Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
Part 11 out of 13
"You are one of its riddles. Be merciful, and give me a little
clew to help me understand you. In what do I need help? And how
can you help me?"
She took her hand from him, and, turning to the camel, spoke to
it endearingly, and patted its monstrous head as it were a thing
"O thou last and swiftest and stateliest of the herds of Job!
Sometimes thou, too, goest stumbling, because the way is rough
and stony and the burden grievous. How is it thou knowest the
kind intent by a word; and always makest answer gratefully,
though the help offered is from a woman? I will kiss thee,
thou royal brute!"--she stooped and touched its broad forehead
with her lips, saying immediately, "because in thy intelligence
there is no suspicion!"
And Ben-Hur, restraining himself, said calmly, "The reproach has
not failed its mark, O Egypt! I seem to say thee no; may it not
be because I am under seal of honor, and by my silence cover the
lives and fortunes of others?"
"May be!" she said, quickly. "It is so."
He shrank a step, and asked, his voice sharp with amazement,
"What all knowest thou?"
She answered, after a laugh,
"Why do men deny that the senses of women are sharper than theirs?
Your face has been under my eyes all day. I had but to look at it to
see you bore some weight in mind; and to find the weight, what had I
to do more than recall your debates with my father? Son of Hur!"--she
lowered her voice with singular dexterity, and, going nearer, spoke so
her breath was warm upon his cheek--"son of Hur! he thou art going to
find is to be King of the Jews, is he not?"
His heart beat fast and hard.
"A King of the Jews like Herod, only greater," she continued.
He looked away--into the night, up to the stars; then his eyes
met hers, and lingered there; and her breath was on his lips,
so near was she.
"Since morning," she said, further, "we have been having visions.
Now if I tell you mine, will you serve me as well? What! silent
She pushed his hand away, and turned as if to go; but he caught
her, and said, eagerly, "Stay--stay and speak!"
She went back, and with her hand upon his shoulder, leaned against
him; and he put his arm around her, and drew her close, very close;
and in the caress was the promise she asked.
"Speak, and tell me thy visions, O Egypt, dear Egypt! A prophet--nay,
not the Tishbite, not even the Lawgiver--could have refused an
asking of thine. I am at thy will. Be merciful--merciful, I pray."
The entreaty passed apparently unheard, for looking up and nestling
in his embrace, she said, slowly, "The vision which followed me was
of magnificent war--war on land and sea--with clashing of arms
and rush of armies, as if Caesar and Pompey were come again,
and Octavius and Antony. A cloud of dust and ashes arose and
covered the world, and Rome was not any more; all dominion
returned to the East; out of the cloud issued another race
of heroes; and there were vaster satrapies and brighter crowns
for giving away than were ever known. And, son of Hur, while the
vision was passing, and after it was gone, I kept asking myself,
'What shall he not have who served the King earliest and best?'"
Again Ben-Hur recoiled. The question was the very question which
had been with him all day. Presently he fancied he had the clew
"So," he said, "I have you now. The satrapies and crowns are
the things to which you would help me. I see, I see! And there
never was such queen as you would be, so shrewd, so beautiful,
so royal--never! But, alas, dear Egypt! by the vision as you show it
me the prizes are all of war, and you are but a woman, though Isis
did kiss you on the heart. And crowns are starry gifts beyond your
power of help, unless, indeed, you have a way to them more certain
than that of the sword. If so, O Egypt, Egypt, show it me, and I
will walk in it, if only for your sake."
She removed his arm, and said, "Spread your cloak upon the sand--here,
so I can rest against the camel. I will sit, and tell you a story which
came down the Nile to Alexandria, where I had it."
He did as she said, first planting the spear in the ground near by.
"And what shall I do?" he said, ruefully, when she was seated.
"In Alexandria is it customary for the listeners to sit or stand?"
From the comfortable place against the old domestic she answered,
laughing, "The audiences of story-tellers are wilful, and sometimes
they do as they please."
Without more ado he stretched himself upon the sand, and put her
arm about his neck.
"I am ready," he said.
And directly she began:
HOW THE BEAUTIFUL CAME TO THE EARTH.
"You must know, in the first place, that Isis was--and, for that
matter, she may yet be--the most beautiful of deities; and Osiris,
her husband, though wise and powerful, was sometimes stung with
jealousy of her, for only in their loves are the gods like mortals.
"The palace of the Divine Wife was of silver, crowning the tallest
mountain in the moon, and thence she passed often to the sun, in the
heart of which, a source of eternal light, Osiris kept his palace of
gold too shining for men to look at.
"One time--there are no days with the gods--while she was full
pleasantly with him on the roof of the golden palace, she chanced
to look, and afar, just on the line of the universe, saw Indra
passing with an army of simians, all borne upon the backs of
flying eagles. He, the Friend of Living Things--so with much
love is Indra called--was returning from his final war with the
hideous Rakshakas--returning victorious; and in his suite were
Rama, the hero, and Sita, his bride, who, next to Isis herself,
was the very most beautiful. And Isis arose, and took off her girdle
of stars, and waved it to Sita--to Sita, mind you--waved it in glad
salute. And instantly, between the marching host and the two on the
golden roof, a something as of night fell, and shut out the view;
but it was not night--only the frown of Osiris.
"It happened the subject of his speech that moment was such as none
else than they could think of; and he arose, and said, majestically,
'Get thee home. I will do the work myself. To make a perfectly happy
being I do not need thy help. Get thee gone.'
"Now Isis had eyes large as those of the white cow which in the
temple eats sweet grasses from the hands of the faithful even
while they say their prayers; and her eyes were the color of the
cows, and quite as tender. And she too arose and said, smiling as
she spoke, so her look was little more than the glow of the moon
in the hazy harvest-month, 'Farewell, good my lord. You will call
me presently, I know; for without me you cannot make the perfectly
happy creature of which you were thinking, any more'--and she stopped
to laugh, knowing well the truth of the saying--'any more, my lord,
than you yourself can be perfectly happy without me.'
"'We will see,' he said.
"And she went her way, and took her needles and her chair, and on the
roof of the silver palace sat watching and knitting.
"And the will of Osiris, at labor in his mighty breast, was as the
sound of the mills of all the other gods grinding at once, so loud
that the near stars rattled like seeds in a parched pod; and some
dropped out and were lost. And while the sound kept on she waited
and knit; nor lost she ever a stitch the while.
"Soon a spot appeared in the space over towards the sun; and it
grew until it was great as the moon, and then she knew a world
was intended; but when, growing and growing, at last it cast
her planet in the shade, all save the little point lighted by
her presence, she knew how very angry he was; yet she knit away,
assured that the end would be as she had said.
"And so came the earth, at first but a cold gray mass hanging listless
in the hollow void. Later she saw it separate into divisions; here a
plain, there a mountain, yonder a sea, all as yet without a sparkle.
And then, by a river-bank, something moved; and she stopped her
knitting for wonder. The something arose, and lifted its hands
to the sun in sign of knowledge whence it had its being. And this
First Man was beautiful to see. And about him were the creations
we call nature--the grass, the trees, birds, beasts, even the
insects and reptiles.
"And for a time the man went about happy in his life: it was
easy to see how happy he was. And in the lull of the sound of
the laboring will Isis heard a scornful laugh, and presently
the words, blown across from the sun,
"'Thy help, indeed! Behold a creature perfectly happy!'
"And Isis fell to knitting again, for she was patient as Osiris
was strong; and if he could work, she could wait; and wait she
did, knowing that mere life is not enough to keep anything content.
"And sure enough. Not long until the Divine Wife could see
a change in the man. He grew listless, and kept to one place
prone by the river, and looked up but seldom, and then always
with a moody face. Interest was dying in him. And when she made
sure of it, even while she was saying to herself, 'The creature
is sick of his being,' there was a roar of the creative will at
work again, and in a twinkling the earth, theretofore all a thing
of coldest gray, flamed with colors; the mountains swam in purple,
the plains bearing grass and trees turned green, the sea blue,
and the clouds varied infinitely.
And the man sprang up and clapped his hands, for he was cured and
"And Isis smiled, and knit away, saying to herself, 'It was well
thought, and will do a little while; but mere beauty in a world is
not enough for such a being. My lord must try again.'
"With the last word, the thunder of the will at work shook
the moon, and, looking, Isis dropped her knitting and clapped
her hands; for theretofore everything on the earth but the man
had been fixed to a given place; now all living, and much that
was not living, received the gift of Motion. The birds took to
wing joyously; beasts great and small went about, each in its
way; the trees shook their verdurous branches, nodding to the
enamoured winds; the rivers ran to the seas, and the seas tossed
in their beds and rolled in crested waves, and with surging and
ebbing painted the shores with glistening foam; and over all the
clouds floated like sailed ships unanchored.
"And the man rose up happy as a child; whereat Osiris was pleased,
so that he shouted, 'Ha, ha! See how well I am doing without thee!'
"The good wife took up her work, and answered ever so quietly,
'It was well thought, my lord--ever so well thought--and will
"And as before, so again. The sight of things in motion became to
the man as of course. The birds in flight, the rivers running,
the seas in tumult of action, ceased to amuse him, and he pined
again even worse.
"And Isis waited, saying to herself, 'Poor creature! He is more
wretched than ever.'
"And, as if he heard the thought, Osiris stirred, and the noise
of his will shook the universe; the sun in its central seat alone
stood firm. And Isis looked, but saw no change; then while she was
smiling, assured that her lord's last invention was sped, suddenly the
creature arose, and seemed to listen; and his face brightened, and he
clapped his hands for joy, for Sounds were heard the first time on
earth--sounds dissonant, sounds harmonious. The winds murmured in
the trees; the birds sang, each kind a song of its own, or chattered
in speech; the rivulets running to the rivers became so many harpers
with harps of silver strings all tinkling together; and the rivers
running to the seas surged on in solemn accord, while the seas beat
the land to a tune of thunder. There was music, music everywhere,
and all the time; so the man could not but be happy.
"Then Isis mused, thinking how well, how wondrous well, her lord
was doing; but presently she shook her head: Color, Motion,
Sound--and she repeated them slowly--there was no element else
of beauty except Form and Light, and to them the earth had been
born. Now, indeed, Osiris was done; and if the creature should
again fall off into wretchedness, her help must be asked; and her
fingers flew--two, three, five, even ten stitches she took at once.
"And the man was happy a long time--longer than ever before; it
seemed, indeed, he would never tire again. But Isis knew better;
and she waited and waited, nor minded the many laughs flung at
her from the sun; she waited and waited, and at last saw signs
of the end. Sounds became familiar to him, and in their range,
from the chirruping of the cricket under the roses to the roar
of the seas and the bellow of the clouds in storm, there was not
anything unusual. And he pined and sickened, and sought his place of
moping by the river, and at last fell down motionless.
"Then Isis in pity spoke.
"'My lord,' she said, 'the creature is dying.'
"But Osiris, though seeing it all, held his peace; he could do
"'Shall I help him?' she asked.
"Osiris was too proud to speak.
"Then Isis took the last stitch in her knitting, and gathering
her work in a roll of brilliance flung it off--flung it so it
fell close to the man. And he, hearing the sound of the fall so
near by, looked up, and lo! a Woman--the First Woman--was stooping
to help him! She reached a hand to him; he caught it and arose;
and nevermore was miserable, but evermore happy."
"Such, O son of Hur! is the genesis of the beautiful, as they tell
it on the Nile."
"A pretty invention, and cunning," he said, directly; "but it is
imperfect. What did Osiris afterwards?"
"Oh yes," she replied. "He called the Divine Wife back to the sun,
and they went on all pleasantly together, each helping the other."
"And shall I not do as the first man?"
He carried the hand resting upon his neck to his lips. "In love--in
love!" he said.
His head dropped softly into her lap.
"You will find the King," she said, placing her other hand
caressingly upon his head. "You will go on and find the King
and serve him. With your sword you will earn his richest gifts;
and his best soldier will be my hero."
He turned his face, and saw hers close above. In all the sky
there was that moment nothing so bright to him as her eyes,
enshadowed though they were. Presently he sat up, and put his
arms about her, and kissed her passionately, saying, "O Egypt,
Egypt! If the King has crowns in gift, one shall be mine; and I
will bring it and put it here over the place my lips have marked.
You shall be a queen--my queen--no one more beautiful! And we will
be ever, ever so happy!"
"And you will tell me everything, and let me help you in all?"
she said, kissing him in return.
The question chilled his fervor.
"Is it not enough that I love you?" he asked.
"Perfect love means perfect faith," she replied. "But never
mind--you will know me better."
She took her hand from him and arose.
"You are cruel," he said.
Moving away, she stopped by the camel, and touched its front face
with her lips.
"O thou noblest of thy kind!--that, because there is no suspicion
in thy love."
An instant, and she was gone.
The third day of the journey the party nooned by the river Jabbok,
where there were a hundred or more men, mostly of Peraea, resting
themselves and their beasts. Hardly had they dismounted, before a
man came to them with a pitcher of water and a bowl, and offered them
drink; as they received the attention with much courtesy, he said,
looking at the camel, "I am returning from the Jordan, where just
now there are many people from distant parts, travelling as you
are, illustrious friend; but they had none of them the equal of
your servant here. A very noble animal. May I ask of what breed
he is sprung?"
Balthasar answered, and sought his rest; but Ben-Hur, more curious,
took up the remark.
"At what place on the river are the people?" he asked.
"It used to be a lonesome ford," said Ben-Hur. "I cannot understand
how it can have become of such interest."
"I see," the stranger replied; "you, too, are from abroad, and have
not heard the good tidings."
"Well, a man has appeared out of the wilderness--a very holy
man--with his mouth full of strange words, which take hold of
all who hear them. He calls himself John the Nazarite, son of
Zacharias, and says he is the messenger sent before the Messiah."
Even Iras listened closely while the man continued:
"They say of this John that he has spent his life from childhood
in a cave down by En-Gedi, praying and living more strictly than
the Essenes. Crowds go to hear him preach. I went to hear him with
"Have all these, your friends, been there?"
"Most of them are going; a few are coming away."
"What does he preach?"
"A new doctrine--one never before taught in Israel, as all say.
He calls it repentance and baptism. The rabbis do not know what to
make of him; nor do we. Some have asked him if he is the Christ,
others if he is Elias; but to them all he has the answer, 'I am
the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way
of the Lord!'"
At this point the man was called away by his friends; as he was
going, Balthasar spoke.
"Good stranger!" he said, tremulously, "tell us if we shall find
the preacher at the place you left him."
"Yes, at Bethabara."
"Who should this Nazarite be?" said Ben-Hur to Iras, "if not the
herald of our King?"
In so short a time he had come to regard the daughter as more
interested in the mysterious personage he was looking for than
the aged father! Nevertheless, the latter with a positive glow
in his sunken eyes half arose, and said,
"Let us make haste. I am not tired."
They turned away to help the slave.
There was little conversation between the three at the stopping-place
for the night west of Ramoth-Gilead.
"Let us arise early, son of Hur," said the old man. "The Saviour
may come, and we not there."
"The King cannot be far behind his herald," Iras whispered, as she
prepared to take her place on the camel.
"To-morrow we will see!" Ben-Hur replied, kissing her hand.
Next day about the third hour, out of the pass through which,
skirting the base of Mount Gilead, they had journeyed since
leaving Ramoth, the party came upon the barren steppe east of
the sacred river. Opposite them they saw the upper limit of the
old palm lands of Jericho, stretching off to the hill-country
of Judea. Ben-Hur's blood ran quickly, for he knew the ford was
close at hand.
"Content you, good Balthasar," he said; "we are almost there."
The driver quickened the camel's pace. Soon they caught sight
of booths and tents and tethered animals; and then of the river,
and a multitude collected down close by the bank, and yet another
multitude on the western shore. Knowing that the preacher was
preaching, they made greater haste; yet, as they were drawing
near, suddenly there was a commotion in the mass, and it began
to break up and disperse.
They were too late!
"Let us stay here," said Ben-Hur to Balthasar, who was wringing
his hands. "The Nazarite may come this way."
The people were too intent upon what they had heard, and too busy
in discussion, to notice the new-comers. When some hundreds were
gone by, and it seemed the opportunity to so much as see the
Nazarite was lost to the latter, up the river not far away they
beheld a person coming towards them of such singular appearance
they forgot all else.
Outwardly the man was rude and uncouth, even savage. Over a thin,
gaunt visage of the hue of brown parchment, over his shoulders and
down his back below the middle, in witch-like locks, fell a covering
of sun-scorched hair. His eyes were burning-bright. All his right side
was naked, and of the color of his face, and quite as meagre; a shirt
of the coarsest camel's-hair--coarse as Bedouin tent-cloth--clothed
the rest of his person to the knees, being gathered at the waist by
a broad girdle of untanned leather. His feet were bare. A scrip,
also of untanned leather, was fastened to the girdle. He used a
knotted staff to help him forward. His movement was quick, decided,
and strangely watchful. Every little while he tossed the unruly
hair from his eyes, and peered round as if searching for somebody.
The fair Egyptian surveyed the son of the Desert with surprise,
not to say disgust. Presently, raising the curtain of the houdah,
she spoke to Ben-Hur, who sat his horse near by.
"Is that the herald of thy King?"
"It is the Nazarite," he replied, without looking up.
In truth, he was himself more than disappointed. Despite his
familiarity with the ascetic colonists in En-Gedi--their dress,
their indifference to all worldly opinion, their constancy to
vows which gave them over to every imaginable suffering of body,
and separated them from others of their kind as absolutely as if
they had not been born like them--and notwithstanding he had been
notified on the way to look for a Nazarite whose simple description
of himself was a Voice from the Wilderness--still Ben-Hur's dream of
the King who was to be so great and do so much had colored all his
thought of him, so that he never doubted to find in the forerunner
some sign or token of the goodliness and royalty he was announcing.
Gazing at the savage figure before him, the long trains of courtiers
whom he had been used to see in the thermae and imperial corridors
at Rome arose before him, forcing a comparison. Shocked, shamed,
bewildered, he could only answer,
"It is the Nazarite."
With Balthasar it was very different. The ways of God, he knew,
were not as men would have them. He had seen the Saviour a child
in a manger, and was prepared by his faith for the rude and simple
in connection with the Divine reappearance. So he kept his seat,
his hands crossed upon his breast, his lips moving in prayer.
He was not expecting a king.
In this time of such interest to the new-comers, and in which they
were so differently moved, another man had been sitting by himself
on a stone at the edge of the river, thinking yet, probably, of the
sermon he had been hearing. Now, however, he arose, and walked slowly
up from the shore, in a course to take him across the line the Nazarite
was pursuing and bring him near the camel.
And the two--the preacher and the stranger--kept on until they
came, the former within twenty yards of the animal, the latter
within ten feet. Then the preacher stopped, and flung the hair
from his eyes, looked at the stranger, threw his hands up as a
signal to all the people in sight; and they also stopped, each in
the pose of a listener; and when the hush was perfect, slowly the
staff in the Nazarite's right hand came down and pointed to the
All those who before were but listeners became watchers also.
At the same instant, under the same impulse, Balthasar and Ben-Hur
fixed their gaze upon the man pointed out, and both took the same
impression, only in different degree. He was moving slowly towards
them in a clear space a little to their front, a form slightly above
the average in stature, and slender, even delicate. His action
was calm and deliberate, like that habitual to men much given to
serious thought upon grave subjects; and it well became his costume,
which was an undergarment full-sleeved and reaching to the ankles,
and an outer robe called the talith; on his left arm he carried the
usual handkerchief for the head, the red fillet swinging loose down
his side. Except the fillet and a narrow border of blue at the
lower edge of the talith, his attire was of linen yellowed with
dust and road stains. Possibly the exception should be extended
to the tassels, which were blue and white, as prescribed by law
for rabbis. His sandals were of the simplest kind. He was without
scrip or girdle or staff.
These points of appearance, however, the three beholders observed
briefly, and rather as accessories to the head and face of the man,
which--especially the latter--were the real sources of the spell they
caught in common with all who stood looking at him.
The head was open to the cloudless light, except as it was draped
with hair long and slightly waved, and parted in the middle,
and auburn in tint, with a tendency to reddish golden where
most strongly touched by the sun. Under a broad, low forehead,
under black well arched brows, beamed eyes dark-blue and large,
and softened to exceeding tenderness by lashes of the great length
sometimes seen on children, but seldom, if ever, on men. As to the
other features, it would have been difficult to decide whether they
were Greek or Jewish. The delicacy of the nostrils and mouth was
unusual to the latter type; and when it was taken into account
with the gentleness of the eyes, the pallor of the complexion,
the fine texture of the hair, and the softness of the beard,
which fell in waves over his throat to his breast, never a
soldier but would have laughed at him in encounter, never a
woman who would not have confided in him at sight, never a
child that would not, with quick instinct, have given him its
hand and whole artless trust; nor might any one have said he
was not beautiful.
The features, it should be further said, were ruled by a certain
expression which, as the viewer chose, might with equal correctness
have been called the effect of intelligence, love, pity, or sorrow;
though, in better speech, it was a blending of them all--a look
easy to fancy as the mark of a sinless soul doomed to the sight
and understanding of the utter sinfulness of those among whom it
was passing; yet withal no one could have observed the face with
a thought of weakness in the man; so, at least, would not they
who know that the qualities mentioned--love, sorrow, pity--are the
results of a consciousness of strength to bear suffering oftener
than strength to do; such has been the might of martyrs and devotees
and the myriads written down in saintly calendars. And such, indeed,
was the air of this one.
Slowly he drew near--nearer the three.
Now Ben-Hur, mounted and spear in hand, was an object to claim the
glance of a king; yet the eyes of the man approaching were all the
time raised above him--and not to Iras, whose loveliness has been
so often remarked, but to Balthasar, the old and unserviceable.
The hush was profound.
Presently the Nazarite, still pointing with his staff, cried, in a
"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!"
The many standing still, arrested by the action of the speaker,
and listening for what might follow, were struck with awe by words
so strange and past their understanding; upon Balthasar they were
overpowering. He was there to see once more the Redeemer of men.
The faith which had brought him the singular privileges of the
time long gone abode yet in his heart; and if now it gave him
a power of vision above that of his fellows--a power to see and
know him for whom he was looking--better than calling the power
a miracle, let it be thought of as the faculty of a soul not yet
entirely released from the divine relations to which it had been
formerly admitted, or as the fitting reward of a life in that age
so without examples of holiness--a life itself a miracle. The ideal
of his faith was before him, perfect in face, form, dress, action,
age; and he was in its view, and the view was recognition. Ah,
now if something should happen to identify the stranger beyond
And that was what did happen.
Exactly at the fitting moment, as if to assure the trembling
Egyptian, the Nazarite repeated the outcry,
"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!"
Balthasar fell upon his knees. For him there was no need of explanation;
and as if the Nazarite knew it, he turned to those more immediately about
him staring in wonder, and continued:
"This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred
before me, for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that
he should be manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing
with water. I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove,
and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to
baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt
see the Spirit descending and remaining on him, the same is he
which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw and bare record,
that this"--he paused, his staff still pointing at the stranger
in the white garments, as if to give a more absolute certainty
to both his words and the conclusions intended--"I bare record,
THAT THIS IS THE SON OF GOD!"
"It is he, it is he!" Balthasar cried, with upraised tearful eyes.
Next moment he sank down insensible.
In this time, it should be remembered, Ben-Hur was studying the face
of the stranger, though with an interest entirely different. He was
not insensible to its purity of feature, and its thoughtfulness,
tenderness, humility, and holiness; but just then there was room in
his mind for but one thought--Who is this man? And what? Messiah or
king? Never was apparition more unroyal. Nay, looking at that calm,
benignant countenance, the very idea of war and conquest, and lust
of dominion, smote him like a profanation. He said, as if speaking
to his own heart, Balthasar must be right and Simonides wrong.
This man has not come to rebuild the throne of Solomon; he has
neither the nature nor the genius of Herod; king he may be,
but not of another and greater than Rome.
It should be understood now that this was not a conclusion with
Ben-Hur, but an impression merely; and while it was forming,
while yet he gazed at the wonderful countenance, his memory began
to throe and struggle. "Surely," he said to himself, "I have seen
the man; but where and when?" That the look, so calm, so pitiful,
so loving, had somewhere in a past time beamed upon him as that
moment it was beaming upon Balthasar became an assurance. Faintly
at first, at last a clear light, a burst of sunshine, the scene
by the well at Nazareth what time the Roman guard was dragging
him to the galleys returned, and all his being thrilled. Those
hands had helped him when he was perishing. The face was one of
the pictures he had carried in mind ever since. In the effusion
of feeling excited, the explanation of the preacher was lost by
him, all but the last words--words so marvellous that the world
yet rings with them:
"--this is the SON OF GOD!"
Ben-Hur leaped from his horse to render homage to his benefactor;
but Iras cried to him, "Help, son of Hur, help, or my father will
He stopped, looked back, then hurried to her assistance. She gave
him a cup; and leaving the slave to bring the camel to its knees,
he ran to the river for water. The stranger was gone when he came
At last Balthasar was restored to consciousness. Stretching forth
his hands, he asked, feebly, "Where is he?"
"Who?" asked Iras.
An intense instant interest shone upon the good man's face, as if
a last wish had been gratified, and he answered,
"He--the Redeemer--the Son of God, whom I have seen again."
"Believest thou so?" Iras asked in a low voice of Ben-Hur.
"The time is full of wonders; let us wait," was all he said.
And next day while the three were listening to him, the Nazarite
broke off in mid-speech, saying reverently, "Behold the Lamb of
Looking to where he pointed, they beheld the stranger again. As
Ben-Hur surveyed the slender figure, and holy beautiful countenance
compassionate to sadness, a new idea broke upon him.
"Balthasar is right--so is Simonides. May not the Redeemer be a
And he asked one at his side, "Who is the man walking yonder?"
The other laughed mockingly, and replied,
"He is the son of a carpenter over in Nazareth."
"Who could resist? Who in this universe?
She did so breathe ambrosia, so immerse
My fine existence in a golden clime.
She took me like a child of suckling-time,
And cradled me in roses. Thus condemn'd,
The current of my former life was stemm'd,
And to this arbitrary queen of sense
I bow'd a tranced vassal."--KEATS, Endymion.
"I am the resurrection and the life."
"Esther--Esther! Speak to the servant below that he may bring me
a cup of water."
"Would you not rather have wine, father?"
"Let him bring both."
This was in the summer-house upon the roof of the old palace of the
Hurs in Jerusalem. From the parapet overlooking the court-yard Esther
called to a man in waiting there; at the same moment another man-servant
came up the steps and saluted respectfully.
"A package for the master," he said, giving her a letter enclosed
in linen cloth, tied and sealed.
For the satisfaction of the reader, we stop to say that it is the
twenty-first day of March, nearly three years after the annunciation
of the Christ at Bethabara.
In the meanwhile, Malluch, acting for Ben-Hur, who could not longer
endure the emptiness and decay of his father's house, had bought
it from Pontius Pilate; and, in process of repair, gates, courts,
lewens, stairways, terraces, rooms, and roof had been cleansed and
thoroughly restored; not only was there no reminder left of the tragic
circumstances so ruinous to the family, but the refurnishment was
in a style richer than before. At every point, indeed, a visitor
was met by evidences of the higher tastes acquired by the young
proprietor during his years of residence in the villa by Misenum
and in the Roman capital.
Now it should not be inferred from this explanation that Ben-Hur
had publicly assumed ownership of the property. In his opinion,
the hour for that was not yet come. Neither had he yet taken
his proper name. Passing the time in the labors of preparation
in Galilee, he waited patiently the action of the Nazarene,
who became daily more and more a mystery to him, and by prodigies
done, often before his eyes, kept him in a state of anxious doubt
both as to his character and mission. Occasionally he came up to
the Holy City, stopping at the paternal house; always, however,
as a stranger and a guest.
These visits of Ben-Hur, it should also be observed, were for more
than mere rest from labor. Balthasar and Iras made their home in the
palace; and the charm of the daughter was still upon him with all
its original freshness, while the father, though feebler in body,
held him an unflagging listener to speeches of astonishing power,
urging the divinity of the wandering miracle-worker of whom they
were all so expectant.
As to Simonides and Esther, they had arrived from Antioch only
a few days before this their reappearance--a wearisome journey
to the merchant, borne, as he had been, in a palanquin swung
between two camels, which, in their careening, did not always
keep the same step. But now that he was come, the good man,
it seemed, could not see enough of his native land. He delighted
in the perch upon the roof, and spent most of his day hours there
seated in an arm-chair, the duplicate of that one kept for him in
the cabinet over the store-house by the Orontes. In the shade of
the summer-house he could drink fully of the inspiring air lying
lightly upon the familiar hills; he could better watch the sun
rise, run its course, and set as it used to in the far-gone, not a
habit lost; and with Esther by him it was so much easier up there
close to the sky, to bring back the other Esther, his love in youth,
his wife, dearer growing with the passage of years. And yet he
was not unmindful of business. Every day a messenger brought him
a despatch from Sanballat, in charge of the big commerce behind;
and every day a despatch left him for Sanballat with directions of
such minuteness of detail as to exclude all judgment save his own,
and all chances except those the Almighty has refused to submit to
the most mindful of men.
As Esther started in return to the summer-house, the sunlight fell
softly upon the dustless roof, showing her a woman now--small,
graceful in form, of regular features, rosy with youth and health,
bright with intelligence, beautiful with the outshining of a
devoted nature--a woman to be loved because loving was a habit
of life irrepressible with her.
She looked at the package as she turned, paused, looked at it
a second time more closely than at first; and the blood rose
reddening her cheeks--the seal was Ben-Hur's. With quickened
steps she hastened on.
Simonides held the package a moment while he also inspected the seal.
Breaking it open, he gave her the roll it contained.
"Read," he said.
His eyes were upon her as he spoke, and instantly a troubled
expression fell upon his own face.
"You know who it is from, I see, Esther."
Though the manner was halting, she met his gaze with modest sincerity.
Slowly his chin sank into the roll of flesh puffed out under it like
"You love him, Esther," he said, quietly.
"Yes," she answered.
"Have you thought well of what you do?"
"I have tried not to think of him, father, except as the master to
whom I am dutifully bound. The effort has not helped me to strength."
"A good girl, a good girl, even as thy mother was," he said,
dropping into reverie, from which she roused him by unrolling
"The Lord forgive me, but--but thy love might not have been vainly
given had I kept fast hold of all I had, as I might have done--such
power is there in money!"
"It would have been worse for me had you done so, father; for then
I had been unworthy a look from him, and without pride in you.
Shall I not read now?"
"In a moment," he said. "Let me, for your sake, my child, show you
the worst. Seeing it with me may make it less terrible to you.
His love, Esther, is all bestowed."
"I know it," she said, calmly.
"The Egyptian has him in her net," he continued. "She has the cunning
of her race, with beauty to help her--much beauty, great cunning;
but, like her race again, no heart. The daughter who despises her
father will bring her husband to grief."
"Does she that?"
Simonides went on:
"Balthasar is a wise man who has been wonderfully favored for a
Gentile, and his faith becomes him; yet she makes a jest of it.
I heard her say, speaking of him yesterday, 'The follies of youth
are excusable; nothing is admirable in the aged except wisdom,
and when that goes from them, they should die.' A cruel speech,
fit for a Roman. I applied it to myself, knowing a feebleness
like her father's will come to me also--nay, it is not far off.
But you, Esther, will never say of me--no, never--'It were better he
were dead.' No, your mother was a daughter of Judah."
With half-formed tears, she kissed him, and said, "I am my mother's
"Yes, and my daughter--my daughter, who is to me all the Temple
was to Solomon."
After a silence, he laid his hand upon her shoulder, and resumed:
"When he has taken the Egyptian to wife, Esther, he will think of
you with repentance and much calling of the spirit; for at last he
will awake to find himself but the minister of her bad ambition.
Rome is the centre of all her dreams. To her he is the son of Arrius
the duumvir, not the son of Hur, Prince of Jerusalem."
Esther made no attempt to conceal the effect of these words.
"Save him, father! It is not too late!" she said, entreatingly.
He answered, with a dubious smile, "A man drowning may be saved;
not so a man in love."
"But you have influence with him. He is alone in the world. Show him
his danger. Tell him what a woman she is."
"That might save him from her. Would it give him to you, Esther? No,"
and his brows fell darkly over his eyes. "I am a servant, as my
fathers were for generations; yet I could not say to him, 'Lo,
master, my daughter! She is fairer than the Egyptian, and loves
thee better!' I have caught too much from years of liberty and
direction. The words would blister my tongue. The stones upon the
old hills yonder would turn in their beds for shame when I go out
to them. No, by the patriarchs, Esther, I would rather lay us both
with your mother to sleep as she sleeps!"
A blush burned Esther's whole face.
"I did not mean you to tell him so, father. I was concerned for
him alone--for his happiness, not mine. Because I have dared love
him, I shall keep myself worthy his respect; so only can I excuse
my folly. Let me read his letter now."
"Yes, read it."
She began at once, in haste to conclude the distasteful subject.
"Nisan, 8th day.
"On the road from Galilee to Jerusalem.
"The Nazarene is on the way also. With him, though without his
knowledge, I am bringing a full legion of mine. A second legion
follows. The Passover will excuse the multitude. He said upon
setting out, 'We will go up to Jerusalem, and all things that
are written by the prophets concerning me shall be accomplished.'
"Our waiting draws to an end.
"Peace to thee, Simonides.
Esther returned the letter to her father, while a choking sensation
gathered in her throat. There was not a word in the missive for
her--not even in the salutation had she a share--and it would have
been so easy to have written "and to thine, peace." For the first time
in her life she felt the smart of a jealous sting.
"The eighth day," said Simonides, "the eighth day; and this, Esther,
this is the--"
"The ninth," she replied.
"Ah, then, they may be in Bethany now."
"And possibly we may see him to-night," she added, pleased into
"It may be, it may be! To-morrow is the Feast of Unleavened Bread,
and he may wish to celebrate it; so may the Nazarene; and we may
see him--we may see both of them, Esther."
At this point the servant appeared with the wine and water.
Esther helped her father, and in the midst of the service Iras
came upon the roof.
To the Jewess the Egyptian never appeared so very, very beautiful
as at that moment. Her gauzy garments fluttered about her like a
little cloud of mist; her forehead, neck, and arms glittered with
the massive jewelry so affected by her people. Her countenance
was suffused with pleasure. She moved with buoyant steps,
and self-conscious, though without affectation. Esther at the
sight shrank within herself, and nestled closer to her father.
"Peace to you, Simonides, and to the pretty Esther peace," said Iras,
inclining her head to the latter. "You remind me, good master--if
I may say it without offence-you remind me of the priests in Persia
who climb their temples at the decline of day to send prayers after
the departing sun. Is there anything in the worship you do not know,
let me call my father. He is Magian-bred."
"Fair Egyptian," the merchant replied, nodding with grave politeness,
"your father is a good man who would not be offended if he knew I told
you his Persian lore is the least part of his wisdom."
Iras's lip curled slightly.
"To speak like a philosopher, as you invite me," she said, "the
least part always implies a greater. Let me ask what you esteem
the greater part of the rare quality you are pleased to attribute
Simonides turned upon her somewhat sternly.
"Pure wisdom always directs itself towards God; the purest wisdom
is knowledge of God; and no man of my acquaintance has it in
higher degree, or makes it more manifest in speech and act,
than the good Balthasar."
To end the parley, he raised the cup and drank.
The Egyptian turned to Esther a little testily.
"A man who has millions in store, and fleets of ships at sea,
cannot discern in what simple women like us find amusement.
Let us leave him. By the wall yonder we can talk."
They went to the parapet then, stopping at the place where,
years before, Ben-Hur loosed the broken tile upon the head
"You have not been to Rome?" Iras began, toying the while with
one of her unclasped bracelets.
"No," said Esther, demurely.
"Have you not wished to go?"
"Ah, how little there has been of your life!"
The sigh that succeeded the exclamation could not have been
more piteously expressive had the loss been the Egyptian's own.
Next moment her laugh might have been heard in the street below;
and she said "Oh, oh, my pretty simpleton! The half-fledged birds
nested in the ear of the great bust out on the Memphian sands know
nearly as much as you."
Then, seeing Esther's confusion, she changed her manner, and said
in a confiding tone, "You must not take offence. Oh no! I was
playing. Let me kiss the hurt, and tell you what I would not
to any other--not if Simbel himself asked it of me, offering a
lotus-cup of the spray of the Nile!"
Another laugh, masking excellently the look she turned sharply
upon the Jewess, and she said, "The King is coming."
Esther gazed at her in innocent surprise.
"The Nazarene," Iras continued--"he whom our fathers have been
talking about so much, whom Ben-Hur has been serving and toiling
for so long"--her voice dropped several tones lower--"the Nazarene
will be here to-morrow, and Ben-Hur to-night."
Esther struggled to maintain her composure, but failed: her eyes
fell, the tell-tale blood surged to her cheek and forehead, and she
was saved sight of the triumphant smile that passed, like a gleam,
over the face of the Egyptian.
"See, here is his promise."
And from her girdle she took a roll.
"Rejoice with me, O my friend! He will be here tonight! On the
Tiber there is a house, a royal property, which he has pledged
to me; and to be its mistress is to be--"
A sound of some one walking swiftly along the street below
interrupted the speech, and she leaned over the parapet to see.
Then she drew back, and cried, with hands clasped above her head,
"Now blessed be Isis! 'Tis he--Ben-Hur himself! That he should
appear while I had such thought of him! There are no gods if it
be not a good omen. Put your arms about me, Esther--and a kiss!"
The Jewess looked up. Upon each cheek there was a glow; her eyes
sparkled with a light more nearly of anger than ever her nature
emitted before. Her gentleness had been too roughly overridden.
It was not enough for her to be forbidden more than fugitive dreams
of the man she loved; a boastful rival must tell her in confidence
of her better success, and of the brilliant promises which were
its rewards. Of her, the servant of a servant, there had been no
hint of remembrance; this other could show his letter, leaving her
to imagine all it breathed. So she said,
"Dost thou love him so much, then, or Rome so much better?"
The Egyptian drew back a step; then she bent her haughty head
quite near her questioner.
"What is he to thee, daughter of Simonides?"
Esther, all thrilling, began, "He is my--"
A thought blasting as lightning stayed the words: she paled,
trembled, recovered, and answered,
"He is my father's friend."
Her tongue had refused to admit her servile condition.
Iras laughed more lightly than before.
"Not more than that?" she said. "Ah, by the lover-gods of Egypt,
thou mayst keep thy kisses--keep them. Thou hast taught me but
now that there are others vastly more estimable waiting me here
in Judea; and"--she turned away, looking back over her shoulder--
"I will go get them. Peace to thee."
Esther saw her disappear down the steps, when, putting her hands
over her face, she burst into tears so they ran scalding through
her fingers--tears of shame and choking passion. And, to deepen
the paroxysm to her even temper so strange, up with a new meaning
of withering force rose her father's words--"Thy love might not
have been vainly given had I kept fast hold of all I had, as I
might have done."
And all the stars were out, burning low above the city and the
dark wall of mountains about it, before she recovered enough to
go back to the summer-house, and in silence take her accustomed
place at her father's side, humbly waiting his pleasure. To such
duty it seemed her youth, if not her life, must be given. And,
let the truth be said, now that the pang was spent, she went not
unwillingly back to the duty.
An hour or thereabouts after the scene upon the roof, Balthasar and
Simonides, the latter attended by Esther, met in the great chamber
of the palace; and while they were talking, Ben-Hur and Iras came
The young Jew, advancing in front of his companion, walked first
to Balthasar, and saluted him, and received his reply; then he
turned to Simonides, but paused at sight of Esther.
It is not often we have hearts roomy enough for more than one of
the absorbing passions at the same time; in its blaze the others
may continue to live, but only as lesser lights. So with Ben-Hur,
much study of possibilities, indulgence of hopes and dreams,
influences born of the condition of his country, influences more
direct--that of Iras, for example--had made him in the broadest
worldly sense ambitious; and as he had given the passion place,
allowing it to become a rule, and finally an imperious governor,
the resolves and impulses of former days faded imperceptibly out
of being, and at last almost out of recollection. It is at best
so easy to forget our youth; in his case it was but natural that
his own sufferings and the mystery darkening the fate of his family
should move him less and less as, in hope at least, he approached
nearer and nearer the goals which occupied all his visions. Only let
us not judge him too harshly.
He paused in surprise at seeing Esther a woman now, and so beautiful;
and as he stood looking at her a still voice reminded him of broken
vows and duties undone: almost his old self returned.
For an instant he was startled; but recovering, he went to
Esther, and said, "Peace to thee, sweet Esther--peace; and thou,
Simonides"--he looked to the merchant as he spoke--"the blessing
of the Lord be thine, if only because thou hast been a good father
to the fatherless."
Esther heard him with downcast face; Simonides answered,
"I repeat the welcome of the good Balthasar, son of Hur--welcome
to thy father's house; and sit, and tell us of thy travels, and
of thy work, and of the wonderful Nazarene--who he is, and what.
If thou art not at ease here, who shall be? Sit, I pray--there,
between us, that we may all hear."
Esther stepped out quickly and brought a covered stool, and set
it for him.
"Thanks," he said to her, gratefully.
When seated, after some other conversation, he addressed himself
to the men.
"I have come to tell you of the Nazarene."
The two became instantly attentive.
"For many days now I have followed him with such watchfulness as
one may give another upon whom he is waiting so anxiously. I have
seen him under all circumstances said to be trials and tests of
men; and while I am certain he is a man as I am, not less certain
am I that he is something more."
"What more?" asked Simonides.
"I will tell you--"
Some one coming into the room interrupted him; he turned, and arose
with extended hands.
"Amrah! Dear old Amrah!" he cried.
She came forward; and they, seeing the joy in her face, thought
not once how wrinkled and tawny it was. She knelt at his feet,
clasped his knees, and kissed his hands over and over; and when
he could he put the lank gray hair from her cheeks, and kissed
them, saying, "Good Amrah, have you nothing, nothing of them--not
a word--not one little sign?"
Then she broke into sobbing which made him answer plainer even
than the spoken word.
"God's will has been done," he next said, solemnly, in a tone to
make each listener know he had no hope more of finding his people.
In his eyes there were tears which he would not have them see,
because he was a man.
When he could again, he took seat, and said, "Come, sit by me,
Amrah--here. No? then at my feet; for I have much to say to these
good friends of a wonderful man come into the world."
But she went off, and stooping with her back to the wall, joined her
hands before her knees, content, they all thought, with seeing him.
Then Ben-Hur, bowing to the old men, began again:
"I fear to answer the question asked me about the Nazarene without
first telling you some of the things I have seen him do; and to
that I am the more inclined, my friends, because to-morrow he
will come to the city, and go up into the Temple, which he calls
his father's house, where, it is further said, he will proclaim
himself. So, whether you are right, O Balthasar, or you, Simonides,
we and Israel shall know to-morrow."
Balthasar rubbed his hands tremulously together, and asked,
"Where shall I go to see him?"
"The pressure of the crowd will be very great. Better, I think,
that you all go upon the roof above the cloisters--say upon the
Porch of Solomon."
"Can you be with us?"
"No," said Ben-Hur, "my friends will require me, perhaps, in the
"Procession!" exclaimed Simonides. "Does he travel in state?"
Ben-Hur saw the argument in mind.
"He brings twelve men with him, fishermen, tillers of the soil,
one a publican, all of the humbler class; and he and they make
their journeys on foot, careless of wind, cold, rain, or sun.
Seeing them stop by the wayside at nightfall to break bread or
lie down to sleep, I have been reminded of a party of shepherds
going back to their flocks from market, not of nobles and kings.
Only when he lifts the corners of his handkerchief to look at some
one or shake the dust from his head, I am made known he is their
teacher as well as their companion--their superior not less than
"You are shrewd men," Ben-Hur resumed, after a pause. "You know
what creatures of certain master motives we are, and that it has
become little less than a law of our nature to spend life in eager
pursuit of certain objects; now, appealing to that law as something
by which we may know ourselves, what would you say of a man who
could be rich by making gold of the stones under his feet, yet is
poor of choice?"
"The Greeks would call him a philosopher," said Iras.
"Nay, daughter," said Balthasar, "the philosophers had never the
power to do such thing."
"How know you this man has?"
Ben-Hur answered quickly, "I saw him turn water into wine."
"Very strange, very strange," said Simonides; "but it is not so
strange to me as that he should prefer to live poor when he could
be so rich. Is he so poor?"
"He owns nothing, and envies nobody his owning. He pities the
rich. But passing that, what would you say to see a man multiply
seven loaves and two fishes, all his store, into enough to feed
five thousand people, and have full baskets over? That I saw the
"You saw it?" exclaimed Simonides.
"Ay, and ate of the bread and fish."
"More marvellous still," Ben-Hur continued, "what would you say of
a man in whom there is such healing virtue that the sick have but
to touch the hem of his garment to be cured, or cry to him afar?
That, too, I witnessed, not once, but many times. As we came out
of Jericho two blind men by the wayside called to the Nazarene,
and he touched their eyes, and they saw. So they brought a palsied
man to him, and he said merely, 'Go unto thy house,' and the man
went away well. What say you to these things?"
The merchant had no answer.
"Think you now, as I have heard others argue, that what I have told
you are tricks of jugglery? Let me answer by recalling greater things
which I have seen him do. Look first to that curse of God--comfortless,
as you all know, except by death--leprosy."
At these words Amrah dropped her hands to the floor, and in her
eagerness to hear him half arose.
"What would you say," said Ben-Hur, with increased earnestness--"what
would you say to have seen that I now tell you? A leper came to the
Nazarene while I was with him down in Galilee, and said, 'Lord, if
thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.' He heard the cry, and touched
the outcast with his hand, saying, 'Be thou clean;' and forthwith
the man was himself again, healthful as any of us who beheld the
cure, and we were a multitude."
Here Amrah arose, and with her gaunt fingers held the wiry locks
from her eyes. The brain of the poor creature had long since gone
to heart, and she was troubled to follow the speech.
"Then, again," said Ben-Hur, without stop, "ten lepers came to him
one day in a body, and falling at his feet, called out--I saw and
heard it all--called out, 'Master, Master, have mercy upon us!' He
told them, 'Go, show yourselves to the priest, as the law requires;
and before you are come there ye shall be healed.'"
"And were they?"
"Yes. On the road going their infirmity left them, so that there
was nothing to remind us of it except their polluted clothes."
"Such thing was never heard before--never in all Israel!" said
Simonides, in undertone.
And then, while he was speaking, Amrah turned away, and walked
noiselessly to the door, and went out; and none of the company
saw her go.
"The thoughts stirred by such things done under my eyes I leave you
to imagine," said Ben-Hur, continuing; "but my doubts, my misgivings,
my amazement, were not yet at the full. The people of Galilee are,
as you know, impetuous and rash; after years of waiting their swords
burned their hands; nothing would do them but action. 'He is slow to
declare himself; let us force him,' they cried to me. And I too
became impatient. If he is to be king, why not now? The legions
are ready. So as he was once teaching by the seaside we would have
crowned him whether or not; but he disappeared, and was next seen
on a ship departing from the shore. Good Simonides, the desires
that make other men mad--riches, power, even kingships offered
out of great love by a great people--move this one not at all.
What say you?"
The merchant's chin was low upon his breast; raising his head,
he replied, resolutely, "The Lord liveth, and so do the words
of the prophets. Time is in the green yet; let to-morrow answer."
"Be it so," said Balthasar, smiling.
And Ben-Hur said, "Be it so." Then he went on: "But I have not
yet done. From these things, not too great to be above suspicion
by such as did not see them in performance as I did, let me carry
you now to others infinitely greater, acknowledged since the world
began to be past the power of man. Tell me, has any one to your
knowledge ever reached out and taken from Death what Death has
made his own? Who ever gave again the breath of a life lost? Who
"God!" said Balthasar, reverently.
"O wise Egyptian! I may not refuse the name you lend me. What would
you--or you, Simonides--what would you either or both have said
had you seen as I did, a man, with few words and no ceremony,
without effort more than a mother's when she speaks to wake her
child asleep, undo the work of Death? It was down at Nain. We were
about going into the gate, when a company came out bearing a dead
man. The Nazarene stopped to let the train pass. There was a woman
among them crying. I saw his face soften with pity. He spoke to
her, then went and touched the bier, and said to him who lay upon
it dressed for burial, 'Young man, I say unto thee, Arise!' And
instantly the dead sat up and talked."
"God only is so great," said Balthasar to Simonides.
"Mark you," Ben-Hur proceeded, "I do but tell you things of which
I was a witness, together with a cloud of other men. On the way
hither I saw another act still more mighty. In Bethany there was
a man named Lazarus, who died and was buried; and after he had
lain four days in a tomb, shut in by a great stone, the Nazarene
was shown to the place. Upon rolling the stone away, we beheld
the man lying inside bound and rotting. There were many people
standing by, and we all heard what the Nazarene said, for he
spoke in a loud voice: 'Lazarus, come forth!' I cannot tell you
my feelings when in answer, as it were, the man arose and came
out to us with all his cerements about him. 'Loose him,' said the
Nazarene next, 'loose him, and let him go.' And when the napkin was
taken from the face of the resurrected, lo, my friends! the blood
ran anew through the wasted body, and he was exactly as he had been
in life before the sickness that took him off. He lives yet, and is
hourly seen and spoken to. You may go see him to-morrow. And now,
as nothing more is needed for the purpose, I ask you that which
I came to ask, it being but a repetition of what you asked me,
O Simonides, What more than a man is this Nazarene?"
The question was put solemnly, and long after midnight the company
sat and debated it; Simonides being yet unwilling to give up his
understanding of the sayings of the prophets, and Ben-Hur contending
that the elder disputants were both right--that the Nazarene was
the Redeemer, as claimed by Balthasar, and also the destined king
the merchant would have.
"To-morrow we will see. Peace to you all."
So saying, Ben-Hur took his leave, intending to return to Bethany.
The first person to go out of the city upon the opening of the
Sheep's Gate next morning was Amrah, basket on arm. No questions
were asked her by the keepers, since the morning itself had not
been more regular in coming than she; they knew her somebody's
faithful servant, and that was enough for them.
Down the eastern valley she took her way. The side of Olivet,
darkly green, was spotted with white tents recently put up by
people attending the feasts; the hour, however, was too early
for the strangers to be abroad; still, had it not been so, no
one would have troubled her. Past Gethsemane; past the tombs at
the meeting of the Bethany roads; past the sepulchral village of
Siloam she went. Occasionally the decrepit little body staggered;
once she sat down to get her breath; rising shortly, she struggled
on with renewed haste. The great rocks on either hand, if they had
had ears, might have heard her mutter to herself; could they have
seen, it would have been to observe how frequently she looked up
over the Mount, reproving the dawn for its promptness; if it had
been possible for them to gossip, not improbably they would have
said to each other, "Our friend is in a hurry this morning;
the mouths she goes to feed must be very hungry."
When at last she reached the King's Garden she slackened her gait;
for then the grim city of the lepers was in view, extending far
round the pitted south hill of Hinnom.
As the reader must by this time have surmised, she was going to
her mistress, whose tomb, it will be remembered, overlooked the
Early as it was, the unhappy woman was up and sitting outside,
leaving Tirzah asleep within. The course of the malady had been
terribly swift in the three years. Conscious of her appearance,
with the refined instincts of her nature, she kept her whole person
habitually covered. Seldom as possible she permitted even Tirzah to
This morning she was taking the air with bared head, knowing there
was no one to be shocked by the exposure. The light was not full,
but enough to show the ravages to which she had been subject.
Her hair was snow-white and unmanageably coarse, falling over
her back and shoulders like so much silver wire. The eyelids,
the lips, the nostrils, the flesh of the cheeks, were either gone
or reduced to fetid rawness. The neck was a mass of ash-colored
scales. One hand lay outside the folds of her habit rigid as
that of a skeleton; the nails had been eaten away; the joints of
the fingers, if not bare to the bone, were swollen knots crusted
with red secretion. Head, face, neck, and hand indicated all too
plainly the condition of the whole body. Seeing her thus, it was
easy to understand how the once fair widow of the princely Hur
had been able to maintain her incognito so well through such a
period of years.
When the sun would gild the crest of Olivet and the Mount of
Offence with light sharper and more brilliant in that old land
than in the West, she knew Amrah would come, first to the well,
then to a stone midway the well and the foot of the hill on which
she had her abode, and that the good servant would there deposit
the food she carried in the basket, and fill the water-jar afresh
for the day. Of her former plentitude of happiness, that brief
visit was all that remained to the unfortunate. She could then ask
about her son, and be told of his welfare, with such bits of news
concerning him as the messenger could glean. Usually the information
was meagre enough, yet comforting; at times she heard he was at home;
then she would issue from her dreary cell at break of day, and sit
till noon, and from noon to set of sun, a motionless figure draped
in white, looking, statue-like, invariably to one point--over the
Temple to the spot under the rounded sky where the old house stood,
dear in memory, and dearer because he was there. Nothing else was
left her. Tirzah she counted of the dead; and as for herself,
she simply waited the end, knowing every hour of life was an
hour of dying--happily, of painless dying.
The things of nature about the hill to keep her sensitive to
the world's attractions were wretchedly scant; beasts and birds
avoided the place as if they knew its history and present use;
every green thing perished in its first season; the winds warred
upon the shrubs and venturous grasses, leaving to drought such as
they could not uproot. Look where she would, the view was made
depressingly suggestive by tombs--tombs above her, tombs below,
tombs opposite her own tomb--all now freshly whitened in warning
to visiting pilgrims. In the sky--clear, fair, inviting--one would
think she might have found some relief to her ache of mind; but,
alas! in making the beautiful elsewhere the sun served her never so
unfriendly--it did but disclose her growing hideousness. But for the
sun she would not have been the horror she was to herself, nor been
waked so cruelly from dreams of Tirzah as she used to be. The gift
of seeing can be sometimes a dreadful curse.
Does one ask why she did not make an end to her sufferings?
THE LAW FORBADE HER!
A Gentile may smile at the answer; but so will not a son of Israel.
While she sat there peopling the dusky solitude with thoughts even
more cheerless, suddenly a woman came up the hill staggering and
spent with exertion.
The widow arose hastily, and covering her head, cried, in a voice
unnaturally harsh, "Unclean, unclean!"
In a moment, heedless of the notice, Amrah was at her feet. All the
long-pent love of the simple creature burst forth: with tears and
passionate exclamations she kissed her mistress's garments, and for
a while the latter strove to escape from her; then, seeing she
could not, she waited till the violence of the paroxysm was over.
"What have you done, Amrah?" she said. "Is it by such disobedience
you prove your love for us? Wicked woman! You are lost; and he--your
master--you can never, never go back to him."
Amrah grovelled sobbing in the dust.
"The ban of the Law is upon you, too; you cannot return to Jerusalem.
What will become of us? Who will bring us bread? O wicked, wicked Amrah!
We are all, all undone alike!"
"Mercy, mercy!" Amrah answered from the ground.
"You should have been merciful to yourself, and by so doing been
most merciful to us. Now where can we fly? There is no one to
help us. O false servant! The wrath of the Lord was already too
heavy upon us."
Here Tirzah, awakened by the noise, appeared at the door of the
tomb. The pen shrinks from the picture she presented. In the
half-clad apparition, patched with scales, lividly seamed,
nearly blind, its limbs and extremities swollen to grotesque
largeness, familiar eyes however sharpened by love could not
have recognized the creature of childish grace and purity we
first beheld her.
"Is it Amrah, mother?"
The servant tried to crawl to her also.
"Stay, Amrah!" the widow cried, imperiously. "I forbid you touching
her. Rise, and get you gone before any at the well see you here.
Nay, I forgot--it is too late! You must remain now and share our
doom. Rise, I say!"
Amrah rose to her knees, and said, brokenly and with clasped hands,
"O good mistress! I am not false--I am not wicked. I bring you good
"Of Judah?" and as she spoke, the widow half withdrew the cloth
from her head.
"There is a wonderful man," Amrah continued, "who has power to cure
you. He speaks a word, and the sick are made well, and even the dead
come to life. I have come to take you to him."
"Poor Amrah!" said Tirzah, compassionately.
"No," cried Amrah, detecting the doubt underlying the expression--"no,
as the Lord lives, even the Lord of Israel, my God as well as yours,
I speak the truth. Go with me, I pray, and lose no time. This morning
he will pass by on his way to the city. See! the day is at hand.
Take the food here--eat, and let us go."
The mother listened eagerly. Not unlikely she had heard of the
wonderful man, for by this time his fame had penetrated every
nook in the land.
"Who is he?" she asked.
"Who told you about him?"
"Judah told you? Is he at home?"
"He came last night."
The widow, trying to still the beating of her heart, was silent
"Did Judah send you to tell us this?" she next asked.
"No. He believes you dead."
"There was a prophet once who cured a leper," the mother said
thoughtfully to Tirzah; "but he had his power from God." Then
addressing Amrah, she asked, "How does my son know this man so
"He was travelling with him, and heard the lepers call, and saw
them go away well. First there was one man; then there were ten;
and they were all made whole."
The elder listener was silent again. The skeleton hand shook. We may
believe she was struggling to give the story the sanction of faith,
which is always an absolutist in demand, and that it was with her as
with the men of the day, eye-witnesses of what was done by the Christ,
as well as the myriads who have succeeded them. She did not question
the performance, for her own son was the witness testifying through
the servant; but she strove to comprehend the power by which work
so astonishing could be done by a man. Well enough to make inquiry
as to the fact; to comprehend the power, on the other hand, it is
first necessary to comprehend God; and he who waits for that will
die waiting. With her, however, the hesitation was brief. To Tirzah
"This must be the Messiah!"
She spoke not coldly, like one reasoning a doubt away, but as a
woman of Israel familiar with the promises of God to her race--a
woman of understanding, ready to be glad over the least sign of
the realization of the promises.
"There was a time when Jerusalem and all Judea were filled with a
story that he was born. I remember it. By this time he should be
a man. It must be--it is he. Yes," she said to Amrah, "we will go
with you. Bring the water which you will find in the tomb in a jar,
and set the food for us. We will eat and be gone."
The breakfast, partaken under excitement, was soon despatched, and the
three women set out on their extraordinary journey. As Tirzah had
caught the confident spirit of the others, there was but one fear
that troubled the party. Bethany, Amrah said, was the town the man
was coming from; now from that to Jerusalem there were three roads,
or rather paths--one over the first summit of Olivet, a second
at its base, a third between the second summit and the Mount
of Offence. The three were not far apart; far enough, however,
to make it possible for the unfortunates to miss the Nazarene if
they failed the one he chose to come by.
A little questioning satisfied the mother that Amrah knew nothing
of the country beyond the Cedron, and even less of the intentions
of the man they were going to see, if they could. She discerned,
also, that both Amrah and Tirzah--the one from confirmed habits
of servitude, the other from natural dependency--looked to her
for guidance; and she accepted the charge.
"We will go first to Bethphage," she said to them. "There, if the
Lord favor us, we may learn what else to do."
They descended the hill to Tophet and the King's Garden, and paused
in the deep trail furrowed through them by centuries of wayfaring.
"I am afraid of the road," the matron said. "Better that we keep
to the country among the rocks and trees. This is feast-day,
and on the hill-sides yonder I see signs of a great multitude
in attendance. By going across the Mount of Offence here we may
Tirzah had been walking with great difficulty; upon hearing this
her heart began to fail her.
"The mount is steep, mother; I cannot climb it."
"Remember, we are going to find health and life. See, my child,
how the day brightens around us! And yonder are women coming this
way to the well. They will stone us if we stay here. Come, be strong
Thus the mother, not less tortured herself, sought to inspire
the daughter; and Amrah came to her aid. To this time the latter
had not touched the persons of the afflicted, nor they her; now,
in disregard of consequences as well as of command, the faithful
creature went to Tirzah, and put her arm over her shoulder, and
whispered, "Lean on me. I am strong, though I am old; and it is
but a little way off. There--now we can go."
The face of the hill they essayed to cross was somewhat broken with
pits, and ruins of old structures; but when at last they stood upon
the top to rest, and looked at the spectacle presented them over
in the northwest--at the Temple and its courtly terraces, at Zion,
at the enduring towers white beetling into the sky beyond--the mother
was strengthened with a love of life for life's sake.
"Look, Tirzah," she said--"look at the plates of gold on the Gate
Beautiful. How they give back the flames of the sun, brightness for
brightness! Do you remember we used to go up there? Will it not be
pleasant to do so again? And think--home is but a little way off.
I can almost see it over the roof of the Holy of Holies; and Judah
will be there to receive us!"
From the side of the middle summit garnished green with myrtle and
olive trees, they saw, upon looking that way next, thin columns of
smoke rising lightly and straight up into the pulseless morning,
each a warning of restless pilgrims astir, and of the flight of
the pitiless hours, and the need of haste.
Though the good servant toiled faithfully to lighten the labor
in descending the hill-side, not sparing herself in the least,
the girl moaned at every step; sometimes in extremity of anguish
she cried out. Upon reaching the road--that is, the road between
the Mount of Offence and the middle or second summit of Olivet--she
fell down exhausted.
"Go on with Amrah, mother, and leave me here," she said, faintly.
"No, no, Tirzah. What would the gain be to me if I were healed
and you not? When Judah asks for you, as he will, what would I
have to say to him were I to leave you?"
"Tell him I loved him."
The elder leper arose from bending over the fainting sufferer,
and gazed about her with that sensation of hope perishing which
is more nearly like annihilation of the soul than anything else.
The supremest joy of the thought of cure was inseparable from Tirzah,
who was not too old to forget, in the happiness of healthful life to
come, the years of misery by which she had been so reduced in body
and broken in spirit. Even as the brave woman was about leaving the
venture they were engaged in to the determination of God, she saw a
man on foot coming rapidly up the road from the east.
"Courage, Tirzah! Be of cheer," she said. "Yonder I know is one
to tell us of the Nazarene."
Amrah helped the girl to a sitting posture, and supported her
while the man advanced.
"In your goodness, mother, you forget what we are. The stranger
will go around us; his best gift to us will be a curse, if not
"We will see."
There was no other answer to be given, since the mother was too
well and sadly acquainted with the treatment outcasts of the
class to which she belonged were accustomed to at the hands of
As has been said, the road at the edge of which the group was posted
was little more than a worn path or trail, winding crookedly through
tumuli of limestone. If the stranger kept it, he must meet them face
to face; and he did so, until near enough to hear the cry she was
bound to give. Then, uncovering her head, a further demand of the
law, she shouted shrilly,
To her surprise, the man came steadily on.
"What would you have?" he asked, stopping opposite them not four
"Thou seest us. Have a care," the mother said, with dignity.
"Woman, I am the courier of him who speaketh but once to such as
thou and they are healed. I am not afraid."
"The Messiah," he said.
"Is it true that he cometh to the city to-day?"
"He is now at Bethphage."
"On what road, master?"
She clasped her hands, and looked up thankfully.
"For whom takest thou him?" the man asked, with pity.
"The Son of God," she replied.
"Stay thou here then; or, as there is a multitude with him, take thy
stand by the rock yonder, the white one under the tree; and as he
goeth by fail not to call to him; call, and fear not. If thy faith
but equal thy knowledge, he will hear thee though all the heavens
thunder. I go to tell Israel, assembled in and about the city,
that he is at hand, and to make ready to receive him. Peace to
thee and thine, woman."
The stranger moved on.
"Did you hear, Tirzah? Did you hear? The Nazarene is on the road,
on this one, and he will hear us. Once more, my child--oh, only once!
and let us to the rock. It is but a step."
Thus encouraged Tirzah took Amrah's hand and arose; but as they
were going, Amrah said, "Stay; the man is returning." And they
waited for him.
"I pray your grace, woman," he said, upon overtaking them. "Remembering
that the sun will be hot before the Nazarene arrives, and that the
city is near by to give me refreshment should I need it, I thought
this water would do thee better than it will me. Take it and be of
good cheer. Call to him as he passes."
He followed the words by offering her a gourd full of water,
such as foot-travellers sometimes carried with them in their
journeys across the hills; and instead of placing the gift on
the ground for her to take up when he was at a safe distance,
he gave it into her hand.
"Art thou a Jew?" she asked, surprised.
"I am that, and better; I am a disciple of the Christ who teacheth
daily by word and example this thing which I have done unto you.
The world hath long known the word charity without understanding it.
Again I say peace and good cheer to thee and thine."
He went on, and they went slowly to the rock he had pointed out
to them, high as their heads, and scarcely thirty yards from the
road on the right. Standing in front of it, the mother satisfied
herself they could be seen and heard plainly by passers-by whose
notice they desired to attract. There they cast themselves under
the tree in its shade, and drank of the gourd, and rested refreshed.
Ere long Tirzah slept, and fearing to disturb her, the others held
During the third hour the road in front of the resting-place of
the lepers became gradually more and more frequented by people
going in the direction of Bethphage and Bethany; now, however,
about the commencement of the fourth hour, a great crowd appeared
over the crest of Olivet, and as it defiled down the road thousands
in number, the two watchers noticed with wonder that every one
in it carried a palm-branch freshly cut. As they sat absorbed
by the novelty, the noise of another multitude approaching from
the east drew their eyes that way. Then the mother awoke Tirzah.
"What is the meaning of it all?" the latter asked.
"He is coming," answered the mother. "These we see are from the
city going to meet him; those we hear in the east are his friends
bearing him company; and it will not be strange if the processions
meet here before us.
"I fear, if they do, we cannot be heard."
The same thought was in the elder's mind.
"Amrah," she asked, "when Judah spoke of the healing of the ten,
in what words did he say they called to the Nazarene?"
"Either they said, 'Lord, have mercy upon us,' or 'Master,
"No more that I heard."
"Yet it was enough," the mother added, to herself.
"Yes," said Amrah, "Judah said he saw them go away well."
Meantime the people in the east came up slowly. When at length the
foremost of them were in sight, the gaze of the lepers fixed upon
a man riding in the midst of what seemed a chosen company which
sang and danced about him in extravagance of joy. The rider was
bareheaded and clad all in white. When he was in distance to be
more clearly observed, these, looking anxiously, saw an olive-hued
face shaded by long chestnut hair slightly sunburned and parted in
the middle. He looked neither to the right nor left. In the noisy
abandon of his followers he appeared to have no part; nor did their
favor disturb him in the least, or raise him out of the profound
melancholy into which, as his countenance showed, he was plunged.
The sun beat upon the back of his head, and lighting up the floating
hair gave it a delicate likeness to a golden nimbus. Behind him the
irregular procession, pouring forward with continuous singing and
shouting, extended out of view. There was no need of any one to tell
the lepers that this was he--the wonderful Nazarene!
"He is here, Tirzah," the mother said; "he is here. Come, my child."
As she spoke she glided in front of the white rock and fell upon
Directly the daughter and servant were by her side. Then at sight
of the procession in the west, the thousands from the city halted,
and began to wave their green branches, shouting, or rather chanting
(for it was all in one voice),
"Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the
And all the thousands who were of the rider's company, both those
near and those afar, replied so the air shook with the sound, which
was as a great wind threshing the side of the hill. Amidst the din,
the cries of the poor lepers were not more than the twittering of
The moment of the meeting of the hosts was come, and with it the
opportunity the sufferers were seeking; if not taken, it would be
lost forever, and they would be lost as well.
"Nearer, my child--let us get nearer. He cannot hear us," said the
She arose, and staggered forward. Her ghastly hands were up, and
she screamed with horrible shrillness. The people saw her--saw her
hideous face, and stopped awe-struck--an effect for which extreme
human misery, visible as in this instance, is as potent as majesty
in purple and gold. Tirzah, behind her a little way, fell down too
faint and frightened to follow farther.
"The lepers! the lepers!"
"The accursed of God! Kill them!"
These, with other yells of like import, broke in upon the hosannas
of the part of the multitude too far removed to see and understand
the cause of the interruption. Some there were, however, near by
familiar with the nature of the man to whom the unfortunates were
appealing--some who, by long intercourse with him, had caught
somewhat of his divine compassion: they gazed at him, and were
silent while, in fair view, he rode up and stopped in front
of the woman. She also beheld his face--calm, pitiful, and of
exceeding beauty, the large eyes tender with benignant purpose.
And this was the colloquy that ensued:
"O Master, Master! Thou seest our need; thou canst make us clean.
Have mercy upon us--mercy!"
"Believest thou I am able to do this?" he asked.
"Thou art he of whom the prophets spake--thou art the Messiah!"
His eyes grew radiant, his manner confident.
"Woman," he said, "great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as
He lingered an instant after, apparently unconscious of the presence
of the throng--an instant--then he rode away.
To the heart divinely original, yet so human in all the better
elements of humanity, going with sure prevision to a death of all
the inventions of men the foulest and most cruel, breathing even
then in the forecast shadow of the awful event, and still as hungry
and thirsty for love and faith as in the beginning, how precious and
ineffably soothing the farewell exclamation of the grateful woman:
"To God in the highest, glory! Blessed, thrice blessed, the Son
whom he hath given us!"
Immediately both the hosts, that from the city and that from
Bethphage, closed around him with their joyous demonstrations,
with hosannas and waving of palms, and so he passed from the
lepers forever. Covering her head, the elder hastened to Tirzah,
and folded her in her arms, crying, "Daughter, look up! I have
his promise; he is indeed the Messiah. We are saved--saved!" And
the two remained kneeling while the procession, slowly going,
disappeared over the mount. When the noise of its singing afar
was a sound scarcely heard the miracle began.
There was first in the hearts of the lepers a freshening of the
blood; then it flowed faster and stronger, thrilling their wasted
bodies with an infinitely sweet sense of painless healing. Each
felt the scourge going from her; their strength revived; they were
returning to be themselves. Directly, as if to make the purification
complete, from body to spirit the quickening ran, exalting them to
a very fervor of ecstasy. The power possessing them to this good
end was most nearly that of a draught of swift and happy effect;
yet it was unlike and superior in that its healing and cleansing
were absolute, and not merely a delicious consciousness while in
progress, but the planting, growing, and maturing all at once of a
recollection so singular and so holy that the simple thought of it
should be of itself ever after a formless yet perfect thanksgiving.
To this transformation--for such it may be called quite as properly
as a cure--there was a witness other than Amrah. The reader will
remember the constancy with which Ben-Hur had followed the Nazarene
throughout his wanderings; and now, recalling the conversation of
the night before, there will be little surprise at learning that the
young Jew was present when the leprous woman appeared in the path
of the pilgrims. He heard her prayer, and saw her disfigured face;
he heard the answer also, and was not so accustomed to incidents
of the kind, frequent as they had been, as to have lost interest
in them. Had such thing been possible with him, still the bitter
disputation always excited by the simplest display of the Master's
curative gift would have sufficed to keep his curiosity alive.
Besides that, if not above it as an incentive, his hope to satisfy
himself upon the vexed question of the mission of the mysterious
man was still upon him strong as in the beginning; we might
indeed say even stronger, because of a belief that now quickly,
before the sun went down, the man himself would make all known
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