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- The Young Carthaginian - 53/62 -

"That is when we have anything to cook," Halco said laughingly.

"That is certainly essential," Malchus agreed; "but there is sure to be plenty of wild boar and deer among these forests. We have only to find a valley with a narrow entrance, and post ourselves there and send all the men to form a circle on the hills around it and drive them down to us; besides, most likely we shall come across herds of goats and pigs, which the villagers in the lower valleys will send up to feed on the acorns. I have no fear but we shall be able to obtain plenty of flesh; as to corn, we have only to make a raid down into the plain, and when we have found out something about the general lay of the country, the hills and the extent of the forest, we will choose some spot near its centre and erect huts there. If it were not for the peasants we might live here for years, for all the Roman forces in Sardinia would be insufficient to rout us out of these mountains; but unfortunately, as we shall have to rob the peasants, they will act as guides to the Romans, and we shall be obliged to keep a sharp lookout against surprise. If it gets too hot for us we must make a night march across the plain to the mountains on the eastern side. I heard at Caralis that the wild part there is very much larger than it is on this side of the island, and it extends without a break from the port right up to the north of the island."

Safe as he felt from pursuit Malchus posted four men as sentries, and the rest of the band lay down to sleep, rejoicing in the thought that on the morrow they should not be wakened to take their share in the labours in the mine.

At daybreak all were on the move, and a deep spot having been found in the stream, they indulged in the luxury of a bath. That done they started on the march further into the heart of the forest. The hills were of great height, with bare crags often beetling up among the trees hundreds of feet, with deep valleys and rugged precipices. In crossing one of these valleys Nessus suddenly lifted his hand.

"What is it?" Malchus asked.

"I heard a pig grunt," Nessus replied, "on our right there."

Malchus at once divided the band in two and told them to proceed as quietly as possible along the lower slopes of the hill, leaving a man at every fifteen paces.

When all had been posted, the ends of the line were to descend until they met in the middle of the valley, thus forming a circle. A shout was to tell the rest that this was done, and then all were to move down until they met in the centre. One officer went with each party, Malchus remained at the spot where he was standing. In ten minutes the signal was heard, and then all moved forward, shouting as they went, and keeping a sharp lookout between the trees to see that nothing passed them. As the narrowing circle issued into the open ground at the bottom of the valley there was a general shout of delight, for, huddled down by a stream, grunting and screaming with fright, was a herd of forty or fifty pigs, with a peasant, who appeared stupefied with alarm at the sudden uproar.

On seeing the men burst out with their levelled spears from the wood, the Sard gave a scream of terror and threw himself upon his face. When the Carthaginians came up to him Malchus stirred him with his foot, but he refused to move; he then pricked him with the Roman spear he held, and the man leaped to his feet with a shout. Malchus told him in Italian that he was free to go, but that the swine must be confiscated for the use of his followers. The man did not understand his words, but, seeing by his gestures that he was free to go, set off at the top of his speed, hardly believing that he could have escaped with his life, and in no way concerned at the loss of the herd. This was, indeed, the property of various individuals in one of the villages at the foot of the hills -- it being then, as now, the custom for several men owning swine to send them together under the charge of a herdsman into the mountains, where for months together they live in a half wild state on acorns and roots, a villager going up occasionally with supplies of food for the swineherd.

No sooner had the peasant disappeared than a shout from one of the men some fifty yards away called the attention of Malchus.

"Here is the man's fire, my lord."

A joyous exclamation rose from the soldiers, for, the thought of all this meat and no means of cooking it was tantalizing every one. Malchus hurried to the spot, where, indeed, was a heap of still glowing embers. Some of the men at once set to work to collect dried sticks, and in a few minutes a great fire was blazing. One of the pigs was slaughtered and cut up into rations, and in a short time each man was cooking his portion stuck on a stick over the fire.

A smaller fire was lit for the use of the officers a short distance away, and here Nessus prepared their share of the food for Malchus and his two companions. After the meal the spears were improved by the points being hardened in the fire. When they were in readiness to march two of the men were told off as fire keepers, and each of these took two blazing brands from the fire, which, as they walked, they kept crossed before them, the burning points keeping each other alight. Even with one man there would be little chance of losing the fire, but with two such a misfortune could scarcely befall them.

A party of ten men took charge of the herd of swine, and the whole then started for the point they intended to make to in the heart of the mountains. Before the end of the day a suitable camping place was selected in a watered valley. The men then set to work to cut down boughs and erect arbours. Fires were lighted and another pig being killed those who preferred it roasted his flesh over the fire, while others boiled their portions, the Roman shields being utilized as pans.

"What do you think of doing, Malchus?" Halco asked as they stretched themselves out on a grassy bank by the stream when they had finished their meal. "We are safe here, and in these forests could defy the Romans to find us for months. Food we can get from the villages at the foot of the hills, and there must be many swine in the forest beside this herd which we have captured. The life will not be an unpleasant one, but -- " and he stopped.

"But you don't wish to end your days here," Malchus put in for him, "nor do I. It is pleasant enough, but every day we spend here is a waste of our lives, and with Hannibal and our comrades combating the might of Rome we cannot be content to live like members of the savage tribes here. I have no doubt that we shall excite such annoyance and alarm by our raids among the villages in the plains that the Romans will ere long make a great effort to capture us, and doubtless they will enlist the natives in their search. Still, we may hope to escape them, and there are abundant points among these mountains where we may make a stand and inflict such heavy loss upon them that they will be glad to come to terms. All I would ask is that they shall swear by their gods to treat us well and to convey us as prisoners of war to Rome, there to remain until exchanged. In Rome we could await the course of events patiently. Hannibal may capture the city. The senate, urged by the relatives of the many prisoners we have taken, may agree to make an exchange, and we may see chances of our making our escape. At any rate we shall be in the world and shall know what is going on."

"But could we not hold out and make them agree to give us our freedom?"

"I do not think so," Malchus said. "It would be too much for Roman pride to allow a handful of escaped prisoners to defy them in that way, and even if the prefect of this island were to agree to the terms, I do not believe that the senate would ratify them. We had better not ask too much. For myself I own to a longing to see Rome. As Carthage holds back and will send no aid to Hannibal, I have very little hope of ever entering it as a conqueror, and rather than not see it at all I would not mind entering it as a prisoner. There are no mines to work there, and the Romans, with so vast a number of their own people in the hands of Hannibal, would not dare to treat us with any cruelty or severity.

"Here it is different. No rumour of our fate will ever reach Hannibal, and had every one of us died in those stifling mines he would never have been the wiser."

The two officers both agreed with Malchus; as for the soldiers, they were all too well pleased with their present liberty and their escape from the bondage to give a thought to the morrow.

The next day Malchus and his companions explored the hills of the neighbourhood, and chose several points commanding the valleys by which their camp could be approached, as lookout places. Trees were cleared away, vistas cut, and wood piled in readiness for making bonfires, and two sentries were placed at each of these posts, their orders being to keep a vigilant lookout all over the country, to light a fire instantly the approach of any enemy was perceived, and then to descend to the camp to give particulars as to his number and the direction of his march.

A few days later, leaving ten men at the camp with full instructions as to what to do in case of an alarm by the enemy, Malchus set out with the rest of the party across the mountains. The sun was their only guide as to the direction of their course, and it was late in the afternoon before they reached the crest of the easternmost hills and looked down over the wide plain which divides the island into two portions. Here they rested until the next morning, and then, starting before daybreak, descended the slopes. They made their way to a village of some size at the mouth of a valley, and were unnoticed until they entered it. Most of the men were away in the fields; a few resisted, but were speedily beaten down by the short heavy sticks which the Carthaginians carried in addition to their spears.

Malchus had given strict orders that the latter weapons were not to be used, that no life was to be taken, and that no one was to be hurt or ill used unless in the act of offering resistance. For a few minutes the confusion was great, women and children running about screaming in wild alarm. They were, however, pacified when they found that no harm was intended.

On searching the village large stores of grain were discovered and abundance of sacks were also found, and each soldier filled one of these with as much grain as he could conveniently carry. A number of other articles which would be useful to them were also taken -- cooking pots, wooden platters, knives, and such arms as could be found. Laden with these the Carthaginians set out on their return to camp. Loaded as they were it was a long and toilsome journey, and they would have had great difficulty in finding their way back had not Malchus taken the precaution of leaving four or five men

The Young Carthaginian - 53/62

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