It was the time of the year when caravans made their way from Carthage across the Desert of Sahara, and also across vast tracts in many parts almost as bare of vegetation and homes into Asia. Hanno, who had been taking an active part in his father's business for some time, had obtained permission to accompany him on one of these expeditions to the desert's very edge. It was a big affair. Not one man, but numerous merchants were interested, and many weeks had been spent in preparing for it. All went well armed to protect themselves from thievish tribes whom they might meet, and carried provisions and water with them for many months. They were in high spirits, for one of these expeditions was sometimes sufficient to make the fortunes of all the merchants concerned, since in return for the cheap, gaudy finery, rude pottery, and salt which they carried with them, they would be paid with gold, slaves, ivory, ebony, ostrich feathers, and precious stones.
The camel which Hanno and his father rode excited many favorable comments from the group of half-naked urchins who gathered to see them start. "Gee, what feet!" they would exclaim. Hanno had reason to feel proud of it, for it was one of the rare breed of racing camels, and its clean tone of skin, slender flanks and more alert look differed markably from its dull, ungainly, and exceedingly bored-looking companions.
It was a slow journey, but steady, for the lumbering gait of the ordinary camels, with which, of course, the racing camel had to keep pace, never seemed to tire. Near Carthage there were bits of picturesque scenery, but, as they proceeded further on, the landscape grew bare except for the heather, wild asparagus, and prickly esparto grass. Now and then a bit of relief was afforded by some sort of light pink blossom. The desert was reached at early dawn, a great, pallid, melancholy tract, with twisted shrubs almost bare of leaves along its edge. A solitary crow flew above their heads, and then as if despairing of the silent wastes turned back. Hanno and his father kept the merchants company until the sands seemed gleams of the rising sun, and then parted to return much more rapidly than they had come.
A band of scowling Numidians met them, but offered no harm. Then a few straggling natives of countries neighboring on Carthage, and under heavy tribute to her, passed them.
At a new, rapidly developing suburb, they made a somewhat protracted stay. Many new buildings were being constructed here, most of them with something over-massive, and, therefore, decidedly Carthaginian in their appearance. This was partly due to the foundation of large blocks of stones used without mortar. The upper portion of the houses was often made of cement in much the same way that it is to-day, earth being enclosed within a frame of boards constructed on either side. All the housetops agreed in being covered by concrete roofs, so made that every drop of rain water falling down on them might be saved by being sent into hidden reservoirs.
Hanno had just turned a corner to go in advance to where they had left the camel, when a four-horsed chariot passed him, the horses gay in their rich tasseled harness. In the front stood the master with his driver. The former had a bow in his left hand, while in his right he supported a parasol, which although considered a sign of effeminacy by many Carthaginians nevertheless indicated high rank. Behind him stood a servant with two dangerous-looking daggers through his girdle. A quiver of arrows hung from the side of the car. Hanno recognized his cousin in the owner of this handsome equipage, the rich, and fashion-loving Maco, who was noted also as an ardent sportsman. He waved his hand vigorously at him. Maco nodded rather coldly, but after he had gone some distance evidently changed his mind and returned.
"We have room for you, you sea-explorer," he said, coming up to the boy, "if you are not afraid of a real animal hunt."
Hanno felt too happy to mind the insinuation. "I am not at all afraid." He called to where his father stood, talking with a very self-important looking architect, who had been giving instructions at one of the buildings.
When his father came up, and was told why he was wanted, he hesitated for a moment, and then, to Hanno's great joy, gave his assent.
"May the god of the Chase befriend you," he shouted after them, as Hanno leaped up beside his cousin, and the driver clicked to the horses, sending them off at a smart canter.
For a while Hanno was too happy to speak. Then the thought that he had no weapon began to alloy his pleasure. What was the use of going if he was not to take a real part in the hunt! At last he spoke of this.
"We must remedy that," his cousin answered in a teasing tone. "For you are quite sure to do some killing. Sinco," he said, turning to the statue-like servant behind, "give my cousin one of mine." When Sinco had done this, not without some show of reluctance, Maco continued, "This may be your very own, young man, if you are the first to stain it with the blood of any animal that we meet." Then he laughed, as if what he had said were a great joke.
They had been advancing at a very rapid gait toward the mountains which here were covered with a thick growth of trees and shrubs. The road grew rougher as soon as they began to ascend the slope, and progress was slower. Hanno kept his eyes wide open in the hope of proving to his scornful cousin that his being treated like a baby did not necessarily make him one. To his disappointment, however, as soon as they had come to a thicker underbrush, his cousin jumped out and beckoning to the driver and servant to follow him, bade Hanno remain with the horses. "Your mother would be my enemy for life if I let you get hurt," he said condescendingly, as he cautiously forced his way down the slope, where it would have been impossible for the horses to follow.
Hanno jumped down, unharnessed the horses and gave them their noon meal in the portable mangers which he found in the chariot. Then he made his way to a large date palm, under whose shade he stretched himself.
The quiet was suddenly broken by a faint cry from below which brought him to his feet. At the same instant there was a crashing in the bushes as if an animal of some size were approaching. The underbrush grew too high and thick for Hanno to make out what it might be. Quick as a flash, however, he drew his knife, and poised himself ready to strike a blow. He took this position just in time, for a huge boar, with glittering tusks at least eight inches long, and tiny eyes flashing fiercely, with bristly hair erect, flew out just to his left, and, catching sight of a new enemy, rushed madly at him.
He took this position just in time.
Hanno had done very little fighting on his own account, but he had spent hours in admiring study before paintings representing hunting scenes and had listened with intense interest, to stories of the chase. On the boat, too, one occasional amusement had been shooting the bow or launching stones at objects on shore, and Hanno had always won considerable praise for his dexterity. This practice now rendered him good service, although, when he saw the blazing eyes of the mad creature, he felt himself grow pale. Fortunately the thought of his cousin's scorn steadied his hand, and just as the boar was about to spring on him, he threw his dagger, aiming it just back of the fore leg. It evidently struck a vital spot, for to Hanno's amazement the animal, with one last frightful roll of its eyes, fell over dead.
Hanno was still rooted to the spot, when some one clapped him on the shoulder. It was his cousin, who had followed the boar back without Hanno having perceived him.
"I know now where to find the companion that I need for my hunting trips," he said. "A splendid blow that. Where did you learn the trick? I'd have been proud to have struck so well myself. But the gods were on your side to-day. Here, you," he called to the two serving-men who had come up, "take this creature and let us prepare a sacrifice at once, as well as our own repast." A stone was accordingly rolled up, and on this a libation was poured. Then the heart and other organs of the boar, together with a choice piece of the flesh, were placed on it. A fire was kindled around them, and, as they burned, Maco repeated with a religious fervor, curious in a man of his type, a sort of incantation.
While this was being done, one of the servants busied himself roasting a part of the boar, while the other gathered dates and drew eatables from apparently mysterious places, until a fair repast was spread on the ground. With his cousin's praises ringing in his ears it was no wonder that this meal tasted sweeter to Hanno than any he had ever eaten before.