ALTHOUGH the Romans in anger had vowed that they would never have any more kings, they would willingly have let Brutus rule them. He was too good a citizen, however, to accept this post; so he told them that it would be wiser to give the authority to two men, called Consuls, whom they could elect every year.
This plan pleased the Romans greatly, and the government was called a Republic, because it was in the hands of the people themselves. The first election took place almost immediately, and Brutus and Collatinus were the first two consuls.
The new rulers of Rome were very busy. Besides governing the people, they were obliged to raise an army to fight Tarquin, who was trying to get his throne back again.
The first move of the exiled king was to send messengers to Rome, under the pretext of claiming his property. But the real object of these messengers was to bribe some of the people to help Tarquin recover his lost throne.
Some of the Romans were so wicked that they preferred the rule of a bad king to that of an honest man like Brutus. Such men accepted the bribes, and began to plan how to get Tarquin back into the city. They came together very often to discuss different plans, and among these traitors were two sons of Brutus.
One day they and their companions were making a plot to place the city again in Tarquin's hands. In their excitement, they began to talk aloud, paying no attention to a slave near the open door, who was busy sharpening knives.
Although this slave seemed to be intent upon his work, he listened to what they said, and learned all their plans. When the conspirators were gone, the slave went to the consuls, told them all he had heard, and gave them the names of the men who were thus plotting the downfall of the republic.
When Brutus heard that his two sons were traitors, he was almost broken-hearted. But he was so stern and just that he made up his mind to treat them exactly as if they were strangers; so he at once sent his guards to arrest them, as well as the other conspirators.
The young men were then brought before the consuls, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to the punishment of traitors—death. Throughout the whole trial, Brutus sat in his consul's chair; and, when it was ended, he sternly bade his sons speak and defend themselves if they were innocent.
As the young men could not deny their guilt, they began to beg for mercy; but Brutus turned aside, and sternly bade the lictors do their duty. We are told that he himself witnessed the execution of his sons, and preferred to see them die, rather than to have them live as traitors.
The people now hated the Tarquins more than before, and made a law that their whole race should be banished forever. Collatinus, you know, was a most bitter enemy of the exiled king's family; but, as he was himself related to them, he had to give up his office and leave Rome. The people then chose another noble Roman, named Valerius, to be consul in his stead.
When Tarquin heard that the Romans had found out what he wanted to do, and that he could expect no help from his former subjects, he persuaded the people of Veii to join him, and began a war against Rome.
Tarquin's army was met by Brutus at the head of the Romans. Before the battle could begin, one of Tarquin's sons saw Brutus, and rushed forward to kill him. Such was the hatred these two men bore each other that they fought with the utmost fury, and fell at the same time never to rise again.
Although these two generals had been killed so soon, the fight was very fierce. The forces were so well matched that, when evening came on, the battle was not decided, and neither side would call itself beaten.
The body of Brutus was carried back to Rome, and placed in the Forum, where all the people crowded around it in tears. Such was the respect which the Romans felt for this great citizen that the women wore mourning for him for a whole year, and his statue was placed in the Capitol, among those of the Roman kings.
The Roman children were often brought there to see it, and all learned to love and respect the stern-faced man with the drawn sword; for he had freed Rome from the tyranny of the kings, and had arranged for the government of the republic he had founded.