A Pinchback Alexander
On arriving at the Macedonian capital, Cleanor made it his first business to call on the merchant to whom his remittance had been made. He had expected from the name, Hosius, to find in him a countryman of his own, and was not a little surprised to discover that he was a Jew. The old man, who bore his fourscore years very lightly, and was as shrewd and keen in business as he had ever been in his prime, was very cordial and hospitable. His house presented a very mean exterior to the observer—the Jews had already begun to adopt this almost universal method of concealing their wealth—but it was really a large and splendid mansion. Of this, however, Cleanor caught during his stay only rare and casual glimpses. His own quarters were in an annex intended for the use of guests not of the Hebrew race. This was entirely distinct from the main building, and the service was performed by a separate establishment of slaves.
Hosius—this was the form into which the merchant's real name, Hoshea, had been changed—had much that was interesting to say to his guest. He was very frank about his own ways of thinking.
"I am not very strict," he said; "I am content to be as one of those among whom I live. I call myself Hosius. It is a name that is easier for their mouths to pronounce than my own. And Greek fashions and ways suit me well enough. But the younger generation is not content. My son David is all for strictness, and I am obliged to humour him for peace' sake at home. You see he was one of the 'Righteous,' as they called themselves. He served under Judas the Hammer for three years and more; was with him when he fell at Elaim, and was left for dead on the field. It was he who made me build the guest-chamber where you are now. Before that I used to entertain my visitors in my own house. But he does not allow it; he would sooner starve than eat a meal with a Gentile, as he calls all who are not of the People. I don't hold with all this myself. But he is a good young man, a great deal better than his worldly old father, and I don't like crossing him.
It so happened that David was absent from home at the time, having gone to Jerusalem to be present at the Feast of Dedication, and to look after some family affairs for his father; his zeal did not in the least hinder him from being an excellent man of business. Old Hosius took advantage of his absence to see more of his guest than it would have been possible otherwise. The young man's frankness and intelligence greatly attracted him; and he, on the other hand, had much to say about matters in which Cleanor was profoundly interested. The conversation often turned on the deeds of those Jewish heroes the Maccabees. The old merchant, for all his show of cynicism and worldliness, was really proud of his countrymen. And he had wonderful stories to tell of endurance and courage, of tenderly nurtured women bearing unheard-of agonies, mothers who saw all of their children tortured to death before their eyes sooner than break the law, and men who went calmly to certain death if they could work thereby any deliverance for their country.
These stories he would always introduce with something like an apology. He had heard them from his son. He was too old to be enthusiastic about anything, but still his young friend might like to hear them. Then, as he told them, his eyes would kindle, and his voice thrill almost in spite of himself.
"Listen to this;" this was one of his narratives; "we are forbidden to eat the flesh of swine. I daresay it seems very ridiculous to you, though, by the way, your own Pythagoras would not let his disciples eat beans. Still a law is a law, and, whether it be wise or foolish, the man or woman who will die sooner than break it is a noble soul. King Antiochus swore that he would not be mocked by a set of slaves—so the hound dared to speak of our people. What was good enough for him was good enough for them. If he chose to give them good food, they should eat it, law or no law.
"He had a Jewish mother and her seven sons brought up before him, and tried to bend them to his will. The eldest of the seven stood up and spoke for his brothers. 'What you ask, O king, is against our law, and we will die rather than do it.' Antiochus cried in his rage, 'Does he speak thus to his master? Cut out the fellow's tongue.' Why should I tell you all the horrid story. They mangled him and burnt him cruelly till he died. They brought the second. 'Wilt thou eat?' shouted the king. 'I will not,' said he. And they dealt with him as they had dealt with the first. So they did with them one after the other. And all the while those that were left, and the woman herself, exhorted each one to bear himself bravely, and to die sooner than yield. So it went on till there was but one left, the youngest of the seven. 'Hear, young man,' said the king to him. 'These six have died in their folly. Do you be wise. Eat of this food, which is surely one of the good things that the gods have given us, and I will promote you to honour.' And when the lad, for he was of but tender years, refused, the king turned to the mother seeking to persuade her that she might in turn persuade her son. After a while she pretended to be convinced. 'I will persuade him, O king,' she said. But her persuasion was this: 'Have pity on me, my son; remember that I bare thee and nourished thee: endure therefore whatsoever this butcher may do, so that I may receive in the world to come all the seven of you, and lose not one.' So he too endured and died. And after the seven had been slain before her eyes, the mother also was slain. Tell me," cried the old man, "did any Spartan mother of them all equal this?
"Then, again, hear the tale of Eleazar, who was surnamed the Beast-slayer, what he did when Judas the Hammer fought the army of King Antiochus at the House of Zachariab. The king had brought a score of elephants with him. You know the beast if you come from Africa, and that he is not so terrible as he looks, and is scarcely more apt to hurt his foes than his friends. But let me tell you that he who sees him for the first time without trembling is braver than most men. So it happened that our soldiers were not a little terrified at the sight. Then this Eleazar, who was brother to Judas, seeing that one of the beasts was bigger than the rest, and more splendidly equipped, as if he carried the king himself, ran furiously into the company in which it was—for each beast had a company of soldiers round it—slaying right and left as he ran till he came to the beast. The creature's breast and shoulders were protected with plates of brass, but his belly, as being out of reach, was left unguarded, and here it was that Eleazar dealt him a great blow with his sword, and continued to strike him till the beast fell dead and crushed this brave Jew in his fall."
As for the young Greek, he was astonished to find that this fanatical and superstitious people—for so he had always been accustomed to think of the Jews—could boast of warriors and statesmen quite equal to any that his own nation had produced. Leonidas himself and his Three Hundred had not shown a more desperate courage at Thermopylæ than Judas Maccabæus and his scanty band of followers had displayed at Elaim; Themistocles had not exhibited a more subtle and skilful statecraft than Jonathan. And while his admiration was extorted for the Jew, he was equally constrained to despise the Greek. Antiochus the Splendid, as he called himself, the Crazy as every one outside the circle of court sycophants and flatterers called him, made but a very poor figure by the side of Judas the Hammer.
Another highly disturbing fact for the young man was this. Where did these patriots find allies? Not in any Greek kingdom—these were all banded together against them,—but in Rome. It was to Rome that Judas had turned in his extremity, and in Rome that he found help. The old man's son had acted as secretary to the embassy which Judas had sent on this occasion, and had given his impressions of what he saw and heard in a letter to his father, which the old man now showed to his guest. It ran thus:
I am not persuaded that our chief has done well in seeking alliance with this heathen people, for has not the Lord our God commanded us to have no dealings with idolaters? How can we keep ourselves separate from them if they become our friends, and fight by our side in the battle? But this I will confess, that if it be lawful to have any nation from among the heathen for our friends, that nation is Rome. I had heard much of the things that these Romans have done, and how that there is not a nation in the world that has been able to stand up against them. The greatness of their achievements seemed to be beyond all belief; but after what I have seen in Rome, there is nothing in them any longer incredible. They make kings and unmake them, but none of them puts a crown upon his own head, or clothes himself with purple. There is no royal palace in their city, but a Senate-house, in which three hundred and twenty men, every one of them fit to be a king, sit day by day taking counsel for the welfare of the people. Every year they choose two men to whom they commit the ordering of the state and the command of their armies. All obey these two without question, and there neither envy nor emulation among them.
But when Cleanor came to speak of the special purpose of his mission he found the old man very reserved. "You want to see the Prince Andriscus, for that is the name by which some of us knew him, or Perseus, as we are to call him now, I understand. Well, I can give you an introduction to the court, but that is all that I can do. And I would advise you not to build your hopes too much upon what you may see or hear now."
The introduction was given, but it seemed impossible to get any further. The king, as he called himself, was always too busy to give an audience. But for all his being so busy, Cleanor never could make out that anything was being done. There was no drilling of troops; there was no gathering of stores. But there was a great deal of feasting; and there were some fine performances at the theatres, not plays, for which the Macedonians did not care, but spectacles, on which, so gorgeous were they, a vast amount of money must have been spent. The king found time to see them, and though he was carried in a closed chariot, a method of conveyance which Cleanor had always been taught to consider effeminate, no one could deny that his escort were magnificent men, and wore very splendid armour.
At last the Greek got his long-promised interview. The first sight of the prince or pretender, whatever we may call him, distinctly impressed him. He had the advantage of one of those extraordinary personal resemblances that have often stood pretenders in good stead. His face and figure recalled the image, made so familiar by statues, pictures, and coins, of the great Alexander, just as Alexander himself had seemed an impersonation of Achilles, so closely had he resembled the traditional representations of the famous hero. A second and longer view of the face did much to dispel the illusion. The chin was receding and weak; the full, sensual lips were parted in the way that commonly denotes a want of resolution; the eyes were dull and shifty; habitual intemperance had already suffused the skin with a colour which a few more years would make disfiguring. When he spoke, his voice—and there is no greater tell-tale than the voice—was rough and uncultured.
Cleanor presented to the prince the letter of commendation with which Hasdrubal had furnished him. He glanced at it for a few moments, and then tossed it to a secretary. The Greek had afterwards reason to believe that the Prince could not read, and that his sole literary accomplishment was a laboriously-executed signature. He asked a few commonplace questions about the progress of the siege of Carthage, and the prospects of the future, but did not seem to listen to the answers. Then, seeming to weary of serious subjects, he turned to the more congenial topics of amusement and sport. Some chance brought up Cleanor's experiences in tunny-fishing, and the Prince was really roused.
"I shall go," he said in a more determined manner than he had yet shown, "and have a try for them myself. See," he went on, turning to one of the chief officials of the court, "that you have everything ready for an expedition on the day after to-morrow." The man bowed; he was accustomed to see these whims appear and disappear. "You shall come with me," he said to Cleanor. "Dine with me to-day, and we will talk it over."
But by dinner-time the whim was forgotten. The martial mood now had its turn, a frequent incident in the Pretender's convivial hours. A rhapsodist, made up with no little skill to resemble the blind minstrel of the Odyssey, recited from the Iliad the valiant deeds of Achilles; and, later on in the evening, the Pretender himself performed, as well as somewhat unsteady legs permitted him, the Pyrrhic dance. Cleanor left the hall in disgust, under cover of the thunders of applause with which this display was greeted. It enraged him to think how much time and troubled he had wasted on this miserable mountebank. It was not from such as he that any help would be gained to check the growing power of Rome. His disappointment was made all the keener by the tidings which awaited him on his return to his lodgings. His host put into his hands a missive which had just been brought for him. It was a despatch from Hasdrubal, and ran thus:
Hasdrubal to Cleanor, greeting.
I have heard this day from friends in Rome that it is already settled among the chief men of the tribes that Scipio is to be chosen Consul for the year to come. Some will object, but more for form's sake than in earnest, that he is below the proper age for the consul's office. But the people are wearied of incompetent men, and are determined to choose him who has, they say, the fate of Carthage for his inheritance. May Hercules avert the omen! Yet be sure both that this will be done, and that being done it will mean much. Return therefore with all possible speed. If you have found any friends for our country urge them to do what they can without delay. Never did we need help more, or are more ready to reward it. But, in any case, come back yourself. There is great work to be done, and great honour to be gained; nor is there anything which, if the gods favour our country, you may not hope for, or rather, demand. Farewell!
Cleanor had done nothing, though he might fairly say that he had found nothing to do; and it was a relief to him to find that his course of action at last lay plainly before him. The two sides in the great struggle were closing in; he knew where his own place was, and that he could not take it too soon. But it was no easy matter to discover how he was to get there. Hasdrubal's despatch had taken nearly two months to reach him, for it had been sent off very soon after his own departure from Africa. It was now close upon the end of the year, and with the New Year would come the election of consuls at Rome. Scipio, once put into power, would not, he was sure, let the grass grow under his feet; he himself, too, must lose no time if he was to serve Carthage to any purpose. Fortunately, he had ample funds at his disposal. By the help of Hosius he found a fast-sailing pinnace, whose owner was willing for the handsome consideration of ten minæ to risk the perils of a winter voyage. A brisk north-easter carried them to Corinth in three days. It was easy to get from Corinth to Patræ, for traffic went on, winter and summer alike, in the land-locked Corinthian Gulf. There he was upon the regular route between the East and Italy, a route by which so much indispensable business was done that it was never quite closed. At Patræ he found a Roman official, just appointed to the commissariat of the army at Carthage, who was on his way to Rome. He was expecting the arrival of a ship which was to touch for him, on its way from Ambracia to Brundisium.
On its arrival, which took place next day, Cleanor went on board with his new acquaintance, and arranged to travel with him to Italy. He assumed the character of a student at Athens, leaving that city for a time on account of the troubles that seemed imminent in Greece. He knew enough of the place from his former residence to play the part with success, and he had ascertained that there was no genuine student on board.
At Brundisium the party was met with the news that the prediction of Hasdrubal's Roman correspondent had been fulfilled—Scipio had been elected consul for the year, with Africa for his province. Their informant described the scene as one of indescribable enthusiasm. The tribes had simply refused to hear any other name. Candidates of credit and even of high reputation had been proposed, but it had been only in dumb-show, the voices of their proposers being drowned in the continuous roar of "Scipio! Scipio!"
A hasty meeting of the Senate had been called, and a resolution passed suspending the law which fixed the qualifying age at forty-two. So engrossed was the people with the election of their favourite that it was not easy to induce them to give him a colleague. The assembly dismissed, Rome had given itself up to a frenzy of rejoicing, which could not have been greater if Carthage had already fallen. It was an absolute faith with every one that he was "born for the destruction of Carthage", and such a faith has a way of working out its own fulfilment.
Cleanor was now in a very difficult position. The audacious thought presented itself that he might engage himself in some capacity with the forces about to proceed from Italy, and, once arrived in Africa, take an opportunity of deserting. But the plan was not only perilous, for there was a great risk of detection,—Scipio seemed to be one of those men whose eyes are everywhere,—but it had a dishonourable look. But some stratagem would be necessary, and Cleanor's conscience did not forbid him to employ it.
A fortunate chance cleared his way. His fellow-passenger the commissariat officer, happened to remember that he had spoken of his being on his way to Sicily, and asked him whether by chance he knew anything of the corn-market in that island. The Italian supply, on which considerable demands were being made, would certainly fall short, and nothing could be got from Africa, exhausted as it was by the war. Cleanor, though hating to say the thing that was not, declared that he had an uncle at Agrigentum who was engaged in the business, that he was on his way to his home, and would deliver any message which it would be a convenience to send.
The Roman caught eagerly at the suggestion. He jotted down the number of bushels of wheat which he should probably want, and the price which he would be willing to give. The details of the business, methods of transport, terms of payment, and other matters might be settled with the agent who represented Rome at Agrigentum. He also gave our hero what was known as a diploma, a word which we may represent in a way by "passport", but which really meant a great deal more. The bearer of it could requisition horses and carriages, in short, any of the instruments of travel that belonged to the state. Without this it would hardly have been possible to proceed. A great campaign was about to begin, and every kind of conveyance was practically engaged.
With this document in his hand Cleanor found everything open before him; he called on a merchant with whom, though not a kinsman, he had some acquaintance, and handed him the Roman's order. This done he made his way as quickly as possible to the coast, where he was lucky enough to find a small vessel in the coasting-trade that was just starting for Africa. There is a humble commerce that, luckily for those that conduct it, goes on through all the stress of war. This vessel was engaged in it; and by its opportune help Cleanor, two days later, found himself in Africa, and in two more had reached Carthage.