“You had better dismount and take that brute back to the stable,” he said; “he is not safe to take out this morning.” As he approached the elephant threw up his trunk, opened his mouth, and rushed suddenly at him. The officer fled hastily, shouting loudly to the other mahouts to bring their animals in a circle round the elephant, but the mahout gave him a sudden prod with his pricker and the elephant set off with great strides, his ears out, his trunk in the air, and with every sign of an access of fury, at the top of his speed. He rushed across the great courtyard, the people flying in all directions with shouts of terror; he made two or three turns up and down, each time getting somewhat nearer to the gate.
As he approached it for the third time the mahout guided him towards it, and, accustomed at this hour to sally out, the elephant made a sudden rush in that direction. The officer on guard shouted to his men to close the gate, but before they could attempt to carry out the order the elephant charged through, and at the top of his speed went down the road.
CHAPTER XVIII: CANNAE
As the elephant tore down the road to the town many were the narrow escapes that, as they thought, those coming up had of being crushed or thrown into the air by the angry beast. Some threw themselves on their faces, others got over the parapet and hung by their hands until he had passed, while some squeezed themselves against the wall; but the elephant passed on without doing harm to any.
On reaching the foot of the descent the mahout guided the animal to the left, and, avoiding the busy streets of the town, directed its course towards the more quiet roads of the opulent quarter of Megara. The cries of the people at the approach of the elephant preceded its course, and all took refuge in gardens or houses. The latter became less and less frequent, until, at a distance of two miles from the foot of the citadel, the mahout, on looking round, perceived no one in sight. He brought the elephant suddenly to a standstill.
“Quick, my lord,” he exclaimed, “now is the time.”
Malchus threw off the sack, climbed out of the howdah, and slipped down by the elephant’s tail, the usual plan for dismounting when an elephant is on its feet. Then he sprang across the road, leaped into a garden, and hid himself among some bushes. The mahout now turned the elephant, and, as if he had succeeded at last in subduing it, slowly retraced his steps towards the citadel.
A minute or two later Malchus issued out and quietly followed it. He had gone some distance when he saw an Arab approaching him, and soon recognized Nessus. They turned off together from the main road and made their way by bystreets until they reached the lower city. At a spot near the port they found one of the Arabs from above awaiting them, and he at once led the way to the house inhabited by his family. The scheme had been entirely successful. Malchus had escaped from the citadel without the possibility of a suspicion arising that he had issued from its gates, and in his Arab garb he could now traverse the streets unsuspected.