The main body of the natives, with all the spoil which had been collected, moved away to the wood, while the chief, with four of his companions and Malchus, remained with the wounded Romans. It was late in the evening before the Romans returned, after having, as has been said, followed the Numidians right up to Hannibal’s camp. There was some grumbling on the part of the Roman soldiers when they found that their allies had forestalled them with the spoil; but the officer in command was well pleased at finding that the wounded had been carefully attended to, and bade the men be content that they had rendered good service to the public, and that Scipio would be well satisfied with them. The native chief now exhibited the helmet and armour of Malchus, who was led forward by two of his men.
“Who are you?” the commander asked Malchus in Greek, a language which was understood by the educated both of Rome and Carthage.
“I am Malchus, and command the scouts of Hannibal’s army.”
“You are young for such a post,” the officer said; “but in Carthage it is interest not valour which secures promotion. Doubtless you are related to Hannibal.”
“I am his cousin,” Malchus said quietly.
“Ah!” the Roman said sarcastically, “that accounts for one who is a mere lad being chosen for so important a post. However, I shall take you to Scipio, who will doubtless have questions to ask of you concerning Hannibal’s army.”
Many of the riderless horses on the plain came in on hearing the sound of the Roman trumpets and rejoined the troop. Malchus was placed on one of these. Such of the wounded Romans as were able to ride mounted others, and a small party being left behind to look after those unable to move, the troops started on their way.
They were unable, however, to proceed far; the horses had been travelling since morning and were now completely exhausted; therefore, after proceeding a few miles the troop halted. Strong guards were posted, and the men lay down by their horses, ready to mount at a moment’s notice, for it was possible that Hannibal might have sent a large body of horsemen in pursuit. As on the night before, Malchus felt that even if Nessus had so far followed him he could do nothing while so strong a guard was kept up, and he therefore followed the example of the Roman soldiers around him and was soon fast asleep.
At daybreak next morning the troops mounted and again proceeded to the south. Late in the afternoon a cloud of dust was seen in the distance, and the party presently rode into the midst of the Roman army, who had made a day’s march from their ships and were just halting for the night. The commander of the cavalry at once hastened to Scipio’s tent to inform him of the surprising fact that Hannibal had already, in the face of the opposition of the tribes, forced the passage of the Rhone, and that, with the exception of the elephants, which had been seen still on the opposite bank, all the army were across.