“It is almost too much to bear,” the other said; “I feel that I would rather that he had ordered us to instant execution.”
“Ay, for our own sakes, Pontus, but not for those of others. For myself I shall retire to the country; it seems to me that never again shall I be able to mix with others; they may know nothing of it, but it will be ever on my mind. How they would shrink back in horror were what we have done whispered to them! Truly, were it not for my family, I would prefer death with the worst torture to life as it will be now.”
The excitement in the army was intense when it became known that a body of Iberians had attempted to break into Hannibal’s palace with the design of murdering him, and many of the soldiers, seizing their arms, hurried towards the city, and had not an officer ridden with the news to Hannibal, they would assuredly have fallen upon the native inhabitants, and a general massacre would have taken place.
Hannibal at once mounted and rode out to meet the soldiers. He was received with enthusiastic acclamations; at length he raised his arm to restore silence, and then addressed the troops, telling them how deeply he valued the evidence of their affection, but that he prayed them to return to their camps and lay by their arms.
“We must not,” he said, “confound the innocent with the guilty. Those who were concerned in the attempt have paid the penalty with their lives; it is not because a handful of Spaniards have plotted against me that you are to swear hatred against the whole race; were you to punish the innocent for the guilty you would arouse the fury of the Iberians throughout the whole peninsula, and all our work would have to be done over again. You know that above all things I desire the friendship and goodwill of the natives. Nothing would grieve me more than that, just as we are attaining this, our efforts should be marred by a quarrel between yourselves and the people here. I pray you, therefore, as a personal favour to me, to abstain from all tumult, and go quietly back to your camp. The attack upon my palace was made only by some thirty or forty of the scum of the inhabitants, and the attempt was defeated by the wisdom and courage of my young cousin Malchus, whom you must henceforth regard as the saviour of my life.”
The soldiers at once acceded to the request of their general, and after another outburst of cheering they returned quietly to their camp.
The result of this affair was to render Malchus one of the most popular personages in the army, and the lad was quite abashed by the enthusiastic reception which the soldiers gave him when he passed among them. It removed, too, any feeling of jealousy which might have existed among his former comrades of the Carthaginian horse, for although it was considered as a matter of course in Carthage that generals should appoint their near relatives to posts of high command, human nature was then the same as now, and men not possessed of high patronage could not help grumbling a little at the promotion of those more fortunate than themselves. Henceforth, however, no voice was ever raised against the promotion of Malchus, and had he at once been appointed to a command of importance none would have deemed such a favour undeserved by the youth who had saved the life of Hannibal.