Lords of the World - Alfred J. Church

The Two Hasdrubals

Cleanor found the streets of Carthage in a state of the wildest confusion. The news that had brought him back thither in such hot haste had made a profound impression upon the city itself. The name of Scipio was no less powerful a charm at Carthage than it was at Rome. Only it spelt defeat and ruin in Africa, while in Italy it seemed a sure augury of success. Still, the spirit of the nation was not broken. It was one of the characteristics of the great family of mankind to which the people of Carthage belonged to fight desperately when driven to stand at bay. The longest, the most stubbornly defended sieges in history have been when some Semitic people has been reduced to its last stronghold.

The Punic race was now prepared to show the same fierce, unyielding fury of resistance with which, some two centuries later, their Jewish kinsmen were to meet the overpowering assault of the same enemy. One step, not taken without reluctance, but absolutely demanded by the necessities of the situation, was to bring within the walls the army that up to this time had been encamped outside. This force was largely, indeed almost wholly, composed of mercenaries, and Carthage never trusted her mercenaries more than she could help. She had had frequent difficulties with them; once she had been brought by their rebellion almost to ruin. It was a law, accordingly, that they should never be admitted in any great number within the walls. This law had now, perforce, to be repealed. It would be rash to risk a battle in the field, when defeat would mean so much; on the other hand, the defences of the city needed all the men that could be found, if they were to be adequately garrisoned.

Cleanor on his arrival found that the process of moving the outside army into the city was in full swing. The roads that led to the gates were thronged with a motley multitude, for Carthage drew her hired soldiers from a very wide area indeed. There was every variety of hue, from the fair-haired son of Celt or Teuton of Northern Europe, to the thick-lipped, woolly-haired, ebony-coloured negroes, who had been drawn by the report of Carthaginian wealth from remote regions even beyond the Desert. The languages which they spoke were as various as their complexions. It had been said by a writer who told the story of the great revolt of the mercenaries a hundred years before, that the only word which they had in common was some equivalent of to "kill". They were still as polyglot, and, so at least it seemed to Cleanor, almost as savage. Much of the talk that he overheard as he made his way along the crowded roads was unintelligible to him, but he understood enough to make him sure that anger and suspicion were rife among them.

He had intended to propose himself as a guest of the Hasdrubal who commanded the forces within the walls. Hasdrubal was a grandson of King Masinissa, and would be certain to give him a friendly reception. But it was so late in the evening before he could disentangle himself from the throng that blocked all the approaches to the city, that he decided to postpone till the morrow the delivery of his credentials. Under these circumstances he was glad to accept the invitation of Gisco, whom my readers may remember as a staff-officer of the other Hasdrubal, to share his quarters. These were in the guest-hall attached to the palace of the high-priest of Melcart.

A large company of officers was present at the evening meal, and when the wine, which for flavour and strength was fully worthy of priestly cellars, had passed round, there was little reserve in the conversation. Cleanor's presence was unnoticed, or, possibly, as the guest and friend of Gisco, he was supposed to be in sympathy with the views held by the rest of the company. It soon became abundantly clear to the listener that feeling was running very high against the Hasdrubal who commanded the city army.

"I don't like the breed," said one of Cleanor's neighbours. "He has got more than enough of Masinissa's blood in him, and Masinissa, I take it, was about the worst enemy that Carthage ever had."

For anything more definite Cleanor listened in vain. It seemed to be taken for granted that a man with this parentage could not be faithful to his country. That he had betrayed Carthage no one ventured to assert. No one could even bring up against him any instance of mistake or negligence. It was not even denied that he had managed the defence of the city with distinguished success. Certainly no such disaster could be laid to his charge as the crushing defeat which the other Hasdrubal had received some four years before at the hands of King Masinissa. The young Greek had forcibly to repress a strong inclination to speak up for the accused; but he saw that his interference would be useless. The best, in fact the only service that he could do to the unfortunate man was to warn him of his danger.

The question was how the warning was to be given. It was hardly possible to leave the guest-house that night. Sentinels had been placed at the doors, and these could not be passed without the watchword, and this he did not happen to know. All that he could do was to take care that no time should be lost in the morning. Fortunately Gisco, whose chamber he shared,—the guest-house being crowded with company to its fullest capacity,—was the officer on guard for the next day. Just before dawn an orderly roused him from his sleep, and, giving him the watchword for the day, communicated to himself overnight, left him, to relieve the sentries.

Half an hour afterwards, Cleanor, having satisfied the challenge of the sentinel, passed out by the gate, and, hastening through the deserted streets, made the best of his way to the mansion of Hasdrubal. So little did that general suspect any danger that he had not even taken the precaution of placing a sentinel at his gate. The sleepy porter admitted Cleanor without asking a question, though not without a grumble at the unseasonableness of so early a visit.

The huge negro who slept outside the general's door did not let him pass so readily. As the man did not understand a word of either Carthaginian, Latin, or Greek,—no bad qualification for an official who had to refuse troublesome visitors,—argument was useless. Cleanor, who felt that not a moment must be lost in rousing the general, raised his voice to its loudest, with the result that in another minute Hasdrubal opened the door of his chamber.

He had a slight acquaintance with the Greek, knew his story, and had a general idea of the mission from which he had just returned.

"Come in," he said, "you are welcome. And you"—turning to the negro attendant—"fetch two cups of mulsum."

Cleanor briefly stated the cause of his visit, and Hasdrubal heard him with undisturbed calm.

"I hardly know," he said, when the story was finished, "whether I am surprised or not. I must own that I did not expect this particular form of attack, but I did expect that my namesake would do his best to oust me from my place as soon as he had orders to bring his troops within the walls. I quite see that now, when all our army is brought together into one, there must be one general, and I should have been ready to resign. But after what you have told me I must face it out; to resign would be almost to acknowledge that there is something in what these knaves, and the fools that follow them, say. There is to be a meeting of the Senate at noon to-day, and the question of the Command is down for debate. Of course I shall be there. So much for that; but you must understand that I am immensely obliged to you. I had intended to offer you a post on my staff, but, as things are at present, the less you have to do with a suspected man the better for you. If things turn out more favourably than I fear they may—we will certainly talk of this again."

"But, sir," broke in the Greek with some heat, "it is surely impossible that the Senate should listen to such palpable absurdities as this. Why, there is not a general in Carthage who has such a record of successes as yours."

"My dear young friend," replied the general, "you don't know us. The Carthaginians always suspect their generals. We always fight with a rope, so to speak, round our necks. If we are victorious they fear that we shall become too powerful, and protect themselves by the stroke of a dagger or a pinch of poison in our wine. If we are defeated, there is the usual penalty. They crucify us by way of an encouragement to our successors. It is not revenge, it is suspicion that moves them. They cannot imagine that they can be beaten except by treachery. It is a terrible mistake, and Carthage suffers for it by being far worse served than Rome. Rome has a plan that looks like the merest folly. She takes a man because he is popular with the shopmen and artisans of the city and the farmers from the country, and puts him to command her armies. Yet it works well, because the Romans trust each other. What a splendid thing it was that they did when their Consul Varro as nearly as possible brought them to ruin by losing their army at CannŠ! The Senate and the people went out to meet him, and thanked him for not despairing of the Republic. And indeed a Republic where such things are possible need never be despaired of. But it is useless to talk. And now for yourself. Get away from this house as soon as you can, and go by the private door which the negro will show you. No; not another word. Carthage will not let me serve her any more, but she need not lose you also. Farewell!"

Hasdrubal touched a small gong which stood by his bed, and when the negro appeared in answer to the summons gave him the brief instruction:

"The postern-gate for this gentleman."

Cleanor followed his guide, and in a short time was shown out into an unfrequented lane which ran at the back of Hasdrubal's house. He reached his quarters before the other guests had commenced their morning meal.

The prudent course for him to follow was, obviously, to stand aside and watch the progress of events. Yet such prudence was alien to his temper. Hasdrubal was the hereditary friend of his family, and he was related to the old king from whom Cleanor had received such unexpected kindness. There was but the faintest chance that he should be able to give him any help; but to Cleanor it seemed ungrateful, and even inhuman, to stand aloof But what was he to do? To begin with, he was met with what seemed an insuperable difficulty—the meetings of the Senate were of course private. How was he to gain admission? This obstacle, however, was soon removed. Gisco brought him a message from his chief that he had been summoned to attend a meeting of the Senate, and desired his attendance as one of his body-guard.

The meeting of the Senate, held as usual in the temple of Baal-Hammon, otherwise known as Moloch, was an imposing scene. On two thrones in the eastern semicircular recess of the building—corresponding to the sanctuary in the Hebrew temple or the chancel or apse in a Christian church—sat the two kings or Shophetim, wearing robes of the richest Tyrian purple, with richly-jeweled diadems on their heads. Facing them were semicircular benches, crowded with the members of the Inner Senate, as it may be called. Scarcely one of the Hundred—this was the number to which it was limited—was absent from his post. Further removed were other benches similarly arranged, and set apart for the Four Hundred or Outer Senate. It was evident at once that, whatever might be the usual custom, this meeting at least was not private. The body of the temple was filled with a vast crowd, separated from the assembly itself by nothing more than a slight barrier of wood. Hasdrubal of the Camp, as we may call him by way of distinction, was seated just within this; his body-guard were ranged close behind him, but on the outer side of the barrier. The other Hasdrubal occupied his usual place as one of the Inner Senate.

The proceedings of the day having been opened with the customary ceremonies, the senior king called upon Mago, son of Hamilcar, to bring forward the motion of which he had given notice. Mago, an elderly man, whose countenance greatly belied him if he was not an incarnation of the Punic bad faith which had passed into a proverb, rose in his place and made a speech of studied moderation.

"Rumours," he said, "have for some days been current in the city that Carthage is not faithfully served by some of those to whom she has committed offices of great dignity and importance. One man has been specially pointed to. For my part I refuse to believe that a soldier who has often distinguished himself in the field can be unfaithful to the country which he has served so well. But the best service that can be rendered to a man accused—may I not say calumniated?—is to give him the opportunity of defence. I accordingly move that Hasdrubal, son of Mago—for why should I refrain from mentioning a name which is on the lips of everyone?—be called upon to give to the Senate any explanations that he may think proper to make."

An approving murmur ran through the crowd when the speaker sat down. The accused man rose in his place,—but before he could speak another senator had intervened.

"I do not see," said this senator, "that Hasdrubal, son of Mago, has anything to explain. No evidence has been brought against him. I have not even heard any charge, except it be that there are rumours against him. What man is there against whom there are not rumours? And the better the man the more malignant the rumours. I move that the Senate proceed to the next business." A murmur, not by any means of approval, rose from the crowd. Hasdrubal, who had resumed his seat while the last speaker was addressing the Senate, rose again.

"I have nothing to explain," he said. "You know me, who I am, and what I have done."

"Yes, we know you!" cried a voice from the crowd. "The grandson of that accursed brigand, Masinissa."

The name was met with a howl of fury from the multitude, followed by deafening cries of "Brigand!" "Traitor!" Hasdrubal faced the uproar without flinching. But it was an hour of such madness as makes men blind and deaf to all that might appeal to their better feelings. Something might be said, not in excuse, but in explanation of the frenzy. An imperial race, reared in traditions of greatness, felt itself to be approaching the hour of servitude or extinction, and it raged like a wild beast in a net. Nothing that came within reach of its fury was likely to be spared. The multitude surged forward, the wooden barrier gave way, and the inclosed space assigned to the senators was crowded in an instant with a raging crowd.

Cleanor caught one glimpse of the doomed man's face, pale but still resolute. The next moment it had disappeared.

He sprang forward, crying, "Save him!" though, unarmed as he was, for no weapon was allowed within the building, he felt miserably helpless. In fact, he could have done nothing, and, fortunately for himself, he was not even permitted to try. His arms were seized from behind, and a cloak was thrown over his head. The next moment he felt himself lifted from the ground, and carried, he knew not whither. He could not even struggle, for both arms and legs had been deftly secured, while his voice was choked by the covering that enveloped his head.

When, half an hour afterwards, the cloak was removed, he found himself in a small chamber, with no companion but a slave, who was apparently a deaf-mute, as he replied to all questions with the single gesture of putting his finger on his lips.

In the course of another half-hour Gisco appeared.

"My dear fellow," he said, "pardon this violence, which would, indeed, be inexcusable, if it had not been the only way of saving your life. Believe me, you have friends who will soon, I hope, find more agreeable ways of showing their good-will than they were forced to this morning. You have been watched ever since you came into Carthage, though you have not known it. The council have spies everywhere, and they know their business. They knew that you were a friend of Hasdrubal, and felt sure that you would do your best to help him. They followed you to his house, they heard what you said to him and he to you, and they brought the report to the chief. He has a great liking for you, and gave me carte blanche  to do what I pleased, if only I could keep you out of danger. So, if there has been anything rude in the method of saving you, it is I whom you must blame. Believe me, you would have sacrificed yourself for nothing. It was impossible to save Hasdrubal. The fact is, he ought to have taken warning long ago, for warning he has had in plenty. Again and again he has been told that a grandson of Masinissa could never be safe in Carthage, and he ought to have gone long ago. Mind, I say nothing against him. He was obstinate, but it was a noble obstinacy. He knew himself to be blameless, and he wanted to save Carthage."

"And what has happened to him?" asked Cleanor.

"The worst, I fear," answered Gisco; "but more I really do not know. I was busy with your affair, and saw nothing."

Cleanor heard the shocking story afterwards from an eye-witness. The crowd, led by some of the senators—his informant was positive on the point that some of the senators had a hand in the deed—had torn up the benches from their fastenings, broken them into fragments, and beaten the unfortunate man to death. The victim had made no resistance—had not even uttered a cry.