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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THE SCHOOLMASTER WHO PROVED A TRAITOR

[94] THE Falerians were not disturbed when the Roman army pitched its camp without their walls, not even although they knew that so great a general as Camillus was at its head.

Their city was well fortified, and so, sure of being able to defend it, they guarded their walls, and then went on with their work and with their play as was their wont.

But there was a traitor within the walls of Falerii, and through his treachery misfortune well-nigh overtook the city.

The traitor was a schoolmaster. He thought that it would be an easy matter to betray the city to the Romans by the aid, unknown to themselves, of his pupils.

Before the siege began he had been used to take the children outside the city walls for their daily walks and exercises.

He continued to do so after the Romans had laid siege to the city, but at first he did not venture far from the gates, lest the children should be afraid.

But, little by little, as they became careless of the enemy, the schoolmaster took them nearer and nearer to the Roman camp. Then one day, before the boys were aware, their master had led them close to the enemy's lines and had asked to be taken before Camillus.

He was admitted to the presence of the tribune, and pointing to his pupils the traitor said: "I have brought you the children of Falerii. With them in your power, you will soon be able to make what terms you please with [95] the citizens. They will give up their city without a struggle to secure the safe return of their children."

But Camillus was not the man that the traitor had dreamed. He looked with scorn upon the treacherous schoolmaster, then, turning to those who stood near, he said: "War indeed is of necessity attended with much injustice and violence. Certain laws, however, all good men observe, even in war itself, nor is victory so great an object as to induce us to incur for its sake obligations for base and impious acts. A great general should rely on his own valour and not on other men's vice."

Camillus then bade his officers strip off the schoolmaster's clothes and tie his hands behind him. The children were then given rods and told to beat their master back to the city.

Meanwhile, the Falerians had missed the children. Fathers and mothers, distraught with grief, rushed to the walls, to the gates, but nowhere was there any trace of their boys. Cries and lamentations filled the city.

Suddenly the cries were hushed. Hark! that was a joyful shout! And then another and yet another rent the air.

The children were there, in sight, running back, merrily as it seemed, from the direction of the enemy's camp.

Then silence fell upon the parents, for as the children came nearer a strange picture was visible.

Their boys had rods in their hands, and they were chasing and beating a miserable, naked man, who looked like the honourable schoolmaster. But surely they must be mistaken. . . .

A moment or two later the children rushed through the gates, and in breathless haste told to their parents all that had befallen them, and how Camillus himself had bidden them chase the traitor schoolmaster back to the city.

Not only the parents, but all the citizens of Falerii were so pleased with the kindness Camillus had shown to the [96] children that they sent ambassadors to him, offering to give up to the Romans whatever he chose to ask.

Again Camillus showed how generous a foe he could be, for he made peace with the Falerians, and demanding from them only a sum of money, he took his army back to Rome.

But the soldiers, who had hoped to gain much booty in Falerii, were angry. When they reached Rome empty-handed, they grumbled against their general, and told the people he was not their friend, for he cared for nothing save his own welfare.

Then his enemies determine to get rid of Camillus. So they accused him of keeping more than his share of the spoils of Veii. Even now, so they said, valuable brass gates, to which he had no right, were in his possession.

Camillus had many friends as well as many enemies, and he entreated those who trusted him to prove that the accusations brought against him were false. But all they could promise to do was to help him pay, should the Senate insist on fining him.

But this did not satisfy the brave Roman, who knew that he was guiltless. He determined to leave the city for which he had done so much, without waiting to hear his sentence pronounced.

As he passed through the gates, he turned, and stretching out his hands toward the Capitol, he cried to the gods: "If not for evil I have done," he cried, "but through the hatred of my enemies I have been driven into exile, grant that the Romans may soon grow sorry and send for Camillus to help them when trouble befalls."

And his prayer was answered. For when, in 390 B.C., the Gauls descended upon Rome, soldiers and citizens alike demanded that the Senate should send to Camillus and beseech him to come to help them in their dire need.


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