The decemvir, utterly abandoned to his passion, addressed the crowd and told them that he had ascertained not only through the insolent abuse of Icilius on the previous day and the violent behaviour of Verginius, which the Roman people could testify to, but mainly from certain definite information received, that all through the night meetings had been held in the City to organise a seditious movement.
Forewarned of the likelihood of disturbances, he had come down into the Forum with an armed escort, not to injure peaceable citizens, but to uphold the authority of the government by putting down the disturbers of public tranquillity.
‘It will therefore,’ he proceeded, ‘be better for you to keep quiet. Go, lictor, remove the crowd and clear a way for the master to take possession of his slave.’ When, in a transport of rage, he had thundered out these words, the people fell back and left the deserted girl a prey to injustice.
Verginius, seeing no prospect of help anywhere, turned to the tribunal. ‘Pardon me, Appius, I pray you, if I have spoken disrespectfully to you, pardon a father's grief. Allow me to question the nurse here, in the maiden's presence, as to what are the real facts of the case, that if I have been falsely called her father, I may leave her with the greater resignation.’
Permission being granted, he took the girl and her nurse aside to the booths near the temple of Venus Cloacina, now known as the ‘New Booths,’ and there, snatching up a butcher's knife, he plunged it into her breast, saying, ‘In this the only way in which I can, I vindicate, my child, thy freedom.’ Then, looking towards the tribunal, ‘By this blood, Appius, I devote thy head to the infernal gods.’
Alarmed at the outcry which arose at this terrible deed, the decemvir ordered Verginius to be arrested. Brandishing the knife, he cleared the way before him, until, protected by a crowd of sympathisers, he reached the city gate.
Icilius and Numitorius took up the lifeless body and showed it to the people; they deplored the villainy of Appius, the ill-starred beauty of the girl, the terrible compulsion under which the father had acted.
The matrons, who followed with angry cries, asked, ‘Was this the condition on which they were to rear children, was this the reward of modesty and purity?’ with other manifestations of that womanly grief, which, owing to their keener sensibility, is more demonstrative, and so expresses itself in more moving and pitiful fashion.
The men, and especially Icilius, talked of nothing but the abolition of the tribunitian power and the right of appeal and loudly expressed their indignation at the condition of public affairs.