One day some of the rulers of Carthage came to the prison to talk with Regulus.
“We should like to make peace with the Roman people,” they said, “and we are sure, that, if your rulers at home knew how the war is going, they would be glad to make peace with us. We will set you free and let you go home, if you will agree to do as we say.”
“What is that?” asked Regulus.
“In the first place,” they said, “you must tell the Romans about the battles which you have lost, and you must make it plain to them that they have not gained any-thing by the war. In the second place, you must promise us, that, if they will not make peace, you will come back to your prison.”
“Very well,” said Regulus, “I promise you, that, if they will not make peace, I will come back to prison.”
And so they let him go; for they knew that a great Roman would keep his word.
When he came to Rome, all the people greeted him gladly. His wife and children were very happy, for they thought that now they would not be parted again. The white-haired Fathers who made the laws for the city came to see him. They asked him about the war.
“I was sent from Carthage to ask you to make peace,” he said. “But it will not be wise to make peace. True, we have been beaten in a few battles, but our army is gaining ground every day. The people of Carthage are afraid, and well they may be. Keep on with the war a little while longer, and Carthage shall be yours. As for me, I have come to bid my wife and children and Rome fare-well. To-morrow I will start back to Carthage and to prison; for I have promised.”
Then the Fathers tried to persuade him to stay.
“Let us send another man in your place,” they said.
“Shall a Roman not keep his word?” answered Regulus. “I am ill, and at the best have not long to live. I will go back, as I promised.”
His wife and little children wept, and his sons begged him not to leave them again.
“I have given my word,” said Regulus. “The rest will be taken care of.”
Then he bade them good-by, and went bravely back to the prison and the cruel death which he ex-pect-ed.
This was the kind of courage that made Rome the greatest city in the world.
It was a bright morning in the old city of Rome many hundred years ago. In a vine-covered summer-house in a beautiful garden, two boys were standing. They were looking at their mother and her friend, who were walking among the flowers and trees.
“Did you ever see so handsome a lady as our mother’s friend?” asked the younger boy, holding his tall brother’s hand. “She looks like a queen.”
“Yet she is not so beautiful as our mother,” said the elder boy. “She has a fine dress, it is true; but her face is not noble and kind. It is our mother who is like a queen.”