114 BATTLE OF THE METAURUS.
pose that they should unite their armies in South Umbria, and then wheel round against Rome. Those messengers traversed the greater part of Italy in safety, but, when close to the object of their mission, were captured by a Roman detachment; and Hasdrubal's letter, detailing his whole plan of the campaign, was laid, not in his brother's hands, but in those of the commander of the Roman armies of the south. Nero saw at once the full importance of the crisis. The two sons of Hamilcar were now within two hundred miles of each other, and if Rome were to be saved, the brothers must never meet alive. Nero instantly ordered seven thousand picked men, a thousand being cavalry, to hold themselves in readiness for a secret expedition against one of Hannibal's garrisons, and as soon as night had set in, he hurried forward on his bold enterprise; but he quickly left the southern road toward Lucania, and, wheeling round, pressed northward with the utmost rapidity toward Picenum. He had, during the preceding afternoon, sent messengers to Rome, who were to lay Hasdrubal's letters before the senate. There was a law forbidding a consul to make war or march his army beyond the limits of the province assigned to him; but in such an emergency, Nero did not wait for the permission of the senate to execute his project, but informed them that he was already on his march to join Livius against Hasdrubal. He advised them to send the two legions which formed the home garrison on to Narnia, so as to defend that pass of the Flaminian road against Hasdrubal, in case he should march upon Rome before the consular armies could attack him. They were to supply the place of these two legions at Rome by a levy en masse in the city, and by ordering up the reserve legion from Capua. These were his communications to the senate. He also sent horsemen forward along his line of march, with orders to the local authorities to bring stores of provisions and refreshment of every kind to the road-side, and to have relays of carriages ready for the conveyance of the wearied soldiers. Such were the precautions which he took for accelerating his march; and when he had advanced some little distance from his camp, he briefly informed his soldiers of the real object of their expedition. He told them that never was there a design more seemingly audacious and more really safe. He said he was leading them to a certain victory, for his colleague had an army large enough to balance the enemy already, so that their