Fabius, keeping his attention fixed no less upon his own troops than on the enemy, first shows that his resolution was unconquered by the former. Though he well knew that his procrastination was disapproved, not only in his own camp, but by this time even at Rome; yet, inflexibly adhering to the same line of policy, he delayed through the remainder of the summer;
in order that Hannibal, devoid of all hope of a battle, which he so earnestly desired, might now look out for a place for winter quarters; because that district was one of present, but not constant, supply, consisting, as it did, of plantations and vineyards, and all places planted with luxurious rather than useful produce.
This intelligence was [p. 783]
brought to Fabius by his scouts. When he felt convinced that he would return by the same narrow pass through which he had entered the Falernian territory, he occupied Mount Callicula and Casilinum with a pretty strong guard. Which city, intersected by the river Vulturnus, divides the Falernian and Campanian territories.
He himself leads back his troops along the same heights, having sent Lucius Hostilius Mancinus with four hundred of the allied cavalry to reconnoitre;
who being one of the crowd of youths who had often heard the master of the horse fiercely haranguing, at first advanced after the manner of a scout, in order that he might observe the enemy in security; and when he saw the Numidians scattered widely throughout the villages, having gotten an opportunity, he also slew a few of them.
But from that moment his mind was engrossed with the thoughts of a battle, and the injunctions of the dictator were forgotten, who had charged him, when he had advanced as far as he could with safety, to retreat before he came within the enemy's view.
The Numidians, party after party, skirmishing and retreating, drew the general almost to their camp, to the fatigue of his men and horses.
Then Karthalo, who had the command of the cavalry, charging at full speed, and having put them to flight before he came within a dart's throw, pursued them for five miles almost in a continuous course.
Mancinus, when he saw that the enemy did not desist from the pursuit, and that there was no hope of escape, having encouraged his troops, turned back to the battle, though inferior in every kind of force.
Accordingly he himself, and the choicest of his cavalry, being surrounded, are cut to pieces. The rest in disorderly retreat fled first to Cales, and thence to the dictator, by ways almost impassable.
It happened that on that day Minucius had formed a junction with Fabius, having been sent to secure with a guard the pass above Tarracina, which, contracted into a narrow gorge, overhangs the sea, in order that Hannibal might not be able to get into the Roman territory by the Appian way's being unguarded.
The dictator and master of the horse, uniting their forces, lead them down into the road through which Hannibal was about to march his troops. The enemy was two miles from that place.