The Young Carthaginian by G. A. Henty
Chapter XVI: In the Dungeons of Carthage
Fabius, after the escape of Hannibal from the trap in which he believed he had caught him, followed him into Apulia, and encamped on high ground in his neighbourhood intending to continue the same waiting tactics. He was, however, soon afterwards recalled to Rome to consult with the senate on matters connected with the army. He left Minucius in command, with strict orders that he should on no account suffer himself to be enticed into a battle. Minucius moved forward to within five miles of Geronium, and then encamped upon a spur of the hills.
Hannibal, aware that Fabius had left, hoped to be able to tempt the impatient Minucius to an action. He accordingly drew nearer to the Romans and encamped upon a hill three miles from their position.
Another hill lay about halfway between the two armies. Hannibal occupied this during the night with two thousand of his light troops, but next day Minucius attacked the position, drove off its defenders, and encamped there with his whole army. For some days Hannibal kept his force united in his intrenchments, feeling sure that Minucius would attack him. The latter, however, strictly obeyed the orders of Fabius and remained inactive.
It was all important to the Carthaginians to collect an ample supply of food before winter set in, and Hannibal, finding that the Romans would not attack him, was compelled to resume foraging expeditions. Two-thirds of the army were despatched in various directions in strong bodies, while the rest remained to guard the intrenchment.
This was the opportunity for which Minucius had been waiting. He at once despatched the whole of his cavalry to attack the foraging parties, and with his infantry he advanced to the attack of the weakly defended Carthaginian camp. For a time Hannibal had the greatest difficulty in resisting the assault of the Romans; but at last a body of four thousand of the foragers, who had beaten off the Roman cavalry and made their way into Geronium, came out to his support, and the Romans retired.
Hannibal, seeing the energy which Minucius had displayed, fell back to his old camp near Geronium, and Minucius at once occupied the position which he had vacated. The partial success of Minucius enabled the party in Rome who had long been discontented with the waiting tactics of Fabius to make a fresh attack upon his policy, and Minucius was now raised to an equal rank with Fabius.
Minucius, elated with his elevation, proposed to Fabius either that they should command the whole army on alternate days, or each should permanently command one-half. Fabius chose the latter alternative, for he felt certain that the impetuosity of his colleague would sooner or later get him into trouble with such an adversary as Hannibal, and that it was better to risk the destruction of half the army than of the whole.
Minucius withdrew the troops allotted to him, and encamped in the plains at a distance of a mile and a half from Fabius. Hannibal resolved at once to take advantage of the change, and to tempt the Romans to attack him by occupying a hill which lay about halfway between the camp of Minucius and Geronium.
The plain which surrounded the hill was level and destitute of wood, but Hannibal on a careful examination found that there were several hollows in which troops could be concealed, and in these during the night he posted five thousand infantry and five hundred cavalry. The position occupied by them was such that they would be able to take the Romans in flank and rear should they advance against the hill. Having made these dispositions he sent forward a body of light troops in the morning to occupy the hill. Minucius immediately despatched his light troops, supported by cavalry, to drive them from it. Hannibal reinforced his Carthaginians by small bodies of troops, and the fight was obstinately maintained until Minucius, whose blood was now up, marched towards the hill with his legions in order of battle.
Hannibal on his side advanced with the remains of his troops, and the battle became fierce and general, until Hannibal gave the signal to his troops in ambush, who rushed out and charged the Romans in rear and flank. Their destruction would have been as complete and terrible as that which had befallen the army of Sempronius at the Trebia, had not Fabius moved forward with his troops to save the broken legions of Minucius.
Fabius now offered battle, but Hannibal, well content with the heavy blow which he had struck, and the great loss which he had inflicted upon the command of Minucius, fell back to his camp. Minucius acknowledged that Fabius had saved his army from total destruction, and at once resigned his command into his hands, and reverted to his former position under him. Both armies then went into winter quarters.
Malchus had not been present at the fighting near Geronium. Two days after Hannibal broke through the Roman positions round the plains of Campania he intrusted Malchus with an important commission. Commanding the bodyguard of the general, and being closely related to him, Malchus was greatly in Hannibal's confidence, and was indeed on the same footing with Mago, Hannibal's brother, and two or three other of his most trusted generals. Gathered in the general's tent on the previous evening, these had agreed with their leader that final success could not be looked for in their enterprise unless reinforcements were received from Carthage.
It was now a year since they had emerged from the Alps on to the plains of Northern Italy. They had annihilated two Roman armies, had marched almost unopposed through some of the richest provinces of Italy, and yet they were no nearer the great object of their enterprise than they were when they crossed the Alps.
Some of the Cisalpine Gauls had joined them, but even in the plains north of the Apennines the majority of the tribes had remained firm to their alliance with the Romans, while south of that range of mountains the inhabitants had in every case shown themselves bitterly hostile. Everywhere on the approach of the Carthaginians they had retired to their walled towns, which Hannibal had neither the time nor the necessary machines to besiege.
Although Rome had lost two armies she had already equipped and placed in the field a third force superior in number to that of the Carthaginians; her army in Spain had not been drawn upon; her legion north of the Apennines was operating against the revolted tribes; other legions were in course of being raised and equipped, and Rome would take the field in the spring with an army greatly superior in strength to that of Carthage. Victorious as Hannibal had been in battle, the army which had struggled through the Alps had in the year which had elapsed, greatly diminished in numbers. Trebia and Trasimene had both lessened their strength, but their losses had been much heavier in the terrible march across the Apennines in the spring, and by fevers subsequently contracted from the pestiferous malaria of the marshes in the summer. In point of numbers the gaps had been filled up by the contingents furnished by their Gaulish allies. But the loss of all the elephants, of a great number of the cavalry, and of the Carthaginian troops, who formed the backbone of the army, was not to be replaced.
"Malchus," Hannibal said, "you know what we were speaking of yesterday evening. It is absolutely necessary that we should receive reinforcements. If Carthage aids me I regard victory as certain. Two or three campaigns like the last would alike break down the strength of Rome, and will detach her allies from her.
"The Latins and the other Italian tribes, when they find that Rome is powerless to protect them, that their flocks and herds, their crops and possessions are at our mercy, will at length become weary of supporting her cause, and will cast in their lot with us; but if the strife is to be continued, Carthage must make an effort -- must rouse herself from the lethargy in which she appears to be sunk. It is impossible for me to leave the army, nor can I well spare Mago. The cavalry are devoted to him, and losing him would be like losing my right hand; yet it is clear that someone must go to Carthage who can speak in my name, and can represent the true situation here.
"Will you undertake the mission? It is one of great danger. In the first place you will have to make your way by sea to Greece, and thence take ship for Carthage. When you arrive there you will be bitterly opposed by Hanno and his faction, who are now all powerful, and it may be that your mission may cost you your life; for not only do these men hate me and all connected with me, but, like most demagogues, they place their own selfish aims and ends, the advantage of their own faction, and the furtherance of their own schemes far above the general welfare of the state, the loss of all the colonies of Carthage, and the destruction of her imperial power. The loss of national prestige and honour are to these men as nothing in comparison with the question whether they can retain their places and emoluments as rulers of Carthage.
"Rome is divided as we are, her patricians and plebeians are ever bitterly opposed to each other; but at present patriotism rises above party, and both sink their disputes when the national cause is at stake. The time will doubtless come -- that is, unless we cut her course short -- that as Rome increases in wealth and in luxury she will suffer from the like evils that are destroying Carthage. Party exigencies will rise above patriotic considerations, and Rome will fall to pieces unless she finds some man strong and vigourous enough to grasp the whole power of the state, to silence the chattering of the politicians, and to rule her with a rod of iron. But I am wandering from my subject. Will you undertake this mission?"
"I will," Malchus replied firmly, "if you think me worthy of it. I have no eloquence as a speaker, and know nothing of the arts of the politician."
"There will be plenty of our friends there who will be able to harangue the multitude," Hannibal replied. "It is your presence there as the representative of the army, as my kinsman, and as the son of the general who did such good service to the state that will profit our cause.
"It is your mission to tell Carthage that now is her time or never; that Rome already totters from the blows I have struck her, and that another blow only is requisite to stretch her in the dust. A mighty effort is needed to overthrow once for all our great rival.
"Sacrifices will be needed, and great ones, to obtain the object, but Rome once fallen the future of Carthage is secure. What is needed is that Carthage should obtain and keep the command of the sea for two years, that at least twenty-five thousand men should be sent over in the spring, and as many in the spring following. With such reinforcements I will undertake to destroy absolutely the power of Rome. Tomorrow I will furnish you with letters to our friends at home, giving full details as to the course they should pursue and particulars of our needs.
"A party of horse shall accompany you to the coast, with a score of men used to navigation. There you will seize a ship and sail for Corinth, whence you will have no difficulty in obtaining passage to Carthage."
After nightfall the next day Malchus started, taking Nessus with him as his attendant and companion. The party travelled all night, and in the morning the long line of the sea was visible from the summits of the hills they were crossing. They waited for some hours to rest and refresh their horses, and then, continuing their journey, came down in the afternoon upon a little port at the mouth of the river Biferno. So unexpected was their approach that the inhabitants had not time to shut their gates, and the troops entered the town without resistance, the people all flying to their houses.
Malchus at once proclaimed that the Carthaginians came as friends, and would, if, unmolested, injure no one; but if any armed attempt was made against them they would sack and destroy the town. Two or three vessels were lying in the port; Malchus took possession of the largest, and, putting his party of seamen on board her, ordered the crew to sail for Corinth. The horsemen were to remain in the town until the vessel returned, when, with the party on board her, they would at once rejoin Hannibal.
The wind was favourable, and the next morning the mountains of Greece were in sight, and in the afternoon they entered the port of Corinth. The anchor was dropped at a short distance from the shore, the small boat was lowered, and Malchus, accompanied by Nessus, was rowed ashore by two of his own men. These then returned on board the ship, which at once weighed anchor and set sail on her return.
Corinth was a large and busy port, and the arrival and departure of the little vessel from Italy passed altogether unnoticed, and without attracting any particular attention Malchus and his companion made their way along the wharves. The trade of Corinth was large and flourishing, and the scene reminded Malchus of that with which he was so familiar in Carthage. Ships of many nationalities were ranged along the quays. Galleys from Tyre and Cyprus, from Syria and Egypt, from Carthage and Italy, were all assembled in this neutral port.
Corinth was, like Carthage, essentially a trading community; and while the power and glory of the rival cities of the Peloponnesus were rapidly failing Corinth was rising in rank, and was now the first city of Greece. Malchus had no difficulty in finding a Carthaginian trading ship. He was amply supplied with money, and soon struck a bargain that the captain should, without waiting to take in further cargo, at once sail for Carthage.
The captain was much surprised at the appearance in Corinth of a young Carthaginian evidently of high rank, but he was too well satisfied at the bargain he had made to ask any questions. An hour later the mooring ropes were cast off, and the vessel, spreading her sails, started on her voyage. The weather was warm and pleasant, and Malchus, stretched on a couch spread on the poop, greatly enjoyed the rest and quiet, after the long months which had been spent in almost incessant activity. Upon the following day Nessus approached him.
"My lord Malchus," he said, "there are some on board the ship who know you. I have overheard the men talking together, and it seems that one of them recognized you as having been in the habit of going out with a fisherman who lived next door to him at Carthage."
"It matters not," Malchus said indifferently; "I have no particular motive in concealing my name, though it would have been as well that I should be able to meet my friends in Carthage and consult with them before my arrival there was generally known. However, before I leave the ship I can distribute some money among the crew, and tell them that for certain reasons of state I do not wish them to mention on shore that I have been a passenger."
Had Malchus been aware that the ship in which he had taken passage was one of the great fleet of traders owned by Hanno, he would have regarded the discovery of his personality by the sailors in a more serious light; as it was, he thought no more of the matter. No change in the manner of the captain showed that he was aware of the name and rank of his passenger, and Malchus, as he watched the wide expanse of sea, broken only by a few distant sails, was too intent upon the mission with which he was charged to give the matter another moment's thought.
The wind fell light and it was not until the evening of the eighth day after leaving Corinth that Carthage, with the citadel of Byrsa rising above it, could be distinguished. The ship was moving but slowly through the water, and the captain said that unless a change took place they would not make port until late the next morning. Malchus retired to his couch feeling sorry that the period of rest and tranquillity was at an end, and that he was now about to embark in a difficult struggle, which, though he felt its importance, was altogether alien to his taste and disposition.
He had not even the satisfaction that he should see his mother and sister, for news had come a short time before he sailed that their position was so uncomfortable at Carthage that they had left for Spain, to take up their abode there with Adherbal and Anna. His mother was, he heard, completely broken down in health by grief for the loss of his father.
He was wakened in the night by the splash of the anchor and the running out of he cable through the hawse hole, and supposed that the breeze must have sprung up a little, and that they had anchored at the entrance to the harbour. He soon went off to sleep again, but was presently aroused by what seemed to him the sound of a short struggle followed by another splash; he dreamingly wondered what it could be and then went off to sleep again. When he awoke it was daylight. Somewhat surprised at the non-appearance of Nessus, who usually came into his cabin the first thing in the morning to call him, he soon attired himself.
On going to the door of his cabin he was surprised to find it fastened without. He knocked loudly against it to attract attention, but almost immediately found himself in darkness. Going to the porthole to discover the cause of this sudden change, he found that a sack had been stuffed into it, and immediately afterwards the sound of hammering told him that a plank was being nailed over this outside to keep it in its place.
The truth washed across him -- he was a prisoner. Drawing his sword he flung himself with all his force against the door, but this had been so securely fastened without that it did not yield in the slightest to his efforts. After several vain efforts he abandoned the attempt, and sitting down endeavoured to realize the position. He soon arrived at something like the truth: the trading interests of Carthage were wholly at the disposal of Hanno and his party, and he doubted not that, having been recognized, the captain had determined to detain him as a prisoner until he communicated to Hanno the fact of his arrival, and received instructions from him as to whether Malchus was to be allowed to land.
Malchus recalled the sounds he had heard in the night, and uttered an exclamation of grief and anger as he concluded that his faithful follower had been attacked and doubtless killed and thrown overboard. At present he was powerless to do anything, and with his sword grasped in his hand he lay on the couch in readiness to start up and fight his way out, as soon as he heard those without undoing the fastenings of the door.
The day passed slowly. He could hear voices without and footsteps on the deck of the poop overhead, but no one came near him; and after a time his watchfulness relaxed, as he made up his mind that his captors, whatever their intentions might be, would not attempt to carry them out until after nightfall. At last he heard a moving of the heavy articles which had been piled against the door; he sprang to his feet, the door opened two or three inches, and a voice said:
"In the name of the republic I declare you to be my prisoner."
"I warn you I shall resist," Malchus exclaimed. "I am Malchus, the son of Hamilcar, late a general of the republic, and I come to Carthage on a mission from Hannibal. Whatever complaint the state may have against me I am ready to answer at the proper time, and shall not fail to appear when called upon; but at present I have Hannibal's mission to discharge, and those who interfere with me are traitors to the republic, whomsoever they may be, and I will defend myself until the last."
"Open the door and seize him," a voice exclaimed.
As the door was opened Malchus sprang forward, but the lights of several lanterns showed a dozen men with levelled spears standing in front of the cabin.
"I surrender," he said, seeing that against such a force as this resistance would be vain, "but in the name of Hannibal I protest against this interference with the messenger whom he has sent to explain, in his name, to the senate the situation in Italy."
So saying Malchus laid down his shield and sword, took off his helmet, and walked quietly from the cabin. At an order from their superior four of the men laid down their weapons and seized him. In a minute he was bound hand and foot, a gag was forced into his mouth, a cloak thrown over his head, and he was roughly thrown into a large boat alongside the ship.
Short as was the time which he had at liberty, Malchus had thrown a glance over the bulwarks of each side of the ship, and perceived that any resistance would have been useless, for far away lay the lights of Carthage; and it was evident that the vessel had made little progress since he had retired to rest on the previous evening. Had she been inside the harbour he had intended to spring overboard at once and to trust to escape by swimming.
The person in command of the party which had seized Malchus took his place at the helm of the boat, and his twelve agents seated themselves at the oars and rowed away towards Carthage. The town was nearly eight miles away, and they were two hours before they arrived there. The place where they landed was at some distance from the busy part of the port. Two men were waiting for them there with a stretcher. Upon this Malchus was laid, four men lifted it on their shoulders, the others fell in round it as a guard, and the party then proceeded through quiet streets towards the citadel.
The hour was late and but few people were about. Any who paused for a moment to look at the little procession, shrank away hastily on hearing the dreaded words, "In the name of the republic," uttered by the leader of the party. The citizens of Carthage were too well accustomed to midnight arrests to give the matter further thought, save a momentary wonder as to who was the last victim of the tyrants of the city, and to indulge, perhaps, in a secret malediction upon them. Malchus had from the first no doubt as to his destination, and when he felt a sudden change in the angle at which the stretcher was carried, knew that he was being taken up the steep ascent to Byrsa.
He heard presently the challenge of a sentry, then there was a pause as the gates were opened, then he was carried forward for awhile, there was another stop, and the litter was lowered to the ground, his cords were unfastened, and he was commanded to rise. It needed but a glance upwards to tell him where he was. Above him towered the dark mass of the temple of Moloch, facing him was a small door known to every citizen of Carthage as leading to the dungeons under the temple.
Brave as he was, Malchus could not resist a shudder as he entered the portal, accompanied by four of his guards and preceded by a jailer. No questions were asked by the latter, and doubtless the coming of the prisoner had been expected and prepared for. The way lay down a long flight of steps and through several passages, all hewn in the solid rock. They passed many closed doors, until at last they turned into one which stood open. The gag was then removed from Malchus' mouth, the door was closed behind him, he heard the bolts fastened, and then remained alone in perfect darkness.
Malchus felt round the walls of his cell and found that it was about six feet square. In one corner was a bundle of straw, and, spreading this out, he threw himself upon it and bitterly meditated over the position into which he had fallen. His own situation was desperate enough. He was helpless in the hands of Hanno. The friends and partisans of Hannibal were ignorant of his coming, and he could hope for no help from them. He had little doubt as to what his fate would be; he would be put to death in some cruel way, and Hannibal, his relatives, and friends would never know what had become of him from the moment when he left the Italian vessel in the port of Corinth.
But hopeless as was his own situation, Malchus thought more of Hannibal and his brave companions in arms than of himself. The manner in which he had been kidnapped by the agents of Hanno, showed how determined was that demagogue to prevent the true state of things which prevailed in Italy from becoming known to the people of Carthage. In order to secure their own triumph, he and his party were willing to sacrifice Hannibal and his army, and to involve Carthage in the most terrible disasters.
At last Malchus slept. When he awoke a faint light was streaming down into his cell. In the centre of the room was an opening of about a foot square, above which a sort of chimney extended twenty feet up through the solid rock to the surface, where it was covered with an iron grating. Malchus knew where he was. Along each side of the great temple extended a row of these gratings level with the floor, and every citizen knew that it was through these apertures that light and air reached the prisoners in the cells below. Sometimes groans and cries were heard to rise, but those who were near would hurry from the spot, for they knew that the spies of the law were ever on the watch, and that to be suspected of entering into communication with the prisoners would be sufficient to ensure condemnation and death.
It was the sight of these gratings, and the thought of the dismal cells below, which had increased the aversion which Malchus had felt as a boy to enter the bloodstained temple, little as he had dreamed that the day would come when he himself would be lying a prisoner in one of them. He knew that it was useless for him to attempt by shouting to inform his friends in the city of his presence there. The narrowness of the air passage and the closeness of the grating above deadened and confused the voice, unless to a person standing immediately above the opening, and as the visitors to the temple carefully avoided the vicinity of the gratings, it would be but a waste of breath to attempt to call their attention.
As to escape it was out of the question. The cell was cut in the solid rock. The door was of enormous strength, and even could that have been overcome, there were many others which would have to be passed before he could arrive at the entrance to the dungeon.
In a short time a Nubian entered, bearing some bread and a pitcher of water. Malchus addressed him; but the negro opened his mouth, and Malchus saw that his tongue had been cut out, perhaps in childhood, perhaps as a punishment for a crime; but more probably the man was a slave captured in war, who had been mutilated to render him a safe and useful instrument of the officers of the law.
Three hours later the door again opened, and two men appeared. They ordered Malchus to follow them, and led him through a number of meandering passages, until at last, opening a door, they ushered him into a large chamber. This was lighted by torches. At a table in the centre of the room were seated seven figures. In the one seated in a chair very slightly above the others Malchus at once recognized Hanno. His companions were all leading men of his faction.
"Malchus, son of Hamilcar," Hanno said, "what have you to say why you thus secretly come to Carthage?"
"I come not secretly," Malchus replied, "I come hither as the messenger of Hannibal to the senate. I am charged by him to lay before them the exact situation in Italy, to tell them how much he has already accomplished, and what yet remains to be done, and to explain to them the need there is that reinforcements should be despatched to him to carry out his great designs for the annihilation of the power of Rome. I come not in secret. I passed in a ship from Italy to Corinth, and there at once hired a vessel to convey me hither."
"As we are members of the senate," Hanno said, "you can deliver your message to us."
"I fear that it will go no further," Malchus replied. "The fact that I have been thus secretly seized and carried here, shows how far it is your wish that the people of Carthage should know my message. Still, as even in your breasts all patriotism may not yet be dead, and as my words may move you yet to do something to enable Hannibal to save the republic, I will give you the message he sent me to deliver to the senate."
A murmur of angry surprise arose from the seven men at the bold words and the defiant bearing of their prisoner.
"How dare you thus address your judges?" Hanno exclaimed.
"Judges!" Malchus repeated scornfully, "executioners, you should say. Think you that I know not that my death is resolved on? Even if you would you dare not free a noble of Carthage, a son of a general who has lost his life in her service, a cousin of the great Hannibal, after you have thus treacherously seized and thrown him into a dungeon. Cowed as the people of Carthage are by your tyranny, corrupted as they are by your gold, this lawless act of oppression would rouse them to resistance. No, Hanno, it is because I know that my doom is sealed I thus fearlessly defy you and your creatures."
Malchus then proceeded to deliver the message of Hannibal to the senate. He showed the exact situation of affairs in Italy, urged that if the reinforcements asked for were sent, the success of the arms of Carthage and the final defeat and humiliation of Rome were assured; while, on the other hand, if Hannibal were left unaided, his army must in time dwindle away until too feeble to resist the assaults of the Romans and their allies. He warned his hearers that if this catastrophe should come about, Rome, flushed with victory, smarting under the defeats and humiliation which Hannibal had inflicted upon them, would in turn become the aggressor, and would inflict upon Carthage a blow similar to that with which Rome had been menaced by Hannibal.
Hanno and his companions listened in silence. Malchus for a time forgot his own position and the character of the men he addressed, and pleaded with an earnestness and passion such as he would have used had he been addressing the whole senate. When he had finished, Hanno without a word motioned to the jailers, and these, placing themselves one on each side of Malchus, led him back to his cell.