Here and there he paused a moment as if interested in watching the groups of slaves eating their evening meal, until at last he reached the upper line of little huts. Between these and the hill top upon which the sentries stood was a distance of about fifty yards, which was kept scrupulously clear to enable them to watch the movements of any man going beyond the huts. The sentries were some thirty paces apart, so that, as Malchus calculated, not more than four or five of them could assemble before he reached them, if they did not previously perceive anything suspicious which might put them on the alert.
Looking round him Malchus saw his followers scattered about among the slaves at a short distance. Standing behind the shelter of the hut he raised his hand, and all began to move towards him. As there was nothing in their attire, which consisted of one long cloth wound round them, to distinguish them from the other slaves, the movement attracted no attention from the sentries, who were, from their position, able to overlook the low huts.
When he saw that all were close, Malchus gave a shout and dashed up the hill, followed by his comrades.
The nearest sentry, seeing a body of fifty men suddenly rushing towards him, raised a shout, and his comrades from either side ran towards him; but so quickly was the movement performed that but five had gathered when the Carthaginians reached them, although many others were running towards the spot. The Carthaginians, when they came close to their levelled spears, poured upon them a shower of heavy stones, which knocked two of them down and so bruised and battered the others that they went down at once when the Carthaginians burst upon them.
The nearest Romans halted to await the arrival of their comrades coming up behind them, and the Carthaginians, seizing the swords, spears, and shields of their fallen foes, dashed on at full speed. The Romans soon followed, but with the weight of their weapons, armour, and helmets they were speedily distanced, and the fugitives reached the edge of the forest in safety and dashed into its recesses.
After running for some distance they halted, knowing that the Romans would not think of pursuing except with a large force. The forests which covered the mountains of Sardinia were for the most part composed of evergreen oak, with, in some places, a thick undergrowth of shrubs and young trees. Through this the Carthaginians made their way with some difficulty, until, just as it became dark, they reached the bottom of a valley comparatively free of trees and through which ran a clear stream.
“Here we will halt for the night,” Malchus said; “there is no fear of the Romans pursuing at once, if indeed they do so at all, for their chance of finding us in these mountains, covered with hundreds of square miles of forests, is slight indeed; however, we will at once provide ourselves with weapons.”