Chapter III: Carthage
 

Carthage was at that time divided between two factions, the one led by the relatives and friends of the great Hamilcar Barca and known as the Barcine party. The other was led by Hanno, surnamed the Rich. This man had been the rival of Hamilcar, and the victories and successes of the latter had been neutralized by the losses and defeats entailed upon the republic by the incapacity of the former. Hanno, however, had the support of the greater part of the senate, of the judges, and of the lower class, which he attached to himself by a lavish distribution of his vast wealth, or by the common tie of wholesale corruption.

The Barcine party were very inferior in numbers, but they comprised among them the energy, the military genius, and the patriotism of the community. They advocated sweeping reforms, the purification of the public service, the suppression of the corruption which was rampant in every department, the fair administration of justice, the suppression of the tyranny of the committee, the vigourous prosecution of the struggle with Rome. They would have attached to Carthage the but half subdued nations round her who now groaned under her yoke, ground down to the dust by the enormous tribute necessitated by the extravagance of the administration of the state, the corruption and wholesale peculation of its officials.

Hamilcar Barca had been the founder of the party; in his absence at the seat of war it had been led at Carthage by his son-in-law Hasdrubal, whose fiery energy and stirring eloquence had rendered him a popular idol in Carthage. But even the genius of Hamilcar and the eloquence of Hasdrubal would not have sufficed to enable the Barcine party to make head against the enormous power of the council and the judges, backed by the wealth of Hanno and his associates, had it not been for the military successes which flattered the patriotic feelings of the populace.

The loss of Sardinia, Corsica, and Sicily had been atoned for by the conquest of the greater portion of Spain by Hamilcar, and that general might eventually have carried out his plans for the purification of the government of Carthage had he not fallen in a battle with the Iberians. This loss was a terrible blow to the Barcine faction, but the deep feeling of regret among the population at the death of their great general enabled them to carry the election of Hasdrubal to be one of the suffetes in his place, and to obtain for him the command of the army in Spain.

There was the less difficulty in the latter appointment, since Hanno's party were well content that the popular leader should be far removed from the capital. Hasdrubal proved himself a worthy successor of his father-in-law. He carried out the policy inaugurated by the latter, won many brilliant victories over the Iberians, fortified and firmly established Carthagena as a port and city which seemed destined to rival the greatness of its mother city, and Carthage saw with delight a great western settlement growing in power which promised to counterbalance the influence of the ever spreading territory of her great rival in Italy.

After seeing his detachment safely lodged in the barracks Hamilcar and his companions rode along the streets to the Barcine Syssite, or club, one of the grandest buildings in Carthage. Throwing the reins of their horses to some slaves who stood in readiness at the foot of the steps, they entered the building. As they rode through the streets they had noticed that the population appeared singularly quiet and dejected, and the agitation which reigned in the club showed them that something unusual had happened. Groups of men were standing talking excitedly in the great hall. Others with dejected mien were pacing the marble pavement. As Hamilcar entered, several persons hurried up to him.

"Welcome back again!" they exclaimed; "your presence is most opportune at this sad moment."

"What has happened?" Hamilcar asked; "I have but this moment arrived, and rode straight here to hear the news of what has taken place in my absence."

"What! have you not heard?" they exclaimed; "for the last four days nothing else has been talked of, nothing else thought of -- Hasdrubal has been assassinated!"

Hamilcar recoiled a step as if struck.

"Ye gods!" he exclaimed, "can this be so? Hasdrubal the handsome, as he was well called, the true patriot, the great general, the eloquent orator, the soul of generosity and patriotism, our leader and hope, dead! Surely it cannot be."

"It is too true, Hamilcar. Hasdrubal is dead -- slain by the knife of an Iberian, who, it seems, has for months been in his service, awaiting the chance for revenge for some injuries which his family or people have suffered from our arms.

"It is a terrible blow. This morning a swift sailing ship has arrived with the news that the army of Spain have with one voice acclaimed the young Hannibal as their general, and that they demand the ratification of their choice by the senate and people. Need I tell you how important it is that this ratification should be gained? Hanno and his satellites are furious, they are scattering money broadcast, and moving heaven and earth to prevent the choice falling upon Hannibal, and to secure the appointment for Hanno himself or one of his clique. They say that to appoint a youth like this to such a position would be a thing unheard of, that it would bring countless dangers upon the head of the republic. We know, of course, that what they fear is not the youth and inexperience, but the talent and genius of Hannibal.

"Young though he is, his wonderful abilities are recognized by us all. His father, Hamilcar, had the very highest hopes of him, Hasdrubal has written again and again saying that in his young kinsman he recognized his superior, and that in loftiness of aim, in unselfish patriotism, in clearness of judgment, in the marvellous ascendency he has gained over the troops, in his talent in administration, and in the greatness of his military conceptions, he saw in him a genius of the highest order. If it be in man to overthrow the rising greatness of Rome, to reform our disordered administration, to raise Carthage again to the climax of her glory and power, that man is Hannibal.

"Thus, then, on him our hopes rest. If we can secure for him the command of the army in Spain, he may do all and more than all that Hamilcar and Hasdrubal have done for us. If we fail, we are lost; Hanno will be supreme, the official party will triumph, man by man we shall be denounced and, destroyed by the judges, and, worse than all, our hopes of saving Carthage from the corruption and tyranny which have so long been pressing her into the dust are at an end. It is a good omen of success that you have returned from your expedition at such a critical moment. All has gone well with you, I hope. You know the fate that awaits an unsuccessful general here."

"Ay, I know," Hamilcar said bitterly; "to be judged by a secret tribunal of civilians, ignorant of even the rudimentary laws of war, and bent not upon arriving at the truth, but of gratifying their patrons and accomplices; the end, disgrace and execution.

"No, my success has been complete, although not brilliant. I have obtained the complete submission of the Atarantes, and have brought with me ten of their principal chiefs as hostages; but my success narrowly escaped being not only a failure but a disaster. I had in vain striven to come to blows with them, when suddenly they fell upon me at night, and in the desperate combat which followed, well nigh half my force fell; but in the end we inflicted a terrible chastisement upon them and completely humbled their pride."

"So long as you succeeded in humbling them and bringing home hostages for their good behaviour, all is well; the lives of a few score of soldiers, more or less, matters little to Carthage. We have but to send out an order to the tribes and we can replace them a hundred fold in a week; `tis only a failure which would be fatal. Carthage has suffered such terrible disasters at the hands of her tributaries that she trembles at the slightest rising, for its success might be the signal for another general insurrection. If you have humbled the Atarantes, all is well.

"I know the council have been anxiously expecting news of your expedition. Our opinion here has been from the first that, from the small force they placed at your command, they purposely sent you to disaster, risking the chance of extended trouble in order to obtain a ground of complaint by which they could inflame the minds of the populace against our party. But now, I recommend you to take some refreshment at once after your journey. The inner council of the club will meet in an hour, and their deliberations are likely to be long as well as important, for the whole future of our party, and of Carthage itself, depends upon the issue."

"Malchus," Hamilcar said, "do you mount your horse and ride out at once and tell your mother that all has gone well with us, but that I am detained here on important business, and may not return until nightfall."

"May I come back here, father, after I see my mother? I would fain be of some use, if I may. I am known to many of the sailors down at the port; I might go about among them trying to stir them up in favour of Hannibal."

"You may come back if you like, Malchus; your sailors may aid us with their voices, or, should it come to anything like a popular disturbance, by their arms. But, as you know, in the voting the common people count for nothing, it is the citizens only who elect, the traders, shopkeepers, and employers of labour. Common people count for no more than the slaves, save when it comes to a popular tumult, and they frighten the shopkeeping class into voting in accordance with their views. However, we will leave no stone unturned that may conduce to our success. Do not hurry away from home, my boy, for your mother would think it unkind after three months' absence. Our council is likely to last for some hours; when it is at an end I will look for you here and tell you what has been determined upon."

Malchus mounted his horse and rode out through the narrow streets of the lower city, through the gateway leading into the suburb, then he loosed the rein and the horse started at a gallop along the broad road, lined with stately mansions, and in a quarter of an hour stopped in front of the villa of Hamilcar.

Throwing his bridle to a slave he ran up the broad steps of the portico and entered the hall. His mother, a stately woman, clad in a long flowing garment of rich material embroidered in gold, arms and neck bare, her hair bound up in a knot at the back of her head, which was encircled by a golden fillet, with pendants of the same metal encrusted with gems falling on her forehead, rose eagerly to meet him, and his two sisters, girls older than himself, clad in white robes, confined at the waist with golden belts, leaped to their feet with a cry of gladness.

"Welcome back, my own son," his mother said; "all is well, I hope, with your father; It is so, I am sure, for I should read evil news in your face."

"He is well, mother, well and victorious, though we had a rare fight for it, I can tell you. But he is kept at the Barcine Syssite on matters connected with this terrible business of the death of Hasdrubal. He bade me give you his love, and say he would be back here as soon as he could get away."

"It is terrible news indeed, Malchus. The loss is a grievous blow to Carthage, but especially to us who are his near kinsfolk; but for the moment let us set it aside and talk of your doings. How the sun has bronzed your face, child! You seem to have grown taller and stouter since you have been away.

"Yes," one of the sisters laughed, "the child is growing up, mother; you will have to choose another name for him."

"I think it is about time," Malchus said, joining in the laugh, "considering that I have killed a lion and have taken part in a desperate hand-to-hand fight with the wild Atarantes. I think even my mother must own that l am attaining the dignity of youth."

"I wonder your father let you take part in such strife," the mother said anxiously; "he promised me that he would, as far as possible, keep you out of danger."

"Why, mother," Malchus said indignantly, "you don't suppose that my father was going to coddle me as he might do one of the girls here. You know he has promised that I shall soon enter the Carthaginian guard, and fight in the next campaign. I think it has been very hard on me not to have had a chance of distinguishing myself as my cousin Hannibal did when he was no older than I am."

"Poor boy," his sister laughed, "he has indeed been unfortunate. Who can say but that if he had only had opportunities he would have been a general by this time, and that Rome would have been trembling at the clash of his armour."

Malchus joined heartily in the laugh about himself.

"I shall never grow to be a general," he said, "unless you get me some food; it is past midday, and I have not broken my fast this morning. I warn you that I shall not tell you a word of our adventures until I have eaten, therefore the sooner you order a meal to be served the better."

The meal was speedily served, and then for an hour Malchus sat with his mother and sisters, giving them a history of the expedition. There was a little playful grumbling on the part of his sisters when he told them that he was going to return to the Syssite to hear what had been determined by the conclave.

"Surely you can wait until our father returns here, Malchus," Thyra, the elder, said.

"Yes; but I may be useful," Malchus replied. "There will be lots to be done, and we shall all do our utmost."

"Listen to him, mother," Anna, the younger sister, said, clapping her hands; "this comes of slaying lions and combating with the Atarantes; do not let us hinder him; beg the slaves to bring round a horse instantly. Carthage totters, let Malchus fly to its support. What part are you thinking of taking, my brother, do you mean to harangue the people, or to urge the galley slaves to revolt, or to lead the troops against the council?"

The two girls burst into a peal of merry laughter, in which Malchus, although colouring a little, joined heartily.

"You are too bad, Anna; what I want is, of course, to hear what has been done, and to join in the excitement, and really I am not such a boy as you girls think me, just because you happen to be two or three years older than I am. You persist in regarding me as a child; father doesn't do so, and I can tell you I may be more good than you think."

"Well, go along, Malchus, do not let us keep you, and don't get into mischief and remember, my boy," his mother added, "that Carthage is a place where it is well that no one should make more enemies than he can help. A secret foe in the council or among the judges is enough to ruin the strongest. You know how many have been crucified or pressed to death without a shadow of pretext, save that they had foes. I would not see you other than your father's son; you will belong, of course, to the Barcine party, but there is no occasion to draw enmity and hate upon yourself before you are in a position to do real service to the cause. And now ride off with you; I know all our words are falling on deaf ears, and that willful lads will go their own way."

A few minutes later and Malchus was on his way back to the club. On his arrival there he found that the sitting of the inner council was not yet finished. The building was thronged with the adherents of the party waiting to ascertain what course was determined upon. He presently came across Adherbal and Giscon. The former, as usual, was gay, light hearted, and disposed to view matters in a humorous light; Giscon was stern and moody.

"So, here you are again, Malchus," Adherbal said. "I thought you would soon be back. I am glad you have come, for Giscon here grows monotonous as a companion. Nature in making him forgot to give him that spice of humour which is to existence what seasoning is to meat. I am ready to fight if it comes to fighting, to orate if talking is necessary, and to do anything else which may be within the limits of my powers, but I can't for the life of me take matters as if the existence of the state depended on me alone. I have already heard that all is well with you at home. I shall ride out there and see your mother when this business is over. What they can find to talk about so long I can't make out.

"The question is a simple one, surely. Will it be better for Carthage at large, and our party in particular, for Hannibal to stay at the head of the army in Spain, or to come home and bring the influence of his popularity and reputation to bear upon the populace? There is the question put in a nutshell, and if they can't decide upon it let them toss up. There is virtue, I am ready to maintain, in an appeal to dame Fortune.

"Look round now, Malchus, is it not amusing to study men's characters. Look at little Philene going about among the groups, standing on tiptoe to whisper into the ear first of one and then of another. He prides himself on his knowledge of affairs, and in his heart believes that he is shamefully wronged inasmuch as he is not already on the secret committee.

"Look at Bomilca leaning against that pillar and lazily pulling his mustache, an easygoing giant, who looks upon the whole thing as a nuisance, but who, if he received orders from the conclave, would put himself at the head of the Libyans, and would march to storm Hanno's house, and to slaughter his Nubian guard without a question.

"Look at Magon's face of importance as he walks about without speaking to anyone. He is trying to convey to all the impression that he knows perfectly well what is going on inside, and could if he chose tell you what the decision will be. There is Carthalon, who is thinking at present, I warrant, more of the match which he has made of his Arab steed against that of his comrade Phano, than of the matter in hand. But see, there is a stir, the curtains are drawing aside at last, the meeting is over."

As he spoke the heavy curtains which shut off an inner room from the hall were drawn aside, and the council of the Syssite came out. Each was speedily surrounded by a group of the members of his own family, or those who specially looked up to him as a leader. Malchus and the two young officers were among those who gathered round Hamilcar.

"It has been decided," the general said, "that Hannibal shall be retained in his command. Therefore, now let all set to work, each in his own sphere. The populace must be stirred up. We have a small majority in the council, but the middle class, the men who will vote, are with Hanno. Some have been bought with his gold, some of the weak fools dream that Carthage can be great simply as a trading power without army or navy, and think only of the present advantage they would gain by remission of taxation. It is these we have to fear, and we must operate upon them by means of the populace.

"If the people gather in the streets and shout for Hannibal, these cowards will hesitate. They are accessible only in their moneybags, and rather than risk a riot they would vote for the destruction of Moloch's temple. Giscon and Adherbal, do you go to the barracks, get as many of your comrades together as are of our way of thinking, talk to the soldiers of the glories of Hamilcar Barca, of the rich booty they won under him, of the glory of their arms when he led them, tell them that in Hannibal they have their old commander revived, and that Hanno and his companions seek only to have him removed, because they fear that the luster of his deeds will overshadow them.

"Urge that he is the elect of the army of Spain, that the voice of the soldiers has acclaimed him, and that the troops here should join their voices to those of their comrades in Spain. They too may ere long have to take share in the war, and would it not be far better for them to be led by a soldier like Hannibal than by Hanno, whose incapacity has been proved a score of times, and who is solely chosen because he is rich, and because he has pandered to the fat traders and lazy shopkeepers?

"Do you, Stryphex, go to the weavers' quarter; you have influence there. Work upon the men, point out to them how, since Hamilcar and Hasdrubal have conquered Spain, and the gold and silver from the mines have poured into Carthage, their trade has flourished. Before that gold was scarce known in the city, none could purchase their choice productions, their wages would scarce keep the wolf from the door. Show them that under Hanno disaster will be sure to befall our arms, that the Iberians will reconquer their soil, that the mines will be lost, and we shall have to return to the leather money of twenty years back."

So one by one Hamilcar despatched the groups round him on various missions, until Malchus alone remained.

"You, Malchus, can, as you suggested, go down to the port; ask the sailors and fishermen what will become of their trade were the Roman galleys cruising in our bay. Point out that our conquests in Spain have already caused the greatest alarm in Rome, and that under Hannibal our arms will so flourish that Rome will be glad to come to terms with us, and to leave us free to trade with the world.

"Point out how great is the trade and commerce which Carthagena has already produced. Ask them if they are willing that all this shall be hazarded, in order that Hanno may gratify his personal ambition, and his creatures may wring the last penny from the over taxed people of Carthage. Don't try too much, my boy. Get together a knot of men whom you know; prime them with argument, and send them among their fellows. Tell them to work day and night, and that you will see that their time is well paid. Find out if there are any men who have special influence with their fellows, and secure them on our side. Promise them what they will; the Syssite will spend money like water to carry its object. Be discreet, Malchus; when you have lit the fire, and see that it is well on its way, withdraw quietly."

Malchus hurried off, and in half an hour was down by the port. Through the densely packed district which lay behind the lofty warehouses crammed with goods brought by sea from all parts of the world, he made his way until he reached the abode of a fisherman, in whose boat he often put to sea.

The old man, with three or four grownup sons, was reclining on a pile of rushes.

"Welcome back, my lord Malchus," he said; "glad am I to see you safely returned. We have often talked of you, me and my sons, and wondered when you would again go out for a night's fishing with us. You have come back at the right time. The tunny are just entering the bay, and in another week we shall have rare sport."

"I shall be glad, indeed, of another sail with you," Malchus said; "but at present I have other matters in hand. Hanno and his friends have determined to oppose the appointment of Hannibal to the army in Spain." The fisherman gave a grunt, which signified that the matter was one of which he knew nothing, and which affected him not in the slightest.

"Don't you see the importance of this?" Malchus said. "If Hannibal doesn't get the command our troops will be beaten, and we shall lose all our trade with Spain." The fisherman still appeared apathetic.

"My sons have all taken to fishing," he said indifferently, "and it matters nothing to them whether we lose the trade of Spain or not."

"But it would make a difference," Malchus said, "if no more gold and silver came from Spain, because then, you know, people wouldn't be able to pay a good price for fish, and there would be bad times for you fishermen. But that is not the worst of it. The Romans are so alarmed by our progress in Spain that they are glad to keep friends with us, but if we were driven out from there they would soon be at war again. You and your sons would be pressed for the ships of war, and like enough you might see the Roman fleets hovering on our coasts and picking up our fishing boats."

"By Astarte," the fisherman exclaimed, "but that would be serious, indeed; and you say all this will happen unless Hannibal remains as general in Spain?"

"That is so," Malchus nodded.

"Then I tell you what, my boys," the fisherman said, rising and rubbing his hands, "we must put our oars into this business. You hear what my lord Malchus tells us. Get up, there is work to be done. Now, sir, what is the best way to stop this affair you tell us of? If it's got to be done we will do it, and I think I can answer for three or four thousand fishing hands here who ain't going to stand by any more than I am and see the bread taken out of their mouths. They know old Calcon, and will listen to what he says. I will set about it at once."

"That is just what I want," Malchus said. "I want you and your sons to go about among the fishermen and tell them what is proposed to be done, and how ruinous it will be for them. You know how fond of fishermen I am, and how sorry I should be to see them injured. You stir them up for the next three or four days, and get them to boiling point. I will let you know when the time comes. There are other trades who will be injured by this business, and when the time comes you fishermen with your oars in your hands must join the others and go through the streets shouting 'Hannibal for general! Down with Hanno and the tax gatherers!'"

"Down with the tax gatherers is a good cry," the old fisherman said. "They take one fish of every four I bring in, and always choose the finest. Don't you be afraid, sir; we will be there, oars and all, when you give the word."

"And now I want you to tell me the names of a few men who have influence among the sailors of the mercantile ships, and among those who load and discharge the cargoes; their interest is threatened as well as yours. I am commissioned to pay handsomely all who do their best for the cause, and I promise you that you and your sons shall earn as much in four days' work as in a month's toiling on the sea. The Barcine Club is known to be the true friend of Carthage, the opponent of those who grind down the people, and it will spare no money to see that this matter is well carried out."

The fisherman at once went round with Malchus to the abodes of several men regarded as authorities by the sailors and stevedores. With these, partly by argument, but much more by the promises of handsome pay for their exertions, Malchus established an understanding, and paved the way for a popular agitation among the working classes of the waterside in favour of Hannibal.