“I saw him pass along in his large red cloak, with uplifted arms and higher than the dust, like an eagle flying upon the flank of the cohorts; and at every nod they closed up or darted forward; the throng carried us towards each other; he looked at me, and I felt the cold steel as it were in my heart.”
“He selected the day, perhaps?” whispered Matho to himself.
They questioned each other, trying to discover what it was that had brought the Suffet just when circumstances were most unfavourable. They went on to talk over the situation, and Spendius, to extenuate his fault, or to revive his courage, asserted that some hope still remained.
“And if there be none, it matters not!” said Matho; “alone, I will carry on the war!”
“And I too!” exclaimed the Greek, leaping up; he strode to and fro, his eyes sparkling, and a strange smile wrinkled his jackal face.
“We will make a fresh start; do not leave me again! I am not made for battles in the sunlight—the flashing of swords troubles my sight; it is a disease, I lived too long in the ergastulum. But give me walls to scale at night, and I will enter the citadels, and the corpses shall be cold before cock-crow! Show me any one, anything, an enemy, a treasure, a woman,—a woman,” he repeated, “were she a king’s daughter, and I will quickly bring your desire to your feet. You reproach me for having lost the battle against Hanno, nevertheless I won it back again. Confess it! my herd of swine did more for us than a phalanx of Spartans.” And yielding to the need that he felt of exalting himself and taking his revenge, he enumerated all that he had done for the cause of the Mercenaries. “It was I who urged on the Gaul in the Suffet’s gardens! And later, at Sicca, I maddened them all with fear of the Republic! Gisco was sending them back, but I prevented the interpreters speaking. Ah! how their tongues hung out of their mouths! do you remember? I brought you into Carthage; I stole the zaimph. I led you to her. I will do more yet: you shall see!” He burst out laughing like a madman.
Matho regarded him with gaping eyes. He felt in a measure uncomfortable in the presence of this man, who was at once so cowardly and so terrible.
The Greek resumed in jovial tones and cracking his fingers:
“Evoe! Sun after run! I have worked in the quarries, and I have drunk Massic wine beneath a golden awning in a vessel of my own like a Ptolemaeus. Calamity should help to make us cleverer. By dint of work we may make fortune bend. She loves politicians. She will yield!”
He returned to Matho and took him by the arm.
“Master, at present the Carthaginians are sure of their victory. You have quite an army which has not fought, and your men obey you. Place them in the front: mine will follow to avenge themselves. I have still three thousand Carians, twelve hundred slingers and archers, whole cohorts! A phalanx even might be formed; let us return!”