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Tales of the Romans : The Children's Plutarch by  F. J. Gould

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WHY THE ROMANS BORE PAIN

A ROMAN slave went into a dark room in search of something that was needed by his master. The room was a place for lumber. Pieces of old furniture stood here and there.

The slave was about to leave the chamber when he heard soft footsteps and voices that whispered. A group of young men, whom he could only just see in the dim light, entered the room, looking behind them as if to make sure that no eye saw them.

"No one will see us here," said one of the young men.

The slave hid himself at the back of a large chest. He held his breath as he peeped at the men and watched their deeds.

"Have you brought the blood?" asked one voice. "It is here in a cup," replied another.

"Are we all here?"

"We are—Titus, the son of Brutus; Tiberius, his brother; and the rest."

[17] "We are all ready to fight for Tarquin?"

"Yes, yes!"

"He is our rightful king, and we want him back in Rome."

"Yes."

"The hard-hearted consul, Brutus, must be slain!"

"He must."

"Even though he is father to our friends here—Titus and Tiberius?"

"Yes."

"We will loyally stand by one another in this noble work for the sake of Rome."

"We will."

"Shall we all drink?"

"Yes."

The slave behind the chest shook with horror. He saw the young men, one by one, sip the red liquor in the cup. By this sign they swore to be true to one another in the plot against the life of Brutus. This was about 510 B.C.

"We will write letters to Tarquin the King," said one, as he wiped his lips. "We will tell him that we mean to kill Brutus and the other consul, and that soon we shall expect to see him in the city to rule over us once more as king."

The letter was written on a scrap of sheepskin, and folded up.

"You, sir," said one of the plotters to a person [18] at his side, "are a friend of Tarquin. You will take him this letter."

"I will do so. I am staying at the house of the Aquilii, and in a few hours I shall leave the city, and take this joyful message to my lord."

"Let us go."

They all went quietly away, like thieves escaping from a back door.

The slave came from his hiding-place, and said to himself:

"What shall I do? The consuls are in danger. How dare I tell the father, Brutus, that his sons think to kill him? It is dreadful. But if I do nothing our consuls will die, and the city will fall into the hands of the bad King Tarquin, whose conduct has caused the Romans to hate him."

He made up his mind to go to Valerius, a very just and honest citizen, and to him he told all that he had heard and seen.

"Stay here in this room," said Valerius, "till I send for you. I shall run to the house of the Aquilii, and see if the letter is there."

To his wife he said: "Watch the door of the room. This slave must not stir from here till I return."

He ran off with a crowd of his friends and slaves, all carrying weapons. They came to the house of the Aquilii, forced their way in, searched the place from top to bottom, and found the [19] letter. Just then a noise was heard at the gate of the house. A number of the plotters had taken the alarm, and they had hurried to seize the terrible letter of death. It was too late. They were captured, and taken off to the meeting-place of the senate—an open space surrounded by pillars. It was called the "Forum." The two consuls were fetched from their homes. They took their seats in the forum. Near them stood the lictors, bearing each a bundle of rods, with an axe tied to the bundle. Many senators sat in the hall also, and a crowd of Romans gathered round. The sky overhead was calm and blue, but the hearts of the plotters were moved with fear.

The slave was brought forward. He told his tale. The letter was produced, and was read out aloud. It was clear that these young men were traitors to the city of Rome, and false to its liberty. The worst plotters were Titus and Tiberius, the sons of the consul who sat in the forum.

For a short time there was a deep silence. The consul who sat next to Brutus had tears in his eyes—to think that his friend Brutus should have such sons! What would Brutus do?

"He had better send his sons to a far country," whispered a man in the crowd; and those who stood about murmured: "Yes; that would be better than sending his own children to death."

Then Brutus looked sternly at his sons, and spoke:

[20] "You, Titus, and you, Tiberius, why do you not make your defence against the charge?"

No answer.

"You, Titus, and you, Tiberius, why do you not make your defence against the charge?"

No answer.

"You, Titus, and you, Tiberius, why do you not make your defence against the charge?"

To this third question, no answer.

Brutus turned to the officers.

"Lictors," he said, "the rest of the business is left to you."

Then the lictors laid hold of the youths, and stripped off their coats, and tied their hands behind them, and placed them on the ground, and flogged them with the rods.

Brutus said nothing. He looked neither to the right hand nor to the left.

At last the lictors took their axes, and cut off the heads of the sons of Brutus.

Then the father who had lost his sons rose up amid a great silence of the people, and went to his house.

"Oh," cried some, "how cruel a man is Brutus, to condemn his own sons to death!"

"Nay," said others, "he loved them all the time as his sons; but he is Consul of Rome, and it was his duty to defend Rome against her enemies."

[21] The rest of the traitors were put to death, and the freedom of the city was given to the slave. Henceforward he was a Roman citizen, and not a bondsman. He was the first slave in Rome to be enfranchised, or made free. The suffrage also was allowed to him; that is, he was able to vote at meetings, the same as other Romans.

Who can tell the pain that Brutus bore when he saw his own sons die? Why did he bear this pain? Because he loved justice more than he loved his own flesh and blood.

I will tell you of another Roman who lived at the same time, and who bore pain for the sake of the city of Rome, though it was pain of another kind.

Tarquin, the king, who is believed to have reigned from 534–510 B.C., had a friend named Porsenna, who was king of the Etruscan people. Porsenna laid siege to the city of Rome. The Romans were in deep distress. Food ran short, and the foes without the gates were strong.

One day King Porsenna sat in his camp with his nobles about him. They were talking of the best manner in which to attack the city. From the camp they could see the river Tiber, and the wooden bridge over the yellow stream, and the high walls of Rome, and the roof of the temple, and the hill of the Capitol.

A shout was heard. One of the king's officers [22] had been struck down by a stranger with a sword. A scuffle took place. The stranger was seized, and brought before the king. The sword had been snatched from his hand.

A small bronze altar stood near the king. On the top of the altar flickered a fire, in which the king was going to burn a sacrifice to the gods of the Etruscan people.

"Who are you?" asked the king of the stranger.

"I am a Roman."

"What is your name?"

"Mutius."

"Why did you kill my officer?"

"I thought it was you, sir. I meant to kill you."

As he spoke Mutius held out his right hand and thrust it into the flames of the fire on the altar. The flesh of his hand was scorched, but he did not flinch. He gazed steadily into the face of the king.

"Take your hand away from the fire!" cried the king. "Brave man, here is your sword."

Mutius took the sword in his left hand, and his right hand dropped at his side. He would never again have the proper use of his right hand.

"King," he said, "you see we Romans do not fear pain when we do service to our city. For the sake of Rome we are ready to sacrifice our hands, our hearts, our lives. I am not the only [23] one who is willing to suffer. There are in the city three hundred young men who have sworn to slay you if I did not succeed. At any moment any of them may fall upon you and rob the Etruscans of their king."

The king admired the valor of Mutius and the spirit of the Roman people. He let him go free, and made peace with the city of Rome, and retired to his own country.

Brutus, for the sake of justice and of the city of Rome, bore pain in his heart and soul. Mutius, for the sake of Rome, bore pain in his body. Neither of them thought of his own comfort. Each of them lived for others.


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