The Young Carthaginian by G. A. Henty
Chapter VIII: A Plot Frustrated
After leaving Hannibal, Malchus did not rejoin his comrades, but mounted the hills behind the town and sat down there, looking over the sea, and thinking over the vast plan which Hannibal's words had laid before him, and to which his father had once alluded in his presence. Malchus had been brought up by Hamilcar to regard Rome as the deadly enemy of Carthage, but he had not till now seen the truth which Hannibal had grasped, that it was a struggle not for empire only between the two republics, but one of life and death -- that Carthage and Rome could not coexist, and that one or other of them must be absolutely destroyed.
This, indeed, was the creed of the Barcine party, and was, apart from the minor questions of internal reforms, the great point on which they differed from Hanno and the trading portion of the community, who were his chief supporters. These were in favour of Carthage abandoning her colonies and conquests, and devoting herself solely to commerce and the acquisition of wealth. Believing that Rome, who would then have open to her all Europe and Asia to conquer, would not grudge to Carthage the northern seaboard of Africa, they forgot that a nation which is rich and defenceless will speedily fall a victim to the greed of a powerful and warlike neighbour, and that a conqueror never needs excuses for an attack upon a defenceless neighbour.
Hitherto Malchus had thought only of a war with Rome made up of sea fights and of descents upon Sicily and Sardinia. The very idea of invading Italy and striking at Rome herself had never even entered his mind, for the words of his father had been forgotten in the events which followed so quickly upon them. The prospect which the words opened seemed immense. First Northern Spain was to be conquered, Gaul to be crossed, the terrible mountains of which he had heard from travellers were next to be surmounted, and finally a fight for life and death to be fought out on the plains of Italy. The struggle would indeed be a tremendous one, and Malchus felt his heart beat fast at the thought that he was to be an actor in it. Surely the history of the world told of no greater enterprise than this. Even the first step which was to be taken, a mere preliminary to this grand expedition, was a most formidable one.
Saguntum stood as an outpost of Rome. While Carthage had been advancing from the south Rome had been pressing forward from the east along the shores of the Mediterranean, and had planted herself firmly at Marseilles, a port which gave her a foothold in Gaul, and formed a base whence she could act in Spain. In order to check the rising power of the Carthaginians there she had entered into a firm alliance with the Saguntines, whose country occupied what is now the district of Valencia. By the terms of the last treaty between the two republics each was forbidden to make war upon tribes in alliance with their rivals, and Saguntum being thus under the jurisdiction of Rome, an attack upon it would be almost equivalent to a declaration of war.
The position of the city was one of great strength. It stood on an almost isolated rock at the foot of a spur of the mountains which formed an amphitheatre behind it. Around it extended a rich and fertile country, the sea was less than a mile from its walls, and the Romans could thus quickly send succour to their allies. The rock on which the town stood was well nigh inaccessible, falling sheer down from the foot of the walls, and was assailable only on the western side, where the rocks sloped gradually down to the plain. Here the walls were extremely strong and lofty, and were strengthened by a great tower which dominated the whole slope. It would be difficult to form approaches, for the rock was bare of soil and afforded no cover of any kind.
Hitherto the Carthaginian generals had scrupulously respected the territory of the Saguntines, but now that the rest of Spain was subdued it was necessary to reduce this advanced post of Rome -- this open door through which Rome, now mistress of the sea, could at any moment pour her legions into the heart of Spain.
The Saguntines were not ignorant of the danger which threatened them. They had again and again sent urgently to Rome to demand that a legion should be stationed there for their protection. But Rome hesitated at despatching a legion of troops to so distant a spot, where, in case of a naval reverse, they would be isolated and cut off.
Hannibal had not far to look for an excuse for an attack upon Saguntum. On the previous year, while he had been engaged in his campaign against the Carpatans, the Saguntines, taking advantage of his critical position, had made war upon the town of Torbola, an ally of Carthage. Torbola had implored the assistance of Hannibal, and he was now preparing to march against Saguntum with his whole force without waiting for the arrival of spring. His preparations had been silently made. The Saguntines, although uneasy, had no idea of any imminent danger, and the Carthaginian army collected in and around Carthagena were in entire ignorance that they were about to be called upon to take the field.
"What say you, Malchus?" Hannibal asked that evening. "It is time now that I gave you a command. As my near relative it is fitting that you should be in authority. You have now served a campaign, and are eligible for any command that I may give you. You have shown yourself prompt in danger and worthy to command men. Which would you rather that I should place under you -- a company of these giant Gauls, of the steady Iberians, of the well disciplined Libyans, or the active tribesmen of the desert? Choose which you will, and they shall be yours."
Malchus thought for some time.
"In the day of battle," he said at last, "I would rather lead Gauls, but, in such a march as you have told me you are meditating, I would rather have a company of Numidian footmen to act as scouts and feel the way for the army. There would not, perhaps, be so much glory to be obtained, but there would be constant work and excitement, and this will be far better than marching in the long column of the army."
"I think your choice is a good one," Hannibal replied. "Such a corps will be needed to feel the way as we advance, to examine the roads and indicate that by which the column had best move, and to guard against ambushes and surprises. Tomorrow I will inspect the Numidian footmen and will put them through their exercises. We will have foot races and trials of skill with the bow, and I will bid their officers pick me out two hundred of the most active and vigourous among them; these you shall have under your command. You can choose among your comrades of the guards one whom you would like to have as your lieutenant."
"I will take Trebon," Malchus said; "we fought side by side through the last campaign. He is prompt and active, always cheerful under fatigue, and as brave as a lion. I could not wish a better comrade."
"So be it," Hannibal replied, "henceforth you are captain of the advanced company of the army. Remember, Malchus, that the responsibility is a great one, and that henceforward there must be no more boyish tricks. Your company will be the eyes of the army, and upon your vigilance its safety, when we once start upon our expedition, will in no slight degree depend. Remember, too, that you have by your conduct to justify me in choosing my young kinsman for so important a post."
The next day the Numidians were put through their exercises, and by nightfall the two hundred picked men were chosen from their ranks and were placed by Hannibal under the command of Malchus. Trebon was greatly pleased when he found himself appointed as lieutenant of the company. Although of noble family his connections were much less influential than those of the majority of his comrades, and he had deemed himself exceptionally fortunate in having been permitted to enter the chosen corps of the Carthaginian cavalry, and had not expected to be made an officer for years to come, since promotion in the Carthaginian army was almost wholly a matter of family influence.
"I am indeed obliged to you, Malchus," he said as he joined his friend after Hannibal had announced his appointment to him. "The general told me that he had appointed me at your request. I never even hoped that such good fortune would befall me. Of course I knew that you would speedily obtain a command, but my people have no influence whatever. The general says that your company are to act as scouts for the army, so there will be plenty of opportunity to distinguish ourselves. Unfortunately I don't see much chance of fighting at present. The Iberian tribesmen had such a lesson last autumn that they are not likely for a long time to give us further trouble."
"Do not make yourself uneasy on that score, Trebon," Malchus said, "I can tell you, but let it go no further, that ere long there will be fighting enough to satisfy even the most pugnacious."
One evening Malchus had left the club early. Full as he was of the thoughts of the tremendous struggle which was soon to begin between the great antagonists, he wearied of the light talk of his gay comrades. The games of chance, to which a room in the club was allotted, afforded him no pleasure; nor had he any interest in the wagering which was going on as to the merits of the horses which were to run in the races on the following day. On leaving the club he directed his footsteps towards the top of the hill on which Carthagena stood, and there, sitting alone on one of the highest points, looked over the sea sparkling in the moonlight, the many vessels in the harbour and the lagoons stretching inland on each side of the city.
He tried to imagine the course that the army was to follow, the terrible journey through the snow covered passes of that tremendous range of mountains of which he had heard, the descent into the plains of Italy, and the first sight of Rome. He pictured to himself the battles which would have to be fought by the way, and above all, the deadly conflict which would take place before Rome could be carried by assault, and the great rival of Carthage be humbled to the dust. Then he pictured the return of the triumphant expedition, the shouting multitudes who would acclaim Hannibal the sole arbitrator of the destinies of Carthage, and in his heart rejoiced over the changes which would take place -- the overthrow of the faction of Hanno, the reform of abuses, the commencement of an era of justice, freedom, and prosperity for all.
For more than three hours he sat thus, and then awoke to the fact that the night was cold and the hour late. Drawing his bernous tightly round him he descended into the city, which was now for the most part wrapped in sleep. He was passing through the native quarter when a door opened and several men came out. Scarcely knowing why he did so Malchus drew back into a doorway until they had moved on ahead of him, and then followed them at some little distance. At any other time he would have thought nothing of such an incident, but his nerves were highly strung at the moment, and his pause was dictated more by an indisposition to encounter anything which might disturb the current of his thoughts than by any other motive.
In the moonlight he could see that two of the five men ahead of him were members of the Carthaginian horse guard, for the light glittered on their helmets; the other three were, by their attire, natives. Two of the latter soon separated from the others, and on reaching the better part of the town the two Carthaginians turned down a side street, and in the still night Malchus heard the parting words to their neighbour, "At the same place tomorrow night." The remaining native kept straight along the road which Malchus was following. Still onward he went, and Malchus, to his surprise, saw him go up to one of the side entrances to Hannibal's palace. He must have knocked very quietly, or someone must have been waiting to admit him, for without a sound the door was opened and the man entered.
Malchus went round to the principal entrance, and after a little badinage from the officer on guard as to the lateness of the hour at which he returned, made his way to his apartment.
He was puzzled by what he had seen. It was strange that two of the Carthaginian guard, men necessarily belonging to noble families, should have been at a native gathering of some sort in the upper town. Strange, too, that a man probably an attendant or slave belonging to the palace should also have been present. The more he thought of it the more he was puzzled to account for it, and before he went to sleep he came to the resolution that he would, if possible, on the following night discover the object of such a gathering.
Next evening, therefore, he returned from the Syssite early, exchanged his helmet for a skullcap, and, wrapping himself in his cloak, made his way to the house from which he had seen the men come forth. It stood at the corner of the street. Thick hangings hung across the openings for the windows, and prevented even a ray of light from finding its way out. Listening attentively Malchus could hear a low hum of voices within. As there were still people about he moved away for half an hour.
On his return the street was deserted. Malchus put his hand through a window opening into the side street and felt that the hanging was composed of rushes tightly plaited together. With the point of his dagger he very cautiously cut a slit in this, and applying his eye to it was able to obtain a glimpse of the apartment within. On low stools by a fire two Carthaginians were sitting, while four natives were seated on the rushes which covered the floor. Malchus recognized the Carthaginians at once, for they were members of the troop in which he had served. Neither of them were men popular among their fellows, for they belonged to families closely related to Hanno. They had always, however, professed the greatest admiration for Hannibal, and had declared that for their part they altogether repudiated the doings of the party to which their family belonged.
The conversation was carried on in low tones, a precaution absolutely necessary in the day when glass windows were unknown, unless the discourse was upon general subjects. Malchus listened attentively, but although he thought he caught the words Hanno and Hannibal repeated several times, he was unable to hear more. At the end of the half hour the conference was apparently at an end, for all rose to their feet. One of the Carthaginians put a bag, which was evidently heavy, into the hands of one of the natives, and the party then went out. Malchus stepped to the corner and caught the words, "Tomorrow night, then, without fail."
The party then separated, the Carthaginians passing straight on, the natives waiting until they had gone some little distance ahead before they followed. Malchus remained for some little time in the side street before he sallied out and took his way after them. After he saw two of the natives leave the other, he quickened his steps and passed the man, who proceeded alone towards the palace, a short distance before he arrived there. As he did so he glanced at his face, and recognized him as one of the attendants who waited at Hannibal's table. Malchus did not turn his head, however, but kept straight on his way and entered the palace as usual.
"Malchus," the captain of the guard laughed as he went in, "assuredly I shall have to tell Hamilcar of your doings. Last night you entered an hour after every one had retired to rest, tonight you are back in better time, but assuredly you have not been to the Syssite in that hunting cap. This savours of a mystery. Do not pretend to me that you have been looking after your company of Numidians at this time of the night, because, did you swear it by Astarte, I should not believe you."
"No; I think I could invent a better story than that if I were put to it," Malchus said with a laugh; "but as I am not obliged to invent one at all, I will leave you to do so for me. In truth I have been about some private business, but what that business is is a profound secret."
"A secret of state, no doubt," the officer rejoined. "Well, I will say nothing this time; but do not let it occur again, or I shall think that some Iberian maiden has captured that susceptible heart of yours."
After Malchus had reached his chamber he sat down for some time in deep thought. It was clear to him that something was wrong. This secret meeting of the two Carthaginians with natives, one of whom was employed in Hannibal's household, could mean no good. Money had passed, too, and, judging from the size and apparent weight of the bag, no inconsiderable amount. What could it mean? It was but a few months before that Hasdrubal had fallen beneath the dagger of a native servant. Could this be a plot against the life of Hannibal?
The two Carthaginians were connected with Hanno, and might well be agents employed to rid him of his great rival. And yet he had heard nothing which would justify his bringing so grave an accusation against these men. The money which he had seen exchanged might be for the price of a horse or of a slave, and he might only make himself ridiculous were he to speak to Hannibal or his father as to what had occurred. He decided, therefore, that any action he might take must be on his own account. If the words he had overheard meant anything, and if a plot were really on hand, it was to be carried out on the following night. Malchus determined to take steps to meet it.
The next day he took Trebon into his counsels and told him of the mysterious meetings which he had accidentally discovered. There was free access to Hannibal's palace; officers were constantly coming in and out, and soldiers arriving and leaving with messages and orders. Malchus, had, therefore, had no difficulty in passing into his apartment, one by one, ten picked men of his company. They had orders to remain there perfectly quiet, and Trebon also took post with them, Malchus telling him to make some excuse or other to prevent any attendant or slave from entering the apartment while he was absent.
There was a concert that evening; the palace was crowded with guests. From time to time Malchus stole away to his room, where the Numidians were seated on the ground silent and immovable as so many bronze statues. At other times he kept near Hannibal, watching closely the movements of every native who passed near him; and ready to spring forward instantly if he saw any signs of an evil intention. However, he did not much apprehend, that even if his suspicions were correct and a plot was on foot against Hannibal, any attempt would be made to assassinate him in the midst of a crowded assembly, where there would be no possibility of escape for the perpetrators of such a deed. At last the guests began to depart, and an hour later all was quiet in the palace. Laying aside his sandals, Malchus stole noiselessly over the marble pavements until he approached the entrance which he had twice seen opened so late. A slave was lying close to it.
Unobserved Malchus stole away again to his chamber and bade the Numidians follow him. Noiselessly the troop of barefooted Arabs moved shadowlike through the lofty halls and corridors. Two of them he placed at the entrance to the chamber where Hannibal slept, with orders to allow no one to pass until he returned, then with the others he proceeded to the entrance. Few lights only were burning in the passages, and it was not until they were close at hand that the slave perceived the approaching figures. He leaped to his feet, but before he could cry out Malchus stepped forward and said:
"Silence, if you value your life. You know me; I am Malchus the son of Hamilcar. Now, tell me the truth, or tomorrow the torture shall wring it from you. Who placed you here, and why?"
"Carpadon, one of the chief attendants, ordered me to remain here to admit him on his return. I knew not there was harm in it," the slave said.
"Is it the first time you have kept watch for such a purpose?"
"No, my lord, some six or seven times he has gone out late."
"Do you know the cause of his absence?"
"No, my lord, it would not become a slave to question one of the chief attendants of my lord Hannibal as to why he goes or comes."
The man's manner was so natural, and his surprise at the interest which one of the rank of Malchus showed in the doings of an attendant so genuine, that Malchus was convinced he knew nothing of any enterprise in which the man who had placed him there might be engaged.
"Very well," he said, "I will believe what you tell me. Now, do you resume your place at the door, and open it as usual at his signal. Say no word and make no sign which may lead him to know of our presence here. Mind, my eye will be upon you, and your life will pay for any treachery."
Malchus with four of his men now took post on one side of the door, standing well back in the shadow so that their presence would not be noticed by anyone entering. Trebon with the remaining four men took up a similar position on the other side of the doorway.
Two hours passed. At length a low tap followed by two others was heard at the door. The slave at once opened it. Carpadon entered, and with a sudden movement threw one arm round the slave's neck and with the other stabbed him to the heart. Then he opened the door wide, and said in a low tone:
"Enter, all is safe."
In a moment a dark mass of men poured in at the door. The matter was more serious than Malchus had expected. He had looked for the entry perhaps of three or four men, and had intended to close in behind them and cut them off; but here were a score at least, and how many more might be outside he knew not. He therefore gave the signal by shouting "Carthage," and at once with his followers fell upon one flank of the natives, for such their dress showed them to be, while Trebon attacked them on the other. There was a shout of surprise and alarm at the unexpected onslaught, and several were cut down at once. The others, drawing their swords, began to defend themselves, trying at the same time to retreat to the door, through which, however, many others were still pressing in. For a few minutes a severe fight went on, and the numbers and desperation of Carpadon's followers began to tell, and, in spite of the efforts of Malchus and the Numidians, they would have been forced to fall back and allow the others to pass out, had not help been at hand.
The shouting and clashing of weapons had awakened the palace, and the officer of the guard with ten of his men, some of them bearing torches, came running at full speed from their post at the chief entrance. As the guard came up and stood gazing uncertain what to do, or among whom the conflict was raging, Malchus for a moment drew out from the fray.
"Seize and disarm all the natives," he said; "the Numidians are here by my orders."
The instant the soldiers understood the situation they fell to, and the natives, whose retreat was cut off by the Numidians, were speedily disarmed; those nearer to the door had, the instant they saw the torches approaching, taken to flight.
A moment later Hannibal, Hamilcar, and many other officers resident at the palace came running up.
"What means this fray, Malchus?"
"It means an attempt upon your life, Hannibal, which I have been fortunate enough to discover and defeat."
"Who are these men?" Hamilcar asked.
"So far as I know they are natives," Malchus replied. "The chief of the party is that man who lies bleeding there; he is one of your attendants."
One of the soldiers held a torch close to the man's face.
"It is Carpadon," Hannibal said. "I believed him honest and faithful."
"He is the tool of others, Hannibal; he has been well paid for this night's work."
Hannibal gave orders for the prisoners to be strictly guarded, and then, with Hamilcar and Malchus, returned to his private study. The lamps were lighted by the attendants, who then withdrew.
"Now, Malchus, tell us your story," Hannibal said. "It seems strange to me that you should have said nought to your father or me of what you had learned, and left us to take such measures as might seem fit to us, instead of taking the matter into your own hands."
"Had I had certainties to go upon I should assuredly have done so, but, as you will see when I tell you all I had learned, I had nothing but suspicions, and those of the vaguest, and for aught I knew I might be altogether in the wrong."
Malchus then gave the full details of the manner in which his suspicions had been first excited, and in which on the previous night he had taken steps to ascertain whether there were any foundation for them.
"You see," he concluded, "there was no sort of certainty, nothing to prove that the money was not paid for the purchase of a horse or slave. It was only the one fact that one of the party was a servant here that rendered what I discovered serious. Had it not been for the fate of Hasdrubal I should never have given the matter a second thought; but, knowing that he was assassinated by a trusted servant, and seeing two men whose families I knew belonged to Hanno's faction engaged in secret talk with one of your attendants, the suspicion struck me that a similar deed might again be attempted. The only words I had to go upon were, `Tomorrow night, then, without fail.' This was not enough for me to bring an accusation against two men of noble family; and, had I told you the tale without the confirmation it has now received, you would probably have treated it but lightly. I resolved, therefore, to wait and see, taking such precaution that no harm could come of my secrecy. I concealed in my room ten of my Numidians, with my lieutenant Trebon -- an ample force whatever might betide.
"If, as I suspected, this man intended, with two or three others, to steal into your chamber and slay you while you slept, we could at once have stopped the attempt; should he come with a larger force, we could, as is proved, resist them until the guard arrived on the spot. If, on the other hand, night passed off quietly and my suspicions proved to be altogether erroneous, I should escape the ridicule which would certainly have been forthcoming had I alarmed you without cause."
"You have acted very wisely and well, my son," Hamilcar said, "and Carthage owes you the life of our beloved Hannibal. You indeed reasoned with great wisdom and forethought. Had you informed us of what you had discovered we should have taken precautions which would doubtless have effected the object; but they would probably have become known to the plotters, and the attempt would have been postponed and attempted some other time, and perhaps with success. What say you, Hannibal, have I not reason to be proud of this young son of mine?"
"You have indeed, Hamilcar, and deeply am I indebted to him. It is not my life I care for, although that now is precious to me for the sake of my beloved Imilce, but had I fallen now all the plans which we have thought of together would have been frustrated, and the fairest chance which Carthage ever had of fighting out the quarrel with her rival would have been destroyed. Truly it has been a marvellous escape, and it seems to me that the gods themselves must have inspired Malchus to act as he did on such slight grounds as seeing two Carthaginians of the guard in company with three or four natives at a late hour of the evening."
"What do you think will be best to do with the traitors who have plotted against your life, Hannibal? Shall we try and execute them here, or send them to Carthage to be dealt with?"
Hannibal did not answer for a minute.
"I think, Hamilcar, the best plan will be to keep silent altogether as to the danger I have run. The army would be furious but would at the same time be dispirited were it known in Carthage that two of her nobles had been executed for an attempt on my life. It would only cause a fresh outbreak of animosity and an even deadlier feud than before between Hanno's friends and ours. Therefore, I say, let the men taken tonight be executed in the morning without question asked, and let no word be said by them or by us that they were bribed by Carthaginians. All in the palace now know that a party of natives have broken in, and will guess that my life was their object; there is no need that they should know more. As to the two men, I will call them before me tomorrow, with none but you present, and will let them know that I am aware that they are the authors of this attempt, and will bid them resign their places in the guard and return at once to Carthage."
"It grieves me that they should go unpunished," Hamilcar said; "but doubtless your plan is the wisest."
"Then," Hannibal said, rising, "we will to bed again. Malchus, acquaint Trebon of our determination that silence is to be kept; tell him that I shall bear him in mind, and not forget his share in this night's work. As for you, Malchus, henceforth you are more than my cousin; you have saved my life, and I shall never forget it. I shall tell Imilce in the morning of the danger which has passed, for it is sure to come to her ears, and she will know better than I do how to thank you."
Accordingly in the morning Hannibal's orders were carried out; the twelve natives taken prisoners were beheaded without any of the usual tortures which would have been inflicted upon a similar occasion. No less than fourteen others had been killed in the fight. The two Carthaginian nobles were sent for by Hannibal. They came prepared to die, for they knew already by rumour that the attempt had failed, and doubted not when the summons reached them that Carpadon had denounced them as his accomplices. But they went to their certain doom with the courage of their class -- pale, perhaps, but otherwise unmoved. Hannibal was alone with Hamilcar when they entered.
"That assassination is not an altogether unknown crime in Carthage," he said quietly, "I was well aware, but I did not before think that nobles in the Carthaginian horse would stoop to it. I know that it was you who provided the gold for the payment of the men who made an attempt upon my life, that you personally paid my attendant Carpadon to hire assassins, and to lead them to my chamber. Were I to denounce you, my soldiers would tear you in pieces. The very name of your families would be held accursed by all honest men in Carthage for all time. I do not ask you whether I have given you cause for offence, for I know that I have not done so; you acted simply for the benefit of Hanno. Whether you were instructed by him I do not deign to ask. I shall not harm you. The tale of your infamy is known to but four persons, and none others will ever know it. I am proud of the honour of the nobles of Carthage, and would not that the scum of the people should bandy the name of your families on their lips as guilty of so foul an act of treason. You will, of course, at once resign your positions in the Carthaginian horse. Make what pretext you will -- illness or private affairs. Tomorrow sail for Carthage, and there strive by efforts for the good of your country to efface the remembrance of this blow which you would have struck her."
So saying, with a wave of the hand he dismissed them.
They went without a word, too astonished at his clemency, too humiliated by their own disgrace even to utter a word of thanks. When they were fairly beyond the palace they looked at each other as men awakened from a dream.
"What a man!" one of them exclaimed. "No wonder the soldiers adore him! He has given us our lives -- more, he has saved our names from disgrace. Henceforth, Pontus, we, at least, can never again take part against him."
"It is almost too much to bear," the other said; "I feel that I would rather that he had ordered us to instant execution."
"Ay, for our own sakes, Pontus, but not for those of others. For myself I shall retire to the country; it seems to me that never again shall I be able to mix with others; they may know nothing of it, but it will be ever on my mind. How they would shrink back in horror were what we have done whispered to them! Truly, were it not for my family, I would prefer death with the worst torture to life as it will be now."
The excitement in the army was intense when it became known that a body of Iberians had attempted to break into Hannibal's palace with the design of murdering him, and many of the soldiers, seizing their arms, hurried towards the city, and had not an officer ridden with the news to Hannibal, they would assuredly have fallen upon the native inhabitants, and a general massacre would have taken place.
Hannibal at once mounted and rode out to meet the soldiers. He was received with enthusiastic acclamations; at length he raised his arm to restore silence, and then addressed the troops, telling them how deeply he valued the evidence of their affection, but that he prayed them to return to their camps and lay by their arms.
"We must not," he said, "confound the innocent with the guilty. Those who were concerned in the attempt have paid the penalty with their lives; it is not because a handful of Spaniards have plotted against me that you are to swear hatred against the whole race; were you to punish the innocent for the guilty you would arouse the fury of the Iberians throughout the whole peninsula, and all our work would have to be done over again. You know that above all things I desire the friendship and goodwill of the natives. Nothing would grieve me more than that, just as we are attaining this, our efforts should be marred by a quarrel between yourselves and the people here. I pray you, therefore, as a personal favour to me, to abstain from all tumult, and go quietly back to your camp. The attack upon my palace was made only by some thirty or forty of the scum of the inhabitants, and the attempt was defeated by the wisdom and courage of my young cousin Malchus, whom you must henceforth regard as the saviour of my life."
The soldiers at once acceded to the request of their general, and after another outburst of cheering they returned quietly to their camp.
The result of this affair was to render Malchus one of the most popular personages in the army, and the lad was quite abashed by the enthusiastic reception which the soldiers gave him when he passed among them. It removed, too, any feeling of jealousy which might have existed among his former comrades of the Carthaginian horse, for although it was considered as a matter of course in Carthage that generals should appoint their near relatives to posts of high command, human nature was then the same as now, and men not possessed of high patronage could not help grumbling a little at the promotion of those more fortunate than themselves. Henceforth, however, no voice was ever raised against the promotion of Malchus, and had he at once been appointed to a command of importance none would have deemed such a favour undeserved by the youth who had saved the life of Hannibal.