Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
Part 4 out of 13
"The noble Arrius forgets that the spirit hath much to do with
endurance. By its help the weak sometimes thrive, when the strong
"From thy speech, thou art a Jew."
"My ancestors further back than the first Roman were Hebrews."
"The stubborn pride of thy race is not lost in thee," said Arrius,
observing a flush upon the rower's face.
"Pride is never so loud as when in chains."
"What cause hast thou for pride?"
"That I am a Jew."
"I have not been to Jerusalem," he said; "but I have heard of
its princes. I knew one of them. He was a merchant, and sailed
the seas. He was fit to have been a king. Of what degree art
"I must answer thee from the bench of a galley. I am of the degree
of slaves. My father was a prince of Jerusalem, and, as a merchant,
he sailed the seas. He was known and honored in the guest-chamber
of the great Augustus."
"Ithamar, of the house of Hur."
The tribune raised his hand in astonishment.
"A son of Hur--thou?"
After a silence, he asked,
"What brought thee here?"
Judah lowered his head, and his breast labored hard. When his
feelings were sufficiently mastered, he looked the tribune in
the face, and answered,
"I was accused of attempting to assassinate Valerius Gratus,
"Thou!" cried Arrius, yet more amazed, and retreating a step.
"Thou that assassin! All Rome rang with the story. It came to
my ship in the river by Lodinum."
The two regarded each other silently.
"I thought the family of Hur blotted from the earth," said Arrius,
A flood of tender recollections carried the young man's pride away;
tears shone upon his cheeks.
"Mother--mother! And my little Tirzah! Where are they? O tribune,
noble tribune, if thou knowest anything of them"--he clasped his
hands in appeal--"tell me all thou knowest. Tell me if they are
living--if living, where are they? and in what condition? Oh,
I pray thee, tell me!"
He drew nearer Arrius, so near that his hands touched the cloak
where it dropped from the latter's folded arms.
"The horrible day is three years gone," he continued--"three years,
O tribune, and every hour a whole lifetime of misery--a lifetime
in a bottomless pit with death, and no relief but in labor--and
in all that time not a word from any one, not a whisper. Oh, if,
in being forgotten, we could only forget! If only I could hide from
that scene--my sister torn from me, my mother's last look! I have
felt the plague's breath, and the shock of ships in battle; I have
heard the tempest lashing the sea, and laughed, though others prayed:
death would have been a riddance. Bend the oar--yes, in the strain of
mighty effort trying to escape the haunting of what that day occurred.
Think what little will help me. Tell me they are dead, if no more,
for happy they cannot be while I am lost. I have heard them call
me in the night; I have seen them on the water walking. Oh, never
anything so true as my mother's love! And Tirzah--her breath was
as the breath of white lilies. She was the youngest branch of the
palm--so fresh, so tender, so graceful, so beautiful! She made my
day all morning. She came and went in music. And mine was the hand
that laid them low! I--"
"Dost thou admit thy guilt?" asked Arrius, sternly.
The change that came upon Ben-Hur was wonderful to see, it was so
instant and extreme. The voice sharpened; the hands arose tight-clenched;
every fibre thrilled; his eyes inflamed.
"Thou hast heard of the God of my fathers," he said; "of the
infinite Jehovah. By his truth and almightiness, and by the love
with which he hath followed Israel from the beginning, I swear I
The tribune was much moved.
"O noble Roman!" continued Ben-Hur, "give me a little faith, and,
into my darkness, deeper darkening every day, send a light!"
Arrius turned away, and walked the deck.
"Didst thou not have a trial?" he asked, stopping suddenly.
The Roman raised his head, surprised.
"No trial--no witnesses! Who passed judgment upon thee?"
Romans, it should be remembered, were at no time such lovers of
the law and its forms as in the ages of their decay.
"They bound me with cords, and dragged me to a vault in the Tower.
I saw no one. No one spoke to me. Next day soldiers took me to the
seaside. I have been a galley-slave ever since."
"What couldst thou have proven?"
"I was a boy, too young to be a conspirator. Gratus was a stranger
to me. If I had meant to kill him, that was not the time or the
place. He was riding in the midst of a legion, and it was broad
day. I could not have escaped. I was of a class most friendly
to Rome. My father had been distinguished for his services to
the emperor. We had a great estate to lose. Ruin was certain
to myself, my mother, my sister. I had no cause for malice,
while every consideration--property, family, life, conscience,
the Law--to a son of Israel as the breath of his nostrils--would
have stayed my hand, though the foul intent had been ever so strong.
I was not mad. Death was preferable to shame; and, believe me, I pray,
it is so yet."
"Who was with thee when the blow was struck?"
"I was on the house-top--my father's house. Tirzah was with me--
at my side--the soul of gentleness. Together we leaned over the
parapet to see the legion pass. A tile gave way under my hand,
and fell upon Gratus. I thought I had killed him. Ah, what horror
"Where was thy mother?"
"In her chamber below."
"What became of her?"
Ben-Hur clenched his hands, and drew a breath like a gasp.
"I do not know. I saw them drag her away--that is all I know.
Out of the house they drove every living thing, even the dumb
cattle, and they sealed the gates. The purpose was that she
should not return. I, too, ask for her. Oh for one word! She,
at least, was innocent. I can forgive--but I pray thy pardon,
noble tribune! A slave like me should not talk of forgiveness
or of revenge. I am bound to an oar for life."
Arrius listened intently. He brought all his experience with slaves
to his aid. If the feeling shown in this instance were assumed, the
acting was perfect; on the other hand, if it were real, the Jew's
innocence might not be doubted; and if he were innocent, with what
blind fury the power had been exercised! A whole family blotted out
to atone an accident! The thought shocked him.
There is no wiser providence than that our occupations, however rude
or bloody, cannot wear us out morally; that such qualities as justice
and mercy, if they really possess us, continue to live on under them,
like flowers under the snow. The tribune could be inexorable, else he
had not been fit for the usages of his calling; he could also be just;
and to excite his sense of wrong was to put him in the way to right
the wrong. The crews of the ships in which he served came after a
time to speak of him as the good tribune. Shrewd readers will not
want a better definition of his character.
In this instance there were many circumstances certainly in the
young man's favor, and some to be supposed. Possibly Arrius knew
Valerius Gratus without loving him. Possibly he had known the elder
Hur. In the course of his appeal, Judah had asked him of that; and,
as will be noticed, he had made no reply.
For once the tribune was at loss, and hesitated. His power was
ample. He was monarch of the ship. His prepossessions all moved him
to mercy. His faith was won. Yet, he said to himself, there was no
haste--or, rather, there was haste to Cythera; the best rower could
not then be spared; he would wait; he would learn more; he would
at least be sure this was the prince Ben-Hur, and that he was of
a right disposition. Ordinarily, slaves were liars.
"It is enough," he said aloud. "Go back to thy place."
Ben-Hur bowed; looked once more into the master's face, but saw
nothing for hope. He turned away slowly, looked back, and said,
"If thou dost think of me again, O tribune, let it not be lost in
thy mind that I prayed thee only for word of my people--mother,
He moved on.
Arrius followed him with admiring eyes.
"Perpol!" he thought. "With teaching, what a man for the arena! What
a runner! Ye gods! what an arm for the sword or the cestus!--Stay!"
he said aloud.
Ben-Hur stopped, and the tribune went to him.
"If thou wert free, what wouldst thou do?"
"The noble Arrius mocks me!" Judah said, with trembling lips.
"No; by the gods, no!"
"Then I will answer gladly. I would give myself to duty the first
of life. I would know no other. I would know no rest until my
mother and Tirzah were restored to home. I would give every day
and hour to their happiness. I would wait upon them; never a slave
more faithful. They have lost much, but, by the God of my fathers,
I would find them more!"
The answer was unexpected by the Roman. For a moment he lost his
"I spoke to thy ambition," he said, recovering. "If thy mother
and sister were dead, or not to be found, what wouldst thou do?"
A distinct pallor overspread Ben-Hur's face, and he looked over
the sea. There was a struggle with some strong feeling; when it
was conquered, he turned to the tribune.
"What pursuit would I follow?" he asked.
"Tribune, I will tell thee truly. Only the night before the dreadful
day of which I have spoken, I obtained permission to be a soldier.
I am of the same mind yet; and, as in all the earth there is but
one school of war, thither I would go."
"The palaestra!" exclaimed Arrius.
"No; a Roman camp."
"But thou must first acquaint thyself with the use of arms."
Now a master may never safely advise a slave. Arrius saw his
indiscretion, and, in a breath, chilled his voice and manner.
"Go now," he said, "and do not build upon what has passed between us.
Perhaps I do but play with thee. Or"--he looked away musingly-- "or,
if thou dost think of it with any hope, choose between the renown of
a gladiator and the service of a soldier. The former may come of the
favor of the emperor; there is no reward for thee in the latter.
Thou art not a Roman. Go!"
A short while after Ben-Hur was upon his bench again.
A man's task is always light if his heart is light. Handling the
oar did not seem so toilsome to Judah. A hope had come to him,
like a singing bird. He could hardly see the visitor or hear
its song; that it was there, though, he knew; his feelings told
him so. The caution of the tribune--"Perhaps I do but play with
thee"--was dismissed often as it recurred to his mind. That he
had been called by the great man and asked his story was the
bread upon which he fed his hungry spirit. Surely something good
would come of it. The light about his bench was clear and bright
with promises, and he prayed.
"O God! I am a true son of the Israel thou hast so loved! Help me,
I pray thee!"
In the Bay of Antemona, east of Cythera the island, the hundred
galleys assembled. There the tribune gave one day to inspection.
He sailed then to Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades, midway the
coasts of Greece and Asia, like a great stone planted in the
centre of a highway, from which he could challenge everything
that passed; at the same time, he would be in position to go
after the pirates instantly, whether they were in the AEgean
or out on the Mediterranean.
As the fleet, in order, rowed in towards the mountain shores of the
island, a galley was descried coming from the north. Arrius went to
meet it. She proved to be a transport just from Byzantium, and from
her commander he learned the particulars of which he stood in most
The pirates were from all the farther shores of the Euxine.
Even Tanais, at the mouth of the river which was supposed to feed
Palus Maeotis, was represented among them. Their preparations had
been with the greatest secrecy. The first known of them was their
appearance off the entrance to the Thracian Bosphorus, followed
by the destruction of the fleet in station there. Thence to the
outlet of the Hellespont everything afloat had fallen their prey.
There were quite sixty galleys in the squadron, all well manned
and supplied. A few were biremes, the rest stout triremes. A Greek
was in command, and the pilots, said to be familiar with all the
Eastern seas, were Greek. The plunder had been incalculable.
The panic, consequently, was not on the sea alone; cities,
with closed gates, sent their people nightly to the walls.
Traffic had almost ceased.
Where were the pirates now?
To this question, of most interest to Arrius, he received answer.
After sacking Hephaestia, on the island of Lemnos, the enemy had
coursed across to the Thessalian group, and, by last account,
disappeared in the gulfs between Euboea and Hellas.
Such were the tidings.
Then the people of the island, drawn to the hill-tops by the
rare spectacle of a hundred ships careering in united squadron,
beheld the advance division suddenly turn to the north, and the
others follow, wheeling upon the same point like cavalry in a
column. News of the piratical descent had reached them, and now,
watching the white sails until they faded from sight up between
Rhene and Syros, the thoughtful among them took comfort, and were
grateful. What Rome seized with strong hand she always defended:
in return for their taxes, she gave them safety.
The tribune was more than pleased with the enemy's movements;
he was doubly thankful to Fortune. She had brought swift and
sure intelligence, and had lured his foes into the waters where,
of all others, destruction was most assured. He knew the havoc one
galley could play in a broad sea like the Mediterranean, and the
difficulty of finding and overhauling her; he knew, also, how those
very circumstances would enhance the service and glory if, at one blow,
he could put a finish to the whole piratical array.
If the reader will take a map of Greece and the AEgean, he will
notice the island of Euboea lying along the classic coast like a
rampart against Asia, leaving a channel between it and the continent
quite a hundred and twenty miles in length, and scarcely an average
of eight in width. The inlet on the north had admitted the fleet
of Xerxes, and now it received the bold raiders from the Euxine.
The towns along the Pelasgic and Meliac gulfs were rich and their
plunder seductive. All things considered, therefore, Arrius judged
that the robbers might be found somewhere below Thermopylae.
Welcoming the chance, he resolved to enclose them north and south,
to do which not an hour could be lost; even the fruits and wines
and women of Naxos must be left behind. So he sailed away without
stop or tack until, a little before nightfall, Mount Ocha was seen
upreared against the sky, and the pilot reported the Euboean coast.
At a signal the fleet rested upon its oars. When the movement
was resumed, Arrius led a division of fifty of the galleys,
intending to take them up the channel, while another division,
equally strong, turned their prows to the outer or seaward side
of the island, with orders to make all haste to the upper inlet,
and descend sweeping the waters.
To be sure, neither division was equal in number to the pirates;
but each had advantages in compensation, among them, by no means
least, a discipline impossible to a lawless horde, however brave.
Besides, it was a shrewd count on the tribune's side, if, peradventure,
one should be defeated, the other would find the enemy shattered by his
victory, and in condition to be easily overwhelmed.
Meantime Ben-Hur kept his bench, relieved every six hours. The rest
in the Bay of Antemona had freshened him, so that the oar was
not troublesome, and the chief on the platform found no fault.
People, generally, are not aware of the ease of mind there is in
knowing where they are, and where they are going. The sensation of
being lost is a keen distress; still worse is the feeling one has in
driving blindly into unknown places. Custom had dulled the feeling
with Ben-Hur, but only measurably. Pulling away hour after hour,
sometimes days and nights together, sensible all the time that the
galley was gliding swiftly along some of the many tracks of the
broad sea, the longing to know where he was, and whither going,
was always present with him; but now it seemed quickened by the
hope which had come to new life in his breast since the interview
with the tribune. The narrower the abiding-place happens to be,
the more intense is the longing; and so he found. He seemed to
hear every sound of the ship in labor, and listened to each one
as if it were a voice come to tell him something; he looked to
the grating overhead, and through it into the light of which so
small a portion was his, expecting, he knew not what; and many
times he caught himself on the point of yielding to the impulse
to speak to the chief on the platform, than which no circumstance
of battle would have astonished that dignitary more.
In his long service, by watching the shifting of the meager
sunbeams upon the cabin floor when the ship was under way, he had
come to know, generally, the quarter into which she was sailing.
This, of course, was only of clear days like those good-fortune
was sending the tribune. The experience had not failed him in the
period succeeding the departure from Cythera. Thinking they were
tending towards the old Judean country, he was sensitive to every
variation from the course. With a pang, he had observed the sudden
change northward which, as has been noticed, took place near Naxos:
the cause, however, he could not even conjecture; for it must be
remembered that, in common with his fellow-slaves, he knew nothing
of the situation, and had no interest in the voyage. His place was
at the oar, and he was held there inexorably, whether at anchor
or under sail. Once only in three years had he been permitted an
outlook from the deck. The occasion we have seen. He had no idea
that, following the vessel he was helping drive, there was a great
squadron close at hand and in beautiful order; no more did he know
the object of which it was in pursuit.
When the sun, going down, withdrew his last ray from the cabin,
the galley still held northward. Night fell, yet Ben-Hur could
discern no change. About that time the smell of incense floated
down the gangways from the deck.
"The tribune is at the altar," he thought. "Can it be we are going
He became observant.
Now he had been in many battles without having seen one. From his
bench he had heard them above and about him, until he was familiar
with all their notes, almost as a singer with a song. So, too, he had
become acquainted with many of the preliminaries of an engagement,
of which, with a Roman as well as a Greek, the most invariable
was the sacrifice to the gods. The rites were the same as those
performed at the beginning of a voyage, and to him, when noticed,
they were always an admonition.
A battle, it should be observed, possessed for him and his
fellow-slaves of the oar an interest unlike that of the sailor
and marine; it came, not of the danger encountered but of the
fact that defeat, if survived, might bring an alteration of
condition--possibly freedom--at least a change of masters,
which might be for the better.
In good time the lanterns were lighted and hung by the stairs,
and the tribune came down from the deck. At his word the marines
put on their armor. At his word again, the machines were looked to,
and spears, javelins, and arrows, in great sheaves, brought and
laid upon the floor, together with jars of inflammable oil, and
baskets of cotton balls wound loose like the wicking of candles.
And when, finally, Ben-Hur saw the tribune mount his platform and
don his armor, and get his helmet and shield out, the meaning of
the preparations might not be any longer doubted, and he made
ready for the last ignominy of his service.
To every bench, as a fixture, there was a chain with heavy anklets.
These the hortator proceeded to lock upon the oarsmen, going from
number to number, leaving no choice but to obey, and, in event of
disaster, no possibility of escape.
In the cabin, then, a silence fell, broken, at first, only by the
sough of the oars turning in the leathern cases. Every man upon the
benches felt the shame, Ben-Hur more keenly than his companions.
He would have put it away at any price. Soon the clanking of the
fetters notified him of the progress the chief was making in his
round. He would come to him in turn; but would not the tribune
interpose for him?
The thought may be set down to vanity or selfishness, as the reader
pleases; it certainly, at that moment, took possession of Ben-Hur.
He believed the Roman would interpose; anyhow, the circumstance would
test the man's feelings. If, intent upon the battle, he would but
think of him, it would be proof of his opinion formed--proof that
he had been tacitly promoted above his associates in misery--such
proof as would justify hope.
Ben-Hur waited anxiously. The interval seemed like an age. At every
turn of the oar he looked towards the tribune, who, his simple
preparations made, lay down upon the couch and composed himself
to rest; whereupon number sixty chid himself, and laughed grimly,
and resolved not to look that way again.
The hortator approached. Now he was at number one--the rattle of
the iron links sounded horribly. At last number sixty! Calm from
despair, Ben-Hur held his oar at poise, and gave his foot to the
officer. Then the tribune stirred--sat up--beckoned to the chief.
A strong revulsion seized the Jew. From the hortator, the great
man glanced at him; and when he dropped his oar all the section
of the ship on his side seemed aglow. He heard nothing of what
was said; enough that the chain hung idly from its staple in
the bench, and that the chief, going to his seat, began to beat
the sounding-board. The notes of the gavel were never so like
music. With his breast against the leaded handle, he pushed with
all his might--pushed until the shaft bent as if about to break.
The chief went to the tribune, and, smiling, pointed to number
"What strength!" he said.
"And what spirit!" the tribune answered. "Perpol! He is better
without the irons. Put them on him no more."
So saying, he stretched himself upon the couch again.
The ship sailed on hour after hour under the oars in water scarcely
rippled by the wind. And the people not on duty slept, Arrius in
his place, the marines on the floor.
Once--twice--Ben-Hur was relieved; but he could not sleep. Three
years of night, and through the darkness a sunbeam at last! At sea
adrift and lost, and now land! Dead so long, and, lo! the thrill and
stir of resurrection. Sleep was not for such an hour. Hope deals
with the future; now and the past are but servants that wait on
her with impulse and suggestive circumstance. Starting from the
favor of the tribune, she carried him forward indefinitely.
The wonder is, not that things so purely imaginative as the
results she points us to can make us so happy, but that we can
receive them as so real. They must be as gorgeous poppies under
the influence of which, under the crimson and purple and gold,
reason lies down the while, and is not. Sorrows assuaged, home
and the fortunes of his house restored; mother and sister in
his arms once more--such were the central ideas which made him
happier that moment than he had ever been. That he was rushing,
as on wings, into horrible battle had, for the time, nothing to
do with his thoughts. The things thus in hope were unmixed with
doubts--they WERE. Hence his joy so full, so perfect, there was
no room in his heart for revenge. Messala, Gratus, Rome, and all
the bitter, passionate memories connected with them, were as dead
plagues--miasms of the earth above which he floated, far and safe,
listening to singing stars.
The deeper darkness before the dawn was upon the waters, and all
things going well with the Astroea, when a man, descending from
the deck, walked swiftly to the platform where the tribune slept,
and awoke him. Arrius arose, put on his helmet, sword, and shield,
and went to the commander of the marines.
"The pirates are close by. Up and ready!" he said, and passed to
the stairs, calm, confident, insomuch that one might have thought,
"Happy fellow! Apicius has set a feast for him."
Every soul aboard, even the ship, awoke. Officers went to their
quarters. The marines took arms, and were led out, looking in all
respects like legionaries. Sheaves of arrows and armfuls of javelins
were carried on deck. By the central stairs the oil-tanks and fire-balls
were set ready for use. Additional lanterns were lighted. Buckets were
filled with water. The rowers in relief assembled under guard in
front of the chief. As Providence would have it, Ben-Hur was one
of the latter. Overhead he heard the muffled noises of the final
preparations--of the sailors furling sail, spreading the nettings,
unslinging the machines, and hanging the armor of bull-hide over the
side. Presently quiet settled about the galley again; quiet full
of vague dread and expectation, which, interpreted, means READY.
At a signal passed down from the deck, and communicated to the
hortator by a petty officer stationed on the stairs, all at once
the oars stopped.
What did it mean?
Of the hundred and twenty slaves chained to the benches, not one but
asked himself the question. They were without incentive. Patriotism,
love of honor, sense of duty, brought them no inspiration. They felt
the thrill common to men rushed helpless and blind into danger. It may
be supposed the dullest of them, poising his oar, thought of all that
might happen, yet could promise himself nothing; for victory would but
rivet his chains the firmer, while the chances of the ship were his;
sinking or on fire, he was doomed to her fate.
Of the situation without they might not ask. And who were the
enemy? And what if they were friends, brethren, countrymen? The
reader, carrying the suggestion forward, will see the necessity
which governed the Roman when, in such emergencies, he locked the
hapless wretches to their seats.
There was little time, however, for such thought with them. A sound
like the rowing of galleys astern attracted Ben-Hur, and the Astroea
rocked as if in the midst of countering waves. The idea of a fleet
at hand broke upon him--a fleet in manoeuvre-- forming probably
for attack. His blood started with the fancy.
Another signal came down from the deck. The oars dipped, and the
galley started imperceptibly. No sound from without, none from
within, yet each man in the cabin instinctively poised himself
for a shock; the very ship seemed to catch the sense, and hold
its breath, and go crouched tiger-like.
In such a situation time is inappreciable; so that Ben-Hur could
form no judgment of distance gone. At last there was a sound of
trumpets on deck, full, clear, long blown. The chief beat the
sounding-board until it rang; the rowers reached forward full
length, and, deepening the dip of their oars, pulled suddenly
with all their united force. The galley, quivering in every
timber, answered with a leap. Other trumpets joined in the
clamor--all from the rear, none forward--from the latter quarter
only a rising sound of voices in tumult heard briefly. There was
a mighty blow; the rowers in front of the chief's platform reeled,
some of them fell; the ship bounded back, recovered, and rushed on
more irresistibly than before. Shrill and high arose the shrieks
of men in terror; over the blare of trumpets, and the grind and
crash of the collision, they arose; then under his feet, under the
keel, pounding, rumbling, breaking to pieces, drowning, Ben-Hur felt
something overridden. The men about him looked at each other afraid.
A shout of triumph from the deck-- the beak of the Roman had won! But
who were they whom the sea had drunk? Of what tongue, from what land
No pause, no stay! Forward rushed the Astroea; and, as it went,
some sailors ran down, and plunging the cotton balls into the
oil-tanks, tossed them dripping to comrades at the head of the
stairs: fire was to be added to other horrors of the combat.
Directly the galley heeled over so far that the oarsmen on the
uppermost side with difficulty kept their benches. Again the hearty
Roman cheer, and with it despairing shrieks. An opposing vessel,
caught by the grappling-hooks of the great crane swinging from
the prow, was being lifted into the air that it might be dropped
The shouting increased on the right hand and on the left; before,
behind, swelled an indescribable clamor. Occasionally there was a
crash, followed by sudden peals of fright, telling of other ships
ridden down, and their crews drowned in the vortexes.
Nor was the fight all on one side. Now and then a Roman in armor
was borne down the hatchway, and laid bleeding, sometimes dying,
on the floor.
Sometimes, also, puffs of smoke, blended with steam, and foul
with the scent of roasting human flesh, poured into the cabin,
turning the dimming light into yellow murk. Gasping for breath
the while, Ben-Hur knew they were passing through the cloud of
a ship on fire, and burning up with the rowers chained to the
The Astroea all this time was in motion. Suddenly she stopped.
The oars forward were dashed from the hands of the rowers, and the
rowers from their benches. On deck, then, a furious trampling, and on
the sides a grinding of ships afoul of each other. For the first time
the beating of the gavel was lost in the uproar. Men sank on the floor
in fear or looked about seeking a hiding-place. In the midst of the
panic a body plunged or was pitched headlong down the hatchway,
falling near Ben-Hur. He beheld the half-naked carcass, a mass
of hair blackening the face, and under it a shield of bull-hide
and wicker-work--a barbarian from the white-skinned nations of
the North whom death had robbed of plunder and revenge. How came
he there? An iron hand had snatched him from the opposing deck--no,
the Astroea had been boarded! The Romans were fighting on their own
deck? A chill smote the young Jew: Arrius was hard pressed--he might
be defending his own life. If he should be slain! God of Abraham
forefend! The hopes and dreams so lately come, were they only
hopes and dreams? Mother and sister--house--home--Holy Land--was
he not to see them, after all? The tumult thundered above him;
he looked around; in the cabin all was confusion--the rowers on the
benches paralyzed; men running blindly hither and thither; only the
chief on his seat imperturbable, vainly beating the sounding-board,
and waiting the orders of the tribune--in the red murk illustrating
the matchless discipline which had won the world.
The example had a good effect upon Ben-Hur. He controlled himself
enough to think. Honor and duty bound the Roman to the platform;
but what had he to do with such motives then? The bench was a
thing to run from; while, if he were to die a slave, who would
be the better of the sacrifice? With him living was duty, if not
honor. His life belonged to his people. They arose before him
never more real: he saw them, their arms outstretched; he heard
them imploring him. And he would go to them. He started--stopped.
Alas! a Roman judgment held him in doom. While it endured, escape
would be profitless. In the wide, wide earth there was no place in
which he would be safe from the imperial demand; upon the land none,
nor upon the sea. Whereas he required freedom according to the forms
of law, so only could he abide in Judea and execute the filial
purpose to which he would devote himself: in other land he would
not live. Dear God! How he had waited and watched and prayed for
such a release! And how it had been delayed! But at last he had
seen it in the promise of the tribune. What else the great man's
meaning? And if the benefactor so belated should now be slain! The
dead come not back to redeem the pledges of the living. It should
not be--Arrius should not die. At least, better perish with him
than survive a galley-slave.
Once more Ben-Hur looked around. Upon the roof of the cabin the
battle yet beat; against the sides the hostile vessels yet crushed
and grided. On the benches, the slaves struggled to tear loose from
their chains, and, finding their efforts vain, howled like madmen;
the guards had gone upstairs; discipline was out, panic in. No,
the chief kept his chair, unchanged, calm as ever--except the
gavel, weaponless. Vainly with his clangor he filled the lulls
in the din. Ben-Hur gave him a last look, then broke away--not
in flight, but to seek the tribune.
A very short space lay between him and the stairs of the hatchway
aft. He took it with a leap, and was half-way up the steps--up far
enough to catch a glimpse of the sky blood-red with fire, of the
ships alongside, of the sea covered with ships and wrecks, of the
fight closed in about the pilot's quarter, the assailants many,
the defenders few--when suddenly his foothold was knocked away,
and he pitched backward. The floor, when he reached it, seemed to
be lifting itself and breaking to pieces; then, in a twinkling,
the whole after-part of the hull broke asunder, and, as if it had
all the time been lying in wait, the sea, hissing and foaming,
leaped in, and all became darkness and surging water to Ben-Hur.
It cannot be said that the young Jew helped himself in this
stress. Besides his usual strength, he had the indefinite extra
force which nature keeps in reserve for just such perils to life;
yet the darkness, and the whirl and roar of water, stupefied him.
Even the holding his breath was involuntary.
The influx of the flood tossed him like a log forward into the
cabin, where he would have drowned but for the refluence of the
sinking motion. As it was, fathoms under the surface the hollow
mass vomited him forth, and he arose along with the loosed debris.
In the act of rising, he clutched something, and held to it. The time
he was under seemed an age longer than it really was; at last he
gained the top; with a great gasp he filled his lungs afresh, and,
tossing the water from his hair and eyes, climbed higher upon the
plank he held, and looked about him.
Death had pursued him closely under the waves; he found it waiting
for him when he was risen--waiting multiform.
Smoke lay upon the sea like a semitransparent fog, through which
here and there shone cores of intense brilliance. A quick intelligence
told him that they were ships on fire. The battle was yet on; nor could
he say who was victor. Within the radius of his vision now and then
ships passed, shooting shadows athwart lights. Out of the dun clouds
farther on he caught the crash of other ships colliding. The danger,
however, was closer at hand. When the Astroea went down, her deck,
it will be recollected, held her own crew, and the crews of the
two galleys which had attacked her at the same time, all of whom
were ingulfed. Many of them came to the surface together, and on
the same plank or support of whatever kind continued the combat,
begun possibly in the vortex fathoms down. Writhing and twisting
in deadly embrace, sometimes striking with sword or javelin, they
kept the sea around them in agitation, at one place inky-black,
at another aflame with fiery reflections. With their struggles he
had nothing to do; they were all his enemies: not one of them but
would kill him for the plank upon which he floated. He made haste
to get away.
About that time he heard oars in quickest movement, and beheld a
galley coming down upon him. The tall prow seemed doubly tall,
and the red light playing upon its gilt and carving gave it an
appearance of snaky life. Under its foot the water churned to
He struck out, pushing the plank, which was very broad and
unmanageable. Seconds were precious--half a second might save or lose
him. In the crisis of the effort, up from the sea, within arm's reach,
a helmet shot like a gleam of gold. Next came two hands with fingers
extended--large hands were they, and strong-- their hold once fixed,
might not be loosed. Ben-Hur swerved from them appalled. Up rose
the helmet and the head it encased--then two arms, which began to
beat the water wildly--the head turned back, and gave the face to
the light. The mouth gaping wide; the eyes open, but sightless,
and the bloodless pallor of a drowning man--never anything more
ghastly! Yet he gave a cry of joy at the sight, and as the face
was going under again, he caught the sufferer by the chain which
passed from the helmet beneath the chin, and drew him to the plank.
The man was Arrius, the tribune.
For a while the water foamed and eddied violently about Ben-Hur,
taxing all his strength to hold to the support and at the same
time keep the Roman's head above the surface. The galley had
passed, leaving the two barely outside the stroke of its oars.
Right through the floating men, over heads helmeted as well as
heads bare, she drove, in her wake nothing but the sea sparkling
with fire. A muffled crash, succeeded by a great outcry, made the
rescuer look again from his charge. A certain savage pleasure
touched his heart--the Astroea was avenged.
After that the battle moved on. Resistance turned to flight. But who
were the victors? Ben-Hur was sensible how much his freedom and
the life of the tribune depended upon that event. He pushed the
plank under the latter until it floated him, after which all his
care was to keep him there. The dawn came slowly. He watched its
growing hopefully, yet sometimes afraid. Would it bring the Romans
or the pirates? If the pirates, his charge was lost.
At last morning broke in full, the air without a breath. Off to the
left he saw the land, too far to think of attempting to make it.
Here and there men were adrift like himself. In spots the sea was
blackened by charred and sometimes smoking fragments. A galley up
a long way was lying to with a torn sail hanging from the tilted
yard, and the oars all idle. Still farther away he could discern
moving specks, which he thought might be ships in flight or pursuit,
or they might be white birds a-wing.
An hour passed thus. His anxiety increased. If relief came not
speedily, Arrius would die. Sometimes he seemed already dead,
he lay so still. He took the helmet off, and then, with greater
difficulty, the cuirass; the heart he found fluttering. He took
hope at the sign, and held on. There was nothing to do but wait,
and, after the manner of his people, pray.
The throes of recovery from drowning are more painful than
the drowning. These Arrius passed through, and, at length,
to Ben-Hur's delight, reached the point of speech.
Gradually, from incoherent questions as to where he was, and by
whom and how he had been saved, he reverted to the battle. The doubt
of the victory stimulated his faculties to full return, a result
aided not a little by a long rest--such as could be had on their
frail support. After a while he became talkative.
"Our rescue, I see, depends upon the result of the fight. I see
also what thou hast done for me. To speak fairly, thou hast saved my
life at the risk of thy own. I make the acknowledgment broadly; and,
whatever cometh, thou hast my thanks. More than that, if fortune doth
but serve me kindly, and we get well out of this peril, I will do thee
such favor as becometh a Roman who hath power and opportunity to prove
his gratitude. Yet, yet it is to be seen if, with thy good intent,
thou hast really done me a kindness; or, rather, speaking to thy
good-will"--he hesitated--"I would exact of thee a promise to
do me, in a certain event, the greatest favor one man can do
another--and of that let me have thy pledge now."
"If the thing be not forbidden, I will do it," Ben-Hur replied.
Arrius rested again.
"Art thou, indeed, a son of Hur, the Jew?" he next asked.
"It is as I have said."
"I knew thy father--"
Judah drew himself nearer, for the tribune's voice was weak--he
drew nearer, and listened eagerly--at last he thought to hear
"I knew him, and loved him," Arrius continued.
There was another pause, during which something diverted the
"It cannot be," he proceeded, "that thou, a son of his, hast not
heard of Cato and Brutus. They were very great men, and never as
great as in death. In their dying, they left this law--A Roman
may not survive his good-fortune. Art thou listening?"
"It is a custom of gentlemen in Rome to wear a ring. There is one
on my hand. Take it now."
He held the hand to Judah, who did as he asked.
"Now put it on thine own hand."
Ben-Hur did so.
"The trinket hath its uses," said Arrius next. "I have property
and money. I am accounted rich even in Rome. I have no family.
Show the ring to my freedman, who hath control in my absence;
you will find him in a villa near Misenum. Tell him how it came
to thee, and ask anything, or all he may have; he will not refuse
the demand. If I live, I will do better by thee. I will make thee
free, and restore thee to thy home and people; or thou mayst give
thyself to the pursuit that pleaseth thee most. Dost thou hear?"
"I could not choose but hear."
"Then pledge me. By the gods--"
"Nay, good tribune, I am a Jew."
"By thy God, then, or in the form most sacred to those of thy
faith--pledge me to do what I tell thee now, and as I tell thee;
I am waiting, let me have thy promise."
"Noble Arrius, I am warned by thy manner to expect something of
gravest concern. Tell me thy wish first."
"Wilt thou promise then?"
"That were to give the pledge, and-- Blessed be the God of my
fathers! yonder cometh a ship!"
"In what direction?"
"From the north."
"Canst thou tell her nationality by outward signs?"
"No. My service hath been at the oars."
"Hath she a flag?"
"I cannot see one."
Arrius remained quiet some time, apparently in deep reflection.
"Does the ship hold this way yet?" he at length asked.
"Still this way."
"Look for the flag now."
"She hath none."
"Nor any other sign?"
"She hath a sail set, and is of three banks, and cometh swiftly--
that is all I can say of her."
"A Roman in triumph would have out many flags. She must be an enemy.
Hear now," said Arrius, becoming grave again, "hear, while yet I
may speak. If the galley be a pirate, thy life is safe; they may
not give thee freedom; they may put thee to the oar again; but they
will not kill thee. On the other hand, I--"
The tribune faltered.
"Perpol!" he continued, resolutely. "I am too old to submit to
dishonor. In Rome, let them tell how Quintus Arrius, as became a
Roman tribune, went down with his ship in the midst of the foe.
This is what I would have thee do. If the galley prove a pirate,
push me from the plank and drown me. Dost thou hear? Swear thou
wilt do it."
"I will not swear," said Ben-Hur, firmly; "neither will I do the
deed. The Law, which is to me most binding, O tribune, would make
me answerable for thy life. Take back the ring"--he took the seal
from his finger--"take it back, and all thy promises of favor in
the event of delivery from this peril. The judgment which sent me
to the oar for life made me a slave, yet I am not a slave; no more
am I thy freedman. I am a son of Israel, and this moment, at least,
my own master. Take back the ring."
Arrius remained passive.
"Thou wilt not?" Judah continued. "Not in anger, then, nor in any
despite, but to free myself from a hateful obligation, I will give
thy gift to the sea. See, O tribune!"
He tossed the ring away. Arrius heard the splash where it struck
and sank, though he did not look.
"Thou hast done a foolish thing," he said; "foolish for one placed
as thou art. I am not dependent upon thee for death. Life is
a thread I can break without thy help; and, if I do, what will
become of thee? Men determined on death prefer it at the hands
of others, for the reason that the soul which Plato giveth us is
rebellious at the thought of self-destruction; that is all. If the
ship be a pirate, I will escape from the world. My mind is fixed.
I am a Roman. Success and honor are all in all. Yet I would have
served thee; thou wouldst not. The ring was the only witness of
my will available in this situation. We are both lost. I will die
regretting the victory and glory wrested from me; thou wilt live
to die a little later, mourning the pious duties undone because
of this folly. I pity thee."
Ben-Hur saw the consequences of his act more distinctly than before,
yet he did not falter.
"In the three years of my servitude, O tribune, thou wert the first
to look upon me kindly. No, no! There was another." The voice dropped,
the eyes became humid, and he saw plainly as if it were then before
him the face of the boy who helped him to a drink by the old well
at Nazareth. "At least," he proceeded, "thou wert the first to ask
me who I was; and if, when I reached out and caught thee, blind and
sinking the last time, I, too, had thought of the many ways in which
thou couldst be useful to me in my wretchedness, still the act was
not all selfish; this I pray you to believe. Moreover, seeing as
God giveth me to know, the ends I dream of are to be wrought by
fair means alone. As a thing of conscience, I would rather die
with thee than be thy slayer. My mind is firmly set as thine;
though thou wert to offer me all Rome, O tribune, and it belonged
to thee to make the gift good, I would not kill thee. Thy Cato and
Brutus were as little children compared to the Hebrew whose law a
Jew must obey."
"But my request. Hast--"
"Thy command would be of more weight, and that would not move me.
I have said."
Both became silent, waiting.
Ben-Hur looked often at the coming ship. Arrius rested with closed
"Art thou sure she is an enemy?" Ben-Hur asked.
"I think so," was the reply.
"She stops, and puts a boat over the side."
"Dost thou see her flag?"
"Is there no other sign by which she may be known if Roman?"
"If Roman, she hath a helmet over the mast's top."
"Then be of cheer. I see the helmet."
Still Arrius was not assured.
"The men in the small boat are taking in the people afloat.
Pirates are not humane."
"They may need rowers," Arrius replied, recurring, possibly,
to times when he had made rescues for the purpose.
Ben-Hur was very watchful of the actions of the strangers.
"The ship moves off," he said.
"Over on our right there is a galley which I take to be deserted.
The new-comer heads towards it. Now she is alongside. Now she is
sending men aboard."
Then Arrius opened his eyes and threw off his calm.
"Thank thou thy God," he said to Ben-Hur, after a look at the
galleys, "thank thou thy God, as I do my many gods. A pirate would
sink, not save, yon ship. By the act and the helmet on the mast I
know a Roman. The victory is mine. Fortune hath not deserted me.
We are saved. Wave thy hand--call to them--bring them quickly.
I shall be duumvir, and thou! I knew thy father, and loved him.
He was a prince indeed. He taught me a Jew was not a barbarian.
I will take thee with me. I will make thee my son. Give thy God
thanks, and call the sailors. Haste! The pursuit must be kept.
Not a robber shall escape. Hasten them!"
Judah raised himself upon the plank, and waved his hand, and called
with all his might; at last he drew the attention of the sailors in
the small boat, and they were speedily taken up.
Arrius was received on the galley with all the honors due a hero
so the favorite of Fortune. Upon a couch on the deck he heard the
particulars of the conclusion of the fight. When the survivors afloat
upon the water were all saved and the prize secured, he spread his
flag of commandant anew, and hurried northward to rejoin the fleet
and perfect the victory. In due time the fifty vessels coming down
the channel closed in upon the fugitive pirates, and crushed
them utterly; not one escaped. To swell the tribune's glory,
twenty galleys of the enemy were captured.
Upon his return from the cruise, Arrius had warm welcome on the
mole at Misenum. The young man attending him very early attracted
the attention of his friends there; and to their questions as to
who he was the tribune proceeded in the most affectionate manner
to tell the story of his rescue and introduce the stranger,
omitting carefully all that pertained to the latter's previous
history. At the end of the narrative, he called Ben-Hur to him,
and said, with a hand resting affectionately upon his shoulder,
"Good friends, this is my son and heir, who, as he is to take my
property--if it be the will of the gods that I leave any--shall
be known to you by my name. I pray you all to love him as you
Speedily as opportunity permitted, the adoption was formally perfected.
And in such manner the brave Roman kept his faith with Ben-Hur,
giving him happy introduction into the imperial world. The month
succeeding Arrius's return, the armilustrium was celebrated with
the utmost magnificence in the theater of Scaurus. One side of
the structure was taken up with military trophies; among which
by far the most conspicuous and most admired were twenty prows,
complemented by their corresponding aplustra, cut bodily from as
many galleys; and over them, so as to be legible to the eighty thousand
spectators in the seats, was this inscription:
TAKEN FROM THE PIRATES IN THE GULF OF EURIPUS,
"Alva. Should the monarch prove unjust--
And, at this time--
Queen. Then I must wait for justice
Until it come; and they are happiest far
Whose consciences may calmly wait their right."
Schiller, Don Carlos (act iv., sc. xv.)
The month to which we now come is July, the year that of our Lord
29, and the place Antioch, then Queen of the East, and next to
Rome the strongest, if not the most populous, city in the world.
There is an opinion that the extravagance and dissoluteness of
the age had their origin in Rome, and spread thence throughout
the empire; that the great cities but reflected the manners of
their mistress on the Tiber. This may be doubted. The reaction
of the conquest would seem to have been upon the morals of the
conqueror. In Greece she found a spring of corruption; so also
in Egypt; and the student, having exhausted the subject, will close
the books assured that the flow of the demoralizing river was from
the East westwardly, and that this very city of Antioch, one of the
oldest seats of Assyrian power and splendor, was a principal source
of the deadly stream.
A transport galley entered the mouth of the river Orontes from the
blue waters of the sea. It was in the forenoon. The heat was great,
yet all on board who could avail themselves of the privilege were
on deck--Ben-Hur among others.
The five years had brought the young Jew to perfect manhood. Though the
robe of white linen in which he was attired somewhat masked his form,
his appearance was unusually attractive. For an hour and more he had
occupied a seat in the shade of the sail, and in that time several
fellow-passengers of his own nationality had tried to engage him
in conversation, but without avail. His replies to their questions
had been brief, though gravely courteous, and in the Latin tongue.
The purity of his speech, his cultivated manners, his reticence,
served to stimulate their curiosity the more. Such as observed
him closely were struck by an incongruity between his demeanor,
which had the ease and grace of a patrician, and certain points
of his person. Thus his arms were disproportionately long; and
when, to steady himself against the motion of the vessel, he took
hold of anything near by, the size of his hands and their evident
power compelled remark; so the wonder who and what he was mixed
continually with a wish to know the particulars of his life.
In other words, his air cannot be better described than as a
notice--This man has a story to tell.
The galley, in coming, had stopped at one of the ports of Cyprus,
and picked up a Hebrew of most respectable appearance, quiet,
reserved, paternal. Ben-Hur ventured to ask him some questions;
the replies won his confidence, and resulted finally in an
It chanced also that as the galley from Cyprus entered the receiving
bay of the Orontes, two other vessels which had been sighted out in
the sea met it and passed into the river at the same time; and as
they did so both the strangers threw out small flags of brightest
yellow. There was much conjecture as to the meaning of the signals.
At length a passenger addressed himself to the respectable Hebrew
for information upon the subject.
"Yes, I know the meaning of the flags," he replied; "they do
not signify nationality--they are merely marks of ownership."
"Has the owner many ships?"
"You know him?"
"I have dealt with him."
The passengers looked at the speaker as if requesting him to go
on. Ben-Hur listened with interest.
"He lives in Antioch," the Hebrew continued, in his quiet way.
"That he is vastly rich has brought him into notice, and the
talk about him is not always kind. There used to be in Jerusalem
a prince of very ancient family named Hur."
Judah strove to be composed, yet his heart beat quicker.
"The prince was a merchant, with a genius for business. He set
on foot many enterprises, some reaching far East, others West.
In the great cities he had branch houses. The one in Antioch
was in charge of a man said by some to have been a family servant
called Simonides, Greek in name, yet an Israelite. The master was
drowned at sea. His business, however, went on, and was scarcely
less prosperous. After a while misfortune overtook the family.
The prince's only son, nearly grown, tried to kill the procurator
Gratus in one of the streets of Jerusalem. He failed by a narrow
chance, and has not since been heard of. In fact, the Roman's rage
took in the whole house--not one of the name was left alive. Their
palace was sealed up, and is now a rookery for pigeons; the estate
was confiscated; everything that could be traced to the ownership
of the Hurs was confiscated. The procurator cured his hurt with a
The passengers laughed.
"You mean he kept the property," said one of them.
"They say so," the Hebrew replied; "I am only telling a story
as I received it. And, to go on, Simonides, who had been the
prince's agent here in Antioch, opened trade in a short time on
his own account, and in a space incredibly brief became the master
merchant of the city. In imitation of his master, he sent caravans
to India; and on the sea at present he has galleys enough to make
a royal fleet. They say nothing goes amiss with him. His camels do
not die, except of old age; his ships never founder; if he throw a
chip into the river, it will come back to him gold."
"How long has he been going on thus?"
"Not ten years."
"He must have had a good start."
"Yes, they say the procurator took only the prince's property ready
at hand--his horses, cattle, houses, land, vessels, goods. The money
could not be found, though there must have been vast sums of it.
What became of it has been an unsolved mystery."
"Not to me," said a passenger, with a sneer.
"I understand you," the Hebrew answered. "Others have had your
idea. That it furnished old Simonides his start is a common belief.
The procurator is of that opinion--or he has been--for twice in
five years he has caught the merchant, and put him to torture."
Judah griped the rope he was holding with crushing force.
"It is said," the narrator continued, "that there is not a sound
bone in the man's body. The last time I saw him he sat in a chair,
a shapeless cripple, propped against cushions."
"So tortured!" exclaimed several listeners in a breath.
"Disease could not have produced such a deformity. Still the
suffering made no impression upon him. All he had was his lawfully,
and he was making lawful use of it--that was the most they wrung
from him. Now, however, he is past persecution. He has a license
to trade signed by Tiberius himself."
"He paid roundly for it, I warrant."
"These ships are his," the Hebrew continued, passing the remark.
"It is a custom among his sailors to salute each other upon meeting
by throwing out yellow flags, sight of which is as much as to say,
'We have had a fortunate voyage.'"
The story ended there.
When the transport was fairly in the channel of the river, Judah
spoke to the Hebrew.
"What was the name of the merchant's master?"
"Ben-Hur, Prince of Jerusalem."
"What became of the prince's family?"
"The boy was sent to the galleys. I may say he is dead. One year
is the ordinary limit of life under that sentence. The widow and
daughter have not been heard of; those who know what became of
them will not speak. They died doubtless in the cells of one of
the castles which spot the waysides of Judea."
Judah walked to the pilot's quarter. So absorbed was he in thought
that he scarcely noticed the shores of the river, which from sea
to city were surpassingly beautiful with orchards of all the
Syrian fruits and vines, clustered about villas rich as those
of Neapolis. No more did he observe the vessels passing in an
endless fleet, nor hear the singing and shouting of the sailors,
some in labor, some in merriment. The sky was full of sunlight,
lying in hazy warmth upon the land and the water; nowhere except
over his life was there a shadow.
Once only he awoke to a momentary interest, and that was when some
one pointed out the Grove of Daphne, discernible from a bend in
When the city came into view, the passengers were on deck, eager that
nothing of the scene might escape them. The respectable Jew already
introduced to the reader was the principal spokesman.
"The river here runs to the west," he said, in the way of general
answer. "I remember when it washed the base of the walls; but as
Roman subjects we have lived in peace, and, as always happens
in such times, trade has had its will; now the whole river front
is taken up with wharves and docks. Yonder"--the speaker pointed
southward--"is Mount Casius, or, as these people love to call it,
the Mountains of Orontes, looking across to its brother Amnus in
the north; and between them lies the Plain of Antioch. Farther on
are the Black Mountains, whence the Ducts of the Kings bring the
purest water to wash the thirsty streets and people; yet they are
forests in wilderness state, dense, and full of birds and beasts."
"Where is the lake?" one asked.
"Over north there. You can take horse, if you wish to see it--or,
better, a boat, for a tributary connects it with the river."
"The Grove of Daphne!" he said, to a third inquirer. "Nobody can
describe it; only beware! It was begun by Apollo, and completed
by him. He prefers it to Olympus. People go there for one look--
just one--and never come away. They have a saying which tells it
all--'Better be a worm and feed on the mulberries of Daphne than
a king's guest.'"
"Then you advise me to stay away from it?"
"Not I! Go you will. Everybody goes, cynic philosopher, virile boy,
women, and priests--all go. So sure am I of what you will do that I
assume to advise you. Do not take quarters in the city-- that will
be loss of time; but go at once to the village in the edge of the
grove. The way is through a garden, under the spray of fountains.
The lovers of the god and his Penaean maid built the town; and in
its porticos and paths and thousand retreats you will find characters
and habits and sweets and kinds elsewhere impossible. But the wall
of the city! there it is, the masterpiece of Xeraeus, the master
of mural architecture."
All eyes followed his pointing finger.
"This part was raised by order of the first of the Seleucidae.
Three hundred years have made it part of the rock it rests upon."
The defense justified the encomium. High, solid, and with many
bold angles, it curved southwardly out of view.
"On the top there are four hundred towers, each a reservoir of
water," the Hebrew continued. "Look now! Over the wall, tall as
it is, see in the distance two hills, which you may know as the
rival crests of Sulpius. The structure on the farthest one is
the citadel, garrisoned all the year round by a Roman legion.
Opposite it this way rises the Temple of Jupiter, and under that
the front of the legate's residence--a palace full of offices,
and yet a fortress against which a mob would dash harmlessly as
a south wind."
At this point the sailors began taking in sail, whereupon the
Hebrew exclaimed, heartily, "See! you who hate the sea, and you
who have vows, get ready your curses and your prayers. The bridge
yonder, over which the road to Seleucia is carried, marks the
limit of navigation. What the ship unloads for further transit,
the camel takes up there. Above the bridge begins the island upon
which Calinicus built his new city, connecting it with five great
viaducts so solid time has made no impression upon them, nor floods
nor earthquakes. Of the main town, my friends, I have only to say you
will be happier all your lives for having seen it."
As he concluded, the ship turned and made slowly for her wharf under
the wall, bringing even more fairly to view the life with which the
river at that point was possessed. Finally, the lines were thrown,
the oars shipped, and the voyage was done. Then Ben-Hur sought the
"Let me trouble you a moment before saying farewell."
The man bowed assent.
"Your story of the merchant has made me curious to see him.
You called him Simonides?"
"Yes. He is a Jew with a Greek name."
"Where is he to be found?"
The acquaintance gave a sharp look before he answered,
"I may save you mortification. He is not a money-lender."
"Nor am I a money-borrower," said Ben-Hur, smiling at the other's
The man raised his head and considered an instant.
"One would think," he then replied, "that the richest merchant
in Antioch would have a house for business corresponding to his
wealth; but if you would find him in the day, follow the river to
yon bridge, under which he quarters in a building that looks like a
buttress of the wall. Before the door there is an immense landing,
always covered with cargoes come and to go. The fleet that lies
moored there is his. You cannot fail to find him."
"I give you thanks."
"The peace of our fathers go with you."
"And with you."
With that they separated.
Two street-porters, loaded with his baggage, received Ben-Hur's
orders upon the wharf.
"To the citadel," he said; a direction which implied an official
Two great streets, cutting each other at right angles, divided the
city into quarters. A curious and immense structure, called the
Nymphaeum, arose at the foot of the one running north and south.
When the porters turned south there, the new-comer, though fresh
from Rome, was amazed at the magnificence of the avenue. On the
right and left there were palaces, and between them extended
indefinitely double colonnades of marble, leaving separate
ways for footmen, beasts, and chariots; the whole under shade,
and cooled by fountains of incessant flow.
Ben-Hur was not in mood to enjoy the spectacle. The story of
Simonides haunted him. Arrived at the Omphalus--a monument of
four arches wide as the streets, superbly illustrated, and erected
to himself by Epiphanes, the eighth of the Seleucidae--he suddenly
changed his mind.
"I will not go to the citadel to-night," he said to the porters.
"Take me to the khan nearest the bridge on the road to Seleucia."
The party faced about, and in good time he was deposited in a public
house of primitive but ample construction, within stone's-throw of
the bridge under which old Simonides had his quarters. He lay upon
the house-top through the night. In his inner mind lived the thought,
"Now--now I will hear of home--and mother--and the dear little Tirzah.
If they are on earth, I will find them."
Next day early, to the neglect of the city, Ben-Hur sought the
house of Simonides. Through an embattled gateway he passed to a
continuity of wharves; thence up the river midst a busy press,
to the Seleucian Bridge, under which he paused to take in the
There, directly under the bridge, was the merchant's house, a mass
of gray stone, unhewn, referable to no style, looking, as the
voyager had described it, like a buttress of the wall against
which it leaned. Two immense doors in front communicated with
the wharf. Some holes near the top, heavily barred, served as
windows. Weeds waved from the crevices, and in places black moss
splotched the otherwise bald stones.
The doors were open. Through one of them business went in;
through the other it came out; and there was hurry, hurry in
all its movements.
On the wharf there were piles of goods in every kind of package,
and groups of slaves, stripped to the waist, going about in the
abandon of labor.
Below the bridge lay a fleet of galleys, some loading, others
unloading. A yellow flag blew out from each masthead. From fleet
and wharf, and from ship to ship, the bondmen of traffic passed
in clamorous counter-currents.
Above the bridge, across the river, a wall rose from the water's
edge, over which towered the fanciful cornices and turrets of an
imperial palace, covering every foot of the island spoken of in the
Hebrew's description. But, with all its suggestions, Ben-Hur scarcely
noticed it. Now, at last, he thought to hear of his people--this,
certainly, if Simonides had indeed been his father's slave. But
would the man acknowledge the relation? That would be to give up
his riches and the sovereignty of trade so royally witnessed on
the wharf and river. And what was of still greater consequence
to the merchant, it would be to forego his career in the midst
of amazing success, and yield himself voluntarily once more a
slave. Simple thought of the demand seemed a monstrous audacity.
Stripped of diplomatic address, it was to say, You are my slave;
give me all you have, and--yourself.
Yet Ben-Hur derived strength for the interview from faith in his
rights and the hope uppermost in his heart. If the story to which he
was yielding were true, Simonides belonged to him, with all he had.
For the wealth, be it said in justice, he cared nothing. When he
started to the door determined in mind, it was with a promise to
himself--"Let him tell me of mother and Tirzah, and I will give
him his freedom without account."
He passed boldly into the house.
The interior was that of a vast depot where, in ordered spaces,
and under careful arrangement, goods of every kind were heaped and
pent. Though the light was murky and the air stifling, men moved
about briskly; and in places he saw workmen with saws and hammers
making packages for shipments. Down a path between the piles he
walked slowly, wondering if the man of whose genius there were
here such abounding proofs could have been his father's slave?
If so, to what class had he belonged? If a Jew, was he the son
of a servant? Or was he a debtor or a debtor's son? Or had he
been sentenced and sold for theft? These thoughts, as they passed,
in nowise disturbed the growing respect for the merchant of which
he was each instant more and more conscious. A peculiarity of our
admiration for another is that it is always looking for circumstances
to justify itself.
At length a man approached and spoke to him.
"What would you have?"
"I would see Simonides, the merchant."
"Will you come this way?"
By a number of paths left in the stowage, they finally came to
a flight of steps; ascending which, he found himself on the
roof of the depot, and in front of a structure which cannot
be better described than as a lesser stone house built upon
another, invisible from the landing below, and out west of the
bridge under the open sky. The roof, hemmed in by a low wall,
seemed like a terrace, which, to his astonishment, was brilliant
with flowers; in the rich surrounding, the house sat squat, a plain
square block, unbroken except by a doorway in front. A dustless path
led to the door, through a bordering of shrubs of Persian rose
in perfect bloom. Breathing a sweet attar-perfume, he followed
At the end of a darkened passage within, they stopped before a
curtain half parted. The man called out,
"A stranger to see the master."
A clear voice replied, "In God's name, let him enter."
A Roman might have called the apartment into which the visitor was
ushered his atrium. The walls were paneled; each panel was comparted
like a modern office-desk, and each compartment crowded with labelled
folios all filemot with age and use. Between the panels, and above and
below them, were borders of wood once white, now tinted like cream,
and carved with marvellous intricacy of design. Above a cornice of
gilded balls, the ceiling rose in pavilion style until it broke
into a shallow dome set with hundreds of panes of violet mica,
permitting a flood of light deliciously reposeful. The floor was
carpeted with gray rugs so thick that an invading foot fell half
buried and soundless.
In the midlight of the room were two persons--a man resting in a
chair high-backed, broad-armed, and lined with pliant cushions;
and at his left, leaning against the back of the chair, a girl
well forward into womanhood. At sight of them Ben-Hur felt the
blood redden his forehead; bowing, as much to recover himself as
in respect, he lost the lifting of the hands, and the shiver and
shrink with which the sitter caught sight of him--an emotion as
swift to go as it had been to come. When he raised his eyes the
two were in the same position, except the girl's hand had fallen
and was resting lightly upon the elder's shoulder; both of them
were regarding him fixedly.
"If you are Simonides, the merchant, and a Jew"--Ben-Hur stopped
an instant--"then the peace of the God of our father Abraham upon
The last word was addressed to the girl.
"I am the Simonides of whom you speak, by birthright a Jew," the
man made answer, in a voice singularly clear. "I am Simonides,
and a Jew; and I return you your salutation, with prayer to know
who calls upon me."
Ben-Hur looked as he listened, and where the figure of the
man should have been in healthful roundness, there was only a
formless heap sunk in the depths of the cushions, and covered by
a quilted robe of sombre silk. Over the heap shone a head royally
proportioned--the ideal head of a statesman and conqueror--a head
broad of base and domelike in front, such as Angelo would have
modelled for Caesar. White hair dropped in thin locks over the
white brows, deepening the blackness of the eyes shining through
them like sullen lights. The face was bloodless, and much puffed
with folds, especially under the chin. In other words, the head
and face were those of a man who might move the world more readily
than the world could move him--a man to be twice twelve times
tortured into the shapeless cripple he was, without a groan,
much less a confession; a man to yield his life, but never a
purpose or a point; a man born in armor, and assailable only
through his loves. To him Ben-Hur stretched his hands, open and
palm up, as he would offer peace at the same time he asked it.
"I am Judah, son of Ithamar, late head of the House of Hur, and a
prince of Jerusalem."
The merchant's right hand lay outside the robe--a long, thin hand,
articulate to deformity with suffering. It closed tightly;
otherwise there was not the slightest expression of feeling
of any kind on his part; nothing to warrant an inference of
surprise or interest; nothing but this calm answer,
"The princes of Jerusalem, of the pure blood, are always welcome
in my house; you are welcome. Give the young man a seat, Esther."
The girl took an ottoman near by, and carried it to Ben-Hur. As she
arose from placing the seat, their eyes met.
"The peace of our Lord with you," she said, modestly. "Be seated
and at rest."
When she resumed her place by the chair, she had not divined his
purpose. The powers of woman go not so far: if the matter is of
finer feeling, such as pity, mercy, sympathy, that she detects;
and therein is a difference between her and man which will endure
as long as she remains, by nature, alive to such feelings. She was
simply sure he brought some wound of life for healing.
Ben-Hur did not take the offered seat, but said, deferentially,
"I pray the good master Simonides that he will not hold me
an intruder. Coming up the river yesterday, I heard he knew
"I knew the Prince Hur. We were associated in some enterprises
lawful to merchants who find profit in lands beyond the sea and
the desert. But sit, I pray you--and, Esther, some wine for the
young man. Nehemiah speaks of a son of Hur who once ruled the
half part of Jerusalem; an old house; very old, by the faith!
In the days of Moses and Joshua even some of them found favor
in the sight of the Lord, and divided honors with those princes
among men. It can hardly be that their descendant, lineally come
to us, will refuse a cup of wine-fat of the genuine vine of Sorek,
grown on the south hill-sides of Hebron."
By the time of the conclusion of this speech, Esther was before
Ben-Hur with a silver cup filled from a vase upon a table a little
removed from the chair. She offered the drink with downcast face.
He touched her hand gently to put it away. Again their eyes met;
whereat he noticed that she was small, not nearly to his shoulder
in height; but very graceful, and fair and sweet of face, with eyes
black and inexpressibly soft. She is kind and pretty, he thought,
and looks as Tirzah would were she living. Poor Tirzah! Then he
"No, thy father--if he is thy father?"--he paused.
"I am Esther, the daughter of Simonides," she said, with dignity.
"Then, fair Esther, thy father, when he has heard my further speech,
will not think worse of me if yet I am slow to take his wine of
famous extract; nor less I hope not to lose grace in thy sight.
Stand thou here with me a moment!"
Both of them, as in common cause, turned to the merchant.
"Simonides!" he said, firmly, "my father, at his death, had a
trusted servant of thy name, and it has been told me that thou
art the man!"
There was a sudden start of the wrenched limbs under the robe,
and the thin hand clenched.
"Esther, Esther!" the man called, sternly; "here, not there,
as thou art thy mother's child and mine--here, not there, I say!"
The girl looked once from father to visitor; then she replaced the
cup upon the table, and went dutifully to the chair. Her countenance
sufficiently expressed her wonder and alarm.
Simonides lifted his left hand, and gave it into hers, lying lovingly
upon his shoulder, and said, dispassionately, "I have grown old in
dealing with men--old before my time. If he who told thee that whereof
thou speakest was a friend acquainted with my history, and spoke of
it not harshly, he must have persuaded thee that I could not be else
than a man distrustful of my kind. The God of Israel help him who,
at the end of life, is constrained to acknowledge so much! My loves
are few, but they are. One of them is a soul which"--he carried the
hand holding his to his lips, in manner unmistakable--"a soul which
to this time has been unselfishly mine, and such sweet comfort that,
were it taken from me, I would die."
Esther's head drooped until her cheek touched his.
"The other love is but a memory; of which I will say further that,
like a benison of the Lord, it hath a compass to contain a whole
family, if only"--his voice lowered and trembled--"if only I knew
where they were."
Ben-Hur's face suffused, and, advancing a step, he cried, impulsively,
"My mother and sister! Oh, it is of them you speak!"
Esther, as if spoken to, raised her head; but Simonides returned
to his calm, and answered, coldly, "Hear me to the end. Because I am
that I am, and because of the loves of which I have spoken, before I
make return to thy demand touching my relations to the Prince Hur,
and as something which of right should come first, do thou show me
proofs of who thou art. Is thy witness in writing? Or cometh it in
The demand was plain, and the right of it indisputable. Ben-Hur
blushed, clasped his hands, stammered, and turned away at loss.
Simonides pressed him.
"The proofs, the proofs, I say! Set them before me--lay them in
Yet Ben-Hur had no answer. He had not anticipated the requirement;
and, now that it was made, to him as never before came the awful
fact that the three years in the galley had carried away all the
proofs of his identity; mother and sister gone, he did not live in
the knowledge of any human being. Many there were acquainted with
him, but that was all. Had Quintus Arrius been present, what could
he have said more than where he found him, and that he believed the
pretender to be the son of Hur? But, as will presently appear in full,
the brave Roman sailor was dead. Judah had felt the loneliness before;
to the core of life the sense struck him now. He stood, hands clasped,
face averted, in stupefaction. Simonides respected his suffering,
and waited in silence.
"Master Simonides," he said, at length, "I can only tell my story;
and I will not that unless you stay judgment so long, and with
good-will deign to hear me."
"Speak," said Simonides, now, indeed, master of the situation--"speak,
and I will listen the more willingly that I have not denied you to be
the very person you claim yourself."
Ben-Hur proceeded then, and told his life hurriedly, yet with the
feeling which is the source of all eloquence; but as we are familiar
with it down to his landing at Misenum, in company with Arrius,
returned victorious from the AEgean, at that point we will take
up the words.
"My benefactor was loved and trusted by the emperor, who heaped
him with honorable rewards. The merchants of the East contributed
magnificent presents, and he became doubly rich among the rich
of Rome. May a Jew forget his religion? or his birthplace, if it
were the Holy Land of our fathers? The good man adopted me his
son by formal rites of law; and I strove to make him just return:
no child was ever more dutiful to father than I to him. He would
have had me a scholar; in art, philosophy, rhetoric, oratory,
he would have furnished me the most famous teacher. I declined
his insistence, because I was a Jew, and could not forget the
Lord God, or the glory of the prophets, or the city set on the
hills by David and Solomon. Oh, ask you why I accepted any of
the benefactions of the Roman? I loved him; next place, I thought
with his help, array influences which would enable me one day to
unseal the mystery close-locking the fate of my mother and sister;
and to these there was yet another motive of which I shall not speak
except to say it controlled me so far that I devoted myself to arms,
and the acquisition of everything deemed essential to thorough
knowledge of the art of war. In the palaestrae and circuses of
the city I toiled, and in the camps no less; and in all of them
I have a name, but not that of my fathers. The crowns I won--and
on the walls of the villa by Misenum there are many of them--all
came to me as the son of Arrius, the duumvir. In that relation
only am I known among Romans. . . . In steadfast pursuit of my
secret aim, I left Rome for Antioch, intending to accompany
the Consul Maxentius in the campaign he is organizing against
the Parthians. Master of personal skill in all arms, I seek
now the higher knowledge pertaining to the conduct of bodies of
men in the field. The consul has admitted me one of his military
family. But yesterday, as our ship entered the Orontes, two other
ships sailed in with us flying yellow flags. A fellow-passenger
and countryman from Cyprus explained that the vessels belonged
to Simonides, the master-merchant of Antioch; he told us, also,
who the merchant was; his marvellous success in commerce; of his
fleets and caravans, and their coming and going; and, not knowing
I had interest in the theme beyond my associate listeners, he said
Simonides was a Jew, once the servant of the Prince Hur; nor did he
conceal the cruelties of Gratus, or the purpose of their infliction."
At this allusion Simonides bowed his head, and, as if to help him
conceal his feelings and her own deep sympathy, the daughter hid
her face on his neck. Directly he raised his eyes, and said, in a
clear voice, "I am listening."
"O good Simonides!" Ben-Hur then said, advancing a step, his whole
soul seeking expression, "I see thou art not convinced, and that
yet I stand in the shadow of thy distrust."
The merchant held his features fixed as marble, and his tongue
"And not less clearly, I see the difficulties of my position,"
Ben-Hur continued. "All my Roman connection I can prove; I have
only to call upon the consul, now the guest of the governor of
the city; but I cannot prove the particulars of thy demand upon
me. I cannot prove I am my father's son. They who could serve me
in that--alas! they are dead or lost."
He covered his face with his hands; whereupon Esther arose, and,
taking the rejected cup to him, said, "The wine is of the country
we all so love. Drink, I pray thee!"
The voice was sweet as that of Rebekah offering drink at the well
near Nahor the city; he saw there were tears in her eyes, and he
drank, saying, "Daughter of Simonides, thy heart is full of goodness;
and merciful art thou to let the stranger share it with thy father.
Be thou blessed of our God! I thank thee."
Then he addressed himself to the merchant again:
"As I have no proof that I am my father's son, I will withdraw
that I demanded of thee, O Simonides, and go hence to trouble you
no more; only let me say I did not seek thy return to servitude nor
account of thy fortune; in any event, I would have said, as now I
say, that all which is product of thy labor and genius is thine;
keep it in welcome. I have no need of any part thereof. When the
good Quintus, my second father, sailed on the voyage which was his
last, he left me his heir, princely rich. If, therefore, thou cost
think of me again, be it with remembrance of this question, which,
as I do swear by the prophets and Jehovah, thy God and mine, was the
chief purpose of my coming here: What cost thou know--what canst thou
tell me--of my mother and Tirzah, my sister--she who should be in
beauty and grace even as this one, thy sweetness of life, if not
thy very life? Oh! what canst thou tell me of them?"
The tears ran down Esther's cheeks; but the man was wilful: in a
clear voice, he replied,
"I have said I knew the Prince Ben-Hur. I remember hearing of the
misfortune which overtook his family. I remember the bitterness
with which I heard it. He who wrought such misery to the widow of
my friend is the same who, in the same spirit, hath since wrought
upon me. I will go further, and say to you, I have made diligent
quest concerning the family, but--I have nothing to tell you of
them. They are lost."
Ben-Hur uttered a great groan.
"Then--then it is another hope broken!" he said, struggling with
his feelings. "I am used to disappointments. I pray you pardon
my intrusion; and if I have occasioned you annoyance, forgive it
because of my sorrow. I have nothing now to live for but vengeance.
At the curtain he turned, and said, simply, "I thank you both."
"Peace go with you," the merchant said.
Esther could not speak for sobbing.
And so he departed.
Scarcely was Ben-Hur gone, when Simonides seemed to wake as from
sleep: his countenance flushed; the sullen light of his eyes
changed to brightness; and he said, cheerily,
She went to the table, and rang a service-bell.
One of the panels in the wall swung back, exposing a doorway which
gave admittance to a man who passed round to the merchant's front,
and saluted him with a half-salaam.
"Malluch, here--nearer--to the chair," the master said, imperiously.
"I have a mission which shall not fail though the sun should. Hearken! A
young man is now descending to the store-room--tall, comely, and in the
garb of Israel; follow him, his shadow not more faithful; and every
night send me report of where he is, what he does, and the company
he keeps; and if, without discovery, you overhear his conversations,
report them word for word, together with whatever will serve to
expose him, his habits, motives, life. Understand you? Go quickly!
Stay, Malluch: if he leave the city, go after him--and, mark you,
Malluch, be as a friend. If he bespeak you, tell him what you will
to the occasion most suited, except that you are in my service,
of that, not a word. Haste--make haste!"
The man saluted as before, and was gone.
Then Simonides rubbed his wan hands together, and laughed.
"What is the day, daughter?" he said, in the midst of the mood.
"What is the day? I wish to remember it for happiness come.
See, and look for it laughing, and laughing tell me, Esther."
The merriment seemed unnatural to her; and, as if to entreat him
from it, she answered, sorrowfully, "Woe's me, father, that I
should ever forget this day!"
His hands fell down the instant, and his chin, dropping upon his
breast, lost itself in the muffling folds of flesh composing his
"True, most true, my daughter!" he said, without looking up. "This
is the twentieth day of the fourth month. To-day, five years ago,
my Rachel, thy mother, fell down and died. They brought me home
broken as thou seest me, and we found her dead of grief. Oh, to
me she was a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of En-Gedi! I
have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb
with my honey. We laid her away in a lonely place--in a tomb cut
in the mountain; no one near her. Yet in the darkness she left me
a little light, which the years have increased to a brightness of
morning." He raised his hand and rested it upon his daughter's head.
"Dear Lord, I thank thee that now in my Esther my lost Rachel liveth
Directly he lifted his head, and said, as with a sudden thought,
"Is it not clear day outside?"
"It was, when the young man came in."
"Then let Abimelech come and take me to the garden, where I can
see the river and the ships, and I will tell thee, dear Esther,
why but now my mouth filled with laughter, and my tongue with
singing, and my spirit was like to a roe or to a young hart upon
the mountains of spices."
In answer to the bell a servant came, and at her bidding pushed
the chair, set on little wheels for the purpose, out of the room to
the roof of the lower house, called by him his garden. Out through
the roses, and by beds of lesser flowers, all triumphs of careful
attendance, but now unnoticed, he was rolled to a position from
which he could view the palace-tops over against him on the island,
the bridge in lessening perspective to the farther shore, and the
river below the bridge crowded with vessels, all swimming amidst
the dancing splendors of the early sun upon the rippling water.
There the servant left him with Esther.
The much shouting of laborers, and their beating and pounding,
did not disturb him any more than the tramping of people on the
bridge floor almost overhead, being as familiar to his ear as the
view before him to his eye, and therefore unnoticeable, except as
suggestions of profits in promise.
Esther sat on the arm of the chair nursing his hand, and waiting
his speech, which came at length in the calm way, the mighty will
having carried him back to himself.
"When the young man was speaking, Esther, I observed thee,
and thought thou wert won by him."
Her eyes fell as she replied,
"Speak you of faith, father, I believed him."
"In thy eyes, then, he is the lost son of the Prince Hur?"
"If he is not--" She hesitated.
"And if he is not, Esther?"
"I have been thy handmaiden, father, since my mother answered the
call of the Lord God; by thy side I have heard and seen thee deal
in wise ways with all manner of men seeking profit, holy and unholy;
and now I say, if indeed the young man be not the prince he claims
to be, then before me falsehood never played so well the part of
"By the glory of Solomon, daughter, thou speakest earnestly.
Dost thou believe thy father his father's servant?"
"I understood him to ask of that as something he had but heard."
For a time Simonides' gaze swam among his swimming ships, though
they had no place in his mind.
"Well, thou art a good child, Esther, of genuine Jewish shrewdness,
and of years and strength to hear a sorrowful tale. Wherefore give
me heed, and I will tell you of myself, and of thy mother, and of
many things pertaining to the past not in thy knowledge or thy
dreams--things withheld from the persecuting Romans for a hope's
sake, and from thee that thy nature should grow towards the Lord
straight as the reed to the sun. . . . I was born in a tomb in the
valley of Hinnom, on the south side of Zion. My father and mother
were Hebrew bond-servants, tenders of the fig and olive trees
growing, with many vines, in the King's Garden hard by Siloam;
and in my boyhood I helped them. They were of the class bound
to serve forever. They sold me to the Prince Hur, then, next to
Herod the King, the richest man in Jerusalem. From the garden he
transferred me to his storehouse in Alexandria of Egypt, where I
came of age. I served him six years, and in the seventh, by the
law of Moses, I went free."
Esther clapped her hands lightly.
"Oh, then, thou art not his father's servant!"
"Nay, daughter, hear. Now, in those days there were lawyers in
the cloisters of the Temple who disputed vehemently, saying the
children of servants bound forever took the condition of their
parents; but the Prince Hur was a man righteous in all things,
and an interpreter of the law after the straitest sect, though not
of them. He said I was a Hebrew servant bought, in the true meaning
of the great lawgiver, and, by sealed writings, which I yet have,
he set me free."
"And my mother?" Esther asked.
"Thou shalt hear all, Esther; be patient. Before I am through thou
shalt see it were easier for me to forget myself than thy mother. .
. . At the end of my service, I came up to Jerusalem to the Passover.
My master entertained me. I was in love with him already, and I prayed
to be continued in his service. He consented, and I served him yet
another seven years, but as a hired son of Israel. In his behalf
I had charge of ventures on the sea by ships, and of ventures on
land by caravans eastward to Susa and Persepolis, and the lands
of silk beyond them. Perilous passages were they, my daughter;
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