When it was day, the outpost withdrawn first occasioned surprise, then, on a nearer approach, the unusual stillness.
At length, the desertion being manifest, there is a general rush to the pavilions of the consuls, of those who announced the flight of the enemy so precipitate, that they left their camp, with their tents standing; and, that their flight might be the more secret, that numerous fires were left.
Then a clamour arose [p. 812]
that they should order the standards to be advanced, and lead them in pursuit of the enemy, and to the immediate plunder of the camp. The other consul too was as one of the common soldiers.
Paulus again and again urged, that they should see their way before them, and use every precaution. Lastly, when he could no longer withstand the sedition and the leader of the sedition, he sends Marius Statilius, a prefect, with a Lucanian troop, to reconnoitre, who, when he
had ridden up to the gates, ordered the rest to stay without the works, and entered the camp himself, attended by two horsemen.
Having carefully examined every thing, he brings back word that it was manifestly a snare: that fires were left in that part of the camp which faced the enemy: that the tents were open, and that all their valuables were left exposed: that in some places he had seen silver carelessly thrown about the passages, as if laid there for plunder.
This intelligence, which it was hoped would deter their minds from greediness, inflamed them; and the soldiers clamorously declaring, that unless the signal was given they would advance without their leaders, they by no means wanted one, for Varro instantly gave the signal for marching.
Paulus, whom, unwilling from his own suggestions to move, the chickens had not encouraged by their auspices, ordered the unlucky omen to be reported to his colleague, when he was now leading the troops out of the gate.
And though Varro bore it impatiently, yet the recent fate of Flaminius, and the recorded naval defeat of Claudius, the consul in the first Punic war, struck religious scruples into his mind.
The gods themselves (it might almost be said) rather postponed than averted the calamity which hung over the Romans; for it fell out by mere accident, that when the soldiers did not obey the consul who ordered them to return to the camp, two slaves, one belonging to a horseman of Formiae, the other to one of Sidicinum, who had been cut off by the Numidians among a party of foragers, when Servilius and Atilius were consuls, had escaped on that day to their masters:
and being brought into the presence of the consuls, inform them that the whole army of Hannibal was lying in ambush on the other side of the adjoining mountains.
The seasonable arrival of these men restored the consuls to their authority, when the ambition of one of them had relaxed his influence with the soldiers, by an undignified compliance. [p. 813]