Malchus then proceeded to deliver the message of Hannibal to the senate. He showed the exact situation of affairs in Italy, urged that if the reinforcements asked for were sent, the success of the arms of Carthage and the final defeat and humiliation of Rome were assured; while, on the other hand, if Hannibal were left unaided, his army must in time dwindle away until too feeble to resist the assaults of the Romans and their allies. He warned his hearers that if this catastrophe should come about, Rome, flushed with victory, smarting under the defeats and humiliation which Hannibal had inflicted upon them, would in turn become the aggressor, and would inflict upon Carthage a blow similar to that with which Rome had been menaced by Hannibal.
Hanno and his companions listened in silence. Malchus for a time forgot his own position and the character of the men he addressed, and pleaded with an earnestness and passion such as he would have used had he been addressing the whole senate. When he had finished, Hanno without a word motioned to the jailers, and these, placing themselves one on each side of Malchus, led him back to his cell.
CHAPTER XVII: THE ESCAPE
For the next two days Malchus was visited only by the Nubian who brought his food. The third night, as he was lying on his straw, wondering how long Hanno would be before he decided his fate, he started to his feet as he heard, apparently close at hand, his name whispered. It was repeated, and he now perceived that it came from above.
“Yes,” he said in a low tone, looking upwards, “I am Malchus. Who speaks to me?”
“It is I, Nessus,” the voice replied. “Thanks to the gods, I have found my lord.”
“How did you get here, Nessus? I feared that you were drowned.”
“I swam to shore,” the Arab said, “and then watched outside the gate here. I saw several prisoners brought in, and doubted not that you were among them. I was at the port when the ship came in, and found that she brought no passenger. Then I came up here again, soon found friends among the Arab regiment in the garrison; these obtained me employment in the stables of the elephants. Each night, when all has been still, I have crept here, and have whispered your name down each of the gratings. Tonight you have heard me. Now that I know where you are, I will set to work to contrive your escape. Is the passage from your cell here wide enough to admit your being drawn up?”
“Yes,” Malchus replied; “it would be a close fit, but with a rope you could get me up through it.”
“I will set to work to loosen these bars at once,” Nessus said; “but the difficulty is not to get you out from here, but to get you beyond the gates of the citadel. The watch is extremely strict, and the gates are not opened until nine o’clock. Before that your escape would be discovered, and it will be impossible for you to pass out undetected. I must find a hiding place where you can lie concealed until the search is over, and the vigilance of the sentries is relaxed; but it will be no easy matter. And now let us speak no more; it is dangerous to breathe, much less to speak here.”