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Famous StoriesThe Ungrateful Soldier
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HORATIUS AT THE BRIDGE
Once there was a war between the Roman people and the E-trus'cans who
lived in the towns on the other side of the Ti-ber River. Por'se-na,
the King of the E-trus-cans, raised a great army, and marched toward
Rome. The city had never been in so great danger.
The Romans did not have very many fighting men at that time, and they
knew that they were not strong enough to meet the Etruscans in open
battle. So they kept themselves inside of their walls, and set guards
to watch the roads.
One morning the army of Por-se-na was seen coming over the hills from
the north. There were thousands of horsemen and footmen, and they were
marching straight toward the wooden bridge which spanned the river at
"What shall we do?" said the white-haired Fathers who made the laws
for the Roman people. "If they once gain the bridge, we cannot hinder
them from crossing; and then what hope will there be for the town?"
Now, among the guards at the bridge, there was a brave man named
Ho-ra'ti-us. He was on the farther side of the river, and when he saw
that the Etruscans were so near, he called out to the Romans who were
"Hew down the bridge with all the speed that you can!" he cried. "I,
with the two men who stand by me, will keep the foe at bay."
Then, with their shields before them, and their long spears in their
hands, the three brave men stood in the road, and kept back the
horsemen whom Porsena had sent to take the bridge.
On the bridge the Romans hewed away at the beams and posts. Their axes
rang, the chips flew fast; and soon it trembled, and was ready to
"Come back! come back, and save your lives!" they cried to Ho-ra-ti-us
and the two who were with him.
But just then Porsena's horsemen dashed toward them again.
"Run for your lives!" said Horatius to his friends. "I will keep the
They turned, and ran back across the bridge. They had hardly reached
the other side when there was a crashing of beams and timbers. The
bridge toppled over to one side, and then fell with a great splash
into the water.
When Horatius heard the sound, he knew that the city was safe. With
his face still toward Porsena's men, he moved slowly back-ward till he
stood on the river's bank. A dart thrown by one of Porsena's soldiers
put out his left eye; but he did not falter. He cast his spear at the
fore-most horseman, and then he turned quickly around. He saw the
white porch of his own home among the trees on the other side of the
"And he spake to the noble river
That rolls by the walls of Rome:
'O Tiber! father Tiber!
To whom the Romans pray,
A Roman's life, a Roman's arms,
Take thou in charge to-day.'"
He leaped into the deep, swift stream. He still had his heavy armor
on; and when he sank out of sight, no one thought that he would ever
be seen again. But he was a strong man, and the best swimmer in Rome.
The next minute he rose. He was half-way across the river, and safe
from the spears and darts which Porsena's soldiers hurled after him.
Soon he reached the farther side, where his friends stood ready to
help him. Shout after shout greeted him as he climbed upon the bank.
Then Porsena's men shouted also, for they had never seen a man so
brave and strong as Horatius. He had kept them out of Rome, but he had
done a deed which they could not help but praise.
As for the Romans, they were very grateful to Horatius for having
saved their city. They called him Horatius Co'cles, which meant the
"one-eyed Horatius," because he had lost an eye in defending the
bridge; they caused a fine statue of brass to be made in his honor;
and they gave him as much land as he could plow around in a day. And
for hundreds of years afterwards--
"With weeping and with laugh-ter,
Still was the story told,
How well Horatius kept the bridge
In the brave days of old."
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