T HE last king who reigned in Rome was called Tarquin the Proud. The Romans hated him because of his pride and cruelty; and at last his wickedness and the wickedness of his sons enraged the people so much, that they rose against him, and drove him and all his family away from Rome. The people resolved that they would never more have a king to govern them, but that they would choose two of the best and bravest nobles of Rome to be their rulers. These two chiefs were called consuls, and they were to govern the city for one year only, after which new consuls were to be chosen.
The two first consuls were Collatinus Tarquinius and Lucius Junius Brutus. Both of these men had been leaders of the people in driving out the king. Both were relations to Tarquin, and both had suffered great wrongs from him. Lucius feared that Tarquin would kill him, as he had killed others of the chief men of Rome, and for years he pretended to be so stupid and foolish that the people gave him the surname of Brutus, which means foolish.
But when the people of Rome at last rose up against the wicked Tarquin, Brutus put himself at their head, and soon showed by his wise and brave conduct that he had been only acting or pretending to be stupid, that he might live unharmed by the cruel king.
Tarquin for a long time tried hard to get back to Rome. Among the young Roman nobles were several who had been friends of the young princes, and who would have been glad to bring the Tarquins back, for they cared more for their own amusements than that the people should be free. Two of these young nobles were Titus and Tiberius, the sons of Brutus.
These young men met together one night to talk over their plans, and they wrote letters to Tarquin telling him they were ready to help him, and sent messengers to him with the letters. But it happened that a slave named Vindicius was in the room where they met. He did not mean to watch what they were doing, but he saw them come hastily into the room with anxious faces, and feeling afraid, he hid himself behind a large chest, and so heard all that was said.
When they had gone away Vindicius came out of his hiding place, and was at first greatly puzzled what to do. He was afraid to go to the Consul Brutus, and to tell him that his two sons were plotting to bring King Tarquin back. At last he determined that he would go to Valerius, a noble Roman who from his great love for the people was afterwards called Poplicola, which means the people's friend.
So Vindicius went to Valerius, and told him all his story. Valerius was very much astonished, and ordered that Vindicius should be kept safely in his house, while he himself went, with as many armed friends and slaves as he could get together in a hurry, to the house of one of the plotters. They broke open the doors, and found the letters to King Tarquin in the room of the messengers, who had not yet started on their journey.
The consuls sat to judge the people in the Forum, or market place, with their lictors beside them. The lictors were the consuls' guards, and were armed with a bundle of sticks or rods in which an axe was tied up; and they punished any one who was condemned by the consuls, either by beating him or by cutting off his head.
The young men were brought before the consuls. When they were accused of plotting to bring back the king, and the letters found by Valerius were read aloud, and the story of the slave Vindicius had been heard, they did not dare to say that they were not guilty.
The people were sorry for Brutus when they
saw his sons led before him to be judged, and
"Would it not be punishment enough if the young men were banished for all their lives from Rome?"
Collatinus, the second consul, shed tears, and Valerius did not speak a word. But Brutus looked sternly on his sons.
"Titus and Tiberius," he said, "why do you not answer to the accusation these men bring against you?"
Three times he asked them this question, but still they did not dare to answer a word, for they knew they were guilty and deserved to be punished. Then Brutus turned to the lictors.
"You," said he, "must do all the rest that has to be done."
So the lictors seized the young men, tied their hands behind them, beat them with their rods, and afterwards cut off their heads. Then Brutus left his seat and went home to his own house.