The general of the Roman army stood on a high tower, and looked over the walls. Thence he saw the streets of a city. Men ran up and down the streets with shouts. Houses blazed with fire. Roman soldiers were carrying bundles of spoil. The city had belonged to the Etruscan people, and had fallen into the hands of the Romans after a siege of ten years.
"This is a grand success, sir," said some of the general's friends.
Then the general, whose name was Camillus, lifted up his hands toward heaven and spoke this prayer: "If, O ye gods, you think Rome must not have too much glory; and if you think that, after this victory, we must suffer some trouble to keep us from being too proud, oh, I pray you, let the trouble fall, not upon Rome, but upon me."
Thus did Camillus love his country more than he loved himself.
He laid siege to another town. The huts of his army were built in a ring about the fortress, but between the Roman camp and the city walls was an open space of meadows. A schoolmaster now and then brought his boys out of the city and let them play in this open space. At first they sported near the walls. Little by little he drew them nearer the Roman camp. One day he led his troop of lads to the guards of the camp and said:
"I surrender to you, and also place these boys in your charge."
The schoolmaster and his scholars were led before Camillus. He expected the Roman general to be greatly pleased at getting the sons of so many of the besieged citizens into his hands. But Camillus had no such thoughts. He looked sternly upon the traitor, and said:
"War is a savage thing, and many cruel acts are done in war. But there are laws even in war, and men of honor will obey those laws. Surely it would be dishonorable of me to make captives of these boys whom you have brought to my camp by a mean trick."
He turned to the lictors, and bade them seize the schoolmaster. They tied his hands behind him, and gave rods to the lads.
"Boys," said Camillus, "drive him back to the city. He is a traitor."
Fathers and mothers and friends had gathered on the walls, in great grief for the loss of the boys. Presently, to their surprise, they beheld the lads returning, and the biggest scholars were laying the rods smartly upon the traitor's back.
Soon afterward the city yielded to the Romans.
Camillus was a man of the upper or richer classes. The poorer classes, or plebeians (ple-bee-ans), often quarrelled with their richer neighbors; and I am sorry to say the quarrel of the rich and poor lasts even to our own day. Camillus, quiet as he was, was obliged to fly from Rome because his deeds and his ideas did not please the mass of the people. As he left the city he paused, looked back at its walls and towers, and stretched out his hands and said:
"Through no fault of mine, I am forced to leave Rome. Some day Rome will regret having driven me out."
Much trouble then happened to the Romans and to Italy. The Gauls from the north had crossed the rock and snows of the Alps, and entered the fruitful land of Italy. Their numbers were large, their shields and helmets glittered with a brightness that made them terrible. The Romans lost a battle, and their city was in danger. The fire-maidens carried the burning coals in a vessel, snatched up the images of the gods, and fled from Rome. Crowds of city folk were hurrying away, some carrying furniture on their backs, some riding on horses or in wagons. One good Roman, who was escaping with his wife and children, saw the vestal virgins (or fire-maidens) wearily trudging along by the river Tiber. He invited them to ride in his wagon, and they were glad to accept his aid.
The third day after the battle the Gauls arrived at Rome, and saw the gates open, and the streets deserted by the people. Brennus, their captain, led his men into the city. At length they came to the forum. There sat the elders or senators, and all sat silent. They would not leave Rome in the hour of need.
The Gauls crowded round, and gazed in wonder at the old rulers. At last one of them went forward and touched the beard of one of the senators. The bearded Roman struck the Gaul with his staff and wounded him. The Gaul slew the senator with his sword. Then the rest of the elders were slain. Think of these noble Romans lying dead on the floor of the forum! They were faithful to the end.
Camillus stayed in the country some distance from Rome. He had felt bitter against the city which he had loved, and still loved in the bottom of his heart. One day he led some of the people out of a small town toward a camp where a party of Gauls were intrenched. At midnight the trumpets sounded. Camillus and his followers fell upon the camp and gained a victory.
When this news came to the ears of the Romans who had fled from Rome, many of them held a meeting and sent a messenger to beg him to take the lead once more.
"I will come," said he, "if I am invited by the people in the Capitol."
Ah, the Capitol was a hill inside the walls of Rome, and on it stood a fortress, and in this fortress was a body of citizens who would not yield to Brennus and his Gauls. But how was word to be carried to the Capitol? Who would go?
A young man dressed himself in rough clothes, so as to appear like a common peasant, and he hid large pieces of cork under his clothes. Having travelled to the river Tiber, which runs by Rome, he made his garments into a bundle and placed the bundle on his head and fastened the corks together for a float, and as he held the float he swam across the river by night. Then he crept through back streets till he came to the Capitol. Up the rugged cliff he climbed in the darkness, and gained the top in safety. Some senators were among the garrison of the Capitol. They heard the young man's story.
"Go," they said, "and bid Camillus march to the help of Rome."
The young hero climbed down the cliff again, crossed the river unseen, and gave the order to Camillus.
But before Camillus could rescue Rome the Gauls tried to seize the Capitol. One night they began to scale the cliff as the young messenger had done. A few of them actually reached the top, and others were climbing behind. The Roman guards were asleep.
A temple of Juno, the goddess, stood on the Capitol. In this building were kept a flock of geese. The birds heard the slight noise made by the Gauls, and they hissed! The sound woke the Romans. All was alarm! The clash of spears and shields resounded. The Gauls were driven back, some being flung headlong down the precipice. Ever afterward the story ran that Juno's geese had saved the Capitol.
Camillus had not come yet. The hearts of the Romans were faint. Food was almost gone. At length they sent to Brennus.
"Will you retire from the city if we give you a thousand pounds' weight of gold?"
Scales were brought to weigh the gold. Shining pieces were piled up in one scale so as to balance the weights on the other. One of the Gauls held down the scale that contained the weights.
"You are unjust!" cried the Roman.
Brennus laughed. He threw his belt and the sword tied to it into the scale, making it drop lower.
"Woe to the conquered!" he cried.
The Romans were obliged to pile up more gold, so as to balance the extra weight of the captain's belt and sword.
The Gauls did at last leave the Romans in peace, though I am not sure if they were driven out by Camillus, or went because they loved their own land better. You see, the Romans had been beaten by the Gauls, and felt too proud to own their defeat, and the writers of old histories do not tell us very clearly what happened at this time.
As I told you, Camillus belonged to the upper class, or richer class, who were called "patricians." Quarrels still went on between the people of wealth and the people who were poor, and at one time a number of the poorer citizens threatened to leave Rome altogether and set up a city somewhere else. They said that it was not right that the two magistrates who were chosen to govern Rome every year should always be men of the upper class. One ought to be a commoner, or plebeian. Camillus thought it was wise to grant this, and each year one consul was elected by the votes of the patricians and one by the votes of the commoners. This is what happens in politics. One class want one thing, and one class want another; and the wisest heads among the people have to plan a way to please as many of the citizens as possible. When the city was at peace again, the people built a new temple, called the temple of Concord, or Friendship. It stood by the forum. I wish such a temple could be built in every city and every land, and that the hearts of all men were joined together in peace and goodwill. And because Camillus made the city strong again after all its troubles with the Gauls and the quarrels of the citizens, the people called him "the second founder of Rome." He died 365 B.C.