"But could we not hold out and make them agree to give us our freedom?"
"I do not think so," Malchus said. "It would be too much for Roman pride to allow a handful of escaped prisoners to defy them in that way, and even if the prefect of this island were to agree to the terms, I do not believe that the senate would ratify them. We had better not ask too much. For myself I own to a longing to see Rome. As Carthage holds back and will send no aid to Hannibal, I have very little hope of ever entering it as a conqueror, and rather than not see it at all I would not mind entering it as a prisoner. There are no mines to work there, and the Romans, with so vast a number of their own people in the hands of Hannibal, would not dare to treat us with any cruelty or severity.
"Here it is different. No rumour of our fate will ever reach Hannibal, and had every one of us died in those stifling mines he would never have been the wiser."
The two officers both agreed with Malchus; as for the soldiers, they were all too well pleased with their present liberty and their escape from the bondage to give a thought to the morrow.
The next day Malchus and his companions explored the hills of the neighbourhood, and chose several points commanding the valleys by which their camp could be approached, as lookout places. Trees were cleared away, vistas cut, and wood piled in readiness for making bonfires, and two sentries were placed at each of these posts, their orders being to keep a vigilant lookout all over the country, to light a fire instantly the approach of any enemy was perceived, and then to descend to the camp to give particulars as to his number and the direction of his march.
A few days later, leaving ten men at the camp with full instructions as to what to do in case of an alarm by the enemy, Malchus set out with the rest of the party across the mountains. The sun was their only guide as to the direction of their course, and it was late in the afternoon before they reached the crest of the easternmost hills and looked down over the wide plain which divides the island into two portions. Here they rested until the next morning, and then, starting before daybreak, descended the slopes. They made their way to a village of some size at the mouth of a valley, and were unnoticed until they entered it. Most of the men were away in the fields; a few resisted, but were speedily beaten down by the short heavy sticks which the Carthaginians carried in addition to their spears.
Malchus had given strict orders that the latter weapons were not to be used, that no life was to be taken, and that no one was to be hurt or ill used unless in the act of offering resistance. For a few minutes the confusion was great, women and children running about screaming in wild alarm. They were, however, pacified when they found that no harm was intended.
On searching the village large stores of grain were discovered and abundance of sacks were also found, and each soldier filled one of these with as much grain as he could conveniently carry. A number of other articles which would be useful to them were also taken—cooking pots, wooden platters, knives, and such arms as could be found. Laden with these the Carthaginians set out on their return to camp. Loaded as they were it was a long and toilsome journey, and they would have had great difficulty in finding their way back had not Malchus taken the precaution of leaving four or five men at different points with instructions to keep fires of damp wood burning so that the smoke should act as a guide. It was, however, late on the second day after their leaving the village before they arrived in camp. Here the men set to work to crush the grain between flat stones, and soon a supply of rough cakes were baking in the embers.
A month passed away. Similar raids to the first were made when the supplies became exhausted, and as at the second village they visited they captured six donkeys, which helped to carry up the burdens, the journeys were less fatiguing than on the first occasion. One morning as the troop were taking their breakfast a column of bright smoke rose from one of the hill tops. The men simultaneously leaped to their feet.
"Finish your breakfast," Malchus said, "there will be plenty of time. Slay two more hogs and cut them up. Let each man take three or four pounds of flesh and a supply of meal."
Just as the preparations were concluded the two men from the lookout arrived and reported that a large force was winding along one of the valleys. There were now but six of the herd of swine left—these were driven into the forest. The grain and other stores were also carried away and carefully hidden, and the band, who were now all well armed with weapons taken in the different raids on the villages, marched away from their camp.
Malchus had already with his two comrades explored all the valleys in the neighbourhood of the camp, and had fixed upon various points for defence. One of these was on the line by which the enemy were approaching. The valley narrowed in until it was almost closed by perpendicular rocks on either side. On the summit of these the Carthaginians took their post. They could now clearly make out the enemy; there were upwards of a thousand Roman troops, and they were accompanied by fully five hundred natives.
When the head of the column approached the narrow path of the valley the soldiers halted and the natives went on ahead to reconnoitre. They reported that all seemed clear, and the column then moved forward. When it reached the gorge a shout was heard above and a shower of rocks fell from the crags, crushing many of the Romans. Their commander at once recalled the soldiers, and these then began to climb the hillside, wherever the ground permitted their doing so. After much labour they reached the crag from which they had been assailed, but found it deserted.
All day the Romans searched the woods, but without success. The natives were sent forward in strong parties. Most of these returned unsuccessful, but two of them were suddenly attacked by the Carthaginians, and many were slaughtered.
For four days the Romans pursued their search in the forest, but never once did they obtain a glimpse of the Carthaginians save when, on several occasions, the latter appeared suddenly in places inaccessible from below and hurled down rocks and stones upon them. The Sards had been attacked several times, and were so disheartened by the losses inflicted upon them that they now refused to stir into the woods unless accompanied by the Romans.
At the end of the fourth day, feeling it hopeless any longer to pursue the fugitive band over these forest covered mountains, the Roman commander ordered the column to move back towards its starting place. He had lost between forty and fifty of his men and upwards of a hundred of the Sards had been killed. Just as he reached the edge of the forest he was overtaken by one of the natives.
"I have been a prisoner in the hands of the Carthaginians," the man said, "and their leader released me upon my taking an oath to deliver a message to the general." The man was at once brought before the officer.
"The leader of the escaped slaves bids me tell you," he said, "that had you ten times as many men with you it would be vain for you to attempt to capture them. You searched, in these four days, but a few square miles of the forest, and, although he was never half a mile away from you, you did not succeed in capturing him. There are hundreds of square miles, and, did he choose to elude you, twenty thousand men might search in vain. He bids me say that he could hold out for years and harry all the villages of the plains; but he and his men do not care for living the life of a mountain tribe, and he is ready to discuss terms of surrender with you, and will meet you outside the forest here with two men with him if you on your part will be here with the same number at noon tomorrow. He took before me a solemn oath that he will keep the truce inviolate, and requires you to do the same. I have promised to take back your answer."
The Roman commander was greatly vexed at his non-success, and at the long continued trouble which he saw would arise from the presence of this determined band in the mountains. They would probably be joined by some of the recently subdued tribes, and would be a thorn in the side of the Roman force holding the island. He was, therefore, much relieved by this unexpected proposal.
"Return to him who sent you," he said, "and tell him that I, Publius Manlius, commander of that portion of the 10th Legion here, do hereby swear before the gods that I will hold the truce inviolate, and that I will meet him here with two officers, as he proposes, at noon tomorrow."
At the appointed hour Malchus, with the two officers, standing just inside the edge of the forest, saw the Roman general advancing with two companions; they at once went forward to meet them.
"I am come," Malchus said, "to offer to surrender to you on certain terms. I gave you my reasons in the message I yesterday sent you. With my band here I could defy your attempts to capture me for years, but I do not care to lead the life of a mountain robber. Hannibal treats his captives mercifully, and the treatment which was bestowed upon me and my companions, who were not even taken in fair fight, but were blown by a tempest into your port, was a disgrace to Rome. My demand is this, that we shall be treated with the respect due to brave men, that we be allowed to march without guard or escort down to the port, where we will go straight on board a vessel there prepared for us. We will then lay down our arms and surrender as prisoners of war, under the solemn agreement taken and signed by you and the governor of the island, and approved and ratified by the senate of Rome, that, in the first place, the garments and armour of which we were deprived when captured, shall be restored to us, and that we shall then be conveyed in the ship to Rome, there to remain as prisoners of war until exchanged, being sent nowhere else, and suffering no pains or penalties whatever for what has taken place on this island."
The Roman general was surprised and pleased with the moderation of the demand. He had feared that Malchus would have insisted upon being restored with his companions to the Carthaginian army in Italy. Such a proposition he would have been unwilling to forward to Rome, for it would have been a confession that all the Roman force in the island was incapable of overcoming this handful of desperate men, and he did not think that the demand if made would have been agreed to by the senate. The present proposition was vastly more acceptable. He could report without humiliation that the Carthaginian slaves had broken loose and taken to the mountains, where there would be great difficulty in pursuing them, and they would serve as a nucleus round which would assemble all the disaffected in the island; and could recommend that, as they only demanded to be sent to Rome as prisoners of war, instead of being kept in the island, the terms should be agreed to. After a moment's delay, therefore, he replied:
"I agree to your terms, sir, as far as I am concerned, and own they appear to me as moderate and reasonable. I will draw out a document, setting them forth and my acceptance of them, and will send it at once to the prefect, praying him to sign it, and to forward it to Rome for the approval of the senate. Pending an answer I trust that you will abstain from any further attacks upon the villages."
"It may be a fortnight before the answer returns," Malchus replied; "but if you will send up to this point a supply of cattle and flour sufficient for our wants till the answer comes, I will promise to abstain from all further action."
To this the Roman readily agreed, and for a fortnight Malchus and his friends amused themselves by hunting deer and wild boar among the mountains. After a week had passed a man had been sent each day to the spot agreed upon to see if any answer had been received from Rome. It was nearly three weeks before he brought a message to Malchus that the terms had been accepted, and that the Roman commander would meet him there on the following day with the document. The interview took place as arranged, and the Roman handed to Malchus the document agreeing to the terms proposed, signed by himself and the prefect, and ratified by the senate. He said that if Malchus with his party would descend into the road on the following morning three miles below Metalla they would find an escort of Roman soldiers awaiting them, and that a vessel would be ready at the port for them to embark upon their arrival.
Next day, accordingly, Malchus with his companions left the forest, and marched down to the valley in military order. At the appointed spot they found twenty Roman soldiers under an officer. The latter saluted Malchus, and informed him that his orders were to escort them to the port, and to see that they suffered no molestation or interference at the hands of the natives on their march. Two days' journey took them to Caralis, and in good order and with proud bearing they marched through the Roman soldiers, who assembled in the streets to view so strange a spectacle. Arrived at the port they embarked on board the ship prepared for them, and there piled their arms on deck. A Roman officer received them, and handed over, in accordance with the terms of the agreement, the whole of the clothing and armour of which they had been deprived. A guard of soldiers then marched on board, and an hour later the sails were hoisted and the vessel started for her destination.
Anxiously Malchus and his companions gazed round the horizon in hopes that some galleys of Capua or Carthage might appear in sight, although indeed they had but small hopes of seeing them, for no Carthaginian ship would be likely to be found so near the coast of Italy, except indeed if bound with arms for the use of the insurgents in the northern mountains of Sardinia. However, no sail appeared in sight until the ship entered the mouth of the Tiber. As they ascended the river, and the walls and towers of Rome were seen in the distance, the prisoners forgot their own position in the interest excited by the appearance of the great rival of Carthage.
At that time Rome possessed but little of the magnificence which distinguished her buildings in the days of the emperors. Everything was massive and plain, with but slight attempt at architectural adornment. The temples of the gods rose in stately majesty above the mass of buildings, but even these were far inferior in size and beauty to those of Carthage, while the size of the city was small indeed in comparison to the wide spreading extent of its African rival.
The vessel anchored in the stream until the officer in command landed to report his arrival with the prisoners and to receive instructions. An hour later he returned, the prisoners were landed and received by a strong guard of spearmen at the water gate. The news had spread rapidly through the city. A crowd of people thronged the streets, while at the windows and on the roofs were gathered numbers of ladies of the upper classes. A party of soldiers led the way, pushing back the crowd as they advanced. A line of spearmen marched on either side of the captives, and a strong guard brought up the rear to prevent the crowd from pressing in there. Malchus walked at the head of the prisoners, followed by his officers, after whom came the soldiers walking two and two.
There was no air of dejection in the bearing of the captives, and they faced the regards of the hostile crowd with the air rather of conquerors than of prisoners. They remembered that it was but by accident that they had fallen into the hands of the Romans, that in the battlefield they had proved themselves over and over again more than a match for the soldiers of Rome, and that it was the walls of the city alone which had prevented their marching through her streets as triumphant conquerors.
It was no novel sight in Rome for Carthaginian prisoners to march through the streets, for in the previous campaigns large numbers of Carthaginians had been captured; but since Hannibal crossed the Alps and carried his victorious army through Italy, scarce a prisoner had been brought to Rome, while tens of thousands of Romans had fallen into the hands of Hannibal. The lower class of the population of Rome were at all times rough and brutal, and the captives were assailed with shouts of exultation, with groans and menaces, and with bitter curses by those whose friends and relatives had fallen in the wars.
The better classes at the windows and from the housetops abstained from any demonstration, but watched the captives as they passed with a critical eye, and with expressions of admiration at their fearless bearing and haughty mien.
"Truly, that youth who marches at their head might pose for a Carthaginian Apollo, Sempronius," a Roman matron said as she sat at the balcony of a large mansion at the entrance to the Forum. "I have seldom seen a finer face. See what strength his limbs show, although he walks as lightly as a girl. I have a fancy to have him as a slave; he would look well to walk behind me and carry my mantle when I go abroad. See to it, Sempronius; as your father is the military praetor, you can manage this for me without trouble."
"I will do my best, Lady Flavia," the young Roman said; "but there may be difficulties."
"What difficulties?" Flavia demanded imperiously. "I suppose the Carthaginians will as usual be handed over as slaves; and who should have a better right to choose one among them than I, whose husband, Tiberius Gracchus, is Consul of Rome?"
"None assuredly," Sempronius replied. "It was only because, as I hear, that youth is a cousin of Hannibal himself, and, young as he is, the captain of his bodyguard, and I thought that my father might intend to confine him in the prison for better security."
Flavia waved her hand imperiously.
"When did you ever hear of a slave escaping from Rome, Sempronius? Are not the walls high and strong, and the sentries numerous? And even did they pass these, would not the badge of slavery betray them at once to the first who met them without, and they would be captured and brought back? No, I have set my mind upon having him as a slave. He will go well with that Gaulish maiden whom Postumius sent me from the banks of the Po last autumn. I like my slaves to be as handsome as my other surroundings, and I see no reason why I should be baulked of my fancy."
"I will do my best to carry out your wishes, Lady Flavia," Sempronius replied deferentially, for the wife of the consul was an important personage in Rome. Her family was one of the most noble and powerful in the city, and she herself—wealthy, luxurious, and strong willed—was regarded as a leader of society at Rome.
Sempronius deemed it essential for his future advancement to keep on good terms with her. At the same time he was ill pleased at this last fancy of hers. In the first place, he was a suitor for the hand of her daughter Julia. In the second, he greatly admired the northern beauty of the Gaulish slave girl whom she had spoken of, and had fully intended that when Flavia became tired of her—and her fancies seldom lasted long—he would get his mother to offer to exchange a horse, or a hawk, or something else upon which Flavia might set her mind, for the slave girl, in which case she would, of course, be in his power. He did not, therefore, approve of Flavia's intention of introducing this handsome young Carthaginian as a slave into her household. It was true that he was but a slave at present, but he was a Carthaginian noble of rank as high as that of Flavia.
That he was brave was certain, or he would not be the captain of Hannibal's bodyguard. Julia was fully as capricious as her mother, and might take as warm a fancy for Malchus as Flavia had done, while, now the idea of setting this Gaulish girl and the Carthaginian together had seized Flavia, it would render more distant the time when the Roman lady might be reasonably expected to tire of the girl. However, he felt that Flavia's wishes must be carried out; whatever the danger might be, it was less serious than the certainty of losing that lady's favour unless he humoured her whims.
His family was far less distinguished than hers, and her approval of his suit with Julia was an unexpected piece of good fortune which he owed, as he knew, principally to the fact that Gracchus wished to marry his daughter to Julius Marcius, who had deeply offended Flavia by an outspoken expression of opinion, that the Roman ladies mingled too much in public affairs, and that they ought to be content to stay at home and rule their households and slaves.
He knew that he would have no difficulty with his father. The praetor was most anxious that his son should make an alliance with the house of Gracchus, and it was the custom that such prisoners taken in war, as were not sacrificed to the gods, should be given as slaves to the nobles. As yet the great contests in the arena, which cost the lives of such vast numbers of prisoners taken in war, were not instituted. Occasional combats, indeed, took place, but these were on a small scale, and were regarded rather as a sacrifice to Mars than as an amusement for the people.
Sempronius accordingly took his way moodily home. The praetor had just returned, having seen Malchus and the officers lodged in prison, while the men were set to work on the fortifications. Sempronius stated Flavia's request. The praetor looked doubtful.
"I had intended," he said, "to have kept the officers in prison until the senate decided what should be done with them; but, of course, if Flavia has set her mind on it I must strain a point. After all there is no special reason why the prisoners should be treated differently to others. Of course I cannot send the leader of the party to Flavia and let the others remain in prison. As there are two of them I will send them as presents to two of the principal families in Rome, so that if any question arises upon the subject I shall at once have powerful defenders; at any rate, it will not do to offend Flavia."
Malchus, as he was led through the streets of Rome, had been making comparisons by no means to the favour of Carthage. The greater simplicity of dress, the absence of the luxury which was so unbridled at Carthage, the plainness of the architecture of the houses, the free and manly bearing of the citizens, all impressed him. Rough as was the crowd who jeered and hooted him and his companions, there was a power and a vigour among them which was altogether lacking at home. Under the influence of excitement the populace there was capable of rising and asserting themselves, but their general demeanour was that of subservience to the wealthy and powerful.
The tyranny of the senate weighed on the people, the numerous secret denunciations and arrests inspired each man with a mistrust of his neighbour, for none could say that he was safe from the action of secret enemies. The Romans, on the other hand, were no respecters of persons. Every free citizen deemed himself the equal of the best; the plebeians held their own against the patricians, and could always return one of the consuls, generally selecting the man who had most distinguished himself by his hostility to the patricians.
The tribunes, whose power in Rome was nearly equal to that of the consuls, were almost always the representatives and champions of the plebeians, and their power balanced that of the senate, which was entirely in the interests of the aristocracy. Malchus was reflecting over these things in the prison, when the door of his cell opened and Sempronius, accompanied by two soldiers, entered. The former addressed him in Greek.
"Follow me," he said. "You have been appointed by my father, the praetor Caius, to be the domestic slave of the lady Flavia Gracchus, until such time as the senate may determine upon your fate."
As Carthage also enslaved prisoners taken in war Malchus showed no surprise, although he would have preferred labouring upon the fortifications with his men to domestic slavery, however light the latter might be. Without a comment, then, he rose and accompanied Sempronius from his prison.
Domestic slavery in Rome was not as a whole a severe fate. The masters, indeed, had the power of life and death over their slaves, they could flog and ill use them as they chose; but as a rule they treated them well and kindly.
The Romans were essentially a domestic people, kind to their wives, and affectionate, although sometimes strict, with their children. The slaves were treated as the other servants; and, indeed, with scarce an exception, all servants were slaves. The rule was easy and the labour by no means hard. Favourite slaves were raised to positions of trust and confidence, they frequently amassed considerable sums of money, and were often granted their freedom after faithful services.
CHAPTER XXI: THE GAULISH SLAVE
On arriving at the mansion of Gracchus, Sempronius led Malchus to the apartment occupied by Flavia. Her face lighted with satisfaction.
"You have done well, my Sempronius," she said; "I shall not forget your ready gratification of my wish. So this is the young Carthaginian? My friends will all envy me at having so handsome a youth to attend upon me. Do you speak our tongue?" she asked graciously.
"A few words only," Malchus answered. "I speak Greek."
"It is tiresome," Flavia said, addressing Sempronius, "that I do not know that language; but Julia has been taught it. Tell him, Sempronius, that his duties will be easy. He will accompany me when I walk abroad, and will stand behind me at table, and will have charge of my pets. The young lion cub that Tiberius procured for me is getting troublesome and needs a firm hand over him; he nearly killed one of the slaves yesterday."
Sempronius translated Flavia's speech to Malchus.
"I shall dress him," Flavia said, "in white and gold; he will look charming in it."
"It is hardly the dress for a slave," Sempronius ventured to object.
"I suppose I can dress him as I please. Lesbia, the wife of Emilius, dresses her household slaves in blue and silver, and I suppose I have as much right as she has to indulge my fancies."
"Certainly, Lady Flavia," Sempronius said reverentially. "I only thought that such favours shown to the Carthaginian might make the other slaves jealous."
Flavia made no answer, but waved her fan to Sempronius in token of dismissal. The young Roman, inwardly cursing her haughty airs, took his leave at once, and Flavia handed Malchus over to the charge of the chief of the household, with strict directions as to the dress which was to be obtained for him, and with orders to give the animals into his charge.
Malchus followed the man, congratulating himself that if he must serve as a slave, at least he could hardly have found an easier situation. The pets consisted of some bright birds from the East, a Persian greyhound, several cats, a young bear, and a half grown lion. Of these the lion alone was fastened up, in consequence of his attack upon the slave on the previous day.
Malchus was fond of animals, and at once advanced boldly to the lion. The animal crouched as if for a spring, but the steady gaze of Malchus speedily changed its intention, and, advancing to the full length of its chain, it rubbed itself against him like a great cat. Malchus stroked its side, and then, going to a fountain, filled a flat vessel with water and placed it before it. The lion lapped the water eagerly. Since its assault upon the slave who usually attended to it, none of the others had ventured to approach it. They had, indeed, thrown it food, but had neglected to supply it with water.
"We shall get on well together, old fellow," Malchus said. "We are both African captives, and ought to be friends."
Finding from the other slaves that until the previous day the animal had been accustomed to run about the house freely and to lie in Flavia's room, Malchus at once unfastened the chain and for some time played with the lion, which appeared gentle and good tempered. As the master of the household soon informed the others of the orders he had received respecting Malchus, the slaves saw that the newcomer was likely, for a time at least, to stand very high in the favour of their capricious mistress, and therefore strove in every way to gain his goodwill.
Presently Malchus was sent for again, and found Julia sitting on the couch by the side of her mother, and he at once acknowledged to himself that he had seldom seen a fairer woman. She was tall, and her figure was full and well proportioned. Her glossy hair was wound in a coil at the back of her head, her neck and arms were bare, and she wore a garment of light green silk, and embroidered with gold stripes along the bottom, reaching down to her knees, while beneath it a petticoat of Tyrian purple reached nearly to the ground.
"Is he not good looking, Julia?" Flavia asked. "There is not a slave in Rome like him. Lesbia and Fulvia will be green with envy."
Julia made no reply, but sat examining the face of Malchus with as much composure as if he had been a statue. He had bowed on entering, as he would have done in the presence of Carthaginian ladies, and now stood composedly awaiting Flavia's orders.
"Ask him, Julia, if it is true that he is a cousin of Hannibal and the captain of his guard. Such a youth as he is, I can hardly believe it; and yet how strong and sinewy are his limbs, and he has an air of command in his face. He interests me, this slave."
Julia asked in Greek the questions that her mother had dictated.
"Ask him now, Julia," Flavia said, when her daughter had translated the answer, "how he came to be captured."
Malchus recounted the story of his being blown by a gale into the Roman ports; then, on her own account, Julia inquired whether he had been present at the various battles of the campaign. After an hour's conversation Malchus was dismissed. In passing through the hall beyond he came suddenly upon a female who issued from one of the female apartments. They gave a simultaneous cry of astonishment.
"Clotilde!" Malchus exclaimed, "you here, and a captive?"
"Alas! yes," the girl replied. "I was brought here three months since."
"I have heard nothing of you all," Malchus said, "since your father returned with his contingent after the battle of Trasimene. We knew that Postumius with his legion was harrying Cisalpine Gaul, but no particular has reached us."
"My father is slain," the girl said. "He and the tribe were defeated. The next day the Romans attacked the village. We, the women and the old men, defended it till the last. My two sisters were killed. I was taken prisoner and sent hither as a present to Flavia by Postumius. I have been wishing to die, but now, since you are here, I shall be content to live even as a Roman slave."
While they were speaking they had been standing with their hands clasped. Malchus, looking down into her face, over which the tears were now streaming as she recalled the sad events at home, wondered at the change which eighteen months had wrought in it. Then she was a girl, now she was a beautiful woman—the fairest he had ever seen, Malchus thought, with her light brown hair with a gleam of gold, her deep gray eyes, and tender, sensitive mouth.
"And your mother?" he asked.
"She was with my father in the battle, and was left for dead on the field; but I heard from a captive, taken a month after I was, that she had survived, and was with the remnant of the tribe in the well nigh inaccessible fastnesses at the head of the Orcus."
"We had best meet as strangers," Malchus said. "It were well that none suspect we have met before. I shall not stay here long—if I am not exchanged. I shall try to escape whatever be the risks, and if you will accompany me I will not go alone."
"You know I will, Malchus," Clotilde answered frankly. "Whenever you give the word I am ready, whatever the risk is. It should break my heart were I left here alone again."
A footstep was heard approaching, and Clotilde, dropping Malchus' hands, fled away into the inner apartments, while Malchus walked quietly on to the part of the house appropriated to the slaves. The next day, having assumed his new garments, and having had a light gold ring, as a badge of servitude, fastened round his neck, Malchus accompanied Flavia and her daughter on a series of visits to their friends.
The meeting with Clotilde had delighted as much as it had surprised Malchus. The figure of the Gaulish maiden had been often before his eyes during his long night watches. When he was with her last he had resolved that when he next journeyed north he would ask her hand of the chief, and since his journey to Carthage his thoughts had still more often reverted to her. The loathing which he now felt for Carthage had converted what was, when he was staying with Allobrigius, little more than an idea, into a fixed determination that he would cut himself loose altogether from corrupt and degenerate Carthage, and settle among the Gauls. That he should find Clotilde captive in Rome had never entered his wildest imagination, and he now blessed, as a piece of the greatest good fortune, the chance, which had thrown him into the hands of the Romans, and brought him into the very house where Clotilde was a slave. Had it not been for that he would never again have heard of her. When he returned to her ruined home he would have found that she had been carried away by the Roman conquerors, but of her after fate no word could ever have reached him.
Some weeks passed, but no mode of escape presented itself to his mind. Occasionally for a few moments he saw Clotilde alone, and they were often together in Flavia's apartment, for the Roman lady was proud of showing off to her friends her two slaves, both models of their respective races.
Julia had at first been cold and hard to Malchus, but gradually her manner had changed, and she now spoke kindly and condescendingly to him, and would sometimes sit looking at him from under her dark eyebrows with an expression which Malchus altogether failed to interpret. Clotilde was more clear sighted. One day meeting Malchus alone in the atrium she said to him: "Malchus, do you know that I fear Julia is learning to love you. I see it in her face, in the glance of her eye, in the softening of that full mouth of hers."
"You are dreaming, little Clotilde," Malchus said laughing.
"I am not," she said firmly; "I tell you she loves you."
"Impossible!" Malchus said incredulously. "The haughty Julia, the fairest of the Roman maidens, fall in love with a slave! You are dreaming, Clotilde."
"But you are not a common slave, Malchus, you are a Carthaginian noble and the cousin of Hannibal. You are her equal in all respects."
"Save for this gold collar," Malchus said, touching the badge of slavery lightly.
"Are you sure you do not love her in return, Malchus? She is very beautiful."
"Is she?" Malchus said carelessly. "Were she fifty times more beautiful it would make no difference to me, for, as you know as well as I do, I love some one else."
Clotilde flushed to the brow. "You have never said so," she said softly.
"What occasion to say so when you know it? You have always known it, ever since the day when we went over the bridge together."
"But I am no fit mate for you," she said. "Even when my father was alive and the tribe unbroken, what were we that I should wed a great Carthaginian noble? Now the tribe is broken, I am only a Roman slave."
"Have you anything else to observe?" Malchus said quietly.
"Yes, a great deal more," she went on urgently. "How could you present your wife, an ignorant Gaulish girl, to your relatives, the haughty dames of Carthage? They would look down upon me and despise me."
"Clotilde, you are betraying yourself," Malchus said smiling, "for you have evidently thought the matter over in every light. No," he said, detaining her, as, with an exclamation of shame, she would have fled away, "you must not go. You knew that I loved you, and for every time you have thought of me, be it ever so often, I have thought of you a score. You knew that I loved you and intended to ask your hand from your father. As for the dames of Carthage, I think not of carrying you there; but if you will wed me I will settle down for life among your people."
A footstep was heard approaching. Malchus pressed Clotilde for a moment against his breast, and then he was alone. The newcomer was Sempronius. He was still a frequent visitor, but he was conscious that he had lately lost rather than gained ground in the good graces of Julia. Averse as he had been from the first to the introduction of Malchus into the household, he was not long in discovering the reason for the change in Julia, and the dislike he had from the first felt of Malchus had deepened to a feeling of bitter hatred.
"Slave," he said haughtily, "tell your mistress that l am here."
"I am not your slave," Malchus said calmly, "and shall not obey your orders when addressed in such a tone."
"Insolent hound," the young Roman exclaimed, "I will chastise you," and he struck Malchus with his stick. In an instant the latter sprang upon him, struck him to the ground, and wrenching the staff from his hand laid it heavily across him. At that moment Flavia, followed by her daughter, hurried in at the sound of the struggle. "Malchus," she exclaimed, "what means this?"
"It means," Sempronius said rising livid with passion, "that your slave has struck me—me, a Roman patrician. I will lodge a complaint against him, and the penalty, you know, is death."
"He struck me first, Lady Flavia," Malchus said quietly, "because I would not do his behests when he spoke to me as a dog."
"If you struck my slave, Sempronius," Flavia said coldly, "I blame him not that he returned the blow. Although a prisoner of war, he is, as you well know, of a rank in Carthage superior to your own, and I wonder not that, if you struck him, he struck you in return. You know that you had no right to touch my slave, and if you now take any steps against him I warn you that you will never enter this house again."
"Nor will I ever speak a word to you," Julia added.
"But he has struck me," Sempronius said furiously; "he has knocked me down and beaten me."
"Apparently you brought it upon yourself," Flavia said. "None but ourselves know what has happened; therefore, neither shame nor disgrace can arise from it. My advice to you is, go home now and remain there until those marks of the stick have died out; it will be easy for you to assign an excuse. If you follow the matter up, I will proclaim among my friends how I found you here grovelling on the ground while you were beaten. What will then be said of your manliness? Already the repeated excuses which have served you from abstaining to join the armies in the field have been a matter for much comment. You best know whether it would improve your position were it known that you had been beaten by a slave. Why, you would be a jest among young Romans."
Sempronius stood irresolute. His last hopes of winning Julia were annihilated by what had happened. The tone of contempt in which both mother and daughter had spoken sufficiently indicated their feelings, and for a moment he hesitated whether he would not take what revenge he could by denouncing Malchus. But the thought was speedily put aside. He had been wrong in striking the domestic slave of another; but the fact that Malchus had been first attacked, and the whole influence of the house of Gracchus, its relations, friends, and clients exerted in his behalf, would hardly suffice to save him. Still the revenge would be bought dearly in the future hostility of Flavia and her friends, and in the exposure of his own humiliating attitude. He, therefore, with a great effort subdued all signs of anger and said:
"Lady Flavia, your wish has always been law to me, and I would rather that anything should happen than that I should lose your favour and patronage, therefore, I am willing to forget what has happened, the more so as I own that I acted wrongly in striking your slave. I trust that after this apology you will continue to be the kindly friend I have always found you."
"Certainly, Sempronius," Flavia said graciously, "and I shall not forget your ready acquiescence in my wishes."
It was the more easy for Sempronius to yield, inasmuch as Malchus had, after stating that he had been first struck, quietly left the apartment. For some little time things went on as before. Malchus was now at home in Rome. As a slave of one of the most powerful families, as was indicated by the badge he wore on his dress, he was able, when his services were not required, to wander at will in the city. He made the circuit of the walls, marked the spots which were least frequented and where an escape would be most easily made; and, having selected a spot most remote from the busy quarter of the town, he purchased a long rope, and carrying it there concealed it under some stones close to one of the flights of steps by which access was obtained to the summit of the wall.
The difficulty was not how to escape from Rome, for that, now that he had so much freedom of movement, was easy, but how to proceed when he had once gained the open country. For himself he had little doubt that he should be able to make his way through the territories of the allies of Rome, but the difficulty of travelling with Clotilde would be much greater.
"Clotilde," he said one day, "set your wits to work and try and think of some disguise in which you might pass with me. I have already prepared for getting beyond the walls; but the pursuit after us will be hot, and until we reach the Carthaginian lines every man's hand will be against us."
"I have thought of it, Malchus; the only thing that I can see is for me to stain my skin and dye my hair and go as a peasant boy."
"That is what I, too, have thought of, Clotilde. The disguise would be a poor one, for the roundness of your arms and the colour of your eyes would betray you at once to any one who looked closely at you. However, as I can see no better way, I will get the garments and some for myself to match, and some stuff for staining the skin and hair."
The next day Malchus bought the clothes and dye and managed to bring them into the house unobserved, and to give to Clotilde those intended for her.
The lion, under the influence of the mingled firmness and kindness of Malchus, had now recovered his docility, and followed him about the house like a great dog, sleeping stretched out on a mat by the side of his couch.
Sempronius continued his visits. Malchus was seldom present when he was with Flavia, but Clotilde was generally in the room. It was now the height of summer, and her duty was to stand behind her mistress with a large fan, with which she kept up a gentle current of air over Flavia's head and drove off the troublesome flies. Sometimes she had to continue doing so for hours, while Flavia chatted with her friends.
Sempronius was biding his time. The two slaves were still high in Flavia's favour, but he was in hopes that something might occur which would render her willing to part with them. He watched Julia narrowly whenever Malchus entered the room, and became more and more convinced that she had taken a strong fancy for the Carthaginian slave, and the idea occurred to him that by exciting her jealousy he might succeed in obtaining his object. So careful were Malchus and Clotilde that he had no idea whatever that any understanding existed between them. This, however, mattered but little; nothing was more likely than that these two handsome slaves should fall in love with each other, and he determined to suggest the idea to Julia.
Accordingly one day when he was sitting beside her, while Flavia was talking with some other visitors, he remarked carelessly, "Your mother's two slaves, the Carthaginian and the Gaul, would make a handsome couple."
He saw a flush of anger in Julia's face. For a moment she did not reply, and then said in a tone of indifference:
"Yes, they are each well favoured in their way."
"Methinks the idea has occurred to them," Sempronius said. "I have seen them glance at each other, and doubt not that when beyond your presence they do not confine themselves to looks."
Julia was silent, but Sempronius saw, in the tightly compressed lips and the lowering brow with which she looked from one to the other, that the shaft had told.
"I have wondered sometimes," he said, "in an idle moment, whether they ever met before. The Carthaginians were for some time among the Cisalpine Gauls, and the girl was, you have told me, the daughter of a chief there; they may well have met."
Julia made no reply, and Sempronius, feeling that he had said enough, began to talk on other subjects. Julia scarcely answered him, and at last impatiently waved him away. She sat silent and abstracted until the last of the visitors had left, then she rose from her seat and walked quietly up to her mother and said abruptly to Clotilde, who was standing behind her mistress: "Did you know the slave Malchus before you met here?"
The suddenness of the question sent the blood up into the cheeks of the Gaulish maiden, and Julia felt at once that the hints of Sempronius were fully justified.
"Yes," Clotilde answered quietly, "I met him when, with Hannibal, he came down from the Alps into our country."
"Why did you not say so before?" Julia asked passionately. "Mother, the slaves have been deceiving us."
"Julia," Flavia said in surprise, "why this heat? What matters it to us whether they have met before?"
Julia did not pay any attention, but stood with angry eyes waiting for Clotilde's answer.
"I did not know, Lady Julia," the girl said quietly, "that the affairs of your slaves were of any interest to you. We recognized each other when we first met. Long ago now, when we were both in a different position—"
"And when you loved each other?" Julia said in a tone of concentrated passion.
"And when we loved each other," Clotilde repeated, her head thrown back now, and her bearing as proud and haughty as that of Julia.
"You hear that, mother? you hear this comedy that these slaves have been playing under your nose? Send them both to the whipping post."
"My dear Julia," Flavia exclaimed, more and more surprised at her anger, "what harm has been done? You astonish me. Clotilde, you can retire. What means all this, Julia?" she went on more severely when they were alone; "why all this strange passion because two slaves, who by some chance have met each other before, are lovers? What is this Gaulish girl, what is this Carthaginian slave, to you?"
"I love him, mother!" Julia said passionately.
"You!" Flavia exclaimed in angry surprise; "you, Julia, of the house of Gracchus, love a slave! You are mad, girl, and shameless."
"I say so without shame," Julia replied, "and why should I not? He is a noble of Carthage, though now a prisoner of war. What if my father is a consul? Malchus is the cousin of Hannibal, who is a greater man than Rome has ever yet seen. Why should I not wed him?"
"In the first place, it seems, Julia," Flavia said gravely, "because he loves someone else. In the second place, because, as I hear, he is likely to be exchanged very shortly for a praetor taken prisoner at Cannae, and will soon be fighting against us. In the third place, because all Rome would be scandalized were a Roman maiden of the patrician order, and of the house of Gracchus, to marry one of the invaders of her country. Go to, Julia, I blush for you! So this is the reason why of late you have behaved so coldly to Sempronius. Shame on you, daughter! What would your father say, did he, on his return from the field, hear of your doings? Go to your chamber, and do not let me see you again till you can tell me that you have purged this madness from your veins."
Without a word Julia turned and left the room. Parental discipline was strong in Rome, and none dare disobey a parent's command, and although Julia had far more liberty and license than most unmarried Roman girls, she did not dare to answer her mother when she spoke in such a tone.
Flavia sat for some time in thought, then she sent for Malchus. He had already exchanged a few words with Clotilde, and was therefore prepared for her questions.
"Malchus, is it true that you love my Gaulish slave girl?"
"It is true," Malchus replied quietly. "When we met in Gaul, two years since, she was the daughter of a chief, I a noble of Carthage. I loved her; but we were both young, and with so great a war in hand it was not a time to speak of marriage."
"Would you marry her now?"
"Not as a slave," Malchus replied; "when I marry her it shall be before the face of all men—I as a noble of Carthage, she as a noble Gaulish maiden."
"Hannibal is treating for your exchange now," Flavia said. "There are difficulties in the way, for, as you know, the senate have refused to allow its citizens who surrender to be ransomed or exchanged; but the friends of the praetor Publius are powerful and are bringing all their influence to bear to obtain the exchange of their kinsman, whom Hannibal has offered for you. I will gladly use what influence I and my family possess to aid them. I knew when you came to me that, as a prisoner of war, it was likely that you might be exchanged."
"You have been very kind, my Lady Flavia," Malchus said, "and I esteem myself most fortunate in having fallen into such hands. Since you know now how it is with me and Clotilde, I can ask you at once to let me ransom her of you. Any sum that you like to name I will bind myself, on my return to the Carthaginian camp, to pay for her."
"I will think it over," Flavia said graciously. "Clotilde is useful to me, but I can dispense with her services, and will ask you no exorbitant amount for her. If the negotiations for your exchange come to aught, you may rely upon it that she shall go hence with you."
With an expression of deep gratitude Malchus retired. Flavia, in thus acceding to the wishes of Malchus, was influenced by several motives. She was sincerely shocked at Julia's conduct, and was most desirous of getting both Malchus and Clotilde away, for she knew that her daughter was headstrong as she was passionate, and the presence of Clotilde in the house would, even were Malchus absent, be a source of strife and bitterness between herself and her daughter.
In the second place, it would be a pretty story to tell her friends, and she should be able to take credit to herself for her magnanimity in parting with her favourite attendant. Lastly, in the present state of affairs it might possibly happen that it would be of no slight advantage to have a friend possessed of great power and influence in the Carthaginian camp. Her husband might be captured in fight—it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that Rome itself might fall into the hands of the Carthaginians. It was, therefore, well worth while making a friend of a man who was a near relation of Hannibal.
For some days Julia kept her own apartment. All the household knew that something had gone wrong, though none were aware of the cause. A general feeling of uneasiness existed, for Julia had from a child in her fits of temper been harsh with her slaves, venting her temper by cruelly beating and pinching them. Many a slave had been flogged by her orders at such a time, for her mother, although herself an easy mistress, seldom interfered with her caprices, and all that she did was good in the eyes of her father.
At the end of the week Flavia told Malchus that the negotiations for his release had been broken off, the Roman senate remaining inflexible in the resolve that Romans who surrendered to the enemy should not be exchanged. Malchus was much disappointed, as it had seemed that the time of his release was near; however, he had still his former plan of escape to fall back upon.
A day or two later Julia sent a slave with a message to Sempronius, and in the afternoon sallied out with a confidential attendant, who always accompanied her when she went abroad. In the Forum she met Sempronius, who saluted her.
"Sempronius," she said coming at once to the purpose, "will you do me a favour?"
"I would do anything to oblige you, Lady Julia, as you know."
"That is the language of courtesy," Julia said shortly; "I mean would you be ready to run some risk?"
"Certainly," Sempronius answered readily.
"You will do it the more readily, perhaps," Julia said, "inasmuch as it will gratify your revenge. You have reason to hate Malchus, the Carthaginian slave."
"Your suspicion was true, he loves the Gaulish slave; they have been questioned and have confessed it. I want them separated."
"But how?" Sempronius asked, rejoicing inwardly at finding that Julia's wishes agreed so nearly with his own.
"I want her carried off," Julia said shortly. "When once you have got her you can do with her as you will; make her your slave, kill her, do as you like with her, that is nothing to me—all I want is that she shall go. I suppose you have some place where you could take her?"
"Yes," Sempronius said, "I have a small estate among the Alban Hills where she would be safe enough from searchers; but how to get her there? She never goes out except with Lady Flavia."
"She must be taken from the house," Julia said shortly; "pretty slaves have been carried off before now, and no suspicion need light upon you. You might find some place in the city to hide her for a few days, and then boldly carry her through the gates in a litter. None will think of questioning you."
"The wrath of Lady Flavia would be terrible," Sempronius said doubtfully.
"My mother would be furious at first," Julia said coldly; "but get her a new plaything, a monkey or a Nubian slave boy, and she will soon forget all about the matter."
"But how do you propose it should be done?" Sempronius asked.
"My slave shall withdraw all the bolts of the back entrance to the house," Julia said; "do you be there at two in the morning, when all will be sound asleep; bring with you a couple of barefooted slaves. My woman will be at the door and will guide you to the chamber where the girl sleeps; you have only to gag her and carry her quietly off."
Sempronius stood for a moment in doubt. The enterprise was certainly feasible. Wild adventures of this kind were not uncommon among the dissolute young Romans, and Sempronius saw at once that were he detected Julia's influence would prevent her mother taking the matter up hotly. Julia guessed his thoughts.
"If you are found out," she said, "I will take the blame upon myself, and tell my mother that you were acting solely at my request."
"I will do it, Julia," he agreed; "tonight at two o'clock I will be at the back door with two slaves whom I can trust. I will have a place prepared to which I can take the girl till it is safe to carry her from the city."
CHAPTER XXII: THE LION
Malchus was sleeping soundly that night when he was awakened by a low angry sound from the lion.
He looked up, and saw by the faint light of a lamp which burned in the hall, from which the niche like bed chambers of the principal slaves opened, that the animal had risen to its feet. Knowing that, docile as it was with those it knew, the lion objected to strangers, the thought occurred to him that some midnight thief had entered the house for the purpose of robbery. Malchus took his staff and sallied out, the lion walking beside him.
He traversed the hall and went from room to room until he entered the portion of the house inhabited by Flavia and the female slaves. Here he would have hesitated, but the lion continued its way, crouching as it walked, with its tail beating its sides with short quick strokes.
There was no one in the principal apartment. He entered the corridor, from which as he knew issued the bed chambers of the slaves. Here he stopped in sudden surprise at seeing a woman holding a light, while two men were issuing from one of the apartments bearing between them a body wrapped up in a cloak. Sempronius stood by the men directing their movements. The face of the person carried was invisible, but the light of the lamp fell upon a mass of golden brown hair, and Malchus knew at once that it was Clotilde who was being carried off.
Malchus sprang forward and with a blow of his staff levelled one of the slaves to the ground; Sempronius with a furious exclamation drew his sword and rushed at him, while the other slave, dropping his burden, closed with Malchus and threw his arms around him. For a moment Malchus felt powerless, but before Sempronius could strike there was a deep roar, a dark body sprang forward and hurled itself upon him, levelling him to the ground with a crushing blow of its paw, and then seized him by the shoulder and shook him violently. The slave who held Malchus loosed his hold and fled with a cry of affright, the female slave dropped the light and fled also. Clotilde had by this time gained her feet.
"Quick, love!" Malchus said; "seize your disguise and join me at the back gate. Sempronius is killed; I will join you as quickly as I can."
By this time the household was alarmed, the shout of Malchus and the roar of the lion had aroused everyone, and the slaves soon came hurrying with lights to the spot. Malchus checked them as they came running out.
"Fetch the net," he said. The net in question had been procured after the lion had before made an attack upon the slave, but had not since been required.
Malchus dared not approach the creature now, for though he was not afraid for himself, it was now furious, and might, if disturbed, rush among the others and do terrible destruction before it could be secured. The net was quickly brought, and Malchus, with three of the most resolute of the slaves, advanced and threw it over the lion, which was lying upon the prostrate body of Sempronius. It sprang to its feet, but the net was round it, and in its struggle to escape it fell on its side. Another twist of the net and it was helplessly inclosed; the four men lifted the ends and carried it away. Cutting a portion of the net Malchus placed the massive iron collar attached to the chain round its neck and then left it, saying to the others:
"We can cut the rest of the net off it afterwards."
He then hurried back to the scene of the struggle. Flavia was already there.
"What is all this, Malchus," she asked. "Here I find Sempronius dead and one of his slaves senseless beside him; they tell me when he first arrived you were here."
"I know nothing of it, lady," Malchus replied, "save that the lion aroused me by growling, and thinking that robbers might have entered the house, I arose and searched it and came upon three men. One I levelled to the ground with my staff; doubtless he is only stunned and will be able to tell you more when he recovers. I grappled with another, and while engaged in a struggle with him the third attacked me with a sword, and would have slain me had not the lion sprang upon him and felled him. The other man then fled—this is all I know about it."
"What can it all mean?" Flavia said. "What could Sempronius with two slaves be doing in my house after midnight? It is a grave outrage, and there will be a terrible scandal in Rome tomorrow—the son of a praetor and a friend of the house!"
She then ordered the slaves to raise the body of Sempronius and carry it to a couch, and to send at once for a leech. She also bade them throw water on the slave and bring him to consciousness, and then to bring him before her to be questioned.
"Where is my daughter?" she said suddenly; "has she not been roused by all this stir?" One of the female slaves stole into Julia's apartment, and returned saying that her mistress was sound asleep on her couch.
An expression of doubt crossed Flavia's face, but she only said, "Do not disturb her," and then thoughtfully returned to her room. It was not until an hour later that the prisoner was sufficiently recovered to be brought before Flavia. He had already heard that his master was killed, and, knowing that concealment would be useless, he threw himself on the ground before Flavia, and owned that he and another slave had been brought by Sempronius to carry off a slave girl.
Acting on his instructions they had thrust a kerchief into her mouth, and wrapped a cloak round her, and were carrying her off when a man rushed at him, and he supposed struck him, for he remembered nothing more. He then with many tears implored mercy, on the ground that he was acting but on his master's orders. At this moment the praetor himself arrived, Flavia having sent for him immediately she had ascertained that Sempronius was dead. He was confused and bewildered at the suddenness of his loss.
"I thought at first," Flavia said, "that he must have been engaged in some wild scheme to carry off Julia, though why he should do so I could not imagine, seeing that he had my approval of his wooing; but Julia is asleep, not having been a wakened by the noise of the scuffle. It must have been one of the slave girls."
"Ah!" she exclaimed suddenly. "I did not see Clotilde." She struck a bell, and her attendant entered.
"Go," she said, "and summon Clotilde here."
In a few minutes the slave returned, saying that Clotilde was not to be found.
"She may have been carried off by the other slave," Flavia said, "but Malchus was there, and would have pursued. Fetch him here."
But Malchus too was found to be missing.
"They must have fled together," Flavia said. "There was an understanding between them. Doubtless Malchus feared that this affair with your son might cause him to be taken away from here. Perhaps it is best so, and I trust that they may get away, though I fear there is little chance, since no slaves are allowed to leave the city without a pass, and even did they succeed in gaining the open country they would be arrested and brought back by the first person who met them. But that is not the question for the present."
"What think you, my friend, what are we to do in this terrible business?"
"I know not," the praetor said with a groan.
"The honour of both our families is concerned," Flavia said calmly. "Your son has been found in my house at night and slain by my lion. All the world knows that he was a suitor for Julia's hand. There's but one thing to be done; the matter must be kept secret. It would not do to try and remove Sempronius tonight, for the litter might be stopped by the watch; it must be taken boldly away in daylight. Send four slaves whom you can trust, and order them to be silent on pain of death. I will tell my household that if a word is breathed of what has taken place tonight, I will hand whoever disobeys me over to the executioners. When you have got your son's body home you can spread a rumour that he is sick of the fever. There will be no difficulty in bribing the leech. Then in a few days you will give out that he is dead, and none will be any the wiser."
The praetor agreed that this was the best plan that could be adopted, and it was carried out in due course, and so well was the secret kept that no one in Rome ever doubted that Sempronius had fallen a victim to fever.
Julia's anger in the morning, when she heard that the Gaulish slave girl and the Carthaginian were missing, was great, and she hurried to her mother's room to demand that a hue and cry should be at once made for them, and a reward offered for their apprehension. She had, when informed of the scenes which had taken place in the night, and of the death of Sempronius, expressed great astonishment and horror, and indeed the news that her accomplice had been killed had really shocked her. The sentiment, however, had faded to insignificance in the anger which she felt when, as the narrative continued, she heard of the escape of the two slaves.
A stormy scene took place between her and her mother, Julia boldly avowing that she was the author of the scheme which had had so fatal a termination. Flavia, in her indignation at her daughter's conduct, sent her away at once to a small summer retreat belonging to her in the hills, and there she was kept for some months in strict seclusion under the watchful guardianship of some old and trusted slaves.
Malchus, having seen the lion fastened up, had seized the bundle containing his disguise, and hurried away to the gate where Clotilde was awaiting him.
"How long you have been!" she said with a gasp of relief.
"I could not get away until the lion was secured," he said, "for I should have been instantly missed. Now we will be off at once." Both had thrown large dark cloaks over their garments, and they now hurried along through the deserted streets, occasionally drawing aside into bylanes as they heard the tramp of the city watch.
At last, after half an hour's walking, they reached the wall. Malchus knew the exact spot where he had hidden the rope, and had no difficulty in finding it. They mounted the steps and stood on the battlements. The sentries were far apart, for no enemy was in the neighbourhood of Rome. Malchus fastened the rope round Clotilde, and lowered her down over the battlements. When he found that she had reached the ground he made fast the end of the rope and slid down till he stood beside her. They proceeded with the utmost caution until at some distance from the walls; and then shaped their course until, after a long walk, they came down upon the Tiber below the city.
Day had by this time broken, and Malchus bade Clotilde enter a little wood to change her garments and dye her skin. He then proceeded to do the same, and rolling up the clothes he had taken off, hid them under a bush. Clotilde soon joined him again. She wore the dress of a peasant boy, consisting of a tunic of rough cloth reaching to her knees. Her limbs, face, and neck were dyed a sunny brown, and her hair, which was cut quite short, was blackened. Dyes were largely in use by Roman ladies, and Malchus had had no difficulty in procuring those necessary for their disguises.
"I don't think anyone would suspect you, Clotilde," he said; "even I should pass you without notice. What a pity you have had to part with all your sunny hair!"
"It will soon grow again," she said; "and now, Malchus, do not let us waste a moment. I am in terror while those dark walls are in sight."
"We shall soon leave them behind," Malchus said encouragingly. "There are plenty of fishermen's boats moored along the bank here. We shall soon leave Rome behind us."
They stepped into a boat, loosened the moorings, and pushed off, and Malchus, getting out the oars, rowed steadily down the river until they neared its mouth. Then they landed, pushed the boat into the stream again, lest, if it were found fastened up, it might give a clue to any who were in pursuit of them, and then struck off into the country. After travelling some miles they turned into a wood, where they lay down for several hours, and did not resume their course until nightfall.
Malchus had, before starting, entered the kitchen, and had filled a bag with cold meat, oatmeal cakes, and other food, and this, when examined, proved ample for four days' supply, and he had, therefore, no occasion to enter the villages to buy provisions. They kept by the seashore until they neared Terracina, and then took to the hills, and skirted these until they had left the state of Latium. They kept along at the foot of the great range which forms the backbone of Italy, and so passing along Samnium, came down upon the Volturnus, having thus avoided the Roman army, which lay between Capua and Rome.
Their journey had been a rough one, for, by the winding road they had followed along the mountains, the distance they traversed was over one hundred miles. The fatigue had been great, and it was well that Clotilde had had a Gaulish training. After their provisions were exhausted they had subsisted upon corn which they gathered in the patches of cultivated ground near the mountain villages, and upon fruits which they picked in the woods.
Twice, too, they had come upon herds of half wild goats in the mountains, and Malchus had succeeded in knocking down a kid with a stone. They had not made very long journeys, resting always for a few hours in the heat of the day, and it was ten days after they had left Rome before, from an eminence, they saw the walls of Capua.
"How can I go in like this?" Clotilde exclaimed in a sudden fit of shyness.
"We will wait until it is dusk," Malchus said; "the dye is fast wearing off, and your arms are strangely white for a peasant girl's. I will take you straight to Hannibal's palace, and you will soon be fitted out gorgeously. There are spoils enough stored up to clothe all the women of Rome."
They sat down in the shade of a clump of trees, and waited till the heat of the day was past; then they rose and walked on until, after darkness had fallen, they entered the town of Capua. They had no difficulty in discovering the palace where Hannibal was lodged. They were stopped at the entrance by the guards, who gave a cry of surprise and pleasure when Malchus revealed himself. At first they could hardly credit that, in the dark skinned peasant, their own commander stood before them, and as the news spread rapidly the officers of the corps ran down and saluted him with a joyous greeting. While this was going on Clotilde shrank back out of the crowd.
As soon as he could extricate himself from his comrades, Malchus joined her, and led her to Hannibal, who, hearing the unusual stir, was issuing from his apartment to see what had occasioned it. The shouts of "Long live Malchus!" which rose from the soldiers informed him of what had happened, and he at once recognized his kinsman in the figure advancing to meet him.
"My dear Malchus," he exclaimed, "this is a joyous surprise. I have been in vain endeavouring to get you out of the hands of the Romans, but they were obstinate in refusing an exchange; but knowing your adroitness, I have never given up hopes of seeing you appear some day among us. But whom have you here?" he asked as he re-entered his room accompanied by Malchus and his companion.
"This is Clotilde, daughter of Allobrigius, the chief of the Orcan tribe," Malchus replied, "and my affianced wife. Her father has been defeated and killed by Postumius, and she was carried as a slave to Rome. There good fortune and the gods threw us together, and I have managed to bring her with me."
"I remember you, of course," Hannibal said to the girl, "and that I joked my young kinsman about you. This is well, indeed; but we must see at once about providing you with proper garments. There are no females in my palace, but I will send at once for Chalcus, who is now captain of my guard, and who has married here in Capua, and beg him to bring hither his wife; she will l am sure take charge of you, and furnish you with garments."
Clotilde was soon handed over to the care of the Italian lady, and Malchus then proceeded to relate to Hannibal the various incidents which had occurred since he had sailed from Capua for Sardinia. He learned in return that the mission of Mago to Carthage had been unsuccessful. He had brought over a small reinforcement of cavalry and elephants, which had landed in Bruttium and had safely joined the army; but this only repaired a few of the many gaps made by the war, and was useless to enable Hannibal to carry out his great purpose.
"Hanno's influence was too strong," Hannibal said, "and I foresee that sooner or later the end must come. I may hold out for years here in Southern Italy, but unless Carthage rises from her lethargy, I must finally be overpowered."
"It seems to me," Malchus said, "that the only hope is in rousing the Gauls to invade Italy from the north."
"I know nothing of what is passing there," Hannibal said; "but it is clear from the disaster which has befallen our friends the Orcans that the Romans are more than holding their own north of the Apennines. Still, if a diversion could be made it would be useful. I suppose you are desirous of taking your bride back to her tribe."
"Such is my wish, certainly," Malchus said. "As I have told you, Hannibal, I have made up my mind never to return to Carthage. It is hateful to me. Her tame submission to the intolerable tyranny of Hanno and his faction, her sufferance of the corruption which reigns in every department, her base ingratitude to you and the army which have done and suffered so much, the lethargy which she betrays when dangers are thickening and her fall and destruction are becoming more and more sure, have sickened me of her. I have resolved, as I have told you, to cast her off, and to live and die among the Gauls—a life rough and simple, but at least free."
"But it seems that the Gauls have again been subjected to Rome," Hannibal said.
"On this side of the Alps," Malchus replied, "but beyond are great tribes who have never as yet heard of Rome. It is to them that Clotilde's mother belongs, and we have settled that we will first try and find her mother and persuade her to go with us, and that if she is dead we will journey alone until we join her tribe in Germany. But before I go I will, if it be possible, try and rouse the Gauls to make another effort for freedom by acting in concert, by driving out the Romans and invading Italy. You will, I trust, Hannibal, not oppose my plans."
"Assuredly not, Malchus; I sympathize with you, and were I younger and without ties and responsibilities would fain do the same. It is a sacrifice, no doubt, to give up civilization and to begin life anew, but it is what our colonists are always doing. At any rate it is freedom—freedom from the corruption, the intrigue, the sloth, and the littleness of a decaying power like that of Carthage. You will be happy at least in having your wife with you, while the gods only know when I shall see the face of my beloved Imilce.
"Yes, Malchus, follow your own devices. Carthage, when she flung you in prison and would have put you to a disgraceful death, forfeited all further claim upon you. You have rendered her great services, you have risked your life over and over again in her cause, you have repaid tenfold the debt which you incurred when she gave you birth. You are free now to carry your sword where you will. I shall deeply regret your loss, but your father has gone and many another true friend of mine, and it is but one more in the list of those I have lost. Follow your own wishes, and live in that freedom which you will never attain in the service of Carthage."
The next day the marriage of Malchus and Clotilde took place. Hannibal himself joined their hands and prayed the gods to bless their union. Three weeks later Hannibal arranged that a body of a hundred Carthaginian horse should accompany Malchus to the north, where he would endeavour to raise the Gaulish tribes. They were to cross into Apulia, to travel up the east coast until past the ranges of the Apennines, and then make their way across the plains to the Alps. A dozen officers accompanied him; these were to aid him in his negotiations with the chiefs, and in organizing the new forces, should his efforts be successful.
To the great joy of Malchus, on the very evening before he started Nessus arrived in the camp. He had, when Malchus was at Rome, been employed with the other Carthaginian soldiers on the fortifications. Malchus had once or twice seen him as, with the others, he was marched from the prison to the walls, and had exchanged a few words with him. He had told him that he intended to escape, but could not say when he should find an opportunity to do so; but that if at any time a month passed without his seeing him, Nessus would know that he had gone.
The extra rigour with which the prisoners were guarded had led Nessus to suspect that a prisoner had escaped, and a month having passed without his seeing Malchus, he determined on making an attempt at flight. So rigourous was the watch that there was no possibility of this being done secretly, and, therefore, one day when they were employed in repairing the foundations of the wall outside the city Nessus seized the opportunity, when the attention of the guards was for a moment directed in another quarter, to start at the top of his speed. He had chosen the hottest hour of the day for the attempt, when few people were about, and the peasants had left the fields for an hour's sleep under the shade of trees.
The Roman guard had started in pursuit, but Nessus had not overrated his powers. Gradually he left them behind him, and, making straight for the Tiber, plunged in and swam the river. He had followed the right bank up to the hills, and on the second evening after starting made his appearance at Capua. When he heard the plans of Malchus he announced, as a matter of course, that he should accompany him. Malchus pointed out that, with the rewards and spoils he had obtained, he had now sufficient money to become a man of importance among his own people. Nessus quietly waved the remark aside as if it were wholly unworthy of consideration.
The cavalry who were to accompany Malchus were light armed Numidians, whose speed would enable them to distance any bodies of the enemy they might meet on their way. With them were thirty lead horses, some of them carrying a large sum of money, which Hannibal had directed should be paid to Malchus from the treasury, as his share, as an officer of high rank, of the captured booty. The rest of the horses were laden with costly arms, robes of honour, and money as presents for the Gaulish chiefs. These also were furnished from the abundant spoils which had fallen into the hands of the Carthaginians.
Hannibal directed Malchus that, in the event of his failing in his mission, he was not to trouble to send these things back, but was to retain them to win the friendship and goodwill of the chiefs of the country to which he proposed to journey. The next morning Malchus took an affectionate farewell of the general and his old comrades, and then, with Clotilde riding by his side—for the women of the Gauls were as well skilled as the men in the management of horses—he started at the head of his party. He followed the route marked out for him without any adventure of importance. He had one or two skirmishes with parties of tribesmen allied with Rome, but his movements were too rapid for any force sufficient to oppose his passage being collected.
After ascending the sea coast the troop skirted the northern slopes of the Apennines, passing close to the battlefield of Trebia, and crossing the Po by a ford, ascended the banks of the Orcus, and reached Clotilde's native village. A few ruins alone marked where it had stood. Malchus halted there and despatched scouts far up the valley. These succeeded in finding a native, who informed them that Brunilda with the remains of the tribe were living in the forests far up on the slopes. The scouts delivered to them the message with which they were charged: that Clotilde and Malchus, with a Carthaginian force, were at Orca. The following evening Brunilda and her followers came into camp.
Deep was the joy of the mother and daughter. The former had long since given up all hope of ever hearing of Clotilde again, and had devoted her life to vengeance on the Romans. From her fastness in the mountain she had from time to time led her followers down, and carried fire and sword over the fields and plantations of the Roman colonists, retiring rapidly before the garrisons could sally from the towns and fall upon her. She was rejoiced to find that her child had found a husband and protector in the young Carthaginian, still more rejoiced when she found that the latter had determined upon throwing in his lot with the Gauls.
All that night mother and daughter sat talking over the events which had happened since they parted. Brunilda could give Malchus but little encouragement for the mission on which he had come. The legion of Postumius had indeed been defeated and nearly destroyed in a rising which had taken place early in the spring; but fresh troops had arrived, dissensions had, as usual, broken out among the chiefs, many of them had again submitted to the Romans, and the rest had been defeated and crushed. Brunilda thought that there was little hope at present of their again taking up arms.
For some weeks Malchus attempted to carry out Hannibal's instructions; he and his lieutenants, accompanied by small parties of horse, rode through the country and visited all the chiefs of Cisalpine Gaul, but the spirit of the people was broken. The successes they had gained had never been more than partial, the Roman garrison towns had always defied all their efforts, and sooner or later the Roman legions swept down across the Apennines and carried all before them.
In vain Malchus told them of the victories that Hannibal had won, that Southern Italy was in his hands, and the Roman dominion tottering. In reply they pointed to the garrisons and the legion, and said that, were Rome in a sore strait, she would recall her legion for her own defence, and no arguments that Malchus could use could move them to lay aside their own differences and to unite in another effort for freedom. Winter was now at hand. Malchus remained in the mountains with the Orcans until spring came, and then renewed his efforts with no greater success than before. Then he dismissed the Carthaginians, with a letter giving Hannibal an account of all he had done, and bade them find their way back to Capua by the road by which they had come.
Brunilda had joyfully agreed to his proposal that they should cross the Alps and join her kinsmen in Germany, and the remnant of the tribe willingly consented to accompany them. Accordingly in the month of May they set out, and journeying north made their way along the shore of the lake now called the Lago di Guarda, and, crossing by the pass of the Trentino, came down on the northern side of the Alps, and, after journeying for some weeks among the great forests which covered the country, reached the part inhabited by the tribe of the Cherusei, to which Brunilda belonged.
Here they were hospitably received. Brunilda's family were among the noblest of the tribe, and the rich presents which the ample resources of Malchus enabled him to distribute among all the chiefs, at once raised him to a position of high rank and consideration among them. Although accepting the life of barbarism Malchus was not prepared to give up all the usages of civilization. He built a house, which, although it would have been but a small structure in Carthage, was regarded with admiration and wonder by the Gauls. Here he introduced the usages and customs of civilization. The walls, indeed, instead of being hung with silk and tapestry, were covered with the skins of stags, bears, and other animals slain in the chase; but these were warmer and better suited for the rigour of the climate in winter than silks would have been. The wealth, knowledge, and tact of Malchus gained him an immense influence in the tribe, and in time he was elected the chief of that portion of it dwelling near him. He did not succeed in getting his followers to abandon their own modes of life, but he introduced among them many of the customs of civilization, and persuaded them to adopt the military formation in use among the Carthaginians. It was with some reluctance that they submitted to this; but so complete was the victory which they obtained over a rival tribe, upon their first encounter when led by Malchus and his able lieutenant Nessus, that he had no difficulty in future on this score.
The advantages, indeed, of fighting in solid formation, instead of the irregular order in which each man fought for himself, were so overwhelming that the tribe rapidly increased in power and importance, and became one of the leading peoples in that part of Germany. Above all, Malchus inculcated them with a deep hatred of Rome, and warned them that when the time came, as it assuredly would do, that the Romans would cross the Alps and attempt the conquest of the country, it behooved the German tribes to lay aside all their disputes and to join in a common resistance against the enemy.
From time to time rumours, brought by parties of Cisalpine Gauls, who, like the Orcans, fled across the Alps to escape the tyranny of Rome, reached Malchus. For years the news came that no great battle had been fought, that Hannibal was still in the south of Italy defeating all the efforts of the Romans to dislodge him.
It was not until the thirteenth year after Hannibal had crossed the Alps that any considerable reinforcement was sent to aid the Carthaginian general. Then his brother Hasdrubal, having raised an army in Spain and Southern Gaul, crossed the Alps to join him. But he was met, as he marched south, by the consuls Livius and Nero with an army greatly superior to his own; and was crushed by them on the river Metaurus, the Spanish and Ligurian troops being annihilated and Hasdrubal himself killed.
For four years longer Hannibal maintained his position in the south of Italy. No assistance whatever reached him from Carthage, but alone and unaided he carried on the unequal war with Rome until, in 204 B.C., Scipio landed with a Roman force within a few miles of Carthage, captured Utica, defeated two Carthaginian armies with great slaughter, and blockaded Carthage. Then the city recalled the general and the army whom they had so grossly neglected and betrayed.
Hannibal succeeded in safely embarking his army and in sailing to Carthage; but so small was the remnant of the force which remained to him, that when he attempted to give battle to Scipio he was defeated, and Carthage was forced to make peace on terms which left her for the future at the mercy of Rome. She was to give up all her ships of war except ten, and all her elephants, to restore all Roman prisoners, to engage in no war out of Africa—and none in Africa except with the consent of Rome, to restore to Massinissa, a prince of Numidia who had joined Rome, his kingdom, to pay a contribution of two hundred talents a year for fifty years, and to give a hundred hostages between the ages of fourteen and thirty, to be selected by the Roman general.
These terms left Carthage at the mercy of Rome, when the latter, confident in her power, entered upon the third Punic war, the overthrow and the destruction of her rival were a comparatively easy task for her. Hannibal lived nineteen years after his return to Carthage. For eight years he strove to rectify the administration, to reform abuses, and to raise and improve the state; but his exposure of the gross abuses of the public service united against him the faction which had so long profited by them, and, in B. C. 196, the great patriot and general was driven into exile.
He then repaired to the court of Antiochus, King of Syria, who was at that time engaged in a war against Rome; but that monarch would not follow the advice he gave him, and was in consequence defeated at Magnesia, and was forced to sue for peace and to accept the terms the Romans imposed, one of which was that Hannibal should be delivered into their hands.
Hannibal, being warned in time, left Syria and went to Bithynia. But Rome could not be easy so long as her great enemy lived, and made a demand upon Prusias, King of Bithynia, for his surrender. He was about to comply with the request when Hannibal put an end to his life, dying at the age of sixty-four.
No rumour of this event ever reached Malchus, but he heard, fifteen years after he had passed into Germany, that Hannibal had at last retired from Italy, and had been defeated at Zama, and that Carthage had been obliged to submit to conditions which placed her at the mercy of Rome. Malchus rejoiced more than ever at the choice he had made. His sons were now growing up, and he spared no efforts to instill in them a hatred and distrust of Rome, to teach them the tactics of war, and to fill their minds with noble and lofty thoughts.
Nessus had followed the example of his lord and had married a Gaulish maiden, and he was now a subchief in the tribe. Malchus and Clotilde lived to a great age, and the former never once regretted the choice he had made. From afar he heard of the ever growing power of Rome, and warned his grandsons, as he had warned his sons, against her, and begged them to impress upon their descendants in turn the counsels he had given them. The injunction was observed, and the time came when Arminius, a direct descendant of Malchus, then the leader of the Cherusei, assembled the German tribes and fell upon the legions of Varus, inflicting upon them a defeat as crushing and terrible as the Romans had ever suffered at the hands of Hannibal himself, and checking for once and all the efforts of the Romans to subdue the free people of Germany.