“It is true that at that time the guards are particularly vigilant, and that we are not allowed to gather into knots; and an Italian slave I spoke to yesterday told me that he dared not speak to me, for the place swarms with spies, and that any conversation between us would be sure to be reported, and those engaged in it put to the hardest and cruelest work. I propose, therefore, that tomorrow — for if it is to be done, the sooner the better, before the men lose all their strength — the men shall on their return from work at once eat their rations; then each man, hiding a short stick under his garment and wrapping a few heavy stones in the corner of his robe, shall make his way up towards the top of the hill above the mine.
“No two men must go together — all must wander as if aimlessly among the huts. When they reach the upper line on that side and see me, let all rapidly close up, and we will make a sudden rush at the sentries above. They cannot get more than five or six together in time to oppose us, and we shall be able to beat them down with our stones. Once through them, the heavy armed men will never be able to overtake us till we reach the forest, which begins, I believe, about half a mile beyond the top.”
The other two officers at once agreed to the plan; and when the camp was still Malchus crept cautiously from hut to hut, telling his men of the plan that had been formed and giving orders for the carrying of it out.
All assented cheerfully; for although the stronger were now becoming accustomed to their work, and felt less exhausted than they had done the first two days, there was not one but felt that he would rather suffer death than endure this terrible fate. Malchus impressed upon them strongly that it was of the utmost consequence to possess themselves of the arms of any Roman soldiers they might overthrow, as they would to a great extent be compelled to rely upon these to obtain food among the mountains.
Even the men who were most exhausted, and those stricken with fever, seemed to gain strength at once at the prospect of a struggle for liberty, and when the gang turned out in the morning for work none lagged behind.
CHAPTER XX: THE SARDINIAN FORESTS
The Carthaginians returned in the evening in groups from the various scenes of their labour and without delay consumed the provisions provided for them. Then one by one they sauntered away down towards the stream. Malchus was the last to leave, and having seen that all his followers had preceded him, he, too, crossed the stream, paused a moment at a heap of debris from the mine, and picking up three or four pieces of rock about the size of his fist, rolled them in the corner of his garment, and holding this in one hand moved up the hill.