Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
Part 13 out of 13
At this, one of the thieves quit groaning, and called to the Nazarene,
"Yes, if thou be Christ, save thyself and us."
The people laughed and applauded; then, while they were listening
for a reply, the other felon was heard to say to the first one,
"Dost thou not fear God? We receive the due rewards of our deeds;
but this man hath done nothing amiss."
The bystanders were astonished; in the midst of the hush which
ensued, the second felon spoke again, but this time to the Nazarene:
"Lord," he said, "remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom."
Simonides gave a great start. "When thou comest into thy kingdom!"
It was the very point of doubt in his mind; the point he had so
often debated with Balthasar.
"Didst thou hear?" said Ben-Hur to him. "The kingdom cannot be of
this world. Yon witness saith the King is but going to his kingdom;
and, in effect, I heard the same in my dream."
"Hush!" said Simonides, more imperiously than ever before in
speech to Ben-Hur. "Hush, I pray thee! If the Nazarene should
And as he spoke the Nazarene did answer, in a clear voice, full of
"Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise!"
Simonides waited to hear if that were all; then he folded his hands
and said, "No more, no more, Lord! The darkness is gone; I see with
other eyes--even as Balthasar, I see with eyes of perfect faith."
The faithful servant had at last his fitting reward. His broken
body might never be restored; nor was there riddance of the
recollection of his sufferings, or recall of the years embittered
by them; but suddenly a new life was shown him, with assurance
that it was for him--a new life lying just beyond this one--and
its name was Paradise. There he would find the Kingdom of which
he had been dreaming, and the King. A perfect peace fell upon him.
Over the way, in front of the cross, however, there were surprise
and consternation. The cunning casuists there put the assumption
underlying the question and the admission underlying the answer
together. For saying through the land that he was the Messiah,
they had brought the Nazarene to the cross; and, lo! on the
cross, more confidently than ever, he had not only reasserted
himself, but promised enjoyment of his Paradise to a malefactor.
They trembled at what they were doing. The pontiff, with all his
pride, was afraid. Where got the man his confidence except from
Truth? And what should the Truth be but God? A very little now
would put them all to flight.
The breaching of the Nazarene grew harder, his sighs became
great gasps. Only three hours upon the cross, and he was dying!
The intelligence was carried from man to man, until every one
knew it; and then everything hushed; the breeze faltered and died;
a stifling vapor loaded the air; heat was superadded to darkness;
nor might any one unknowing the fact have thought that off the
hill, out under the overhanging pall, there were three millions
of people waiting awe-struck what should happen next--they were
Then there went out through the gloom, over the heads of such as
were on the hill within hearing of the dying man, a cry of despair,
if not reproach:
"My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken me?"
The voice startled all who heard it. One it touched uncontrollably.
The soldiers in coming had brought with them a vessel of wine and
water, and set it down a little way from Ben-Hur. With a sponge
dipped into the liquor, and put on the end of a stick, they could
moisten the tongue of a sufferer at their pleasure. Ben-Hur thought
of the draught he had had at the well near Nazareth; an impulse
seized him; catching up the sponge, he dipped it into the vessel,
and started for the cross.
"Let him be!" the people in the way shouted, angrily. "Let him
Without minding them, he ran on, and put the sponge to the
Too late, too late!
The face then plainly seen by Ben-Hur, bruised and black with
blood and dust as it was, lighted nevertheless with a sudden glow;
the eyes opened wide, and fixed upon some one visible to them alone
in the far heavens; and there were content and relief, even triumph,
in the shout the victim gave.
"It is finished! It is finished!"
So a hero, dying in the doing a great deed, celebrates his success
with a last cheer.
The light in the eyes went out; slowly the crowned head sank upon
the laboring breast. Ben-Hur thought the struggle over; but the
fainting soul recollected itself, so that he and those around him
caught the other and last words, spoken in a low voice, as if to
one listening close by:
"Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit."
A tremor shook the tortured body; there was a scream of fiercest
anguish, and the mission and the earthly life were over at once.
The heart, with all its love, was broken; for of that, O reader,
the man died!
Ben-Hur went back to his friends, saying, simply, "It is over;
he is dead."
In a space incredibly short the multitude was informed of the
circumstance. No one repeated it aloud; there was a murmur which
spread from the knoll in every direction; a murmur that was little
more than a whispering, "He is dead! he is dead!" and that was all.
The people had their wish; the Nazarene was dead; yet they stared
at each other aghast. His blood was upon them! And while they stood
staring at each other, the ground commenced to shake; each man took
hold of his neighbor to support himself; in a twinkling the darkness
disappeared, and the sun came out; and everybody, as with the same
glance, beheld the crosses upon the hill all reeling drunken-like
in the earthquake. They beheld all three of them; but the one in
the centre was arbitrary; it alone would be seen; and for that it
seemed to extend itself upwards, and lift its burden, and swing it to
and fro higher and higher in the blue of the sky. And every man among
them who had jeered at the Nazarene; every one who had struck him;
every one who had voted to crucify him; every one who had marched in
the procession from the city; every one who had in his heart wished
him dead, and they were as ten to one, felt that he was in some way
individually singled out from the many, and that if he would live
he must get away quickly as possible from that menace in the sky.
They started to run; they ran with all their might; on horseback,
and camels, and in chariots they ran, as well as on foot; but then
as if it were mad at them for what they had done, and had taken up
the cause of the unoffending and friendless dead, the earthquake
pursued them, and tossed them about, and flung them down,
and terrified them yet more by the horrible noise of great
rocks grinding and rending beneath them. They beat their breasts
and shrieked with fear. His blood was upon them! The home-bred
and the foreign, priest and layman, beggar, Sadducee, Pharisee,
were overtaken in the race, and tumbled about indiscriminately.
If they called on the Lord, the outraged earth answered for him in
fury, and dealt them all alike. It did not even know wherein the
high-priest was better than his guilty brethren; overtaking him,
it tripped him up also, and smirched the fringimg of his robe,
and filled the golden bells with sand, and his mouth with dust.
He and his people were alike in the one thing at least--the blood
of the Nazarene was upon them all!
When the sunlight broke upon the crucifixion, the mother of the
Nazarene, the disciple, and the faithful women of Galilee, the
centurion and his soldiers, and Ben-Hur and his party, were all
who remained upon the hill. These had not time to observe the
flight of the multitude; they were too loudly called upon to
take care of themselves.
"Seat thyself here," said Ben-Hur to Esther, making a place for
her at her father's feet. "Now cover thine eyes and look not up;
but put thy trust in God, and the spirit of yon just man so foully
"Nay," said Simonides, reverently, "let us henceforth speak of
him as the Christ."
"Be it so," said Ben-Hur.
Presently a wave of the earthquake struck the hill. The shrieks
of the thieves upon the reeling crosses were terrible to hear.
Though giddy with the movements of the ground, Ben-Hur had time to
look at Balthasar, and beheld him prostrate and still. He ran to him
and called--there was no reply. The good man was dead! Then Ben-Hur
remembered to have heard a cry in answer, as it were, to the scream
of the Nazarene in his last moment; but he had not looked to see
from whom it had proceeded; and ever after he believed the spirit
of the Egyptian accompanied that of his Master over the boundary
into the kingdom of Paradise. The idea rested not only upon the
cry heard, but upon the exceeding fitness of the distinction.
If faith were worthy reward in the person of Gaspar, and love
in that of Melchior, surely he should have some special meed
who through a long life and so excellently illustrated the three
virtues in combination--Faith, Love, and Good Works.
The servants of Balthasar had deserted their master; but when all
was over, the two Galileans bore the old man in his litter back to
It was a sorrowful procession that entered the south gate of the
palace of the Hurs about the set of sun that memorable day. About
the same hour the body of the Christ was taken down from the cross.
The remains of Balthasar were carried to the guest-chamber.
All the servants hastened weeping to see him; for he had the
love of every living thing with which he had in anywise to do;
but when they beheld his face, and the smile upon it, they dried
their tears, saying, "It is well. He is happier this evening than
when he went out in the morning."
Ben-Hur would not trust a servant to inform Iras what had befallen
her father. He went himself to see her and bring her to the body.
He imagined her grief; she would now be alone in the world; it was
a time to forgive and pity her. He remembered he had not asked
why she was not of the party in the morning, or where she was;
he remembered he had not thought of her; and, from shame, he was
ready to make any amends, the more so as he was about to plunge
her into such acute grief.
He shook the curtains of her door; and though he heard the ringing
of the little bells echoing within, he had no response; he called
her name, and again he called--still no answer. He drew the curtain
aside and went into the room; she was not there. He ascended hastily
to the roof in search of her; nor was she there. He questioned
the servants; none of them had seen her during the day. After a
long quest everywhere through the house, Ben-Hur returned to the
guest-chamber, and took the place by the dead which should have
been hers; and he bethought him there how merciful the Christ had
been to his aged servant. At the gate of the kingdom of Paradise
happily the afflictions of this life, even its desertions, are left
behind and forgotten by those who go in and rest.
When the gloom of the burial was nigh gone, on the ninth day after
the healing, the law being fulfilled, Ben-Hur brought his mother
and Tirzah home; and from that day, in that house the most sacred
names possible of utterance by men were always coupled worshipfully
GOD THE FATHER AND CHRIST THE SON.
About five years after the crucifixion, Esther, the wife of Ben-Hur,
sat in her room in the beautiful villa by Misenum. It was noon, with
a warm Italian sun making summer for the roses and vines outside.
Everything in the apartment was Roman, except that Esther wore the
garments of a Jewish matron. Tirzah and two children at play upon
a lion skin on the floor were her companions; and one had only to
observe how carefully she watched them to know that the little ones
Time had treated her generously. She was more than ever beautiful,
and in becoming mistress of the villa, she had realized one of her
In the midst of this simple, home-like scene, a servant appeared
in the doorway, and spoke to her.
"A woman in the atrium to speak with the mistress."
"Let her come. I will receive her here."
Presently the stranger entered. At sight of her the Jewess arose,
and was about to speak; then she hesitated, changed color,
and finally drew back, saying, "I have known you, good woman.
"I was Iras, the daughter of Balthasar."
Esther conquered her surprise, and bade the servant bring the
Egyptian a seat.
"No," said Iras, coldly. "I will retire directly."
The two gazed at each other. We know what Esther presented--a
beautiful woman, a happy mother, a contented wife. On the other
side, it was very plain that fortune had not dealt so gently with
her former rival. The tall figure remained with some of its grace;
but an evil life had tainted the whole person. The face was coarse;
the large eyes were red and pursed beneath the lower lids; there was
no color in her cheeks. The lips were cynical and hard, and general
neglect was leading rapidly to premature old age. Her attire was
ill chosen and draggled. The mud of the road clung to her sandals.
Iras broke the painful silence.
"These are thy children?"
Esther looked at them, and smiled.
"Yes. Will you not speak to them?"
"I would scare them," Iras replied. Then she drew closer to Esther,
and seeing her shrink, said, "Be not afraid. Give thy husband a
message for me. Tell him his enemy is dead, and that for the much
misery he brought me I slew him."
"The Messala. Further, tell thy husband that for the harm I sought to do
him I have been punished until even he would pity me."
Tears arose in Esther's eyes, and she was about to speak.
"Nay," said Iras, "I do not want pity or tears. Tell him, finally,
I have found that to be a Roman is to be a brute. Farewell."
She moved to go. Esther followed her.
"Stay, and see my husband. He has no feeling against you. He sought
for you everywhere. He will be your friend. I will be your friend.
We are Christians."
The other was firm.
"No; I am what I am of choice. It will be over shortly."
"But"--Esther hesitated--"have we nothing you would wish; nothing
The countenance of the Egyptian softened; something like a smile
played about her lips. She looked at the children upon the floor.
"There is something," she said.
Esther followed her eyes, and with quick perception answered,
"It is yours."
Iras went to them, and knelt on the lion's skin, and kissed them
both. Rising slowly, she looked at them; then passed to the door
and out of it without a parting word. She walked rapidly, and was
gone before Esther could decide what to do.
Ben-Hur, when he was told of the visit, knew certainly what he had
long surmised--that on the day of the crucifixion Iras had deserted
her father for Messala. Nevertheless, he set out immediately and
hunted for her vainly; they never saw her more, or heard of her.
The blue bay, with all its laughing under the sun, has yet its
dark secrets. Had it a tongue, it might tell us of the Egyptian.
Simonides lived to be a very old man. In the tenth year of Nero's
reign, he gave up the business so long centred in the warehouse
at Antioch. To the last he kept a clear head and a good heart,
and was successful.
One evening, in the year named, he sat in his arm-chair on the
terrace of the warehouse. Ben-Hur and Esther, and their three
children, were with him. The last of the ships swung at mooring
in the current of the river; all the rest had been sold. In the
long interval between this and the day of the crucifixion but one
sorrow had befallen them: that was when the mother of Ben-Hur died;
and then and now their grief would have been greater but for their
The ship spoken of had arrived only the day before, bringing
intelligence of the persecution of Christians begun by Nero
in Rome, and the party on the terrace were talking of the news
when Malluch, who was still in their service, approached and
delivered a package to Ben-Hur.
"Who brings this?" the latter asked, after reading.
"Where is he?"
"He left immediately."
"Listen," said Ben-Hur to Simonides.
He read then the following letter:
"I, Ilderim, the son of Ilderim the Generous, and sheik of the
tribe of Ilderim, to Judah, son of Hur.
"Know, O friend of my father's, how my father loved you. Read what is
herewith sent, and you will know. His will is my will; therefore what
he gave is thine.
"All the Parthians took from him in the great battle in which
they slew him I have retaken--this writing, with other things,
and vengeance, and all the brood of that Mira who in his time
was mother of so many stars.
"Peace be to you and all yours.
"This voice out of the desert is the voice of
Ben-Hur next unrolled a scrap of papyrus yellow as a withered
mulberry leaf. It required the daintiest handling. Proceeding,
"Ilderim, surnamed the Generous, sheik of the tribe of Ilderim,
to the son who succeeds me.
"All I have, O son, shall be thine in the day of thy succession,
except that property by Antioch known as the Orchard of Palms;
and it shall be to the son of Hur who brought us such glory in
the Circus--to him and his forever.
"Dishonor not thy father. ILDERIM THE GENEROUS, Sheik."
"What say you?" asked Ben-Hur, of Simonides.
Esther took the papers pleased, and read them to herself. Simonides
remained silent. His eyes were upon the ship; but he was thinking.
At length he spoke.
"Son of Hur," he said, gravely, "the Lord has been good to you in
these later years. You have much to be thankful for. Is it not time
to decide finally the meaning of the gift of the great fortune now
all in your hand, and growing?"
"I decided that long ago. The fortune was meant for the service
of the Giver; not a part, Simonides, but all of it. The question
with me has been, How can I make it most useful in his cause? And
of that tell me, I pray you."
"The great sums you have given to the Church here in Antioch, I am
witness to. Now, instantly almost with this gift of the generous
sheik's, comes the news of the persecution of the brethren in
Rome. It is the opening of a new field. The light must not go
out in the capital."
"Tell me how I can keep it alive."
"I will tell you. The Romans, even this Nero, hold two things
sacred--I know of no others they so hold--they are the ashes of
the dead and all places of burial. If you cannot build temples
for the worship of the Lord above ground, then build them below
the ground; and to keep them from profanation, carry to them the
bodies of all who die in the faith."
Ben-Hur arose excitedly.
"It is a great idea," he said. "I will not wait to begin it. Time
forbids waiting. The ship that brought the news of the suffering
of our brethren shall take me to Rome. I will sail to-morrow."
He turned to Malluch.
"Get the ship ready, Malluch, and be thou ready to go with me.
"It is well," said Simonides.
"And thou, Esther, what sayest thou?" asked Ben-Hur.
Esther came to his side, and put her hand on his arm, and answered,
"So wilt thou best serve the Christ. O my husband, let me not
hinder, but go with thee and help."
* * * * * *
If any of my readers, visiting Rome, will make the short journey
to the Catacomb of San Calixto, which is more ancient than that of
San Sebastiano, he will see what became of the fortune of Ben-Hur,
and give him thanks. Out of that vast tomb Christianity issued to
supersede the Caesars.
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