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- The Young Carthaginian - 60/62 -
and it was carried out in due course, and so well was the secret kept that no one in Rome ever doubted that Sempronius had fallen a victim to fever.
Julia's anger in the morning, when she heard that the Gaulish slave girl and the Carthaginian were missing, was great, and she hurried to her mother's room to demand that a hue and cry should be at once made for them, and a reward offered for their apprehension. She had, when informed of the scenes which had taken place in the night, and of the death of Sempronius, expressed great astonishment and horror, and indeed the news that her accomplice had been killed had really shocked her. The sentiment, however, had faded to insignificance in the anger which she felt when, as the narrative continued, she heard of the escape of the two slaves.
A stormy scene took place between her and her mother, Julia boldly avowing that she was the author of the scheme which had had so fatal a termination. Flavia, in her indignation at her daughter's conduct, sent her away at once to a small summer retreat belonging to her in the hills, and there she was kept for some months in strict seclusion under the watchful guardianship of some old and trusted slaves.
Malchus, having seen the lion fastened up, had seized the bundle containing his disguise, and hurried away to the gate where Clotilde was awaiting him.
"How long you have been!" she said with a gasp of relief.
"I could not get away until the lion was secured," he said, "for I should have been instantly missed. Now we will be off at once." Both had thrown large dark cloaks over their garments, and they now hurried along through the deserted streets, occasionally drawing aside into bylanes as they heard the tramp of the city watch.
At last, after half an hour's walking, they reached the wall. Malchus knew the exact spot where he had hidden the rope, and had no difficulty in finding it. They mounted the steps and stood on the battlements. The sentries were far apart, for no enemy was in the neighbourhood of Rome. Malchus fastened the rope round Clotilde, and lowered her down over the battlements. When he found that she had reached the ground he made fast the end of the rope and slid down till he stood beside her. They proceeded with the utmost caution until at some distance from the walls; and then shaped their course until, after a long walk, they came down upon the Tiber below the city.
Day had by this time broken, and Malchus bade Clotilde enter a little wood to change her garments and dye her skin. He then proceeded to do the same, and rolling up the clothes he had taken off, hid them under a bush. Clotilde soon joined him again. She wore the dress of a peasant boy, consisting of a tunic of rough cloth reaching to her knees. Her limbs, face, and neck were dyed a sunny brown, and her hair, which was cut quite short, was blackened. Dyes were largely in use by Roman ladies, and Malchus had had no difficulty in procuring those necessary for their disguises.
"I don't think anyone would suspect you, Clotilde," he said; "even I should pass you without notice. What a pity you have had to part with all your sunny hair!"
"It will soon grow again," she said; "and now, Malchus, do not let us waste a moment. I am in terror while those dark walls are in sight."
"We shall soon leave them behind," Malchus said encouragingly. "There are plenty of fishermen's boats moored along the bank here. We shall soon leave Rome behind us."
They stepped into a boat, loosened the moorings, and pushed off, and Malchus, getting out the oars, rowed steadily down the river until they neared its mouth. Then they landed, pushed the boat into the stream again, lest, if it were found fastened up, it might give a clue to any who were in pursuit of them, and then struck off into the country. After travelling some miles they turned into a wood, where they lay down for several hours, and did not resume their course until nightfall.
Malchus had, before starting, entered the kitchen, and had filled a bag with cold meat, oatmeal cakes, and other food, and this, when examined, proved ample for four days' supply, and he had, therefore, no occasion to enter the villages to buy provisions. They kept by the seashore until they neared Terracina, and then took to the hills, and skirted these until they had left the state of Latium. They kept along at the foot of the great range which forms the backbone of Italy, and so passing along Samnium, came down upon the Volturnus, having thus avoided the Roman army, which lay between Capua and Rome.
Their journey had been a rough one, for, by the winding road they had followed along the mountains, the distance they traversed was over one hundred miles. The fatigue had been great, and it was well that Clotilde had had a Gaulish training. After their provisions were exhausted they had subsisted upon corn which they gathered in the patches of cultivated ground near the mountain villages, and upon fruits which they picked in the woods.
Twice, too, they had come upon herds of half wild goats in the mountains, and Malchus had succeeded in knocking down a kid with a stone. They had not made very long journeys, resting always for a few hours in the heat of the day, and it was ten days after they had left Rome before, from an eminence, they saw the walls of Capua.
"How can I go in like this?" Clotilde exclaimed in a sudden fit of shyness.
"We will wait until it is dusk," Malchus said; "the dye is fast wearing off, and your arms are strangely white for a peasant girl's. I will take you straight to Hannibal's palace, and you will soon be fitted out gorgeously. There are spoils enough stored up to clothe all the women of Rome."
They sat down in the shade of a clump of trees, and waited till the heat of the day was past; then they rose and walked on until, after darkness had fallen, they entered the town of Capua. They had no difficulty in discovering the palace where Hannibal was lodged. They were stopped at the entrance by the guards, who gave a cry of surprise and pleasure when Malchus revealed himself. At first they could hardly credit that, in the dark skinned peasant, their own commander stood before them, and as the news spread rapidly the officers of the corps ran down and saluted him with a joyous greeting. While this was going on Clotilde shrank back out of the crowd.
As soon as he could extricate himself from his comrades, Malchus joined her, and led her to Hannibal, who, hearing the unusual stir, was issuing from his apartment to see what had occasioned it. The shouts of "Long live Malchus!" which rose from the soldiers informed him of what had happened, and he at once recognized his kinsman in the figure advancing to meet him.
"My dear Malchus," he exclaimed, "this is a joyous surprise. I have been in vain endeavouring to get you out of the hands of the Romans, but they were obstinate in refusing an exchange; but knowing your adroitness, I have never given up hopes of seeing you appear some day among us. But whom have you here?" he asked as he re-entered his room accompanied by Malchus and his companion.
"This is Clotilde, daughter of Allobrigius, the chief of the Orcan tribe," Malchus replied, "and my affianced wife. Her father has been defeated and killed by Postumius, and she was carried as a slave to Rome. There good fortune and the gods threw us together, and I have managed to bring her with me."
"I remember you, of course," Hannibal said to the girl, "and that I joked my young kinsman about you. This is well, indeed; but we must see at once about providing you with proper garments. There are no females in my palace, but I will send at once for Chalcus, who is now captain of my guard, and who has married here in Capua, and beg him to bring hither his wife; she will l am sure take charge of you, and furnish you with garments."
Clotilde was soon handed over to the care of the Italian lady, and Malchus then proceeded to relate to Hannibal the various incidents which had occurred since he had sailed from Capua for Sardinia. He learned in return that the mission of Mago to Carthage had been unsuccessful. He had brought over a small reinforcement of cavalry and elephants, which had landed in Bruttium and had safely joined the army; but this only repaired a few of the many gaps made by the war, and was useless to enable Hannibal to carry out his great purpose.
"Hanno's influence was too strong," Hannibal said, "and I foresee that sooner or later the end must come. I may hold out for years here in Southern Italy, but unless Carthage rises from her lethargy, I must finally be overpowered."
"It seems to me," Malchus said, "that the only hope is in rousing the Gauls to invade Italy from the north."
"I know nothing of what is passing there," Hannibal said; "but it is clear from the disaster which has befallen our friends the Orcans that the Romans are more than holding their own north of the Apennines. Still, if a diversion could be made it would be useful. I suppose you are desirous of taking your bride back to her tribe."
"Such is my wish, certainly," Malchus said. "As I have told you, Hannibal, I have made up my mind never to return to Carthage. It is hateful to me. Her tame submission to the intolerable tyranny of Hanno and his faction, her sufferance of the corruption which reigns in every department, her base ingratitude to you and the army which have done and suffered so much, the lethargy which she betrays when dangers are thickening and her fall and destruction are becoming more and more sure, have sickened me of her. I have resolved, as I have told you, to cast her off, and to live and die among the Gauls -- a life rough and simple, but at least free."
"But it seems that the Gauls have again been subjected to Rome," Hannibal said.
"On this side of the Alps," Malchus replied, "but beyond are great tribes who have never as yet heard of Rome. It is to them that Clotilde's mother belongs, and we have settled that we will first try and find her mother and persuade her to go with us, and that if she is dead we will journey alone until we join her tribe in Germany. But before I go I will, if it be possible, try and rouse the Gauls to make another effort for freedom by acting in concert, by driving out the Romans and invading Italy. You will, I trust,
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