Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
Part 6 out of 13
sweet child--my lily just budded--I pray the Lord God, who has
not forgotten his wandering sheep of Israel, that they be good
and comforting. Now we will know if he will let thee go with all
thy beauty, and me with all my faculties."
Malluch came to the chair.
"Peace to you, good master," he said, with a low obeisance--"and
to you, Esther, most excellent of daughters."
He stood before them deferentially, and the attitude and the address
left it difficult to define his relation to them; the one was that
of a servant, the other indicated the familiar and friend. On the
other side, Simonides, as was his habit in business, after answering
the salutation went straight to the subject.
"What of the young man, Malluch?"
The events of the day were told quietly and in the simplest words,
and until he was through there was no interruption; nor did the
listener in the chair so much as move a hand during the narration;
but for his eyes, wide open and bright, and an occasional long-drawn
breath, he might have been accounted an effigy.
"Thank you, thank you, Malluch," he said, heartily, at the conclusion;
"you have done well--no one could have done better. Now what say you
of the young man's nationality?"
"He is an Israelite, good master, and of the tribe of Judah."
"You are positive?"
"He appears to have told you but little of his life."
"He has somewhere reamed to be prudent. I might call him distrustful.
He baffled all my attempts upon his confidence until we started from
the Castalian fount going to the village of Daphne."
"A place of abomination! Why went he there?"
"I would say from curiosity, the first motive of the many who go;
but, very strangely, he took no interest in the things he saw.
Of the Temple, he merely asked if it were Grecian. Good master,
the young man has a trouble of mind from which he would hide,
and he went to the Grove, I think, as we go to sepulchres with
our dead--he went to bury it."
"That were well, if so," Simonides said, in a low voice; then
louder, "Malluch, the curse of the time is prodigality. The poor
make themselves poorer as apes of the rich, and the merely rich
carry themselves like princes. Saw you signs of the weakness in the
youth? Did he display moneys--coin of Rome or Israel?"
"None, none, good master."
"Surely, Malluch, where there are so many inducements to folly--so
much, I mean, to eat and drink--surely he made you generous offer
of some sort. His age, if nothing more, would warrant that much."
"He neither ate nor drank in my company."
"In what he said or did, Malluch, could you in anywise detect his
master-idea? You know they peep through cracks close enough to stop
"Give me to understand you," said Malluch, in doubt.
"Well, you know we nor speak nor act, much less decide grave
questions concerning ourselves, except as we be driven by a
motive. In that respect, what made you of him?"
"As to that, Master Simonides, I can answer with much assurance.
He is devoted to finding his mother and sister--that first. Then he
has a grievance against Rome; and as the Messala of whom I told you
had something to do with the wrong, the great present object is to
humiliate him. The meeting at the fountain furnished an opportunity,
but it was put aside as not sufficiently public."
"The Messala is influential," said Simonides, thoughtfully.
"Yes; but the next meeting will be in the Circus."
"The son of Arrius will win."
"How know you?"
"I am judging by what he says."
"Is that all?"
"No; there is a much better sign--his spirit."
"Ay; but, Malluch, his idea of vengeance--what is its scope? Does
he limit it to the few who did him the wrong, or does he take in
the many? And more--is his feeling but the vagary of a sensitive
boy, or has it the seasoning of suffering manhood to give it
endurance? You know, Malluch, the vengeful thought that has root
merely in the mind is but a dream of idlest sort which one clear
day will dissipate; while revenge the passion is a disease of the
heart which climbs up, up to the brain, and feeds itself on both
In this question, Simonides for the first time showed signs of
feeling; he spoke with rapid utterance, and with clenched hands
and the eagerness of a man illustrating the disease he described.
"Good my master," Malluch replied, "one of my reasons for believing
the young man a Jew is the intensity of his hate. It was plain to
me he had himself under watch, as was natural, seeing how long
he has lived in an atmosphere of Roman jealousy; yet I saw it
blaze--once when he wanted to know Ilderim's feeling towards Rome,
and again when I told him the story of the sheik and the wise man,
and spoke of the question, 'Where is he that is born King of the
Simonides leaned forward quickly.
"Ah, Malluch, his words--give me his words; let me judge the
impression the mystery made upon him."
"He wanted to know the exact words. Were they TO BE or BORN TO BE?
It appeared he was struck by a seeming difference in the effect of
the two phrases."
Simonides settled back into his pose of listening judge.
"Then," said Malluch, "I told him Ilderim's view of the mystery--that
the king would come with the doom of Rome. The young man's blood rose
over his cheeks and forehead, and he said earnestly, 'Who but a Herod
can be king while Rome endures?'"
"That the empire must be destroyed before there could be another
Simonides gazed for a time at the ships and their shadows slowly
swinging together in the river; when he looked up, it was to end
"Enough, Malluch," he said. "Get you to eat, and make ready to
return to the Orchard of Palms; you must help the young man in
his coming trial. Come to me in the morning. I will send a letter
to IIderim." Then in an undertone, as if to himself, he added,
"I may attend the Circus myself."
When Malluch after the customary benediction given and received
was gone, Simonides took a deep draught of milk, and seemed
refreshed and easy of mind.
"Put the meal down, Esther," he said; "it is over."
She resumed her place upon the arm of the chair close to him.
"God is good to me, very good," he said, fervently. "His habit is
to move in mystery, yet sometimes he permits us to think we see
and understand him. I am old, dear, and must go; but now, in this
eleventh hour, when my hope was beginning to die, he sends me this
one with a promise, and I am lifted up. I see the way to a great
part in a circumstance itself so great that it shall be as a new
birth to the whole world. And I see a reason for the gift of my
great riches, and the end for which they were designed. Verily,
my child, I take hold on life anew."
Esther nestled closer to him, as if to bring his thoughts from
"The king has been born" he continued, imagining he was still speaking
to her, "and he must be near the half of common life. Balthasar says
he was a child on his mother's lap when he saw him, and gave him
presents and worship; and Ilderim holds it was twenty-seven years
ago last December when Balthasar and his companions came to his
tent asking a hiding-place from Herod. Wherefore the coming cannot
now be long delayed. To-night--to-morrow it may be. Holy fathers of
Israel, what happiness in the thought! I seem to hear the crash of
the falling of old walls and the clamor of a universal change--ay,
and for the uttermost joy of men, the earth opens to take Rome in,
and they look up and laugh and sing that she is not, while we are;"
then he laughed at himself. "Why, Esther, heard you ever the like?
Surely, I have on me the passion of a singer, the heat of blood
and the thrill of Miriam and David. In my thoughts, which should be
those of a plain worker in figures and facts, there is a confusion
of cymbals clashing and harp-strings loud beaten, and the voices
of a multitude standing around a new-risen throne. I will put the
thinking by for the present; only, dear, when the king comes he
will need money and men, for as he was a child born of woman he
will be but a man after all, bound to human ways as you and I are.
And for the money he will have need of getters and keepers, and
for the men leaders. There, there! See you not a broad road for
my walking, and the running of the youth our master?--and at the
end of it glory and revenge for us both?--and--and"--he paused,
struck with the selfishness of a scheme in which she had no part
or good result; then added, kissing her, "And happiness for thy
She sat still, saying nothing. Then he remembered the difference
in natures, and the law by which we are not permitted always to
take delight in the same cause or be equally afraid of the same
thing. He remembered she was but a girl.
"Of what are you thinking, Esther?" he said, in his common home-like
way. "If the thought have the form of a wish, give it me, little one,
while the power remains mine. For power, you know, is a fretful thing,
and hath its wings always spread for flight."
She answered with a simplicity almost childish,
"Send for him, father. Send for him to-night, and do not let him
go into the Circus."
"Ah!" he said, prolonging the exclamation; and again his eyes
fell upon the river, where the shadows were more shadowy than ever,
since the moon had sunk far down behind Sulpius, leaving the city to
the ineffectual stars. Shall we say it, reader? He was touched by
a twinge of jealousy. If she should really love the young master!
Oh no! That could not be; she was too young. But the idea had
fast grip, and directly held him still and cold. She was sixteen.
He knew it well. On the last natal day he had gone with her to
the shipyard where there was a launch, and the yellow flag which
the galley bore to its bridal with the waves had on it "Esther;"
so they celebrated the day together. Yet the fact struck him now
with the force of a surprise. There are realizations which come to
us all painfully; mostly, however, such as pertain to ourselves;
that we are growing old, for instance; and, more terrible, that we
must die. Such a one crept into his heart, shadowy as the shadows,
yet substantial enough to wring from him a sigh which was almost
a groan. It was not sufficient that she should enter upon her
young womanhood a servant, but she must carry to her master her
affections, the truth and tenderness and delicacy of which he the
father so well knew, because to this time they had all been his
own undividedly. The fiend whose task it is to torture us with
fears and bitter thoughts seldom does his work by halves. In the
pang of the moment, the brave old man lost sight of his new scheme,
and of the miraculous king its subject. By a mighty effort, however,
he controlled himself, and asked, calmly, "Not go into the Circus,
Esther? Why, child?"
"It is not a place for a son of Israel, father."
"Rabbinical, rabbinical, Esther! Is that all?"
The tone of the inquiry was searching, and went to her heart,
which began to beat loudly--so loudly she could not answer.
A confusion new and strangely pleasant fell upon her.
"The young man is to have the fortune," he said, taking her hand,
and speaking more tenderly; "he is to have the ships and the
shekels--all, Esther, all. Yet I did not feel poor, for thou
wert left me, and thy love so like the dead Rachel's. Tell me,
is he to have that too?"
She bent over him, and laid her cheek against his head.
"Speak, Esther. I will be the stronger of the knowledge. In warning
there is strength."
She sat up then, and spoke as if she were Truth's holy self.
"Comfort thee, father. I will never leave thee; though he take
my love, I will be thy handmaid ever as now."
And, stooping, she kissed him.
"And more," she said, continuing: "he is comely in my sight,
and the pleading of his voice drew me to him, and I shudder to
think of him in danger. Yes, father, I would be more than glad
to see him again. Still, the love that is unrequited cannot be
perfect love, wherefore I will wait a time, remembering I am thy
daughter and my mother's."
"A very blessing of the Lord art thou, Esther! A blessing to
keep me rich, though all else be lost. And by his holy name
and everlasting life, I swear thou shalt not suffer."
At his request, a little later, the servant came and rolled the
chair into the room, where he sat for a time thinking of the coming
of the king, while she went off and slept the sleep of the innocent.
The palace across the river nearly opposite Simonides' place is said
to have been completed by the famous Epiphanes, and was all such a
habitation can be imagined; though he was a builder whose taste
ran to the immense rather than the classical, now so called--an
architectural imitator, in other words, of the Persians instead
of the Greeks.
The wall enclosing the whole island to the waters edge, and built
for the double purpose of bulwark against the river and defence
against the mob, was said to have rendered the palace unfit for
constant occupancy, insomuch that the legates abandoned it and
moved to another residence erected for them on the western ridge
of Mount Sulpius, under the Temple of Jupiter. Persons were not
wanting, however, who flatly denied the bill against the ancient
abode. They said, with shrewdness at least, that the real object
of the removal of the legates was not a more healthful locality,
but the assurance afforded them by the huge barracks, named,
according to the prevalent style, citadel, situated just over
the way on the eastern ridge of the mount. And the opinion had
plausible showing. Among other pertinent things, it was remarked
that the palace was kept in perpetual readiness for use; and when
a consul, general of the army, king, or visiting potentate of any
kind arrived at Antioch, quarters were at once assigned him on
As we have to do with but one apartment in the old pile, the residue
of it is left to the reader's fancy; and as pleases him, he may go
through its gardens, baths, halls, and labyrinth of rooms to the
pavilions on the roof, all furnished as became a house of fame
in a city which was more nearly Milton's "gorgeous East" than
any other in the world.
At this age the apartment alluded to would be termed a saloon. It was
quite spacious, floored with polished marble slabs, and lighted
in the day by skylights in which colored mica served as glass.
The walls were broken by Atlantes, no two of which were alike,
but all supporting a cornice wrought with arabesques exceedingly
intricate in form, and more elegant on account of superadditions
of color--blue, green, Tyrian purple, and gold. Around the room
ran a continuous divan of Indian silks and wool of Cashmere.
The furniture consisted of tables and stools of Egyptian patterns
grotesquely carved. We have left Simonides in his chair perfecting
his scheme in aid of the miraculous king, whose coming he has decided
is so close at hand. Esther is asleep; and now, having crossed
the river by the bridge, and made way through the lion-guarded
gate and a number of Babylonian halls and courts, let us enter
the gilded saloon.
There are five chandeliers hanging by sliding bronze chains from
the ceiling--one in each corner, and in the centre one--enormous
pyramids of lighted lamps, illuminating even the demoniac faces
of the Atlantes and the complex tracery of the cornice. About the
tables, seated or standing, or moving restlessly from one to another,
there are probably a hundred persons, whom we must study at least for
They are all young, some of them little more than boys. That they
are Italians and mostly Romans is past doubt. They all speak
Latin in purity, while each one appears in the in-door dress
of the great capital on the Tiber; that is, in tunics short of
sleeve and skirt, a style of vesture well adapted to the climate
of Antioch, and especially comfortable in the too close atmosphere
of the saloon. On the divan here and there togas and lacernae lie
where they have been carelessly tossed, some of them significantly
bordered with purple. On the divan also lie sleepers stretched at
ease; whether they were overcome by the heat and fatigue of the
sultry day or by Bacchus we will not pause to inquire.
The hum of voices is loud and incessant. Sometimes there is an
explosion of laughter, sometimes a burst of rage or exultation;
but over all prevails a sharp, prolonged rattle, at first somewhat
confusing to the non-familiar. If we approach the tables, however,
the mystery solves itself. The company is at the favorite games,
draughts and dice, singly or together, and the rattle is merely
of the tesserae, or ivory cubes, loudly shaken, and the moving
of the hostes on the checkered boards.
Who are the company?
"Good Flavius," said a player, holding his piece in suspended
movement, "thou seest yon lacerna; that one in front of us on
the divan. It is fresh from the shop, and hath a shoulder-buckle
of gold broad as a palm."
"Well," said Flavius, intent upon his game, "I have seen such
before; wherefore thine may not be old, yet, by the girdle of
Venus, it is not new! What of it?"
"Nothing. Only I would give it to find a man who knows everything."
"Ha, ha! For something cheaper, I will find thee here several with
purple who will take thy offer. But play."
"So, by all the Jupiters! Now, what sayest thou? Again?"
"Be it so."
"And the wager?"
Then each drew his tablets and stilus and made a memorandum; and,
while they were resetting the pieces, Flavius returned to his
"A man who knows everything! Hercle! the oracles would die.
What wouldst thou with such a monster?"
"Answer to one question, my Flavius; then, perpol! I would cut
"And the question?"
"I would have him tell me the hour-- Hour, said I?--nay, the minute
--Maxentius will arrive to-morrow."
"Good play, good play! I have you! And why the minute?"
"Hast thou ever stood uncovered in the Syrian sun on the quay at
which he will land? The fires of the Vesta are not so hot; and,
by the Stator of our father Romulus, I would die, if die I must,
in Rome. Avernus is here; there, in the square before the Forum,
I could stand, and, with my hand raised thus, touch the floor of
the gods. Ha, by Venus, my Flavius, thou didst beguile me! I have
lost. O Fortune!"
"I must have back my sestertium."
"Be it so."
And they played again and again; and when day, stealing through
the skylights, began to dim the lamps, it found the two in the
same places at the same table, still at the game. Like most of
the company, they were military attaches of the consul, awaiting his
arrival and amusing themselves meantime.
During this conversation a party entered the room, and, unnoticed
at first, proceeded to the central table. The signs were that they
had come from a revel just dismissed. Some of them kept their
feet with difficulty. Around the leader's brow was a chaplet
which marked him master of the feast, if not the giver. The wine
had made no impression upon him unless to heighten his beauty,
which was of the most manly Roman style; he carried his head
high raised; the blood flushed his lips and cheeks brightly;
his eyes glittered; though the manner in which, shrouded in a
toga spotless white and of ample folds, he walked was too nearly
imperial for one sober and not a Caesar. In going to the table,
he made room for himself and his followers with little ceremony
and no apologies; and when at length he stopped, and looked over
it and at the players, they all turned to him, with a shout like
"Messala! Messala!" they cried.
Those in distant quarters, hearing the cry, re-echoed it where they
were. Instantly there were dissolution of groups, and breaking-up
of games, and a general rush towards the centre.
Messala took the demonstration indifferently, and proceeded
presently to show the ground of his popularity.
"A health to thee, Drusus, my friend," he said to the player next
at his right; "a health--and thy tablets a moment."
He raised the waxen boards, glanced at the memoranda of wagers,
and tossed them down.
"Denarii, only denarii--coin of cartmen and butchers!" he said,
with a scornful laugh. "By the drunken Semele, to what is Rome
coming, when a Caesar sits o' nights waiting a turn of fortune
to bring him but a beggarly denarius!"
The scion of the Drusi reddened to his brows, but the bystanders
broke in upon his reply by surging closer around the table,
and shouting, "The Messala! the Messala!"
"Men of the Tiber," Messala continued, wresting a box with the dice
in it from a hand near-by, "who is he most favored of the gods?
A Roman. Who is he lawgiver of the nations? A Roman. Who is he,
by sword right, the universal master?"
The company were of the easily inspired, and the thought was one
to which they were born; in a twinkling they snatched the answer
"A Roman, a Roman!" they shouted.
"Yet--yet"--he lingered to catch their ears--"yet there is a better
than the best of Rome."
He tossed his patrician head and paused, as if to sting them with
"Hear ye?" he asked. "There is a better than the best of Rome."
"Ay--Hercules!" cried one.
"Bacchus!" yelled a satirist.
"Jove--Jove!" thundered the crowd.
"No," Messala answered, "among men."
"Name him, name him!" they demanded.
"I will," he said, the next lull. "He who to the perfection of
Rome hath added the perfection of the East; who to the arm of
conquest, which is Western, hath also the art needful to the
enjoyment of dominion, which is Eastern."
"Perpol! His best is a Roman, after all," some one shouted;
and there was a great laugh, and long clapping of hands--an
admission that Messala had the advantage.
"In the East" he continued, "we have no gods, only Wine, Women,
and Fortune, and the greatest of them is Fortune; wherefore our
motto, 'Who dareth what I dare?'--fit for the senate, fit for
battle, fittest for him who, seeking the best, challenges the
His voice dropped into an easy, familiar tone, but without relaxing
the ascendancy he had gained.
"In the great chest up in the citadel I have five talents coin
current in the markets, and here are the receipts for them."
From his tunic he drew a roll of paper, and, flinging it on the
table, continued, amidst breathless silence, every eye having him
in view fixed on his, every ear listening:
"The sum lies there the measure of what I dare. Who of you dares
so much! You are silent. Is it too great? I will strike off one
talent. What! still silent? Come, then, throw me once for these
three talents--only three; for two; for one--one at least--one
for the honor of the river by which you were born--Rome East
against Rome West!--Orontes the barbarous against Tiber the
He rattled the dice overhead while waiting.
"The Orontes against the Tiber!" he repeated, with an increase of
Not a man moved; then he flung the box upon the table and, laughing,
took up the receipts.
"Ha, ha, ha! By the Olympian Jove, I know now ye have fortunes to
make or to mend; therefore are ye come to Antioch. Ho, Cecilius!"
"Here, Messala!" cried a man behind him; "here am I, perishing in
the mob, and begging a drachma to settle with the ragged ferryman.
But, Pluto take me! these new ones have not so much as an obolus
The sally provoked a burst of laughter, under which the saloon
rang and rang again. Messala alone kept his gravity.
"Go, thou," he said to Cecilius, "to the chamber whence we came,
and bid the servants bring the amphorae here, and the cups and
goblets. If these our countrymen, looking for fortune, have not
purses, by the Syrian Bacchus, I will see if they are not better
blessed with stomachs! Haste thee!"
Then he turned to Drusus, with a laugh heard throughout the apartment.
"Ha, ha, my friend! Be thou not offended because I levelled the
Caesar in thee down to the denarii. Thou seest I did but use the
name to try these fine fledglings of our old Rome. Come, my Drusus,
come!" He took up the box again and rattled the dice merrily. "Here,
for what sum thou wilt, let us measure fortunes."
The manner was frank, cordial, winsome. Drusus melted in a moment.
"By the Nymphae, yes!" he said, laughing. "I will throw with thee,
Messala--for a denarius."
A very boyish person was looking over the table watching the scene.
Suddenly Messala turned to him.
"Who art thou?" he asked.
The lad drew back.
"Nay, by Castor! and his brother too! I meant not offence. It is
a rule among men, in matters other than dice, to keep the record
closest when the deal is least. I have need of a clerk. Wilt thou
The young fellow drew his tablets ready to keep the score: the manner
"Hold, Messala, hold!" cried Drusus. "I know not if it be ominous
to stay the poised dice with a question; but one occurs to me, and I
must ask it though Venus slap me with her girdle."
"Nay, my Drusus, Venus with her girdle off is Venus in love. To thy
question--I will make the throw and hold it against mischance. Thus--"
He turned the box upon the table and held it firmly over the dice.
And Drusus asked, "Did you ever see one Quintus Arrius?"
"I knew not he had a son."
"Well, it is nothing," Drusus added, indifferently; "only,
my Messala, Pollux was not more like Castor than Arrius is
The remark had the effect of a signal: twenty voices took it up.
"True, true! His eyes--his face," they cried.
"What!" answered one, disgusted. "Messala is a Roman; Arrius is
"Thou sayest right," a third exclaimed. "He is a Jew, or Momus
lent his mother the wrong mask."
There was promise of a dispute; seeing which, Messala interposed.
"The wine is not come, my Drusus; and, as thou seest, I have the
freckled Pythias as they were dogs in leash. As to Arrius, I will
accept thy opinion of him, so thou tell me more about him."
"Well, be he Jew or Roman--and, by the great god Pan, I say it not
in disrespect of thy feelings, my Messala!--this Arrius is handsome
and brave and shrewd. The emperor offered him favor and patronage,
which he refused. He came up through mystery, and keepeth distance
as if he felt himself better or knew himself worse than the rest of
us. In the palaestrae he was unmatched; he played with the blue-eyed
giants from the Rhine and the hornless bulls of Sarmatia as they were
willow wisps. The duumvir left him vastly rich. He has a passion
for arms, and thinks of nothing but war. Maxentius admitted him
into his family, and he was to have taken ship with us, but we
lost him at Ravenna. Nevertheless he arrived safely. We heard
of him this morning. Perpol! Instead of coming to the palace
or going to the citadel, he dropped his baggage at the khan,
and hath disappeared again."
At the beginning of the speech Messala listened with polite
indifference; as it proceeded, he became more attentive; at the
conclusion, he took his hand from the dice-box, and called out,
"Ho, my Caius! Dost thou hear?"
A youth at his elbow--his Myrtilus, or comrade, in the day's
chariot practice--answered, much pleased with the attention,
"Did I not, my Messala, I were not thy friend."
"Dost thou remember the man who gave thee the fall to-day?"
"By the love-locks of Bacchus, have I not a bruised shoulder to
help me keep it in mind?" and he seconded the words with a shrug
that submerged his ears.
"Well, be thou grateful to the Fates--I have found thy enemy.
Thereupon Messala turned to Drusus.
"Tell us more of him--perpol!--of him who is both Jew and Roman--
by Phoebus, a combination to make a Centaur lovely! What garments
cloth he affect, my Drusus?"
"Those of the Jews."
"Hearest thou, Caius?" said Messala. "The fellow is young--one;
he hath the visage of a Roman--two; he loveth best the garb of a
Jew--three; and in the palaestrae fame and fortune come of arms to
throw a horse or tilt a chariot, as the necessity may order--four.
And, Drusus, help thou my friend again. Doubtless this Arrius hath
tricks of language; otherwise he could not so confound himself,
to-day a Jew, to-morrow a Roman; but of the rich tongue of
Athene--discourseth he in that as well?"
"With such purity, Messala, he might have been a contestant in
"Art thou listening, Caius?" said Messala. "The fellow is qualified
to salute a woman--for that matter Aristomache herself--in the
Greek; and as I keep the count, that is five. What sayest thou?"
"Thou hast found him, my Messala," Caius answered; "or I am not
"Thy pardon, Drusus--and pardon of all--for speaking in riddles
thus," Messala said, in his winsome way. "By all the decent gods,
I would not strain thy courtesy to the point of breaking, but now
help thou me. See!"--he put his hand on the dice-box again,
laughing--"See how close I hold the Pythias and their secret!
Thou didst speak, I think, of mystery in connection with the
coming of the son of Arrius. Tell me of that."
"'Tis nothing, Messala, nothing," Drusus replied; "a child's story.
When Arrius, the father, sailed in pursuit of the pirates, he was
without wife or family; he returned with a boy--him of whom we
speak--and next day adopted him."
"Adopted him?" Messala repeated. "By the gods, Drusus, thou dost,
indeed, interest me! Where did the duumvir find the boy? And who
"Who shall answer thee that, Messala? who but the young Arrius
himself? Perpol! in the fight the duumvir--then but a tribune--lost
his galley. A returning vessel found him and one other--all of the
crew who survived--afloat upon the same plank. I give you now the
story of the rescuers, which hath this excellence at least--it
hath never been contradicted. They say, the duumvir's companion
on the plank was a Jew--"
"A Jew!" echoed Messala.
"And a slave."
"How Drusus? A slave?"
"When the two were lifted to the deck, the duumvir was in his
tribune's armor, and the other in the vesture of a rower."
Messala rose from leaning against the table.
"A galley"--he checked the debasing word, and looked around, for
once in his life at loss. Just then a procession of slaves filed
into the room, some with great jars of wine, others with baskets
of fruits and confections, others again with cups and flagons,
mostly silver. There was inspiration in the sight. Instantly Messala
climbed upon a stool.
"Men of the Tiber," he said, in a clear voice, "let us turn this
waiting for our chief into a feast of Bacchus. Whom choose ye for
"Who shall be master but the giver of the feast?" he said. "Answer,
They gave their reply in a shout.
Messala took the chaplet from his head, gave it to Drusus, who
climbed upon the table, and, in the view of all, solemnly replaced
it, making Messala master of the night.
"There came with me into the room," he said, "some friends just
risen from table. That our feast may have the approval of sacred
custom, bring hither that one of them most overcome by wine."
A din of voices answered, "Here he is, here he is!"
And from the floor where he had fallen, a youth was brought forward,
so effeminately beautiful he might have passed for the drinking-god
himself--only the crown would have dropped from his head, and the
thyrsus from his hand.
"Lift him upon the table," the master said.
It was found he could not sit.
"Help him, Drusus, as the fair Nyone may yet help thee."
Drusus took the inebriate in his arms.
Then addressing the limp figure, Messala said, amidst profound
silence, "O Bacchus! greatest of the gods, be thou propitious
to-night. And for myself, and these thy votaries, I vow this
chaplet"--and from his head he raised it reverently--"I vow
this chaplet to thy altar in the Grove of Daphne."
He bowed, replaced the crown upon his locks, then stooped and
uncovered the dice, saying, with a laugh, "See, my Drusus, by the
ass of Silenus, the denarius is mine!"
There was a shout that set the floor to quaking, and the grim
Atlantes to dancing, and the orgies began.
Sheik Ilderim was a man of too much importance to go about with a
small establishment. He had a reputation to keep with his tribe,
such as became a prince and patriarch of the greatest following in
all the Desert east of Syria; with the people of the cities he had
another reputation, which was that of one of the richest personages
not a king in all the East; and, being rich in fact--in money as
well as in servants, camels, horses, and flocks of all kinds--he
took pleasure in a certain state, which, besides magnifying his
dignity with strangers, contributed to his personal pride and
comfort. Wherefore the reader must not be misled by the frequent
reference to his tent in the Orchard of Palms. He had there really
a respectable dowar; that is to say, he had there three large
tents--one for himself, one for visitors, one for his favorite
wife and her women; and six or eight lesser ones, occupied by his
servants and such tribal retainers as he had chosen to bring with
him as a body-guard--strong men of approved courage, and skillful
with bow, spear, and horses.
To be sure, his property of whatever kind was in no danger at
the Orchard; yet as the habits of a man go with him to town not
less than the country, and as it is never wise to slip the bands
of discipline, the interior of the dowar was devoted to his cows,
camels, goats, and such property in general as might tempt a lion
or a thief.
To do him full justice, Ilderim kept well all the customs of his
people, abating none, not even the smallest; in consequence his
life at the Orchard was a continuation of his life in the Desert;
nor that alone, it was a fair reproduction of the old patriarchal
modes--the genuine pastoral life of primitive Israel.
Recurring to the morning the caravan arrived at the Orchard--"Here,
plant it here," he said, stopping his horse, and thrusting a spear
into the ground. "Door to the south; the lake before it thus; and
these, the children of the Desert, to sit under at the going-down
of the sun."
At the last words he went to a group of three great palm-trees,
and patted one of them as he would have patted his horse's neck,
or the cheek of the child of his love.
Who but the sheik could of right say to the caravan, Halt! or
of the tent, Here be it pitched? The spear was wrested from
the ground, and over the wound it had riven in the sod the
base of the first pillar of the tent was planted, marking the
centre of the front door. Then eight others were planted--in all,
three rows of pillars, three in a row. Then, at call, the women
and children came, and unfolded the canvas from its packing on
the camels. Who might do this but the women? Had they not sheared
the hair from the brown goats of the flock? and twisted it into
thread? and woven the thread into cloth? and stitched the cloth
together, making the perfect roof, dark-brown in fact, though in
the distance black as the tents of Kedar? And, finally, with what
jests and laughter, and pulls altogether, the united following of
the sheik stretched the canvas from pillar to pillar, driving the
stakes and fastening the cords as they went! And when the walls
of open reed matting were put in place--the finishing-touch to
the building after the style of the Desert--with what hush of
anxiety they waited the good man's judgment! When he walked in
and out, looking at the house in connection with the sun, the trees,
and the lake, and said, rubbing his hands with might of heartiness,
"Well done! Make the dowar now as ye well know, and to-night we will
sweeten the bread with arrack, and the milk with honey, and at every
fire there shall be a kid. God with ye! Want of sweet water there
shall not be, for the lake is our well; neither shall the bearers
of burden hunger, or the least of the flock, for here is green
pasture also. God with you all, my children! Go."
And, shouting, the many happy went their ways then to pitch their
own habitations. A few remained to arrange the interior for the
sheik; and of these the men-servants hung a curtain to the central
row of pillars, making two apartments; the one on the right sacred
to Ilderim himself, the other sacred to his horses--his jewels
of Solomon--which they led in, and with kisses and love-taps
set at liberty. Against the middle pillar they then erected
the arms-rack, and filled it with javelins and spears, and bows,
arrows, and shields; outside of them hanging the master's sword,
modelled after the new moon; and the glitter of its blade rivalled
the glitter of the jewels bedded in its grip. Upon one end of
the rack they hung the housings of the horses, gay some of them
as the livery of a king's servant, while on the other end they
displayed the great man's wearing apparel--his robes woollen and
robes linen, his tunics and trousers, and many colored kerchiefs
for the head. Nor did they give over the work until he pronounced
Meantime the women drew out and set up the divan, more indispensable
to him than the beard down-flowing over his breast, white as Aaron's.
They put a frame together in shape of three sides of a square,
the opening to the door, and covered it with cushions and base
curtains, and the cushions with a changeable spread striped brown
and yellow; at the corners they placed pillows and bolsters sacked
in cloth blue and crimson; then around the divan they laid a margin
of carpet, and the inner space they carpeted as well; and when the
carpet was carried from the opening of the divan to the door of
the tent, their work was done; whereupon they again waited until
the master said it was good. Nothing remained then but to bring and
fill the jars with water, and hang the skin bottles of arrack ready
for the hand--to-morrow the leben. Nor might an Arab see why Ilderim
should not be both happy and generous--in his tent by the lake of
sweet waters, under the palms of the Orchard of Palms.
Such was the tent at the door of which we left Ben-Hur.
Servants were already waiting the master's direction. One of them
took off his sandals; another unlatched Ben-Hur's Roman shoes;
then the two exchanged their dusty outer garments for fresh ones
of white linen.
"Enter--in God's name, enter, and take thy rest," said the host,
heartily, in the dialect of the Market-place of Jerusalem;
forthwith he led the way to the divan.
"I will sit here," he said next, pointing; "and there the stranger."
A woman--in the old time she would have been called a handmaid--answered,
and dexterously piled the pillows and bolsters as rests for the back;
after which they sat upon the side of the divan, while water was
brought fresh from the lake, and their feet bathed and dried with
"We have a saying in the Desert," Ilderim began, gathering his beard,
and combing it with his slender fingers, "that a good appetite is the
promise of a long life. Hast thou such?"
"By that rule, good sheik, I will live a hundred years. I am a
hungry wolf at thy door," Ben-Hur replied.
"Well, thou shalt not be sent away like a wolf. I will give thee
the best of the flocks."
Ilderim clapped his hands.
"Seek the stranger in the guest-tent, and say I, Ilderim, send him
a prayer that his peace may be as incessant as the flowing of waters."
The man in waiting bowed.
"Say, also," Ilderim continued, "that I have returned with another
for breaking of bread; and, if Balthasar the wise careth to share
the loaf, three may partake of it, and the portion of the birds be
none the less."
The second servant went away.
"Let us take our rest now."
Thereupon Ilderim settled himself upon the divan, as at this day
merchants sit on their rugs in the bazaars of Damascus; and when
fairly at rest, he stopped combing his beard, and said, gravely,
"That thou art my guest, and hast drunk my leben, and art about
to taste my salt, ought not to forbid a question: Who art thou?"
"Sheik Ilderim," said Ben-Hur, calmly enduring his gaze, "I pray
thee not to think me trifling with thy just demand; but was there
never a time in thy life when to answer such a question would have
been a crime to thyself?"
"By the splendor of Solomon, yes!" Ilderim answered. "Betrayal of
self is at times as base as the betrayal of a tribe."
"Thanks, thanks, good sheik!" Ben-Hur exclaimed.
"Never answer became thee better. Now I know thou cost but seek
assurance to justify the trust I have come to ask, and that such
assurance is of more interest to thee than the affairs of my poor
The sheik in his turn bowed, and Ben-Hur hastened to pursue his
"So it please thee then," he said, "first, I am not a Roman, as the
name given thee as mine implieth."
Ilderim clasped the beard overflowing his breast, and gazed at the
speaker with eyes faintly twinkling through the shade of the heavy
"In the next place," Ben-Hur continued, "I am an Israelite of the
tribe of Judah."
The sheik raised his brows a little.
"Nor that merely. Sheik, I am a Jew with a grievance against Rome
compared with which thine is not more than a child's trouble."
The old man combed his beard with nervous haste, and let fall his
brows until even the twinkle of the eyes went out.
"Still further: I swear to thee, Sheik Ilderim--I swear by the
covenant the Lord made with my fathers--so thou but give me the
revenge I seek, the money and the glory of the race shall be thine."
Ilderim's brows relaxed; his head arose; his face began to beam;
and it was almost possible to see the satisfaction taking possession
"Enough!" he said. "If at the roots of thy tongue there is a lie
in coil, Solomon himself had not been safe against thee. That thou
art not a Roman--that as a Jew thou hast a grievance against Rome,
and revenge to compass, I believe; and on that score enough. But as
to thy skill. What experience hast thou in racing with chariots?
And the horses--canst thou make them creatures of thy will?--to
know thee? to come at call? to go, if thou sayest it, to the last
extreme of breath and strength? and then, in the perishing moment,
out of the depths of thy life thrill them to one exertion the
mightiest of all? The gift, my son, is not to every one. Ah,
by the splendor of God! I knew a king who governed millions
of men, their perfect master, but could not win the respect of
a horse. Mark! I speak not of the dull brutes whose round it is
to slave for slaves--the debased in blood and image--the dead
in spirit; but of such as mine here--the kings of their kind;
of a lineage reaching back to the broods of the first Pharaoh;
my comrades and friends, dwellers in tents, whom long association
with me has brought up to my plane; who to their instincts have
added our wits and to their senses joined our souls, until they
feel all we know of ambition, love, hate, and contempt; in war,
heroes; in trust, faithful as women. Ho, there!"
A servant came forward.
"Let my Arabs come!"
The man drew aside part of the division curtain of the tent,
exposing to view a group of horses, who lingered a moment where
they were as if to make certain of the invitation.
"Come!" Ilderim said to them. "Why stand ye there? What have I
that is not yours? Come, I say!"
They stalked slowly in.
"Son of Israel," the master said, "thy Moses was a mighty man,
but--ha, ha ha!--I must laugh when I think of his allowing
thy fathers the plodding ox and the dull, slow-natured ass,
and forbidding them property in horses. Ha, ha, ha! Thinkest
thou he would have done so had he seen that one--and that--and
this?" At the word he laid his hand upon the face of the first
to reach him, and patted it with infinite pride and tenderness.
"It is a misjudgment, sheik, a misjudgment," Ben-Hur said, warmly.
"Moses was a warrior as well as a lawgiver beloved by God; and to
follow war--ah, what is it but to love all its creatures--these
among the rest?"
A head of exquisite turn--with large eyes, soft as a deer's, and half
hidden by the dense forelock, and small ears, sharp-pointed and sloped
well forward--approached then quite to his breast, the nostrils open,
and the upper lip in motion. "Who are you?" it asked, plainly as
ever man spoke. Ben-Hur recognized one of the four racers he had
seen on the course, and gave his open hand to the beautiful brute.
"They will tell you, the blasphemers!--may their days shorten as
they grow fewer!"--the sheik spoke with the feeling of a man
repelling a personal defamation--"they will tell you, I say,
that our horses of the best blood are derived from the Nesaean
pastures of Persia. God gave the first Arab a measureless waste
of sand, with some treeless mountains, and here and there a well
of bitter waters; and said to him, 'Behold thy country!' And when
the poor man complained, the Mighty One pitied him, and said again,
'Be of cheer! for I will twice bless thee above other men.' The Arab
heard, and gave thanks, and with faith set out to find the blessings.
He travelled all the boundaries first, and failed; then he made a path
into the desert, and went on and on--and in the heart of the waste
there was an island of green very beautiful to see; and in the heart
of the island, lo! a herd of camels, and another of horses! He took
them joyfully and kept them with care for what they were--best gifts
of God. And from that green isle went forth all the horses of the
earth; even to the pastures of Nesaea they went; and northward to
the dreadful vales perpetually threshed by blasts from the Sea
of Chill Winds. Doubt not the story; or if thou dost, may never
amulet have charm for an Arab again. Nay, I will give thee proof."
He clapped his hands.
"Bring me the records of the tribe," he said to the servant who
While waiting, the sheik played with the horses, patting their
cheeks, combing their forelocks with his fingers, giving each one
a token of remembrance. Presently six men appeared with chests of
cedar reinforced by bands of brass, and hinged and bolted with brass.
"Nay," said Ilderim, when they were all set down by the divan,
"I meant not all of them; only the records of the horses--that
one. Open it and take back the others."
The chest was opened, disclosing a mass of ivory tablets strung
on rings of silver wire; and as the tablets were scarcely thicker
than wafers, each ring held several hundreds of them.
"I know," said Ilderim, taking some of the rings in his hand--"I
know with what care and zeal, my son, the scribes of the Temple in
the Holy City keep the names of the newly born, that every son of
Israel may trace his line of ancestry to its beginning, though it
antedate the patriarchs. My fathers--may the recollection of them be
green forever!--did not think it sinful to borrow the idea, and apply
it to their dumb servants. See these tablets!"
Ben-Hur took the rings, and separating the tablets saw they bore
rude hieroglyphs in Arabic, burned on the smooth surface by a
sharp point of heated metal.
"Canst thou read them, O son of Israel?"
"No. Thou must tell me their meaning."
"Know thou, then, each tablet records the name of a foal of the
pure blood born to my fathers through the hundreds of years passed;
and also the names of sire and dam. Take them, and note their age,
that thou mayst the more readily believe."
Some of the tablets were nearly worn away. all were yellow with
"In the chest there, I can tell thee now, I have the perfect history;
perfect because certified as history seldom is--showing of what stock
all these are sprung--this one, and that now supplicating thy notice
and caress; and as they come to us here, their sires, even the
furthest removed in time, came to my sires, under a tent-roof like
this of mine, to eat their measure of barley from the open hand,
and be talked to as children; and as children kiss the thanks they
have not speech to express. And now, O son of Israel, thou mayst
believe my declaration--if I am a lord of the Desert, behold my
ministers! Take them from me, and I become as a sick man left
by the caravan to die. Thanks to them, age hath not diminished
the terror of me on the highways between cities; and it will not
while I have strength to go with them. Ha, ha, ha! I could tell
thee marvels done by their ancestors. In a favoring time I may
do so; for the present, enough that they were never overtaken
in retreat; nor, by the sword of Solomon, did they ever fail in
pursuit! That, mark you, on the sands and under saddle; but now--I
do not know--I am afraid, for they are under yoke the first time,
and the conditions of success are so many. They have the pride and
the speed and the endurance. If I find them a master, they will win.
Son of Israel! so thou art the man, I swear it shall be a happy day
that brought thee thither. Of thyself now speak."
"I know now," said Ben-Hur, "why it is that in the love of an Arab
his horse is next to his children; and I know, also, why the Arab
horses are the best in the world; but, good sheik, I would not have
you judge me by words alone; for, as you know, all promises of men
sometimes fail. Give me the trial first on some plain hereabout,
and put the four in my hand to-morrow."
Ilderim's face beamed again, and he would have spoken.
"A moment, good sheik, a moment!" said Ben-Hur. "Let me say further.
From the masters in Rome I learned many lessons, little thinking they
would serve me in a time like this. I tell thee these thy sons of
the Desert, though they have separately the speed of eagles and
the endurance of lions, will fail if they are not trained to run
together under the yoke. For bethink thee, sheik, in every four
there is one the slowest and one the swiftest; and while the race
is always to the slowest, the trouble is always with the swiftest.
It was so to-day; the driver could not reduce the best to harmonious
action with the poorest. My trial may have no better result; but if
so, I will tell thee of it: that I swear. Wherefore, in the same
spirit I say, can I get them to run together, moved by my will,
the four as one, thou shalt have the sestertii and the crown,
and I my revenge. What sayest thou?"
Ilderim listened, combing his beard the while. At the end he said,
with a laugh, "I think better of thee, son of Israel. We have
a saying in the Desert, 'If you will cook the meal with words,
I will promise an ocean of butter.' thou shalt have the horses
in the morning."
At that moment there was a stir at the rear entrance to the tent.
"The supper--it is here! and yonder my friend Balthasar, whom thou
shalt know. He hath a story to tell which an Israelite should never
tire of hearing."
And to the servants he added,
"Take the records away, and return my jewels to their apartment."
And they did as he ordered.
If the reader will return now to the repast of the wise men at
their meeting in the desert, he will understand the preparations
for the supper in Ilderim's tent. The differences were chiefly such
as were incident to ampler means and better service.
Three rugs were spread on the carpet within the space so nearly
enclosed by the divan; a table not more than a foot in height was
brought and set within the same place, and covered with a cloth.
Off to one side a portable earthenware oven was established under
the presidency of a woman whose duty it was to keep the company in
bread, or, more precisely, in hot cakes of flour from the handmills
grinding with constant sound in a neighboring tent.
Meanwhile Balthasar was conducted to the divan, where Ilderim
and Ben-Hur received him standing. A loose black gown covered
his person; his step was feeble, and his whole movement slow
and cautious, apparently dependent upon a long staff and the
arm of a servant.
"Peace to you, my friend," said Ilderim, respectfully. "Peace and
The Egyptian raised his head and replied, "And to thee, good sheik--to
thee and thine, peace and the blessing of the One God--God the true
The manner was gentle and devout, and impressed Ben-Hur with a feeling
of awe; besides which the blessing included in the answering salutation
had been partly addressed to him, and while that part was being spoken,
the eyes of the aged guest, hollow yet luminous, rested upon his
face long enough to stir an emotion new and mysterious, and so
strong that he again and again during the repast scanned the much
wrinkled and bloodless face for its meaning; but always there was
the expression bland, placid, and trustful as a child's. A little
later he found that expression habitual.
"This is he, O Balthasar," said the sheik, laying his hand on
Ben-Hur's arm, "who will break bread with us this evening."
The Egyptian glanced at the young man, and looked again surprised
and doubting; seeing which the sheik continued, "I have promised
him my horses for trial to-morrow; and if all goes well, he will
drive them in the Circus."
Balthasar continued his gaze.
"He came well recommended," Ilderim pursued, much puzzled. "You
may know him as the son of Arrius, who was a noble Roman sailor,
though"--the sheik hesitated, then resumed, with a laugh--"though
he declares himself an Israelite of the tribe of Judah; and, by the
splendor of God, I believe that he tells me!"
Balthasar could no longer withhold explanation.
"To-day, O most generous sheik, my life was in peril, and would
have been lost had not a youth, the counterpart of this one--if,
indeed, he be not the very same--intervened when all others fled,
and saved me." Then he addressed Ben-Hur directly, "Art thou not
"I cannot answer so far," Ben-Hur replied, with modest deference.
"I am he who stopped the horses of the insolent Roman when they were
rushing upon thy camel at the Fountain of Castalia. Thy daughter left
a cup with me."
From the bosom of his tunic he produced the cup, and gave it to
A glow lighted the faded countenance of the Egyptian.
"The Lord sent thee to me at the Fountain to-day," he said, in a
tremulous voice, stretching his hand towards Ben-Hur; "and he
sends thee to me now. I give him thanks; and praise him thou,
for of his favor I have wherewith to give thee great reward,
and I will. The cup is thine; keep it."
Ben-Hur took back the gift, and Balthasar, seeing the inquiry
upon Ilderim's face, related the occurrence at the Fountain.
"What!" said the sheik to Ben-Hur. "Thou saidst nothing of this
to me, when better recommendation thou couldst not have brought.
Am I not an Arab, and sheik of my tribe of tens of thousands? And
is not he my guest? And is it not in my guest-bond that the good
or evil thou dost him is good or evil done to me? Whither shouldst
thou go for reward but here? And whose the hand to give it but mine?"
His voice at the end of the speech rose to cutting shrillness.
"Good sheik, spare me, I pray. I came not for reward, great or
small; and that I may be acquitted of the thought, I say the
help I gave this excellent man would have been given as well
to thy humblest servant."
"But he is my friend, my guest--not my servant; and seest thou
not in the difference the favor of Fortune?" Then to Balthasar
the sheik subjoined, "Ah, by the splendor of God! I tell thee
again he is not a Roman."
With that he turned away, and gave attention to the servants,
whose preparations for the supper were about complete.
The reader who recollects the history of Balthasar as given by
himself at the meeting in the desert will understand the effect
of Ben-Hur's assertion of disinterestedness upon that worthy.
In his devotion to men there had been, it will be remembered,
no distinctions; while the redemption which had been promised him
in the way of reward--the redemption for which he was waiting--was
universal. To him, therefore, the assertion sounded somewhat like
an echo of himself. He took a step nearer Ben-Hur, and spoke to
him in the childlike way.
"How did the sheik say I should call you? It was a Roman name,
"Arrius, the son of Arrius."
"Yet thou art not a Roman?"
"All my people were Jews."
"Were, saidst thou? Are they not living?"
The question was subtle as well as simple; but Ilderim saved
Ben-Hur from reply.
"Come," he said to them, "the meal is ready."
Ben-Hur gave his arm to Balthasar, and conducted him to the table,
where shortly they were all seated on their rugs Eastern fashion.
The lavers were brought them, and they washed and dried their hands;
then the sheik made a sign, the servants stopped, and the voice of
the Egyptian arose tremulous with holy feeling.
"Father of All--God! What we have is of thee; take our thanks,
and bless us, that we may continue to do thy will."
It was the grace the good man had said simultaneously with his
brethren Gaspar the Greek and Melchior the Hindoo, the utterance
in diverse tongues out of which had come the miracle attesting
the Divine Presence at the meal in the desert years before.
The table to which they immediately addressed themselves was, as may
be thought, rich in the substantials and delicacies favorite in the
East--in cakes hot from the oven, vegetables from the gardens,
meats singly, compounds of meats and vegetables, milk of kine,
and honey and butter--all eaten or drunk, it should be remarked,
without any of the modern accessories--knives, forks, spoons,
cups, or plates; and in this part of the repast but little was
said, for they were hungry. But when the dessert was in course it
was otherwise. They laved their hands again, had the lap-cloths
shaken out, and with a renewed table and the sharp edge of their
appetites gone they were disposed to talk and listen.
With such a company--an Arab, a Jew, and an Egyptian, all believers
alike in one God--there could be at that age but one subject of
conversation; and of the three, which should be speaker but he to
whom the Deity had been so nearly a personal appearance, who had
seen him in a star, had heard his voice in direction, had been led
so far and so miraculously by his Spirit? And of what should he
talk but that of which he had been called to testify?
The shadows cast over the Orchard of Palms by the mountains at
set of sun left no sweet margin time of violet sky and drowsing
earth between the day and night. The latter came early and swift;
and against its glooming in the tent this evening the servants
brought four candlesticks of brass, and set them by the corners
of the table. To each candlestick there were four branches, and on
each branch a lighted silver lamp and a supply cup of olive-oil.
In light ample, even brilliant, the group at dessert continued
their conversation, speaking in the Syriac dialect, familiar to
all peoples in that part of the world.
The Egyptian told his story of the meeting of the three in
the desert, and agreed with the sheik that it was in December,
twenty-seven years before, when he and his companions fleeing from
Herod arrived at the tent praying shelter. The narrative was heard
with intense interest; even the servants lingering when they could
to catch its details. Ben-Hur received it as became a man listening
to a revelation of deep concern to all humanity, and to none of
more concern than the people of Israel. In his mind, as we shall
presently see, there was crystallizing an idea which was to change
his course of life, if not absorb it absolutely.
As the recital proceeded, the impression made by Balthasar upon
the young Jew increased; at its conclusion, his feeling was too
profound to permit a doubt of its truth; indeed, there was nothing
left him desirable in the connection but assurances, if such were
to be had, pertaining exclusively to the consequences of the
And now there is wanting an explanation which the very discerning
may have heretofore demanded; certainly it can be no longer delayed.
Our tale begins, in point of date not less than fact, to trench close
upon the opening of the ministry of the Son of Mary, whom we have
seen but once since this same Balthasar left him worshipfully in
his mother's lap in the cave by Bethlehem. Henceforth to the end
the mysterious Child will be a subject of continual reference;
and slowly though surely the current of events with which we are
dealing will bring us nearer and nearer to him, until finally we
see him a man--we would like, if armed contrariety of opinion would
permit it, to add--A MAN WHOM THE WORLD COULD NOT DO WITHOUT. Of
this declaration, apparently so simple, a shrewd mind inspired by
faith will make much--and in welcome. Before his time, and since,
there have been men indispensable to particular people and periods;
but his indispensability was to the whole race, and for all time--a
respect in which it is unique, solitary, divine.
To Sheik Ilderim the story was not new. He had heard it from the
three wise men together under circumstances which left no room
for doubt; he had acted upon it seriously, for the helping a
fugitive escape from the anger of the first Herod was dangerous.
Now one of the three sat at his table again, a welcome guest and
revered friend. Sheik IIderim certainly believed the story; yet,
in the nature of things, its mighty central fact could not come
home to him with the force and absorbing effect it came to Ben-Hur.
He was an Arab, whose interest in the consequences was but general;
on the other hand, Ben-Hur was an Israelite and a Jew, with more
than a special interest in--if the ~solecism can be pardoned--the
truth of the fact. He laid hold of the circumstance with a purely
From his cradle, let it be remembered, he had heard of the Messiah;
at the colleges he had been made familiar with all that was known
of that Being at once the hope, the fear, and the peculiar glory
of the chosen people; the prophets from the first to the last of
the heroic line foretold him; and the coming had been, and yet was,
the theme of endless exposition with the rabbis--in the synagogues,
in the schools, in the Temple, of fast-days and feast-days, in public
and in private, the national teachers expounded and kept expounding
until all the children of Abraham, wherever their lots were cast,
bore the Messiah in expectation, and by it literally, and with
iron severity, ruled and moulded their lives.
Doubtless, it will be understood from this that there was much
argument among the Jews themselves about the Messiah, and so
there was; but the disputation was all limited to one point,
and one only--when would he come?
Disquisition is for the preacher; whereas the writer is but telling
a tale, and that he may not lose his character, the explanation he
is making requires notice merely of a point connected with the
Messiah about which the unanimity among the chosen people was
matter of marvellous astonishment: he was to be, when come,
the KING OF THE JEWS--their political King, their Caesar.
By their instrumentality he was to make armed conquest of
the earth, and then, for their profit and in the name of God,
hold it down forever. On this faith, dear reader, the Pharisees
or Separatists--the latter being rather a political term--in the
cloisters and around the altars of the Temple, built an edifice of
hope far overtopping the dream of the Macedonian. His but covered
the earth; theirs covered the earth and filled the skies; that is
to say, in their bold, boundless fantasy of blasphemous egotism,
God the Almighty was in effect to suffer them for their uses to nail
him by the ear to a door in sign of eternal servitude.
Returning directly to Ben-Hur, it is to be observed now that there
were two circumstances in his life the result of which had been
to keep him in a state comparatively free from the influence and
hard effects of the audacious faith of his Separatist countrymen.
In the first place, his father followed the faith of the Sadducees,
who may, in a general way, be termed the Liberals of their time.
They had some loose opinions in denial of the soul. They were
strict constructionists and rigorous observers of the Law as
found in the books of Moses; but they held the vast mass of
Rabbinical addenda to those books in derisive contempt. They were
unquestionably a sect, yet their religion was more a philosophy
than a creed; they did not deny themselves the enjoyments of
life, and saw many admirable methods and productions among the
Gentile divisions of the race. In politics they were the active
opposition of the Separatists. In the natural order of things,
these circumstances and conditions, opinions and peculiarities,
would have descended to the son as certainly and really as any
portion of his father's estate; and, as we have seen, he was
actually in course of acquiring them, when the second saving
event overtook him.
Upon a youth of Ben-Hur's mind and temperament the influence of
five years of affluent life in Rome can be appreciated best by
recalling that the great city was then, in fact, the meeting-place
of the nations--their meeting-place politically and commercially,
as well as for the indulgence of pleasure without restraint.
Round and round the golden mile-stone in front of the Forum--now
in gloom of eclipse, now in unapproachable splendor--flowed
all the active currents of humanity. If excellences of manner,
refinements of society, attainments of intellect, and glory of
achievement made no impression upon him, how could he, as the son
of Arrius, pass day after day, through a period so long, from the
beautiful villa near Misenum into the receptions of Caesar, and be
wholly uninfluenced by what he saw there of kings, princes, ambassadors,
hostages, and delegates, suitors all of them from every known land,
waiting humbly the yes or no which was to make or unmake them? As
mere assemblages, to be sure, there was nothing to compare with the
gatherings at Jerusalem in celebration of the Passover; yet when
he sat under the purple velaria of the Circus Maximus one of three
hundred and fifty thousand spectators, he must have been visited by
the thought that possibly there might be some branches of the family
of man worthy divine consideration, if not mercy, though they were of
the uncircumcised--some, by their sorrows, and, yet worse, by their
hopelessness in the midst of sorrows, fitted for brotherhood in the
promises to his countrymen.
That he should have had such a thought under such circumstances was
but natural; we think so much, at least, will be admitted: but when
the reflection came to him, and he gave himself up to it, he could
not have been blind to a certain distinction. The wretchedness of
the masses, and their hopeless condition, had no relation whatever
to religion; their murmurs and groans were not against their gods
or for want of gods. In the oak-woods of Britain the Druids held
their followers; Odin and Freya maintained their godships in Gaul
and Germany and among the Hyperboreans; Egypt was satisfied with
her crocodiles and Anubis; the Persians were yet devoted to Ormuzd
and Ahriman, holding them in equal honor; in hope of the Nirvana,
the Hindoos moved on patient as ever in the rayless paths of Brahm;
the beautiful Greek mind, in pauses of philosophy, still sang the
heroic gods of Homer; while in Rome nothing was so common and cheap
as gods. According to whim, the masters of the world, because they
were masters, carried their worship and offerings indifferently from
altar to altar, delighted in the pandemonium they had erected. Their
discontent, if they were discontented, was with the number of gods;
for, after borrowing all the divinities of the earth they proceeded
to deify their Caesars, and vote them altars and holy service. No,
the unhappy condition was not from religion, but misgovernment
and usurpations and countless tyrannies. The Avernus men had been
tumbled into, and were praying to be relieved from, was terribly
but essentially political. The supplication--everywhere alike,
in Lodinum, Alexandria, Athens, Jerusalem--was for a king to
conquer with, not a god to worship.
Studying the situation after two thousand years, we can see and
say that religiously there was no relief from the universal
confusion except some God could prove himself a true God,
and a masterful one, and come to the rescue; but the people of
the time, even the discerning and philosophical, discovered no
hope except in crushing Rome; that done, the relief would follow in
restorations and reorganizations; therefore they prayed, conspired,
rebelled, fought, and died, drenching the soil to-day with blood,
to-morrow with tears--and always with the same result.
It remains to be said now that Ben-Hur was in agreement with the
mass of men of his time not Romans. The five years' residence in
the capital served him with opportunity to see and study the
miseries of the subjugated world; and in full belief that the
evils which afflicted it were political, and to be cured only
by the sword, he was going forth to fit himself for a part in the
day of resort to the heroic remedy. By practice of arms he was a
perfect soldier; but war has its higher fields, and he who would
move successfully in them must know more than to defend with shield
and thrust with spear. In those fields the general finds his tasks,
the greatest of which is the reduction of the many into one, and
that one himself; the consummate captain is a fighting-man armed
with an army. This conception entered into the scheme of life to
which he was further swayed by the reflection that the vengeance
he dreamed of, in connection with his individual wrongs, would be
more surely found in some of the ways of war than in any pursuit
The feelings with which he listened to Balthasar can be now understood.
The story touched two of the most sensitive points of his being so
they rang within him. His heart beat fast--and faster still when,
searching himself, he found not a doubt either that the recital
was true in every particular, or that the Child so miraculously
found was the Messiah. Marvelling much that Israel rested so dead
to the revelation, and that he had never heard of it before that
day, two questions presented themselves to him as centring all it
was at that moment further desirable to know:
Where was the Child then?
And what was his mission?
With apologies for the interruptions, he proceeded to draw out
the opinions of Balthasar, who was in nowise loath to speak.
"If I could answer you," Balthasar said, in his simple, earnest,
devout way--"oh, if I knew where he is, how quickly I would go to
him! The seas should not stay me, nor the mountains."
"You have tried to find him, then?" asked Ben-Hur.
A smile flitted across the face of the Egyptian.
"The first task I charged myself with after leaving the shelter given
me in the desert"--Balthasar cast a grateful look at Ilderim--"was to
learn what became of the Child. But a year had passed, and I dared
not go up to Judea in person, for Herod still held the throne
bloody-minded as ever. In Egypt, upon my return, there were a
few friends to believe the wonderful things I told them of what
I had seen and heard--a few who rejoiced with me that a Redeemer
was born--a few who never tired of the story. Some of them came
up for me looking after the Child. They went first to Bethlehem,
and found there the khan and the cave; but the steward--he who sat
at the gate the night of the birth, and the night we came following
the star--was gone. The king had taken him away, and he was no more
"But they found some proofs, surely," said Ben-Hur, eagerly.
"Yes, proofs written in blood--a village in mourning; mothers yet
crying for their little ones. You must know, when Herod heard
of our flight, he sent down and slew the youngest-born of the
children of Bethlehem. Not one escaped. The faith of my messengers
was confirmed; but they came to me saying the Child was dead,
slain with the other innocents."
"Dead!" exclaimed Ben-Hur, aghast. "Dead, sayest thou?"
"Nay, my son, I did not say so. I said they, my messengers, told me
the Child was dead. I did not believe the report then; I do not
believe it now."
"I see--thou hast some special knowledge."
"Not so, not so," said Balthasar, dropping his gaze. "The Spirit
was to go with us no farther than to the Child. When we came
out of the cave, after our presents were given and we had seen
the babe, we looked first thing for the star; but it was gone,
and we knew we were left to ourselves. The last inspiration of
the Holy One--the last I can recall--was that which sent us to
Ilderim for safety."
"Yes," said the sheik, fingering his beard nervously. "You told
me you were sent to me by a Spirit--I remember it."
"I have no special knowledge," Balthasar continued, observing the
dejection which had fallen upon Ben-Hur; "but, my son, I have
given the matter much thought--thought continuing through years,
inspired by faith, which, I assure you, calling God for witness,
is as strong in me now as in the hour I heard the voice of the
Spirit calling me by the shore of the lake. If you will listen,
I will tell you why I believe the Child is living."
Both Ilderim and Ben-Hur looked assent, and appeared to summon their
faculties that they might understand as well as hear. The interest
reached the servants, who drew near to the divan, and stood listening.
Throughout the tent there was the profoundest silence.
"We three believe in God."
Balthasar bowed his head as he spoke.
"And he is the Truth," he resumed. "His word is God. The hills may
turn to dust, and the seas be drunk dry by south winds; but his
word shall stand, because it is the Truth."
The utterance was in a manner inexpressibly solemn.
"The voice, which was his, speaking to me by the lake, said,
'Blessed art thou, O son of Mizraim! The Redemption cometh.
With two others from the remotenesses of the earth, thou shalt
see the Savior.' I have seen the Savior--blessed be his name!--but
the Redemption, which was the second part of the promise, is yet
to come. Seest thou now? If the Child be dead, there is no agent
to bring the Redemption about, and the word is naught, and God--nay,
I dare not say it!"
He threw up both hands in horror.
"The Redemption was the work for which the Child was born; and so
long as the promise abides, not even death can separate him
from his work until it is fulfilled, or at least in the way
of fulfilment. Take you that now as one reason for my belief;
then give me further attention."
The good man paused.
"Wilt thou not taste the wine? It is at thy hand--see," said Ilderim,
Balthasar drank, and, seeming refreshed, continued:
"The Savior I saw was born of woman, in nature like us, and subject
to all our ills--even death. Let that stand as the first proposition.
Consider next the work set apart to him. Was it not a performance for
which only a man is fitted?--a man wise, firm, discreet--a man, not a
child? To become such he had to grow as we grow. Bethink you now
of the dangers his life was subject to in the interval--the long
interval between childhood and maturity. The existing powers were
his enemies; Herod was his enemy; and what would Rome have been?
And as for Israel--that he should not be accepted by Israel was
the motive for cutting him off. See you now. What better way was
there to take care of his life in the helpless growing time than
by passing him into obscurity? Wherefore I say to myself, and to
my listening faith, which is never moved except by yearning of
love--I say he is not dead, but lost; and, his work remaining
undone, he will come again. There you have the reasons for my
belief. Are they not good?"
Ilderim's small Arab eyes were bright with understanding,
and Ben-Hur, lifted from his dejection, said heartily, "I,
at least, may not gainsay them. What further, pray?"
"Hast thou not enough, my son? Well," he began, in calmer tone,
"seeing that the reasons were good--more plainly, seeing it was
God's will that the Child should not be found--I settled my faith
into the keeping of patience, and took to waiting." He raised his
eyes, full of holy trust, and broke off abstractedly--"I am waiting
now. He lives, keeping well his mighty secret. What though I cannot
go to him, or name the hill or the vale of his abiding-place? He
lives--it may be as the fruit in blossom, it may be as the fruit
just ripening; but by the certainty there is in the promise and
reason of God, I know he lives."
A thrill of awe struck Ben-Hur--a thrill which was but the dying
of his half-formed doubt.
"Where thinkest thou he is?" he asked, in a low voice, and hesitating,
like one who feels upon his lips the pressure of a sacred silence.
Balthasar looked at him kindly, and replied, his mind not entirely
freed from its abstraction,
"In my house on the Nile, so close to the river that the
passers-by in boats see it and its reflection in the water
at the same time--in my house, a few weeks ago, I sat thinking.
A man thirty years old, I said to myself, should have his fields
of life all ploughed, and his planting well done; for after that
it is summer-time, with space scarce enough to ripen his sowing.
The Child, I said further, is now twenty-seven--his time to plant
must be at hand. I asked myself, as you here asked me, my son,
and answered by coming hither, as to a good resting-place close
by the land thy fathers had from God. Where else should he appear,
if not in Judea? In what city should he begin his work, if not in
Jerusalem? Who should be first to receive the blessings he is to
bring, if not the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; in love,
at least, the children of the Lord? If I were bidden go seek him,
I would search well the hamlets and villages on the slopes of the
mountains of Judea and Galilee falling eastwardly into the valley
of the Jordan. He is there now. Standing in a door or on a hill-top,
only this evening he saw the sun set one day nearer the time when he
himself shall become the light of the world."
Balthasar ceased, with his hand raised and finger pointing as if
at Judea. All the listeners, even the dull servants outside the
divan, affected by his fervor, were startled as if by a majestic
presence suddenly apparent within the tent. Nor did the sensation
die away at once: of those at the table, each sat awhile thinking.
The spell was finally broken by Ben-Hur.
"I see, good Balthasar," he said, "that thou hast been much and
strangely favored. I see, also, that thou art a wise man indeed.
It is not in my power to tell how grateful I am for the things
thou hast told me. I am warned of the coming of great events,
and borrow somewhat from thy faith. Complete the obligation,
I pray thee, by telling further of the mission of him for whom
thou art waiting, and for whom from this night I too shall wait as
becomes a believing son of Judah. He is to be a Savior, thou saidst;
is he not to be King of the Jews also?"
"My son," said Balthasar, in his benignant way, "the mission is
yet a purpose in the bosom of God. All I think about it is wrung
from the words of the Voice in connection with the prayer to which
they were in answer. Shall we refer to them again?"
"Thou art the teacher."
"The cause of my disquiet," Balthasar began, calmly--"that which
made me a preacher in Alexandria and in the villages of the Nile;
that which drove me at last into the solitude where the Spirit found
me--was the fallen condition of men, occasioned, as I believed, by loss
of the knowledge of God. I sorrowed for the sorrows of my kind--not of
one class, but all of them. So utterly were they fallen it seemed
to me there could be no Redemption unless God himself would make
it his work; and I prayed him to come, and that I might see him.
'Thy good works have conquered. The Redemption cometh; thou shalt
see the Savior'--thus the Voice spake; and with the answer I went
up to Jerusalem rejoicing. Now, to whom is the Redemption? To all
the world. And how shall it be? Strengthen thy faith, my son! Men
say, I know, that there will be no happiness until Rome is razed
from her hills. That is to say, the ills of the time are not, as I
thought them, from ignorance of God, but from the misgovernment
of rulers. Do we need to be told that human governments are never
for the sake of religion? How many kings have you heard of who were
better than their subjects? Oh no, no! The Redemption cannot be for
a political purpose--to pull down rulers and powers, and vacate their
places merely that others may take and enjoy them. If that were all
of it, the wisdom of God would cease to be surpassing. I tell you,
though it be but the saying of blind to blind, he that comes is
to be a Savior of souls; and the Redemption means God once more
on earth, and righteousness, that his stay here may be tolerable
Disappointment showed plainly on Ben-Hur's face--his head drooped;
and if he was not convinced, he yet felt himself incapable that
moment of disputing the opinion of the Egyptian. Not so Ilderim.
"By the splendor of God!" he cried, impulsively, "the judgment does
away with all custom. The ways of the world are fixed, and cannot
be changed. There must be a leader in every community clothed with
power, else there is no reform."
Balthasar received the burst gravely.
"Thy wisdom, good sheik, is of the world; and thou dost forget
that it is from the ways of the world we are to be redeemed.
Man as a subject is the ambition of a king; the soul of a man
for its salvation is the desire of a God."
Ilderim, though silenced, shook his head, unwilling to believe.
Ben-Hur took up the argument for him.
"Father--I call thee such by permission," he said--"for whom wert
thou required to ask at the gates of Jerusalem?"
The sheik threw him a grateful look.
"I was to ask of the people," said Balthasar, quietly, "'Where is
he that is born King of the Jews?'"
"And you saw him in the cave by Bethlehem?"
"We saw and worshipped him, and gave him presents--Melchior, gold;
Gaspar, frankincense; and I, myrrh."
"When thou dost speak of fact, O father, to hear thee is to believe,"
said Ben-Hur; "but in the matter of opinion, I cannot understand the
kind of king thou wouldst make of the Child--I cannot separate the
ruler from his powers and duties."
"Son," said Balthasar, "we have the habit of studying closely the
things which chance to lie at our feet, giving but a look at the
greater objects in the distance. Thou seest now but the title--
KING OF THE JEWS; wilt thou lift thine eyes to the mystery beyond it,
the stumbling-block will disappear. Of the title, a word. Thy Israel
hath seen better days--days in which God called thy people endearingly
his people, and dealt with them through prophets. Now, if in those
days he promised them the Savior I saw--promised him as KING OF THE
JEWS--the appearance must be according to the promise, if only for
the word's sake. Ah, thou seest the reason of my question at the
gate!--thou seest, and I will no more of it, but pass on. It may
be, next, thou art regarding the dignity of the Child; if so,
bethink thee--what is it to be a successor of Herod?--by the
world's standard of honor, what? Could not God better by his
beloved? If thou canst think of the Almighty Father in want of
a title, and stooping to borrow the inventions of men, why was
I not bidden ask for a Caesar at once? Oh, for the substance of
that whereof we speak, look higher, I pray thee! Ask rather of what
he whom we await shall be king; for I do tell, my son, that is the
key to the mystery, which no man shall understand without the key."
Balthasar raised his eyes devoutly.
"There is a kingdom on the earth, though it is not of it--a
kingdom of wider bounds than the earth--wider than the sea and
the earth, though they were rolled together as finest gold and
spread by the beating of hammers. Its existence is a fact as our
hearts are facts, and we journey through it from birth to death
without seeing it; nor shall any man see it until he hath first
known his own soul; for the kingdom is not for him, but for his
soul. And in its dominion there is glory such as hath not entered
imagination--original, incomparable, impossible of increase."
"What thou sayest, father, is a riddle to me," said Ben-Hur.
"I never heard of such a kingdom."
"Nor did I," said Ilderim.
"And I may not tell more of it," Balthasar added, humbly dropping
his eyes. "What it is, what it is for, how it may be reached,
none can know until the Child comes to take possession of it as
his own. He brings the key of the viewless gate, which he will
open for his beloved, among whom will be all who love him, for of
such only the redeemed will be."
After that there was a long silence, which Balthasar accepted as
the end of the conversation.
"Good sheik," he said, in his placid way, "to-morrow or the next
day I will go up to the city for a time. My daughter wishes to
see the preparations for the games. I will speak further about
the time of our going. And, my son, I will see you again. To you
both, peace and good-night."
They all arose from the table. The sheik and Ben-Hur remained
looking after the Egyptian until he was conducted out of the tent.
"Sheik Ilderim," said Ben-Hur then, "I have heard strange things
tonight. Give me leave, I pray, to walk by the lake that I may
think of them."
"Go; and I will come after you."
They washed their hands again; after which, at a sign from the
master, a servant brought Ben-Hur his shoes, and directly he
Up a little way from the dower there was a cluster of palms,
which threw its shade half in the water, half on the land. A bulbul
sang from the branches a song of invitation. Ben-Hur stopped beneath
to listen. At any other time the notes of the bird would have driven
thought away; but the story of the Egyptian was a burden of wonder,
and he was a laborer carrying it, and, like other laborers, there was
to him no music in the sweetest music until mind and body were happily
attuned by rest.
The night was quiet. Not a ripple broke upon the shore. The old
stars of the old East were all out, each in its accustomed place;
and there was summer everywhere--on land, on lake, in the sky.
Ben-Hur's imagination was heated, his feelings aroused, his will
So the palms, the sky, the air, seemed to him of the far south
zone into which Balthasar had been driven by despair for men;
the lake, with its motionless surface, was a suggestion of the
Nilotic mother by which the good man stood praying when the
Spirit made its radiant appearance. Had all these accessories
of the miracle come to Ben-Hur? or had he been transferred to
them? And what if the miracle should be repeated--and to him? He
feared, yet wished, and even waited for the vision. When at last
his feverish mood was cooled, permitting him to become himself,
he was able to think.
His scheme of life has been explained. In all reflection about it
heretofore there had been one hiatus which he had not been able to
bridge or fill up--one so broad he could see but vaguely to the
other side of it. When, finally, he was graduated a captain as
well as a soldier, to what object should he address his efforts?
Revolution he contemplated, of course; but the processes of
revolution have always been the same, and to lead men into
them there have always been required, first, a cause or presence
to enlist adherents; second, an end, or something as a practical
achievement. As a rule he fights well who has wrongs to redress;
but vastly better fights he who, with wrongs as a spur, has also
steadily before him a glorious result in prospect--a result in
which he can discern balm for wounds, compensation for valor,
remembrance and gratitude in the event of death.
To determine the sufficiency of either the cause or the end, it was
needful that Ben-Hur should study the adherents to whom he looked when
all was ready for action. Very naturally, they were his countrymen.
The wrongs of Israel were to every son of Abraham, and each one was
a cause vastly holy, vastly inspiring.
Ay, the cause was there; but the end--what should it be?
The hours and days he had given this branch of his scheme were
past calculation--all with the same conclusion--a dim, uncertain,
general idea of national liberty. Was it sufficient? He could not
say no, for that would have been the death of his hope; he shrank
from saying yes, because his judgment taught him better. He could
not assure himself even that Israel was able single-handed to
successfully combat Rome. He knew the resources of that great
enemy; he knew her art was superior to her resources. A universal
alliance might suffice, but, alas! that was impossible, except-- and
upon the exception how long and earnestly he had dwelt!-- except a
hero would come from one of the suffering nations, and by martial
successes accomplish a renown to fill the whole earth. What glory
to Judea could she prove the Macedonia of the new
Alexander! Alas, again! Under the rabbis valor was possible, but not
discipline. And then the taunt of Messala in the garden of Herod--
"All you conquer in the six days, you lose on the seventh."
So it happened he never approached the chasm thinking to surmount
it, but he was beaten back; and so incessantly had he failed in
the object that he had about given it over, except as a thing of
chance. The hero might be discovered in his day, or he might not.
God only knew. Such his state of mind, there need be no lingering
upon the effect of Malluch's skeleton recital of the story of
Balthasar. He heard it with a bewildering satisfaction--a feeling
that here was the solution of the trouble--here was the requisite
hero found at last; and he a son of the Lion tribe, and King of
the Jews! Behind the hero, lo! the world in arms.
The king implied a kingdom; he was to be a warrior glorious as David,
a ruler wise and magnificent as Solomon; the kingdom was to be a
power against which Rome was to dash itself to pieces. There would
be colossal war, and the agonies of death and birth-- then peace,
meaning, of course, Judean dominion forever.
Ben-Hur's heart beat hard as for an instant he had a vision of
Jerusalem the capital of the world, and Zion, the site of the
throne of the Universal Master.
It seemed to the enthusiast rare fortune that the man who had
seen the king was at the tent to which he was going. He could
see him there, and hear him, and learn of him what all he knew
of the coming change, especially all he knew of the time of its
happening. If it were at hand, the campaign with Maxentius should
be abandoned; and he would go and set about organizing and arming
the tribes, that Israel might be ready when the great day of the
restoration began to break.
Now, as we have seen, from Balthasar himself Ben-Hur had the
marvelous story. Was he satisfied?
There was a shadow upon him deeper than that of the cluster of
palms--the shadow of a great uncertainty, which--take note,
O reader! which pertained more to the kingdom than the king.
"What of this kingdom? And what is it to be?" Ben-Hur asked himself
Thus early arose the questions which were to follow the Child to
his end, and survive him on earth--incomprehensible in his day,
a dispute in this--an enigma to all who do not or cannot understand
that every man is two in one--a deathless Soul and a mortal Body.
"What is it to be?" he asked.
For us, O reader, the Child himself has answered; but for Ben-Hur
there were only the words of Balthasar, "On the earth, yet not of
it--not for men, but for their souls--a dominion, nevertheless,
of unimaginable glory."
What wonder the hapless youth found the phrases but the darkening
of a riddle?
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