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- The Young Carthaginian - 54/62 -
at different points with instructions to keep fires of damp wood burning so that the smoke should act as a guide. It was, however, late on the second day after their leaving the village before they arrived in camp. Here the men set to work to crush the grain between flat stones, and soon a supply of rough cakes were baking in the embers.
A month passed away. Similar raids to the first were made when the supplies became exhausted, and as at the second village they visited they captured six donkeys, which helped to carry up the burdens, the journeys were less fatiguing than on the first occasion. One morning as the troop were taking their breakfast a column of bright smoke rose from one of the hill tops. The men simultaneously leaped to their feet.
"Finish your breakfast," Malchus said, "there will be plenty of time. Slay two more hogs and cut them up. Let each man take three or four pounds of flesh and a supply of meal."
Just as the preparations were concluded the two men from the lookout arrived and reported that a large force was winding along one of the valleys. There were now but six of the herd of swine left -- these were driven into the forest. The grain and other stores were also carried away and carefully hidden, and the band, who were now all well armed with weapons taken in the different raids on the villages, marched away from their camp.
Malchus had already with his two comrades explored all the valleys in the neighbourhood of the camp, and had fixed upon various points for defence. One of these was on the line by which the enemy were approaching. The valley narrowed in until it was almost closed by perpendicular rocks on either side. On the summit of these the Carthaginians took their post. They could now clearly make out the enemy; there were upwards of a thousand Roman troops, and they were accompanied by fully five hundred natives.
When the head of the column approached the narrow path of the valley the soldiers halted and the natives went on ahead to reconnoitre. They reported that all seemed clear, and the column then moved forward. When it reached the gorge a shout was heard above and a shower of rocks fell from the crags, crushing many of the Romans. Their commander at once recalled the soldiers, and these then began to climb the hillside, wherever the ground permitted their doing so. After much labour they reached the crag from which they had been assailed, but found it deserted.
All day the Romans searched the woods, but without success. The natives were sent forward in strong parties. Most of these returned unsuccessful, but two of them were suddenly attacked by the Carthaginians, and many were slaughtered.
For four days the Romans pursued their search in the forest, but never once did they obtain a glimpse of the Carthaginians save when, on several occasions, the latter appeared suddenly in places inaccessible from below and hurled down rocks and stones upon them. The Sards had been attacked several times, and were so disheartened by the losses inflicted upon them that they now refused to stir into the woods unless accompanied by the Romans.
At the end of the fourth day, feeling it hopeless any longer to pursue the fugitive band over these forest covered mountains, the Roman commander ordered the column to move back towards its starting place. He had lost between forty and fifty of his men and upwards of a hundred of the Sards had been killed. Just as he reached the edge of the forest he was overtaken by one of the natives.
"I have been a prisoner in the hands of the Carthaginians," the man said, "and their leader released me upon my taking an oath to deliver a message to the general." The man was at once brought before the officer.
"The leader of the escaped slaves bids me tell you," he said, "that had you ten times as many men with you it would be vain for you to attempt to capture them. You searched, in these four days, but a few square miles of the forest, and, although he was never half a mile away from you, you did not succeed in capturing him. There are hundreds of square miles, and, did he choose to elude you, twenty thousand men might search in vain. He bids me say that he could hold out for years and harry all the villages of the plains; but he and his men do not care for living the life of a mountain tribe, and he is ready to discuss terms of surrender with you, and will meet you outside the forest here with two men with him if you on your part will be here with the same number at noon tomorrow. He took before me a solemn oath that he will keep the truce inviolate, and requires you to do the same. I have promised to take back your answer."
The Roman commander was greatly vexed at his non-success, and at the long continued trouble which he saw would arise from the presence of this determined band in the mountains. They would probably be joined by some of the recently subdued tribes, and would be a thorn in the side of the Roman force holding the island. He was, therefore, much relieved by this unexpected proposal.
"Return to him who sent you," he said, "and tell him that I, Publius Manlius, commander of that portion of the 10th Legion here, do hereby swear before the gods that I will hold the truce inviolate, and that I will meet him here with two officers, as he proposes, at noon tomorrow."
At the appointed hour Malchus, with the two officers, standing just inside the edge of the forest, saw the Roman general advancing with two companions; they at once went forward to meet them.
"I am come," Malchus said, "to offer to surrender to you on certain terms. I gave you my reasons in the message I yesterday sent you. With my band here I could defy your attempts to capture me for years, but I do not care to lead the life of a mountain robber. Hannibal treats his captives mercifully, and the treatment which was bestowed upon me and my companions, who were not even taken in fair fight, but were blown by a tempest into your port, was a disgrace to Rome. My demand is this, that we shall be treated with the respect due to brave men, that we be allowed to march without guard or escort down to the port, where we will go straight on board a vessel there prepared for us. We will then lay down our arms and surrender as prisoners of war, under the solemn agreement taken and signed by you and the governor of the island, and approved and ratified by the senate of Rome, that, in the first place, the garments and armour of which we were deprived when captured, shall be restored to us, and that we shall then be conveyed in the ship to Rome, there to remain as prisoners of war until exchanged, being sent nowhere else, and suffering no pains or penalties whatever for what has taken place on this island."
The Roman general was surprised and pleased with the moderation of the demand. He had feared that Malchus would have insisted upon being restored with his companions to the Carthaginian army in Italy. Such a proposition he would have been unwilling to forward to Rome, for it would have been a confession that all the Roman force in the island was incapable of overcoming this handful of desperate men, and he did not think that the demand if made would have been agreed to by the senate. The present proposition was vastly more acceptable. He could report without humiliation that the Carthaginian slaves had broken loose and taken to the mountains, where there would be great difficulty in pursuing them, and they would serve as a nucleus round which would assemble all the disaffected in the island; and could recommend that, as they only demanded to be sent to Rome as prisoners of war, instead of being kept in the island, the terms should be agreed to. After a moment's delay, therefore, he replied:
"I agree to your terms, sir, as far as I am concerned, and own they appear to me as moderate and reasonable. I will draw out a document, setting them forth and my acceptance of them, and will send it at once to the prefect, praying him to sign it, and to forward it to Rome for the approval of the senate. Pending an answer I trust that you will abstain from any further attacks upon the villages."
"It may be a fortnight before the answer returns," Malchus replied; "but if you will send up to this point a supply of cattle and flour sufficient for our wants till the answer comes, I will promise to abstain from all further action."
To this the Roman readily agreed, and for a fortnight Malchus and his friends amused themselves by hunting deer and wild boar among the mountains. After a week had passed a man had been sent each day to the spot agreed upon to see if any answer had been received from Rome. It was nearly three weeks before he brought a message to Malchus that the terms had been accepted, and that the Roman commander would meet him there on the following day with the document. The interview took place as arranged, and the Roman handed to Malchus the document agreeing to the terms proposed, signed by himself and the prefect, and ratified by the senate. He said that if Malchus with his party would descend into the road on the following morning three miles below Metalla they would find an escort of Roman soldiers awaiting them, and that a vessel would be ready at the port for them to embark upon their arrival.
Next day, accordingly, Malchus with his companions left the forest, and marched down to the valley in military order. At the appointed spot they found twenty Roman soldiers under an officer. The latter saluted Malchus, and informed him that his orders were to escort them to the port, and to see that they suffered no molestation or interference at the hands of the natives on their march. Two days' journey took them to Caralis, and in good order and with proud bearing they marched through the Roman soldiers, who assembled in the streets to view so strange a spectacle. Arrived at the port they embarked on board the ship prepared for them, and there piled their arms on deck. A Roman officer received them, and handed over, in accordance with the terms of the agreement, the whole of the clothing and armour of which they had been deprived. A guard of soldiers then marched on board, and an hour later the sails were hoisted and the vessel started for her destination.
Anxiously Malchus and his companions gazed round the horizon in hopes that some galleys of Capua or Carthage might appear in sight, although indeed they had but small hopes of seeing them, for no Carthaginian ship would be likely to be found so near the coast of Italy, except indeed if bound with arms for the use of the insurgents in the northern mountains of Sardinia. However, no sail appeared in sight until the ship entered the mouth of the Tiber. As they ascended the river, and the walls and towers of Rome were seen in the distance, the prisoners forgot their own position in the interest excited by the appearance of the great rival of Carthage.
At that time Rome possessed but little of the magnificence which distinguished her buildings in the days of the emperors. Everything was massive and plain, with but slight attempt at architectural adornment. The temples of the gods rose in stately majesty above the mass of buildings, but even these were far inferior in size
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