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He eyed the flinching Tuscans,

And scorn was in his eye. Quoth he, "The she-wolf's litter21

Stand savagely at bay: But will ye dare to follow,

If Astur clears the way?"

Then, whirling up his broadsword

With hoth hands to the height. He rushed against Horatius,

And smote with all his might. With shield and blade Horatius

Right deftly turned the blow. The blow, though turned, came yet too nigh; It missed his helm, but gashed his thigh: The Tuscans raised a joyful cry

To see the red blood flow.

He reeled, and on Herminius

He leaned one breathing-space; Then, like a wild-cat mad with wounds,

Sprang right at Astur's face.
Through teeth, and skull, and helmet,

So fierce a thrust he sped,
The good sword stood a handbreadth out

Behind the Tuscan's head.

And the great Lord of Luna

Fell at that deadly stroke, As falls on Mount Alvernus

A thunder-smitten oak.

21. Romulus, the founder of Rome, and Remus, his brother, were, according to the legend, rescued and brought up by a she-wolf, after they had been east into the Tiber to die.

Far o'er the crashing forest

The giant arms lie spread;
And the pale augurs, muttering low,

Gaze on the blasted head.

On Astur's throat Horatius

Right firmly pressed his heel, And thrice and four times tugged amain,

Ere he wrenched out the steel. "And see," he cried, "the welcome,

Fair guests, that waits you here! What noble Lucumo comes next

To taste our Roman cheer?"

But at his haughty challenge

A sullen murmur ran, Mingled of wrath and shame and dread,

Along that glittering van. There lacked not men of prowess,

Nor men of lordly race; For all Etruria's noblest

Were round the fatal place.

But all Etruria's noblest

Felt their hearts sink to see On the earth the bloody corpses,

In the path the dauntless Three: And, from the ghastly entrance

Where those bold Romans stood. All shrank, like boys who unaware, Ranging the woods to start a hare, Come to the mouth of the dark lair Where, growling low, a fierce old bear

Lies amidst bones and blood.

Was none who would be foremost

To lead such dire attack:
But those behind cried "Forward!"

And those before cried "Back!"
And backward now and forward

Wavers the deep array;
And on the tossing sea of steel,
To and fro the standards reel;
And the victorious trumpet-peal

Dies fitfully away.

Yet one man for one moment

Stood out before the crowd; Well known was he to all the Three,

And they gave him greeting loud, "Now welcome, welcome, Sextus!

Now welcome to thy home! Why dost thou stay, and turn away?

Here lies the road to Rome."

Thrice looked he at the city;

Thrice looked he at the dead; And thrice came on in fury,

And thrice turned back in dread; And, white with fear and hatred,

Scowled at the narrow way Where, wallowing in a pool of blood, v The bravest Tuscans lay.

But meanwhile axe and lever
Have manfully been plied;

And now the bridge hangs tottering
Above the boiling tide.

"Come back, come back, Horatius!" Loud cried the Fathers all.

"Back, Lartius! back, Herminius!
Back, ere the ruin fall!"

Back darted Spurius Lartius;

Herminius darted back: And, as they passed, beneath their feet

They felt the timbers crack.
But when they turned their faces,

And on the farther shore
Saw brave Horatius stand alone,

They would have crossed once more.

But with a crash like thunder

Fell every loosened beam,
And, like a dam, the mighty wreck

Lay right athwart the stream;
And a long shout of triumph

Rose from the walls of Rome, As to the highest turret-tops

Was splashed the yellow foam.

And, like a horse unbroken

When first he feels the rein, The furious river struggled hard,

And tossed his tawny mane,
And burst the curb, and bounded,

Rejoicing to be free,
And whirling down, in fierce career,
Battlement, and plank, and pier,

Rushed headlong to the sea.

Alone stood brave Horatius,

But constant still in mind; Thrice thirty thousand foes before,

And the broad flood behind.

"Down with him!" cried false Sextus,

With a smile on his pale face. "Now yield thee," cried Lars Porsena,

"Now yield thee to our grace."

Round turned he, as not deigning

Those craven ranks to see; Naught spake he to Lars Porsena,

To Sextus naught spake he; But he saw on Palatinus2

The white porch of his home; And he spake to the noble river

That rolls by the towers of Rome.

"O Tiber! father Tiber!23

To whom the Romans pray,
A Roman's life, a Roman's arms,

Take thou in charge this day!"
So he spake, and speaking sheathed

The good sword by his side,
And with his harness on his back

Plunged headlong in the tide.

No sound of joy or sorrow

Was heard from either bank; But friends and foes in dumb surprise, With parted lips and straining eyes.

Stood gazing where he sank; And when above the surges

They saw his crest appear, All Rome sent forth a rapturous cry,

22. The Palatine is one of the seven hills of Rome.

23. The Romans personified the Tiber River, and even offered prayers to it.

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