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Our Little Carthaginian Cousin of Long Ago - C. V. Winlow




With Hannibal

Hanno had been doubtful what his reception in Spain would be, but he was immediately reassured by Hannibal's kind greeting. "I have heard all about it," the great leader remarked gravely, after he had inquired regarding relatives and friends. "It was a rash thing to do. No one ought to undertake lightly anything contrary to religion, anything that may give offense to the gods. But I understand," he continued, as he saw Hanno's emotion, laying his hands gently on the boy's shoulder, "and one thing for me redeems whatever mistake there may have been in it—your loyalty and sacrifice for your friend. If you are willing, you will find plenty opportunity here to redeem yourself in the eyes of any who judge your action too severely."

The very next day Hanno's training began. It was very much the same as Hannibal's own had been when, with his two brothers, he had first come to Spain. Every day a master from the Balearic Islands taught the boy how to shoot the bow, how to sling stones, and fling darts.

Time passed quickly and not unhappily. With one thing particularly Hanno was impressed—the universal love and respect for Hannibal, who though not yet at the head of the troops, already displayed those great qualities for which he afterward became famous. Sometimes the soldiers with whom the youth was now thrown, spoke also of Hannibal's father, Hamilcar Barca, and how he had changed the towns of Spain, which had been merely storehouses and manufacturing centers, into well fortified cities, how he had trained the traders into capable soldiers, and how he had won over the natives. "Even the Romans could not withhold their respect," one old soldier had said in his hearing. "Why, Cato the Elder himself remarked that there was no king equal to Hamilcar Barca."

The time came when Hasdrubal, who had been in command since the death of his father-in-law, was killed. No sooner did the news reach camp than a great unanimous shout arose of "Hannibal! Hannibal! OUR COMMANDER! We will follow only Hannibal!" Before night a delegation had been selected to leave at the earliest opportunity for Carthage to lay that request before the rulers there.

It was some time before this delegation returned, for they had to meet serious objections on the part of the rulers to giving so important a place to one as young as Hannibal then was. Hanno had sent a long letter to his parents enlarging on his opportunities, on the favor shown him by the popular leader, and begging his father to exert his influence on Hannibal's behalf. When finally the delegation did return with the news of success, there was general and unpretended rejoicing. This was not only among those of Carthaginian descent, but also among the heavy-armed troops which Hamilcar Barca had brought from Libya, among the selected light horse from Numidia, as well as among the native troops of Spain. Hanno, who had been made a member of Hannibal's staff, was with him at the time, and noted the pleasure which the great man felt. Hannibal's speech was a short one. He said, "I have only one wish,—that my country be great and prosperous, not humbled as Rome would humble it if she could. I can swear to you that I have consecrated my life to this end. You, who are Carthaginians, will reap a direct benefit, and you who are not, a no less though indirect one, for Carthage will never prove ungrateful to those who now come to her aid."

Hanno could not take his eyes from Hannibal's fine, resolute face, and, when he saw his emotion, he himself felt something new and strange surge through his blood, something that made him understand and almost envy Marina, an African chief, noted for his daredevil bravery, who flung himself down at the general's feet and kissed the hem of his garments. "Hannibal! Hannibal!" again rang out on all sides joyously.

From that day Hanno took his place among the other hero-worshipers of the camp. He studied every action, every word, every expression of a man who seemed to him little less than a god. To secure a few words of praise from him began to be for Hanno the height of happiness. And he came to long for action, for some way in which to prove his devotion. But although Hannibal added one town after another to the Carthaginian possessions Hanno was given no opportunity for service until he was older.

There was one town on the eastern coast that the Carthaginians had not taken. It was called Saguntum, and the inhabitants desiring to be free appealed to Rome for help. The Romans were glad perhaps of an excuse to dictate to Carthage. They sent an embassy to Hannibal, sternly commanding him not to attack Sagunturn, nor even to cross the Ebro River.

Hannibal received and heard the embassy with dignity mingled with undisguised disdain. Who were they to dare dictate to him? When they had finished he haughtily turned away without vouchsafing a reply.

From that day preparations were made to defy the Romans. A siege was laid to Sagunturn. It lasted eight months, the starving inhabitants vainly hoping for the promised help from Rome that did not come. At last, rather than surrender, they burned the treasure, of which they had a great quantity, and themselves with it.

But if this siege was exciting to Hanno, it was nothing to what he felt when it was definitely announced that they were to invade Italy, to march against Rome itself. To do this it was necessary to cross the high Alps Mountains, an undertaking at the time so stupendous that some one has said that no one but a madman or a great genius would have dared even to conceive it.

Hannibal had long been laying his plans for it. Now that the time had come, he called his troops together and asked them if they would follow him. "Follow him?" They would have followed him through fire itself!

Before the army started, a day was set apart for supplication to the gods for Carthaginian success. Then with ninety thousand foot soldiers, twelve thousand cavalry and thirty-seven elephants, the daring journey was begun.

Hannibal now proved his right to the homage paid him in so full a measure. When danger threatened he was always in the front; when hardships came he shared them with the meanest soldier. And certainly no leader at that time, nor perhaps in any other, ever cared for the comfort and well-being of his troops in a more fatherly fashion. His quickness of invention too, seemed able to meet every great and unexpected difficulty that presented itself.

As for Hanno, his chances for service were come. When the Carthaginians reached the Rhone River they found a body of unfriendly Gauls gathered to oppose their passage. Hannibal sent the youth, accompanied by a body of troops, to cross the stream higher up, and then to creep into the enemies' camp, and set it on fire. As soon as smoke showed that this had been done, the Carthaginian troops began to ford the river. The Gauls greeted them with jeers and wild shouts of joy, which, however, soon changed to dismay and flight, when they saw the fire that threatened their possessions.

The few who remained to fight were easily routed.

Here the serious question arose of getting the elephants, on the effect of whom Hannibal counted overmuch, perhaps, across the water.

Every possible effort to persuade them to enter it was made, but in vain. Hannibal was not discouraged. He ordered enormous rafts to be built. Then he had these covered with turf, so that they seemed a part of the shore. The elephants were taken from one to another of these, until the furthest rafts were reached. These then were severed from the others. As they began to move most of the frightened beasts jumped immediately into the water, but were thus driven easily to the other side.

When Scipio, who had been sent by the Romans to fight the Carthaginians, learned that Hannibal was crossing the Alps, he could hardly believe it, and when persuaded that it was true, did not dare to follow. Instead, he resolved to return to Italy in the same way he had come, in order to meet Hannibal when he arrived.

In the meantime the Carthaginian army struggled on over the rough mountain passes. Now and then they had experiences with hostile tribes who hurled huge stones at them from above and managed to inflict great damage. But even a worse effect on the spirits of the soldiers, accustomed to a warm southern climate, came through the bitter cold, their wet clothes often freezing on their backs. This was hard to counteract.

At one point there had been a fresh fall of snow across a narrow icy path, which rendered progress exceedingly difficult. Some of the soldiers stepped into immense holes, while several horses tumbled across rocks that lay hidden, and all of these were hurled down the sides of the precipice. Hannibal ordered a halt.

"Who will volunteer," he asked, "to investigate what lies before us?"

A score of men and officers came forth at once, but among them Hanno's eager face caught the general's attention. "Go, Hanno," he said, after a moment's hesitation, "prove your lightness of foot, and steadiness of head."

Proud of the favor thus shown him, Hanno carefully advanced. Instead of becoming wider, the path grew narrower, and it was only by clinging to tiny bushes and roots of trees on the sides of rocks, that he was able to proceed. At last he reached the end, a place where a recent landslide had entirely covered the path, leaving an enormous precipice at its foot. With even greater difficulty he made his way back and reported what he had seen. "We shall have to return," he said.

But Hannibal shook his head. What were even such freaks of nature to him? Some of his men were set to work, and, before another hour 'had passed, there was a loud, resounding report, while rocks and trees were blown high into the air. With some sort of explosive which he carried with him Hanno was making a new pathway to lower ground.

It required a day of hard work for the soldiers to clear this, and then, although most of the troops were able to descend into the green little valley below to camp there and rest, it took several more days before the path was wide enough for the passing of the elephants.

Thus one difficulty after another was conquered, until at last the foot of the mountains was reached. Here the troops soon forgot their dreadful hardships in the cordial welcome given them by Gallic tribes who fully shared their hatred of Rome.

To Hanno, in later years, the life in Italy always seemed like part of a strange dream. Was it really true, he always asked himself, that when Hannibal was there he was feared by the Romans as no other man had ever been? Was it true that he was victorious in battle after battle? That in the very dominions of those Romans feared by all the world he went wherever and did apparently whatever he pleased? And how did it come about that he always, almost instinctively, eluded the Romans who always seemed at his very heels?

Sometimes particular battle scenes would flash through his mind. One in particular came often, in which by Hannibal's orders he had accompanied him to a spot where an old man who had served under Hamilcar Barca lay wounded. He would recall how Hannibal had raised him in his arms and had himself washed out his wounds with old wine, and how the man, weakened by loss of blood, had feebly held out his hand to him with an expression of hope and courage wonderful to behold in one so old, saying: "For your sake, oh, Hannibal, I shall make the effort to live and fight once again."

He could see the same service being done by the general's orders in other parts of the field, even the horses receiving the same careful attention; and he could see Hannibal striving to be everywhere, conscious of the hope that a word from him could bring.

One day, when Hanno was a very old man, a Roman said to him: "Tell me, you veteran of the Punic War, the secret of how your Hannibal kept that wonderful mixture of soldiers that he had with him in Italy so faithful to him despite all the temptations to desert?"

"Every one," Hanno answered firmly, "was willing to die for him, because "—here he paused, and then concluded emphatically—" because every one knew that he was willing to die for the meanest among them."

"What?" said the Roman scornfully turning away. "I can't believe that of any barbarian."

Hanno's eyes flashed. Barbarian indeed! He recalled how, after a victorious battle, Hannibal had sought for a certain Roman leader in order to give him that decent burial considered so important in the ancient world; in contrast to this he saw again how the Romans, after slaying Hannibal's brother, had flung his head into the Carthaginian camp. If Hannibal was a barbarian what then were the Romans!

And then his anger passed, as he remembered sadly how his countrymen had treated this their greatest man, how through jealousy of the power he exercised, they had refused to send him the help which he needed, the help which would have enabled him, perhaps, to make his wonderful victories lasting. Hodo had been right, Carthage became a loser as soon as she threw all her energies into a desire for gain.

When Hannibal was conquered at last, it was not through lack of loyalty in his followers, nor lack of brilliancy of generalship, for outside of Caesar there had never been a leader equal to him among the Romans. It was through a policy started by the Roman, Quintus Fabius—the policy of wearing out his army, or rendering them dissatisfied, by constant waiting. If you ever hear the expression, "Fabian policy," you will now know what it means. A still more important factor in his defeat came through the fact that Carthage did not support him in his self sacrifice.

While Hanno was still with Hannibal, the life led by the soldiers was tiring enough for him. Sometimes he longed for the comforts of his Carthaginian home; sometimes regretted that he had ever come so far. One day Hannibal summoned him. "I am sending an embassy to Carthage, to again beg our people there not to throw away the advantages already gained. They leave in a couple of nights. If you desire, you may return with them."

A flush of happiness spread itself over Hanno's face. He looked up at Hannibal to express his gratitude for the consideration, and then something he could not have explained made him grow pale. The words refused to come.

"Well," said Hannibal with a genuine kindliness of words and tones so characteristic of him, "what is it?"

"Oh, Sire," stammered Hanno, "I have longed for Carthage; I have wanted to go home; but it has just come to me that there is something I want more, it is—to stay with you!

There was so much sincerity in the speech that Hannibal was greatly affected. "If the gods will, you shall stay," he said, "and fight with me by my side to the end."

But evidently the gods did not will it, for on the very eve of the departure of the embassy, word reached Hanno of his father's death, and the urgent need of his presence home.

When the moment for parting came, Hannibal kissed Hanno on the cheek. "It must be as the gods will have it," he said. "They are strong and we are weak. Besides, ought I not to be glad that so faithful a comrade is to add his unpledged word to those of my ambassadors? You will still fight for me by going back, Hanno, fight for me against that other Hanno (a leader of the aristocratic party in Carthage, and an opponent of Hamilcar) who loves himself more than his country, so go with my blessing. We may meet in another battlefield." And with a last parting wave to those who had already gone on, a last kindly glance at Hanno, Hannibal turned abruptly into his tent.

Hanno stood looking back at him, and then with a feeling of irretrievable loss turned his eyes from Italy, which he was never to see again.

THE END.