The Young Carthaginian by G. A. Henty
Chapter IV: A Popular Rising
Day after day Malchus went down to the port. His father was well pleased with his report of what he had done and provided him with ample funds for paying earnest money to his various agents, as a proof that their exertions would be well rewarded. He soon had the satisfaction of seeing that the agitation was growing.
Work was neglected, the sailors and labourers collected on the quays and talked among themselves, or listened to orators of their own class, who told them of the dangers which threatened their trade from the hatred of Hanno and his friends the tax collectors for Hannibal, whose father and brother-in-law had done such great things for Carthage by conquering Spain and adding to her commerce by the establishment of Carthagena and other ports. Were they going to stand tamely by and see trade ruined, and their families starving, that the tyrants who wrung from them the taxes should fatten at ease?
Such was the tenor of the orations delivered by scores of men to their comrades on the quays. A calm observer might have noticed a certain sameness about the speeches, and might have come to the conclusion that the orators had received their instructions from the same person, but this passed unnoticed by the sailors and workmen, who were soon roused into fury by the exhortations of the speakers. They knew nothing either of Hannibal or of Hanno, but they did know that they were ground down to the earth with taxation, and that the conquest of Spain and the trade that had arisen had been of enormous benefit to them. It was, then, enough to tell them that this trade was threatened, and that it was threatened in the interest of the tyrants of Carthage, for them to enter heart and soul into the cause.
During these four days the Barcine Club was like the headquarters of an army. Night and day the doors stood open, messengers came and went continually, consultations of the leading men of the city were held almost without a break. Every man belonging to it had his appointed task. The landed proprietors stirred up the cultivators of the soil, the manufacturers were charged with the enlightenment of their hands as to the dangers of the situation, the soldiers were busy among the troops; but theirs was a comparatively easy task, for these naturally sympathized with their comrades in Spain, and the name of the great Hamilcar was an object of veneration among them.
Hanno's faction was not idle. The Syssite which was composed of his adherents was as large as its rival. Its orators harangued the people in the streets on the dangers caused to the republic by the ambition of the family of Barca, of the expense entailed by the military and naval establishments required to keep up the forces necessary to carry out their aggressive policy, of the folly of confiding the principal army of the state to the command of a mere youth. They dilated on the wealth and generosity of Hanno, of his lavish distribution of gifts among the poor, of his sympathy with the trading community. Each day the excitement rose, business was neglected, the whole population was in a fever of excitement.
On the evening of the fourth day the agents of the Barcine Club discovered that Hanno's party were preparing for a public demonstration on the following evening. They had a certainty of a majority in the public vote, which, although nominally that of the people, was, as has been said, confined solely to what would now be called the middle class.
Hitherto the Barcine party had avoided fixing any period for their own demonstration, preferring to wait until they knew the intention of their opponents. The council now settled that it should take place on the following day at eleven o'clock, just when the working classes would have finished their morning meal.
The secret council, however, determined that no words should be whispered outside their own body until two hours before the time, in order that it should not be known to Hanno and his friends until too late to gather their adherents to oppose it. Private messengers were, however, sent out late to all the members to assemble early at the club.
At nine o'clock next morning the Syssite was crowded, the doors were closed, and the determination of the council was announced to the members, each of whom was ordered to hurry off to set the train in motion for a popular outbreak for eleven o'clock. It was not until an hour later that the news that the Barcine party intended to forestall them reached Hanno's headquarters. Then the most vigourous efforts were made to get together their forces, but it was too late. At eleven o'clock crowds of men from all the working portions of the town were seen making their way towards the forum, shouting as they went, "Hannibal for general!" "Down with Hanno and the tax gatherers!"
Conspicuous among them were the sailors and fishermen from the port, armed with oars, and the gang of stevedores with heavy clubs. Hanno and a large number of his party hurried down to the spot and tried to pacify the crowd, but the yells of execration were so loud and continuous that they were forced to leave the forum. The leaders of the Barcine party now appeared on the scene, and their most popular orator ascended the rostrum. When the news spread among the crowd that he was a friend of Hannibal and an opponent of Hanno, the tumult was stayed in order that all might hear his words.
"My friends," he said, "I am glad to see that Carthage is still true to herself, and that you resent the attempt made by a faction to remove the general of the army's choice, the son of the great Hamilcar Barca. To him and to Hasdrubal, his son-in-law, you owe the conquest of Spain, you owe the wealth which has of late years poured into Carthage, you owe the trade which is already doing so much to mitigate your condition. What have Hanno and his friends done that you should listen to him? It is their incapacity which has lost Carthage so many of its possessions. It is their greed and corruption which place such burdens on your backs. They claim that they are generous. It is easy to be generous with the money of which they have plundered you; but let them know your will, and they must bend before it. Tell them that you will have Hannibal and none other as the general of your armies, and Spain is secure, and year by year your commerce with that country will increase and flourish."
A roar of assent arose from the crowd. At the same instant a tumult was heard at the lower entrance to the forum, and the head of a dense body of men was seen issuing from the street, with shouts of "Hanno forever!" They were headed by the butchers and tanners, an important and powerful body, for Carthage did a vast trade in leather.
For a time they bore all before them, but the resistance increased every foot they advanced. The shouts on both sides became louder and more angry. Blows were soon exchanged, and ere long a pitched battle was raging. The fishermen and sailors threw themselves into the thick of it, and for ten minutes a desperate fight raged in the forum. Soon the battle extended, as bodies of men belonging to either faction encountered each other as they hurried towards the forum.
Street frays were by no means unusual in Carthage, but this was a veritable battle. Hanno had at its commencement, accompanied by a strong body of his friends, ridden to Byrsa, and had called upon the soldiers to come out and quell the tumult They, however, listened in sullen silence, their sympathies were entirely with the supporters of Hannibal, and they had already received orders from their officers on no account to move, whosoever might command them to do so, until Hamilcar placed himself at their head.
The general delayed doing this until the last moment. Hannibal's friends had hoped to carry their object without the intervention of the troops, as it was desirable in every way that the election should appear to be a popular one, and that Hannibal should seem to have the suffrages of the people as well as of the army. That the large majority of the people were with them they knew, but the money which Hanno's friends had lavishly spent among the butchers, skinners, tanners, and smiths had raised up a more formidable opposition than they had counted upon.
Seeing that their side was gaining but little advantage, that already much blood had been shed, and that the tumult threatened to involve all Carthage, Hamilcar and a number of officers rode to the barracks. The troops at once got under arms, and, headed by the elephants, moved out from Byrsa Being desirous to avoid bloodshed, Hamilcar bade his men leave their weapons behind them, and armed them with headless spear shafts, of which, with all other things needed for war, there was a large store in the citadel. As the column sallied out it broke up into sections. The principal body marched toward the forum, while others, each led by officers, took their way down the principal streets.
The appearance of the elephants and troops, and the loud shouts of the latter for Hannibal, quickly put an end to the tumult. Hanno's hired mob, seeing that they could do nothing against such adversaries, at once broke up and fled to their own quarters of the city, and Hanno and his adherents sought their own houses. The quiet citizens, seeing that the fight was over, issued from their houses, and the forum was soon again crowded.
The proceedings were now unanimous, and the shouts raised that the senate should assemble and confirm the vote of the army were loud and strenuous. Parties of men went out in all directions to the houses of the senators to tell them the people demanded their presence at the forum. Seeing the uselessness of further opposition, and fearing the consequences if they resisted, Hanno and his friends no longer offered any opposition.
The senate assembled, and, by a unanimous vote the election of Hannibal as one of the suffetes in place of Hasdrubal, and as commander-in-chief of the army in Spain, was carried, and was ratified by that of the popular assembly, the traders and manufacturers of Hanno's party not venturing to oppose the will of the mass of mechanics and seafaring population.
"It has been a victory," Hamilcar said, when, accompanied by a number of his friends, he returned to his home that evening, "but Hanno will not forget or forgive the events of this day. As long as all goes well in Spain we may hope for the support of the people, but should any disaster befall our arms it will go hard with all who have taken a prominent part in this day's proceedings. Hanno's friends have so much at stake that they will not give up the struggle. They have at their back all the moneys which they wring from the people and the tributaries of Carthage, and they will work night and day to strengthen their party and to buy over the lower classes. We are the stronger at present; but to carry the popular vote on a question which would put a stop to the frightful corruption of our administration, to suppress the tyranny of the council, to sweep away the abuses which prevail in every class in the state -- for that we must wait till Hannibal returns victorious. Let him but humble the pride of Rome, and Carthage will be at his feet."
The party were in high spirits at the result of the day's proceedings. Not only had they succeeded in their principal object of electing Hannibal, but they had escaped from a great personal danger; for, assuredly, had Hanno and his party triumphed, a stern vengeance would have been taken upon all the leading members of the Barcine faction.
After the banquet, while Hamilcar and his companions reclined on their couches at tables, a Greek slave, a captive in war, sang songs of his native land to the accompaniment of the lyre. A party of dancing girls from Ethiopia performed their rhythmical movements to the sound of the tinkling of a little guitar with three strings, the beating of a small drum, the clashing of cymbals, and the jingling of the ornaments and little metal bells on their arms and ankles. Perfumes were burned in censers, and from time to time soft strains of music, played by a party of slaves among the trees without, floated in through the casements.
Malchus was in wild spirits, for his father had told him that it was settled that he was to have the command of a body of troops which were very shortly to proceed to Spain to reinforce the army under Hannibal, and that he should allow Malchus to enter the band of Carthaginian horse which was to form part of the body under his command.
The regular Carthaginian horse and foot formed but a very small portion of the armies of the republic. They were a corps d'elite, composed entirely of young men of the aristocratic families of Carthage, on whom it was considered as almost a matter of obligation to enter this force. They had the post of honour in battle, and it was upon them the Carthaginian generals relied principally to break the ranks of the enemy in close battle. All who aspired to distinguish themselves in the eyes of their fellow citizens, to rise to power and position in the state, to officer the vast bodies of men raised from the tributary nations, and to command the armies of the country, entered one or other of these bodies. The cavalry was the arm chosen by the richer classes. It was seldom that it numbered more than a thousand strong. The splendour of their armour and appointments, the beauty of their horses, the richness of the garments of the cavaliers, and the trappings of their steeds, caused this body to be the admiration and envy of Carthage. Every man in it was a member of one of the upper ranks of the aristocracy; all were nearly related to members of the senate, and it was considered the highest honour that a young Carthaginian could receive to be admitted into it.
Each man wore on his wrist a gold band for each campaign which he had undertaken. There was no attempt at uniformity as to their appointments. Their helmets and shields were of gold or silver, surmounted with plumes or feathers, or with tufts of white horsehair. Their breastplates were adorned with arabesques or repousse work of the highest art. Their belts were covered with gold and studded with gems. Their short kilted skirts were of rich Tyrian purple embroidered with gold.
The infantry were composed of men of good but less exalted families. They wore a red tunic without a belt. They carried a great circular buckler of more than a yard in diameter, formed of the tough hide of the river horse, brought down from the upper Nile, with a central boss of metal with a point projecting nearly a foot in front of the shield, enabling it to be used as an offensive weapon in a close fight. They carried short heavy swords similar to those of the Romans, and went barefooted. Their total strength seldom exceeded two thousand.
These two bodies constituted the Carthaginian legion, and formed but a small proportion indeed of her armies, the rest of her forces being entirely drawn from the tributary states. The fact that Carthage, with her seven hundred thousand inhabitants, furnished so small a contingent of the fighting force of the republic, was in itself a proof of the weakness of the state. A country which relies entirely for its defence upon mercenaries is rapidly approaching decay.
She may for a time repress one tributary with the soldiers of the others; but when disaster befalls her she is without cohesion and falls to pieces at once. As the Roman orator well said of Carthage: "She was a figure of brass with feet of clay" -- a noble and imposing object to the eye, but whom a vigourous push would level in the dust. Rome, on the contrary, young and vigourous, was a people of warriors. Every one of her citizens who was capable of bearing arms was a soldier. The manly virtues were held in the highest esteem, and the sordid love of wealth had not as yet enfeebled her strength or sapped her powers. Her citizens were men, indeed, ready to make any sacrifice for their country; and such being the case, her final victory over Carthage was a matter of certainty.
The news which afforded Malchus such delight was not viewed with the same unmixed satisfaction by the members of his family. Thyra had for the last year been betrothed to Adherbal, and he, too, was to accompany Hamilcar to Spain, and none could say how long it might be before they would return.
While the others were sitting round the festive board, Adherbal and Thyra strolled away among the groves in the garden.
"I do not think you care for me, Adherbal," she said reproachfully as he was speaking of the probabilities of the campaign. "You know well that this war may continue in Spain for years, and you seem perfectly indifferent to the fact that we must be separated for that time."
"I should not be indifferent to it, Thyra, if I thought for a moment that this was to be the case. I may remain, it is true, for years in Spain; but I have not the most remote idea of remaining there alone. At the end of the first campaign, when our army goes into winter quarters, I shall return here and fetch you."
"That's all very well," the girl said, pouting; "but how do you know that I shall be willing to give up all the delights of Carthage to go among the savage Iberians, where they say the ground is all white in winter and even the rivers stop in their courses?"
Adherbal laughed lightly. "Then it is not for you to talk about indifference, Thyra; but it won't be so bad as you fear. At Carthagena you will have all the luxuries of Carthage. I do not say that your villa shall be equal to this; but as you will have me it should be a thousand times dearer to you."
"Your conceit is superb, Adherbal," Thyra laughed. "You get worse and worse. Had I ever dreamed of it I should never have consented so submissively when my father ordered me to regard you as my future husband."
"You ought to think yourself a fortunate girl, Thyra," Adherbal said, smiling; "for your father might have taken it into his head to have done as Hamilcar Barca did, and married his daughters to Massilian and Numidian princes, to become queens of bands of nomad savages."
"Well, they were queens, that was something, even if only of nomads."
"I don't think that it would have suited you, Thyra -- a seat on horseback for a throne, and a rough tent for a palace, would not be in your way at all. I think a snug villa on the slopes of the bay of Carthagena, will suit you better, not to mention the fact that I shall make an infinitely more pleasant and agreeable master than a Numidian chief would do."
"You are intolerable, Adherbal, with your conceit and your mastership. However, I suppose when the time comes I shall have to obey my father. What a pity it is we girls cannot choose our husbands for ourselves! Perhaps the time may come when we shall do so."
"Well, in your case, Thyra," Adherbal said, "it would make no difference, because you know you would have chosen me anyhow; but most girls would make a nice business of it. How are they to know what men really are? They might be gamesters, drunkards, brutal and cruel by nature, idle and spendthrift. What can maidens know of a man's disposition? Of course they only see him at his best. Wise parents can make careful inquiries, and have means of knowing what a man's disposition and habits really are."
"You don't think, Adherbal," Thyra said earnestly, "that girls are such fools that they cannot read faces; that we cannot tell the difference between a good man and a bad one."
"Yes, a girl may know something about every man save the one she loves, Thyra. She may see other's faults clearly enough; but she is blind to those of the man she loves. Do you not know that the Greeks depict Cupid with a bandage over his eyes?"
"I am not blind to your faults," Thyra said indignantly. "I know that you are a great deal more lazy than becomes you; that you are not sufficiently earnest in the affairs of life; that you will never rise to be a great general like my cousin Hannibal."
"That is all quite true," Adherbal laughed; "and yet you see you love me. You perceive my faults only in theory and not in fact, and you do not in your heart wish to see me different from what I am. Is it not so?"
"Yes," the girl said shyly, "I suppose it is. Anyhow, I don't like the thought of your going away from me to that horrid Iberia."
Although defeated for the moment by the popular vote, the party of Hanno were not discouraged. They had suffered a similar check when they had attempted to prevent Hannibal joining Hasdrubal in Spain.
Not a moment was lost in setting to work to recover their lost ground. Their agents among the lower classes spread calumnies against the Barcine leaders. Money was lavishly distributed, and the judges, who were devoted to Hanno's party, set their machinery to work to strike terror among their opponents. Their modes of procedure were similar to those which afterwards made Venice execrable in the height of her power. Arrests were made secretly in the dead of night. Men were missing from their families, and none knew what had become of them.
Dead bodies bearing signs of strangulation were found floating in the shallow lakes around Carthage; and yet, so great was the dread inspired by the terrible power of the judges, that the friends and relations of those who were missing dared make neither complaint nor inquiry. It was not against the leaders of the Barcine party that such measures were taken. Had one of these been missing the whole would have flown to arms. The dungeons would have been broken open, and not only the captives liberated, but their arrest might have been made the pretext for an attack upon the whole system under which such a state of things could exist.
It was chiefly among the lower classes that the agents of Hanno' s vengeance operated. Among these the disappearance of so many men who were regarded as leaders among the rest spread a deep and mysterious fear. Although none dared to complain openly, the news of these mysterious disappearances was not long in reaching the leaders of the Barcine party.
These, however, were for the time powerless to act. Certain as they might be of the source whence these unseen blows descended, they had no evidence on which to assail so formidable a body as the judges. It would be a rash act indeed to accuse such important functionaries of the state, belonging, with scarcely an exception, to powerful families, of arbitrary and cruel measures against insignificant persons.
The halo of tradition still surrounded the judges, and added to the fear inspired by their terrible and unlimited power. In such an attack the Barcine party could not rely upon the population to side with them; for, while comparatively few were personally affected by the arrests which had taken place, the fear of future consequences would operate upon all.
Among the younger members of the party, however, the indignation aroused by these secret blows was deep. Giscon, who was continually brooding over the tyranny and corruption which were ruining his country, was one of the leaders of this section of the party; with him were other spirits as ardent as himself. They met in a house in a quiet street in the lower town, and there discussed all sorts of desperate projects for freeing the city of its tyrants.
One day as Giscon was making his way to this rendezvous he met Malchus riding at full speed from the port.
"What is it, Malchus, whither away in such haste?"
"It is shameful, Giscon, it is outrageous. I have just been down to the port to tell the old fisherman with whom I often go out that I would sail with him tomorrow, and find that four days ago he was missing, and his body was yesterday found by his sons floating in the lagoon. He had been strangled. His sons are as much overpowered with terror as by grief, they believe that he has suffered for the part he took in rousing the fishermen to declare for Hannibal a fortnight since, and they fear lest the terrible vengeance of Hanno should next fall upon them.
"How it happened they know not. A man arrived late in the evening and said that one of their father's best customers wanted a supply of fish for a banquet he was to give next day, and that he wanted to speak to him at once to arrange about the quantity and quality of fish he required. Suspecting nothing the old man left at once, and was never heard of afterwards. Next morning, seeing that he had not returned, one of his sons went to the house to which he had been fetched, but found that its owner knew nothing of the affair, and denied that he had sent any message whatever to him. Fearing that something was wrong they searched everywhere, but it was not until last night that his body was, as I have told you, found.
"They are convinced that their father died in no private feud. He had not, as far as they know, an enemy in the world. You may imagine how l feel this; not only did I regard him as a friend, but I feel that it was owing to his acting as I led him that he has come to his death."
"The tyrants!" Giscon exclaimed in a low voice. "But what can you do, Malchus?"
"I am going to my father," Malchus replied, "to ask him to take the matter up."
"What can he do?" Giscon said with a bitter laugh. "What can he prove? Can he accuse our most noble body of judges, without a shadow of proof, of making away with this unknown old fisherman. No, Malchus, if you are in earnest to revenge your friend come with me, I will introduce you to my friends, who are banded together against this tyranny, and who are sworn to save Carthage. You are young, but you are brave and full of ardour; you are a son of General Hamilcar, and my friends will gladly receive you as one of us."
Malchus did not hesitate. That there would be danger in joining such a body as Giscon spoke of he knew, but the young officer's talk during their expedition had aroused in him a deep sense of the tyranny and corruption which were sapping the power or his country, and this blow which had struck him personally rendered him in a mood to adopt any dangerous move.
"I will join you, Giscon," he said, "if you will accept me. I am young, but I am ready to go all lengths, and to give my life if needs be to free Carthage."