The Story of the Romans (Yesterday's Classics)

The Story of the Romans (Yesterday's Classics) by H. A. Guerber Read Free Book Online

Book: The Story of the Romans (Yesterday's Classics) by H. A. Guerber Read Free Book Online
Authors: H. A. Guerber
Tags: History
the presence of the people, one of the priests drove a nail into the wall, to keep a record of the time which had passed since the building of the temple.
    Tarquinius Superbus had partly finished the Capitol, when he received a very strange visit. The Sibyl, or prophetess, who dwelt in a cave at Cumæ, came to see him. She carried nine rolls, or books, which she offered to sell him for three hundred pieces of gold.
    Tarquin asked what the books contained, and she replied that it was prophecies about Rome. He wished to see them, but the Sibyl would not let him look at a single page until he had bought them. Now, although the king knew she was a prophetess, he did not want to pay so much; and when he told the woman so, she went away in anger.

Cumæan Sibyl

    Not long after, the Sibyl again visited Tarquin. This time, she brought only six books, for which, however, she demanded the same price as for the nine. Tarquin, surprised, asked her what had become of the other volumes; and she answered shortly that they were burned.
    Tarquin again wanted to see the books, and was again refused even a glimpse into them. Then he found fault with the price, and again Sibyl grew angry, and went away with her six volumes.
    Although the king fancied that he would never see her again, she soon returned with only three volumes. She said that all the others were burned, and asked him three hundred pieces of gold for those that were left. The king, awed by her manner, bought them without further ado.
    When the priests opened the mysterious volumes, they said that the prophecies concerning Rome were too wonderful for any one but themselves to see. The books were therefore placed in a stone chest in the Capitol, where the priests guarded them night and day.
    From time to time, whenever any great trouble occurred, and the people did not know what to do, the augurs peeped into these volumes. Here they said they always found some good advice; but we now think that they pretended to read from the volume whatever they wished the Romans to do.

CHAPTER XIX
Tarquin's Poppies
    T ARQUINIUS S UPERBUS , the seventh king of Rome, was not only a builder, but also a great warrior. During his reign he made war against the Volscians, and he also besieged the city of Gabii, where the patricians who did not like him had taken refuge.
    This city was so favorably situated, and so well fortified, that Tarquin could not make himself master of it, although his army was unusually well trained.
    Seeing that he could not take it by force, he soon decided to try to win it by fraud. He therefore directed his son, Sextus Tarquinius, to go to Gabii, and win admittance to the city by saying that the king had ill-treated him, and that he had come to ask protection. Sextus was as wicked as his father, so he did not scruple to tell this lie; and he set out immediately for Gabii.
    When the people heard the pitiful tale which Sextus told, they not only let him into the city, but also revealed to him their secrets. Then they made him general of their army, and even gave him the keys of the gates. Sextus was now all-powerful at Gabii, but he did not know exactly what to do next, so he sent a messenger to his father, to tell him all that had happened, and to ask his advice.
    The messenger found Tarquin in his garden, slowly walking up and down between the flower borders. He delivered all his messages, and then asked what reply he should carry back to Sextus at Gabii.
    Instead of answering the man, Tarquin slowly turned and walked down the garden path, striking off the heads of the tallest poppies with his staff. The messenger waited for a while in silence, and then again asked what answer he should take to his master.
    Tarquin came back to him, and carelessly said: "Go back to Gabii, and tell my son that I had no answer to send him, but be sure to tell him where you found me, and what I was doing."
    The man went back to Sextus, and reported all he had seen. After thinking the matter over

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