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- The Young Carthaginian - 3/62 -
paramount in the law courts, as in every department of state. Every prominent citizen, every successful general, every man who seemed likely, by his ability or his wealth, to become a popular personage with the masses, fell under the ban of the council, and sooner or later was certain to be disgraced. The resources of the state were devoted not to the needs of the country but to aggrandizement and enriching of the members of the committee.
Heavy as were the imposts which were laid upon the tributary peoples of Africa for the purposes of the state, enormous burdens were added by the tax gatherers to satisfy the cupidity of their patrons in the council. Under such circumstances it was not to be wondered at that Carthage, decaying, corrupt, ill governed, had suffered terrible reverses at the hands of her young and energetic rival Rome, who was herself some day, when she attained the apex of her power, to suffer from abuses no less flagrant and general than those which had sapped the strength of Carthage.
With the impetuosity of youth Malchus naturally inclined rather to the aspirations of his kinsman Giscon than to the more sober counsels of his father. He had burned with shame and anger as he heard the tale of the disasters which had befallen his country, because she had made money her god, had suffered her army and her navy to be regarded as secondary objects, and had permitted the command of the sea to be wrested from her by her wiser and more far seeing rival.
As evening closed in the stir in the neighbouring camp aroused Malchus from his thoughts, and the anticipation of the lion hunt, in which he was about to take part, again became foremost.
The camp was situated twenty days' march from Carthage at the foot of some hills in which lions and other beasts of prey were known to abound, and there was no doubt that they would be found that evening.
The expedition had been despatched under the command of Hamilcar to chastise a small tribe which had attacked and plundered some of the Carthaginian caravans on their way to Ethiopia, then a rich and prosperous country, wherein were many flourishing colonies, which had been sent out by Carthage.
The object of the expedition had been but partly successful. The lightly clad tribesmen had taken refuge far among the hills, and, although by dint of long and fatiguing marches several parties had been surprised and slain, the main body had evaded all the efforts of the Carthaginian general.
The expedition had arrived at its present camping place on the previous evening. During the night the deep roaring of lions had been heard continuously among the hills, and so bold and numerous were they that they had come down in such proximity to the camp that the troops had been obliged to rise and light great fires to scare them from making an attack upon the horses.
The general had therefore consented, upon the entreaties of his nephew Adherbal, and his son, to organize a hunt upon the following night. As soon as the sun set the troops, who had already received their orders, fell into their ranks. The full moon rose as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon, and her light was ample for the object they had in view.
The Numidian horse were to take their station on the plain; the infantry in two columns, a mile apart, were to enter the mountains, and having marched some distance, leaving detachments behind them, they were to move along the crest of the hills until they met; then, forming a great semicircle, they were to light torches, which they had prepared during the day, and to advance towards the plain shouting and dashing their arms, so as to drive all the wild animals inclosed in the arc down into the plain.
The general with the two young officers and his son, and a party of fifty spearmen, were to be divided between the two groves in which the camps were pitched, which were opposite the centre of the space facing the line inclosed by the beaters. Behind the groves the Numidian horse were stationed, to give chase to such animals as might try to make their escape across the open plain. The general inspected the two bodies of infantry before they started, and repeated his instructions to the officers who commanded them, and enjoined them to march as noiselessly as possible until the semicircle was completed and the beat began in earnest.
The troops were to be divided into groups of eight, in order to be able to repel the attacks of any beasts which might try to break through the line. When the two columns had marched away right and left towards the hills, the attendants of the elephants and baggage animals were ordered to remove them into the centre of the groves. The footmen who remained were divided into two parties of equal strength. The general with Malchus remained in the grove in which his tent was fixed with one of these parties, while Adherbal and Giscon with the others took up their station in the larger grove.
"Do you think the lions are sure to make for these groves?" Malchus asked his father as, with a bundle of javelins lying by his side, his bow in his hand, and a quiver of arrows hung from his belt in readiness, he took his place at the edge of the trees.
"There can be no certainty of it, Malchus; but it seems likely that the lions, when driven out of their refuges among the hills, will make for these groves, which will seem to offer them a shelter from their pursuers. The fires here will have informed them of our presence last night; but as all is still and dark now they may suppose that the groves are deserted. In any case our horses are in readiness among the trees close at hand, and if the lions take to the plains we must mount and join the Numidians in the chase."
"I would rather meet them here on foot, father."
"Yes, there is more excitement, because there is more danger in it, Malchus; but I can tell you the attack of a wounded lion is no joke, even for a party of twenty-five well armed men. Their force and fury are prodigious, and they will throw themselves fearlessly upon a clump of spears in order to reach their enemies. One blow from their paws is certain death. Be careful, therefore, Malchus. Stir not from my side, and remember that there is a vast difference between rashness and bravery."
CHAPTER II: A NIGHT ATTACK
The time seemed to Malchus to pass slowly indeed as he sat waiting the commencement of the hunt. Deep roars, sounding like distant thunder, were heard from time to time among the hills. Once or twice Malchus fancied that he could hear other sounds such as would be made by a heavy stone dislodged from its site leaping down the mountain side; but he was not sure that this was not fancy, or that the sound might not be caused by the roaring of lions far away among the hills.
His father had said that three hours would probably elapse before the circuit would be completed. The distance was not great, but the troops would have to make their way with the greatest care along the rocky hills through brushwood and forest, and their advance would be all the more slow that they had to take such pains to move noiselessly.
It was indeed more than three hours after the column had left the camp when the sound of a distant horn was heard far up the hillside. Almost instantaneously lights burst out in a great semicircle along the hillside, and a faint confused sound, as of the shouting of a large body of men, was heard on the still night air.
"That is very well done," the general said in a tone of satisfaction. "I had hardly expected it to be so well managed; for the operation on such broken and difficult ground was not easy to carry out, even with the moon to help them."
"But see, father!" Malchus said, "there are many patches of darkness in the line, and the lions might surely escape through these."
"It would not be possible, Malchus, to place the parties at equal distances over such broken ground. Nor are the lions likely to discover the gaps in the line; they will be far too much terrified by the uproar and sudden blaze of light to approach the troops. Hark, how they are roaring! Truly it is a majestic and terrible sound, and I do not wonder that the wild natives of these mountains regard the animals with something of the respect which we pay to the gods. And now do you keep a sharp eye along the foot of the hills. There is no saying how soon the beasts may break cover."
Slowly the semicircle of light was seen to contract as the soldiers who formed it moved forward towards the foot of the hill; but although Malchus kept his eyes strained upon the fringe of trees at its foot, he could see no signs of movement.
The roaring still continued at intervals, and it was evident that the beasts inclosed in the arc had descended to the lower slopes of the hill.
"They may be upon us sooner than you expect, Malchus. Their colour well nigh matches with that of the sand, and you may not see them until they are close upon us."
Presently a Nubian soldier standing behind Malchus touched him on the shoulder and said in a whisper: "There they are!" pointing at the same time across the plain.
Malchus could for a time see nothing; then he made out some indistinct forms.
"There are six of them," the general said, "and they are making for this grove. Get your bows ready."
Malchus could now clearly see the lions approaching. They were advancing slowly, turning occasionally to look back as if reluctant to quit the shelter of the hills; and Malchus could hardly resist a start of uneasiness as one of them suddenly gave vent to a deep, threatening roar, so menacing and terrible that the very leaves of the trees seemed to quiver in the light of the moon under its vibrations. The lions seemed of huge dimensions, especially the leader of the troop, who stalked with a steady and majestic step at their head. When within fifty yards of the grove the lions suddenly paused; their leader apparently scented danger. Again the deep terrible roar rose in the air, answered by an angry snarling noise on the part of the females.
"Aim at the leader," the general whispered, "and have your brands in readiness."
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