Not another word was spoken for hours. Malchus could hear a low continuous scraping noise as Nessus with his dagger worked away upon the stone into which the grating fitted. At last Nessus spoke again. “I have nearly finished, my lord, the greater part of the grating is loose, and in half an hour I can complete the work. Daylight will soon be breaking and I must go. Tomorrow night I will return with a rope. I hope today to find some place where you may be concealed.”
Malchus with renewed hope threw himself upon the straw, and lay there until about noon when he was again summoned to the presence of his judges. They were the same whom he had seen previously.
“Malchus, son of Hamilcar,” Hanno said, “you are now brought before us to hear the crime with which you are charged. We have here before us the written list of the names of the members of the conspiracy, headed by Giscon, which had for its aim the murder of many of the senate of Carthage and the overthrow of her constitution. We have also here the confession of several of the conspirators confirming this list, and saying that you were one of the party.”
“I do not deny,” Malchus said firmly, “that I did once visit the place in which those you speak of met, and that my name was then entered on the roll; but when I went there I was wholly ignorant of the purposes of the association, and as soon as I learned their aims and objects I withdrew from them, and did not again visit their place of meeting.”
“You could not well do that,” Hanno said, “since it is writ down that you sailed very shortly afterwards for Spain.”
“I own that I did so,” Malchus replied, “but I told Giscon on the very day that I accompanied him to the meeting that I would go there no more. Moreover, your commissioners with Hannibal’s army have already inquired into the circumstances, and they, in consideration of the fact that I was then little more than sixteen years old, that I was led ignorantly into the plot, and at once separated myself from it, absolved me from blame.”
“The commissioners had no authority to do so,” Hanno replied; “they were ordered to send you to Carthage, and failed to carry out their orders only because Hannibal then, as always, set himself above the authority of the republic. As you have confessed that you were a member of this conspiracy, no further trial is needed, and this court awards to you the same punishment which was meted to all the others concerned in the conspiracy — you will tomorrow be put to death by the usual punishment of the press.”
Malchus abstained from all reply, for it struck him at once that were he to defy and anger his judges they might order him to be instantly executed. He therefore without a word turned and accompanied his jailer to his cell. He waited impatiently for night, and the hours seemed long indeed before he heard the whisper of Nessus above. Directly the Arab received the reply, assuring him that Malchus was still there, he again set to work.