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Mary Macgregor

The Mysterious Gate

The fortress on the Capitoline hill was now in the hands of the Sabines, but they had still to fight with the Romans who dwelt on the Palatine hill.

Romulus was, indeed, already to be seen leading his men into the valley that lay between the two mountains.

The battle was long and fierce, and disaster well-nigh overtook the Sabines.

In the valley was a swamp, and in this swamp the whole of the enemy's army would have been engulfed, had not Curtius, one of their most gallant soldiers, warned them of danger.

He himself had been carried by his horse into the mire. Nobly he tried to free his steed, but his efforts were all in vain. The more the animal struggled, the deeper it sank into the swamp, until at length Curtius was forced to leave his horse that he might save himself. This swamp was ever after known as the Curtian Lake.

Hour after hour the battle raged, until at last Romulus and his followers were driven backward. In their dismay the Roman army rushed through one of the gates into their city, hastily shutting it behind them, that the foe might not also enter.

But lo! so says the legend, the gate would not remain shut, but opened, as it seemed, of its own accord.

Twice again the terrified Romans tried to close it, and twice it opened as mysteriously as before.

The Sabines reached the gate as it opened for the last time.

In through the open gate pushed the triumphant enemy, when suddenly a great flood of water gushed forth from the temple of the god Janus, which stood near to the gate.

Overwhelmed by the force of the water, the Sabines were swept, not only out of the gate, but far away from the city, and Rome was saved.

But although the Sabines had been forced to flee, they had not been conquered. Again and again they marched against Romulus, for they could not forgive him for the loss of their daughters.

In one of these battles Romulus was wounded by a stone and fell to the ground. His followers, seeing that their king was wounded, lost courage and began to retreat.

But the king was soon on his feet, calling to his men to stand and fight. But it seemed as though they dared not turn to face the foe.

Then, in his great need the king stretched out his hands to heaven and besought Jupiter to come to his aid, promising that he would build a temple to his name, so only he would stay the flight of his army.

Even as he prayed the answer came. No voice from heaven commanded them to stand, yet the Romans were suddenly ashamed of their cowardice and turned once more to face the foe.

But as the battle was about to begin with redoubled fury the Sabine women rushed in between the two armies with loud cries, entreating now their fathers and brothers, now their husbands to end this cruel slaughter.

They even begged that they themselves might be slain, for, "Better it is that we perish," said the women, "than live as widows and orphans."

In their arms the women carried their little sons, and these babes stretched out their tiny arms toward their grandsires, as though they too would beg for peace. The lamentable cries of their daughters, the sight of their little grandchildren made the Sabines hesitate, and soon the warriors in either army let their weapons fall to the ground in mood no longer warlike. "Then fathers and sons-in-law clasped hands in friendship. The old men embraced their daughters, and carried their baby grandsons on their shields. Surely a sweeter way was that to use the shield."

Peace was then made, and the Romans and Sabines agreed to become one, while Romulus and Tatius ruled together over their united people.

Five years later Tatius was killed in a quarrel, and Romulus again ruled alone.