Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
Part 5 out of 13
but the Lord blessed all I undertook. I brought home vast gains
for the prince, and richer knowledge for myself, without which
I could not have mastered the charges since fallen to me. . . .
One day I was a guest in his house in Jerusalem. A servant entered
with some sliced bread on a platter. She came to me first. It was
then I saw thy mother, and loved her, and took her away in my secret
heart. After a while a time came when I sought the prince to make
her my wife. He told me she was bond-servant forever; but if she
wished, he would set her free that I might be gratified. She gave
me love for love, but was happy where she was, and refused her
freedom. I prayed and besought, going again and again after long
intervals. She would be my wife, she all the time said, if I would
become her fellow in servitude. Our father Jacob served yet other
seven years for his Rachel. Could I not as much for mine? But thy
mother said I must become as she, to serve forever. I came away,
but went back. Look, Esther, look here."
He pulled out the lobe of his left ear.
"See you not the scar of the awl?"
"I see it," she said; "and, oh, I see how thou didst love my
"Love her, Esther! She was to me more than the Shulamite to the
singing king, fairer, more spotless; a fountain of gardens, a well
of living waters, and streams from Lebanon. The master, even as I
required him, took me to the judges, and back to his door, and thrust
the awl through my ear into the door, and I was his servant forever.
So I won my Rachel. And was ever love like mine?"
Esther stooped and kissed him, and they were silent, thinking of
"My master was drowned at sea, the first sorrow that ever fell
upon me," the merchant continued. "There was mourning in his
house, and in mine here in Antioch, my abiding-place at the time.
Now, Esther, mark you! When the good prince was lost, I had risen
to be his chief steward, with everything of property belonging to
him in my management and control. Judge you how much he loved and
trusted me! I hastened to Jerusalem to render account to the
widow. She continued me in the stewardship. I applied myself
with greater diligence. The business prospered, and grew year
by year. Ten years passed; then came the blow which you heard
the young man tell about--the accident, as he called it, to the
Procurator Gratus. The Roman gave it out an attempt to assassinate
him. Under that pretext, by leave from Rome, he confiscated to his
own use the immense fortune of the widow and children. Nor stopped
he there. That there might be no reversal of the judgment, he removed
all the parties interested. From that dreadful day to this the family of
Hur have been lost. The son, whom I had seen as a child, was sentenced
to the galleys. The widow and daughter are supposed to have been
buried in some of the many dungeons of Judea, which, once closed
upon the doomed, are like sepulchers sealed and locked. They passed
from the knowledge of men as utterly as if the sea had swallowed
them unseen. We could not hear how they died--nay, not even that
they were dead."
Esther's eyes were dewy with tears.
"Thy heart is good, Esther, good as thy mother's was; and I pray
it have not the fate of most good hearts--to be trampled upon
by the unmerciful and blind. But hearken further. I went up
to Jerusalem to give help to my benefactress, and was seized
at the gate of the city and carried to the sunken cells of the
Tower of Antonia; why, I knew not, until Gratus himself came and
demanded of me the moneys of the House of Hur, which he knew,
after our Jewish custom of exchange, were subject to my draft
in the different marts of the world. He required me to sign to
his order. I refused. He had the houses, lands, goods, ships,
and movable property of those I served; he had not their moneys.
I saw, if I kept favor in the sight of the Lord, I could rebuild
their broken fortunes. I refused the tyrant's demands. He put me
to torture; my will held good, and he set me free, nothing gained.
I came home and began again, in the name of Simonides of Antioch,
instead of the Prince Hur of Jerusalem. Thou knowest, Esther,
how I have prospered; that the increase of the millions of the
prince in my hands was miraculous; thou knowest how, at the end of
three years, while going up to Caesarea, I was taken and a second
time tortured by Gratus to compel a confession that my goods and
moneys were subject to his order of confiscation; thou knowest he
failed as before. Broken in body, I came home and found my Rachel
dead of fear and grief for me. The Lord our God reigned, and I
lived. From the emperor himself I bought immunity and license to
trade throughout the world. To-day--praised be He who maketh the
clouds his chariot and walketh upon the winds!--to-day, Esther,
that which was in my hands for stewardship is multiplied into
talents sufficient to enrich a Caesar."
He lifted his head proudly; their eyes met; each read the other's
thought. "What shall I with the treasure, Esther?" he asked,
without lowering his gaze.
"My father," she answered, in a low voice, "did not the rightful
owner call for it but now?"
Still his look did not fail.
"And thou, my child; shall I leave thee a beggar?"
"Nay, father, am not I, because I am thy child, his bond-servant?
And of whom was it written, 'Strength and honor are her clothing,
and she shall rejoice in time to come?'"
A gleam of ineffable love lighted his face as he said, "The Lord
hath been good to me in many ways; but thou, Esther, art the
sovereign excellence of his favor."
He drew her to his breast and kissed her many times.
"Hear now," he said, with clearer voice--"hear now why I laughed
this morning. The young man faced me the apparition of his father
in comely youth. My spirit arose to salute him. I felt my trial-days
were over and my labors ended. Hardly could I keep from crying out.
I longed to take him by the hand and show the balance I had earned,
and say, 'Lo, 'tis all thine! and I am thy servant, ready now to
be called away.' And so I would have done, Esther, so I would have
done, but that moment three thoughts rushed to restrain me. I will
be sure he is my master's son--such was the first thought; if he
is my master's son, I will learn somewhat of his nature. Of those
born to riches, bethink you, Esther, how many there are in whose
hands riches are but breeding curses"--he paused, while his hands
clutched, and his voice shrilled with passion--"Esther, consider
the pains I endured at the Roman's hands; nay, not Gratus's alone:
the merciless wretches who did his bidding the first time and the
last were Romans, and they all alike laughed to hear me scream.
Consider my broken body, and the years I have gone shorn of my
stature; consider thy mother yonder in her lonely tomb, crushed of
soul as I of body; consider the sorrows of my master's family if
they are living, and the cruelty of their taking-off if they are
dead; consider all, and, with Heaven's love about thee, tell me,
daughter, shall not a hair fall or a red drop run in expiation?
Tell me not, as the preachers sometimes do--tell me not that
vengeance is the Lord's. Does he not work his will harmfully
as well as in love by agencies? Has he not his men of war more
numerous than his prophets? Is not his the law, Eye for eye,
hand for hand, foot for foot? Oh, in all these years I have dreamed
of vengeance, and prayed and provided for it, and gathered patience
from the growing of my store, thinking and promising, as the Lord
liveth, it will one day buy me punishment of the wrong-doers?
And when, speaking of his practise with arms, the young man
said it was for a nameless purpose, I named the purpose even
as he spoke--vengeance! and that, Esther, that it was--the third
thought which held me still and hard while his pleading lasted,
and made me laugh when he was gone."
Esther caressed the faded hands, and said, as if her spirit with
his were running forward to results, "He is gone. Will he come
"Ay, Malluch the faithful goes with him, and will bring him back
when I am ready."
"And when will that be, father?"
"Not long, not long. He thinks all his witnesses dead. There is
one living who will not fail to know him, if he be indeed my
"Nay, daughter, I will set the witness before him; till then let
us rest the business with the Lord. I am tired. Call Abimelech."
Esther called the servant, and they returned into the house.
When Ben-Hur sallied from the great warehouse, it was with the
thought that another failure was to be added to the many he had
already met in the quest for his people; and the idea was depressing
exactly in proportion as the objects of his quest were dear to him;
it curtained him round about with a sense of utter loneliness on
earth, which, more than anything else, serves to eke from a soul
cast down its remaining interest in life.
Through the people, and the piles of goods, he made way to the edge
of the landing, and was tempted by the cool shadows darkening the
river's depth. The lazy current seemed to stop and wait for him.
In counteraction of the spell, the saying of the voyager flashed
into memory--"Better be a worm, and feed upon the mulberries of
Daphne, than a king's guest." He turned, and walked rapidly down
the landing and back to the khan.
"The road to Daphne!" the steward said, surprised at the question
Ben-Hur put to him. "You have not been here before? Well, count this
the happiest day of your life. You cannot mistake the road. The next
street to the left, going south, leads straight to Mount Sulpius,
crowned by the altar of Jupiter and the Amphitheater; keep it to
the third cross street, known as Herod's Colonnade; turn to your
right there, and hold the way through the old city of Seleucus to
the bronze gates of Epiphanes. There the road to Daphne begins--and
may the gods keep you!"
A few directions respecting his baggage, and Ben-Hur set out.
The Colonnade of Herod was easily found; thence to the brazen gates,
under a continuous marble portico, he passed with a multitude mixed
of people from all the trading nations of the earth.
It was about the fourth hour of the day when he passed out the
gate, and found himself one of a procession apparently interminable,
moving to the famous Grove. The road was divided into separate ways
for footmen, for men on horses, and men in chariots; and those again
into separate ways for outgoers and incomers. The lines of division
were guarded by low balustrading, broken by massive pedestals, many of
which were surmounted with statuary. Right and left of the road
extended margins of sward perfectly kept, relieved at intervals
by groups of oak and sycamore trees, and vine-clad summer-houses
for the accommodation of the weary, of whom, on the return side,
there were always multitudes. The ways of the footmen were paved
with red stone, and those of the riders strewn with white sand
compactly rolled, but not so solid as to give back an echo to hoof
or wheel. The number and variety of fountains at play were amazing,
all gifts of visiting kings, and called after them. Out southwest
to the gates of the Grove, the magnificent thoroughfare stretched
a little over four miles from the city.
In his wretchedness of feeling, Ben-Hur barely observed the royal
liberality which marked the construction of the road. Nor more
did he at first notice the crowd going with him. He treated
the processional displays with like indifference. To say truth,
besides his self-absorption, he had not a little of the complacency
of a Roman visiting the provinces fresh from the ceremonies which
daily eddied round and round the golden pillar set up by Augustus
as the centre of the world. It was not possible for the provinces
to offer anything new or superior. He rather availed himself of
every opportunity to push forward through the companies in the
way, and too slow-going for his impatience. By the time he reached
Heracleia, a suburban village intermediate the city and the Grove,
he was somewhat spent with exercise, and began to be susceptible
of entertainment. Once a pair of goats led by a beautiful woman,
woman and goats alike brilliant with ribbons and flowers, attracted
his attention. Then he stopped to look at a bull of mighty girth,
and snowy white, covered with vines freshly cut, and bearing on its
broad back a naked child in a basket, the image of a young Bacchus,
squeezing the juice of ripened berries into a goblet, and drinking
with libational formulas. As he resumed his walk, he wondered whose
altars would be enriched by the offerings. A horse went by with
clipped mane, after the fashion of the time, his rider superbly
dressed. He smiled to observe the harmony of pride between the
man and the brute. Often after that he turned his head at hearing
the rumble of wheels and the dull thud of hoofs; unconsciously he
was becoming interested in the styles of chariots and charioteers,
as they rustled past him going and coming. Nor was it long until
he began to make notes of the people around him. He saw they were
of all ages, sexes, and conditions, and all in holiday attire.
One company was uniformed in white, another in black; some bore
flags, some smoking censers; some went slowly, singing hymns;
others stepped to the music of flutes and tabrets. If such were
the going to Daphne every day in the year, what a wondrous sight
Daphne must be! At last there was a clapping of hands, and a burst
of joyous cries; following the pointing of many fingers, he looked
and saw upon the brow of a hill the templed gate of the consecrated
Grove. The hymns swelled to louder strains; the music quickened
time; and, borne along by the impulsive current, and sharing the
common eagerness, he passed in, and, Romanized in taste as he was,
fell to worshiping the place.
Rearward of the structure which graced the entrance-way--a purely
Grecian pile--he stood upon a broad esplanade paved with polished
stone; around him a restless exclamatory multitude, in gayest
colors, relieved against the iridescent spray flying crystal-white
from fountains; before him, off to the southwest, dustless paths
radiated out into a garden, and beyond that into a forest, over
which rested a veil of pale-blue vapor. Ben-Hur gazed wistfully,
uncertain where to go. A woman that moment exclaimed,
"Beautiful! But where to now?"
Her companion, wearing a chaplet of bays, laughed and answered,
"Go to, thou pretty barbarian! The question implies an earthly
fear; and did we not agree to leave all such behind in Antioch
with the rusty earth? The winds which blow here are respirations
of the gods. Let us give ourselves to waftage of the winds."
"But if we should get lost?"
"O thou timid! No one was ever lost in Daphne, except those on
whom her gates close forever."
"And who are they?" she asked, still fearful.
"Such as have yielded to the charms of the place and chosen it
for life and death. Hark! Stand we here, and I will show you of
whom I speak."
Upon the marble pavement there was a scurry of sandalled feet;
the crowd opened, and a party of girls rushed about the speaker
and his fair friend, and began singing and dancing to the tabrets
they themselves touched. The woman, scared, clung to the man,
who put an arm about her, and, with kindled face, kept time to
the music with the other hand overhead. The hair of the dancers
floated free, and their limbs blushed through the robes of gauze
which scarcely draped them. Words may not be used to tell of the
voluptuousness of the dance. One brief round, and they darted off
through the yielding crowd lightly as they had come.
"Now what think you?" cried the man to the woman.
"Who are they?" she asked.
"Devadasi--priestesses devoted to the Temple of Apollo. There is
an army of them. They make the chorus in celebrations. This is
their home. Sometimes they wander off to other cities, but all
they make is brought here to enrich the house of the divine
musician. Shall we go now?"
Next minute the two were gone.
Ben-Hur took comfort in the assurance that no one was ever lost
in Daphne, and he, too, set out--where, he knew not.
A sculpture reared upon a beautiful pedestal in the garden attracted
him first. It proved to be the statue of a centaur. An inscription
informed the unlearned visitor that it exactly represented Chiron,
the beloved of Apollo and Diana, instructed by them in the mysteries
of hunting, medicine, music, and prophecy. The inscription also
bade the stranger look out at a certain part of the heavens, at a
certain hour of the clear night, and he would behold the dead alive
among the stars, whither Jupiter had transferred the good genius.
The wisest of the centaurs continued, nevertheless, in the service
of mankind. In his hand he held a scroll, on which, graven in Greek,
were paragraphs of a notice:
"Art thou a stranger?
"I. Hearken to the singing of the brooks, and fear not the rain of
the fountains; so will the Naiades learn to love thee.
"II. The invited breezes of Daphne are Zephyrus and Auster;
gentle ministers of life, they will gather sweets for thee;
when Eurus blows, Diana is elsewhere hunting; when Boreas
blusters, go hide, for Apollo is angry.
"III. The shades of the Grove are thine in the day; at night they
belong to Pan and his Dryades. Disturb them not.
"IV. Eat of the Lotus by the brooksides sparingly, unless thou
wouldst have surcease of memory, which is to become a child of
"V. Walk thou round the weaving spider--'tis Arachne at work for
"VI. Wouldst thou behold the tears of Daphne, break but a bud from
a laurel bough--and die.
"And stay and be happy."
Ben-Hur left the interpretation of the mystic notice to others
fast enclosing him, and turned away as the white bull was led by.
The boy sat in the basket, followed by a procession; after them again,
the woman with the goats; and behind her the flute and tabret players,
and another procession of gift-bringers.
"Whither go they?" asked a bystander.
Another made answer, "The bull to Father Jove; the goat--"
"Did not Apollo once keep the flocks of Admetus?"
"Ay, the goat to Apollo!"
The goodness of the reader is again besought in favor of an
explanation. A certain facility of accommodation in the matter
of religion comes to us after much intercourse with people of a
different faith; gradually we attain the truth that every creed is
illustrated by good men who are entitled to our respect, but whom
we cannot respect without courtesy to their creed. To this point
Ben-Hur had arrived. Neither the years in Rome nor those in the
galley had made any impression upon his religious faith; he was
yet a Jew. In his view, nevertheless, it was not an impiety to
look for the beautiful in the Grove of Daphne.
The remark does not interdict the further saying, if his scruples
had been ever so extreme, not improbably he would at this time have
smothered them. He was angry; not as the irritable, from chafing of
a trifle; nor was his anger like the fool's, pumped from the wells
of nothing, to be dissipated by a reproach or a curse; it was the
wrath peculiar to ardent natures rudely awakened by the sudden
annihilation of a hope--dream, if you will--in which the choicest
happinesses were thought to be certainly in reach. In such case
nothing intermediate will carry off the passion--the quarrel is
Let us follow the philosophy a little further, and say to ourselves,
it were well in such quarrels if Fate were something tangible, to be
despatched with a look or a blow, or a speaking personage with whom
high words were possible; then the unhappy mortal would not always
end the affair by punishing himself.
In ordinary mood, Ben-Hur would not have come to the Grove alone,
or, coming alone, he would have availed himself of his position in
the consul's family, and made provision against wandering idly
about, unknowing and unknown; he would have had all the points
of interest in mind, and gone to them under guidance, as in the
despatch of business; or, wishing to squander days of leisure in
the beautiful place, he would have had in hand a letter to the
master of it all, whoever he might be. This would have made him
a sightseer, like the shouting herd he was accompanying; whereas he
had no reverence for the deities of the Grove, nor curiosity; a man
in the blindness of bitter disappointment, he was adrift, not waiting
for Fate, but seeking it as a desperate challenger.
Every one has known this condition of mind, though perhaps not all
in the same degree; every one will recognize it as the condition
in which he has done brave things with apparent serenity; and every
one reading will say, Fortunate for Ben-Hur if the folly which now
catches him is but a friendly harlequin with whistle and painted cap,
and not some Violence with a pointed sword pitiless.
Ben-Hur entered the woods with the processions. He had not interest
enough at first to ask where they were going; yet, to relieve him
from absolute indifference, he had a vague impression that they
were in movement to the temples, which were the central objects
of the Grove, supreme in attractions.
Presently, as singers dreamfully play with a flitting chorus,
he began repeating to himself, "Better be a worm, and feed on
the mulberries of Daphne, than a king's guest." Then of the much
repetition arose questions importunate of answer. Was life in
the Grove so very sweet? Wherein was the charm? Did it lie in
some tangled depth of philosophy? Or was it something in fact,
something on the surface, discernible to every-day wakeful senses?
Every year thousands, forswearing the world, gave themselves to
service here. Did they find the charm? And was it sufficient,
when found, to induce forgetfulness profound enough to shut out
of mind the infinitely diverse things of life? those that sweeten
and those that embitter? hopes hovering in the near future as well
as sorrows born of the past? If the Grove were so good for them,
why should it not be good for him? He was a Jew; could it be that
the excellences were for all the world but children of Abraham?
Forthwith he bent all his faculties to the task of discovery,
unmindful of the singing of the gift-bringers and the quips of
In the quest, the sky yielded him nothing; it was blue, very blue,
and full of twittering swallows--so was the sky over the city.
Further on, out of the woods at his right hand, a breeze poured
across the road, splashing him with a wave of sweet smells, blent of
roses and consuming spices. He stopped, as did others, looking the
way the breeze came.
"A garden over there?" he said, to a man at his elbow.
"Rather some priestly ceremony in performance--something to Diana,
or Pan, or a deity of the woods."
The answer was in his mother tongue. Ben-Hur gave the speaker a
"A Hebrew?" he asked him.
The man replied with a deferential smile,
"I was born within a stone's-throw of the market-place in Jerusalem."
Ben-Hur was proceeding to further speech, when the crowd surged
forward, thrusting him out on the side of the walk next the woods,
and carrying the stranger away. The customary gown and staff,
a brown cloth on the head tied by a yellow rope, and a strong
Judean face to avouch the garments of honest right, remained in
the young man's mind, a kind of summary of the man.
This took place at a point where a path into the woods began,
offering a happy escape from the noisy processions. Ben-Hur availed
himself of the offer.
He walked first into a thicket which, from the road, appeared in
a state of nature, close, impenetrable, a nesting-place for wild
birds. A few steps, however, gave him to see the master's hand even
there. The shrubs were flowering or fruit-bearing; under the bending
branches the ground was pranked with brightest blooms; over them
the jasmine stretched its delicate bonds. From lilac and rose,
and lily and tulip, from oleander and strawberry-tree, all old
friends in the gardens of the valleys about the city of David,
the air, lingering or in haste, loaded itself with exhalations day
and night; and that nothing might be wanting to the happiness of
the nymphs and naiads, down through the flower-lighted shadows of
the mass a brook went its course gently, and by many winding ways.
Out of the thicket, as he proceeded, on his right and left, issued the
cry of the pigeon and the cooing of turtle-doves; blackbirds waited
for him, and bided his coming close; a nightingale kept its place
fearless, though he passed in arm's-length; a quail ran before
him at his feet, whistling to the brood she was leading, and as
he paused for them to get out of his way, a figure crawled from
a bed of honeyed musk brilliant with balls of golden blossoms.
Ben-Hur was startled. Had he, indeed, been permitted to see a
satyr at home? The creature looked up at him, and showed in its
teeth a hooked pruning-knife; he smiled at his own scare, and,
lo! the charm was evolved! Peace without fear--peace a universal
condition--that it was!
He sat upon the ground beneath a citron-tree, which spread its
gray roots sprawling to receive a branch of the brook. The nest of
a titmouse hung close to the bubbling water, and the tiny creature
looked out of the door of the nest into his eyes. "Verily, the bird
is interpreting to me," he thought. "It says, 'I am not afraid of
you, for the law of this happy place is Love.'"
The charm of the Grove seemed plain to him; he was glad, and
determined to render himself one of the lost in Daphne. In charge
of the flowers and shrubs, and watching the growth of all the dumb
excellences everywhere to be seen, could not he, like the man with
the pruning-knife in his mouth, forego the days of his troubled
life--forego them forgetting and forgotten?
But by-and-by his Jewish nature began to stir within him.
The charm might be sufficient for some people. Of what kind were
Love is delightful--ah! how pleasant as a successor to wretchedness
like his. But was it all there was of life? All?
There was an unlikeness between him and those who buried themselves
contentedly here. They had no duties--they could not have had;
"God of Israel!" he cried aloud, springing to his feet, with burning
cheeks--"Mother! Tirzah! Cursed be the moment, cursed the place,
in which I yield myself happy in your loss!"
He hurried away through the thicket, and came to a stream flowing
with the volume of a river between banks of masonry, broken at
intervals by gated sluiceways. A bridge carried the path he was
traversing across the stream; and, standing upon it, he saw other
bridges, no two of them alike. Under him the water was lying in a
deep pool, clear as a shadow; down a little way it tumbled with a
roar over rocks; then there was another pool, and another cascade;
and so on, out of view; and bridges and pools and resounding
cascades said, plainly as inarticulate things can tell a story,
the river was running by permission of a master, exactly as the
master would have it, tractable as became a servant of the gods.
Forward from the bridge he beheld a landscape of wide valleys and
irregular heights, with groves and lakes and fanciful houses linked
together by white paths and shining streams. The valleys were spread
below, that the river might be poured upon them for refreshment in
days of drought, and they were as green carpets figured with beds
and fields of flowers, and flecked with flocks of sheep white as
balls of snow; and the voices of shepherds following the flocks
were heard afar. As if to tell him of the pious inscription of
all he beheld, the altars out under the open sky seemed countless,
each with a white-gowned figure attending it, while processions in
white went slowly hither and thither between them; and the smoke
of the altars half-risen hung collected in pale clouds over the
Here, there, happy in flight, intoxicated in pause, from object
to object, point to point, now in the meadow, now on the heights,
now lingering to penetrate the groves and observe the processions,
then lost in efforts to pursue the paths and streams which trended
mazily into dim perspectives to end finally in-- Ah, what might
be a fitting end to scene so beautiful! What adequate mysteries
were hidden behind an introduction so marvellous! Here and there,
the speech was beginning, his gaze wandered, so he could not help
the conviction, forced by the view, and as the sum of it all,
that there was peace in the air and on the earth, and invitation
everywhere to come and lie down here and be at rest.
Suddenly a revelation dawned upon him--the Grove was, in fact,
a temple--one far-reaching, wall-less temple!
Never anything like it!
The architect had not stopped to pother about columns and porticos,
proportions or interiors, or any limitation upon the epic he sought
to materialize; he had simply made a servant of Nature--art can
go no further. So the cunning son of Jupiter and Callisto built
the old Arcadia; and in this, as in that, the genius was Greek.
From the bridge Ben-Hur went forward into the nearest valley.
He came to a flock of sheep. The shepherd was a girl, and she
beckoned him, "Come!"
Farther on, the path was divided by an altar--a pedestal of black
gneiss, capped with a slab of white marble deftly foliated, and on
that a brazier of bronze holding a fire. Close by it, a woman,
seeing him, waved a wand of willow, and as he passed called him,
"Stay!" And the temptation in her smile was that of passionate
On yet further, he met one of the processions; at its head a
troop of little girls, nude except as they were covered with
garlands, piped their shrill voices into a song; then a troop
of boys, also nude, their bodies deeply sun-browned, came dancing
to the song of the girls; behind them the procession, all women,
bearing baskets of spices and sweets to the altars--women clad in
simple robes, careless of exposure. As he went by they held their
hands to him, and said, "Stay, and go with us." One, a Greek, sang a
verse from Anacreon:
"For to-day I take or give;
For to-day I drink and live;
For to-day I beg or borrow;
Who knows about the silent morrow?"
But he pursued his way indifferent, and came next to a grove luxuriant,
in the heart of the vale at the point where it would be most attractive
to the observing eye. As it came close to the path he was travelling,
there was a seduction in its shade, and through the foliage he caught
the shining of what appeared a pretentious statue; so he turned aside,
and entered the cool retreat.
The grass was fresh and clean. The trees did not crowd each other;
and they were of every kind native to the East, blended well with
strangers adopted from far quarters; here grouped in exclusive
companionship palm-trees plumed like queens; there sycamores,
overtopping laurels of darker foliage; and evergreen oaks
rising verdantly, with cedars vast enough to be kings on Lebanon;
and mulberries; and terebinths so beautiful it is not hyperbole to
speak of them as blown from the orchards of Paradise.
The statue proved to be a Daphne of wondrous beauty. Hardly,
however, had he time to more than glance at her face: at the base
of the pedestal a girl and a youth were lying upon a tiger's skin
asleep in each other's arms; close by them the implements of their
service--his axe and sickle, her basket--flung carelessly upon a
heap of fading roses.
The exposure startled him. Back in the hush of the perfumed thicket
he discovered, as he thought, that the charm of the great Grove was
peace without fear, and almost yielded to it; now, in this sleep in
the day's broad glare--this sleep at the feet of Daphne--he read a
further chapter to which only the vaguest allusion is sufferable.
The law of the place was Love, but Love without Law.
And this was the sweet peace of Daphne!
This the life's end of her ministers!
For this kings and princes gave of their revenues!
For this a crafty priesthood subordinated nature--her birds and
brooks and lilies, the river, the labor of many hands, the sanctity
of altars, the fertile power of the sun!
It would be pleasant now to record that as Ben-Hur pursued his walk
assailed by such reflections, he yielded somewhat to sorrow for the
votaries of the great outdoor temple; especially for those who,
by personal service, kept it in a state so surpassingly lovely.
How they came to the condition was not any longer a mystery; the
motive, the influence, the inducement, were before him. Some there
were, no doubt, caught by the promise held out to their troubled
spirits of endless peace in a consecrated abode, to the beauty of
which, if they had not money, they could contribute their labor;
this class implied intellect peculiarly subject to hope and fear;
but the great body of the faithful could not be classed with such.
Apollo's nets were wide, and their meshes small; and hardly may
one tell what all his fishermen landed: this less for that they
cannot be described than because they ought not to be. Enough that
the mass were of the sybarites of the world, and of the herds
in number vaster and in degree lower--devotees of the unmixed
sensualism to which the East was almost wholly given. Not to
any of the exaltations--not to the singing-god, or his unhappy
mistress; not to any philosophy requiring for its enjoyment the
calm of retirement, nor to any service for the comfort there is
in religion, nor to love in its holier sense--were they abiding
their vows. Good reader, why shall not the truth be told here?
Why not learn that, at this age, there were in all earth but two
peoples capable of exaltations of the kind referred to--those
who lived by the law of Moses, and those who lived by the law
of Brahma. They alone could have cried you, Better a law without
love than a love without law.
Besides that, sympathy is in great degree a result of the mood we
are in at the moment: anger forbids the emotion. On the other hand,
it is easiest taken on when we are in a state of most absolute
self-satisfaction. Ben-Hur walked with a quicker step, holding his
head higher; and, while not less sensitive to the delightfulness
of all about him, he made his survey with calmer spirit, though
sometimes with curling lip; that is to say, he could not so soon
forget how nearly he himself had been imposed upon.
In front of Ben-Hur there was a forest of cypress-trees, each a
column tall and straight as a mast. Venturing into the shady
precinct, he heard a trumpet gayly blown, and an instant after
saw lying upon the grass close by the countryman whom he had run
upon in the road going to the temples. The man arose, and came
"I give you peace again," he said, pleasantly.
"Thank you," Ben-Hur replied, then asked, "Go you my way?"
"I am for the stadium, if that is your way."
"Yes. The trumpet you heard but now was a call for the competitors."
"Good friend," said Ben-Hur, frankly, "I admit my ignorance of
the Grove; and if you will let me be your follower, I will be
"That will delight me. Hark! I hear the wheels of the chariots.
They are taking the track."
Ben-Hur listened a moment, then completed the introduction by
laying his hand upon the man's arm, and saying, "I am the son
of Arrius, the duumvir, and thou?"
"I am Malluch, a merchant of Antioch."
"Well, good Malluch, the trumpet, and the gride of wheels, and the
prospect of diversion excite me. I have some skill in the exercises.
In the palaestrae of Rome I am not unknown. Let us to the course."
Malluch lingered to say, quickly, "The duumvir was a Roman, yet I
see his son in the garments of a Jew."
"The noble Arrius was my father by adoption," Ben-Hur answered.
"Ah! I see, and beg pardon."
Passing through the belt of forest, they came to a field with a
track laid out upon it, in shape and extent exactly like those
of the stadia. The course, or track proper, was of soft earth,
rolled and sprinkled, and on both sides defined by ropes,
stretched loosely upon upright javelins. For the accommodation
of spectators, and such as had interests reaching forward of the
mere practise, there were several stands shaded by substantial
awnings, and provided with seats in rising rows. In one of the
stands the two new-comers found places.
Ben-Hur counted the chariots as they went by--nine in all.
"I commend the fellows," he said, with good-will. "Here in the
East, I thought they aspired to nothing better than the two;
but they are ambitious, and play with royal fours. Let us study
Eight of the fours passed the stand, some walking, others on the
trot, and all unexceptionably handled; then the ninth one came on
the gallop. Ben-Hur burst into exclamation.
"I have been in the stables of the emperor, Malluch, but, by our
father Abraham of blessed memory! I never saw the like of these."
The last four was then sweeping past. All at once they fell
into confusion. Some one on the stand uttered a sharp cry.
Ben-Hur turned, and saw an old man half-risen from an upper seat,
his hands clenched and raised, his eyes fiercely bright, his long
white beard fairly quivering. Some of the spectators nearest him
began to laugh.
"They should respect his beard at least. Who is he?" asked Ben-Hur.
"A mighty man from the Desert, somewhere beyond Moab, and owner of
camels in herds, and horses descended, they say, from the racers of
the first Pharaoh--Sheik Ilderim by name and title."
Thus Malluch replied.
The driver meanwhile exerted himself to quiet the four, but without avail.
Each ineffectual effort excited the sheik the more.
"Abaddon seize him!" yelled the patriarch, shrilly. "Run! fly!
do you hear, my children?" The question was to his attendants,
apparently of the tribe. "Do you hear? They are Desert-born,
like yourselves. Catch them--quick!"
The plunging of the animals increased.
"Accursed Roman!" and the sheik shook his fist at the driver. "Did he
not swear he could drive them--swear it by all his brood of bastard
Latin gods? Nay, hands off me--off, I say! They should run swift
as eagles, and with the temper of hand-bred lambs, he swore.
Cursed be he--cursed the mother of liars who calls him son!
See them, the priceless! Let him touch one of them with a lash,
and"--the rest of the sentence was lost in a furious grinding of
his teeth. "To their heads, some of you, and speak them--a word,
one is enough, from the tent-song your mothers sang you. Oh, fool,
fool that I was to put trust in a Roman!"
Some of the shrewder of the old man's friends planted themselves
between him and the horses. An opportune failure of breath on his
part helped the stratagem.
Ben-Hur, thinking he comprehended the sheik, sympathized with him.
Far more than mere pride of property--more than anxiety for the
result of the race--in his view it was within the possible for
the patriarch, according to his habits of thought and his ideas
of the inestimable, to love such animals with a tenderness akin
to the most sensitive passion.
They were all bright bays, unspotted, perfectly matched, and so
proportioned as to seem less than they really were. Delicate ears
pointed small heads; the faces were broad and full between the eyes;
the nostrils in expansion disclosed membrane so deeply red as to
suggest the flashing of flame; the necks were arches, overlaid with
fine mane so abundant as to drape the shoulders and breast, while in
happy consonance the forelocks were like ravellings of silken veils;
between the knees and the fetlocks the legs were flat as an open
hand, but above the knees they were rounded with mighty muscles,
needful to upbear the shapely close-knit bodies; the hoofs were
like cups of polished agate; and in rearing and plunging they
whipped the air, and sometimes the earth, with tails glossy-black
and thick and long. The sheik spoke of them as the priceless, and it
was a good saying.
In this second and closer look at the horses, Ben-Hur read the story
of their relation to their master. They had grown up under his eyes,
objects of his special care in the day, his visions of pride in
the night, with his family at home in the black tent out on the
shadeless bosom of the desert, as his children beloved. That they
might win him a triumph over the haughty and hated Roman, the old
man had brought his loves to the city, never doubting they would
win, if only he could find a trusty expert to take them in hand;
not merely one with skill, but of a spirit which their spirits
would acknowledge. Unlike the colder people of the West, he could
not protest the driver's inability, and dismiss him civilly;
an Arab and a sheik, he had to explode, and rive the air about
him with clamor.
Before the patriarch was done with his expletives, a dozen hands
were at the bits of the horses, and their quiet assured. About that
time, another chariot appeared upon the track; and, unlike the
others, driver, vehicle, and races were precisely as they would
be presented in the Circus the day of final trial. For a reason
which will presently be more apparent, it is desirable now to
give this turnout plainly to the reader.
There should be no difficulty in understanding the carriage known
to us all as the chariot of classical renown. One has but to picture
to himself a dray with low wheels and broad axle, surmounted by a box
open at the tail end. Such was the primitive pattern. Artistic genius
came along in time, and, touching the rude machine, raised it into
a thing of beauty--that, for instance, in which Aurora, riding in
advance of the dawn, is given to our fancy.
The jockeys of the ancients, quite as shrewd and ambitious as their
successors of the present, called their humblest turnout a two,
and their best in grade a four; in the latter, they contested the
Olympics and the other festal shows founded in imitation of them.
The same sharp gamesters preferred to put their horses to the chariot
all abreast; and for distinction they termed the two next the pole
yoke-steeds, and those on the right and left outside trace-mates.
It was their judgment, also, that, by allowing the fullest freedom
of action, the greatest speed was attainable; accordingly, the harness
resorted to was peculiarly simple; in fact, there was nothing of
it save a collar round the animal's neck, and a trace fixed to
the collar, unless the lines and a halter fall within the term.
Wanting to hitch up, the masters pinned a narrow wooden yoke,
or cross-tree, near the end of the pole, and, by straps passed
through rings at the end of the yoke, buckled the latter to the
collar. The traces of the yokesteeds they hitched to the axle;
those of the trace-mates to the top rim of the chariot-bed.
There remained then but the adjustment of the lines, which,
judged by the modern devices, was not the least curious part of
the method. For this there was a large ring at the forward extremity
of the pole; securing the ends to that ring first, they parted the
lines so as to give one to each horse, and proceeded to pass them
to the driver, slipping them separately through rings on the inner
side of the halters at the mouth.
With this plain generalization in mind, all further desirable
knowledge upon the subject can be had by following the incidents
of the scene occurring.
The other contestants had been received in silence; the last comer
was more fortunate. While moving towards the stand from which we are
viewing the scene, his progress was signalized by loud demonstrations,
by clapping of hands and cheers, the effect of which was to centre
attention upon him exclusively. His yoke-steeds, it was observed,
were black, while the trace-mates were snow-white. In conformity
to the exacting canons of Roman taste, they had all four been
mutilated; that is to say, their tails had been clipped, and,
to complete the barbarity, their shorn manes were divided into
knots tied with flaring red and yellow ribbons.
In advancing, the stranger at length reached a point where the
chariot came into view from the stand, and its appearance would of
itself have justified the shouting. The wheels were very marvels of
construction. Stout bands of burnished bronze reinforced the hubs,
otherwise very light; the spokes were sections of ivory tusks,
set in with the natural curve outward to perfect the dishing,
considered important then as now; bronze tires held the fellies,
which were of shining ebony. The axle, in keeping with the wheels,
was tipped with heads of snarling tigers done in brass, and the bed
was woven of willow wands gilded with gold.
The coming of the beautiful horses and resplendent chariot drew
Ben-Hur to look at the driver with increased interest.
Who was he?
When Ben-Hur asked himself the question first, he could not see
the man's face, or even his full figure; yet the air and manner
were familiar, and pricked him keenly with a reminder of a period
Who could it be?
Nearer now, and the horses approaching at a trot. From the shouting
and the gorgeousness of the turnout, it was thought he might be
some official favorite or famous prince. Such an appearance was not
inconsistent with exalted rank. Kings often struggled for the crown
of leaves which was the prize of victory. Nero and Commodus, it will
be remembered, devoted themselves to the chariot. Ben-Hur arose
and forced a passage down nearly to the railing in front of the
lower seat of the stand. His face was earnest, his manner eager.
And directly the whole person of the driver was in view. A companion
rode with him, in classic description a Myrtilus, permitted men of high
estate indulging their passion for the race-course. Ben-Hur could see
only the driver, standing erect in the chariot, with the reins passed
several times round his body--a handsome figure, scantily covered by
a tunic of light-red cloth; in the right hand a whip; in the other,
the arm raised and lightly extended, the four lines. The pose was
exceedingly graceful and animated. The cheers and clapping of
hands were received with statuesque indifference. Ben-Hur stood
transfixed--his instinct and memory had served him faithfully--THE
DRIVER WAS MESSALA.
By the selection of horses, the magnificence of the chariot, the
attitude, and display of person--above all, by the expression of
the cold, sharp, eagle features, imperialized in his countrymen by
sway of the world through so many generations, Ben-Hur knew Messala
unchanged, as haughty, confident, and audacious as ever, the same
in ambition, cynicism, and mocking insouciance.
As Ben-Hur descended the steps of the stand, an Arab arose upon
the last one at the foot, and cried out,
"Men of the East and West--hearken! The good Sheik Ilderim giveth
greeting. With four horses, sons of the favorites of Solomon the
Wise, he bath come up against the best. Needs he most a mighty man
to drive them. Whoso will take them to his satisfaction, to him
he promiseth enrichment forever. Here--there--in the city and in
the Circuses, and wherever the strong most do congregate, tell ye
this his offer. So saith my master, Sheik Ilderim the Generous."
The proclamation awakened a great buzz among the people under
the awning. By night it would be repeated and discussed in all
the sporting circles of Antioch. Ben-Hur, hearing it, stopped and
looked hesitatingly from the herald to the sheik. Malluch thought he
was about to accept the offer, but was relieved when he presently turned
to him, and asked, "Good Malluch, where to now?"
The worthy replied, with a laugh, "Would you liken yourself to
others visiting the Grove for the first time, you will straightway
to hear your fortune told."
"My fortune, said you? Though the suggestion has in it a flavor
of unbelief, let us to the goddess at once."
"Nay, son of Arrius, these Apollonians have a better trick than
that. Instead of speech with a Pythia or a Sibyl, they will sell
you a plain papyrus leaf, hardly dry from the stalk, and bid you
dip it in the water of a certain fountain, when it will show you
a verse in which you may hear of your future."
The glow of interest departed from Ben-Hur's face.
"There are people who have no need to vex themselves about their
future," he said, gloomily.
"Then you prefer to go to the temples?"
"The temples are Greek, are they not?"
"They call them Greek."
"The Hellenes were masters of the beautiful in art; but in architecture
they sacrificed variety to unbending beauty. Their temples are all alike.
How call you the fountain?"
"Oh! it has repute throughout the world. Let us thither."
Malluch kept watch on his companion as they went, and saw that
for the moment at least his good spirits were out. To the people
passing he gave no attention; over the wonders they came upon
there were no exclamations; silently, even sullenly, he kept a
The truth was, the sight of Messala had set Ben-Hur to thinking.
It seemed scarce an hour ago that the strong hands had torn him
from his mother, scarce an hour ago that the Roman had put seal
upon the gates of his father's house. He recounted how, in the
hopeless misery of the life--if such it might be called--in
the galleys, he had had little else to do, aside from labor,
than dream dreams of vengeance, in all of which Messala was the
principal. There might be, he used to say to himself, escape for
Gratus, but for Messala--never! And to strengthen and harden his
resolution, he was accustomed to repeat over and over, Who pointed
us out to the persecutors? And when I begged him for help--not for
myself--who mocked me, and went away laughing? And always the dream
had the same ending. The day I meet him, help me, thou good God of
my people!--help me to some fitting special vengeance!
And now the meeting was at hand.
Perhaps, if he had found Messala poor and suffering, Ben-Hur's
feeling had been different; but it was not so. He found him
more than prosperous; in the prosperity there was a dash and
glitter--gleam of sun on gilt of gold.
So it happened that what Malluch accounted a passing loss of
spirit was pondering when the meeting should be, and in what
manner he could make it most memorable.
They turned after a while into an avenue of oaks, where the people
were going and coming in groups; footmen here, and horsemen;
there women in litters borne slaves; and now and then chariots
rolled by thunderously.
At the end of the avenue the road, by an easy grade, descended into
a lowland, where, on the right hand, there was a precipitous facing of
gray rock, and on the left an open meadow of vernal freshness. Then they
came in view of the famous Fountain of Castalia.
Edging through a company assembled at the point, Ben-Hur beheld
a jet of sweet water pouring from the crest of a stone into a
basin of black marble, where, after much boiling and foaming,
it disappeared as through a funnel.
By the basin, under a small portico cut in the solid wall, sat a
priest, old, bearded, wrinkled, cowled--never being more perfectly
eremitish. From the manner of the people present, hardly might one
say which was the attraction, the fountain, forever sparkling,
or the priest, forever there. He heard, saw, was seen, but never
spoke. Occasionally a visitor extended a hand to him with a coin
in it. With a cunning twinkle of the eyes, he took the money,
and gave the party in exchange a leaf of papyrus.
The receiver made haste to plunge the papyrus into the basin; then,
holding the dripping leaf in the sunlight, he would be rewarded
with a versified inscription upon its face; and the fame of the
fountain seldom suffered loss by poverty of merit in the poetry.
Before Ben-Hur could test the oracle, some other visitors were
seen approaching across the meadow, and their appearance piqued the
curiosity of the company, his not less than theirs.
He saw first a camel, very tall and very white, in leading of
a driver on horseback. A houdah on the animal, besides being
unusually large, was of crimson and gold. Two other horsemen
followed the camel with tall spears in hand.
"What a wonderful camel!" said one of the company.
"A prince from afar," another one suggested.
"More likely a king."
"If he were on an elephant, I would say he was a king."
A third man had a very different opinion.
"A camel--and a white camel!" he said, authoritatively. "By Apollo,
friends, they who come yonder--you can see there are two of them--are
neither kings nor princes; they are women!"
In the midst of the dispute the strangers arrived.
The camel seen at hand did not belie his appearance afar. A taller,
statelier brute of his kind no traveller at the fountain, though
from the remotest parts, had ever beheld. Such great black eyes!
such exceedingly fine white hair! feet so contractile when raised,
so soundless in planting, so broad when set!--nobody had ever seen
the peer of this camel. And how well he became his housing of silk,
and all its frippery of gold in fringe and gold in tassel! The
tinkling of silver bells went before him, and he moved lightly,
as if unknowing of his burden.
But who were the man and woman under the houdah?
Every eye saluted them with the inquiry.
If the former were a prince or a king, the philosophers of the
crowd might not deny the impartiality of Time. When they saw the
thin, shrunken face buried under an immense turban, the skin of
the hue of a mummy, making it impossible to form an idea of his
nationality, they were pleased to think the limit of life was for
the great as well as the small. They saw about his person nothing
so enviable as the shawl which draped him.
The woman was seated in the manner of the East, amidst veils and
laces of surpassing fineness. Above her elbows she wore armlets
fashioned like coiled asps, and linked to bracelets at the wrists
by strands of gold; otherwise the arms were bare and of singular
natural grace, complemented with hands modelled daintily as a
child's. One of the hands rested upon the side of the carriage,
showing tapered fingers glittering with rings, and stained at the
tips till they blushed like the pink of mother-of-pearl. She wore an
open caul upon her head, sprinkled with beads of coral, and strung
with coin-pieces called sunlets, some of which were carried across
her forehead, while others fell down her back, half-smothered in the
mass of her straight blue-black hair, of itself an incomparable
ornament, not needing the veil which covered it, except as a
protection against sun and dust. From her elevated seat she
looked upon the people calmly, pleasantly, and apparently so
intent upon studying them as to be unconscious of the interest
she herself was exciting; and, what was unusual--nay, in violent
contravention of the custom among women of rank in public--she
looked at them with an open face.
It was a fair face to see; quite youthful; in form, oval:
complexion not white, like the Greek; nor brunet, like the
Roman; nor blond, like the Gaul; but rather the tinting of the
sun of the Upper Nile upon a skin of such transparency that the
blood shone through it on cheek and brow with nigh the ruddiness
of lamplight. The eyes, naturally large, were touched along the lids
with the black paint immemorial throughout the East. The lips were
slightly parted, disclosing, through their scarlet lake, teeth of
glistening whiteness. To all these excellences of countenance the
reader is finally besought to superadd the air derived from the
pose of a small head, classic in shape, set upon a neck long,
drooping, and graceful--the air, we may fancy, happily described
by the word queenly.
As if satisfied with the survey of people and locality, the fair
creature spoke to the driver--an Ethiopian of vast brawn, naked to
the waist--who led the camel nearer the fountain, and caused it to
kneel; after which he received from her hand a cup, and proceeded
to fill it at the basin. That instant the sound of wheels and the
trampling of horses in rapid motion broke the silence her beauty
had imposed, and, with a great outcry, the bystanders parted in
every direction, hurrying to get away.
"The Roman has a mind to ride us down. Look out!" Malluch shouted
to Ben-Hur, setting him at the same time an example of hasty flight.
The latter faced to the direction the sounds came from, and beheld
Messala in his chariot pushing the four straight at the crowd.
This time the view was near and distinct.
The parting of the company uncovered the camel, which might have
been more agile than his kind generally; yet the hoofs were almost
upon him, and he resting with closed eyes, chewing the endless cud
with such sense of security as long favoritism may be supposed
to have bred in him. The Ethiopian wrung his hands afraid. In the
houdah, the old man moved to escape; but he was hampered with age,
and could not, even in the face of danger, forget the dignity which
was plainly his habit. It was too late for the woman to save herself.
Ben-Hur stood nearest them, and he called to Messala,
"Hold! Look where thou goest! Back, back!"
The patrician was laughing in hearty good-humor; and, seeing there
was but one chance of rescue, Ben-Hur stepped in, and caught the
bits of the left yoke-steed and his mate. "Dog of a Roman! Carest
thou so little for life?" he cried, putting forth all his strength.
The two horses reared, and drew the others round; the tilting of the
pole tilted the chariot; Messala barely escaped a fall, while his
complacent Myrtilus rolled back like a clod to the ground. Seeing
the peril past, all the bystanders burst into derisive laughter.
The matchless audacity of the Roman then manifested itself.
Loosing the lines from his body, he tossed them to one side,
dismounted, walked round the camel, looked at Ben-Hur, and spoke
partly to the old man and partly to the woman.
"Pardon, I pray you--I pray you both. I am Messala," he said; "and,
by the old Mother of the earth, I swear I did not see you or your
camel! As to these good people--perhaps I trusted too much to my
skill. I sought a laugh at them--the laugh is theirs. Good may it
The good-natured, careless look and gesture he threw the bystanders
accorded well with the speech. To hear what more he had to say,
they became quiet. Assured of victory over the body of the offended,
he signed his companion to take the chariot to a safer distance,
and addressed himself boldly to the woman.
"Thou hast interest in the good man here, whose pardon, if not
granted now, I shall seek with the greater diligence hereafter;
his daughter, I should say."
She made him no reply.
"By Pallas, thou art beautiful! Beware Apollo mistake thee not
for his lost love. I wonder what land can boast herself thy mother.
Turn not away. A truce! a truce! There is the sun of India in thine
eyes; in the corners of thy mouth, Egypt hath set her love-signs.
Perpol! Turn not to that slave, fair mistress, before proving merciful
to this one. Tell me at least that I am pardoned."
At this point she broke in upon him.
"Wilt thou come here?" she asked, smiling, and with gracious bend
of the head to Ben-Hur.
"Take the cup and fill it, I pray thee," she said to the latter.
"My father is thirsty."
"I am thy most willing servant!"
Ben-Hur turned about to do the favor, and was face to face with
Messala. Their glances met; the Jew's defiant; the Roman's sparkling
"O stranger, beautiful as cruel!" Messala said, waving his hand to
her. "If Apollo get thee not, thou shalt see me again. Not knowing
thy country, I cannot name a god to commend thee to; so, by all
the gods, I will commend thee to--myself!"
Seeing that Myrtilus had the four composed and ready, he returned to
the chariot. The woman looked after him as he moved away, and whatever
else there was in her look, there was no displeasure. Presently she
received the water; her father drank; then she raised the cup to
her lips, and, leaning down, gave it to Ben-Hur; never action more
graceful and gracious.
"Keep it, we pray of thee! It is full of blessings--all thine!"
Immediately the camel was aroused, and on his feet, and about to
go, when the old man called,
"Stand thou here."
Ben-Hur went to him respectfully.
"Thou hast served the stranger well to-day. There is but one God.
In his holy name I thank thee. I am Balthasar, the Egyptian.
In the Great Orchard of Palms, beyond the village of Daphne,
in the shade of the palms, Sheik Ilderim the Generous abideth in
his tents, and we are his guests. Seek us there. Thou shalt have
welcome sweet with the savor of the grateful."
Ben-Hur was left in wonder at the old man's clear voice and reverend
manner. As he gazed after the two departing, he caught sight of
Messala going as he had come, joyous, indifferent, and with a
As a rule, there is no surer way to the dislike of men than to
behave well where they have behaved badly. In this instance,
happily, Malluch was an exception to the rule. The affair he had
just witnessed raised Ben-Hur in his estimation, since he could
not deny him courage and address; could he now get some insight
into the young man's history, the results of the day would not
be all unprofitable to good master Simonides.
On the latter point, referring to what he had as yet learned, two
facts comprehended it all--the subject of his investigation was
a Jew, and the adopted son of a famous Roman. Another conclusion
which might be of importance was beginning to formulate itself
in the shrewd mind of the emissary; between Messala and the son
of the duumvir there was a connection of some kind. But what
was it?--and how could it be reduced to assurance? With all his
sounding, the ways and means of solution were not at call. In the
heat of the perplexity, Ben-Hur himself came to his help. He laid
his hand on Malluch's arm and drew him out of the crowd, which was
already going back to its interest in the gray old priest and the
"Good Malluch," he said, stopping, "may a man forget his mother?"
The question was abrupt and without direction, and therefore of
the kind which leaves the person addressed in a state of confusion.
Malluch looked into Ben-Hur's face for a hint of meaning, but saw,
instead, two bright-red spots, one on each cheek, and in his eyes
traces of what might have been repressed tears; then he answered,
mechanically, "No!" adding, with fervor, "never;" and a moment
after, when he began to recover himself, "If he is an Israelite,
never!" And when at length he was completely recovered--"My first
lesson in the synagogue was the Shema; my next was the saying of
the son of Sirach, 'Honor thy father with thy whole soul, and forget
not the sorrows of thy mother.'"
The red spots on Ben-Hur's face deepened.
"The words bring my childhood back again; and, Malluch, they prove
you a genuine Jew. I believe I can trust you."
Ben-Hur let go the arm he was holding, and caught the folds of
the gown covering his own breast, and pressed them close, as if to
smother a pain, or a feeling there as sharp as a pain.
"My father," he said, "bore a good name, and was not without honor
in Jerusalem, where he dwelt. My mother, at his death, was in the
prime of womanhood; and it is not enough to say of her she was good
and beautiful: in her tongue was the law of kindness, and her works
were the praise of all in the gates, and she smiled at days to come.
I had a little sister, and she and I were the family, and we were so
happy that I, at least, have never seen harm in the saying of the
old rabbi, 'God could not be everywhere, and, therefore, he made
mothers.' One day an accident happened to a Roman in authority as
he was riding past our house at the head of a cohort; the legionaries
burst the gate and rushed in and seized us. I have not seen my mother
or sister since. I cannot say they are dead or living. I do not know
what became of them. But, Malluch, the man in the chariot yonder was
present at the separation; he gave us over to the captors; he heard
my mother's prayer for her children, and he laughed when they dragged
her away. Hardly may one say which graves deepest in memory, love or
hate. To-day I knew him afar--and, Malluch--"
He caught the listener's arm again.
"And, Malluch, he knows and takes with him now the secret I would
give my life for: he could tell if she lives, and where she is,
and her condition; if she--no, THEY--much sorrow has made the
two as one--if they are dead, he could tell where they died,
and of what, and where their bones await my finding."
"And will he not?"
"I am a Jew, and he is a Roman."
"But Romans have tongues, and Jews, though ever so despised,
have methods to beguile them."
"For such as he? No; and, besides, the secret is one of state.
All my father's property was confiscated and divided."
Malluch nodded his head slowly, much as to admit the argument;
then he asked anew, "Did he not recognize you?"
"He could not. I was sent to death in life, and have been long
since accounted of the dead."
"I wonder you did not strike him," said Malluch, yielding to a
touch of passion.
"That would have been to put him past serving me forever. I would
have had to kill him, and Death, you know, keeps secrets better
even than a guilty Roman."
The man who, with so much to avenge, could so calmly put such
an opportunity aside must be confident of his future or have
ready some better design, and Malluch's interest changed with
the thought; it ceased to be that of an emissary in duty bound
to another. Ben-Hur was actually asserting a claim upon him for
his own sake. In other words, Malluch was preparing to serve him
with good heart and from downright admiration.
After brief pause, Ben-Hur resumed speaking.
"I would not take his life, good Malluch; against that extreme
the possession of the secret is for the present, at least,
his safeguard; yet I may punish him, and so you give me help,
I will try."
"He is a Roman," said Malluch, without hesitation; "and I am of
the tribe of Judah. I will help you. If you choose, put me under
oath--under the most solemn oath."
"Give me your hand, that will suffice."
As their hands fell apart, Ben-Hur said, with lightened feeling,
"That I would charge you with is not difficult, good friend;
neither is it dreadful to conscience. Let us move on."
They took the road which led to the right across the meadow spoken
of in the description of the coming to the fountain. Ben-Hur was
first to break the silence.
"Do you know Sheik Ilderim the Generous?"
"Where is his Orchard of Palms? or, rather, Malluch, how far is
it beyond the village of Daphne?"
Malluch was touched by a doubt; he recalled the prettiness of the
favor shown him by the woman at the fountain, and wondered if he
who had the sorrows of a mother in mind was about to forget them
for a lure of love; yet he replied, "The Orchard of Palms lies
beyond the village two hours by horse, and one by swift camel."
"Thank you; and to your knowledge once more. Have the games of
which you told me been widely published? and when will they take
The questions were suggestive; and if they did not restore Malluch his
confidence, they at least stimulated his curiosity.
"Oh yes, they will be of ample splendor. The prefect is rich,
and could afford to lose his place; yet, as is the way with
successful men, his love of riches is nowise diminished; and to
gain a friend at court, if nothing more, he must make ado for the
Consul Maxentius, who is coming hither to make final preparations
for a campaign against the Parthians. The money there is in the
preparations the citizens of Antioch know from experience; so they
have had permission to join the prefect in the honors intended for
the great man. A month ago heralds went to the four quarters to
proclaim the opening of the Circus for the celebration. The name
of the prefect would be of itself good guarantee of variety and
magnificence, particularly throughout the East; but when to his
promises Antioch joins hers, all the islands and the cities by
the sea stand assured of the extraordinary, and will be here in
person or by their most famous professionals. The fees offered
"And the Circus--I have heard it is second only to the Maximus."
"At Rome, you mean. Well, ours seats two hundred thousand people,
yours seats seventy-five thousand more; yours is of marble, so is
ours; in arrangement they are exactly the same."
"Are the rules the same?"
"If Antioch dared be original, son of Arrius, Rome would not be
the mistress she is. The laws of the Circus Maximus govern except
in one particular: there but four chariots may start at once,
here all start without reference to number."
"That is the practise of the Greeks," said Ben-Hur.
"Yes, Antioch is more Greek than Roman."
"So then, Malluch, I may choose my own chariot?"
"Your own chariot and horses. There is no restriction upon either."
While replying, Malluch observed the thoughtful look on Ben-Hur's
face give place to one of satisfaction.
"One thing more now, O Malluch. When will the celebration be?"
"Ah! your pardon," the other answered. "To-morrow--and the next
day," he said, counting aloud, "then, to speak in the Roman style,
if the sea-gods be propitious, the consul arrives. Yes, the sixth
day from this we have the games."
"The time is short, Malluch, but it is enough." The last words
were spoken decisively. "By the prophets of our old Israel! I will
take to the reins again. Stay! a condition; is there assurance that
Messala will be a competitor?"
Malluch saw now the plan, and all its opportunities for the
humiliation of the Roman; and he had not been true descendant
of Jacob if, with all his interest wakened, he had not rushed
to a consideration of the chances. His voice actually trembled
as he said, "Have you the practise?"
"Fear not, my friend. The winners in the Circus Maximus have held
their crowns these three years at my will. Ask them--ask the best of
them--and they will tell you so. In the last great games the emperor
himself offered me his patronage if I would take his horses in hand
and run them against the entries of the world."
"But you did not?"
Malluch spoke eagerly.
"I--I am a Jew"--Ben-Hur seemed shrinking within himself
as he spoke--"and, though I wear a Roman name, I dared not
do professionally a thing to sully my father's name in the
cloisters and courts of the Temple. In the palaestrae I could
indulge practise which, if followed into the Circus, would become
an abomination; and if I take to the course here, Malluch, I swear
it will not be for the prize or the winner's fee."
"Hold--swear not so!" cried Malluch. "The fee is ten thousand
sestertii--a fortune for life!"
"Not for me, though the prefect trebled it fifty times. Better than
that, better than all the imperial revenues from the first year
of the first Caesar--I will make this race to humble my enemy.
Vengeance is permitted by the law."
Malluch smiled and nodded as if saying, "Right, right--trust me
a Jew to understand a Jew."
"The Messala will drive," he said, directly. "He is committed to
the race in many ways--by publication in the streets, and in the
baths and theaters, the palace and barracks; and, to fix him past
retreat, his name is on the tablets of every young spendthrift in
"In wager, Malluch?"
"Yes, in wager; and every day he comes ostentatiously to practise,
as you saw him."
"Ah! and that is the chariot, and those the horses, with which
he will make the race? Thank you, thank you, Malluch! You have
served me well already. I am satisfied. Now be my guide to the
Orchard of Palms, and give me introduction to Sheik Ilderim the
"To-day. His horses may be engaged to-morrow."
"You like them, then?"
Ben-Hur answered with animation,
"I saw them from the stand an instant only, for Messala then
drove up, and I might not look at anything else; yet I recognized
them as of the blood which is the wonder as well as the glory of
the deserts. I never saw the kind before, except in the stables
of Caesar; but once seen, they are always to be known. To-morrow,
upon meeting, I will know you, Malluch, though you do not so much
as salute me; I will know you by your face, by your form, by your
manner; and by the same signs I will know them, and with the same
certainty. If all that is said of them be true, and I can bring
their spirit under control of mine, I can--"
"Win the sestertii!" said Malluch, laughing.
"No," answered Ben-Hur, as quickly. "I will do what better becomes
a man born to the heritage of Jacob--I will humble mine enemy in a
most public place. But," he added, impatiently, "we are losing time.
How can we most quickly reach the tents of the sheik?"
Malluch took a moment for reflection.
"It is best we go straight to the village, which is fortunately
near by; if two swift camels are to be had for hire there, we will
be on the road but an hour."
"Let us about it, then."
The village was an assemblage of palaces in beautiful gardens,
interspersed with khans of princely sort. Dromedaries were happily
secured, and upon them the journey to the famous Orchard of Palms
Beyond the village the country was undulating and cultivated; in fact,
it was the garden-land of Antioch, with not a foot lost to labor.
The steep faces of the hills were terraced; even the hedges were
brighter of the trailing vines which, besides the lure of shade,
offered passers-by sweet promises of wine to come, and grapes in
clustered purple ripeness. Over melon-patches, and through apricot
and fig-tree groves, and groves of oranges and limes, the white-washed
houses of the farmers were seen; and everywhere Plenty, the smiling
daughter of Peace, gave notice by her thousand signs that she was
at home, making the generous traveller merry at heart, until he was
even disposed to give Rome her dues. Occasionally, also, views were
had of Taurus and Lebanon, between which, a separating line of silver,
the Orontes placidly pursued its way.
In course of their journey the friends came to the river, which they
followed with the windings of the road, now over bold bluffs, and then
into vales, all alike allotted for country-seats, and if the land
was in full foliage of oak and sycamore and myrtle, and bay and
arbutus, and perfuming jasmine, the river was bright with slanted
sunlight, which would have slept where it fell but for ships in
endless procession, gliding with the current, tacking for the wind,
or bounding under the impulse of oars--some coming, some going, and
all suggestive of the sea, and distant peoples, and famous places,
and things coveted on account of their rarity. To the fancy there
is nothing so winsome as a white sail seaward blown, unless it be
a white sail homeward bound, its voyage happily done. And down the
shore the friends went continuously till they came to a lake fed
by back-water from the river, clear, deep, and without current.
An old palm-tree dominated the angle of the inlet; turning to the
left at the foot of the tree, Malluch clapped his hands and shouted,
"Look, look! The Orchard of Palms!"
The scene was nowhere else to be found unless in the favored oases
of Arabia or the Ptolemaean farms along the Nile; and to sustain a
sensation new as it was delightful, Ben-Hur was admitted into a tract
of land apparently without limit and level as a floor. All under foot
was fresh grass, in Syria the rarest and most beautiful production of
the soil; if he looked up, it was to see the sky paley blue through
the groinery of countless date-bearers, very patriarchs of their kind,
so numerous and old, and of such mighty girth, so tall, so serried,
so wide of branch, each branch so perfect with fronds, plumy and
waxlike and brilliant, they seemed enchanters enchanted. Here was
the grass coloring the very atmosphere; there the lake, cool and
clear, rippling but a few feet under the surface, and helping
the trees to their long life in old age. Did the Grove of Daphne
excel this one? And the palms, as if they knew Ben-Hur's thought,
and would win him after a way of their own, seemed, as he passed
under their arches, to stir and sprinkle him with dewy coolness.
The road wound in close parallelism with the shore of the lake;
and when it carried the travellers down to the water's edge,
there was always on that side a shining expanse limited not far
off by the opposite shore, on which, as on this one, no tree but
the palm was permitted.
"See that," said Malluch, pointing to a giant of the place.
"Each ring upon its trunk marks a year of its life. Count them
from root to branch, and if the sheik tells you the grove was
planted before the Seleucidae were heard of in Antioch, do not
One may not look at a perfect palm-tree but that, with a subtlety
all its own, it assumes a presence for itself, and makes a poet of
the beholder. This is the explanation of the honors it has received,
beginning with the artists of the first kings, who could find no form
in all the earth to serve them so well as a model for the pillars
of their palaces and temples; and for the same reason Ben-Hur was
moved to say,
"As I saw him at the stand to-day, good Malluch, Sheik Ilderim
appeared to be a very common man. The rabbis in Jerusalem would
look down upon him, I fear, as a son of a dog of Edom. How came
he in possession of the Orchard? And how has he been able to hold
it against the greed of Roman governors?"
"If blood derives excellence from time, son of Arrius, then is old
Ilderim a man, though he be an uncircumcised Edomite."
Malluch spoke warmly.
"All his fathers before him were sheiks. One of them--I shall not
say when he lived or did the good deed--once helped a king who was
being hunted with swords. The story says he loaned him a thousand
horsemen, who knew the paths of the wilderness and its hiding-places
as shepherds know the scant hills they inhabit with their flocks;
and they carried him here and there until the opportunity came,
and then with their spears they slew the enemy, and set him upon
his throne again. And the king, it is said, remembered the service,
and brought the son of the Desert to this place, and bade him set up
his tent and bring his family and his herds, for the lake and trees,
and all the land from the river to the nearest mountains, were his
and his children's forever. And they have never been disturbed in
the possession. The rulers succeeding have found it policy to keep
good terms with the tribe, to whom the Lord has given increase
of men and horses, and camels and riches, making them masters of
many highways between cities; so that it is with them any time they
please to say to commerce, 'Go in peace,' or 'Stop,' and what they
say shall be done. Even the prefect in the citadel overlooking
Antioch thinks it happy day with him when Ilderim, surnamed the
Generous on account of good deeds done unto all manner of men,
with his wives and children, and his trains of camels and horses,
and his belongings of sheik, moving as our fathers Abraham and
Jacob moved, comes up to exchange briefly his bitter wells for
the pleasantness you see about us."
"How is it, then?" said Ben-Hur, who had been listening unmindful
of the slow gait of the dromedaries. "I saw the sheik tear his
beard while he cursed himself that he had put trust in a Roman.
Caesar, had he heard him, might have said, 'I like not such a
friend as this; put him away.'"
"It would be but shrewd judgment," Malluch replied, smiling.
"Ilderim is not a lover of Rome; he has a grievance. Three years
ago the Parthians rode across the road from Bozra to Damascus,
and fell upon a caravan laden, among other things, with the
incoming tax-returns of a district over that way. They slew every
creature taken, which the censors in Rome could have forgiven if
the imperial treasure had been spared and forwarded. The farmers
of the taxes, being chargeable with the loss, complained to Caesar,
and Caesar held Herod to payment, and Herod, on his part, seized
property of Ilderim, whom he charged with treasonable neglect of
duty. The sheik appealed to Caesar, and Caesar has made him such
answer as might be looked for from the unwinking sphinx. The old
man's heart has been aching sore ever since, and he nurses his
wrath, and takes pleasure in its daily growth."
"He can do nothing, Malluch."
"Well," said Malluch, "that involves another explanation, which I
will give you, if we can draw nearer. But see!--the hospitality
of the sheik begins early--the children are speaking to you."
The dromedaries stopped, and Ben-Hur looked down upon some little
girls of the Syrian peasant class, who were offering him their
baskets filled with dates. The fruit was freshly gathered, and not
to be refused; he stooped and took it, and as he did so a man in the
tree by which they were halted cried, "Peace to you, and welcome!"
Their thanks said to the children, the friends moved on at such
gait as the animals chose.
"You must know," Malluch continued, pausing now and then to dispose
of a date, "that the merchant Simonides gives me his confidence,
and sometimes flatters me by taking me into council; and as I
attend him at his house, I have made acquaintance with many of
his friends, who, knowing my footing with the host, talk to him
freely in my presence. In that way I became somewhat intimate
with Sheik IIderim."
For a moment Ben-Hur's attention wandered. Before his mind's eye
there arose the image, pure, gentle, and appealing, of Esther,
the merchant's daughter. Her dark eyes bright with the peculiar
Jewish lustre met his in modest gaze; he heard her step as when
she approached him with the wine, and her voice as she tendered
him the cup; and he acknowledged to himself again all the
sympathy she manifested for him, and manifested so plainly that
words were unnecessary, and so sweetly that words would have been
but a detraction. The vision was exceeding pleasant, but upon his
turning to Malluch, it flew away.
"A few weeks ago," said Malluch, continuing, "the old Arab called
on Simonides, and found me present. I observed he seemed much
moved about something, and, in deference, offered to withdraw,
but he himself forbade me. 'As you are an Israelite,' he said,
'stay, for I have a strange story to tell.' The emphasis on the
word Israelite excited my curiosity. I remained, and this is
in substance his story--I cut it short because we are drawing
nigh the tent, and I leave the details to the good man himself.
A good many years ago, three men called at Ilderim's tent out
in the wilderness. They were all foreigners, a Hindoo, a Greek,
and an Egyptian; and they had come on camels, the largest he had
ever seen, and all white. He welcomed them, and gave them rest.
Next morning they arose and prayed a prayer new to the sheik--a
prayer addressed to God and his son--this with much mystery besides.
After breaking fast with him, the Egyptian told who they were,
and whence they had come. Each had seen a star, out of which
a voice had bidden them go to Jerusalem and ask, Where is he
that is born King of the Jews?' They obeyed. From Jerusalem they
were led by a star to Bethlehem, where, in a cave, they found a
child newly born, which they fell down and worshipped; and after
worshipping it, and giving it costly presents, and bearing witness
of what it was, they took to their camels, and fled without pause to
the sheik, because if Herod--meaning him surnamed the Great--could
lay hands upon them, he would certainly kill them. And, faithful to
his habit, the sheik took care of them, and kept them concealed for
a year, when they departed, leaving with him gifts of great value,
and each going a separate way."
"It is, indeed, a most wonderful story," Ben-Hur exclaimed at
its conclusion. "What did you say they were to ask at Jerusalem?"
"They were to ask, 'Where is he that is born King of the Jews?'"
"Was that all?"
"There was more to the question, but I cannot recall it."
"And they found the child?"
"Yes, and worshipped him."
"It is a miracle, Malluch."
"Ilderim is a grave man, though excitable as all Arabs are. A lie
on his tongue is impossible."
Malluch spoke positively. Thereupon the dromedaries were forgotten,
and, quite as unmindful of their riders, they turned off the road
to the growing grass.
"Has Ilderim heard nothing more of the three men?" asked Ben-Hur.
"What became of them?"
"Ah, yes, that was the cause of his coming to Simonides the day of
which I was speaking. Only the night before that day the Egyptian
reappeared to him."
"Here at the door of the tent to which we are coming."
"How knew he the man?"
"As you knew the horses to-day--by face and manner."
"By nothing else?"
"He rode the same great white camel, and gave him the same
name--Balthasar, the Egyptian."
"It is a wonder of the Lord's!"
Ben-Hur spoke with excitement.
And Malluch, wondering, asked, "Why so?"
"Balthasar, you said?"
"Yes. Balthasar, the Egyptian."
"That was the name the old man gave us at the fountain today."
Then, at the reminder, Malluch became excited.
"It is true," he said; "and the camel was the same--and you saved
the man's life."
"And the woman," said Ben-Hur, like one speaking to himself--"the
woman was his daughter."
He fell to thinking; and even the reader will say he was having
a vision of the woman, and that it was more welcome than that
of Esther, if only because it stayed longer with him; but no--
"Tell me again," he said, presently. "Were the three to ask,
'Where is he that is to be King of the Jews?'"
"Not exactly. The words were BORN TO BE KING OF THE JEWS. Those were
the words as the old sheik caught them first in the desert, and he
has ever since been waiting the coming of the king; nor can any one
shake his faith that he will come."
"Yes, and bringing the doom of Rome--so says the sheik."
Ben-Hur kept silent awhile, thinking and trying to control his
"The old man is one of many millions," he said, slowly--"one of
many millions each with a wrong to avenge; and this strange faith,
Malluch, is bread and wine to his hope; for who but a Herod may
be King of the Jews while Rome endures? But, following the story,
did you hear what Simonides said to him?"
"If Ilderim is a grave man, Simonides is a wise one," Malluch replied.
"I listened, and he said-- But hark! Some one comes overtaking us."
The noise grew louder, until presently they heard the rumble of
wheels mixed with the beating of horse-hoofs--a moment later Sheik
I1derim himself appeared on horseback, followed by a train, among which
were the four wine-red Arabs drawing the chariot. The sheik's chin,
in its muffling of long white beard, was drooped upon his breast.
Our friends had out-travelled him; but at sight of them he raised
his head and spoke kindly.
"Peace to you!--Ah, my friend Malluch! Welcome! And tell me you
are not going, but just come; that you have something for me from
the good Simonides--may the Lord of his fathers keep him in life
for many years to come! Ay, take up the straps, both of you, and
follow me. I have bread and leben, or, if you prefer it, arrack,
and the flesh of young kid. Come!"
They followed after him to the door of the tent, in which, when they
were dismounted, he stood to receive them, holding a platter with three
cups filled with creamy liquor just drawn from a great smoke-stained
skin bottle, pendent from the central post.
"Drink," he said, heartily, "drink, for this is the fear-naught
of the tentmen."
They each took a cup, and drank till but the foam remained.
"Enter now, in God's name."
And when they were gone in, Malluch took the sheik aside, and spoke
to him privately; after which he went to Ben-Hur and excused himself.
"I have told the sheik about you, and he will give you the trial
of his horses in the morning. He is your friend. Having done for
you all I can, you must do the rest, and let me return to Antioch.
There is one there who has my promise to meet him to-night. I have
no choice but to go. I will come back to-morrow prepared, if all
goes well in the meantime, to stay with you until the games are
With blessings given and received, Malluch set out in return.
What time the lower horn of a new moon touched the castellated
piles on Mount Sulpius, and two thirds of the people of Antioch
were out on their house-tops comforting themselves with the night
breeze when it blew, and with fans when it failed, Simonides sat
in the chair which had come to be a part of him, and from the
terrace looked down over the river, and his ships a-swing at
their moorings. The wall at his back cast its shadow broadly over
the water to the opposite shore. Above him the endless tramp upon
the bridge went on. Esther was holding a plate for him containing
his frugal supper--some wheaten cakes, light as wafers, some honey,
and a bowl of milk, into which he now and then dipped the wafers
after dipping them into the honey.
"Malluch is a laggard to-night," he said, showing where his
"Do you believe he will come?" Esther asked.
"Unless he has taken to the sea or the desert, and is yet following
on, he will come."
Simonides spoke with quiet confidence.
"He may write," she said.
"Not so, Esther. He would have despatched a letter when he found
he could not return, and told me so; because I have not received
such a letter, I know he can come, and will."
"I hope so," she said, very softly.
Something in the utterance attracted his attention; it might have
been the tone, it might have been the wish. The smallest bird
cannot light upon the greatest tree without sending a shock to
its most distant fibre; every mind is at times no less sensitive
to the most trifling words.
"You wish him to come, Esther?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, lifting her eyes to his.
"Why? Can you tell me?" he persisted.
"Because"--she hesitated, then began again--"because the young
man is--" The stop was full.
"Our master. Is that the word?"
"And you still think I should not suffer him to go away without
telling him to come, if he chooses, and take us--and all we have-
-all, Esther--the goods, the shekels, the ships, the slaves, and
the mighty credit, which is a mantle of cloth of gold and finest
silver spun for me by the greatest of the angels of men--Success."
She made no answer.
"Does that move you nothing? No?" he said, with the slightest taint
of bitterness. "Well, well, I have found, Esther, the worst reality
is never unendurable when it comes out from behind the clouds through
which we at first see it darkly--never--not even the rack. I suppose
it will be so with death. And by that philosophy the slavery to which
we are going must afterwhile become sweet. It pleases me even now
to think what a favored man our master is. The fortune cost him
nothing--not an anxiety, not a drop of sweat, not so much as a
thought; it attaches to him undreamed of, and in his youth. And,
Esther, let me waste a little vanity with the reflection; he gets
what he could not go into the market and buy with all the pelf in
a sum--thee, my child, my darling; thou blossom from the tomb of
my lost Rachel!"
He drew her to him, and kissed her twice--once for herself, once for
"Say not so,". she said, when his hand fell from her neck. "Let us
think better of him; he knows what sorrow is, and will set us free."
"Ah, thy instincts are fine, Esther; and thou knowest I lean upon
them in doubtful cases where good or bad is to be pronounced of a
person standing before thee as he stood this morning. But--but"-- his
voice rose and hardened--"these limbs upon which I cannot stand--this
body drawn and beaten out of human shape--they are not all I bring
him of myself. Oh no, no! I bring him a soul which has triumphed
over torture and Roman malice keener than any torture--I bring
him a mind which has eyes to see gold at a distance farther than
the ships of Solomon sailed, and power to bring it to hand--ay,
Esther, into my palm here for the fingers to grip and keep lest
it take wings at some other's word--a mind skilled at scheming"--he
stopped and laughed--"Why, Esther, before the new moon which in the
courts of the Temple on the Holy Hill they are this moment celebrating
passes into its next quartering I could ring the world so as to startle
even Caesar; for know you, child, I have that faculty which is better
than any one sense, better than a perfect body, better than courage
and will, better than experience, ordinarily the best product of the
longest lives--the faculty divinest of men, but which"--he stopped,
and laughed again, not bitterly, but with real zest-- "but which
even the great do not sufficiently account, while with the herd
it is a non-existent--the faculty of drawing men to my purpose and
holding them faithfully to its achievement, by which, as against
things to be done, I multiply myself into hundreds and thousands.
So the captains of my ships plough the seas, and bring me honest
returns; so Malluch follows the youth, our master, and will"--just
then a footstep was heard upon the terrace--"Ha, Esther! said
I not so? He is here--and we will have tidings. For thy sake,
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