Page images

He came with lowering forehead, swollen features, and clenched fist,

And strode across Virginia's path, and caught her by the wrist,

Hard strove the frighted maiden, and screamed with look aghast;

And at her scream from right and left the folk came running fast;

The money-changer Crispus, with his thin silver hairs, And Hanno from the stately booth glittering with Punic


And the strong smith, Muræna, grasping a half-forged brand,

And Volero the flesher, his cleaver in his hand,

All came in wrath and wonder; for all knew that fair


And, as she passed them twice a day, all kissed their hands and smiled;

And the strong smith, Muræna, gave Marcus such a blow,

The caitiff reeled three paces back, and let the maiden


Yet ere the varlet Marcus again might seize the


Who clung tight to Muræna's skirt, and sobbed, and shrieked for aid,

Forth through the throng of


gazers the young Icilius

And stamped his foot, and rent his gown, and smote

upon his breast,

And sprang upon that column, by many a minstrel


Whereon three mouldering helmets, three rusting swords are hung,

And beckoned to the people, and in bold voice and


Poured thick and fast the burning words which tyrants quake to hear.

"Now, by your children's cradles, now by your


Be men to-day, Quirites, or be for ever slaves!
For this did Servius give us laws?

Lucrece bleed?


For this did

For this was the great vengeance wrought on Tarquin's

evil seed?

For this did those false sons make red the axes of their


For this did Scævola's right hand hiss in the Tuscan


Shall the vile fox-earth awe the race that stormed the lion's den?

Shall we, who could not brook one lord, crouch to the wicked Ten?

Oh! for that ancient spirit which curbed the Senate's


Oh! for the tents which in old time whitened the Sacred Hill.

In those brave days our fathers stood firmly side by


They faced the Marcian fury; they tamed the Fabian


They drove the fiercest Quinctius an outcast forth from


They sent the haughtiest Claudius with shivered fasces


But what their care bequeathed us our madness flung


All the ripe fruit of threescore years was blighted in a


Exult, ye proud Patricians! The hard-fought fight is


We strove for honours-'twas in vain: for freedom'tis no more.

No crier to the polling summons the eager throng; No tribune breathes the word of might that guards the weak from wrong.

Our very hearts, that were so high, sink down beneath your will.

Riches, and lands, and power, and state-ye have them: -keep them still.

Still keep the holy fillets; still keep the purple gown, The axes, and the curule chair, the car and laurel


Still press us for your cohorts, and, when the fight is done,

Still fill your garners from the soil which our good swords have won.

Still, like a spreading ulcer, which leech-craft may not


Let your foul usance eat away the substance of the


Still let your haggard debtors bear all their fathers


Still let your dens of torment be noisome as of yore; No fire when Tiber freezes; no air in dog-star heat; And store of rods for free-born backs, and holes for free-born feet.

Heap heavier still the fetters; bar closer still the grate;

Patient as sheep we yield us up unto your cruel hate. But, by the shades beneath us, and by the gods above, Add not unto your cruel hate your yet more cruel love!

Have ye not graceful ladies, whose spotless lineage springs

From consuls, and high pontiffs, and ancient Alban


Ladies, who deign not on our paths to set their tender


Who from their cars look down with scorn upon the wondering street,

Who in Corinthian mirrors, their own proud smiles be


And breathe of Capuan odours, and shine with Spanish gold?

Then leave the poor plebeian his single tie to life— The sweet, sweet love of daughter, of sister, and of


The gentle speech, the balm for all that his vexed soul


The kiss, in which he half forgets e'en such a yoke as


Still let the maiden's beauty swell the father's breast with pride;

Still let the bridegroom's arms infold an unpolluted bride.

Spare us the inexpiable wrong, the unutterable shame, That turns the coward's heart to steel, the sluggard's blood to flame,

Lest, when our latest hope is fled, ye taste of our despair,

And learn by proof, in some wild hour, how much the wretched dare."

Straightway Virginius led the maid a little space aside,

To where the reeking shambles stood, piled up with horn and hide,

Close to yon low dark archway, where, in a crimson


Leaps down to the great sewer the gurgling stream of


Hard by, a flesher on a block had laid his whittle down:

Virginius caught the whittle up, and hid it in his


And then his eyes grew very dim, and his throat began

to swell,

And in a hoarse, changed voice he spake, "Farewell, sweet child! Farewell!

Oh! how I loved my darling! Though stern I somctimes be,

To thee, thou know'st, I was not so. Who could be so to thee?

How glad she was to

And how my darling loved me!


My footstep on the threshold when I came back last


And how she danced with pleasure to see my civic


And took my sword, and hung it up, and brought me forth my gown.

Now, all those things are over yes, all thy pretty ways, Thy needlework, thy prattle, thy snatches of old lays; And none will grieve when I go forth, or smile when I


Or watch beside the old man's bed, or weep upon



The house that was the happiest within the Roman walls, The house that envied not the wealth of Capua's marble


Now, for the brightness of thy smile, must have eternal


And for the music of thy voice, the silence of the tomb. The time is come. See how he points his cager hand

this way!

See how his eyes gloat on thy grief, like a kite's upon

the prey!

With all his wit, he little deems, that, spurned, betrayed, bereft,

Thy father hath in his despair one fearful refuge left. He little deems that in this hand I clutch what still can


Thy gentle youth from taunts and blows, the portion of the slave;

Yea, and from nameless evil, that passeth taunt and blow

Foul outrage which thou knowest not, which thou shalt never know.

Then clasp me round the neck once more, and give me one more kiss;

And now mine own dear little girl, there is no way but this."

« PreviousContinue »