“My plans must not yet be known. Already our enemies in Carthage are gaining in strength. Many of our adherents have been put to death and the estates of others confiscated; but the capture of Saguntum will restore our supremacy, and the enthusiasm which it will incite among the populace will carry all before it. The spoils which will be taken there will be sufficient to silence every murmur in Carthage. Now leave us, Malchus, we have much to talk over and to arrange, and I have given you plenty to think about for the present.”
CHAPTER VIII: A PLOT FRUSTRATED
After leaving Hannibal, Malchus did not rejoin his comrades, but mounted the hills behind the town and sat down there, looking over the sea, and thinking over the vast plan which Hannibal’s words had laid before him, and to which his father had once alluded in his presence. Malchus had been brought up by Hamilcar to regard Rome as the deadly enemy of Carthage, but he had not till now seen the truth which Hannibal had grasped, that it was a struggle not for empire only between the two republics, but one of life and death — that Carthage and Rome could not coexist, and that one or other of them must be absolutely destroyed.
This, indeed, was the creed of the Barcine party, and was, apart from the minor questions of internal reforms, the great point on which they differed from Hanno and the trading portion of the community, who were his chief supporters. These were in favour of Carthage abandoning her colonies and conquests, and devoting herself solely to commerce and the acquisition of wealth. Believing that Rome, who would then have open to her all Europe and Asia to conquer, would not grudge to Carthage the northern seaboard of Africa, they forgot that a nation which is rich and defenceless will speedily fall a victim to the greed of a powerful and warlike neighbour, and that a conqueror never needs excuses for an attack upon a defenceless neighbour.
Hitherto Malchus had thought only of a war with Rome made up of sea fights and of descents upon Sicily and Sardinia. The very idea of invading Italy and striking at Rome herself had never even entered his mind, for the words of his father had been forgotten in the events which followed so quickly upon them. The prospect which the words opened seemed immense. First Northern Spain was to be conquered, Gaul to be crossed, the terrible mountains of which he had heard from travellers were next to be surmounted, and finally a fight for life and death to be fought out on the plains of Italy. The struggle would indeed be a tremendous one, and Malchus felt his heart beat fast at the thought that he was to be an actor in it. Surely the history of the world told of no greater enterprise than this. Even the first step which was to be taken, a mere preliminary to this grand expedition, was a most formidable one.