The Young Carthaginian by G. A. Henty
Chapter XX: The Sardinian Forests
The Carthaginians returned in the evening in groups from the various scenes of their labour and without delay consumed the provisions provided for them. Then one by one they sauntered away down towards the stream. Malchus was the last to leave, and having seen that all his followers had preceded him, he, too, crossed the stream, paused a moment at a heap of debris from the mine, and picking up three or four pieces of rock about the size of his fist, rolled them in the corner of his garment, and holding this in one hand moved up the hill.
Here and there he paused a moment as if interested in watching the groups of slaves eating their evening meal, until at last he reached the upper line of little huts. Between these and the hill top upon which the sentries stood was a distance of about fifty yards, which was kept scrupulously clear to enable them to watch the movements of any man going beyond the huts. The sentries were some thirty paces apart, so that, as Malchus calculated, not more than four or five of them could assemble before he reached them, if they did not previously perceive anything suspicious which might put them on the alert.
Looking round him Malchus saw his followers scattered about among the slaves at a short distance. Standing behind the shelter of the hut he raised his hand, and all began to move towards him. As there was nothing in their attire, which consisted of one long cloth wound round them, to distinguish them from the other slaves, the movement attracted no attention from the sentries, who were, from their position, able to overlook the low huts.
When he saw that all were close, Malchus gave a shout and dashed up the hill, followed by his comrades.
The nearest sentry, seeing a body of fifty men suddenly rushing towards him, raised a shout, and his comrades from either side ran towards him; but so quickly was the movement performed that but five had gathered when the Carthaginians reached them, although many others were running towards the spot. The Carthaginians, when they came close to their levelled spears, poured upon them a shower of heavy stones, which knocked two of them down and so bruised and battered the others that they went down at once when the Carthaginians burst upon them.
The nearest Romans halted to await the arrival of their comrades coming up behind them, and the Carthaginians, seizing the swords, spears, and shields of their fallen foes, dashed on at full speed. The Romans soon followed, but with the weight of their weapons, armour, and helmets they were speedily distanced, and the fugitives reached the edge of the forest in safety and dashed into its recesses.
After running for some distance they halted, knowing that the Romans would not think of pursuing except with a large force. The forests which covered the mountains of Sardinia were for the most part composed of evergreen oak, with, in some places, a thick undergrowth of shrubs and young trees. Through this the Carthaginians made their way with some difficulty, until, just as it became dark, they reached the bottom of a valley comparatively free of trees and through which ran a clear stream.
"Here we will halt for the night," Malchus said; "there is no fear of the Romans pursuing at once, if indeed they do so at all, for their chance of finding us in these mountains, covered with hundreds of square miles of forests, is slight indeed; however, we will at once provide ourselves with weapons."
The five Roman swords were put into requisition, and some straight young saplings were felled, and their points being sharpened they were converted into efficient spears, each some fourteen feet long.
"It is well we have supped," Malchus said; "our breakfast will depend on ourselves. Tomorrow we must keep a sharp lookout for smoke rising through the trees; there are sure to be numbers of charcoal burners in the forest, for upon them the Romans depend for their fuel. One of the first things to do is to obtain a couple of lighted brands. A fire is essential for warmth among these hills, even putting aside its uses for cooking."
"That is when we have anything to cook," Halco said laughingly.
"That is certainly essential," Malchus agreed; "but there is sure to be plenty of wild boar and deer among these forests. We have only to find a valley with a narrow entrance, and post ourselves there and send all the men to form a circle on the hills around it and drive them down to us; besides, most likely we shall come across herds of goats and pigs, which the villagers in the lower valleys will send up to feed on the acorns. I have no fear but we shall be able to obtain plenty of flesh; as to corn, we have only to make a raid down into the plain, and when we have found out something about the general lay of the country, the hills and the extent of the forest, we will choose some spot near its centre and erect huts there. If it were not for the peasants we might live here for years, for all the Roman forces in Sardinia would be insufficient to rout us out of these mountains; but unfortunately, as we shall have to rob the peasants, they will act as guides to the Romans, and we shall be obliged to keep a sharp lookout against surprise. If it gets too hot for us we must make a night march across the plain to the mountains on the eastern side. I heard at Caralis that the wild part there is very much larger than it is on this side of the island, and it extends without a break from the port right up to the north of the island."
Safe as he felt from pursuit Malchus posted four men as sentries, and the rest of the band lay down to sleep, rejoicing in the thought that on the morrow they should not be wakened to take their share in the labours in the mine.
At daybreak all were on the move, and a deep spot having been found in the stream, they indulged in the luxury of a bath. That done they started on the march further into the heart of the forest. The hills were of great height, with bare crags often beetling up among the trees hundreds of feet, with deep valleys and rugged precipices. In crossing one of these valleys Nessus suddenly lifted his hand.
"What is it?" Malchus asked.
"I heard a pig grunt," Nessus replied, "on our right there."
Malchus at once divided the band in two and told them to proceed as quietly as possible along the lower slopes of the hill, leaving a man at every fifteen paces.
When all had been posted, the ends of the line were to descend until they met in the middle of the valley, thus forming a circle. A shout was to tell the rest that this was done, and then all were to move down until they met in the centre. One officer went with each party, Malchus remained at the spot where he was standing. In ten minutes the signal was heard, and then all moved forward, shouting as they went, and keeping a sharp lookout between the trees to see that nothing passed them. As the narrowing circle issued into the open ground at the bottom of the valley there was a general shout of delight, for, huddled down by a stream, grunting and screaming with fright, was a herd of forty or fifty pigs, with a peasant, who appeared stupefied with alarm at the sudden uproar.
On seeing the men burst out with their levelled spears from the wood, the Sard gave a scream of terror and threw himself upon his face. When the Carthaginians came up to him Malchus stirred him with his foot, but he refused to move; he then pricked him with the Roman spear he held, and the man leaped to his feet with a shout. Malchus told him in Italian that he was free to go, but that the swine must be confiscated for the use of his followers. The man did not understand his words, but, seeing by his gestures that he was free to go, set off at the top of his speed, hardly believing that he could have escaped with his life, and in no way concerned at the loss of the herd. This was, indeed, the property of various individuals in one of the villages at the foot of the hills -- it being then, as now, the custom for several men owning swine to send them together under the charge of a herdsman into the mountains, where for months together they live in a half wild state on acorns and roots, a villager going up occasionally with supplies of food for the swineherd.
No sooner had the peasant disappeared than a shout from one of the men some fifty yards away called the attention of Malchus.
"Here is the man's fire, my lord."
A joyous exclamation rose from the soldiers, for, the thought of all this meat and no means of cooking it was tantalizing every one. Malchus hurried to the spot, where, indeed, was a heap of still glowing embers. Some of the men at once set to work to collect dried sticks, and in a few minutes a great fire was blazing. One of the pigs was slaughtered and cut up into rations, and in a short time each man was cooking his portion stuck on a stick over the fire.
A smaller fire was lit for the use of the officers a short distance away, and here Nessus prepared their share of the food for Malchus and his two companions. After the meal the spears were improved by the points being hardened in the fire. When they were in readiness to march two of the men were told off as fire keepers, and each of these took two blazing brands from the fire, which, as they walked, they kept crossed before them, the burning points keeping each other alight. Even with one man there would be little chance of losing the fire, but with two such a misfortune could scarcely befall them.
A party of ten men took charge of the herd of swine, and the whole then started for the point they intended to make to in the heart of the mountains. Before the end of the day a suitable camping place was selected in a watered valley. The men then set to work to cut down boughs and erect arbours. Fires were lighted and another pig being killed those who preferred it roasted his flesh over the fire, while others boiled their portions, the Roman shields being utilized as pans.
"What do you think of doing, Malchus?" Halco asked as they stretched themselves out on a grassy bank by the stream when they had finished their meal. "We are safe here, and in these forests could defy the Romans to find us for months. Food we can get from the villages at the foot of the hills, and there must be many swine in the forest beside this herd which we have captured. The life will not be an unpleasant one, but -- " and he stopped.
"But you don't wish to end your days here," Malchus put in for him, "nor do I. It is pleasant enough, but every day we spend here is a waste of our lives, and with Hannibal and our comrades combating the might of Rome we cannot be content to live like members of the savage tribes here. I have no doubt that we shall excite such annoyance and alarm by our raids among the villages in the plains that the Romans will ere long make a great effort to capture us, and doubtless they will enlist the natives in their search. Still, we may hope to escape them, and there are abundant points among these mountains where we may make a stand and inflict such heavy loss upon them that they will be glad to come to terms. All I would ask is that they shall swear by their gods to treat us well and to convey us as prisoners of war to Rome, there to remain until exchanged. In Rome we could await the course of events patiently. Hannibal may capture the city. The senate, urged by the relatives of the many prisoners we have taken, may agree to make an exchange, and we may see chances of our making our escape. At any rate we shall be in the world and shall know what is going on."
"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.