Scipio was greatly mortified at the intelligence, for he had deemed it next to impossible that Hannibal could carry his army across so wide and rapid a river in the face of opposition. He had little doubt now that Hannibal’s intention was to follow the Rhone down on its left bank to its mouth, and he prepared at once for a battle. Hearing that a prisoner of some importance had been captured, he ordered Malchus to be brought before him. As the lad, escorted by a Roman soldier on each side, was led in, Scipio, accustomed to estimate men, could not but admire the calm and haughty self possession of his young prisoner. His eye fell with approval upon his active sinewy figure, and the knotted muscles of his arms and legs.
“You are Malchus, a relation of Hannibal, and the commander of the scouts of his army, I hear,” Scipio began.
Malchus bowed his head in assent.
“What force has he with him, and what are his intentions?”
“I know nothing of his intentions,” Malchus replied quietly, “as to his force, it were better that you inquired of your allies, who saw us pass the river. One of them was brought hither with me, and can tell you what he saw.”
“Know you not,” Scipio said, “that I can order you to instant execution if you refuse to answer my questions?”
“Of that I am perfectly well aware,” Malchus replied; “but I nevertheless refuse absolutely to answer any questions.”
“I will give you until tomorrow morning to think the matter over, and if by that time you have not made up your mind to give me the information I require, you die.”
So saying he waved his hand to the soldiers, who at once removed Malchus from his presence. He was taken to a small tent a short distance away, food was given to him, and at nightfall chains were attached to his ankles, and from these to the legs of two Roman soldiers appointed to guard him during the night, while a sentry was placed at the entrance. The chains were strong, and fitted so tightly round the ankles that escape was altogether impossible. Even had he possessed arms and could noiselessly have slain the two soldiers, he would be no nearer getting away, for the chains were fastened as securely round their limbs as round his own. Malchus, therefore, at once abandoned any idea of escape, and lying quietly down meditated on his fate in the morning.
CHAPTER XII: AMONG THE PASSES
It was not until long after the guards to whom he was chained had fallen asleep that Malchus followed their example. It seemed to him he had been asleep a long time when a pressure by a hand on his shoulder woke him; at the same moment another hand was placed over his mouth.
“Hush, my lord!” a voice said. It was Nessus. “Arise and let us go. There is no time to be lost, for it is nigh morning. I have been the whole night in discovering where you were.”