Malchus hurried off, and in half an hour was down by the port. Through the densely packed district which lay behind the lofty warehouses crammed with goods brought by sea from all parts of the world, he made his way until he reached the abode of a fisherman, in whose boat he often put to sea.
The old man, with three or four grownup sons, was reclining on a pile of rushes.
“Welcome back, my lord Malchus,” he said; “glad am I to see you safely returned. We have often talked of you, me and my sons, and wondered when you would again go out for a night’s fishing with us. You have come back at the right time. The tunny are just entering the bay, and in another week we shall have rare sport.”
“I shall be glad, indeed, of another sail with you,” Malchus said; “but at present I have other matters in hand. Hanno and his friends have determined to oppose the appointment of Hannibal to the army in Spain.” The fisherman gave a grunt, which signified that the matter was one of which he knew nothing, and which affected him not in the slightest.
“Don’t you see the importance of this?” Malchus said. “If Hannibal doesn’t get the command our troops will be beaten, and we shall lose all our trade with Spain.” The fisherman still appeared apathetic.
“My sons have all taken to fishing,” he said indifferently, “and it matters nothing to them whether we lose the trade of Spain or not.”
“But it would make a difference,” Malchus said, “if no more gold and silver came from Spain, because then, you know, people wouldn’t be able to pay a good price for fish, and there would be bad times for you fishermen. But that is not the worst of it. The Romans are so alarmed by our progress in Spain that they are glad to keep friends with us, but if we were driven out from there they would soon be at war again. You and your sons would be pressed for the ships of war, and like enough you might see the Roman fleets hovering on our coasts and picking up our fishing boats.”
“By Astarte,” the fisherman exclaimed, “but that would be serious, indeed; and you say all this will happen unless Hannibal remains as general in Spain?”
“That is so,” Malchus nodded.
“Then I tell you what, my boys,” the fisherman said, rising and rubbing his hands, “we must put our oars into this business. You hear what my lord Malchus tells us. Get up, there is work to be done. Now, sir, what is the best way to stop this affair you tell us of? If it’s got to be done we will do it, and I think I can answer for three or four thousand fishing hands here who ain’t going to stand by any more than I am and see the bread taken out of their mouths. They know old Calcon, and will listen to what he says. I will set about it at once.”