Every one has heard tell of Rome, that great city, already ancient when Cæsar found on the shores of Britain woad-painted savages living in a swamp where now stands the mightiest city in the world. The story of Romulus and Remus tells of the founding of this ancient city, and how it took its name from its first king.

Older even than Rome was a town built on a hill not far away by Iulus, son of Æneas, of whose wanderings you have heard, and called Alba Longa, the Long White City.

When my story begins it was ruled by King Amulius. He had no right to the throne, but he had seized it by force from his elder brother, Numitor, who was a peace-abiding man, and no match for his ambitious brother.

Amulius had nothing to fear from the gentle Numitor, who abode with his flocks and herds, but his guilty conscience would not let him rest, and he lived in terror lest one day the children of Numitor should avenge their father's wrongs and take the throne that was theirs by right of inheritance.

So he hired assassins to kill the boy, and the girl, Sylvia, he doomed to be a vestal virgin. These were maidens vowed to remain single all their lives, and to watch the ever-burning fire in the shrine of the goddess Vesta; this could only be kept alive by spotless virgins, and on its life depended the safety of the city—of Alba first, and afterwards of Rome.

But the god Mars, whom all Romans worship as the leader of their hosts and the founder of their race, looked with pity on the maid, and willed not that the seed of Numitor should perish. So he visited her as she lay asleep in the temple of Vesta, and he sent her a wonderful dream.

She dreamt that as she sat and watched the sacred fire, she dozed, and the fillet slipped from her brow, and from the fillet there sprang two palm trees that grew and spread till their tops reached the heavens, and their branches overspread all the earth. Seven times did she dream the same dream, and she knew at last that it was a message of the god. And lo, in due time there were born to her twin sons of more than mortal beauty.

When Amulius heard of the birth of these twins his wrath was kindled. He commanded that Sylvia should forthwith be buried alive, for that is the punishment appointed for virgins unfaithful to their vows; and himself seizing the wicker cradle in which the babes lay asleep, he flung it into the yellow Tiber.

But Mars was mindful of his own. The mother, Sylvia, was nowhere to be found, for the god had spirited her away in safety, and the helpless babes, still sleeping quietly, floated upon the turbid waters as though their cradle had been a boat, while Father Tiber quelled his raging flood to let them pass unharmed.

On drifted the frail bark down the river till it came to where, at the foot of a hill, stood a great wild fig tree, its gnarled roots laid bare by the wash of the flood. The floating cradle was driven against the roots of this tree and held fast there, for the water had reached its highest level and was beginning now to ebb.

Through all the roaring of the raging river the babes had slept, but now, with a start, they awoke and looked up, expecting to see their mother bending over them and ready to take them to her breast. But over their heads they saw only a glimmer of twilight through the branches of the fig tree, and there was no sound save the sough of the wind and the lapping of the waters, and now and again the distant howl of a wolf seeking its evening meal. Cold and hungry, they cried piteously. Presently, through the gathering darkness, two green eyes stared down at them. It was a great gray she-wolf, and the hungry babes hushed their cry and gazed in wonder at those lamps of fire.

The wolf sniffed all round the cradle; then she pushed it with her forepaws till it fell right over on its side and the two infants rolled out of it. She licked them gently with her rough tongue, and they cuddled to her warm flanks and clutched instinctively with their tiny fingers at her shaggy fell. She dragged them gently up the hillside, away from the water, to a mossy cavern where she had her lair, and there she gave them milk as though they had been her own cubs, and nestling close against her the babes fell asleep.

It chanced that Faustulus, the chief herdsman of King Amulius, went forth one morning to see if the floods were abated and the pastures once more clear. As he wandered along at the foot of the Palatine hill he saw a cradle lying on its side beneath a fig tree. He went towards it, and as he neared the place his eye was caught by something moving within the dark shadow of an overhanging rock. He bent his steps to the cave to see what might be within it, when on a sudden a she-wolf sprang out and away among the bushes before he could aim a dart at her; and, to his amazement, a green woodpecker, with a piece of bread in its beak, came fluttering forth from the hollow. Both wolf and woodpecker, you must know, are special servants of Mars, and these were doing his pleasure and tending the helpless infants.

Faustulus came to the cave and stooped to look in. There, scrambling over one another on a soft bed of moss and fern, were two beautiful boys; and he marveled greatly, and said to himself: "These babes were not born of common mortals, but of one of the immortal gods. A naiad, or haply a river-god, must have interposed to save them from the flood, and to feed them with ambrosia, the food of the gods."

So he took them home to his wife Laurentia, and told her the tale. And when she saw their innocent faces her motherly heart was stirred with love and pity, and she tended them as though they had been her own sons, and called them Romulus and Remus.

The boys grew up brave and strong. When they were old enough they helped the herdsmen of King Amulius; and, because they were ever foremost where there was danger, all the other lads came to look up to them as leaders. It was a life that pleased the twins well. All day they wandered on the slopes of the hills, guarding the grazing cattle from wild beasts or robbers, and at night all the herdsmen would join together and make a camp in some sheltered valley or beneath spreading trees on the mountain side. And here they would build great fires to keep off the wolves, and would lie beside them, singing songs or telling tales to one another.

Sometimes the herdsmen of King Amulius had desperate fights with other herdsmen over good camping-grounds, or fertile pastures, or safe watering-places, or over the ownership of strayed cattle. More especially were their quarrels fierce and frequent with the herdsmen of Numitor, whose grazing-grounds marched with those of King Amulius. Sometimes, after these fights, the herdsmen of Numitor would complain to their master of the two tall striplings who constantly led the herdsmen of Amulius to victory.

At length, one day they laid an ambush and caught Remus, and bore him away to Numitor. As soon as the deposed king saw the lad he was reminded of the face of his long-lost daughter Sylvia, and he eagerly desired to see Romulus also.

Faustulus and his foster-son were wondering what could have befallen Remus, and were preparing to set out in search of him, when they saw a band of youths approaching, with olive boughs in their hands, in token that they came on a peaceful errand.

"Wherefore come you hither, friends?" asked Romulus.

The leader of the band made answer: "Our master, Numitor, has sent us, Romulus, to pray thee to hasten to his presence."

"Nay," answered Romulus, "I cannot go with you, for I must seek my brother Remus, who is lost."

Then said the herdsman: "Fear not for thy brother. He is already with our master Numitor."

Then Faustulus, who long ago had guessed who the boys must be, said to Romulus: "Do thou the bidding of Numitor, and go with these youths. I myself will go with thee, and will tell thee on the way certain matters that it much imports thee to know."

So on the way to the hall of Numitor, Faustulus told Romulus all the tale of the wicker cradle caught beneath the fig tree, and of the wolf and woodpecker that had tended the helpless babes.

When the herd-lads saw Romulus pass by they followed him, armed with staves and slings, to see that no harm should come to him; for they loved him and his brother well, and counted them their leaders.

As soon as Numitor saw the two lads together and heard the tale of their finding, he was sure that they must be the children of his daughter Sylvia.

And Romulus and Remus, when they knew of the evil deeds of their great-uncle Amulius, determined to take vengeance on him.

All the herdsmen were ready to follow wherever the twins might choose to lead, so they set forth at once for the hall of King Amulius, and they overpowered his bodyguard and slew him, and made Numitor king in his stead.

King Numitor was no ungrateful monarch, and he assigned to his grandsons, while yet alive, all the lands beside the Tiber, and here the brothers determined to build a city and to found a kingdom.

And now there came a sharp division between Romulus and Remus. They were of like age, strength, and courage, and of a like high spirit that ill brooked any kind of control. Both wanted to rule, neither was willing to obey; each of the twins was ambitious to be king in the new city, and to call it after his own name.

Then said their grandfather, King Numitor: "Strive not together over this thing, but let the all-seeing gods decide. Go up, either of you, to the top of one of these mountains, and look abroad upon the earth and sky, and the gods shall send a sign whereby ye may know who is chosen king."

So Romulus and Remus went each to the top of one of the hills by the Tiber, and they looked abroad upon the earth and sky, all fair and bright in the sunny April weather.

Remus first came back to his grandfather, and he was flushed with triumph.

"Victory!" he cried. "The gods have chosen me as king, for I have seen six vultures flying in the sky."

"Wait," said King Numitor; "do nothing rashly; let us hear what thy brother hath seen."

As he spoke Romulus strode into the hall and bowed before his grandfather.

"Speak," said King Numitor. "What hast thou seen from thy mountain-top?"

And Romulus made answer: "I looked abroad upon the earth, and saw no living thing; but when I gazed upwards, lo, I saw twelve vultures flying in the sky."

Then said Numitor: "Verily the gods have spoken plainly; here can be no mistaking. Hail, King Romulus! Thy brother saw but six vultures."

And all the herdsmen cried with a great shout: "Hail, King Romulus!"

But Remus muttered darkly: "I saw mine first, and I should be the king." But no man heeded him.

Then Romulus took a plow with a brazen share and yoked to it a bullock and a heifer, and plowed a deep furrow round the Palatine hill; and all the herdsmen followed after, turning the earth that the share displaced all to the side of the furrow where the city was to stand, so that good fortune might ever follow it and wealth be stored within its walls. But where the gates were to stand, the plow was lifted and carried a little space, for that was the custom of those days, that the gates might not be holy, but that all men might pass through.

The heart of Remus swelled with sullen anger, and he would not help his brother, nor take any part in the building of the city. Romulus would gladly have shared his lands and his wealth, but Remus would take nothing at his hands; if he might not be king he cared for nothing else.

Day by day he loitered about, gloomily watching Romulus and his men as they toiled at the walls of their city. They wrought hard and long each day, for they wished to surround their chosen site with a rampart before any foe came to interrupt their work.

Their first fortification was but a ditch and a mound, neither high nor wide, but enough to serve as a defense while they built better walls behind it at their leisure.

On the day the first wall of his new city was completed, Romulus was filled with joy, and offered sacrifices to the gods, and gave thanks in the presence of all his men.

But Remus thrust rudely in among the throng and laughed aloud in scorn: "What a wall to make such a pother about!" he cried; and running forward he leaped the ditch and the rampart, and turning leaped back again. "See how great a defense is your fine wall," he cried to Romulus, mocking him. "If a wolf should push against it he would knock it down, and I myself can leap within it whenever I choose."

And Romulus answered, pale with passion: "Go thy ways, brother, and leave my wall alone, or I may do thee a mischief."

"Thy wall!" retorted Remus. "Scarce can I see where thy wall runs. I thought, verily, some mole must have been rootling here upon the hillside."

Now it has always been the custom of soldiers to build first with the spade, and the wall that Romulus and his friends had thrown up as they dug their ditch was higher even now than most of the walls that were made in those days.

And Celer, the henchman of Romulus, the youth who had helped him most in his work, was sorely angered when Remus mocked; and when once more he leaped the wall, crying, "Even so will the enemy enter your city," Celer made answer fiercely: "And even thus will we meet the enemy"; and he smote Remus suddenly with the spade that was in his hand, and Remus fell dead at his brother's feet.

And when Celer saw that he had slain the brother of the King he flung down his spade and fled quickly, and being swift of foot he escaped to a far-off land.

And Romulus wept sore for his brother, and they took the body of Remus to the summit of the hill, and there they burnt it upon a great funeral pile.

The newly built city was called Rome; and here for many years Romulus reigned as king, terrible to his foes and just and kindly to all his people.

And when forty years had passed away it chanced that the King called together all his warriors to the Goat's Pool, that he might see and speak with them. They were standing ranged in their ranks while Romulus sat upon a high throne to muster them, when on a sudden there came a great darkness upon the whole assembly so that no man could see the face of him who stood next to him. Then, in the midst of the darkness, came a mighty storm of thunder and lightning. When the storm passed and the sun came out again all gazed in wonder and terror at the throne of Romulus, for the King was gone—he had vanished from their sight. And there were those who said that they had seen amid the storm a chariot of fire mounting to the heavens, and that the charioteer was none other than Mars himself come to bear away his son Romulus to the abode of the immortal gods.

And while all men doubted and wondered and talked of these things it fell on a day that a friend of Romulus, named Julius Proculus, had a wondrous vision. For it seemed to him as he traveled alone among the mountains, that the King stood before him, great and noble and clad in shining armor.

And Julius cried out: "Ah, my lord, wherefore hast thou left thy city in such sorrow? Hast thou indeed forsaken forever all those who love thee?"

Then the bright vision made answer: "For a space have I dwelt with men, and a great and glorious city have I founded. Know me henceforward as Quirinus, one of the immortal gods. And now go back to my people and tell them that if they will follow forever the law that I have given them, suffering neither cowardice nor license among them, but being brave and just and honorable, then will I, Quirinus, ever be at hand to help them in their need, and they shall rule over all the peoples of the world."