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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor

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THE INDUSTRY OF LUCRETIA

[48] AS the years passed, Tarquin was disturbed by terrible dreams. The evil deeds he had done came back to his memory, and haunted him by day and by night. Even in the temples of the gods he could find no rest from his fears.

One day, as sacrifices were being offered, the king saw a serpent stealing down a wooden pillar. Fascinated, he watched as it dropped slowly on to the altar and devoured the sacrifice. His fear told him that this was a bad omen, and, thoroughly alarmed, Tarquin determined to consult the Greek oracle at Delphi, for this oracle was famous not only in Greece, but throughout the world.

So he sent his two sons, Titus and Aruns, to Delphi. With them went the king's nephew, named Junius, but called Brutus because he was believed to be stupid. But Brutus only pretended to be stupid so that his uncle would not trouble to do him harm.

When the princes reached the dwelling of the priestess, the king's sons offered her valuable gifts, while Brutus gave to her only a simple staff. His cousins mocked at Brutus as they were used to do, for a priestess would not care for so poor a gift, they were sure. But Brutus was wiser than they deemed, for the staff had been made hollow, and then had been filled with gold.

As the king had bidden, the young princes asked the oracle the meaning of the serpent that had devoured the sacrifice on the altar.

It was indeed an evil omen. "The fall of Tarquin is at hand," was the sinister answer they received.

[49] "Which of us shall reign after him?" demanded the king's sons with unseemly eagerness.

"He who shall first kiss his mother," responded the oracle.

Then the two princes cast lots to determine which of them should greet their mother first on their return.

But Brutus guessed that the words of the oracle had a deeper meaning.

As he left the Delphic temple, he pretended to slip, and falling to the ground, he secretly kissed the Earth, knowing that she was the mother of all men.

When the princes returned the king was at war, besieging Ardea, a town in Latium. It seemed that he had forgotten his fears, nor does the story tell what he thought of the answer of the oracle.

Meanwhile the siege of Ardea dragged on month after month, so bravely did the inhabitants defend their town.

In the Roman camp, Prince Sextus and a noble named Collatinus one day whiled away the hours by wondering what their wives were doing. Each boasted that his wife was the more diligent and the more modest of the two women.

At length one of their friends idly suggested that Sextus and Collatinus should ride to their homes and find out how their wives were employed.

So the two officers, accompanied by their friends, ordered their horses, and rode first of all to Rome.

Here they found the wife of Sextus at a banquet, where she was dancing gaily, the merriest of all the merry throng.

It was late when they reached Collatia, where they found Lucretia, the wife of Collatinus, still busy with her maidens at the spinning-wheel.

The whole company agreed that of the two wives Lucretia deserved the greater praise. Then the frolic being over, the prince and his friends rode back to camp.


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