Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
Part 7 out of 13
"The hand of man is not in it," he said, despairingly. "Nor has the
king of such a kingdom use for men; neither toilers, nor councillors,
nor soldiers. The earth must die or be made anew, and for government new
principles must be discovered--something besides armed hands--something
in place of Force. But what?"
Again, O reader!
That which we will not see, he could not. The power there is in
Love had not yet occurred to any man; much less had one come saying
directly that for government and its objects--peace and order--Love
is better and mightier than Force.
In the midst of his reverie a hand was laid upon his shoulder.
"I have a word to say, O son of Arrius," said Ilderim, stopping by
his side--"a word, and then I must return, for the night is going."
"I give you welcome, sheik."
"As to the things you have heard but now," said Ilderim, almost without
pause, "take in belief all save that relating to the kind of kingdom
the Child will set up when he comes; as to so much keep virgin mind
until you hear Simonides the merchant--a good man here in Antioch,
to whom I will make you known. The Egyptian gives you coinage of his
dreams which are too good for the earth; Simonides is wiser; he will
ring you the sayings of your prophets, giving book and page, so you
cannot deny that the Child will be King of the Jews in fact--ay,
by the splendor of God! a king as Herod was, only better and far
more magnificent. And then, see you, we will taste the sweetness
of vengeance. I have said. Peace to you!"
If Ilderim heard his call, he did not stay.
"Simonides again!" said Ben-Hur, bitterly. "Simonides here,
Simonides there; from this one now, then from that! I am like
to be well ridden by my father's servant, who knows at least to
hold fast that which is mine; wherefore he is richer, if indeed
he be not wiser, than the Egyptian. By the covenant! it is not
to the faithless a man should go to find a faith to keep--and
I will not. But, hark! singing--and the voice a woman's--or an
angel's! It comes this way."
Down the lake towards the dower came a woman singing. Her voice
floated along the hushed water melodious as a flute, and louder
growing each instant. Directly the dipping of oars was heard in
slow measure; a little later the words were distinguishable--words
in purest Greek, best fitted of all the tongues of the day for the
expression of passionate grief.
I sigh as I sing for the story land
Across the Syrian sea.
The odorous winds from the musky sand
Were breaths of life to me.
They play with the plumes of the whispering palm
For me, alas! no more;
Nor more does the Nile in the moonlit calm
Moan past the Memphian shore.
O Nilus! thou god of my fainting soul!
In dreams thou comest to me;
And, dreaming, I play with the lotus bowl,
And sing old songs to thee;
And hear from afar the Memnonian strain,
And calls from dear Simbel;
And wake to a passion of grief and pain
That e'er I said--Farewell!
At the conclusion of the song the singer was past the cluster of
palms. The last word--farewell--floated past Ben-Hur weighted with
all the sweet sorrow of parting. The passing of the boat was as the
passing of a deeper shadow into the deeper night.
Ben-Hur drew a long breath hardly distinguishable from a sigh.
"I know her by the song--the daughter of Balthasar. How beautiful
it was! And how beautiful is she!"
He recalled her large eyes curtained slightly by the drooping
lids, the cheeks oval and rosy rich, the lips full and deep
with dimpling in the corners, and all the grace of the tall
"How beautiful she is!" he repeated.
And his heart made answer by a quickening of its movement.
Then, almost the same instant, another face, younger and quite
as beautiful--more childlike and tender, if not so passionate--
appeared as if held up to him out of the lake.
"Esther!" he said, smiling. "As I wished, a star has been sent
He turned, and passed slowly back to the tent.
His life had been crowded with griefs and with vengeful
preparations--too much crowded for love. Was this the beginning
of a happy change?
And if the influence went with him into the tent, whose was it?
Esther had given him a cup. So had the Egyptian. And both had
come to him at the same time under the palms.
"Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in the dust."
"And, through the heat of conflict, keeps the law,
In calmness made, and sees what he foresaw."
The morning after the bacchanalia in the saloon of the palace,
the divan was covered with young patricians. Maxentius might come,
and the city throng to receive him; the legion might descend from
Mount Sulpius in glory of arms and armor; from Nymphaeum to Omphalus
there might be ceremonial splendors to shame the most notable ever
before seen or heard of in the gorgeous East; yet would the many
continue to sleep ignominiously on the divan where they had fallen
or been carelessly tumbled by the indifferent slaves; that they
would be able to take part in the reception that day was about as
possible as for the lay-figures in the studio of a modern artist
to rise and go bonneted and plumed through the one, two, three of
Not all, however, who participated in the orgy were in the shameful
condition. When dawn began to peer through the skylights of the saloon,
Messala arose, and took the chaplet from his head, in sign that the
revel was at end; then he gathered his robe about him, gave a last
look at the scene, and, without a word, departed for his quarters.
Cicero could not have retired with more gravity from a night-long
Three hours afterwards two couriers entered his room, and from his
own hand received each a despatch, sealed and in duplicate, and
consisting chiefly of a letter to Valerius Gratus, the procurator,
still resident in Caesarea. The importance attached to the speedy
and certain delivery of the paper may be inferred. One courier
was to proceed overland, the other by sea; both were to make the
It is of great concern now that the reader should be fully informed
of the contents of the letter thus forwarded, and it is accordingly
"ANTIOCH, XII. Kal. Jul.
"Messala to Gratus.
"O my Midas!
"I pray thou take no offense at the address, seeing it is one of
love and gratitude, and an admission that thou art most fortunate
among men; seeing, also, that thy ears are as they were derived
from thy mother, only proportionate to thy matured condition.
"O my Midas!
"I have to relate to thee an astonishing event, which, though as
yet somewhat in the field of conjecture, will, I doubt not,
justify thy instant consideration.
"Allow me first to revive thy recollection. Remember, a good many
years ago, a family of a prince of Jerusalem, incredibly ancient and
vastly rich--by name Ben-Hur. If thy memory have a limp or ailment
of any kind, there is, if I mistake not, a wound on thy head which
may help thee to a revival of the circumstance.
"Next, to arouse thy interest. In punishment of the attempt upon
thy life--for dear repose of conscience, may all the gods forbid
it should ever prove to have been an accident!--the family were
seized and summarily disposed of, and their property confiscated.
And inasmuch, O my Midas! as the action had the approval of our
Caesar, who was as just as he was wise--be there flowers upon his
altars forever!--there should be no shame in referring to the
sums which were realized to us respectively from that source,
for which it is not possible I can ever cease to be grateful
to thee, certainly not while I continue, as at present, in the
uninterrupted enjoyment of the part which fell to me.
"In vindication of thy wisdom--a quality for which, as I am now
advised, the son of Gordius, to whom I have boldly likened thee,
was never distinguished among men or gods--I recall further that
thou didst make disposition of the family of Hur, both of us at the
time supposing the plan hit upon to be the most effective possible
for the purposes in view, which were silence and delivery over to
inevitable but natural death. Thou wilt remember what thou didst
with the mother and sister of the malefactor; yet, if now I yield
to a desire to learn whether they be living or dead, I know, from
knowing the amiability of thy nature, O my Gratus, that thou wilt
pardon me as one scarcely less amiable than thyself.
"As more immediately essential to the present business, however,
I take the liberty of inviting to thy remembrance that the actual
criminal was sent to the galleys a slave for life--so the precept
ran; and it may serve to make the event which I am about to relate
the more astonishing by saying here that I saw and read the receipt
for his body delivered in course to the tribune commanding a galley.
"Thou mayst begin now to give me more especial heed, O my most
"Referring to the limit of life at the oar, the outlaw thus justly
disposed of should be dead, or, better speaking, some one of the
three thousand Oceanides should have taken him to husband at least
five years ago. And if thou wilt excuse a momentary weakness, O most
virtuous and tender of men! inasmuch as I loved him in childhood,
and also because he was very handsome--I used in much admiration to
call him my Ganymede--he ought in right to have fallen into the arms
of the most beautiful daughter of the family. Of opinion, however,
that he was certainly dead, I have lived quite five years in calm
and innocent enjoyment of the fortune for which I am in a degree
indebted to him. I make the admission of indebtedness without
intending it to diminish my obligation to thee.
"Now I am at the very point of interest.
"Last night, while acting as master of the feast for a party just
from Rome--their extreme youth and inexperience appealed to my
compassion--I heard a singular story. Maxentius, the consul,
as you know, comes to-day to conduct a campaign against the
Parthians. Of the ambitious who are to accompany him there
is one, a son of the late duumvir Quintus Arrius. I had occasion
to inquire about him particularly. When Arrius set out in pursuit
of the pirates, whose defeat gained him his final honors, he had
no family; when he returned from the expedition, he brought back
with him an heir. Now be thou composed as becomes the owner of so
many talents in ready sestertii! The son and heir of whom I speak
is he whom thou didst send to the galleys--the very Ben-Hur who
should have died at his oar five years ago--returned now with
fortune and rank, and possibly as a Roman citizen, to-- Well,
thou art too firmly seated to be alarmed, but I, O my Midas! I am
in danger--no need to tell thee of what. Who should know, if thou
"Sayst thou to all this, tut-tut?
"When Arrius, the father, by adoption, of this apparition from the
arms of the most beautiful of the Oceanides (see above my opinion
of what she should be), joined battle with the pirates, his vessel
was sunk, and but two of all her crew escaped drowning--Arrius
himself and this one, his heir.
"The officers who took them from the plank on which they were
floating say the associate of the fortunate tribune was a young
man who, when lifted to the deck, was in the dress of a galley
"This should be convincing, to say least; but lest thou say tut-tut
again, I tell thee, O my Midas! that yesterday, by good chance--I
have a vow to Fortune in consequence--I met the mysterious son of
Arrius face to face; and I declare now that, though I did not then
recognize him, he is the very Ben-Hur who was for years my playmate;
the very Ben-Hur who, if he be a man, though of the commonest grade,
must this very moment of my writing be thinking of vengeance--for
so would I were I he--vengeance not to be satisfied short of life;
vengeance for country, mother, sister, self, and--I say it last,
though thou mayst think it would be first--for fortune lost.
"By this time, O good my benefactor and friend! my Gratus! in
consideration of thy sestertii in peril, their loss being the
worst which could befall one of thy high estate--I quit calling
thee after the foolish old King of Phrygia--by this time, I say
(meaning after having read me so far), I have faith to believe
thou hast ceased saying tut-tut, and art ready to think what
ought to be done in such emergency.
"It were vulgar to ask thee now what shall be done. Rather let me
say I am thy client; or, better yet, thou art my Ulysses whose part
it is to give me sound direction.
"And I please myself thinking I see thee when this letter is put
into thy hand. I see thee read it once; thy countenance all
gravity, and then again with a smile; then, hesitation ended,
and thy judgment formed, it is this, or it is that; wisdom like
Mercury's, promptitude like Caesar's.
"The sun is now fairly risen. An hour hence two messengers will
depart from my door, each with a sealed copy hereof; one of them
will go by land, the other by sea, so important do I regard it that
thou shouldst be early and particularly informed of the appearance
of our enemy in this part of our Roman world.
"I will await thy answer here.
"Ben-Hur's going and coming will of course be regulated by his
master, the consul, who, though he exert himself without rest day
and night, cannot get away under a month. Thou knowest what work
it is to assemble and provide for an army destined to operate in
a desolate, townless country.
"I saw the Jew yesterday in the Grove of Daphne; and if he be not
there now, he is certainly in the neighborhood, making it easy
for me to keep him in eye. Indeed, wert thou to ask me where he
is now, I should say, with the most positive assurance, he is
to be found at the old Orchard of Palms, under the tent of the
traitor Sheik Ilderim, who cannot long escape our strong hand.
Be not surprised if Maxentius, as his first measure, places the
Arab on ship for forwarding to Rome.
"I am so particular about the whereabouts of the Jew because
it will be important to thee, O illustrious! when thou comest
to consider what is to be done; for already I know, and by the
knowledge I flatter myself I am growing in wisdom, that in every
scheme involving human action there are three elements always to
be taken into account--time, place, and agency.
"If thou sayest this is the place, have thou then no hesitancy in
trusting the business to thy most loving friend, who would be thy
aptest scholar as well.
About the time the couriers departed from Messala's door with the
despatches (it being yet the early morning hour), Ben-Hur entered
I1derim's tent. He had taken a plunge into the lake, and breakfasted,
and appeared now in an under-tunic, sleeveless, and with skirt scarcely
reaching to the knee.
The sheik saluted him from the divan.
"I give thee peace, son of Arrius," he said, with admiration, for,
in truth, he had never seen a more perfect illustration of glowing,
powerful, confident manhood. "I give thee peace and good-will.
The horses are ready, I am ready. And thou?"
"The peace thou givest me, good sheik, I give thee in return.
I thank thee for so much good-will. I am ready."
Ilderim clapped his hands.
"I will have the horses brought. Be seated."
"Are they yoked?"
"Then suffer me to serve myself," said Ben-Hur. "It is needful
that I make the acquaintance of thy Arabs. I must know them by
name, O sheik, that I may speak to them singly; nor less must
I know their temper, for they are like men: if bold, the better
of scolding; if timid, the better of praise and flattery. Let the
servants bring me the harness."
"And the chariot?" asked the sheik.
"I will let the chariot alone to-day. In its place, let them bring
me a fifth horse, if thou hast it; he should be barebacked, and fleet
as the others."
Ilderim's wonder was aroused, and he summoned a servant immediately.
"Bid them bring the harness for the four," he said--"the harness
for the four, and the bridle for Sirius."
Ilderim then arose.
"Sirius is my love, and I am his, O son of Arrius. We have been
comrades for twenty years--in tent, in battle, in all stages of the
desert we have been comrades. I will show him to you."
Going to the division curtain, he held it, while Ben-Hur passed
under. The horses came to him in a body. One with a small head,
luminous eyes, neck like the segment of a bended bow, and mighty
chest, curtained thickly by a profusion of mane soft and wavy
as a damsel's locks, nickered low and gladly at sight of him.
"Good horse," said the sheik, patting the dark-brown cheek.
"Good horse, good-morning." Turning then to Ben-Hur, he added,
"This is Sirius, father of the four here. Mira, the mother,
awaits our return, being too precious to be hazarded in a region
where there is a stronger hand than mine. And much I doubt," he
laughed as he spoke--"much I doubt, O son of Arrius, if the tribe
could endure her absence. She is their glory; they worship her;
did she gallop over them, they would laugh. Ten thousand horsemen,
sons of the desert, will ask to-day, 'Have you heard of Mira?' And
to the answer, 'She is well,' they will say, 'God is good! blessed
"Mira--Sirius--names of stars, are they not, O sheik?" asked
Ben-Hur, going to each of the four, and to the sire, offering his
"And why not?" replied Ilderim. "Wert thou ever abroad on the
desert at night?"
"Then thou canst not know how much we Arabs depend upon the stars.
We borrow their names in gratitude, and give them in love. My fathers
all had their Miras, as I have mine; and these children are stars
no less. There, see thou, is Rigel, and there Antares; that one is
Atair, and he whom thou goest to now is Aldebaran, the youngest
of the brood, but none the worse of that--no, not he! Against
the wind he will carry thee till it roar in thy ears like Akaba;
and he will go where thou sayest, son of Arrius--ay, by the glory
of Solomon! he will take thee to the lion's jaws, if thou darest
The harness was brought. With his own hands Ben-Hur equipped the
horses; with his own hands he led them out of the tent, and there
attached the reins.
"Bring me Sirius," he said.
An Arab could not have better sprung to seat on the courser's back.
"And now the reins."
They were given him, and carefully separated.
"Good sheik," he said, "I am ready. Let a guide go before me to
the field, and send some of thy men with water."
There was no trouble at starting. The horses were not afraid.
Already there seemed a tacit understanding between them and
the new driver, who had performed his part calmly, and with
the confidence which always begets confidence. The order of
going was precisely that of driving, except that Ben-Hur sat
upon Sirius instead of standing in the chariot. Ilderim's spirit
arose. He combed his beard, and smiled with satisfaction as he
muttered, "He is not a Roman, no, by the splendor of God!" He
followed on foot, the entire tenantry of the dowar--men, women,
and children--pouring after him, participants all in his solicitude,
if not in his confidence.
The field, when reached, proved ample and well fitted for the
training, which Ben-Hur began immediately by driving the four
at first slowly, and in perpendicular lines, and then in wide
circles. Advancing a step in the course, he put them next into
a trot; again progressing, he pushed into a gallop; at length
he contracted the circles, and yet later drove eccentrically here
and there, right, left, forward, and without a break. An hour was
thus occupied. Slowing the gait to a walk, he drove up to Ilderim.
"The work is done, nothing now but practice," he said. "I give
you joy, Sheik Ilderim, that you have such servants as these.
See," he continued, dismounting and going to the horses, "see,
the gloss of their red coats is without spot; they breathe lightly
as when I began. I give thee great joy, and it will go hard if"--he
turned his flashing eyes upon the old man's face--"if we have not
the victory and our--"
He stopped, colored, bowed. At the sheik's side he observed,
for the first time, Balthasar, leaning upon his staff, and two
women closely veiled. At one of the latter he looked a second time,
saying to himself, with a flutter about his heart, "'Tis she--'tis
the Egyptian!" Ilderim picked up his broken sentence--
"The victory, and our revenge!" Then he said aloud, "I am not
afraid; I am glad. Son of Arrius, thou art the man. Be the end
like the beginning, and thou shalt see of what stuff is the lining
of the hand of an Arab who is able to give."
"I thank thee, good sheik," Ben-Hur returned, modestly. "Let the
servants bring drink for the horses."
With his own hands he gave the water.
Remounting Sirius, he renewed the training, going as before from
walk to trot, from trot to gallop; finally, he pushed the steady
racers into the run, gradually quickening it to full speed.
The performance then became exciting; and there were applause
for the dainty handling of the reins, and admiration for the four,
which were the same, whether they flew forward or wheeled in varying
curvature. In their action there were unity, power, grace, pleasure,
all without effort or sign of labor. The admiration was unmixed with
pity or reproach, which would have been as well bestowed upon swallows
in their evening flight.
In the midst of the exercises, and the attention they received from
all the bystanders, Malluch came upon the ground, seeking the sheik.
"I have a message for you, O sheik," he said, availing himself
of a moment he supposed favorable for the speech--"a message
from Simonides, the merchant."
"Simonides!" ejaculated the Arab. "Ah! 'tis well. May Abaddon take
all his enemies!"
"He bade me give thee first the holy peace of God," Malluch continued;
"and then this despatch, with prayer that thou read it the instant
Ilderim, standing in his place, broke the sealing of the package
delivered to him, and from a wrapping of fine linen took two letters,
which he proceeded to read.
"Simonides to Sheik Ilderim.
"Assure thyself first of a place in my inner heart.
"There is in thy dowar a youth of fair presence, calling himself
the son of Arrius; and such he is by adoption.
"He is very dear to me.
"He hath a wonderful history, which I will tell thee; come thou
to-day or to-morrow, that I may tell thee the history, and have
"Meantime, favor all his requests, so they be not against honor.
Should there be need of reparation, I am bound to thee for it.
"That I have interest in this youth, keep thou private.
"Remember me to thy other guest. He, his daughter, thyself, and all
whom thou mayst choose to be of thy company, must depend upon me
at the Circus the day of the games. I have seats already engaged.
"To thee and all thine, peace.
"What should I be, O my friend, but thy friend?
"Simonides to Sheik Ilderim.
"Out of the abundance of my experience, I send you a word.
"There is a sign which all persons not Romans, and who have moneys or
goods subject to despoilment, accept as warning--that is, the arrival
at a seat of power of some high Roman official charged with authority.
"To-day comes the Consul Maxentius.
"Be thou warned!
"Another word of advice.
"A conspiracy, to be of effect against thee, O friend, must include
the Herods as parties; thou hast great properties in their dominions.
"Wherefore keep thou watch.
"Send this morning to thy trusty keepers of the roads leading south
from Antioch, and bid them search every courier going and coming;
if they find private despatches relating to thee or thine affairs,
THOU SHOULDST SEE THEM.
"You should have received this yesterday, though it is not too
late, if you act promptly.
"If couriers left Antioch this morning, your messengers know the
byways, and can get before them with your orders.
"Do not hesitate.
"Burn this after reading.
"O my friend! thy friend,
Ilderim read the letters a second time, and refolded them in the
linen wrap, and put the package under his girdle.
The exercises in the field continued but a little longer--in all
about two hours. At their conclusion, Ben-Hur brought the four to
a walk, and drove to Ilderim.
"With leave, O sheik," he said, "I will return thy Arabs to the
tent, and bring them out again this afternoon."
Ilderim walked to him as he sat on Sirius, and said, "I give them
to you, son of Arrius, to do with as you will until after the games.
You have done with them in two hours what the Roman--may jackals gnaw
his bones fleshless!--could not in as many weeks. We will win--by the
splendor of God, we will win!"
At the tent Ben-Hur remained with the horses while they were being
cared for; then, after a plunge in the lake and a cup of arrack with
the sheik, whose flow of spirits was royally exuberant, he dressed
himself in his Jewish garb again, and walked with Malluch on into
There was much conversation between the two, not all of it important.
One part, however, must not be overlooked. Ben-Hur was speaking.
"I will give you," he said, "an order for my property stored in
the khan this side the river by the Seleucian Bridge. Bring it
to me to-day, if you can. And, good Malluch--if I do not overtask
Malluch protested heartily his willingness to be of service.
"Thank you, Malluch, thank you," said Ben-Hur. "I will take you
at your word, remembering that we are brethren of the old tribe,
and that the enemy is a Roman. First, then--as you are a man of
business, which I much fear Sheik Ilderim is not--"
"Arabs seldom are," said Malluch, gravely.
"Nay, I do not impeach their shrewdness, Malluch. It is well,
however, to look after them. To save all forfeit or hindrance
in connection with the race, you would put me perfectly at rest by
going to the office of the Circus, and seeing that he has complied
with every preliminary rule; and if you can get a copy of the rules,
the service may be of great avail to me. I would like to know the
colors I am to wear, and particularly the number of the crypt
I am to occupy at the starting; if it be next Messala's on the
right or left, it is well; if not, and you can have it changed
so as to bring me next the Roman, do so. Have you good memory,
"It has failed me, but never, son of Arrius, where the heart helped
it as now."
"I will venture, then, to charge you with one further service.
I saw yesterday that Messala was proud of his chariot, as he
might be, for the best of Caesar's scarcely surpass it. Can you
not make its display an excuse which will enable you to find if
it be light or heavy? I would like to have its exact weight and
measurements--and, Malluch, though you fail in all else, bring me
exactly the height his axle stands above the ground. You understand,
Malluch? I do not wish him to have any actual advantage of me.
I do not care for his splendor; if I beat him, it will make his
fall the harder, and my triumph the more complete. If there are
advantages really important, I want them."
"I see, I see!" said Malluch. "A line dropped from the centre of
the axle is what you want."
"Thou hast it; and be glad, Malluch--it is the last of my commissions.
Let us return to the dowar."
At the door of the tent they found a servant replenishing the
smoke-stained bottles of leben freshly made, and stopped to
refresh themselves. Shortly afterwards Malluch returned to
During their absence, a messenger well mounted had been despatched
with orders as suggested by Simonides. He was an Arab, and carried
"Iras, the daughter of Balthasar, sends me with salutation and
a message," said a servant to Ben-Hur, who was taking his ease
in the tent.
"Give me the message."
"Would it please you to accompany her upon the lake?"
"I will carry the answer myself. Tell her so."
His shoes were brought him, and in a few minutes Ben-Hur sallied
out to find the fair Egyptian. The shadow of the mountains was
creeping over the Orchard of Palms in advance of night. Afar through
the trees came the tinkling of sheep bells, the lowing of cattle,
and the voices of the herdsmen bringing their charges home. Life at
the Orchard, it should be remembered, was in all respects as pastoral
as life on the scantier meadows of the desert.
Sheik Ilderim had witnessed the exercises of the afternoon, being a
repetition of those of the morning; after which he had gone to the
city in answer to the invitation of Simonides; he might return in
the night; but, considering the immensity of the field to be talked
over with his friend, it was hardly possible. Ben-Hur, thus left
alone, had seen his horses cared for; cooled and purified himself
in the lake; exchanged the field garb for his customary vestments,
all white, as became a Sadducean of the pure blood; supped early;
and, thanks to the strength of youth, was well recovered from the
violent exertion he had undergone.
It is neither wise nor honest to detract from beauty as a quality.
There cannot be a refined soul insensible to its influence. The story
of Pygmalion and his statue is as natural as it is poetical. Beauty is
of itself a power; and it was now drawing Ben-Hur.
The Egyptian was to him a wonderfully beautiful woman--beautiful
of face, beautiful of form. In his thought she always appeared to
him as he saw her at the fountain; and he felt the influence of
her voice, sweeter because in tearful expression of gratitude to
him, and of her eyes--the large, soft, black, almond-shaped eyes
declarative of her race--eyes which looked more than lies in the
supremest wealth of words to utter; and recurrences of the thought
of her were returns just so frequent of a figure tall, slender,
graceful, refined, wrapped in rich and floating drapery, wanting
nothing but a fitting mind to make her, like the Shulamite, and in
the same sense, terrible as an army with banners. In other words,
as she returned to his fancy, the whole passionate Song of Solomon
came with her, inspired by her presence. With this sentiment and
that feeling, he was going to see if she actually justified them.
It was not love that was taking him, but admiration and curiosity,
which might be the heralds of love.
The landing was a simple affair, consisting of a short stairway,
and a platform garnished by some lamp-posts; yet at the top of
the steps he paused, arrested by what he beheld.
There was a shallop resting upon the clear water lightly as
an egg-shell. An Ethiop--the camel-driver at the Castalian
fount--occupied the rower's place, his blackness intensified by
a livery of shining white. All the boat aft was cushioned and
carpeted with stuffs brilliant with Tyrian red. On the rudder
seat sat the Egyptian herself, sunk in Indian shawls and a very
vapor of most delicate veils and scarfs. Her arms were bare to
the shoulders; and, not merely faultless in shape, they had the
effect of compelling attention to them--their pose, their action,
their expression; the hands, the fingers even, seemed endowed with
graces and meaning; each was an object of beauty. The shoulders
and neck were protected from the evening air by an ample scarf,
which yet did not hide them.
In the glance he gave her, Ben-Hur paid no attention to these details.
There was simply an impression made upon him; and, like strong light,
it was a sensation, not a thing of sight or enumeration. Thy lips are
like a thread of scarlet; thy temples are like a piece of pomegranate
within thy locks. Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away; for,
lo! the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers
appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come,
and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land--such was the
impression she made upon him translated into words.
"Come," she said, observing him stop, "come, or I shall think you
a poor sailor."
The red of his cheek deepened. Did she know anything of his life
upon the sea? He descended to the platform at once.
"I was afraid," he said, as he took the vacant seat before her.
"Of sinking the boat," he replied, smiling.
"Wait until we are in deeper water," she said, giving a signal to
the black, who dipped the oars, and they were off.
If love and Ben-Hur were enemies, the latter was never more at
mercy. The Egyptian sat where he could not but see her; she,
whom he had already engrossed in memory as his ideal of the
Shulamite. With her eyes giving light to his, the stars might
come out, and he not see them; and so they did. The night might
fall with unrelieved darkness everywhere else; her look would make
illumination for him. And then, as everybody knows, given youth
and such companionship, there is no situation in which the fancy
takes such complete control as upon tranquil waters under a calm
night sky, warm with summer. It is so easy at such time to glide
imperceptibly out of the commonplace into the ideal.
"Give me the rudder," he said.
"No," she replied, "that were to reverse the relation. Did I not
ask you to ride with me? I am indebted to you, and would begin
payment. You may talk and I will listen, or I will talk and you
will listen: that choice is yours; but it shall be mine to choose
where we go, and the way thither."
"And where may that be?"
"You are alarmed again."
"O fair Egyptian, I but asked you the first question of every
"Call me Egypt."
"I would rather call you Iras."
"You may think of me by that name, but call me Egypt."
"Egypt is a country, and means many people."
"Yes, yes! And such a country!"
"I see; it is to Egypt we are going."
"Would we were! I would be so glad."
She sighed as she spoke.
"You have no care for me, then," he said.
"Ah, by that I know you were never there."
"I never was."
"Oh, it is the land where there are no unhappy people, the desired
of all the rest of the earth, the mother of all the gods, and therefore
supremely blest. There, O son of Arrius, there the happy find increase
of happiness, and the wretched, going, drink once of the sweet water
of the sacred river, and laugh and sing, rejoicing like children."
"Are not the very poor with you there as elsewhere?"
"The very poor in Egypt are the very simple in wants and ways,"
she replied. "They have no wish beyond enough, and how little
that is, a Greek or a Roman cannot know."
"But I am neither Greek nor Roman."
"I have a garden of roses, and in the midst of it is a tree,
and its bloom is the richest of all. Whence came it, think you?"
"From Persia, the home of the rose."
"From India, then."
"Ah! one of the isles of Greece."
"I will tell you," she said: "a traveller found it perishing by
the roadside on the plain of Rephaim."
"Oh, in Judea!"
"I put it in the earth left bare by the receding Nile, and the soft
south wind blew over the desert and nursed it, and the sun kissed
it in pity; after which it could not else than grow and flourish.
I stand in its shade now, and it thanks me with much perfume.
As with the roses, so with the men of Israel. Where shall they
reach perfection but in Egypt?"
"Moses was but one of millions."
"Nay, there was a reader of dreams. Will you forget him?"
"The friendly Pharaohs are dead."
"Ah, yes! The river by which they dwelt sings to them in their
tombs; yet the same sun tempers the same air to the same people."
"Alexandria is but a Roman town."
"She has but exchanged sceptres. Caesar took from her that of
the sword, and in its place left that of learning. Go with me
to the Brucheium, and I will show you the college of nations;
to the Serapeion, and see the perfection of architecture; to the
Library, and read the immortals; to the theatre, and hear the
heroics of the Greeks and Hindoos; to the quay, and count the
triumphs of commerce; descend with me into the streets, O son
of Arrius, and, when the philosophers have dispersed, and taken
with them the masters of all the arts, and all the gods have home
their votaries, and nothing remains of the day but its pleasures,
you shall hear the stories that have amused men from the beginning,
and the songs which will never, never die."
As he listened, Ben-Hur was carried back to the night when, in the
summer-house in Jerusalem, his mother, in much the same poetry of
patriotism, declaimed the departed glories of Israel.
"I see now why you wish to be called Egypt. Will you sing me a song
if I call you by that name? I heard you last night."
"That was a hymn of the Nile," she answered, "a lament which I
sing when I would fancy I smell the breath of the desert, and hear
the surge of the dear old river; let me rather give you a piece of
the Indian mind. When we get to Alexandria, I will take you to the
corner of the street where you can hear it from the daughter of
the Ganga, who taught it to me. Kapila, you should know, was one
of the most revered of the Hindoo sages."
Then, as if it were a natural mode of expression, she began the
"Kapila, Kapila, so young and true,
I yearn for a glory like thine,
And hail thee from battle to ask anew,
Can ever thy Valor be mine?
"Kapila sat on his charger dun,
A hero never so grave:
'Who loveth all things hath fear of none,
'Tis love that maketh me brave.
A woman gave me her soul one day,
The soul of my soul to be alway;
Thence came my Valor to me,
Go try it--try it--and see.'
"Kapila, Kapila, so old and gray,
The queen is calling for me;
But ere I go hence, I wish thou wouldst say,
How Wisdom first came to thee.
"Kapila stood in his temple door,
A priest in eremite guise:
'It did not come as men get their lore,
'Tis faith that maketh me wise.
A woman gave me her heart one day,
The heart of my heart to be alway;
Thence came my Wisdom to me,
Go try it--try it--and see.'"
Ben-Hur had not time to express his thanks for the song before the
keel of the boat grated upon the underlying sand, and, next moment,
the bow ran upon the shore.
"A quick voyage, O Egypt!" he cried.
"And a briefer stay!" she replied, as, with a strong push, the black
sent them shooting into the open water again.
"You will give me the rudder now."
"Oh no," said she, laughing. "To you, the chariot; to me, the boat.
We are merely at the lake's end, and the lesson is that I must
not sing any more. Having been to Egypt, let us now to the Grove
"Without a song on the way?" he said, in deprecation.
"Tell me something of the Roman from whom you saved us to-day,"
The request struck Ben-Hur unpleasantly.
"I wish this were the Nile," he said, evasively. "The kings and
queens, having slept so long, might come down from their tombs,
and ride with us."
"They were of the colossi, and would sink our boat. The pygmies
would be preferable. But tell me of the Roman. He is very wicked,
is he not?"
"I cannot say."
"Is he of noble family, and rich?"
"I cannot speak of his riches."
"How beautiful his horses were! and the bed of his chariot was gold,
and the wheels ivory. And his audacity! The bystanders laughed as he
rode away; they, who were so nearly under his wheels!"
She laughed at the recollection.
"They were rabble," said Ben-Hur, bitterly.
"He must be one of the monsters who are said to be growing up in
Rome--Apollos ravenous as Cerberus. Does he reside in Antioch?"
"He is of the East somewhere."
"Egypt would suit him better than Syria."
"Hardly," Ben-Hur replied. "Cleopatra is dead."
That instant the lamps burning before the door of the tent came
"The dowar!" she cried.
"Ah, then, we have not been to Egypt. I have not seen Karnak or
Philae or Abydos. This is not the Nile. I have but heard a song
of India, and been boating in a dream."
"Philae--Karnak. Mourn rather that you have not seen the Rameses
at Aboo Simbel, looking at which makes it so easy to think of
God, the maker of the heavens and earth. Or why should you mourn
at all? Let us go on to the river; and if I cannot sing"--she
laughed--"because I have said I would not, yet I can tell you
stories of Egypt."
"Go on! Ay, till morning comes, and the evening, and the next
morning!" he said, vehemently.
"Of what shall my stories be? Of the mathematicians?"
"Of the philosophers?"
"Of the magicians and genii?"
"If you will."
"I will tell you a cure for love. It is the story of a queen.
Listen reverently. The papyrus from which it was taken by the
priests of Philae was wrested from the hand of the heroine herself.
It is correct in form, and must be true:
"There is no parallelism in human lives.
"No life runs a straight line.
"The most perfect life develops as a circle, and terminates in its
beginning, making it impossible to say, This is the commencement,
that the end.
"Perfect lives are the treasures of God; of great days he wears
them on the ring-finger of his heart hand."
"Ne-ne-hofra dwelt in a house close by Essouan, yet closer to the
first cataract--so close, indeed, that the sound of the eternal
battle waged there between river and rocks was of the place a part.
"She grew in beauty day by day, so that it was said of her, as of
the poppies in her father's garden, What will she not be in the
time of blooming?
"Each year of her life was the beginning of a new song more
delightful than any of those which went before.
"Child was she of a marriage between the North, bounded by the sea,
and the South, bounded by the desert beyond the Luna mountains;
and one gave her its passion, the other its genius; so when they
beheld her, both laughed, saying, not meanly, 'She is mine,'
but generously, 'Ha, ha! she is ours.'
"All excellences in nature contributed to her perfection and rejoiced
in her presence. Did she come or go, the birds ruffled their wings in
greeting; the unruly winds sank to cooling zephyrs; the white lotus
rose from the water's depth to look at her; the solemn river loitered
on its way; the palm-trees, nodding, shook all their plumes; and they
seemed to say, this one, I gave her of my grace; that, I gave her
of my brightness; the other, I gave her of my purity: and so each
as it had a virtue to give.
"At twelve, Ne-ne-hofra was the delight of Essouan; at sixteen,
the fame of her beauty was universal; at twenty, there was never
a day which did not bring to her door princes of the desert on
swift camels, and lords of Egypt in gilded barges; and, going away
disconsolate, they reported everywhere, 'I have seen her, and she
is not a woman, but Athor herself.'"
"Now of the three hundred and thirty successors of good King Menes,
eighteen were Ethiopians, of whom Oraetes was one hundred and ten
years old. He had reigned seventy-six years. Under him the people
thrived, and the land groaned with fatness of plenty. He practised
wisdom because, having seen so much, he knew what it was. He dwelt
in Memphis, having there his principal palace, his arsenals, and his
treasure-house. Frequently he went down to Butos to talk with Latona.
"The wife of the good king died. Too old was she for perfect
embalmment; yet he loved her, and mourned as the inconsolable;
seeing which, a colchyte presumed one day to speak to him.
"'O Oraetes, I am astonished that one so wise and great should
not know how to cure a sorrow like this.'
"'Tell me a cure,' said the king.
"Three times the colchyte kissed the floor, and then he replied,
knowing the dead could not hear him, 'At Essouan lives Ne-ne-hofra,
beautiful as Athor the beautiful. Send for her. She has refused all
the lords and princes, and I know not how many kings; but who can
say no to Oraetes?'"
"Ne-ne-hofra descended the Nile in a barge richer than any ever
before seen, attended by an army in barges each but a little less
fine. All Nubia and Egypt, and a myriad from Libya, and a host of
Troglodytes, and not a few Macrobii from beyond the Mountains
of the Moon, lined the tented shores to see the cortege pass,
wafted by perfumed winds and golden oars.
"Through a dromos of sphinxes and couchant double-winged lions
she was borne, and set down before Oraetes sitting on a throne
specially erected at the sculptured pylon of the palace. He raised
her up, gave her place by his side, clasped the uraeus upon her arm,
kissed her, and Ne-ne-hofra was queen of all queens.
"That was not enough for the wise Oraetes; he wanted love, and a
queen happy in his love. So he dealt with her tenderly, showing her
his possessions, cities, palaces, people; his armies, his ships:
and with his own hand he led her through his treasure-house,
saying, 'O. Ne-ne-hofra! but kiss me in love, and they are
"And, thinking she could be happy, if she was not then, she kissed
him once, twice, thrice--kissed him thrice, his hundred and ten
"The first year she was happy, and it was very short; the third year
she was wretched, and it was very long; then she was enlightened:
that which she thought love of Oraetes was only daze of his power.
Well for her had the daze endured! Her spirits deserted her; she had
long spells of tears, and her women could not remember when they
heard her laugh; of the roses on her cheeks only ashes remained;
she languished and faded gradually, but certainly. Some said she
was haunted by the Erinnyes for cruelty to a lover; others, that she
was stricken by some god envious of Oraetes. Whatever the cause of
her decline, the charms of the magicians availed not to restore
her, and the prescript of the doctor was equally without virtue.
Ne-ne-hofra was given over to die.
"Oraetes chose a crypt for her up in the tombs of the queens; and,
calling the master sculptors and painters to Memphis, he set them
to work upon designs more elaborate than any even in the great
galleries of the dead kings.
"'O thou beautiful as Athor herself, my queen!' said the king,
whose hundred and thirteen years did not lessen his ardor as a
lover, 'Tell me, I pray, the ailment of which, alas! thou art so
certainly perishing before my eyes.'
"'You will not love me any more if I tell you,' she said, in doubt
"'Not love you! I will love you the more. I swear it, by the genii
of Amente! by the eye of Osiris, I swear it! Speak!' he cried,
passionate as a lover, authoritative as a king.
"'Hear, then,' she said. 'There is an anchorite, the oldest and
holiest of his class, in a cave near Essouan. His name is Menopha.
He was my teacher and guardian. Send for him, O Oraetes, and he
will tell you that you seek to know; he will also help you find
the cure for my affliction.'
"Oraetes arose rejoicing. He went away in spirit a hundred years
younger than when he came."
"'Speak!' said Oraetes to Menopha, in the palace at Memphis.
"And Menopha replied, 'Most mighty king, if you were young, I should
not answer, because I am yet pleased with life; as it is, I will say
the queen, like any other mortal, is paying the penalty of a crime.'
"'A crime!' exclaimed Oraetes, angrily.
"Menopha bowed very low.
"'Yes; to herself.'
"'I am not in mood for riddles,' said the king.
"'What I say is not a riddle, as you shall hear. Ne-ne-hofra grew
up under my eyes, and confided every incident of her life to me;
among others, that she loved the son of her father's gardener,
Barbec by name.'
"Oraetes's frown, strangely enough, began to dissipate.
"'With that love in her heart, O king, she came to you; of that
love she is dying.'
"'Where is the gardener's son now?' asked Oraetes.
"The king went out and gave two orders. To one oeris he said,
'Go to Essouan and bring hither a youth named Barbec. You will
find him in the garden of the queen's father;' to another,
'Assemble workmen and cattle and tools, and construct for me
in Lake Chemmis an island, which, though laden with a temple,
a palace, and a garden, and all manner of trees bearing fruit,
and all manner of vines, shall nevertheless float about as the
winds may blow it. Make the island, and let it be fully furnished
by the time the moon begins to wane.'
"Then to the queen he said,
"'Be of cheer. I know all, and have sent for Barbec.'
"Ne-ne-hofra kissed his hands.
"'You shall have him to yourself, and he you to himself; nor shall
any disturb your loves for a year.'
"She kissed his feet; he raised her, and kissed her in return;
and the rose came back to her cheek, the scarlet to her lips,
and the laughter to her heart."
"For one year Ne-ne-hofra and Barbec the gardener floated as
the winds blew on the island of Chemmis, which became one of
the wonders of the world; never a home of love more beautiful;
one year, seeing no one and existing for no one but themselves.
Then she returned in state to the palace in Memphis.
"'Now whom lovest thou best?' asked the king.
"She kissed his cheek and said, 'Take me back, O good king, for I
"Oraetes laughed, none the worse, that moment, of his hundred and
"'Then it is true, as Menopha said: ha, ha, ha! it is true, the cure
of love is love.'
"'Even so,' she replied.
"Suddenly his manner changed, and his look became terrible.
"'I did not find it so,' he said.
"She shrank affrighted.
"'Thou guilty!' he continued. 'Thy offense to Oraetes the man
he forgives; but thy offence to Oraetes the king remains to
"She cast herself at his feet.
"'Hush!' he cried. 'Thou art dead!'
"He clapped his hands, and a terrible procession came in--a procession
of parachistes, or embalmers, each with some implement or material of
his loathsome art.
"The King pointed to Ne-ne-hofra.
"'She is dead. Do thy work well.'"
"Ne-ne-hofra the beautiful, after seventy-two days, was carried
to the crypt chosen for her the year before, and laid with her
queenly predecessors; yet there was no funeral procession in her
honor across the sacred lake."
At the conclusion of the story, Ben-Hur was sitting at the
Egyptian's feet, and her hand upon the tiller was covered by
"Menopha was wrong," he said.
"Love lives by loving."
"Then there is no cure for it?"
"Yes. Oraetes found the cure."
"What was it?"
"You are a good listener, O son of Arrius."
And so with conversation and stories, they whiled the hours away.
As they stepped ashore, she said,
"To-morrow we go to the city."
"But you will be at the games?" he asked.
"I will send you my colors."
With that they separated.
Ilderim returned to the dowar next day about the third hour. As
he dismounted, a man whom he recognized as of his own tribe came
to him and said, "O sheik, I was bidden give thee this package,
with request that thou read it at once. If there be answer, I was
to wait thy pleasure."
Ilderim gave the package immediate attention. The seal was
already broken. The address ran, TO VALERIUS GRATUS AT CAESAREA.
"Abaddon take him!" growled the sheik, at discovering a letter
Had the missive been in Greek or Arabic, he could have read it;
as it was, the utmost he could make out was the signature in bold
Roman letters--MESSALA--whereat his eyes twinkled.
"Where is the young Jew?" he asked.
"In the field with the horses," a servant replied.
The sheik replaced the papyrus in its envelopes, and, tucking the
package under his girdle, remounted the horse. That moment a
stranger made his appearance, coming, apparently, from the city.
"I am looking for Sheik Ilderim, surnamed the Generous," the stranger
His language and attire bespoke him a Roman.
What he could not read, he yet could speak; so the old Arab answered,
with dignity, "I am Sheik Ilderim."
The man's eyes fell; he raised them again, and said, with forced
composure, "I heard you had need of a driver for the games."
Ilderim's lip under the white mustache curled contemptuously.
"Go thy way," he said. "I have a driver."
He turned to ride away, but the man, lingering, spoke again.
"Sheik, I am a lover of horses, and they say you have the most
beautiful in the world."
The old man was touched; he drew rein, as if on the point of
yielding to the flattery, but finally replied, "Not to-day,
not to-day; some other time I will show them to you. I am too
busy just now."
He rode to the field, while the stranger betook himself to town
again with a smiling countenance. He had accomplished his mission.
And every day thereafter, down to the great day of the games,
a man--sometimes two or three men--came to the sheik at the
Orchard, pretending to seek an engagement as driver.
In such manner Messala kept watch over Ben-Hur.
The sheik waited, well satisfied, until Ben-Hur drew his horses
off the field for the forenoon--well satisfied, for he had seen
them, after being put through all the other paces, run full speed
in such manner that it did not seem there were one the slowest and
another the fastest--run in other words, as if the four were one.
"This afternoon, O sheik, I will give Sirius back to you."
Ben-Hur patted the neck of the old horse as he spoke. "I will
give him back, and take to the chariot."
"So soon?" Ilderim asked.
"With such as these, good sheik, one day suffices. They are not afraid;
they have a man's intelligence, and they love the exercise. This one,"
he shook a rein over the back of the youngest of the four--"you called
him Aldebaran, I believe--is the swiftest; in once round a stadium he
would lead the others thrice his length."
Ilderim pulled his beard, and said, with twinkling eyes, "Aldebaran is
the swiftest; but what of the slowest?"
"This is he." Ben-Hur shook the rein over Antares. "This is he:
but he will win, for, look you, sheik, he will run his utmost all
day--all day; and, as the sun goes down, he will reach his swiftest."
"Right again," said Ilderim.
"I have but one fear, O sheik."
The sheik became doubly serious.
"In his greed of triumph, a Roman cannot keep honor pure. In the
games--all of them, mark you--their tricks are infinite; in chariot
racing their knavery extends to everything--from horse to driver,
from driver to master. Wherefore, good sheik, look well to all
thou hast; from this till the trial is over, let no stranger so
much as see the horses. Would you be perfectly safe, do more--keep
watch over them with armed hand as well as sleepless eye; then I
will have no fear of the end."
At the door of the tent they dismounted.
"What you say shall be attended to. By the splendor of God, no hand
shall come near them except it belong to one of the faithful.
To-night I will set watches. But, son of Arrius"--Ilderim drew
forth the package, and opened it slowly, while they walked to
the divan and seated themselves--"son of Arrius, see thou here,
and help me with thy Latin."
He passed the despatch to Ben-Hur.
"There; read--and read aloud, rendering what thou findest into
the tongue of thy fathers. Latin is an abomination."
Ben-Hur was in good spirits, and began the reading carelessly.
"'MESSALA TO GRATUS!'" He paused. A premonition drove the blood
to his heart. Ilderim observed his agitation.
"Well; I am waiting."
Ben-Hur prayed pardon, and recommenced the paper, which, it is
sufficient to say, was one of the duplicates of the letter
despatched so carefully to Gratus by Messala the morning after
the revel in the palace.
The paragraphs in the beginning were remarkable only as proof
that the writer had not outgrown his habit of mockery; when they
were passed, and the reader came to the parts intended to refresh
the memory of Gratus, his voice trembled, and twice he stopped to
regain his self-control. By a strong effort he continued. "'I recall
further,'" he read, "'that thou didst make disposition of the family
of Hur'"--there the reader again paused and drew a long breath--"'both
of us at the time supposing the plan hit upon to be the most effective
possible for the purposes in view, which were silence and delivery over
to inevitable but natural death.'"
Here Ben-Hur broke down utterly. The paper fell from his hands,
and he covered his face.
"They are dead--dead. I alone am left."
The sheik had been a silent, but not unsympathetic, witness of the
young man's suffering; now he arose and said, "Son of Arrius, it is
for me to beg thy pardon. Read the paper by thyself. When thou art
strong enough to give the rest of it to me, send word, and I will
He went out of the tent, and nothing in all his life became him
Ben-Hur flung himself on the divan and gave way to his feelings.
When somewhat recovered, he recollected that a portion of the letter
remained unread, and, taking it up, he resumed the reading. "Thou
wilt remember," the missive ran, "what thou didst with the mother
and sister of the malefactor; yet, if now I yield to a desire to
learn if they be living or dead"--Ben-Hur started, and read again,
and then again, and at last broke into exclamation. "He does not
know they are dead; he does not know it! Blessed be the name of
the Lord! there is yet hope." He finished the sentence, and was
strengthened by it, and went on bravely to the end of the letter.
"They are not dead," he said, after reflection; "they are not dead,
or he would have heard of it."
A second reading, more careful than the first, confirmed him in
the opinion. Then he sent for the sheik.
"In coming to your hospitable tent, O sheik," he said, calmly,
when the Arab was seated and they were alone, "it was not in my
mind to speak of myself further than to assure you I had sufficient
training to be intrusted with your horses. I declined to tell you
my history. But the chances which have sent this paper to my hand
and given it to me to be read are so strange that I feel bidden to
trust you with everything. And I am the more inclined to do so by
knowledge here conveyed that we are both of us threatened by the
same enemy, against whom it is needful that we make common cause.
I will read the letter and give you explanation; after which you
will not wonder I was so moved. If you thought me weak or childish,
you will then excuse me."
The sheik held his peace, listening closely, until Ben-Hur came to
the paragraph in which he was particularly mentioned: "'I saw the
Jew yesterday in the Grove of Daphne;'" so ran the part, "'and if
he be not there now, he is certainly in the neighborhood, making it
easy for me to keep him in eye. Indeed, wert thou to ask me where
he is now, I should say, with the most positive assurance, he is
to be found at the old Orchard of Palms.'"
"A--h!" exclaimed Ilderim, in such a tone one might hardly say
he was more surprised than angry; at the same time, he clutched
"'At the old Orchard of Palms,'" Ben-Hur repeated, "'under the
tent of the traitor Shiek Ilderim.'"
"Traitor!--I?" the old man cried, in his shrillest tone, while lip
and beard curled with ire, and on his forehead and neck the veins
swelled and beat as they would burst.
"Yet a moment, sheik," said Ben-Hur, with a deprecatory gesture.
"Such is Messala's opinion of you. Hear his threat." And he read
on--"'under the tent of the traitor Sheik Ilderim, who cannot
long escape our strong hand. Be not surprised if Maxentius,
as his first measure, places the Arab on ship for forwarding
"To Rome! Me--Ilderim--sheik of ten thousand horsemen with spears--
me to Rome!"
He leaped rather than rose to his feet, his arms outstretched,
his fingers spread and curved like claws, his eyes glittering
like a serpent's.
"O God!--nay, by all the gods except of Rome!--when shall this
insolence end? A freeman am I; free are my people. Must we die
slaves? Or, worse, must I live a dog, crawling to a master's
feet? Must I lick his hand, lest he lash me? What is mine is not
mine; I am not my own; for breath of body I must be beholden to
a Roman. Oh, if I were young again! Oh, could I shake off twenty
years--or ten--or five!"
He ground his teeth and shook his hands overhead; then, under the
impulse of another idea, he walked away and back again to Ben-Hur
swiftly, and caught his shoulder with a strong grasp.
"If I were as thou, son of Arrius--as young, as strong, as practised
in arms; if I had a motive hissing me to revenge--a motive, like thine,
great enough to make hate holy-- Away with disguise on thy part and on
mine! Son of Hur, son of Hur, I say--"
At that name all the currents of Ben-Hur's blood stopped; surprised,
bewildered, he gazed into the Arab's eyes, now close to his,
and fiercely bright.
"Son of Hur, I say, were I as thou, with half thy wrongs, bearing
about with me memories like thine, I would not, I could not, rest."
Never pausing, his words following each other torrent-like, the old
man swept on. "To all my grievances, I would add those of the world,
and devote myself to vengeance. From land to land I would go firing
all mankind. No war for freedom but should find me engaged; no battle
against Rome in which I would not bear a part. I would turn Parthian,
if I could not better. If men failed me, still I would not give over
the effort--ha, ha, ha! By the splendor of God! I would herd with
wolves, and make friends of lions and tigers, in hope of marshalling
them against the common enemy. I would use every weapon. So my victims
were Romans, I would rejoice in slaughter. Quarter I would not ask;
quarter I would not give. To the flames everything Roman; to the
sword every Roman born. Of nights I would pray the gods, the good
and the bad alike, to lend me their special terrors--tempests,
drought, heat, cold, and all the nameless poisons they let loose
in air, all the thousand things of which men die on sea and on
land. Oh, I could not sleep. I--I--"
The sheik stopped for want of breath, panting, wringing his hands.
And, sooth to say, of all the passionate burst Ben-Hur retained
but a vague impression wrought by fiery eyes, a piercing voice,
and a rage too intense for coherent expression.
For the first time in years, the desolate youth heard himself
addressed by his proper name. One man at least knew him,
and acknowledged it without demand of identity; and he an
Arab fresh from the desert!
How came the man by his knowledge? The letter? No. It told the
cruelties from which his family had suffered; it told the story
of his own misfortunes, but it did not say he was the very victim
whose escape from doom was the theme of the heartless narrative.
That was the point of explanation he had notified the sheik would
follow the reading of the letter. He was pleased, and thrilled with
hope restored, yet kept an air of calmness.
"Good sheik, tell me how you came by this letter."
"My people keep the roads between cities," Ilderim answered, bluntly.
"They took it from a courier."
"Are they known to be thy people?"
"No. To the world they are robbers, whom it is mine to catch and
"Again, sheik. You call me son of Hur--my father's name. I did
not think myself known to a person on earth. How came you by the
Ilderim hesitated; but, rallying, he answered, "I know you, yet I
am not free to tell you more."
"Some one holds you in restraint?"
The sheik closed his mouth, and walked away; but, observing Ben-Hur's
disappointment, he came back, and said, "Let us say no more about the
matter now. I will go to town; when I return, I may talk to you fully.
Give me the letter."
Ilderim rolled the papyrus carefully, restored it to its envelopes,
and became once more all energy.
"What sayest thou?" he asked, while waiting for his horse and
retinue. "I told what I would do, were I thou, and thou hast
made no answer."
"I intended to answer, sheik, and I will." Ben-Hur's countenance
and voice changed with the feeling invoked. "All thou hast said,
I will do--all at least in the power of a man. I devoted myself
to vengeance long ago. Every hour of the five years passed, I have
lived with no other thought. I have taken no respite. I have had
no pleasures of youth. The blandishments of Rome were not for me.
I wanted her to educate me for revenge. I resorted to her most
famous masters and professors--not those of rhetoric or philosophy:
alas! I had no time for them. The arts essential to a fighting-man
were my desire. I associated with gladiators, and with winners of
prizes in the Circus; and they were my teachers. The drill-masters
in the great camp accepted me as a scholar, and were proud of my
attainments in their line. O sheik, I am a soldier; but the things
of which I dream require me to be a captain. With that thought,
I have taken part in the campaign against the Parthians; when it
is over, then, if the Lord spare my life and strength--then"--he
raised his clenched hands, and spoke vehemently--"then I will be an
enemy Roman-taught in all things; then Rome shall account to me in
Roman lives for her ills. You have my answer, sheik."
Ilderim put an arm over his shoulder, and kissed him, saying,
passionately, "If thy God favor thee not, son of Hur, it is
because he is dead. Take thou this from me--sworn to, if so thy
preference run: thou shalt have my hands, and their fulness--men,
horses, camels, and the desert for preparation. I swear it! For
the present, enough. Thou shalt see or hear from me before night."
Turning abruptly off, the sheik was speedily on the road to the
The intercepted letter was conclusive upon a number of points of
great interest to Ben-Hur. It had all the effect of a confession
that the writer was a party to the putting-away of the family
with murderous intent; that he had sanctioned the plan adopted for
the purpose; that he had received a portion of the proceeds of the
confiscation, and was yet in enjoyment of his part; that he dreaded
the unexpected appearance of what he was pleased to call the chief
malefactor, and accepted it as a menace; that he contemplated such
further action as would secure him in the future, and was ready to
do whatever his accomplice in Caesarea might advise.
And, now that the letter had reached the hand of him really its
subject, it was notice of danger to come, as well as a confession
of guilt. So when Ilderim left the tent, Ben-Hur had much to think
about, requiring immediate action. His enemies were as adroit and
powerful as any in the East. If they were afraid of him, he had greater
reason to be afraid of them. He strove earnestly to reflect upon
the situation, but could not; his feelings constantly overwhelmed
him. There was a certain qualified pleasure in the assurance that
his mother and sister were alive; and it mattered little that the
foundation of the assurance was a mere inference. That there was
one person who could tell him where they were seemed to his hope
so long deferred as if discovery were now close at hand. These were
mere causes of feeling; underlying them, it must be confessed he
had a superstitious fancy that God was about to make ordination
in his behalf, in which event faith whispered him to stand still.
Occasionally, referring to the words of Ilderim, he wondered whence
the Arab derived his information about him; not from Malluch certainly;
nor from Simonides, whose interests, all adverse, would hold him dumb.
Could Messala have been the informant? No, no: disclosure might be
dangerous in that quarter. Conjecture was vain; at the same time,
often as Ben-Hur was beaten back from the solution, he was consoled
with the thought that whoever the person with the knowledge might
be, he was a friend, and, being such, would reveal himself in good
time. A little more waiting--a little more patience. Possibly the
errand of the sheik was to see the worthy; possibly the letter
might precipitate a full disclosure.
And patient he would have been if only he could have believed
Tirzah and his mother were waiting for him under circumstances
permitting hope on their part strong as his; if, in other words,
conscience had not stung him with accusations respecting them.
To escape such accusations, he wandered far through the Orchard,
pausing now where the date-gatherers were busy, yet not too busy
to offer him of their fruit and talk with him; then, under the
great trees, to watch the nesting birds, or hear the bees swarming
about the berries bursting with honeyed sweetness, and filling all
the green and golden spaces with the music of their beating wings.
By the lake, however, he lingered longest. He might not look upon
the water and its sparkling ripples, so like sensuous life,
without thinking of the Egyptian and her marvellous beauty,
and of floating with her here and there through the night,
made brilliant by her songs and stories; he might not forget the
charm of her manner, the lightness of her laugh, the flattery of
her attention, the warmth of her little hand under his upon
the tiller of the boat. From her it was for his thought but
a short way to Balthasar, and the strange things of which he
had been witness, unaccountable by any law of nature; and from
him, again, to the King of the Jews, whom the good man, with such
pathos of patience, was holding in holy promise, the distance was
even nearer. And there his mind stayed, finding in the mysteries
of that personage a satisfaction answering well for the rest he
was seeking. Because, it may have been, nothing is so easy as
denial of an idea not agreeable to our wishes, he rejected the
definition given by Balthasar of the kingdom the king was coming to
establish. A kingdom of souls, if not intolerable to his Sadducean
faith, seemed to him but an abstraction drawn from the depths of
a devotion too fond and dreamy. A kingdom of Judea, on the other
hand, was more than comprehensible: such had been, and, if only
for that reason, might be again. And it suited his pride to think
of a new kingdom broader of domain, richer in power, and of a more
unapproachable splendor than the old one; of a new king wiser and
mightier than Solomon--a new king under whom, especially, he could
find both service and revenge. In that mood he resumed to the dowar.
The mid-day meal disposed of, still further to occupy himself,
Ben-Hur had the chariot rolled out into the sunlight for inspection.
The word but poorly conveys the careful study the vehicle underwent.
No point or part of it escaped him. With a pleasure which will be
better understood hereafter, he saw the pattern was Greek, in his
judgment preferable to the Roman in many respects; it was wider
between the wheels, and lower and stronger, and the disadvantage
of greater weight would be more than compensated by the greater
endurance of his Arabs. Speaking generally, the carriage-makers
of Rome built for the games almost solely, sacrificing safety to
beauty, and durability to grace; while the chariots of Achilles
and "the king of men," designed for war and all its extreme tests,
still ruled the tastes of those who met and struggled for the crowns
Isthmian and Olympic.
Next he brought the horses, and, hitching them to the chariot,
drove to the field of exercise, where, hour after hour, he practised
them in movement under the yoke. When he came away in the evening,
it was with restored spirit, and a fixed purpose to defer action
in the matter of Messala until the race was won or lost. He could
not forego the pleasure of meeting his adversary under the eyes of
the East; that there might be other competitors seemed not to enter
his thought. His confidence in the result was absolute; no doubt of
his own skill; and as to the four, they were his full partners in
the glorious game.
"Let him look to it, let him look to it! Ha, Antares--Aldebaran!
Shall he not, O honest Rigel? and thou, Atair, king among coursers,
shall he not beware of us? Ha, ha! good hearts!"
So in rests he passed from horse to horse, speaking, not as a
master, but the senior of as many brethren.
After nightfall, Ben-Hur sat by the door of the tent waiting for
Ilderim, not yet returned from the city. He was not impatient,
or vexed, or doubtful. The sheik would be heard from, at least.
Indeed, whether it was from satisfaction with the performance of
the four, or the refreshment there is in cold water succeeding
bodily exercise, or supper partaken with royal appetite, or the
reaction which, as a kindly provision of nature, always follows
depression, the young man was in good-humor verging upon elation.
He felt himself in the hands of Providence no longer his enemy. At
last there was a sound of horse's feet coming rapidly, and Malluch
"Son of Arrius," he said, cheerily, after salutation, "I salute
you for Sheik Ilderim, who requests you to mount and go to the
city. He is waiting for you."
Ben-Hur asked no questions, but went in where the horses were
feeding. Aldebaran came to him, as if offering his service.
He played with him lovingly, but passed on, and chose another,
not of the four--they were sacred to the race. Very shortly the
two were on the road, going swiftly and in silence.
Some distance below the Seleucian Bridge, they crossed the river
by a ferry, and, riding far round on the right bank, and recrossing
by another ferry, entered the city from the west. The detour was
long, but Ben-Hur accepted it as a precaution for which there was
Down to Simonides' landing they rode, and in front of the great
warehouse, under the bridge, Malluch drew rein.
"We are come," he said. "Dismount."
Ben-Hur recognized the place.
"Where is the sheik?" he asked.
"Come with me. I will show you."
A watchman took the horses, and almost before he realized it Ben-Hur
stood once more at the door of the house up on the greater one,
listening to the response from within--"In God's name, enter."
Malluch stopped at the door; Ben-Hur entered alone.
The room was the same in which he had formerly interviewed
Simonides, and it had been in nowise changed, except now,
close by the arm-chair, a polished brazen rod, set on a broad
wooden pedestal, arose higher than a tall man, holding lamps of
silver on sliding arms, half-a-dozen or more in number, and all
burning. The light was clear, bringing into view the panelling on
the walls, the cornice with its row of gilded balls, and the dome
dully tinted with violet mica.
Within a few steps, Ben-Hur stopped.
Three persons were present, looking at him--Simonides, Ilderim,
He glanced hurriedly from one to another, as if to find answer to
the question half formed in his mind, What business can these have
with me? He became calm, with every sense on the alert, for the
question was succeeded by another, Are they friends or enemies?
At length, his eyes rested upon Esther.
The men returned his look kindly; in her face there was something
more than kindness--something too _spirituel_ for definition,
which yet went to his inner consciousness without definition.
Shall it be said, good reader? Back of his gaze there was a
comparison in which the Egyptian arose and set herself over
against the gentle Jewess; but it lived an instant, and, as is
the habit of such comparisons, passed away without a conclusion.
"Son of Hur--"
The guest turned to the speaker.
"Son of Hur," said Simonides, repeating the address slowly, and
with distinct emphasis, as if to impress all its meaning upon him
most interested in understanding it, "take thou the peace of the
Lord God of our fathers--take it from me." He paused, then added,
"From me and mine."
The speaker sat in his chair; there were the royal head, the bloodless
face, the masterful air, under the influence of which visitors forgot
the broken limbs and distorted body of the man. The full black eyes
gazed out under the white brows steadily, but not sternly. A moment
thus, then he crossed his hands upon his breast.
The action, taken with the salutation, could not be misunderstood,
and was not.
"Simonides," Ben-Hur answered, much moved, "the holy peace you
tender is accepted. As son to father, I return it to you. Only let
there be perfect understanding between us."
Thus delicately he sought to put aside the submission of the
merchant, and, in place of the relation of master and servant,
substitute one higher and holier.
Simonides let fall his hands, and, turning to Esther, said, "A seat
for the master, daughter."
She hastened, and brought a stool, and stood, with suffused
face, looking from one to the other--from Ben-Hur to Simonides,
from Simonides to Ben-Hur; and they waited, each declining the
superiority direction would imply. When at length the pause began
to be embarrassing, Ben-Hur advanced, and gently took the stool
from her, and, going to the chair, placed it at the merchant's
"I will sit here," he said.
His eyes met hers--an instant only; but both were better of the
look. He recognized her gratitude, she his generosity and forbearance.
Simonides bowed his acknowledgment.
"Esther, child, bring me the paper," he said, with a breath of
She went to a panel in the wall, opened it, took out a roll of
papyri, and brought and gave it to him.
"Thou saidst well, son of Hur," Simonides began, while unrolling
the sheets. "Let us understand each other. In anticipation of the
demand--which I would have made hadst thou waived it--I have here
a statement covering everything necessary to the understanding
required. I could see but two points involved--the property first,
and then our relation. The statement is explicit as to both. Will it
please thee to read it now?"
Ben-Hur received the papers, but glanced at Ilderim.
"Nay," said Simonides, "the sheik shall not deter thee from
reading. The account--such thou wilt find it--is of a nature
requiring a witness. In the attesting place at the end thou wilt
find, when thou comest to it, the name--Ilderim, Sheik. He knows
all. He is thy friend. All he has been to me, that will he be to
Simonides looked at the Arab, nodding pleasantly, and the latter
gravely returned the nod, saying, "Thou hast said."
Ben-Hur replied, "I know already the excellence of his friendship,
and have yet to prove myself worthy of it." Immediately he continued,
"Later, O Simonides, I will read the papers carefully; for the present,
do thou take them, and if thou be not too weary, give me their substance."
Simonides took back the roll.
"Here, Esther, stand by me and receive the sheets, lest they fall
She took place by his chair, letting her right arm fall lightly
across his shoulder, so, when he spoke, the account seemed to
have rendition from both of them jointly.
"This," said Simonides, drawing out the first leaf, "shows the
money I had of thy father's, being the amount saved from the
Romans; there was no property saved, only money, and that the
robbers would have secured but for our Jewish custom of bills
of exchange. The amount saved, being sums I drew from Rome,
Alexandria, Damascus, Carthage, Valentia, and elsewhere within
the circle of trade, was one hundred and twenty talents Jewish
He gave the sheet to Esther, and took the next one.
"With that amount--one hundred and twenty talents--I charged
myself. Hear now my credits. I use the word, as thou wilt see,
with reference rather to the proceeds gained from the use of
From separate sheets he then read footings, which, fractions omitted,
were as follows:
By ships............................... 60 talents.
" goods in store......................110 "
" cargoes in transit.................. 75 "
" camels, horses, etc................. 20 "
" warehouses.......................... 10 "
" bills due........................... 54 "
" money on hand and subject to draft..224 "
Total..................................553 " "
"To these now, to the five hundred and fifty-three talents gained,
add the original capital I had from thy father, and thou hast SIX
HUNDRED AND SEVENTY THREE TALENTS!--and all thine--making thee,
O son of Hur, the richest subject in the world."
He took the papyri from Esther, and, reserving one, rolled them
and offered them to Ben-Hur. The pride perceptible in his manner
was not offensive; it might have been from a sense of duty well
done; it might have been for Ben-Hur without reference to himself.
"And there is nothing," he added, dropping his voice, but not his
eyes--"there is nothing now thou mayst not do."
The moment was one of absorbing interest to all present. Simonides
crossed his hands upon his breast again; Esther was anxious;
Ilderim nervous. A man is never so on trial as in the moment
of excessive good-fortune.
Taking the roll, Ben-Hur arose, struggling with emotion.
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