he returned with Nessus, who had been waiting without.
As they walked along Malchus briefly related to his follower the substance of his interview with Manon. Suddenly Nessus stopped and listened, and then resumed his walk.
"I think we are followed, my lord," he said, "one of Hanno's spies in Manon's household is no doubt seeking to discover who are the Arabs who have paid his master a visit. I have thought once before that I heard a footfall, now l am sure of it. When we get to the next turning do you walk on and I will turn down the road. If the man behind us be honest he will go straight on; if he be a spy, he will hesitate and stop at the corner to decide which of us he shall follow; then I shall know what to do."
Accordingly at the next crossroad they came to Nessus turned down and concealed himself a few paces away, while Malchus, without pausing, walked straight on. A minute later Nessus saw a dark figure come stealthily along. He stopped at the junction of the roads and stood for a few seconds in hesitation, then he followed Malchus.
Nessus issued from his hiding place, and, with steps as silent and stealthy as those of a tiger tracking his prey, followed the man. When within a few paces of him he gave a sudden spring and flung himself upon him, burying his knife between his shoulders. Without a sound the man fell forward on his face. Nessus coolly wiped his knife upon the garments of the spy, and then proceeded at a rapid pace until he overtook Malchus.
"It was a spy," he said, "but he will carry no more tales to Hanno."
Two days later, Nessus, on his return from his visit to Manon, brought news that the latter had arranged with the captain of a ship owned by a friend to carry them across to Corinth, whence they would have no difficulty in taking a passage to Italy. They were to go on board late the following night, and the ship would set sail at daybreak.
The next evening Malchus accompanied by Nessus paid a farewell visit to Manon, and repeated to him all the instructions of Hannibal, and Manon handed him his letter for the general, and again assured him that he would, with his friends, at once set to work to pave the way for an appeal to the populace at the first favourable opportunity.
After bidding farewell to the old noble, Malchus returned to the house of the Arab and prepared for his departure. He had already handsomely rewarded the two men and the mahout for the services they had rendered him. In the course of the day he had provided himself with the garments of a trader, the character which he was now about to assume.
At midnight, when all was quiet, he and Nessus set out and made their way down to the port, where, at a little frequented landing stage, a boat was awaiting them, and they were at once rowed to the ship, which was lying at anchor half a mile from the shore in readiness for an early start in the morning.
Although it seemed next to impossible that they could have been traced, Malchus walked the deck restlessly until the morning, listening to every sound, and it was not until the anchor was weighed, the sails hoisted, and the vessel began to draw away from Carthage that he went into his cabin. On the sixth day after leaving Carthage the ship entered the port of Corinth.
There were several vessels there from Italian ports, but before proceeding to arrange for a passage Malchus went to a shop and bought, for himself and Nessus, such clothing and arms as would enable them to pass without difficulty as fighting men belonging to one of the Latin tribes. Then he made inquiries on the quay, and, finding that a small Italian craft was to start that afternoon for Brundusium, he went on board and accosted the captain.
"We want to cross to Italy," he said, "but we have our reasons for not wishing to land at Brundusium, and would fain be put ashore at some distance from the town. We are ready, of course, to pay extra for the trouble."
The request did not seem strange to the captain. Malchus had spoken in Greek, the language with which all who traded on the Mediterranean were familiar. He supposed that they had in some way embroiled themselves with the authorities at Brundusium, and had fled for awhile until the matter blew over, and that they were now anxious to return to their homes without passing through the town. He asked rather a high price for putting them ashore in a boat as they wished, and Malchus haggled over the sum for a considerable time, as a readiness to pay an exorbitant price might have given rise to doubts in the captain's mind as to the quality of his passengers. Once or twice he made as if he would go ashore, and the captain at last abated his demands to a reasonable sum.
When this was settled Malchus went no more ashore, but remained on board until the vessel sailed, as he feared that he might again be recognized by some of the sailors of the Carthaginian vessels in port. The weather was fair and the wind light, and on the second day after sailing the vessel lay to in a bay a few miles from Brundusium. The boat was lowered, and Malchus and his companions set on shore.
They had before embarking laid in a store of provisions not only for a voyage, but for their journey across the country, as the slight knowledge which Malchus had of the Latin tongue would have betrayed him at once were he obliged to enter a town or village to purchase food. Carrying the provisions in bundles they made for the mountains, and after three days' journey reached without interruption or adventure the camp of Hannibal. He was still lying in his intrenched camp near Geronium. The Roman army was as before watching him at a short distance off.
Malchus at once sought the tent of the general, whose surprise at seeing him enter was great, for he had not expected that he would return until the spring. Malchus gave him an account of all that had taken place since he left him. Hannibal was indignant in the extreme at Hanno having ventured to arrest and condemn his ambassador. When he learned the result of the interview with Manon, and heard how completely the hostile faction were the masters of Carthage, he agreed that the counsels of the old nobleman were wise, and that Malchus could have done no good, whereas he would have exposed himself to almost certain death, by endeavouring further to carry out the mission with which he had been charged.
"Manon knows what is best, and, no doubt, a premature attempt to excite the populace to force Hanno into sending the reinforcements we so much need would have not only failed, but would have injured our cause. He and his friends will doubtless work quietly to prepare the public mind, and I trust that ere very long some decisive victory will give them the opportunity for exciting a great demonstration on our behalf."
The remainder of the winter passed quietly. Malchus resumed his post as the commander of Hannibal's bodyguard, but his duties were very light. The greater part of his time was spent in accompanying Hannibal in his visits to the camps of the soldiers, where nothing was left undone which could add to the comfort and contentment of the troops. There is no stronger evidence of the popularity of Hannibal and of the influence which he exercised over his troops than the fact that the army under him, composed, as it was, of men of so many nationalities, for the most part originally compelled against their will to enter the service of Carthage, maintained their discipline unshaken, not only by the hardships and sacrifices of the campaigns, but through the long periods of enforced idleness in their winter quarters.
From first to last, through the long war, there was neither grumbling, nor discontent, nor insubordination among the troops. They served willingly and cheerfully. They had absolute confidence in their general, and were willing to undertake the most tremendous labours and to engage in the most arduous conflicts to please him, knowing that he, on his part, was unwearied in promoting their comfort and well being at all other times.
As the spring advanced the great magazines which Hannibal had brought with him became nearly exhausted, and no provisions could be obtained from the surrounding country, which had been completely ruined by the long presence of the two armies. It became, therefore, necessary to move from the position which he had occupied during the winter. The Romans possessed the great advantage over him of having magazines in their rear constantly replenished by their allies, and move where they might, they were sure of obtaining subsistence without difficulty. Thus, upon the march, they were unembarrassed by the necessity of taking a great baggage train with them, and, when halted, their general could keep his army together in readiness to strike a blow whenever an opportunity offered; while Hannibal, on the other hand, was forced to scatter a considerable portion of the army in search of provisions.
The annual elections at Rome had just taken place, and Terentius Varro and Emilius Paulus had been chosen consuls. Emilius belonged to the aristocratic party, and had given proof of military ability three years before when he had commanded as consul in the Illyrian war. Varro belonged to the popular party, and is described by the historians of the period as a coarse and brutal demagogue, the son of a butcher, and having himself been a butcher. But he was unquestionably an able man, and possessed some great qualities. The praetor Marcellus, who had slain a Gaulish king with his own hand in the last Gaulish war, was at Ostia with a legion. He was destined to command the fleet and to guard the southern coasts of Italy, while another praetor, Lucius Postumius, with one legion, was in Cisalpine Gaul keeping down the tribes friendly to Carthage.
But before the new consuls arrived to take the command of the army Hannibal had moved from Geronium.
The great Roman magazine of Apulia was at Cannae, a town near the river Aulidus. This important place was but fifty miles by the shortest route across the plain from Geronium; but the Romans were unable to follow directly across the plain, for at this time the Carthaginians greatly outnumbered them in cavalry, and they would, therefore, have to take the road round the foot of the mountains, which was nearly seventy miles long; and yet, by some unaccountable blunder, they neglected to place a sufficient guard over their great magazines at Cannae to defend them for even a few days against a sudden attack.
Hannibal saw the opportunity, and when spring was passing into summer broke up his camp and marched straight to Cannae, where the vast magazines of the Romans at once fell into his hands. He thus not only obtained possession of his enemy's supplies, but interposed between the Romans and the low lying district of Southern Apulia, where alone, at, this early season of the year, the corn was fully ripe.
The Romans had now no choice but to advance and fight a battle for the recovery of their magazines, for, had they retired, the Apulians, who had already suffered terribly from the war, would, in sheer despair, have been forced to declare for Carthage, while it would have been extremely difficult to continue any longer the waiting tactics of Fabius, as they would now have been obliged to draw their provisions from a distance, while Hannibal could victual his army from the country behind him. The senate therefore, having largely reinforced the army, ordered the consuls to advance and give battle.
They had under them eight full legions, or eighty thousand infantry and seven thousand two hundred cavalry. To oppose these Hannibal had forty thousand infantry and ten thousand excellent cavalry, of whom two thousand were Numidians. On the second day after leaving the neighbourhood of Geronium the Romans encamped at a distance of six miles from the Carthaginians. Here the usual difference of opinion at once arose between the Roman consuls, who commanded the army on alternate days. Varro wished to march against the enemy without delay, while Emilius was adverse to risking an engagement in a country which, being level and open, was favourable to the action of Hannibal's superior cavalry.
On the following day Varro, whose turn it was to command, marched towards the hostile camp. Hannibal attacked the Roman advanced guard with his cavalry and light infantry, but Varro had supported his cavalry not only by his light troops, but by a strong body of his heavy armed infantry, and after an engagement, which lasted for several hours, he repulsed the Carthaginians with considerable loss.
That evening the Roman army encamped about three miles from Cannae, on the right bank of the Aufidus. The next morning Emilius, who was in command, detached a third of his force across the river, and encamped them there for the purpose of supporting the Roman foraging parties on that side and of interrupting those of the Carthaginians.
The next day passed quietly, but on the following morning Hannibal quitted his camp and formed his army in order of battle to tempt the Romans to attack; but Emilius, sensible that the ground was against him, would not move, but contented himself with further strengthening his camps. Hannibal, seeing that the Romans would not fight, detached his Numidian cavalry across the river to cut off the Roman foraging parties and to surround and harass their smaller camp on that side of the river. On the following morning Hannibal, knowing that Varro would be in command, and feeling sure that, with his impetuous disposition, the consul would be burning to avenge the insult offered by the surrounding of his camp by the Numidians, moved his army across the river, and formed it in order of battle, leaving eight thousand of his men to guard his camp.
By thus doing he obtained a position which he could the better hold with his inferior forces, while the Romans, deeming that he intended to attack their camp on that side of the river, would be likely to move their whole army across and to give battle. This in fact Varro proceeded to do. Leaving ten thousand men in his own camp with orders to march out and attack that of Hannibal during the engagement, he led the rest of his troops over the river, and having united his force with that in the camp on the right bank, marched down the river until he faced the position which Hannibal had taken up.
This had been skillfully chosen. The river, whose general course was east and west, made a loop, and across this Hannibal had drawn up his army with both wings resting upon the river. Thus the Romans could not outflank him, and the effect of their vastly superior numbers in infantry would to some extent be neutralized. The following was the disposition of his troops.
The Spaniards and Gauls occupied the centre of the line of infantry. The Africans formed the two wings. On his left flank between the Africans and the river he placed his heavy African and Gaulish horse, eight thousand strong, while the two thousand Numidians were posted between the infantry and the river on the right flank. Hannibal commanded the centre of the army in person, Hanno the right wing, Hasdrubal the left wing; Maharbal commanded the cavalry.
Varro placed his infantry in close and heavy order, so as to reduce their front to that of the Carthaginians. The Roman cavalry, numbering two thousand four hundred men, was on his right wing, and was thus opposed to Hannibal's heavy cavalry, eight thousand strong. The cavalry of the Italian allies, four thousand eight hundred strong, was on the left wing facing the Numidians.
Emilius commanded the Roman right, Varro the left. The Carthaginians faced north, so that the wind, which was blowing strongly from the south, swept clouds of dust over their heads full into the faces of the enemy. The battle was commenced by the light troops on both sides, who fought for some time obstinately and courageously, but without any advantage to either. While this contest was going on, Hannibal advanced his centre so as to form a salient angle projecting in front of his line. The whole of the Gauls and Spaniards took part in this movement, while the Africans remained stationary; at the same time he launched his heavy cavalry against the Roman horse.
The latter were instantly overthrown, and were driven from the field with great slaughter. Emilius himself was wounded, but managed to join the infantry. While the Carthaginian heavy horse were thus defeating the Roman cavalry, the Numidians maneuvered near the greatly superior cavalry of the Italian allies, and kept them occupied until the heavy horse, after destroying the Roman cavalry, swept round behind their infantry and fell upon the rear of the Italian horse, while the Numidians charged them fiercely in front.
Thus caught in a trap the Italian horse were completely annihilated, and so, before the heavy infantry of the two armies met each other, not a Roman cavalry soldier remained alive and unwounded on the field.
The Roman infantry now advanced to the charge, and from the nature of Hannibal's formation their centre first came in contact with the head of the salient angle formed by the Gauls and Spaniards. These resisted with great obstinacy. The principes, who formed the second line of the Roman infantry, came forward and joined the spearmen, and even the triarii pressed forward and joined in the fight. Fighting with extreme obstinacy the Carthaginian centre was forced gradually back until they were again in a line with the Africans on their flanks.
The Romans had insensibly pressed in from both flanks upon the point where they had met with resistance, and now occupied a face scarcely more than half that with which they had begun the battle. Still further the Gauls and Spaniards were driven back until they now formed an angle in rear of the original line, and in this angle the whole of the Roman infantry in a confused mass pressed upon them. This was the moment for which Hannibal had waited. He wheeled round both his flanks, and the Africans, who had hitherto not struck a blow, now fell in perfect order upon the flanks of the Roman mass, while Hasdrubal with his victorious cavalry charged down like a torrent upon their rear. Then followed a slaughter unequalled in the records of history. Unable to open out, to fight, or to fly, with no quarter asked or given, the Romans and their Latin allies fell before the swords of their enemies, till, of the seventy thousand infantry which had advanced to the fight, forty thousand had fallen on the field. Three thousand were taken prisoners, seven thousand escaped to the small camp, and ten thousand made their way across the river to the large camp, where they joined the force which had been left there, and which had, in obedience to Varro's orders, attacked the Carthaginian camp, but had been repulsed with a loss of two thousand men. All the troops in both camps were forced to surrender on the following morning, and thus only fifteen thousand scattered fugitives escaped of the eighty-seven thousand two hundred infantry and cavalry under the command of the Roman consuls.
Hannibal's loss in the battle of Cannae amounted to about six thousand men.
CHAPTER XIX: IN THE MINES
The exultation of the Carthaginians at the total destruction of their enemies was immense, and Maharbal and some of the other leaders urged Hannibal at once to march upon Rome; but Hannibal knew the spirit of the Roman people, and felt that the capture of Rome, even after the annihilation of its army, would be a greater task than he could undertake. History has shown how desperate a defence may be made by a population willing to die rather than surrender, and the Romans, an essentially martial people, would defend their city until the last gasp. They had an abundance of arms, and there were the two city legions, which formed the regular garrison of the capital.
The instant the news of the defeat reached Rome, a levy of all males over seventeen years of age was ordered, and this produced another ten thousand men and a thousand cavalry. Eight thousand slaves who were willing to serve were enlisted and armed, and four thousand criminals and debtors were released from prison and pardoned, on the condition of their taking up arms. The praetor Marcellus was at Ostia with the ten thousand men with which he was about to embark for Sicily.
Thus Rome would be defended by forty-three thousand men, while Hannibal had but thirty-three thousand infantry, and his cavalry, the strongest arm of his force, would be useless. From Cannae to Rome was twelve days' march with an army encumbered with booty. He could not, therefore, hope for a surprise. The walls of Rome were exceedingly strong, and he had with him none of the great machines which would have been necessary for a siege. He must have carried with him the supplies he had accumulated for the subsistence of his force, and when these were consumed he would be destitute. Fresh Roman levies would gather on his rear, and before long his whole army would be besieged.
In such an undertaking he would have wasted time, and lost the prestige which he had acquired by his astonishing victory. Varro, who had escaped from the battle, had rallied ten thousand of the fugitives at the strong place of Canusium, and these would be a nucleus round which the rest of those who had escaped would rally, and would be joined by fresh levies of the Italian allies of Rome.
The Romans showed their confidence in their power to resist a siege by at once despatching Marcellus with his ten thousand men to Canusium. Thus, with a strongly defended city in front, an army of twenty thousand Roman soldiers, which would speedily increase to double that number, in his rear, Hannibal perceived that were he to undertake the siege of Rome he would risk all the advantages he had gained. He determined, therefore, to continue the policy which he had laid down for himself, namely, to move his army to and fro among the provinces of Italy until the allies of Rome one by one fell away from her, and joined him, or until such reinforcements arrived from Carthage as would justify him in undertaking the siege of Rome.
Rome herself was never grander than in this hour of defeat; not for a moment was the courage and confidence of her citizens shaken. The promptness with which she prepared for defence, and still more the confidence which she showed by despatching Marcellus with his legion to Canusium instead of retaining him for the defence of the city, show a national spirit and manliness worthy of the highest admiration. Varro was ordered to hand over his command to Marcellus, and to return to Rome to answer before the senate for his conduct.
Varro doubted not that his sentence would be death, for the Romans, like the Carthaginians, had but little mercy for a defeated general. His colleague and his army had undoubtedly been sacrificed by his rashness. Moreover, the senate was composed of his bitter political enemies, and he could not hope that a lenient view would be taken of his conduct. Nevertheless Varro returned to Rome and appeared before the senate. That body nobly responded to the confidence manifested in it; party feeling was suspended, the political adversary, the defeated general, were alike forgotten, it was only remembered how Varro had rallied his troops, how he had allayed the panic which prevailed among them, and had at once restored order and discipline. His courage, too, in thus appearing, after so great a disaster, to submit himself to the judgment of the country, counted in his favour. His faults were condoned, and the senate publicly thanked him, because he had not despaired of the commonwealth.
Hannibal, in pursuance of his policy to detach the allies of Italy from Rome, dismissed all the Italian prisoners without ransom. The Roman prisoners he offered to admit to ransom, and a deputation of them accompanied an ambassador to offer terms of peace. The senate, however, not only refused to discuss any terms of peace, but absolutely forbade the families and friends of the prisoners to ransom them, thinking it politic neither to enrich their adversary nor to show indulgence to soldiers who had surrendered to the enemy.
The victory of Cannae and Hannibal's clemency began to bear the effects which he hoped for. Apulia declared for him at once, and the towns of Arpi and Celapia opened their gates to him; Bruttium, Lucania, and Samnium were ready to follow. Mago with one division of the army was sent into Bruttium to take possession of such towns as might submit. Hanno was sent with another division to do the same in Lucania. Hannibal himself marched into Samnium, and making an alliance with the tribes, there stored his plunder, and proceeded into Campania, and entered Capua, the second city of Italy, which concluded an alliance with him. Mago embarked at one of the ports of Bruttium to carry the news of Hannibal's success to Carthage, and to demand reinforcements.
Neither Rome nor Carthage had the complete mastery of the sea, and as the disaster which had befallen Rome by land would greatly lessen her power to maintain a large fleet, Carthage could now have poured reinforcements in by the ports of Bruttium without difficulty. But unfortunately Hannibal's bitterest enemies were to be found not in Italy but in the senate of Carthage, where, in spite of the appeals of Mago and the efforts of the patriotic party, the intrigues of Hanno and his faction and the demands made by the war in Spain, prevented the reinforcements from being forwarded which would have enabled him to terminate the struggle by the conquest of Rome.
Hannibal, after receiving the submission of several other towns and capturing Casilinum, went into winter quarters at Capua. During the winter Rome made gigantic efforts to place her army upon a war footing, and with such success that, excluding the army of Scipio in Spain, she had, when the spring began, twelve legions or a hundred and twenty thousand men again under arms; and as no reinforcements, save some elephants and a small body of cavalry, ever reached Hannibal from Carthage, he was, during the remaining thirteen years of the war, reduced to stand wholly on the defensive, protecting his allies, harassing his enemy, and feeding his own army at their expense; and yet so great was the dread which his genius had excited that, in spite of their superior numbers, the Romans after Cannae never ventured again to engage him in a pitched battle.
Soon after the winter set in Hannibal ordered Malchus to take a number of officers and a hundred picked men, and to cross from Capua to Sardinia, where the inhabitants had revolted against Rome, and were harassing the praetor, Quintus Mucius, who commanded the legion which formed the garrison of the island. Malchus and the officers under him were charged with the duty of organizing the wild peasantry of the island, and of drilling them in regular tactics; for unless acting as bodies of regular troops, however much they might harass the Roman legion, they could not hope to expel them from their country. Nessus of course accompanied Malchus.
The party embarked in two of the Capuan galleys. They had not been many hours at sea when the weather, which had when they started been fine, changed suddenly, and ere long one of the fierce gales which are so frequent in the Mediterranean burst upon them. The wind was behind them, and there was nothing to do but to let the galleys run before it. The sea got up with great rapidity, and nothing but the high poops at their stern prevented the two galleys being sunk by the great waves which followed them. The oars were laid in, for it was impossible to use them in such a sea.
As night came on the gale increased rather than diminished. The Carthaginian officers and soldiers remained calm and quiet in the storm, but the Capuan sailors gave themselves up to despair, and the men at the helm were only kept at their post by Malchus threatening to have them thrown overboard instantly if they abandoned it. After nightfall he assembled the officers in the cabin in the poop.
"The prospects are bad," he said. "The pilot tells me that unless the gale abates or the wind changes we shall, before morning, be thrown upon the coast of Sardinia, and that will be total destruction; for upon the side facing Italy the cliffs, for the most part, rise straight up from the water, the only port on that side being that at which the Romans have their chief castle and garrison. He tells me there is nothing to be done, and I see nought myself. Were we to try to bring the galley round to the wind she would be swamped in a moment, while even if we could carry out the operation, it would be impossible to row in the teeth of this sea. Therefore, my friends, there is nothing for us to do save to keep up the courage of the men, and to bid them hold themselves in readiness to seize upon any chance of getting to shore should the vessel strike."
All night the galley swept on before the storm. The light on the other boat had disappeared soon after darkness had set in. Half the soldiers and crew by turns were kept at work baling out the water which found its way over the sides, and several times so heavily did the seas break into her that all thought that she was lost. However, when morning broke she was still afloat. The wind had hardly shifted a point since it had begun to blow, and the pilot told Malchus that they must be very near to the coast of Sardinia. As the light brightened every eye was fixed ahead over the waste of angry foaming water. Presently the pilot, who was standing next to Malchus, grasped his arm.
"There is the land," he cried, "dead before us."
Not until a few minutes later could Malchus make out the faint outline through the driving mist. It was a lofty pile of rock standing by itself.
"It is an island!" he exclaimed.
"It is Caralis," the pilot replied; "I know its outline well; we are already in the bay. Look to the right, you can make out the outline of the cliffs at its mouth, we have passed it already. You do not see the shore ahead because the rock on which Caralis stands rises from a level plain, and to the left a lagoon extends for a long way in; it is there that the Roman galleys ride. The gods have brought us to the only spot along the coast where we could approach it with a hope of safety."
"There is not much to rejoice at," Malchus said; "we may escape the sea, but only to be made prisoners by the Romans."
"Nay, Malchus, the alternative is not so bad," a young officer who was standing next to him said. "Hannibal has thousands of Roman prisoners in his hands, and we may well hope to be exchanged. After the last twelve hours any place on shore, even a Roman prison, is an elysium compared to the sea."
The outline of the coast was now clearly visible. The great rock of Caralis, now known as Cagliari, rose dark and threatening, the low shores of the bay on either side were marked by a band of white foam, while to the left of the rock was the broad lagoon, dotted with the black hulls of a number of ships and galleys rolling and tossing heavily, for as the wind blew straight into the bay the lagoon was covered with short, angry waves.
The pilot now ordered the oars to be got out. The entrance to the lagoon was wide, but it was only in the middle that the channel was deep, and on either side of this long breakwaters of stone were run out from the shore, to afford a shelter to the shipping within. The sea was so rough that it was found impossible to use the oars, and they were again laid in and a small sail was hoisted. This enabled the head to be laid towards the entrance of the lagoon. For a time it was doubtful whether the galley could make it, but she succeeded in doing so, and then ran straight on towards the upper end of the harbour.
"That is far enough," the pilot said presently; "the water shoals fast beyond. We must anchor here."
The sail was lowered, the oars got out on one side, and the head of the galley brought to the wind. The anchor was then dropped. As the storm beaten galley ran right up the lagoon she had been viewed with curiosity and interest by those who were on board the ships at anchor. That she was an Italian galley was clear, and also that she was crowded with men, but no suspicion was entertained that these were Carthaginians.
The anchor once cast Malchus held a council with the other officers. They were in the midst of foes, and escape seemed altogether impossible. Long before the gale abated sufficiently to permit them to put to sea again, they would be visited by boats from the other vessels to ask who they were and whence they came. As to fighting their way out it was out of the question, for there were a score of triremes in the bay, any one of which could crush the Capuan galley, and whose far greater speed rendered the idea of flight as hopeless as that of resistance. The council therefore agreed unanimously that the only thing to be done was to surrender without resistance.
The storm continued for another twenty-four hours, then the wind died out almost as suddenly as it began.
As soon as the sea began to abate two galleys were seen putting out from the town, and these rowed directly towards the ship. The fact that she had shown no flag had no doubt excited suspicion in the minds of the garrison. Each galley contained fifty soldiers. As they rowed alongside a Roman officer on the poop of one of the galleys hailed the ship, and demanded whence it came.
"We are from Capua," the pilot answered. "The gale has blown us across thence. I have on board fifty Carthaginian officers and soldiers, who now surrender to you."
As in those days, when vessels could with difficulty keep the sea in a storm, and in the event of a gale springing up were forced to run before it, it was by no means unusual for galleys to be blown into hostile ports, the announcement excited no great surprise.
"Who commands the party?" the Roman officer asked.
"I do," Malchus replied. "I am Malchus, the son of Hamilcar, who was killed at the Trebia, a cousin of Hannibal and captain of his guard. I surrender with my followers, seeing that resistance is hopeless."
"It is hopeless," the Roman replied, "and you are right not to throw away the lives of your men when there is no possibility of resistance."
As he spoke he stepped on board, ordered the anchor to be weighed, and the galley, accompanied by the two Roman boats, was rowed to the landing place. A messenger was at once sent up to Mucius to tell him what had happened, and the praetor himself soon appeared upon the spot. The officer acquainted him with the name and rank of the leader of the Carthaginian party, and said that there were with him two officers of noble families of the Carthaginians.
"That is well," the praetor said, "it is a piece of good fortune. The Carthaginians have so many of our officers in their hands, that it is well to have some whom we may exchange for them. Let them be landed."
As they left the ship the Carthaginians laid down their arms and armour. By this time a large number of the Roman garrison, among whom the news had rapidly spread, were assembled at the port. Many of the young soldiers had never yet seen a Carthaginian, and they looked with curiosity and interest at the men who had inflicted such terrible defeats upon the armies of the Romans. They were fine specimens of Hannibal's force, for the general had allowed Malchus to choose his own officers and men, and, knowing that strength, agility, and endurance would be needed for a campaign in so mountainous a country as Sardinia, he had picked both officers and men with great care.
His second in command was his friend Trebon, who had long since obtained a separate command, but who, on hearing from Malchus of the expedition on which he was bound, had volunteered to accompany him. The men were all Africans accustomed to desert fighting and trained in warfare in Spain. The Romans, good judges of physical strength, could not repress a murmur of admiration at the sight of these sinewy figures. Less heavy than themselves, there was about them a spring and an elasticity resembling that of the tiger. Long use had hardened their muscles until they stood up like cords through their tawny skin, most of them bore numerous scars of wounds received in battle, and the Romans, as they viewed them, acknowledged to themselves what formidable opponents these men would be.
A strong guard formed up on either side of the captives, and they were marched through the town to the citadel on the upper part of the rock. Here a large chamber, opening on to the courtyard, was assigned to the officers, while the men, who were viewed in the light of slaves, were at once set to work to carry stores up to the citadel from a ship which had arrived just as the storm broke.
A fortnight later a vessel arrived from Rome with a message from the senate that they would not exchange prisoners, and that the Carthaginians were at once to be employed as slaves in the mines. The governor acquainted Malchus with the decision.
"I am sorry," he said, "indeed, that it is so; but the senate are determined that they will exchange no prisoners. Of course their view of the matter is, that when a Roman lays down his arms he disgraces himself, and the refusal to ransom him or allow him to be exchanged is intended to act as a deterrent to others. This may be fair enough in cases where large numbers surrender to a few, or where they lay down their arms when with courage and determination they might have cut their way through the enemy; but in cases where further resistance would be hopeless, in my mind men are justified in surrendering. However, I can only obey the orders I have received, and tomorrow must send you and your men to the mines."
As Malchus had seen the Iberian captives sent to labour as slaves in the mines in Spain, the fate thus announced to him did not appear surprising or barbarous. In those days captives taken in war were always made slaves when they were not put to death in cold blood, and although Hannibal had treated with marked humanity and leniency the Roman and Italian captives who had fallen into his hands, this had been the result of policy, and was by no means in accordance with the spirit in which war was then conducted. Accordingly, the next day the Carthaginians were, under a strong guard, marched away to the mines, which lay on the other side of the island, some forty miles due west of the port, and three miles from the western sea coast of the island. The road lay for some distance across a dead flat. The country was well cultivated and thickly studded with villages, for Rome drew a heavy tribute in corn annually from the island.
After twenty miles' march they halted for the night, pursuing their way on the following morning. They had now entered a wide and fertile valley with lofty hills on either side. In some places there were stagnant marshes, and the officer in charge of the guard informed Malchus that in the autumn a pestilential miasma rose from these, rendering a sojourn in the valley fatal to the inhabitants of the mainland. The native people were wild and primitive in appearance, being clad chiefly in sheepskins. They lived in beehive shaped huts. The hills narrowed in towards the end of the day's march, and the valley terminated when the party arrived within half a mile of their destination. Here stood a small town named Metalla, with a strong Roman garrison, which supplied guards over the slaves employed in working the mines. This town is now called Iglesias.
The principal mine was situated in a narrow valley running west from the town down to the sea coast. The officer in command of the escort handed over Malchus and his companions to the charge of the officer at the head mining establishment.
Malchus was surprised at the large number of people gathered at the spot. They lived for the most part in low huts constructed of boughs or sods, and ranged in lines at the bottom of the valley or along the lower slopes of the hill. A cordon of Roman sentries was placed along the crest of the hill at either side, and a strong guard was posted in a little camp in the centre of the valley, in readiness to put down any tumult which might arise.
The great majority of the slaves gathered there were Sards, men belonging to tribes which had risen in insurrection against the Romans. There were with them others of their countrymen who were not like them slaves, though their condition was but little better except that they received a nominal rate of payment. These were called free labourers, but their labour was as much forced as was that of the slaves—each district in the island being compelled to furnish a certain amount of labourers for this or the mines further to the north. The men so conscripted were changed once in six months. With the Sards were mingled people of many nations. Here were Sicilians and members of many Italian tribes conquered by the Romans, together with Gauls from the northern plains and from Marseilles.
There were many mines worked in different parts of the island, but Metalla was the principal. The labour, in days when gunpowder had not become the servant of man, was extremely hard. The rocks had to be pierced with hand labour, the passages and galleries were of the smallest possible dimensions, the atmosphere was stifling; consequently the mortality was great, and it was necessary to keep up a constant importation of labour.
"If these people did but possess a particle of courage," Trebon said, "they would rise, overpower the guard, and make for the forests. The whole island is, as the officer who brought us here told us, covered with mountains with the exception of the two broad plains running through it; as we could see the hills are covered with woods, and the whole Roman army could not find them if they once escaped."
"That is true enough," Malchus said, "but there must be at least five or six thousand slaves here. How could these find food among the mountains? They might exist for a time upon berries and grain, but they would in the end be forced to go into the valleys for food, and would then be slaughtered by the Romans. Nevertheless a small body of men could no doubt subsist among the hills, and the strength of the guard you see on the heights shows that attempts to escape are not rare. Should we find our existence intolerable here, we will at any rate try to escape. There are fifty of us, and if we agreed in common action we could certainly break through the guards and take to the hills. As you may see by their faces, the spirit of these slaves is broken. See how bent most of them are by their labour, and how their shoulders are wealed by the lashes of their taskmasters!"
The officer in charge of the mines told Malchus that he should not put him and the other two officers to labour, but would appoint them as overseers over gangs of the men, informing them that he had a brother who was at present a captive in the hands of Hannibal; and he trusted that Malchus, should he have an opportunity, would use his kind offices on his behalf.
One of the lines of huts near the Roman camp was assigned to the Carthaginians, and that evening they received rations of almost black bread similar to those served out to the others. The following morning they were set to work. Malchus and his two friends found their tasks by no means labourious, as they were appointed to look after a number of Sards employed in breaking up and sorting the lead ore as it was brought up from the mine. The men, however, returned in the evening worn out with toil. All had been at work in the mines. Some had had to crawl long distances through passages little more than three feet high and one foot wide, until they reached the broad lode of lead ore.
Here some of the party had been set to work, others had been employed in pushing on the little galleries, and there had sat for hours working in a cramped position, with pick, hammer, and wedge. Others had been lowered by ropes down shafts so narrow that when they got to the bottom it was only with extreme difficulty that they were able to stoop to work at the rock beneath their feet. Many, indeed, of these old shafts have been found in the mines of Montepone, so extremely narrow that it is supposed that they must have been bored by slaves lowered by ropes, head foremost, it appearing absolutely impossible for a man to stoop to work if lowered in the ordinary way.
The Carthaginians, altogether unaccustomed to work of this nature, returned to their huts at night utterly exhausted, cramped, and aching in every limb. Many had been cruelly beaten for not performing the tasks assigned to them. All were filled with a dull despairing rage. In the evening a ration of boiled beans, with a little native wine, was served out to each, the quantity of the food being ample, it being necessary to feed the slaves well to enable them to support their fatigues.
After three days of this work five or six of the captives were so exhausted that they were unable to take their places with the gang when ordered for work in the morning. They were, however, compelled by blows to rise and take their places with the rest. Two of them died during the course of the day in their stifling working places; another succumbed during the night; several, too, were attacked by the fever of the country. Malchus and his friends were full of grief and rage at the sufferings of their men.
"Anything were better than this," Malchus said. "A thousand times better to fall beneath the swords of the Romans than to die like dogs in the holes beneath that hill!"
"I quite agree with you, Malchus," Halco, the other officer with the party, said, "and am ready to join you in any plan of escape, however desperate."
"The difficulty is about arms," Trebon observed. "We are so closely watched that it is out of the question to hope that we should succeed in getting possession of any. The tools are all left in the mines; and as the men work naked, there is no possibility of their secreting any. The stores here are always guarded by a sentry; and although we might overpower him, the guard would arrive long before we could break through the solid doors. Of course if we could get the other slaves to join us, we might crush the guard even with stones."
"That is out of the question," Malchus said. "In the first place, they speak a strange language, quite different to the Italians. Then, were we seen trying to converse with any of them, suspicions might be roused; and even could we get the majority to join us, there would be many who would be only too glad to purchase their own freedom by betraying the plot to the Romans. No, whatever we do must be done by ourselves alone; and for arms we must rely upon stones, and upon the stoutest stakes we can draw out from our huts. The only time that we have free to ourselves is the hour after work is over, when we are allowed to go down to the stream to wash and to stroll about as we will until the trumpet sounds to order us to retire to our huts for the night.
"It is true that at that time the guards are particularly vigilant, and that we are not allowed to gather into knots; and an Italian slave I spoke to yesterday told me that he dared not speak to me, for the place swarms with spies, and that any conversation between us would be sure to be reported, and those engaged in it put to the hardest and cruelest work. I propose, therefore, that tomorrow—for if it is to be done, the sooner the better, before the men lose all their strength—the men shall on their return from work at once eat their rations; then each man, hiding a short stick under his garment and wrapping a few heavy stones in the corner of his robe, shall make his way up towards the top of the hill above the mine.
"No two men must go together—all must wander as if aimlessly among the huts. When they reach the upper line on that side and see me, let all rapidly close up, and we will make a sudden rush at the sentries above. They cannot get more than five or six together in time to oppose us, and we shall be able to beat them down with our stones. Once through them, the heavy armed men will never be able to overtake us till we reach the forest, which begins, I believe, about half a mile beyond the top."
The other two officers at once agreed to the plan; and when the camp was still Malchus crept cautiously from hut to hut, telling his men of the plan that had been formed and giving orders for the carrying of it out.
All assented cheerfully; for although the stronger were now becoming accustomed to their work, and felt less exhausted than they had done the first two days, there was not one but felt that he would rather suffer death than endure this terrible fate. Malchus impressed upon them strongly that it was of the utmost consequence to possess themselves of the arms of any Roman soldiers they might overthrow, as they would to a great extent be compelled to rely upon these to obtain food among the mountains.
Even the men who were most exhausted, and those stricken with fever, seemed to gain strength at once at the prospect of a struggle for liberty, and when the gang turned out in the morning for work none lagged behind.
CHAPTER XX: THE SARDINIAN FORESTS
The Carthaginians returned in the evening in groups from the various scenes of their labour and without delay consumed the provisions provided for them. Then one by one they sauntered away down towards the stream. Malchus was the last to leave, and having seen that all his followers had preceded him, he, too, crossed the stream, paused a moment at a heap of debris from the mine, and picking up three or four pieces of rock about the size of his fist, rolled them in the corner of his garment, and holding this in one hand moved up the hill.
Here and there he paused a moment as if interested in watching the groups of slaves eating their evening meal, until at last he reached the upper line of little huts. Between these and the hill top upon which the sentries stood was a distance of about fifty yards, which was kept scrupulously clear to enable them to watch the movements of any man going beyond the huts. The sentries were some thirty paces apart, so that, as Malchus calculated, not more than four or five of them could assemble before he reached them, if they did not previously perceive anything suspicious which might put them on the alert.
Looking round him Malchus saw his followers scattered about among the slaves at a short distance. Standing behind the shelter of the hut he raised his hand, and all began to move towards him. As there was nothing in their attire, which consisted of one long cloth wound round them, to distinguish them from the other slaves, the movement attracted no attention from the sentries, who were, from their position, able to overlook the low huts.
When he saw that all were close, Malchus gave a shout and dashed up the hill, followed by his comrades.
The nearest sentry, seeing a body of fifty men suddenly rushing towards him, raised a shout, and his comrades from either side ran towards him; but so quickly was the movement performed that but five had gathered when the Carthaginians reached them, although many others were running towards the spot. The Carthaginians, when they came close to their levelled spears, poured upon them a shower of heavy stones, which knocked two of them down and so bruised and battered the others that they went down at once when the Carthaginians burst upon them.
The nearest Romans halted to await the arrival of their comrades coming up behind them, and the Carthaginians, seizing the swords, spears, and shields of their fallen foes, dashed on at full speed. The Romans soon followed, but with the weight of their weapons, armour, and helmets they were speedily distanced, and the fugitives reached the edge of the forest in safety and dashed into its recesses.
After running for some distance they halted, knowing that the Romans would not think of pursuing except with a large force. The forests which covered the mountains of Sardinia were for the most part composed of evergreen oak, with, in some places, a thick undergrowth of shrubs and young trees. Through this the Carthaginians made their way with some difficulty, until, just as it became dark, they reached the bottom of a valley comparatively free of trees and through which ran a clear stream.
"Here we will halt for the night," Malchus said; "there is no fear of the Romans pursuing at once, if indeed they do so at all, for their chance of finding us in these mountains, covered with hundreds of square miles of forests, is slight indeed; however, we will at once provide ourselves with weapons."
The five Roman swords were put into requisition, and some straight young saplings were felled, and their points being sharpened they were converted into efficient spears, each some fourteen feet long.
"It is well we have supped," Malchus said; "our breakfast will depend on ourselves. Tomorrow we must keep a sharp lookout for smoke rising through the trees; there are sure to be numbers of charcoal burners in the forest, for upon them the Romans depend for their fuel. One of the first things to do is to obtain a couple of lighted brands. A fire is essential for warmth among these hills, even putting aside its uses for cooking."
"That is when we have anything to cook," Halco said laughingly.
"That is certainly essential," Malchus agreed; "but there is sure to be plenty of wild boar and deer among these forests. We have only to find a valley with a narrow entrance, and post ourselves there and send all the men to form a circle on the hills around it and drive them down to us; besides, most likely we shall come across herds of goats and pigs, which the villagers in the lower valleys will send up to feed on the acorns. I have no fear but we shall be able to obtain plenty of flesh; as to corn, we have only to make a raid down into the plain, and when we have found out something about the general lay of the country, the hills and the extent of the forest, we will choose some spot near its centre and erect huts there. If it were not for the peasants we might live here for years, for all the Roman forces in Sardinia would be insufficient to rout us out of these mountains; but unfortunately, as we shall have to rob the peasants, they will act as guides to the Romans, and we shall be obliged to keep a sharp lookout against surprise. If it gets too hot for us we must make a night march across the plain to the mountains on the eastern side. I heard at Caralis that the wild part there is very much larger than it is on this side of the island, and it extends without a break from the port right up to the north of the island."
Safe as he felt from pursuit Malchus posted four men as sentries, and the rest of the band lay down to sleep, rejoicing in the thought that on the morrow they should not be wakened to take their share in the labours in the mine.
At daybreak all were on the move, and a deep spot having been found in the stream, they indulged in the luxury of a bath. That done they started on the march further into the heart of the forest. The hills were of great height, with bare crags often beetling up among the trees hundreds of feet, with deep valleys and rugged precipices. In crossing one of these valleys Nessus suddenly lifted his hand.
"What is it?" Malchus asked.
"I heard a pig grunt," Nessus replied, "on our right there."
Malchus at once divided the band in two and told them to proceed as quietly as possible along the lower slopes of the hill, leaving a man at every fifteen paces.
When all had been posted, the ends of the line were to descend until they met in the middle of the valley, thus forming a circle. A shout was to tell the rest that this was done, and then all were to move down until they met in the centre. One officer went with each party, Malchus remained at the spot where he was standing. In ten minutes the signal was heard, and then all moved forward, shouting as they went, and keeping a sharp lookout between the trees to see that nothing passed them. As the narrowing circle issued into the open ground at the bottom of the valley there was a general shout of delight, for, huddled down by a stream, grunting and screaming with fright, was a herd of forty or fifty pigs, with a peasant, who appeared stupefied with alarm at the sudden uproar.
On seeing the men burst out with their levelled spears from the wood, the Sard gave a scream of terror and threw himself upon his face. When the Carthaginians came up to him Malchus stirred him with his foot, but he refused to move; he then pricked him with the Roman spear he held, and the man leaped to his feet with a shout. Malchus told him in Italian that he was free to go, but that the swine must be confiscated for the use of his followers. The man did not understand his words, but, seeing by his gestures that he was free to go, set off at the top of his speed, hardly believing that he could have escaped with his life, and in no way concerned at the loss of the herd. This was, indeed, the property of various individuals in one of the villages at the foot of the hills—it being then, as now, the custom for several men owning swine to send them together under the charge of a herdsman into the mountains, where for months together they live in a half wild state on acorns and roots, a villager going up occasionally with supplies of food for the swineherd.
No sooner had the peasant disappeared than a shout from one of the men some fifty yards away called the attention of Malchus.
"Here is the man's fire, my lord."
A joyous exclamation rose from the soldiers, for, the thought of all this meat and no means of cooking it was tantalizing every one. Malchus hurried to the spot, where, indeed, was a heap of still glowing embers. Some of the men at once set to work to collect dried sticks, and in a few minutes a great fire was blazing. One of the pigs was slaughtered and cut up into rations, and in a short time each man was cooking his portion stuck on a stick over the fire.
A smaller fire was lit for the use of the officers a short distance away, and here Nessus prepared their share of the food for Malchus and his two companions. After the meal the spears were improved by the points being hardened in the fire. When they were in readiness to march two of the men were told off as fire keepers, and each of these took two blazing brands from the fire, which, as they walked, they kept crossed before them, the burning points keeping each other alight. Even with one man there would be little chance of losing the fire, but with two such a misfortune could scarcely befall them.
A party of ten men took charge of the herd of swine, and the whole then started for the point they intended to make to in the heart of the mountains. Before the end of the day a suitable camping place was selected in a watered valley. The men then set to work to cut down boughs and erect arbours. Fires were lighted and another pig being killed those who preferred it roasted his flesh over the fire, while others boiled their portions, the Roman shields being utilized as pans.
"What do you think of doing, Malchus?" Halco asked as they stretched themselves out on a grassy bank by the stream when they had finished their meal. "We are safe here, and in these forests could defy the Romans to find us for months. Food we can get from the villages at the foot of the hills, and there must be many swine in the forest beside this herd which we have captured. The life will not be an unpleasant one, but—" and he stopped.
"But you don't wish to end your days here," Malchus put in for him, "nor do I. It is pleasant enough, but every day we spend here is a waste of our lives, and with Hannibal and our comrades combating the might of Rome we cannot be content to live like members of the savage tribes here. I have no doubt that we shall excite such annoyance and alarm by our raids among the villages in the plains that the Romans will ere long make a great effort to capture us, and doubtless they will enlist the natives in their search. Still, we may hope to escape them, and there are abundant points among these mountains where we may make a stand and inflict such heavy loss upon them that they will be glad to come to terms. All I would ask is that they shall swear by their gods to treat us well and to convey us as prisoners of war to Rome, there to remain until exchanged. In Rome we could await the course of events patiently. Hannibal may capture the city. The senate, urged by the relatives of the many prisoners we have taken, may agree to make an exchange, and we may see chances of our making our escape. At any rate we shall be in the world and shall know what is going on."