Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
Part 12 out of 13
by public proclamation. At the close of the scene, consequently,
Ben-Hur had withdrawn from the procession, and seated himself upon
a stone to wait its passage.
From his place he nodded recognition to many of the people--Galileans
in his league, carrying short swords under their long abbas. After a
little a swarthy Arab came up leading two horses; at a sign from
Ben-Hur he also drew out.
"Stay here," the young master said, when all were gone by, even the
laggards. "I wish to be at the city early, and Aldebaran must do
He stroked the broad forehead of the horse, now in his prime of
strength and beauty, then crossed the road towards the two women.
They were to him, it should be borne in mind, strangers in whom he
felt interest only as they were subjects of a superhuman experiment,
the result of which might possibly help him to solution of the
mystery that had so long engaged him. As he proceeded, he glanced
casually at the figure of the little woman over by the white rock,
standing there, her face hidden in her hands.
"As the Lord liveth, it is Amrah!" he said to himself.
He hurried on, and passing by the mother and daughter, still without
recognizing them, he stopped before the servant.
"Amrah," he said to her, "Amrah, what do you here?"
She rushed forward, and fell upon her knees before him, blinded by her
tears, nigh speechless with contending joy and fear.
"O master, master! Thy God and mine, how good he is!"
The knowledge we gain from much sympathy with others passing through
trials is but vaguely understood; strangely enough, it enables us,
among other things, to merge our identity into theirs often so
completely that their sorrows and their delights become our own.
So poor Amrah, aloof and hiding her face, knew the transformation
the lepers were undergoing without a word spoken to her--knew
it, and shared all their feeling to the full. Her countenance,
her words, her whole manner, betrayed her condition; and with
swift presentiment he connected it with the women he had just
passed: he felt her presence there at that time was in some way
associated with them, and turned hastily as they arose to their
feet. His heart stood still, he became rooted in his tracks--dumb
The woman he had seen before the Nazarene was standing with her
hands clasped and eyes streaming, looking towards heaven. The mere
transformation would have been a sufficient surprise; but it was the
least of the causes of his emotion. Could he be mistaken? Never was
there in life a stranger so like his mother; and like her as she was
the day the Roman snatched her from him. There was but one difference
to mar the identity--the hair of this person was a little streaked
with gray; yet that was not impossible of reconcilement, since the
intelligence which had directed the miracle might have taken into
consideration the natural effects of the passage of years. And who
was it by her side, if not Tirzah?--fair, beautiful, perfect,
more mature, but in all other respects exactly the same in
appearance as when she looked with him over the parapet the
morning of the accident to Gratus. He had given them over as dead,
and time had accustomed him to the bereavement; he had not ceased
mourning for them, yet, as something distinguishable, they had
simply dropped out of his plans and dreams. Scarcely believing
his senses, he laid his hand upon the servant's head, and asked,
"Amrah, Amrah--my mother! Tirzah! tell me if I see aright."
"Speak to them, O master, speak to them!" she said.
He waited no longer, but ran, with outstretched arms, crying,
"Mother! mother! Tirzah! Here I am!"
They heard his call, and with a cry as loving started to meet him.
Suddenly the mother stopped, drew back, and uttered the old alarm,
"Stay, Judah, my son; come not nearer. Unclean, unclean!"
The utterance was not from habit, grown since the dread disease
struck her, as much as fear; and the fear was but another form
of the ever-thoughtful maternal love. Though they were healed in
person, the taint of the scourge might be in their garments ready
for communication. He had no such thought. They were before him;
he had called them, they had answered. Who or what should keep
them from him now? Next moment the three, so long separated,
were mingling their tears in each other's arms.
The first ecstasy over, the mother said, "In this happiness, O my
children, let us not be ungrateful. Let us begin life anew by
acknowledgment of him to whom we are all so indebted."
They fell upon their knees, Amrah with the rest; and the prayer
of the elder outspoken was as a psalm.
Tirzah repeated it word for word; so did Ben-Hur, but not with the
same clear mind and questionless faith; for when they were risen,
"In Nazareth, where the man was born, mother, they call him the
son of a carpenter. What is he?"
Her eyes rested upon him with all their old tenderness, and she
answered as she had answered the Nazarene himself--
"He is the Messiah."
"And whence has he his power?"
"We may know by the use he makes of it. Can you tell me any ill
he has done?"
"By that sign then I answer, He has his power from God."
It is not an easy thing to shake off in a moment the expectations
nurtured through years until they have become essentially a part
of us; and though Ben-Hur asked himself what the vanities of the
world were to such a one, his ambition was obdurate and would not
down. He persisted as men do yet every day in measuring the Christ
by himself. How much better if we measured ourselves by the Christ!
Naturally, the mother was the first to think of the cares of life.
"What shall we do now, my son? Where shall we go?"
Then Ben-Hur, recalled to duty, observed how completely every trace
of the scourge had disappeared from his restored people; that each
had back her perfection of person; that, as with Naaman when he
came up out of the water, their flesh had come again like unto
the flesh of a little child; and he took off his cloak, and threw
it over Tirzah.
"Take it," he said, smiling; "the eye of the stranger would have
shunned you before, now it shall not offend you."
The act exposed a sword belted to his side.
"Is it a time of war?" asked the mother, anxiously.
"Why, then, are you armed?"
"It may be necessary to defend the Nazarene."
Thus Ben-Hur evaded the whole truth.
"Has he enemies? Who are they?"
"Alas, mother, they are not all Romans!"
"Is he not of Israel, and a man of peace?"
"There was never one more so; but in the opinion of the rabbis
and teachers he is guilty of a great crime."
"In his eyes the uncircumcised Gentile is as worthy favor as a Jew of
the strictest habit. He preaches a new dispensation."
The mother was silent, and they moved to the shade of the tree by
the rock. Calming his impatience to have them home again and hear
their story, he showed them the necessity of obedience to the law
governing in cases like theirs, and in conclusion called the Arab,
bidding him take the horses to the gate by Bethesda and await him
there; whereupon they set out by the way of the Mount of Offence.
The return was very different from the coming; they walked rapidly
and with ease, and in good time reached a tomb newly made near that
of Absalom, overlooking the depths of Cedron. Finding it unoccupied,
the women took possession, while he went on hastily to make the
preparations required for their new condition.
Ben-Hur pitched two tents out on the Upper Cedron east a short space
of the Tombs of the Kings, and furnished them with every comfort
at his command; and thither, without loss of time, he conducted
his mother and sister, to remain until the examining priest could
certify their perfect cleansing.
In course of the duty, the young man had subjected himself to
such serious defilement as to debar him from participation in
the ceremonies of the great feast, then near at hand. He could not
enter the least sacred of the courts of the Temple. Of necessity,
not less than choice, therefore, he stayed at the tents with his
beloved people. There was a great deal to hear from them, and a
great deal to tell them of himself.
Stories such as theirs--sad experiences extending through a lapse
of years, sufferings of body, acuter sufferings of mind--are usually
long in the telling, the incidents seldom following each other in
threaded connection. He listened to the narrative and all they
told him, with outward patience masking inward feeling. In fact,
his hatred of Rome and Romans reached a higher mark than ever; his
desire for vengeance became a thirst which attempts at reflection
only intensified. In the almost savage bitterness of his humor many
mad impulses took hold of him. The opportunities of the highways
presented themselves with singular force of temptation; he thought
seriously of insurrection in Galilee; even the sea, ordinarily a
retrospective horror to him, stretched itself map-like before his
fancy, laced and interlaced with lines of passage crowded with
imperial plunder and imperial travellers; but the better judgment
matured in calmer hours was happily too firmly fixed to be supplanted
by present passion however strong. Each mental venture in reach of new
expedients brought him back to the old conclusion--that there could be
no sound success except in a war involving all Israel in solid union;
and all musing upon the subject, all inquiry, all hope, ended where
they began--in the Nazarene and his purposes.
At odd moments the excited schemer found a pleasure in fashioning
a speech for that person:
"Hear, O Israel! I am he, the promised of God, born King of the
Jews--come to you with the dominion spoken of by the prophets.
Rise now, and lay hold on the world!"
Would the Nazarene but speak these few words, what a tumult would
follow! How many mouths performing the office of trumpets would
take them up and blow them abroad for the massing of armies!
Would he speak them?
And eager to begin the work, and answering in the worldly way,
Ben-Hur lost sight of the double nature of the man, and of the
other possibility, that the divine in him might transcend the human.
In the miracle of which Tirzah and his mother were the witnesses
even more nearly than himself, he saw and set apart and dwelt upon
a power ample enough to raise and support a Jewish crown over the
wrecks of the Italian, and more than ample to remodel society, and
convert mankind into one purified happy family; and when that work
was done, could any one say the peace which might then be ordered
without hindrance was not a mission worthy a son of God? Could any
one then deny the Redeemership of the Christ? And discarding all
consideration of political consequences, what unspeakable personal
glory there would then be to him as a man? It was not in the nature
of any mere mortal to refuse such a career.
Meantime down the Cedron, and in towards Bezetha, especially on
the roadsides quite up to the Damascus Gate, the country filled
rapidly with all kinds of temporary shelters for pilgrims to the
Passover. Ben-Hur visited the strangers, and talked with them; and
returning to his tents, he was each time more and more astonished
at the vastness of their numbers. And when he further discovered
that every part of the world was represented among them--cities
upon both shores of the Mediterranean far off as the Pillars of
the West, river-towns in distant India, provinces in northernmost
Europe; and that, though they frequently saluted him with tongues
unacquainted with a syllable of the old Hebrew of the fathers,
these representatives had all the same object--celebration of
the notable feast--an idea tinged mistily with superstitious fancy
forced itself upon him. Might he not after all have misunderstood
the Nazarene? Might not that person by patient waiting be covering
silent preparation, and proving his fitness for the glorious
task before him? How much better this time for the movement than
that other when, by Gennesaret, the Galileans would have forced
assumption of the crown? Then the support would have been limited
to a few thousands; now his proclamation would be responded to
by millions--who could say how many? Pursuing this theory to its
conclusions, Ben-Hur moved amidst brilliant promises, and glowed
with the thought that the melancholy man, under gentle seeming
and wondrous self-denial, was in fact carrying in disguise the
subtlety of a politician and the genius of a soldier.
Several times also, in the meanwhile, low-set, brawny men,
bareheaded and black-bearded, came and asked for Ben-Hur at
the tent; his interviews with them were always apart; and to
his mother's question who they were he answered,
"Some good friends of mine from Galilee."
Through them he kept informed of the movements of the Nazarene,
and of the schemes of the Nazarene's enemies, Rabbinical and Roman.
That the good man's life was in danger, he knew; but that there
were any bold enough to attempt to take it at that time, he could
not believe. It seemed too securely intrenched in a great fame
and an assured popularity. The very vastness of the attendance in
and about the city brought with it a seeming guaranty of safety.
And yet, to say truth, Ben-Hur's confidence rested most certainly
upon the miraculous power of the Christ. Pondering the subject in
the purely human view, that the master of such authority over life
and death, used so frequently for the good of others, would not
exert it in care of himself was simply as much past belief as it
was past understanding.
Nor should it be forgotten that all these were incidents of
occurrence between the twenty-first day of March--counting
by the modern calendar--and the twenty-fifth. The evening of
the latter day Ben-Hur yielded to his impatience, and rode to
the city, leaving behind him a promise to return in the night.
The horse was fresh, and choosing his own gait, sped swiftly.
The eyes of the clambering vines winked at the rider from the
garden fences on the way; there was nothing else to see him,
nor child nor woman nor man. Through the rocky float in the
hollows of the road the agate hoofs drummed, ringing like cups
of steel; but without notice from any stranger. In the houses
passed there were no tenants; the fires by the tent-doors were
out; the road was deserted; for this was the first Passover eve,
and the hour "between the evenings" when the visiting millions
crowded the city, and the slaughter of lambs in offering reeked
the fore-courts of the Temple, and the priests in ordered lines
caught the flowing blood and carried it swiftly to the dripping
altars--when all was haste and hurry, racing with the stars fast
coming with the signal after which the roasting and the eating and
the singing might go on, but not the preparation more.
Through the great northern gate the rider rode, and lo! Jerusalem
before the fall, in ripeness of glory, illuminated for the Lord.
Ben-Hur alighted at the gate of the khan from which the three
Wise Men more than thirty years before departed, going down
to Bethlehem. There, in keeping of his Arab followers, he left
the horse, and shortly after was at the wicket of his father's
house, and in a yet briefer space in the great chamber. He called
for Malluch first; that worthy being out, he sent a salutation to
his friends the merchant and the Egyptian. They were being carried
abroad to see the celebration. The latter, he was informed, was very
feeble, and in a state of deep dejection.
Young people of that time who were supposed hardly to know their
own hearts indulged the habit of politic indirection quite as much
as young people in the same condition indulge it in this time;
so when Ben-Hur inquired for the good Balthasar, and with grave
courtesy desired to know if he would be pleased to see him, he really
addressed the daughter a notice of his arrival. While the servant was
answering for the elder, the curtain of the doorway was drawn aside,
and the younger Egyptian came in, and walked--or floated, upborne in
a white cloud of the gauzy raiment she so loved and lived in--to
the centre of the chamber, where the light cast by lamps from the
seven-armed brazen stick planted upon the floor was the strongest.
With her there was no fear of light.
The servant left the two alone.
In the excitement occasioned by the events of the few days past
Ben-Hur had scarcely given a thought to the fair Egyptian. If she
came to his mind at all, it was merely as a briefest pleasure, a
suggestion of a delight which could wait for him, and was waiting.
But now the influence of the woman revived with all its force the
instant Ben-Hur beheld her. He advanced to her eagerly, but stopped
and gazed. Such a change he had never seen!
Theretofore she had been a lover studious to win him--in manner
all warmth, each glance an admission, each action an avowal. She
had showered him with incense of flattery. While he was present,
she had impressed him with her admiration; going away, he carried
the impression with him to remain a delicious expectancy hastening
his return. It was for him the painted eyelids drooped lowest over
the lustrous almond eyes; for him the love-stories caught from the
professionals abounding in the streets of Alexandria were repeated
with emphasis and lavishment of poetry; for him endless exclamations
of sympathy, and smiles, and little privileges with hand and hair
and cheek and lips, and songs of the Nile, and displays of jewelry,
and subtleties of lace in veils and scarfs, and other subtleties
not less exquisite in flosses of Indian silk. The idea, old as the
oldest of peoples, that beauty is the reward of the hero had never
such realism as she contrived for his pleasure; insomuch that he
could not doubt he was her hero; she avouched it in a thousand
artful ways as natural with her as her beauty--winsome ways
reserved, it would seem, by the passionate genius of old Egypt
for its daughters.
Such the Egyptian had been to Ben-Hur from the night of the boat-ride
on the lake in the Orchard of Palms. But now!
Elsewhere in this volume the reader may have observed a term of
somewhat indefinite meaning used reverently in a sacred connection;
we repeat it now with a general application. There are few persons
who have not a double nature, the real and the acquired; the latter
a kind of addendum resulting from education, which in time often
perfects it into a part of the being as unquestionable as the first.
Leaving the thought to the thoughtful, we proceed to say that now
the real nature of the Egyptian made itself manifest.
It was not possible for her to have received a stranger with
repulsion more incisive; yet she was apparently as passionless as
a statue, only the small head was a little tilted, the nostrils
a little drawn, and the sensuous lower lip pushed the upper the
least bit out of its natural curvature.
She was the first to speak.
"Your coming is timely, O son of Hur," she said, in a voice sharply
distinct. "I wish to thank you for hospitality; after to-morrow I
may not have the opportunity to do so."
Ben-Hur bowed slightly without taking his eyes from her.
"I have heard of a custom which the dice-players observe with good
result among themselves," she continued. "When the game is over,
they refer to their tablets and cast up their accounts; then they
libate the gods and put a crown upon the happy winner. We have had
a game--it has lasted through many days and nights. Why, now that
it is at an end, shall not we see to which the chaplet belongs?"
Yet very watchful, Ben-Hur answered, lightly, "A man may not balk
a woman bent on having her way."
"Tell me," she continued, inclining her head, and permitting the
sneer to become positive--"tell me, O prince of Jerusalem, where is
he, that son of the carpenter of Nazareth, and son not less of God,
from whom so lately such mighty things were expected?"
He waved his hand impatiently, and replied, "I am not his keeper."
The beautiful head sank forward yet lower.
"Has he broken Rome to pieces?"
Again, but with anger, Ben-Hur raised his hand in deprecation.
"Where has he seated his capital?" she proceeded. "Cannot I go
see his throne and its lions of bronze? And his palace--he raised
the dead; and to such a one, what is it to raise a golden house?
He has but to stamp his foot and say the word, and the house is,
pillared like Karnak, and wanting nothing."
There was by this time slight ground left to believe her playing;
the questions were offensive, and her manner pointed with unfriendliness;
seeing which, he on his side became more wary, and said, with good humor,
"O Egypt, let us wait another day, even another week, for him, the lions,
and the palace."
She went on without noticing the suggestion.
"And how is it I see you in that garb? Such is not the habit of
governors in India or vice-kings elsewhere. I saw the satrap of
Teheran once, and he wore a turban of silk and a cloak of cloth
of gold, and the hilt and scabbard of his sword made me dizzy
with their splendor of precious stones. I thought Osiris had
lent him a glory from the sun. I fear you have not entered upon
your kingdom--the kingdom I was to share with you."
"The daughter of my wise guest is kinder than she imagines herself;
she is teaching me that Isis may kiss a heart without making it
Ben-Hur spoke with cold courtesy, and Iras, after playing with the
pendent solitaire of her necklace of coins, rejoined, "For a Jew,
the son of Hur is clever. I saw your dreaming Caesar make his entry
into Jerusalem. You told us he would that day proclaim himself King
of the Jews from the steps of the Temple. I beheld the procession
descend the mountain bringing him. I heard their singing. They were
beautiful with palms in motion. I looked everywhere among them for
a figure with a promise of royalty--a horseman in purple, a chariot
with a driver in shining brass, a stately warrior behind an orbed
shield, rivalling his spear in stature. I looked for his guard.
It would have been pleasant to have seen a prince of Jerusalem
and a cohort of the legions of Galilee."
She flung her listener a glance of provoking disdain, then laughed
heartily, as if the ludicrousness of the picture in her mind were
too strong for contempt.
"Instead of a Sesostris returning in triumph or a Caesar helmed
and sworded--ha, ha, ha!--I saw a man with a woman's face and
hair, riding an ass's colt, and in tears. The King! the Son of
God! the Redeemer of the world! Ha, ha, ha!"
In spite of himself, Ben-Hur winced.
"I did not quit my place, O prince of Jerusalem," she said, before he
could recover. "I did not laugh. I said to myself, 'Wait. In the
Temple he will glorify himself as becomes a hero about to take
possession of the world.' I saw him enter the Gate of Shushan
and the Court of the Women. I saw him stop and stand before the
Gate Beautiful. There were people with me on the porch and in the
courts, and on the cloisters and on the steps of the three sides of
the Temple there were other people--I will say a million of people,
all waiting breathlessly to hear his proclamation. The pillars were
not more still than we. Ha, ha, ha! I fancied I heard the axles of
the mighty Roman machine begin to crack. Ha, ha, ha! O prince, by the
soul of Solomon, your King of the World drew his gown about him and
walked away, and out by the farthest gate, nor opened his mouth to
say a word; and--the Roman machine is running yet!"
In simple homage to a hope that instant lost--a hope which, as it
began to fall and while it was falling, he unconsciously followed
with a parting look down to its disappearance--Ben-Hur lowered
At no previous time, whether when Balthasar was plying him with
arguments, or when miracles were being done before his face,
had the disputed nature of the Nazarene been so plainly set
before him. The best way, after all, to reach an understanding
of the divine is by study of the human. In the things superior to
men we may always look to find God. So with the picture given by
the Egyptian of the scene when the Nazarene turned from the Gate
Beautiful; its central theme was an act utterly beyond performance
by a man under control of merely human inspirations. A parable to
a parable-loving people, it taught what the Christ had so often
asserted--that his mission was not political. There was not much
more time for thought of all this than that allowed for a common
respiration; yet the idea took fast hold of Ben-Hur, and in the same
instant he followed his hope of vengeance out of sight, and the man
with the woman's face and hair, and in tears, came near to him--near
enough to leave something of his spirit behind.
"Daughter of Balthasar," he said, with dignity, "if this be the
game of which you spoke to me, take the chaplet--I accord it
yours. Only let us make an end of words. That you have a purpose
I am sure. To it, I pray, and I will answer you; then let us go
our several ways, and forget we ever met. Say on; I will listen,
but not to more of that which you have given me."
She regarded him intently a moment, as if determining what to
do--possibly she might have been measuring his will--then she
said, coldly, "You have my leave--go."
"Peace to you," he responded, and walked away.
As he was about passing out of the door, she called to him.
He stopped where he was, and looked back.
"Consider all I know about you."
"O most fair Egyptian," he said, returning, "what all do you know
She looked at him absently.
"You are more of a Roman, son of Hur, then any of your Hebrew
"Am I so unlike my countrymen?" he asked, indifferently.
"The demi-gods are all Roman now," she rejoined.
"And therefore you will tell me what more you know about me?"
"The likeness is not lost upon me. It might induce me to save you."
The pink-stained fingers toyed daintily with the lustrous pendant
at the throat, and her voice was exceeding low and soft; only a
tapping on the floor with her silken sandal admonished him to
have a care.
"There was a Jew, an escaped galley-slave, who killed a man in
the Palace of Idernee," she began, slowly.
Ben-Hur was startled.
"The same Jew slew a Roman soldier before the Market-place here
in Jerusalem; the same Jew has three trained legions from Galilee
to seize the Roman governor to-night; the same Jew has alliances
perfected for war upon Rome, and Ilderim the Sheik is one of his
Drawing nearer him, she almost whispered,
"You have lived in Rome. Suppose these things repeated in ears we
know of. Ah! you change color."
He drew back from her with somewhat of the look which may be
imagined upon the face of a man who, thinking to play with a
kitten, has run upon a tiger; and she proceeded:
"You are acquainted in the antechamber, and know the Lord Sejanus.
Suppose it were told him with the proofs in hand--or without the
proofs--that the same Jew is the richest man in the East--nay,
in all the empire. The fishes of the Tiber would have fattening
other than that they dig out of its ooze, would they not? And
while they were feeding--ha! son of Hur!--what splendor there
would be on exhibition in the Circus! Amusing the Roman people
is a fine art; getting the money to keep them amused is another
art even finer; and was there ever an artist the equal of the
Ben-Hur was not too much stirred by the evident baseness of the
woman for recollection. Not unfrequently when all the other
faculties are numb and failing memory does its offices with
the greatest fidelity. The scene at the spring on the way to the
Jordan reproduced itself; and he remembered thinking then that
Esther had betrayed him, and thinking so now, he said calmly as
"To give you pleasure, daughter of Egypt, I acknowledge your
cunning, and that I am at your mercy. It may also please you to
hear me acknowledge I have no hope of your favor. I could kill you,
but you are a woman. The Desert is open to receive me; and though
Rome is a good hunter of men, there she would follow long and far
before she caught me, for in its heart there are wildernesses of
spears as well as wildernesses of sand, and it is not unlovely
to the unconquered Parthian. In the toils as I am--dupe that I
have been--yet there is one thing my due: who told you all you
know about me? In flight or captivity, dying even, there will
be consolation in leaving the traitor the curse of a man who has
lived knowing nothing but wretchedness. Who told you all you know
It might have been a touch of art, or might have been sincere--that
as it may--the expression of the Egyptian's face became sympathetic.
"There are in my country, O son of Hur," she said, presently,
"workmen who make pictures by gathering vari-colored shells
here and there on the sea-shore after storms, and cutting
them up, and patching the pieces as inlaying on marble slabs.
Can you not see the hint there is in the practice to such as go
searching for secrets? Enough that from this person I gathered a
handful of little circumstances, and from that other yet another
handful, and that afterwhile I put them together, and was happy as
a woman can be who has at disposal the fortune and life of a man
whom"--she stopped, and beat the floor with her foot, and looked
away as if to hide a sudden emotion from him; with an air of even
painful resolution she presently finished the sentence--"whom she
is at loss what to do with."
"No, it is not enough," Ben-Hur said, unmoved by the play--"it
is not enough. To-morrow you will determine what to do with me.
I may die."
"True," she rejoined quickly and with emphasis, "I had something
from Sheik Ilderim as he lay with my father in a grove out in
the Desert. The night was still, very still, and the walls of the
tent, sooth to say, were poor ward against ears outside listening
to--birds and beetles flying through the air."
She smiled at the conceit, but proceeded:
"Some other things--bits of shell for the picture--I had from--"
"The son of Hur himself."
"Was there no other who contributed?"
"No, not one."
Hur drew a breath of relief, and said, lightly, "Thanks. It were
not well to keep the Lord Sejanus waiting for you. The Desert is
not so sensitive. Again, O Egypt, peace!"
To this time he had been standing uncovered; now he took the
handkerchief from his arm where it had been hanging, and adjusting
it upon his head, turned to depart. But she arrested him; in her
eagerness, she even reached a hand to him.
"Stay," she said.
He looked back at her, but without taking the hand, though it
was very noticeable for its sparkling of jewels; and he knew
by her manner that the reserved point of the scene which was
so surprising to him was now to come.
"Stay, and do not distrust me, O son of Hur, if I declare I know
why the noble Arrius took you for his heir. And, by Isis! by all
the gods of Egypt! I swear I tremble to think of you, so brave and
generous, under the hand of the remorseless minister. You have left
a portion of your youth in the atria of the great capital; consider,
as I do, what the Desert will be to you in contrast of life. Oh,
I give you pity--pity! And if you but do what I say, I will save
you. That, also, I swear, by our holy Isis!"
Words of entreaty and prayer these, poured forth volubly and with
earnestness and the mighty sanction of beauty.
"Almost--almost I believe you," Ben-Hur said, yet hesitatingly,
and in a voice low and indistinct; for a doubt remained with
him grumbling against the yielding tendency of the man--a good
sturdy doubt, such a one as has saved many a life and fortune.
"The perfect life for a woman is to live in love; the greatest
happiness for a man is the conquest of himself; and that, O prince,
is what I have to ask of you."
She spoke rapidly, and with animation; indeed, she had never
appeared to him so fascinating.
"You had once a friend," she continued. "It was in your boyhood.
There was a quarrel, and you and he became enemies. He did you
wrong. After many years you met him again in the Circus at Antioch."
"Yes, Messala. You are his creditor. Forgive the past; admit him
to friendship again; restore the fortune he lost in the great
wager; rescue him. The six talents are as nothing to you; not so
much as a bud lost upon a tree already in full leaf; but to him--
Ah, he must go about with a broken body; wherever you meet him he
must look up to you from the ground. O Ben-Hur, noble prince! to
a Roman descended as he is beggary is the other most odious name
for death. Save him from beggary!"
If the rapidity with which she spoke was a cunning invention
to keep him from thinking, either she never knew or else had
forgotten that there are convictions which derive nothing from
thought, but drop into place without leave or notice. It seemed
to him, when at last she paused to have his answer, that he could
see Messala himself peering at him over her shoulder; and in its
expression the countenance of the Roman was not that of a mendicant
or a friend; the sneer was as patrician as ever, and the fine edge
of the hauteur as flawless and irritating.
"The appeal has been decided then, and for once a Messala takes
nothing. I must go and write it in my book of great occurrences--a
judgment by a Roman against a Roman! But did he--did Messala send
you to me with this request, O Egypt?"
"He has a noble nature, and judged you by it."
Ben-Hur took the hand upon arm.
"As you know him in such friendly way, fair Egyptian, tell me,
would he do for me, there being a reversal of the conditions,
that he asks of me? Answer, by Isis! Answer, for the truth's
There was insistence in the touch of his hand, and in his look also.
"Oh!" she began, "he is--"
"A Roman, you were about to say; meaning that I, a Jew, must not
determine dues from me to him by any measure of dues from him
to me; being a Jew, I must forgive him my winnings because he
is a Roman. If you have more to tell me, daughter of Balthasar,
speak quickly, quickly; for by the Lord God of Israel, when this
heat of blood, hotter waxing, attains its highest, I may not be
able longer to see that you are a woman, and beautiful! I may
see but the spy of a master the more hateful because the master
is a Roman. Say on, and quickly."
She threw his hand off and stepped back into the full light,
with all the evil of her nature collected in her eyes and voice.
"Thou drinker of lees, feeder upon husks! To think I could love
thee, having seen Messala! Such as thou were born to serve him.
He would have been satisfied with release of the six talents;
but I say to the six thou shalt add twenty--twenty, dost thou
hear? The kissings of my little finger which thou hast taken
from him, though with my consent, shall be paid for; and that I
have followed thee with affection of sympathy, and endured thee
so long, enter into the account not less because I was serving
him. The merchant here is thy keeper of moneys. If by to-morrow
at noon he has not thy order acted upon in favor of my Messala
for six-and-twenty talents--mark the sum!--thou shalt settle with
the Lord Sejanus. Be wise and--farewell."
As she was going to the door, he put himself in her way.
"The old Egypt lives in you," he said. "Whether you see Messala
to-morrow or the next day, here or in Rome, give him this message.
Tell him I have back the money, even the six talents, he robbed me
of by robbing my father's estate; tell him I survived the galleys
to which he had me sent, and in my strength rejoice in his beggary
and dishonor; tell him I think the affliction of body which he has
from my hand is the curse of our Lord God of Israel upon him more
fit than death for his crimes against the helpless; tell him my
mother and sister whom he had sent to a cell in Antonia that they
might die of leprosy, are alive and well, thanks to the power of
the Nazarene whom you so despise; tell him that, to fill my measure
of happiness, they are restored to me, and that I will go hence to
their love, and find in it more than compensation for the impure
passions which you leave me to take to him; tell him--this for
your comfort, O cunning incarnate, as much as his--tell him that
when the Lord Sejanus comes to despoil me he will find nothing;
for the inheritance I had from the duumvir, including the villa
by Misenum, has been sold, and the money from the sale is out
of reach, afloat in the marts of the world as bills of exchange;
and that this house and the goods and merchandise and the ships and
caravans with which Simonides plies his commerce with such princely
profits are covered by imperial safeguards--a wise head having found
the price of the favor, and the Lord Sejanus preferring a reasonable
gain in the way of gift to much gain fished from pools of blood
and wrong; tell him if all this were not so, if the money and
property were all mine, yet should he not have the least part
of it, for when he finds our Jewish bills, and forces them to
give up their values, there is yet another resort left me--a
deed of gift to Caesar--so much, O Egypt, I found out in the
atria of the great capital; tell him that along with my defiance
I do not send him a curse in words, but, as a better expression of
my undying hate, I send him one who will prove to him the sum of
all curses; and when he looks at you repeating this my message,
daughter of Balthasar, his Roman shrewdness will tell him all I
mean. Go now--and I will go."
He conducted her to the door, and, with ceremonious politeness,
held back the curtain while she passed out.
"Peace to you," he said, as she disappeared.
When Ben-Hur left the guest-chamber, there was not nearly so much
life in his action as when he entered it; his steps were slower,
and he went along with his head quite upon his breast. Having made
discovery that a man with a broken back may yet have a sound brain,
he was reflecting upon the discovery.
Forasmuch as it is easy after a calamity has befallen to look back
and see the proofs of its coming strewn along the way, the thought
that he had not even suspected the Egyptian as in Messala's interest,
but had gone blindly on through whole years putting himself and
his friends more and more at her mercy, was a sore wound to the
young man's vanity. "I remember," he said to himself, "she had
no word of indignation for the perfidious Roman at the Fountain
of Castalia! I remember she extolled him at the boat-ride on the
lake in the Orchard of Palms! And, ah!"--he stopped, and beat
his left hand violently with his right--"ah! that mystery about
the appointment she made with me at the Palace of Idernee is no
The wound, it should be observed, was to his vanity; and fortunately
it is not often that people die of such hurts, or even continue a long
time sick. In Ben-Hur's case, moreover, there was a compensation;
for presently he exclaimed aloud, "Praised be the Lord God that the
woman took not a more lasting hold on me! I see I did not love her."
Then, as if he had already parted with not a little of the weight
on his mind, he stepped forward more lightly; and, coming to the
place on the terrace where one stairway led down to the court-yard
below, and another ascended to the roof, he took the latter and
began to climb. As he made the last step in the flight he stopped
"Can Balthasar have been her partner in the long mask she has been
playing? No, no. Hypocrisy seldom goes with wrinkled age like that.
Balthasar is a good man."
With this decided opinion he stepped upon the roof. There was a
full moon overhead, yet the vault of the sky at the moment was
lurid with light cast up from the fires burning in the streets
and open places of the city, and the chanting and chorusing of
the old psalmody of Israel filled it with plaintive harmonies
to which he could not but listen. The countless voices bearing
the burden seemed to say, "Thus, O son of Judah, we prove our
worshipfulness of the Lord God, and our loyalty to the land he
gave us. Let a Gideon appear, or a David, or a Maccabaeus, and we
That seemed an introduction; for next he saw the man of Nazareth.
In certain moods the mind is disposed to mock itself with inapposite
The tearful woman-like face of the Christ stayed with him while he
crossed the roof to the parapet above the street on the north side
of the house, and there was in it no sign of war; but rather as the
heavens of calm evenings look peace upon everything, so it looked,
provoking the old question, What manner of man is he?
Ben-Hur permitted himself one glance over the parapet, then turned
and walked mechanically towards the summer-house.
"Let them do their worst," he said, as he went slowly on. "I will
not forgive the Roman. I will not divide my fortune with him, nor
will I fly from this city of my fathers. I will call on Galilee
first, and here make the fight. By brave deeds I will bring the
tribes to our side. He who raised up Moses will find us a leader,
if I fail. If not the Nazarene, then some other of the many ready
to die for freedom."
The interior of the summer-house, when Ben-Hur, slow sauntering,
came to it, was murkily lighted. The faintest of shadows lay along
the floor from the pillars on the north and west sides. Looking in,
he saw the arm-chair usually occupied by Simonides drawn to a spot
from which a view of the city over towards the Market-place could
be best had.
"The good man is returned. I will speak with him, unless he be
He walked in, and with a quiet step approached the chair.
Peering over the high back, he beheld Esther nestled in the seat
asleep--a small figure snugged away under her father's lap-robe.
The hair dishevelled fell over her face. Her breathing was low
and irregular. Once it was broken by a long sigh, ending in a sob.
Something--it might have been the sigh or the loneliness in which
he found her--imparted to him the idea that the sleep was a rest
from sorrow rather than fatigue. Nature kindly sends such relief
to children, and he was used to thinking Esther scarcely more than
a child. He put his arms upon the back of the chair, and thought.
"I will not wake her. I have nothing to tell her--nothing
unless--unless it be my love. . . . She is a daughter of
Judah, and beautiful, and so unlike the Egyptian; for there
it is all vanity, here all truth; there ambition, here duty;
there selfishness, here self-sacrifice. . . . Nay, the question
is not do I love her, but does she love me? She was my friend from
the beginning. The night on the terrace at Antioch, how child-like
she begged me not to make Rome my enemy, and had me tell her of
the villa by Misenum, and of the life there! That she should not
see I saw her cunning drift I kissed her. Can she have forgotten
the kiss! I have not. I love her. . . . They do not know in the
city that I have back my people. I shrank from telling it to
the Egyptian; but this little one will rejoice with me over their
restoration, and welcome them with love and sweet services of hand
and heart. She will be to my mother another daughter; in Tirzah
she will find her other self. I would wake her and tell her these
things, but--out on the sorceress of Egypt! Of that folly I could
not command myself to speak. I will go away, and wait another and
a better time. I will wait. Fair Esther, dutiful child, daughter of
He retired silently as he came.
The streets were full of people going and coming, or grouped about
the fires roasting meat, and feasting and singing, and happy.
The odor of scorching flesh mixed with the odor of cedar-wood
aflame and smoking loaded the air; and as this was the occasion
when every son of Israel was full brother to every other son of
Israel, and hospitality was without bounds, Ben-Hur was saluted
at every step, while the groups by the fires insisted, "Stay and
partake with us. We are brethren in the love of the Lord." But with
thanks to them he hurried on, intending to take horse at the khan
and return to the tents on the Cedron.
To make the place, it was necessary for him to cross the
thoroughfare so soon to receive sorrowful Christian perpetuation.
There also the pious celebration was at its height. Looking up
the street, he noticed the flames of torches in motion streaming
out like pennons; then he observed that the singing ceased where
the torches came. His wonder rose to its highest, however, when he
became certain that amidst the smoke and dancing sparks he saw the
keener sparkling of burnished spear-tips, arguing the presence of
Roman soldiers. What were they, the scoffing legionaries, doing in
a Jewish religious procession? The circumstance was unheard of,
and he stayed to see the meaning of it.
The moon was shining its best; yet, as if the moon and the torches,
and the fires in the street, and the rays streaming from windows
and open doors were not enough to make the way clear, some of the
processionists carried lighted lanterns; and fancying he discovered
a special purpose in the use of such equipments, Ben-Hur stepped
into the street so close to the line of march as to bring every
one of the company under view while passing. The torches and the
lanterns were being borne by servants, each of whom was armed with
a bludgeon or a sharpened stave. Their present duty seemed to be
to pick out the smoothest paths among the rocks in the street for
certain dignitaries among them--elders and priests; rabbis with long
beards, heavy brows, and beaked noses; men of the class potential in
the councils of Caiaphas and Hannas. Where could they be going?
Not to the Temple, certainly, for the route to the sacred house
from Zion, whence these appeared to be coming, was by the Xystus.
And their business--if peaceful, why the soldiers?
As the procession began to go by Ben-Hur, his attention was
particularly called to three persons walking together. They were
well towards the front, and the servants who went before them with
lanterns appeared unusually careful in the service. In the person
moving on the left of this group he recognized a chief policeman
of the Temple; the one on the right was a priest; the middle man
was not at first so easily placed, as he walked leaning heavily upon
the arms of the others, and carried his head so low upon his breast
as to hide his face. His appearance was that of a prisoner not yet
recovered from the fright of arrest, or being taken to something
dreadful--to torture or death. The dignitaries helping him on the
right and left, and the attention they gave him, made it clear that
if he were not himself the object moving the party, he was at least
in some way connected with the object--a witness or a guide, possibly
an informer. So if it could be found who he was the business in hand
might be shrewdly guessed. With great assurance, Ben-Hur fell in on
the right of the priest, and walked along with him. Now if the man
would lift his head! And presently he did so, letting the light of
the lanterns strike full in his face, pale, dazed, pinched with
dread; the beard roughed; the eyes filmy, sunken, and despairing.
In much going about following the Nazarene, Ben-Hur had come to
know his disciples as well as the Master; and now, at sight of
the dismal countenance, he cried out,
Slowly the head of the man turned until his eyes settled upon
Ben-Hur, and his lips moved as if he were about to speak; but the
"Who art thou? Begone!" he said to Ben-Hur, pushing him away.
The young man took the push good-naturedly, and, waiting an opportunity,
fell into the procession again. Thus he was carried passively along down
the street, through the crowded lowlands between the hill Bezetha
and the Castle of Antonia, and on by the Bethesda reservoir to the
Sheep Gate. There were people everywhere, and everywhere the people
were engaged in sacred observances.
It being Passover night, the valves of the Gate stood open. The
keepers were off somewhere feasting. In front of the procession
as it passed out unchallenged was the deep gorge of the Cedron,
with Olivet beyond, its dressing of cedar and olive trees darker of
the moonlight silvering all the heavens. Two roads met and merged
into the street at the gate--one from the northeast, the other
from Bethany. Ere Ben-Hur could finish wondering whether he were
to go farther, and if so, which road was to be taken, he was led
off down into the gorge. And still no hint of the purpose of the
Down the gorge and over the bridge at the bottom of it. There was
a great clatter on the floor as the crowd, now a straggling rabble,
passed over beating and pounding with their clubs and staves.
A little farther, and they turned off to the left in the direction
of an olive orchard enclosed by a stone wall in view from the road.
Ben-Hur knew there was nothing in the place but old gnarled trees,
the grass, and a trough hewn out of a rock for the treading of oil
after the fashion of the country. While, yet more wonder-struck,
he was thinking what could bring such a company at such an hour
to a quarter so lonesome, they were all brought to a standstill.
Voices called out excitedly in front; a chill sensation ran from
man to man; there was a rapid falling-back, and a blind stumbling
over each other. The soldiers alone kept their order.
It took Ben-Hur but a moment to disengage himself from the mob and
run forward. There he found a gateway without a gate admitting to
the orchard, and he halted to take in the scene.
A man in white clothes, and bareheaded, was standing outside the
entrance, his hands crossed before him--a slender, stooping figure,
with long hair and thin face--in an attitude of resignation and
It was the Nazarene!
Behind him, next the gateway, were the disciples in a group; they
were excited, but no man was ever calmer than he. The torchlight
beat redly upon him, giving his hair a tint ruddier than was
natural to it; yet the expression of the countenance was as
usual all gentleness and pity.
Opposite this most unmartial figure stood the rabble, gaping,
silent, awed, cowering--ready at a sign of anger from him to break
and run. And from him to them--then at Judas, conspicuous in their
midst--Ben-Hur looked--one quick glance, and the object of the visit
lay open to his understanding. Here was the betrayer, there the
betrayed; and these with clubs and staves, and the legionaries,
were brought to take him.
A man may not always tell what he will do until the trial is
upon him. This was the emergency for which Ben-Hur had been
for years preparing. The man to whose security he had devoted
himself, and upon whose life he had been building so largely,
was in personal peril; yet he stood still. Such contradictions are
there in human nature! To say truth, O reader, he was not entirely
recovered from the picture of the Christ before the Gate Beautiful
as it had been given by the Egyptian; and, besides that, the very
calmness with which the mysterious person confronted the mob held
him in restraint by suggesting the possession of a power in reserve
more than sufficient for the peril. Peace and good-will, and love
and non-resistance, had been the burden of the Nazarene's teaching;
would he put his preaching into practice? He was master of life; he
could restore it when lost; he could take it at pleasure. What use
would he make of the power now? Defend himself? And how? A word--a
breath--a thought were sufficient. That there would be some signal
exhibition of astonishing force beyond the natural Ben-Hur believed,
and in that faith waited. And in all this he was still measuring the
Nazarene by himself--by the human standard.
Presently the clear voice of the Christ arose.
"Whom seek ye?"
"Jesus of Nazareth," the priest replied.
"I am he."
At these simplest of words, spoken without passion or alarm,
the assailants fell back several steps, the timid among them
cowering to the ground; and they might have let him alone and
gone away had not Judas walked over to him.
With this friendly speech, he kissed him.
"Judas," said the Nazarene, mildly, "betrayest thou the Son of
man with a kiss? Wherefore art thou come?"
Receiving no reply, the Master spoke to the crowd again.
"Whom seek ye?"
"Jesus of Nazareth."
"I have told you that I am he. If, therefore, you seek me, let these
go their way."
At these words of entreaty the rabbis advanced upon him; and,
seeing their intent, some of the disciples for whom he interceded
drew nearer; one of them cut off a man's ear, but without saving
the Master from being taken. And yet Ben-Hur stood still! Nay,
while the officers were making ready with their ropes the Nazarene
was doing his greatest charity--not the greatest in deed, but the
very greatest in illustration of his forbearance, so far surpassing
that of men.
"Suffer ye thus far," he said to the wounded man, and healed him
with a touch.
Both friends and enemies were confounded--one side that he could do
such a thing, the other that he would do it under the circumstances.
"Surely he will not allow them to bind him!"
Thus thought Ben-Hur.
"Put up thy sword into the sheath; the cup which my Father hath
given me, shall I not drink it?" From the offending follower,
the Nazarene turned to his captors. "Are you come out as against
a thief, with swords and staves to take me? I was daily with you
in the Temple, and you took me not; but this is your hour, and the
power of darkness."
The posse plucked up courage and closed about him; and when Ben-Hur
looked for the faithful they were gone--not one of them remained.
The crowd about the deserted man seemed very busy with tongue, hand,
and foot. Over their heads, between the torch-sticks, through the
smoke, sometimes in openings between the restless men, Ben-Hur caught
momentary glimpses of the prisoner. Never had anything struck him as
so piteous, so unfriended, so forsaken! Yet, he thought, the man
could have defended himself--he could have slain his enemies with
a breath, but he would not. What was the cup his father had given
him to drink? And who was the father to be so obeyed? Mystery upon
mystery--not one, but many.
Directly the mob started in return to the city, the soldiers
in the lead. Ben-Hur became anxious; he was not satisfied with
himself. Where the torches were in the midst of the rabble he
knew the Nazarene was to be found. Suddenly he resolved to see
him again. He would ask him one question.
Taking off his long outer garment and the handkerchief from his
head, he threw them upon the orchard wall, and started after the
posse, which he boldly joined. Through the stragglers he made way,
and by littles at length reached the man who carried the ends of
the rope with which the prisoner was bound.
The Nazarene was walking slowly, his head down, his hands bound
behind him; the hair fell thickly over his face, and he stooped
more than usual; apparently he was oblivious to all going on
around him. In advance a few steps were priests and elders talking
and occasionally looking back. When, at length, they were all near
the bridge in the gorge, Ben-Hur took the rope from the servant who
had it, and stepped past him.
"Master, master!" he said, hurriedly, speaking close to the
Nazarene's ear. "Dost thou hear, master? A word--one word.
The fellow from whom he had taken the rope now claimed it.
"Tell me," Ben-Hur continued, "goest thou with these of thine own
The people were come up now, and in his own ears asking angrily,
"Who art thou, man?"
"O master," Ben-Hur made haste to say, his voice sharp with anxiety,
"I am thy friend and lover. Tell me, I pray thee, if I bring rescue,
wilt thou accept it?"
The Nazarene never so much as looked up or allowed the slightest
sign of recognition; yet the something which when we are suffering
is always telling it to such as look at us, though they be strangers,
failed not now. "Let him alone," it seemed to say; "he has been
abandoned by his friends; the world has denied him; in bitterness
of spirit, he has taken farewell of men; he is going he knows not
where, and he cares not. Let him alone."
And to that Ben-Hur was now driven. A dozen hands were upon him,
and from all sides there was shouting, "He is one of them. Bring
him along; club him--kill him!"
With a gust of passion which gave him many times his ordinary force,
Ben-Hur raised himself, turned once about with arms outstretched,
shook the hands off, and rushed through the circle which was fast
hemming him in. The hands snatching at him as he passed tore his
garments from his back, so he ran off the road naked; and the gorge,
in keeping of the friendly darkness, darker there than elsewhere,
received him safe.
Reclaiming his handkerchief and outer garments from the orchard
wall, he followed back to the city gate; thence he went to the
khan, and on the good horse rode to the tents of his people out
by the Tombs of the Kings.
As he rode, he promised himself to see the Nazarene on the morrow
--promised it, not knowing that the unfriended man was taken straightway
to the house of Hannas to be tried that night.
The heart the young man carried to his couch beat so heavily he
could not sleep; for now clearly his renewed Judean kingdom resolved
itself into what it was--only a dream. It is bad enough to see our
castles overthrown one after another with an interval between
in which to recover from the shock, or at least let the echoes
of the fall die away; but when they go altogether--go as ships
sink, as houses tumble in earthquakes--the spirits which endure
it calmly are made of stuffs sterner than common, and Ben-Hur's
was not of them. Through vistas in the future, he began to catch
glimpses of a life serenely beautiful, with a home instead of a
palace of state, and Esther its mistress. Again and again through
the leaden-footed hours of the night he saw the villa by Misenum,
and with his little countrywoman strolled through the garden,
and rested in the panelled atrium; overhead the Neapolitan sky,
at their feet the sunniest of sun-lands and the bluest of bays.
In plainest speech, he was entering upon a crisis with which
to-morrow and the Nazarene will have everything to do.
Next morning, about the second hour, two men rode full speed to
the doors of Ben-Hur's tents, and dismounting, asked to see him.
He was not yet risen, but gave directions for their admission.
"Peace to you, brethren," he said, for they were of his Galileans,
and trusted officers. "Will you be seated?"
"Nay," the senior replied, bluntly, "to sit and be at ease is
to let the Nazarene die. Rise, son of Judah, and go with us.
The judgment has been given. The tree of the cross is already
Ben-Hur stared at them.
"The cross!" was all he could for the moment say.
"They took him last night, and tried him," the man continued.
"At dawn they led him before Pilate. Twice the Roman denied
his guilt; twice he refused to give him over. At last he washed
his hands, and said, 'Be it upon you then;' and they answered--"
"They--the priests and people--'His blood be upon us and our
"Holy father Abraham!" cried Ben-Hur; "a Roman kinder to an
Israelite than his own kin! And if--ah, if he should indeed
be the son of God, what shall ever wash his blood from their
children? It must not be--'tis time to fight!"
His face brightened with resolution, and he clapped his hands.
"The horses--and quickly!" he said to the Arab who answered the
signal. "And bid Amrah send me fresh garments, and bring my sword!
It is time to die for Israel, my friends. Tarry without till I come."
He ate a crust, drank a cup of wine, and was soon upon the road.
"Whither would you go first?" asked the Galilean.
"To collect the legions."
"Alas!" the man replied, throwing up his hands.
"Master"--the man spoke with shame--"master, I and my friend
here are all that are faithful. The rest do follow the priests."
"Seeking what?" and Ben-Hur drew rein.
"To kill him."
"Not the Nazarene?"
"You have said it."
Ben-Hur looked slowly from one man to the other. He was hearing
again the question of the night before: "The cup my Father hath
given me, shall I not drink it?" In the ear of the Nazarene he was
putting his own question, "If I bring thee rescue, wilt thou accept
it?" He was saying to himself, "This death may not be averted.
The man has been travelling towards it with full knowledge from
the day he began his mission: it is imposed by a will higher
than his; whose but the Lord's! If he is consenting, if he goes
to it voluntarily, what shall another do?" Nor less did Ben-Hur
see the failure of the scheme he had built upon the fidelity of
the Galileans; their desertion, in fact, left nothing more of it.
But how singular it should happen that morning of all others! A dread
seized him. It was possible his scheming, and labor, and expenditure of
treasure might have been but blasphemous contention with God. When he
picked up the reins and said, "Let us go, brethren," all before him
was uncertainty. The faculty of resolving quickly, without which
one cannot be a hero in the midst of stirring scenes, was numb
"Let us go, brethren; let us to Golgotha."
They passed through excited crowds of people going south,
like themselves. All the country north of the city seemed
aroused and in motion.
Hearing that the procession with the condemned might be met with
somewhere near the great white towers left by Herod, the three
friends rode thither, passing round southeast of Akra. In the
valley below the Pool of Hezekiah, passage-way against the multitude
became impossible, and they were compelled to dismount, and take
shelter behind the corner of a house and wait.
The waiting was as if they were on a river bank, watching a flood
go by, for such the people seemed.
There are certain chapters in the First Book of this story which
were written to give the reader an idea of the composition of the
Jewish nationality as it was in the time of Christ. They were also
written in anticipation of this hour and scene; so that he who has
read them with attention can now see all Ben-Hur saw of the going
to the crucifixion--a rare and wonderful sight!
Half an hour--an hour--the flood surged by Ben-Hur and his companions,
within arm's reach, incessant, undiminished. At the end of that time
he could have said, "I have seen all the castes of Jerusalem, all the
sects of Judea, all the tribes of Israel, and all the nationalities
of earth represented by them." The Libyan Jew went by, and the Jew
of Egypt, and the Jew from the Rhine; in short, Jews from all East
countries and all West countries, and all islands within commercial
connection; they went by on foot, on horseback, on camels, in litters
and chariots, and with an infinite variety of costumes, yet with the
same marvellous similitude of features which to-day particularizes
the children of Israel, tried as they have been by climates and
modes of life; they went by speaking all known tongues, for by that
means only were they distinguishable group from group; they went by
in haste--eager, anxious, crowding--all to behold one poor Nazarene
die, a felon between felons.
These were the many, but they were not all.
Borne along with the stream were thousands not Jews--thousands
hating and despising them--Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Syrians,
Africans, Egyptians, Easterns. So that, studying the mass,
it seemed the whole world was to be represented, and, in that
sense, present at the crucifixion.
The going was singularly quiet. A hoof-stroke upon a rock, the glide
and rattle of revolving wheels, voices in conversation, and now and
then a calling voice, were all the sounds heard above the rustle of
the mighty movement. Yet was there upon every countenance the look
with which men make haste to see some dreadful sight, some sudden
wreck, or ruin, or calamity of war. And by such signs Ben-Hur judged
that these were the strangers in the city come up to the Passover,
who had had no part in the trial of the Nazarene, and might be his
At length, from the direction of the great towers, Ben-Hur heard, at
first faint in the distance, a shouting of many men.
"Hark! they are coming now," said one of his friends.
The people in the street halted to hear; but as the cry rang on
over their heads, they looked at each other, and in shuddering
silence moved along.
The shouting drew nearer each moment; and the air was already full
of it and trembling, when Ben-Hur saw the servants of Simonides
coming with their master in his chair, and Esther walking by his
side; a covered litter was next behind them.
"Peace to you, O Simonides--and to you, Esther," said Ben-Hur,
meeting them. "If you are for Golgotha, stay until the procession
passes; I will then go with you. There is room to turn in by the
The merchant's large head rested heavily upon his breast; rousing
himself, he answered, "Speak to Balthasar; his pleasure will be
mine. He is in the litter."
Ben-Hur hastened to draw aside the curtain. The Egyptian was lying
within, his wan face so pinched as to appear like a dead man's.
The proposal was submitted to him.
"Can we see him?" he inquired, faintly.
"The Nazarene? yes; he must pass within a few feet of us."
"Dear Lord!" the old man cried, fervently. "Once more, once more!
Oh, it is a dreadful day for the world!"
Shortly the whole party were in waiting under shelter of the house.
They said but little, afraid, probably, to trust their thoughts
to each other; everything was uncertain, and nothing so much so as
opinions. Balthasar drew himself feebly from the litter, and stood
supported by a servant; Esther and Ben-Hur kept Simonides company.
Meantime the flood poured along, if anything, more densely
than before; and the shouting came nearer, shrill up in the air,
hoarse along the earth, and cruel. At last the procession was up.
"See!" said Ben-Hur, bitterly; "that which cometh now is Jerusalem."
The advance was in possession of an army of boys, hooting and
screaming, "The King of the Jews! Room, room for the King of
Simonides watched them as they whirled and danced along, like a
cloud of summer insects, and said, gravely, "When these come to
their inheritance, son of Hur, alas for the city of Solomon!"
A band of legionaries fully armed followed next, marching in
sturdy indifference, the glory of burnished brass about them
Then came the NAZARENE!
He was nearly dead. Every few steps he staggered as if he would
fall. A stained gown badly torn hung from his shoulders over a
seamless undertunic. His bare feet left red splotches upon the
stones. An inscription on a board was tied to his neck. A crown
of thorns had been crushed hard down upon his head, making cruel
wounds from which streams of blood, now dry and blackened, had run
over his face and neck. The long hair, tangled in the thorns,
was clotted thick. The skin, where it could be seen, was ghastly
white. His hands were tied before him. Back somewhere in the city
he had fallen exhausted under the transverse beam of his cross,
which, as a condemned person, custom required him to bear to the
place of execution; now a countryman carried the burden in his
stead. Four soldiers went with him as a guard against the mob,
who sometimes, nevertheless, broke through, and struck him with
sticks, and spit upon him. Yet no sound escaped him, neither
remonstrance nor groan; nor did he look up until he was nearly in
front of the house sheltering Ben-Hur and his friends, all of whom
were moved with quick compassion. Esther clung to her father; and he,
strong of will as he was, trembled. Balthasar fell down speechless.
Even Ben-Hur cried out, "O my God! my God!" Then, as if he divined
their feelings or heard the exclamation, the Nazarene turned his
wan face towards the party, and looked at them each one, so they
carried the look in memory through life. They could see he was
thinking of them, not himself, and the dying eyes gave them the
blessing he was not permitted to speak.
"Where are thy legions, son of Hur?" asked Simonides, aroused.
"Hannas can tell thee better than I."
"All but these two."
"Then all is lost, and this good man must die!"
The face of the merchant knit convulsively as he spoke, and his
head sank upon his breast. He had borne his part in Ben-Hur's
labors well, and he had been inspired by the same hopes, now blown
out never to be rekindled.
Two other men succeeded the Nazarene bearing cross-beams.
"Who are these?" Ben-Hur asked of the Galileans.
"Thieves appointed to die with the Nazarene," they replied.
Next in the procession stalked a mitred figure clad all in the
golden vestments of the high-priest. Policemen from the Temple
curtained him round about; and after him, in order, strode the
sanhedrim, and a long array of priests, the latter in their plain
white garments, overwrapped by abnets of many folds and gorgeous
"The son-in-law of Hannas," said Ben-Hur, in a low voice.
"Caiaphas! I have seen him," Simonides replied, adding, after a
pause during which he thoughtfully watched the haughty pontiff,
"And now am I convinced. With such assurance as proceeds from clear
enlightenment of the spirit--with absolute assurance--now know I
that he who first goes yonder with the inscription about his neck is
what the inscription proclaims him--KING OF THE JEWS. A common man,
an impostor, a felon, was never thus waited upon. For look! Here are
the nations--Jerusalem, Israel. Here is the ephod, here the blue
robe with its fringe, and purple pomegranates, and golden bells,
not seen in the street since the day Jaddua went out to meet the
Macedonian--proofs all that this Nazarene is King. Would I could
rise and go after him!"
Ben-Hur listened surprised; and directly, as if himself awakening
to his unusual display of feeling, Simonides said, impatiently,
"Speak to Balthasar, I pray you, and let us begone. The vomit of
Jerusalem is coming."
Then Esther spoke.
"I see some women there, and they are weeping. Who are they?"
Following the pointing of her hand, the party beheld four women
in tears; one of them leaned upon the arm of a man of aspect not
unlike the Nazarene's. Presently Ben-Hur answered,
"The man is the disciple whom the Nazarene loves the best of all;
she who leans upon his arm is Mary, the Master's mother; the others
are friendly women of Galilee."
Esther pursued the mourners with glistening eyes until the multitude
received them out of sight.
It may be the reader will fancy the foregoing snatches of conversation
were had in quiet; but it was not so. The talking was, for the most
part, like that indulged by people at the seaside under the sound
of the surf; for to nothing else can the clamor of this division
of the mob be so well likened.
The demonstration was the forerunner of those in which, scarce
thirty years later, under rule of the factions, the Holy City
was torn to pieces; it was quite as great in numbers, as fanatical
and bloodthirsty; boiled and raved, and had in it exactly the same
elements--servants, camel-drivers, marketmen, gate-keepers, gardeners,
dealers in fruits and wines, proselytes, and foreigners not proselytes,
watchmen and menials from the Temple, thieves, robbers, and the myriad
not assignable to any class, but who, on such occasions as this,
appeared no one could say whence, hungry and smelling of caves
and old tombs--bareheaded wretches with naked arms and legs,
hair and beard in uncombed mats, and each with one garment the
color of clay; beasts with abysmal mouths, in outcry effective
as lions calling each other across desert spaces. Some of them
had swords; a greater number flourished spears and javelins;
though the weapons of the many were staves and knotted clubs,
and slings, for which latter selected stones were stored in
scrips, and sometimes in sacks improvised from the foreskirts
of their dirty tunics. Among the mass here and there appeared
persons of high degree--scribes, elders, rabbis, Pharisees with
broad fringing, Sadducees in fine cloaks--serving for the time as
prompters and directors. If a throat tired of one cry, they invented
another for it; if brassy lungs showed signs of collapse, they set
them going again; and yet the clamor, loud and continuous as it
was, could have been reduced to a few syllables--King of the Jews!
Room for the King of the Jews!--Defiler of the Temple!--Blasphemer
of God!--Crucify him, crucify him! And of these cries the last one
seemed in greatest favor, because, doubtless, it was more directly
expressive of the wish of the mob, and helped to better articulate
its hatred of the Nazarene.
"Come," said Simonides, when Balthasar was ready to proceed--"come,
let us forward."
Ben-Hur did not hear the call. The appearance of the part of
the procession then passing, its brutality and hunger for life,
were reminding him of the Nazarene--his gentleness, and the many
charities he had seen him do for suffering men. Suggestions beget
suggestions; so he remembered suddenly his own great indebtedness
to the man; the time he himself was in the hands of a Roman
guard going, as was supposed, to a death as certain and almost as
terrible as this one of the cross; the cooling drink he had at the
well by Nazareth, and the divine expression of the face of him who
gave it; the later goodness, the miracle of Palm-Sunday; and with
these recollections, the thought of his present powerlessness to
give back help for help or make return in kind stung him keenly,
and he accused himself. He had not done all he might; he could
have watched with the Galileans, and kept them true and ready;
and this--ah! this was the moment to strike! A blow well given
now would not merely disperse the mob and set the Nazarene
free; it would be a trumpet-call to Israel, and precipitate
the long-dreamt-of war for freedom. The opportunity was going;
the minutes were bearing it away; and if lost! God of Abraham!
Was there nothing to be done--nothing?
That instant a party of Galileans caught his eye. He rushed through
the press and overtook them.
"Follow me," he said. "I would have speech with you."
The men obeyed him, and when they were under shelter of the house,
he spoke again:
"You are of those who took my swords, and agreed with me to strike
for freedom and the King who was coming. You have the swords now,
and now is the time to strike with them. Go, look everywhere,
and find our brethren, and tell them to meet me at the tree of
the cross making ready for the Nazarene. Haste all of you! Nay,
stand not so! The Nazarene is the King, and freedom dies with him."
They looked at him respectfully, but did not move.
"Hear you?" he asked.
Then one of them replied,
"Son of Judah"--by that name they knew him--"son of Judah, it is
you who are deceived, not we or our brethren who have your
swords. The Nazarene is not the King; neither has he the spirit
of a king. We were with him when he came into Jerusalem; we saw
him in the Temple; he failed himself, and us, and Israel; at the
Gate Beautiful he turned his back upon God and refused the throne
of David. He is not King, and Galilee is not with him. He shall
die the death. But hear you, son of Judah. We have your swords,
and we are ready now to draw them and strike for freedom; and so
is Galilee. Be it for freedom, O son of Judah, for freedom! and
we will meet you at the tree of the cross."
The sovereign moment of his life was upon Ben-Hur. Could he have
taken the offer and said the word, history might have been other
than it is; but then it would have been history ordered by men,
not God--something that never was, and never will be. A confusion
fell upon him; he knew not how, though afterwards he attributed
it to the Nazarene; for when the Nazarene was risen, he understood
the death was necessary to faith in the resurrection, without which
Christianity would be an empty husk. The confusion, as has been said,
left him without the faculty of decision; he stood helpless--wordless
even. Covering his face with his hand, he shook with the conflict
between his wish, which was what he would have ordered, and the
power that was upon him.
"Come; we are waiting for you," said Simonides, the fourth time.
Thereupon he walked mechanically after the chair and the litter.
Esther walked with him. Like Balthasar and his friends, the Wise
Men, the day they went to the meeting in the desert, he was being
led along the way.
When the party--Balthasar, Simonides, Ben-Hur, Esther, and the two
faithful Galileans--reached the place of crucifixion, Ben-Hur was
in advance leading them. How they had been able to make way through
the great press of excited people, he never knew; no more did he know
the road by which they came or the time it took them to come. He had
walked in total unconsciousness, neither hearing nor seeing anybody
or anything, and without a thought of where he was going, or the
ghostliest semblance of a purpose in his mind. In such condition
a little child could have done as much as he to prevent the awful
crime he was about to witness. The intentions of God are always
strange to us; but not more so than the means by which they are
wrought out, and at last made plain to our belief.
Ben-Hur came to a stop; those following him also stopped. As a
curtain rises before an audience, the spell holding him in
its sleep-awake rose, and he saw with a clear understanding.
There was a space upon the top of a low knoll rounded like a skull,
and dry, dusty, and without vegetation, except some scrubby hyssop.
The boundary of the space was a living wall of men, with men
behind struggling, some to look over, others to look through
it. An inner wall of Roman soldiery held the dense outer wall
rigidly to its place. A centurion kept eye upon the soldiers.
Up to the very line so vigilantly guarded Ben-Hur had been led;
at the line he now stood, his face to the northwest. The knoll
was the old Aramaic Golgotha--in Latin, Calvaria; anglicized,
Calvary; translated, The Skull.
On its slopes, in the low places, on the swells and higher hills,
the earth sparkled with a strange enamelling. Look where he would
outside the walled space, he saw no patch of brown soil, no rock,
no green thing; he saw only thousands of eyes in ruddy faces; off a
little way in the perspective only ruddy faces without eyes; off a
little farther only a broad, broad circle, which the nearer view
instructed him was also of faces. And this was the ensemble of
three millions of people; under it three millions of hearts
throbbing with passionate interest in what was taking place
upon the knoll; indifferent as to the thieves, caring only for
the Nazarene, and for him only as he was an object of hate or
fear or curiosity--he who loved them all, and was about to die
In the spectacle of a great assemblage of people there are always
the bewilderment and fascination one feels while looking over a
stretch of sea in agitation, and never had this one been exceeded;
yet Ben-Hur gave it but a passing glance, for that which was going
on in the space described would permit no division of his interest.
Up on the knoll so high as to be above the living wall, and visible over
the heads of an attending company of notables, conspicuous because of his
mitre and vestments and his haughty air, stood the high priest. Up the
knoll still higher, up quite to the round summit, so as to be seen
far and near, was the Nazarene, stooped and suffering, but silent.
The wit among the guard had complemented the crown upon his head
by putting a reed in his hand for a sceptre. Clamors blew upon
him like blasts--laughter--execrations--sometimes both together
indistinguishably. A man--ONLY a man, O reader, would have charged
the blasts with the remainder of his love for the race, and let it
All the eyes then looking were fixed upon the Nazarene. It may have
been pity with which he was moved; whatever the cause, Ben-Hur was
conscious of a change in his feelings. A conception of something
better than the best of this life--something so much better that it
could serve a weak man with strength to endure agonies of spirit as
well as of body; something to make death welcome--perhaps another
life purer than this one--perhaps the spirit-life which Balthasar
held to so fast, began to dawn upon his mind clearer and clearer,
bringing to him a certain sense that, after all, the mission of
the Nazarene was that of guide across the boundary for such as
loved him; across the boundary to where his kingdom was set up
and waiting for him. Then, as something borne through the air
out of the almost forgotten, he heard again, or seemed to hear,
the saying of the Nazarene,
"I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE."
And the words repeated themselves over and over, and took form,
and the dawn touched them with its light, and filled them with
a new meaning. And as men repeat a question to grasp and fix the
meaning, he asked, gazing at the figure on the hill fainting under
its crown, Who the Resurrection? and who the Life?
the figure seemed to say--and say it for him; for instantly he was
sensible of a peace such as he had never known--the peace which is
the end of doubt and mystery, and the beginning of faith and love
and clear understanding.
From this dreamy state Ben-Hur was aroused by the sound of hammering.
On the summit of the knoll he observed then what had escaped him
before--some soldiers and workmen preparing the crosses. The holes
for planting the trees were ready, and now the transverse beams
were being fitted to their places.
"Bid the men make haste," said the high-priest to the centurion.
"These"--and he pointed to the Nazarene--"must be dead by the
going-down of the sun, and buried that the land may not be defiled.
Such is the Law."
With a better mind, a soldier went to the Nazarene and offered
him something to drink, but he refused the cup. Then another went
to him and took from his neck the board with the inscription upon
it, which he nailed to the tree of the cross--and the preparation
"The crosses are ready," said the centurion to the pontiff,
who received the report with a wave of the hand and the reply,
"Let the blasphemer go first. The Son of God should be able to
save himself. We will see."
The people to whom the preparation in its several stages was visible,
and who to this time had assailed the hill with incessant cries of
impatience, permitted a lull which directly became a universal hush.
The part of the infliction most shocking, at least to the thought,
was reached--the men were to be nailed to their crosses. When for
that purpose the soldiers laid their hands upon the Nazarene first,
a shudder passed through the great concourse; the most brutalized
shrank with dread. Afterwards there were those who said the air
suddenly chilled and made them shiver.
"How very still it is!" Esther said, as she put her arm about her
And remembering the torture he himself had suffered, he drew her
face down upon his breast, and sat trembling.
"Avoid it, Esther, avoid it!" he said. "I know not but all who
stand and see it--the innocent as well as the guilty--may be
cursed from this hour."
Balthasar sank upon his knees.
"Son of Hur," said Simonides, with increasing excitement--"son of
Hur, if Jehovah stretch not forth his hand, and quickly, Israel is
lost--and we are lost."
Ben-Hur answered, calmly, "I have been in a dream, Simonides,
and heard in it why all this should be, and why it should go on.
It is the will of the Nazarene--it is God's will. Let us do as
the Egyptian here--let us hold our peace and pray."
As he looked up on the knoll again, the words were wafted to him
through the awful stillness--
"I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE."
He bowed reverently as to a person speaking.
Up on the summit meantime the work went on. The guard took
the Nazarene's clothes from him; so that he stood before the
millions naked. The stripes of the scourging he had received in
the early morning were still bloody upon his back; yet he was laid
pitilessly down, and stretched upon the cross--first, the arms upon
the transverse beam; the spikes were sharp--a few blows, and they
were driven through the tender palms; next, they drew his knees up
until the soles of the feet rested flat upon the tree; then they
placed one foot upon the other, and one spike fixed both of them
fast. The dulled sound of the hammering was heard outside the
guarded space; and such as could not hear, yet saw the hammer
as it fell, shivered with fear. And withal not a groan, or cry,
or word of remonstrance from the sufferer: nothing at which an
enemy could laugh; nothing a lover could regret.
"Which way wilt thou have him faced?" asked a soldier, bluntly.
"Towards the Temple," the pontiff replied. "In dying I would have
him see the holy house hath not suffered by him."
The workmen put their hands to the cross, and carried it, burden
and all, to the place of planting. At a word, they dropped the tree
into the hole; and the body of the Nazarene also dropped heavily,
and hung by the bleeding hands. Still no cry of pain--only the
exclamation divinest of all recorded exclamations,
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
The cross, reared now above all other objects, and standing singly
out against the sky, was greeted with a burst of delight; and all
who could see and read the writing upon the board over the Nazarene's
head made haste to decipher it. Soon as read, the legend was adopted
by them and communicated, and presently the whole mighty concourse
was ringing the salutation from side to side, and repeating it with
laughter and groans,
"King of the Jews! Hail, King of the Jews!"
The pontiff, with a clearer idea of the import of the inscription,
protested against it, but in vain; so the titled King, looking from
the knoll with dying eyes, must have had the city of his fathers
at rest below him--she who had so ignominiously cast him out.
The sun was rising rapidly to noon; the hills bared their brown
breasts lovingly to it; the more distant mountains rejoiced in
the purple with which it so regally dressed them. In the city,
the temples, palaces, towers, pinnacles, and all points of beauty
and prominence seemed to lift themselves into the unrivalled
brilliance, as if they knew the pride they were giving the many
who from time to time turned to look at them. Suddenly a dimness
began to fill the sky and cover the earth--at first no more than
a scarce perceptible fading of the day; a twilight out of time;
an evening gliding in upon the splendors of noon. But it deepened,
and directly drew attention; whereat the noise of the shouting and
laughter fell off, and men, doubting their senses, gazed at each
other curiously: then they looked to the sun again; then at the
mountains, getting farther away; at the sky and the near landscape,
sinking in shadow; at the hill upon which the tragedy was enacting;
and from all these they gazed at each other again, and turned pale,
and held their peace.
"It is only a mist or passing cloud," Simonides said soothingly to
Esther, who was alarmed. "It will brighten presently."
Ben-Hur did not think so.
"It is not a mist or a cloud," he said. "The spirits who live in
the air--the prophets and saints--are at work in mercy to themselves
and nature. I say to you, O Simonides, truly as God lives, he who
hangs yonder is the Son of God."
And leaving Simonides lost in wonder at such a speech from him,
he went where Balthasar was kneeling near by, and laid his hand
upon the good man's shoulder.
"O wise Egyptian, hearken! Thou alone wert right--the Nazarene is
indeed the Son of God."
Balthasar drew him down to him, and replied, feebly, "I saw him
a child in the manger where he was first laid; it is not strange
that I knew him sooner than thou; but oh that I should live to see
this day! Would I had died with my brethren! Happy Melchior! Happy,
"Comfort thee!" said Ben-Hur. "Doubtless they too are here."
The dimness went on deepening into obscurity, and that into
positive darkness, but without deterring the bolder spirits upon
the knoll. One after the other the thieves were raised on their
crosses, and the crosses planted. The guard was then withdrawn,
and the people set free closed in upon the height, and surged
up it, like a converging wave. A man might take a look, when a
new-comer would push him on, and take his place, to be in turn
pushed on--and there were laughter and ribaldry and revilements,
all for the Nazarene.
"Ha, ha! If thou be King of the Jews, save thyself," a soldier
"Ay," said a priest, "if he will come down to us now, we will
believe in him.
Others wagged their heads wisely, saying, "He would destroy the
Temple, and rebuild it in three days, but cannot save himself."
Others still: "He called himself the Son of God; let us see if
God will have him."
What all there is in prejudice no one has ever said. The Nazarene
had never harmed the people; far the greater part of them had
never seen him except in this his hour of calamity; yet--singular
contrariety!-- they loaded him with their curses, and gave their
sympathy to the thieves.
The supernatural night, dropped thus from the heavens, affected
Esther as it began to affect thousands of others braver and stronger.
"Let us go home," she prayed--twice, three times--saying, "It is
the frown of God, father. What other dreadful things may happen,
who can tell? I am afraid."
Simonides was obstinate. He said little, but was plainly under
great excitement. Observing, about the end of the first hour,
that the violence of the crowding up on the knoll was somewhat
abated, at his suggestion the party advanced to take position
nearer the crosses. Ben-Hur gave his arm to Balthasar; yet the
Egyptian made the ascent with difficulty. From their new stand,
the Nazarene was imperfectly visible, appearing to them not more
than a dark suspended figure. They could hear him, however--hear
his sighing, which showed an endurance or exhaustion greater than
that of his fellow-sufferers; for they filled every lull in the
noises with their groans and entreaties.
The second hour after the suspension passed like the first one.
To the Nazarene they were hours of insult, provocation, and slow
dying. He spoke but once in the time. Some women came and knelt
at the foot of his cross. Among them he recognized his mother
with the beloved disciple.
"Woman," he said, raising his voice, "behold thy son!" And to the
disciple, "Behold thy mother!"
The third hour came, and still the people surged round the hill,
held to it by some strange attraction, with which, in probability,
the night in midday had much to do. They were quieter than in the
preceding hour; yet at intervals they could be heard off in the
darkness shouting to each other, multitude calling unto multitude.
It was noticeable, also, that coming now to the Nazarene,
they approached his cross in silence, took the look in silence,
and so departed. This change extended even to the guard, who so
shortly before had cast lots for the clothes of the crucified;
they stood with their officers a little apart, more watchful
of the one convict than of the throngs coming and going. If he
but breathed heavily, or tossed his head in a paroxysm of pain,
they were instantly on the alert. Most marvellous of all, however,
was the altered behavior of the high-priest and his following,
the wise men who had assisted him in the trial in the night, and,
in the victim's face, kept place by him with zealous approval.
When the darkness began to fall, they began to lose their
confidence. There were among them many learned in astronomy,
and familiar with the apparitions so terrible in those days
to the masses; much of the knowledge was descended to them from
their fathers far back; some of it had been brought away at the
end of the Captivity; and the necessities of the Temple service
kept it all bright. These closed together when the sun commenced
to fade before their eyes, and the mountains and hills to recede;
they drew together in a group around their pontiff, and debated
what they saw. "The moon is at its full," they said, with truth,
"and this cannot be an eclipse." Then, as no one could answer the
question common with them all--as no one could account for the
darkness, or for its occurrence at that particular time, in their
secret hearts they associated it with the Nazarene, and yielded
to an alarm which the long continuance of the phenomenon steadily
increased. In their place behind the soldiers, they noted every
word and motion of the Nazarene, and hung with fear upon his sighs,
and talked in whispers. The man might be the Messiah, and then--
But they would wait and see!
In the meantime Ben-Hur was not once visited by the old spirit.
The perfect peace abode with him. He prayed simply that the end
might be hastened. He knew the condition of Simonides' mind--that he
was hesitating on the verge of belief. He could see the massive face
weighed down by solemn reflection. He noticed him casting inquiring
glances at the sun, as seeking the cause of the darkness. Nor did
he fail to notice the solicitude with which Esther clung to him,
smothering her fears to accommodate his wishes.
"Be not afraid," he heard him say to her; "but stay and watch with
me. Thou mayst live twice the span of my life, and see nothing of
human interest equal to this; and there may be revelations more.
Let us stay to the close."
When the third hour was about half gone, some men of the rudest
class--wretches from the tombs about the city--came and stopped
in front of the centre cross.
"This is he, the new King of the Jews," said one of them.
The others cried, with laughter, "Hail, all hail, King of the
Receiving no reply, they went closer.
"If thou be King of the Jews, or Son of God, come down," they said,
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