They all crossed over. Decius then made his way through the spaces left unguarded, and they followed him.
They had already got half way through the camp, when a soldier in stepping over the bodies of some sleeping sentries struck his shield and made a sound. A sentry was awakened by this, and having shaken his neighbour, they stood up and began to rouse the rest, not knowing whether they had to do with friends or foes, whether the party on the hill were escaping, or the consul had captured the camp.
Decius, seeing that they were discovered, gave the order to his men, and they set up such a shout that the Samnites, [p. 487]
who had been stupefied with sleep, were now in1
breathless with terror, which prevented them from either arming promptly or making a stand against the Romans or pursuing them.
During the fright and confusion amongst the Samnites, the Romans cut down such guards as they came across, and proceeded towards the consul's camp.
It wanted yet some time till daylight, and they now appeared to be in safety, when Decius said, “All honour to your courage, Roman soldiers!
Your expedition and return shall be renowned through all the ages. But the light of day is needed to set off such gallantry, nor do you merit that your glorious return to camp should be accomplished in silence and under cover of night. Let us wait here quietly until the dawn.”
They did as he sail. With the first rays of light they sent forward a courier to the consul, and the camp was woke with loud rejoicings. When word was sent round that those were returning safe and sound, who in behalf of the general safety, had exposed their bodies to no uncertain peril, they all poured out to meet them, and, each for himself, praised and congratulated them, calling them their saviours, one and all. To the gods they offered praise and thanks, and Decius they extolled to the skies.
Now followed a triumph for Decius in the camp, as he marched through the midst with his battalion under arms. All eyes were directed towards him, and paid the tribune equal homage with the consul.
When they reached headquarters, the consul bade the trumpet sound an assembly, and fell to lauding Decius, as he deserved. But Decius, interrupting him, induced him to defer his speech; [p. 489]
then, urging that all other considerations should2
be postponed whilst they had such an opportunity at hand, he persuaded him to attack the enemy.
They were now, he said, bewildered by the night alarm and dispersed about the: hill in separate detachments, and he doubted not that a party would have been sent out after him and would be wandering through the forest.
The troops were commanded to arm, and marching out of camp, were led by a more open route —for, thanks to their scouts, the forest was now better known to them —in the direction of the enemy.
These they caught quite off their guard by a surprise attack, for the Samnite soldiers were scattered far and wide, and most of them were without their weapons, Unable either to assemble or to arm or to regain their works, they were first driven headlong into their camp, and then the outposts were routed and the camp itself was taken. The shouting was heard all round the hill and sent the detachments flying from their several stations.
Thus a great part of the Samnites fled without coming into contact with the enemy. Those whom panic had driven within the? enclosure —to the number of some thirty thousand —were all put to the sword, and the camp was spoiled.