There was one of his clients named Marcus Claudius, whom he paid to get up a story that Virginius’ wife Numitoria, who was dead, had never had any child at all, but had bought a baby of one of his slaves and had deceived her husband with it, and thus that poor Virginia was really his slave. As the maiden was reading at her school, this wretch and a band of fellows like him seized upon her, declaring that she was his property, and that he would carry her off. There was a great uproar, and she was dragged as far as Appius’ judgment-seat; but by that time her faithful nurse had called the poor girl’s uncle Numitorius, who could answer for it that she was really his sister’s child. But Appius would not listen to him, and all that he could gain was that judgment should not be given in the matter until Virginius should have been fetched from the camp.
[Illustration: CHARIOT RACES.]
Virginius had set out from the camp with Icilius before the messengers of Appius had reached the general with orders to stop him, and he came to the Forum leading his daughter by the hand, weeping, and attended by a great many ladies. Claudius brought his slave, who made false oath that she had sold her child to Numitoria; while, on the other hand, all the kindred of Virginius and his wife gave such proof of the contrary as any honest judge would have thought sufficient, but Appius chose to declare that the truth was with his client. There was a great murmur of all the people, but he frowned at them, and told them he knew of their meetings, and that there were soldiers in the Capitol ready to punish them, so they must stand back and not hinder a master from recovering his slave.
Virginius took his poor daughter in his arms as if to give her a last embrace, and drew her close to the stall of a butcher where lay a great knife. He wiped her tears, kissed her, and saying, “My own dear little girl, there is no way but this,” he snatched up the knife and plunged it into her heart, then drawing it out he cried, “By this blood, Appius, I devote thy blood to the infernal gods.”
He could not reach Appius, but the lictors could not seize him, and he mounted his horse and galloped back to the army, four hundred men following him, and he arrived still holding the knife. Every soldier who heard the story resolved no longer to bear with the Decemvirs, but to march back to the city at once and insist on the old government being restored. The Decemvir generals tried to stop them, but they only answered, “We are men with swords in our hands.” At the same time there was such a tumult in the city, that Appius was forced to hide himself in his own house while Virginia’s corpse was carried on a bier through the streets, and every one laid garlands, scarfs, and wreaths of their own hair upon it. When the troops arrived, they and the people joined in demanding that the Decemvirs should be given up to them to be burnt alive, and that the old magistrates should be restored. However,