Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
Part 8 out of 13
"All this is to me as a light from heaven, sent to drive away a
night which has been so long I feared it would never end, and so
dark I had lost the hope of seeing," he said, with a husky voice.
"I give first thanks to the Lord, who has not abandoned me,
and my next to thee, O Simonides. Thy faithfulness outweighs
the cruelty of others, and redeems our human nature. 'There is
nothing I cannot do:' be it so. Shall any man in this my hour
of such mighty privilege be more generous than I? Serve me as a
witness now, Sheik Ilderim. Hear thou my words as I shall speak
them--hear and remember. And thou, Esther, good angel of this
good man! hear thou also."
He stretched his hand with the roll to Simonides.
"The things these papers take into account--all of them: ships,
houses, goods, camels, horses, money; the least as well as the
greatest--give I back to thee, O Simonides, making them all thine,
and sealing them to thee and thine forever."
Esther smiled through her tears; Ilderim pulled his beard with
rapid motion, his eyes glistening like beads of jet. Simonides alone
"Sealing them to thee and thine forever," Ben-Hur continued,
with better control of himself, "with one exception, and upon
The breath of the listeners waited upon his words.
"The hundred and twenty talents which were my father's thou shalt
return to me."
Ilderim's countenance brightened.
"And thou shalt join me in search of my mother and sister, holding all
thine subject to the expense of discovery, even as I will hold mine."
Simonides was much affected. Stretching out his hand, he said,
"I see thy spirit, son of Hur, and I am grateful to the Lord that
he hath sent thee to me such as thou art. If I served well thy father
in life, and his memory afterwards, be not afraid of default to thee;
yet must I say the exception cannot stand."
Exhibiting, then, the reserved sheet, he continued,
"Thou hast not all the account. Take this and read--read aloud."
Ben-Hur took the supplement, and read it.
"Statement of the servants of Hur, rendered by Simonides, steward of
1. Amrah, Egyptian, keeping the palace in Jerusalem.
2. Simonides, the steward, in Antioch.
3. Esther, daughter of Simonides."
Now, in all his thoughts of Simonides, not once had it entered
Ben-Hur's mind that, by the law, a daughter followed the parent's
condition. In all his visions of her, the sweet-faced Esther had
figured as the rival of the Egyptian, and an object of possible
love. He shrank from the revelation so suddenly brought him,
and looked at her blushing; and, blushing, she dropped her eyes
before him. Then he said, while the papyrus rolled itself together,
"A man with six hundred talents is indeed rich, and may do what
he pleases; but, rarer than the money, more priceless than
the property, is the mind which amassed the wealth, and the
heart it could not corrupt when amassed. O Simonides--and thou,
fair Esther--fear not. Sheik Ilderim here shall be witness that
in the same moment ye were declared my servants, that moment I
declared ye free; and what I declare, that will I put in writing.
Is it not enough? Can I do more?"
"Son of Hur," said Simonides, "verily thou dost make servitude
lightsome. I was wrong; there are some things thou canst not do;
thou canst not make us free in law. I am thy servant forever,
because I went to the door with thy father one day, and in my
ear the awl-marks yet abide."
"Did my father that?"
"Judge him not," cried Simonides, quickly. "He accepted me a
servant of that class because I prayed him to do so. I never
repented the step. It was the price I paid for Rachel, the mother
of my child here; for Rachel, who would not be my wife unless I
became what she was."
"Was she a servant forever?"
Ben-Hur walked the floor in pain of impotent wish.
"I was rich before," he said, stopping suddenly. "I was rich with
the gifts of the generous Arrius; now comes this greater fortune,
and the mind which achieved it. Is there not a purpose of God in
it all? Counsel me, O Simonides! Help me to see the right and
do it. Help me to be worthy my name, and what thou art in law
to me, that will I be to thee in fact and deed. I will be thy
Simonides' face actually glowed.
"O son of my dead master! I will do better than help; I will
serve thee with all my might of mind and heart. Body, I have
not; it perished in thy cause; but with mind and heart I will
serve thee. I swear it, by the altar of our God, and the gifts
upon the altar! Only make me formally what I have assumed to be."
"Name it," said Ben-Hur, eagerly.
"As steward the care of the property will be mine."
"Count thyself steward now; or wilt thou have it in writing?"
"Thy word simply is enough; it was so with the father, and I
will not more from the son. And now, if the understanding be
"It is with me," said Ben-Hur.
"And thou, daughter of Rachel, speak!" said Simonides, lifting her
arm from his shoulder.
Esther, left thus alone, stood a moment abashed, her color coming
and going; then she went to Ben-Hur, and said, with a womanliness
singularly sweet, "I am not better than my mother was; and, as she
is gone, I pray you, O my master, let me care for my father."
Ben-Hur took her hand, and led her back to the chair, saying,
"Thou art a good child. Have thy will."
Simonides replaced her arm upon his neck, and there was silence
for a time in the room.
Simonides looked up, none the less a master.
"Esther," he said, quietly, "the night is going fast; and, lest we
become too weary for that which is before us, let the refreshments
She rang a bell. A servant answered with wine and bread, which she
"The understanding, good my master," continued Simonides, when all
were served, "is not perfect in my sight. Henceforth our lives will
run on together like rivers which have met and joined their waters.
I think their flowing will be better if every cloud is blown from
the sky above them. You left my door the other day with what
seemed a denial of the claims which I have just allowed in the
broadest terms; but it was not so, indeed it was not. Esther is
witness that I recognized you; and that I did not abandon you,
let Malluch say."
"Malluch!" exclaimed Ben-Hur.
"One bound to a chair, like me, must have many hands far-reaching,
if he would move the world from which he is so cruelly barred.
I have many such, and Malluch is one of the best of them. And,
sometimes"-- he cast a grateful glance at the sheik--"sometimes I
borrow from others good of heart, like Ilderim the Generous--good and
brave. Let him say if I either denied or forgot you."
Ben-Hur looked at the Arab.
"This is he, good Ilderim, this is he who told you of me?"
Ilderim's eyes twinkled as he nodded his answer.
"How, O my master," said Simonides, "may we without trial tell what
a man is? I knew you; I saw your father in you; but the kind of
man you were I did not know. There are people to whom fortune is
a curse in disguise. Were you of them? I sent Malluch to find out
for me, and in the service he was my eyes and ears. Do not blame
him. He brought me report of you which was all good."
"I do not," said Ben-Hur, heartily. "There was wisdom in your
"The words are very pleasant to me," said the merchant, with feeling,
"very pleasant. My fear of misunderstanding is laid. Let the rivers
run on now as God may give them direction."
After an interval he continued:
"I am compelled now by truth. The weaver sits weaving, and, as the
shuttle flies, the cloth increases, and the figures grow, and he
dreams dreams meanwhile; so to my hands the fortune grew, and I
wondered at the increase, and asked myself about it many times.
I could see a care not my own went with the enterprises I set going.
The simooms which smote others on the desert jumped over the things
which were mine. The storms which heaped the seashore with wrecks
did but blow my ships the sooner into port. Strangest of all, I,
so dependent upon others, fixed to a place like a dead thing, had
never a loss by an agent--never. The elements stooped to serve me,
and all my servants, in fact, were faithful."
"It is very strange," said Ben-Hur.
"So I said, and kept saying. Finally, O my master, finally I came to
be of your opinion--God was in it--and, like you, I asked, What can
his purpose be? Intelligence is never wasted; intelligence like
God's never stirs except with design. I have held the question
in heart, lo! these many years, watching for an answer. I felt
sure, if God were in it, some day, in his own good time, in his
own way, he would show me his purpose, making it clear as a whited
house upon a hill. And I believe he has done so."
Ben-Hur listened with every faculty intent.
"Many years ago, with my people--thy mother was with me, Esther,
beautiful as morning over old Olivet--I sat by the wayside out
north of Jerusalem, near the Tombs of the Kings, when three men
passed by riding great white camels, such as had never been seen
in the Holy City. The men were strangers, and from far countries.
The first one stopped and asked me a question. 'Where is he that
is born King of the Jews?' As if to allay my wonder, he went on to
say, 'We have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship
him.' I could not understand, but followed them to the Damascus
Gate; and of every person they met on the way--of the guard at the
Gate, even--they asked the question. All who heard it were amazed
like me. In time I forgot the circumstance, though there was much
talk of it as a presage of the Messiah. Alas, alas! What children
we are, even the wisest! When God walks the earth, his steps are
often centuries apart. You have seen Balthasar?"
"And heard him tell his story," said Ben-Hur.
"A miracle!--a very miracle!" cried Simonides. "As he told it
to me, good my master, I seemed to hear the answer I had so long
waited; God's purpose burst upon me. Poor will the King be when
he comes--poor and friendless; without following, without armies,
without cities or castles; a kingdom to be set up, and Rome reduced
and blotted out. See, see, O my master! thou flushed with strength,
thou trained to arms, thou burdened with riches; behold the opportunity
the Lord hath sent thee! Shall not his purpose be thine? Could a man be
born to a more perfect glory?"
Simonides put his whole force in the appeal.
"But the kingdom, the kingdom!" Ben-Hur answered, eagerly.
"Balthasar says it is to be of souls."
The pride of the Jew was strong in Simonides, and therefore the
slightly contemptuous curl of the lip with which he began his reply:
"Balthasar has been a witness of wonderful things--of miracles,
O my master; and when he speaks of them, I bow with belief,
for they are of sight and sound personal to him. But he is a son
of Mizraim, and not even a proselyte. Hardly may he be supposed
to have special knowledge by virtue of which we must bow to him
in a matter of God's dealing with our Israel. The prophets had
their light from Heaven directly, even as he had his--many to one,
and Jehovah the same forever. I must believe the prophets.--Bring
me the Torah, Esther."
He proceeded without waiting for her.
"May the testimony of a whole people be slighted, my master? Though
you travel from Tyre, which is by the sea in the north, to the
capital of Edom, which is in the desert south, you will not find
a lisper of the Shema, an alms-giver in the Temple, or any one who
has ever eaten of the lamb of the Passover, to tell you the kingdom
the King is coming to build for us, the children of the covenant,
is other than of this world, like our father David's. Now where
got they the faith, ask you! We will see presently."
Esther here returned, bringing a number of rolls carefully enveloped
in dark-brown linen lettered quaintly in gold.
"Keep them, daughter, to give to me as I call for them," the father
said, in the tender voice he always used in speaking to her,
and continued his argument:
"It were long, good my master--too long, indeed--for me to repeat
to you the names of the holy men who, in the providence of God,
succeeded the prophets, only a little less favored than they--the
seers who have written and the preachers who have taught since the
Captivity; the very wise who borrowed their lights from the lamp
of Malachi, the last of his line, and whose great names Hillel
and Shammai never tired of repeating in the colleges. Will you
ask them of the kingdom? Thus, the Lord of the sheep in the Book
of Enoch--who is he? Who but the King of whom we are speaking? A
throne is set up for him; he smites the earth, and the other kings
are shaken from their thrones, and the scourges of Israel flung
into a cavern of fire flaming with pillars of fire. So also the
singer of the Psalms of Solomon--'Behold, O Lord, and raise up
to Israel their king, the son of David, at the time thou knowest,
O God, to rule Israel, thy children. . . . And he will bring the
peoples of the heathen under his yoke to serve him. . . . And he
shall be a righteous king taught of God, . . . for he shall
rule all the earth by the word of his mouth forever.' And last,
though not least, hear Ezra, the second Moses, in his visions of
the night, and ask him who is the lion with human voice that says
to the eagle--which is Rome--'Thou hast loved liars, and overthrown
the cities of the industrious, and razed their walls, though they did
thee no harm. Therefore, begone, that the earth may be refreshed,
and recover itself, and hope in the justice and piety of him who
made her.' Whereat the eagle was seen no more. Surely, O my master,
the testimony of these should be enough! But the way to the fountain's
head is open. Let us go up to it at once.--Some wine, Esther, and then
"Dost thou believe the prophets, master?" he asked, after drinking.
"I know thou dost, for of such was the faith of all thy kindred.--Give
me, Esther, the book which bath in it the visions of Isaiah."
He took one of the rolls which she had unwrapped for him, and read,
"'The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light:
they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them
hath the light shined. . . . For unto us a child is born, unto us
a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder. .
. . Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no
end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it,
and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth
even forever.'--Believest thou the prophets, O my master?--Now,
Esther, the word of the Lord that came to Micah."
She gave him the roll he asked.
"'But thou,'" he began reading--"'but thou, Bethlehem Ephrath,
though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee
shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel.'--This
was he, the very child Balthasar saw and worshipped in the cave.
Believest thou the prophets, O my master?--Give me, Esther,
the words of Jeremiah."
Receiving that roll, he read as before, "'Behold, the days come,
saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous branch,
and a king shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and
justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel
shall dwell safely.' As a king he shall reign--as a king, O my
master! Believest thou the prophets?--Now, daughter, the roll of
the sayings of that son of Judah in whom there was no blemish."
She gave him the Book of Daniel.
"Hear, my master," he said: "'I saw in the night visions, and behold,
one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven. . . . And
there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all
people, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is
an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom
that which shall not be destroyed.'--Believest thou the prophets,
O my master?"
"It is enough. I believe," cried Ben-Hur.
"What then?" asked Simonides. "If the King come poor, will not
my master, of his abundance, give him help?"
"Help him? To the last shekel and the last breath. But why speak
of his coming poor?"
"Give me, Esther, the word of the Lord as it came to Zechariah,"
She gave him one of the rolls.
"Hear how the King will enter Jerusalem." Then he read, "'Rejoice
greatly, O daughter of Zion. . . . Behold, thy King cometh unto
thee with justice and salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass,
and upon a colt, the foal of an ass.'"
Ben-Hur looked away.
"What see you, O my master?"
"Rome!" he answered, gloomily--"Rome, and her legions. I have
dwelt with them in their camps. I know them."
"Ah!" said Simonides. "Thou shalt be a master of legions for the
King, with millions to choose from."
"Millions!" cried Ben-Hur.
Simonides sat a moment thinking.
"The question of power should not trouble you," he next said.
Ben-Hur looked at him inquiringly.
"You were seeing the lowly King in the act of coming to his own,"
Simonides answered--"seeing him on the right hand, as it were,
and on the left the brassy legions of Caesar, and you were asking,
What can he do?"
"It was my very thought."
"O my master!" Simonides continued. "You do not know how strong
our Israel is. You think of him as a sorrowful old man weeping
by the rivers of Babylon. But go up to Jerusalem next Passover,
and stand on the Xystus or in the Street of Barter, and see him
as he is. The promise of the Lord to father Jacob coming out
of Padan-Aram was a law under which our people have not ceased
multiplying--not even in captivity; they grew under foot of the
Egyptian; the clench of the Roman has been but wholesome nurture
to them; now they are indeed 'a nation and a company of nations.'
Nor that only, my master; in fact, to measure the strength of
Israel--which is, in fact, measuring what the King can do--you
shall not bide solely by the rule of natural increase, but add
thereto the other--I mean the spread of the faith, which will carry
you to the far and near of the whole known earth. Further, the habit
is, I know, to think and speak of Jerusalem as Israel, which may
be likened to our finding an embroidered shred, and holding it
up as a magisterial robe of Caesar's. Jerusalem is but a stone
of the Temple, or the heart in the body. Turn from beholding
the legions, strong though they be, and count the hosts of the
faithful waiting the old alarm, 'To your tents, O Israel!'--count
the many in Persia, children of those who chose not to return with
the returning; count the brethren who swarm the marts of Egypt
and Farther Africa; count the Hebrew colonists eking profit in
the West--in Lodinum and the trade-courts of Spain; count the
pure of blood and the proselytes in Greece and in the isles of
the sea, and over in Pontus, and here in Antioch, and, for that
matter, those of that city lying accursed in the shadow of the
unclean walls of Rome herself; count the worshippers of the Lord
dwelling in tents along the deserts next us, as well as in the
deserts beyond the Nile: and in the regions across the Caspian,
and up in the old lands of Gog and Magog even, separate those
who annually send gifts to the Holy Temple in acknowledgment of
God--separate them, that they may be counted also. And when you
have done counting, lo! my master, a census of the sword hands
that await you; lo! a kingdom ready fashioned for him who is to
do 'judgment and justice in the whole earth'--in Rome not less
than in Zion. Have then the answer, What Israel can do, that can
The picture was fervently given.
Upon Ilderim it operated like the blowing of a trumpet. "Oh that
I had back my youth!" he cried, starting to his feet.
Ben-Hur sat still. The speech, he saw, was an invitation to devote
his life and fortune to the mysterious Being who was palpably as
much the centre of a great hope with Simonides as with the devout
Egyptian. The idea, as we have seen, was not a new one, but had come
to him repeatedly; once while listening to Malluch in the Grove
of Daphne; afterwards more distinctly while Balthasar was giving
his conception of what the kingdom was to be; still later, in the
walk through the old Orchard, it had risen almost, if not quite,
into a resolve. At such times it had come and gone only an idea,
attended with feelings more or less acute. Not so now. A master
had it in charge, a master was working it up; already he had exalted
it into a _cause_ brilliant with possibilities and infinitely holy.
The effect was as if a door theretofore unseen had suddenly opened
flooding Ben-Hur with light, and admitting him to a service which had
been his one perfect dream--a service reaching far into the future,
and rich with the rewards of duty done, and prizes to sweeten and
soothe his ambition. One touch more was needed.
"Let us concede all you say, O Simonides," said Ben-Hur--"that
the King will come, and his kingdom be as Solomon's; say also I am
ready to give myself and all I have to him and his cause; yet more,
say that I should do as was God's purpose in the ordering of my life
and in your quick amassment of astonishing fortune; then what? Shall
we proceed like blind men building? Shall we wait till the King
comes? Or until he sends for me? You have age and experience on
your side. Answer."
Simonides answered at once.
"We have no choice; none. This letter"--he produced Messala's
despatch as he spoke--"this letter is the signal for action.
The alliance proposed between Messala and Gratus we are not
strong enough to resist; we have not the influence at Rome nor
the force here. They will kill you if we wait. How merciful they
are, look at me and judge."
He shuddered at the terrible recollection.
"O good my master," he continued, recovering himself; "how strong
are you--in purpose, I mean?"
Ben-Hur did not understand him.
"I remember how pleasant the world was to me in my youth,"
"Yet," said Ben-Hur, "you were capable of a great sacrifice."
"Yes; for love."
"Has not life other motives as strong?"
Simonides shook his head.
"There is ambition."
"Ambition is forbidden a son of Israel."
"What, then, of revenge?"
The spark dropped upon the inflammable passion; the man's eyes
gleamed; his hands shook; he answered, quickly, "Revenge is a
Jew's of right; it is the law."
"A camel, even a dog, will remember a wrong," cried Ilderim.
Directly Simonides picked up the broken thread of his thought.
"There is a work, a work for the King, which should be done in
advance of his coming. We may not doubt that Israel is to be his
right hand; but, alas! it is a hand of peace, without cunning in
war. Of the millions, there is not one trained band, not a captain.
The mercenaries of the Herods I do not count, for they are kept to
crush us. The condition is as the Roman would have it; his policy
has fruited well for his tyranny; but the time of change is at
hand, when the shepherd shall put on armor, and take to spear
and sword, and the feeding flocks be turned to fighting lions.
Some one, my son, must have place next the King at his right hand.
Who shall it be if not he who does this work well?"
Ben-Hur's face flushed at the prospect, though he said, "I see;
but speak plainly. A deed to be done is one thing; how to do it
Simonides sipped the wine Esther brought him, and replied,
"The sheik, and thou, my master, shall be principals, each with a
part. I will remain here, carrying on as now, and watchful that the
spring go not dry. Thou shalt betake thee to Jerusalem, and thence
to the wilderness, and begin numbering the fighting-men of Israel,
and telling them into tens and hundreds, and choosing captains and
training them, and in secret places hoarding arms, for which I shall
keep thee supplied. Commencing over in Perea, thou shalt go then to
Galilee, whence it is but a step to Jerusalem. In Perea, the desert
will be at thy back, and Ilderim in reach of thy hand. He will keep
the roads, so that nothing shall pass without thy knowledge. He will
help thee in many ways. Until the ripening time no one shall know
what is here contracted. Mine is but a servant's part. I have spoken
to Ilderim. What sayest thou?"
Ben-Hur looked at the sheik.
"It is as he says, son of Hur," the Arab responded. "I have given
my word, and he is content with it; but thou shalt have my oath,
binding me, and the ready hands of my tribe, and whatever serviceable
thing I have."
The three--Simonides, Ilderim, Esther--gazed at Ben-Hur fixedly.
"Every man," he answered, at first sadly, "has a cup of pleasure
poured for him, and soon or late it comes to his hand, and he
tastes and drinks--every man but me. I see, Simonides, and thou,
O generous sheik!--I see whither the proposal tends. If I accept,
and enter upon the course, farewell peace, and the hopes which
cluster around it. The doors I might enter and the gates of quiet
life will shut behind me, never to open again, for Rome keeps them
all; and her outlawry will follow me, and her hunters; and in the
tombs near cities and the dismal caverns of remotest hills, I must
eat my crust and take my rest."
The speech was broken by a sob. All turned to Esther, who hid her
face upon her father's shoulder.
"I did not think of you, Esther," said Simonides, gently, for he
was himself deeply moved.
"It is well enough, Simonides," said Ben-Hur. "A man bears a
hard doom better, knowing there is pity for him. Let me go on."
They gave him ear again.
"I was about to say," he continued, "I have no choice, but take
the part you assign me; and as remaining here is to meet an
ignoble death, I will to the work at once."
"Shall we have writings?" asked Simonides, moved by his habit of
"I rest upon your word," said Ben-Hur.
"And I," Ilderim answered.
Thus simply was effected the treaty which was to alter Ben-Hur's
life. And almost immediately the latter added,
"It is done, then."
"May the God of Abraham help us!" Simonides exclaimed.
"One word now, my friends," Ben-Hur said, more cheerfully.
"By your leave, I will be my own until after the games. It is not
probable Messala will set peril on foot for me until he has given
the procurator time to answer him; and that cannot be in less than
seven days from the despatch of his letter. The meeting him in the
Circus is a pleasure I would buy at whatever risk."
Ilderim, well pleased, assented readily, and Simonides, intent on
business, added, "It is well; for look you, my master, the delay will
give me time to do you a good part. I understood you to speak of an
inheritance derived from Arrius. Is it in property?"
"A villa near Misenum, and houses in Rome."
"I suggest, then, the sale of the property, and safe deposit of
the proceeds. Give me an account of it, and I will have authorities
drawn, and despatch an agent on the mission forthwith. We will
forestall the imperial robbers at least this once."
"You shall have the account to-morrow."
"Then, if there be nothing more, the work of the night is done,"
Ilderim combed his beard complacently, saying, "And well done."
"The bread and wine again, Esther. Sheik Ilderim will make us
happy by staying with us till to-morrow, or at his pleasure;
and thou, my master--"
"Let the horses be brought," said Ben-Hur. "I will return to the
Orchard. The enemy will not discover me if I go now, and"--he glanced
at Ilderim--"the four will be glad to see me."
As the day dawned, he and Malluch dismounted at the door of the
Next night, about the fourth hour, Ben-Hur stood on the terrace
of the great warehouse with Esther. Below them, on the landing,
there was much running about, and shifting of packages and boxes,
and shouting of men, whose figures, stooping, heaving, hauling,
looked, in the light of the crackling torches kindled in their aid,
like the laboring genii of the fantastic Eastern tales. A galley
was being laden for instant departure. Simonides had not yet
come from his office, in which, at the last moment, he would
deliver to the captain of the vessel instructions to proceed
without stop to Ostia, the seaport of Rome, and, after landing
a passenger there, continue more leisurely to Valentia, on the
coast of Spain.
The passenger is the agent going to dispose of the estate derived
from Arrius the duumvir. When the lines of the vessel are cast
off, and she is put about, and her voyage begun, Ben-Hur will be
committed irrevocably to the work undertaken the night before.
If he is disposed to repent the agreement with Ilderim, a little
time is allowed him to give notice and break it off. He is master,
and has only to say the word.
Such may have been the thought at the moment in his mind. He was
standing with folded arms, looking upon the scene in the manner of a
man debating with himself. Young, handsome, rich, but recently from
the patrician circles of Roman society, it is easy to think of the
world besetting him with appeals not to give more to onerous duty or
ambition attended with outlawry and danger. We can even imagine the
arguments with which he was pressed; the hopelessness of contention
with Caesar; the uncertainty veiling everything connected with the
King and his coming; the ease, honors, state, purchasable like
goods in market; and, strongest of all, the sense newly acquired
of home, with friends to make it delightful. Only those who have
been wanderers long desolate can know the power there was in the
Let us add now, the world--always cunning enough of itself; always
whispering to the weak, Stay, take thine ease; always presenting
the sunny side of life--the world was in this instance helped by
"Were you ever at Rome?" he asked.
"No," Esther replied.
"Would you like to go?"
"I think not."
"I am afraid of Rome," she answered, with a perceptible tremor of
He looked at her then--or rather down upon her, for at his side
she appeared little more than a child. In the dim light he could
not see her face distinctly; even the form was shadowy. But again
he was reminded of Tirzah, and a sudden tenderness fell upon
him--just so the lost sister stood with him on the house-top
the calamitous morning of the accident to Gratus. Poor Tirzah!
Where was she now? Esther had the benefit of the feeling evoked.
If not his sister, he could never look upon her as his servant;
and that she was his servant in fact would make him always the
more considerate and gentle towards her.
"I cannot think of Rome," she continued, recovering her voice,
and speaking in her quiet womanly way--"I cannot think of Rome as
a city of palaces and temples, and crowded with people; she is to
me a monster which has possession of one of the beautiful lands,
and lies there luring men to ruin and death--a monster which it
is not possible to resist--a ravenous beast gorging with blood.
She faltered, looked down, stopped.
"Go on," said Ben-Hur, reassuringly.
She drew closer to him, looked up again, and said, "Why must you
make her your enemy? Why not rather make peace with her, and be
at rest? You have had many ills, and borne them; you have survived
the snares laid for you by foes. Sorrow has consumed your youth;
is it well to give it the remainder of your days?"
The girlish face under his eyes seemed to come nearer and get whiter
as the pleading went on; he stooped towards it, and asked, softly,
"What would you have me do, Esther?"
She hesitated a moment, then asked, in return, "Is the property
near Rome a residence?"
"It is beautiful--a palace in the midst of gardens and shell-strewn
walks; fountains without and within; statuary in the shady nooks;
hills around covered with vines, and so high that Neapolis and
Vesuvius are in sight, and the sea an expanse of purpling blue
dotted with restless sails. Caesar has a country-seat near-by,
but in Rome they say the old Arrian villa is the prettiest."
"And the life there, is it quiet?"
"There was never a summer day, never a moonlit night, more quiet,
save when visitors come. Now that the old owner is gone, and I am
here, there is nothing to break its silence--nothing, unless it
be the whispering of servants, or the whistling of happy birds,
or the noise of fountains at play; it is changeless, except as
day by day old flowers fade and fall, and new ones bud and bloom,
and the sunlight gives place to the shadow of a passing cloud.
The life, Esther, was all too quiet for me. It made me restless
by keeping always present a feeling that I, who have so much to
do, was dropping into idle habits, and tying myself with silken
chains, and after a while--and not a long while either--would end
with nothing done."
She looked off over the river.
"Why did you ask?" he said.
"Good my master--"
"No, no, Esther--not that. Call me friend--brother, if you will; I am
not your master, and will not be. Call me brother."
He could not see the flush of pleasure which reddened her face,
and the glow of the eyes that went out lost in the void above
"I cannot understand," she said, "the nature which prefers the
life you are going to--a life of--"
"Of violence, and it may be of blood," he said, completing the
"Yes," she added, "the nature which could prefer that life to such
as might be in the beautiful villa."
"Esther, you mistake. There is no preference. Alas! the Roman is
not so kind. I am going of necessity. To stay here is to die; and if
I go there, the end will be the same--a poisoned cup, a bravo's blow,
or a judge's sentence obtained by perjury. Messala and the procurator
Gratus are rich with plunder of my father's estate, and it is more
important to them to keep their gains now than was their getting
in the first instance. A peaceable settlement is out of reach,
because of the confession it would imply. And then--then-- Ah,
Esther, if I could buy them, I do not know that I would. I do
not believe peace possible to me; no, not even in the sleepy
shade and sweet air of the marble porches of the old villa--no
matter who might be there to help me bear the burden of the days,
nor by what patience of love she made the effort. Peace is not
possible to me while my people are lost, for I must be watchful to
find them. If I find them, and they have suffered wrong, shall not
the guilty suffer for it? If they are dead by violence, shall the
murderers escape? Oh, I could not sleep for dreams! Nor could the
holiest love, by any stratagem, lull me to a rest which conscience
would not strangle."
"Is it so bad then?" she asked, her voice tremulous with feeling.
"Can nothing, nothing, be done?"
Ben-Hur took her hand.
"Do you care so much for me?"
"Yes," she answered, simply.
The hand was warm, and in the palm of his it was lost. He felt it
tremble. Then the Egyptian came, so the opposite of this little
one; so tall, so audacious, with a flattery so cunning, a wit so
ready, a beauty so wonderful, a manner so bewitching. He carried
the hand to his lips, and gave it back.
"You shall be another Tirzah to me, Esther."
"Who is Tirzah?"
"The little sister the Roman stole from me, and whom I must find
before I can rest or be happy."
Just then a gleam of light flashed athwart the terrace and fell
upon the two; and, looking round, they saw a servant roll Simonides
in his chair out of the door. They went to the merchant, and in the
after-talk he was principal.
Immediately the lines of the galley were cast off, and she swung
round, and, midst the flashing of torches and the shouting of
joyous sailors, hurried off to the sea--leaving Ben-Hur committed
to the cause of the KING WHO WAS TO COME.
The day before the games, in the afternoon, all Ilderim's racing
property was taken to the city, and put in quarters adjoining
the Circus. Along with it the good man carried a great deal of
property not of that class; so with servants, retainers mounted
and armed, horses in leading, cattle driven, camels laden with
baggage, his outgoing from the Orchard was not unlike a tribal
migration. The people along the road failed not to laugh at
his motley procession; on the other side, it was observed that,
with all his irascibility, he was not in the least offended by
their rudeness. If he was under surveillance, as he had reason
to believe, the informer would describe the semi-barbarous show
with which he came up to the races. The Romans would laugh; the
city would be amused; but what cared he? Next morning the pageant
would be far on the road to the desert, and going with it would be
every movable thing of value belonging to the Orchard--everything
save such as were essential to the success of his four. He was,
in fact, started home; his tents were all folded; the dowar was
no more; in twelve hours all would be out of reach, pursue who
might. A man is never safer than when he is under the laugh;
and the shrewd old Arab knew it.
Neither he nor Ben-Hur overestimated the influence of Messala;
it was their opinion, however, that he would not begin active
measures against them until after the meeting in the Circus;
if defeated there, especially if defeated by Ben-Hur, they might
instantly look for the worst he could do; he might not even wait
for advices from Gratus. With this view, they shaped their course,
and were prepared to betake themselves out of harm's way. They rode
together now in good spirits, calmly confident of success on the
On the way, they came upon Malluch in waiting for them. The faithful
fellow gave no sign by which it was possible to infer any knowledge
on his part of the relationship so recently admitted between Ben-Hur
and Simonides, or of the treaty between them and Ilderim. He exchanged
salutations as usual, and produced a paper, saying to the sheik,
"I have here the notice of the editor of the games, just issued,
in which you will find your horses published for the race. You will
find in it also the order of exercises. Without waiting, good sheik,
I congratulate you upon your victory."
He gave the paper over, and, leaving the worthy to master it,
turned to Ben-Hur.
"To you also, son of Arrius, my congratulations. There is nothing
now to prevent your meeting Messala. Every condition preliminary
to the race is complied with. I have the assurance from the editor
"I thank you, Malluch," said Ben-Hur.
"Your color is white, and Messala's mixed scarlet and gold. The good
effects of the choice are visible already. Boys are now hawking white
ribbons along the streets; tomorrow every Arab and Jew in the city
will wear them. In the Circus you will see the white fairly divide
the galleries with the red."
"The galleries--but not the tribunal over the Porta Pompae."
"No; the scarlet and gold will rule there. But if we win"--Malluch
chuckled with the pleasure of the thought--"if we win, how the
dignitaries will tremble! They will bet, of course, according to
their scorn of everything not Roman--two, three, five to one
on Messala, because he is Roman." Dropping his voice yet lower,
he added, "It ill becomes a Jew of good standing in the Temple to
put his money at such a hazard; yet, in confidence, I will have a
friend next behind the consul's seat to accept offers of three to
one, or five, or ten--the madness may go to such height. I have put
to his order six thousand shekels for the purpose."
"Nay, Malluch," said Ben-Hur, "a Roman will wager only in his
Roman coin. Suppose you find your friend to-night, and place to
his order sestertii in such amount as you choose. And look you,
Malluch--let him be instructed to seek wagers with Messala and
his supporters; Ilderim's four against Messala's."
Malluch reflected a moment.
"The effect will be to centre interest upon your contest."
"The very thing I seek, Malluch."
"I see, I see."
"Ay, Malluch; would you serve me perfectly, help me to fix the
public eye upon our race--Messala's and mine."
Malluch spoke quickly--"It can be done."
"Then let it be done," said Ben-Hur.
"Enormous wagers offered will answer; if the offers are accepted,
all the better."
Malluch turned his eyes watchfully upon Ben-Hur.
"Shall I not have back the equivalent of his robbery?" said Ben-Hur,
partly to himself. "Another opportunity may not come. And if I could
break him in fortune as well as in pride! Our father Jacob could take
A look of determined will knit his handsome face, giving emphasis
to his further speech.
"Yes, it shall be. Hark, Malluch! Stop not in thy offer of sestertii.
Advance them to talents, if any there be who dare so high. Five, ten,
twenty talents; ay, fifty, so the wager be with Messala himself."
"It is a mighty sum," said Malluch. "I must have security."
"So thou shalt. Go to Simonides, and tell him I wish the matter
arranged. Tell him my heart is set on the ruin of my enemy,
and that the opportunity hath such excellent promise that I
choose such hazards. On our side be the God of our fathers. Go,
good Malluch. Let this not slip."
And Malluch, greatly delighted, gave him parting salutation,
and started to ride away, but returned presently.
"Your pardon," he said to Ben-Hur. "There was another matter.
I could not get near Messala's chariot myself, but I had another
measure it; and, from his report, its hub stands quite a palm
higher from the ground than yours."
"A palm! So much?" cried Ben-Hur, joyfully.
Then he leaned over to Malluch.
"As thou art a son of Judah, Malluch, and faithful to thy kin,
get thee a seat in the gallery over the Gate of Triumph, down close
to the balcony in front of the pillars, and watch well when we
make the turns there; watch well, for if I have favor at all,
I will-- Nay, Malluch, let it go unsaid! Only get thee there,
and watch well."
At that moment a cry burst from Ilderim.
"Ha! By the splendor of God! what is this?"
He drew near Ben-Hur with a finger pointing on the face of the
"Read," said Ben-Hur.
"No; better thou."
Ben-Hur took the paper, which, signed by the prefect of the
province as editor, performed the office of a modern programme,
giving particularly the several divertisements provided for
the occasion. It informed the public that there would be first a
procession of extraordinary splendor; that the procession would be
succeeded by the customary honors to the god Consus, whereupon the
games would begin; running, leaping, wrestling, boxing, each in the
order stated. The names of the competitors were given, with their
several nationalities and schools of training, the trials in which
they had been engaged, the prizes won, and the prizes now offered;
under the latter head the sums of money were stated in illuminated
letters, telling of the departure of the day when the simple chaplet
of pine or laurel was fully enough for the victor, hungering for glory
as something better than riches, and content with it.
Over these parts of the programme Ben-Hur sped with rapid eyes.
At last he came to the announcement of the race. He read it
slowly. Attending lovers of the heroic sports were assured
they would certainly be gratified by an Orestean struggle
unparalleled in Antioch. The city offered the spectacle in
honor of the consul. One hundred thousand sestertii and a crown of
laurel were the prizes. Then followed the particulars. The entries
were six in all--fours only permitted; and, to further interest in
the performance, the competitors would be turned into the course
together. Each four then received description.
"I. A four of Lysippus the Corinthian--two grays, a bay, and a black;
entered at Alexandria last year, and again at Corinth, where they
were winners. Lysippus, driver. Color, yellow.
"II. A four of Messala of Rome--two white, two black; victors of
the Circensian as exhibited in the Circus Maximus last year.
Messala, driver. Colors, scarlet and gold.
"III. A four of Cleanthes the Athenian--three gray, one bay;
winners at the Isthmian last year. Cleanthes, driver. Color,
"IV. A four of Dicaeus the Byzantine--two black, one gray, one bay;
winners this year at Byzantium. Dicaeus, driver. Color, black.
"V. A four of Admetus the Sidonian--all grays. Thrice entered
at Caesarea, and thrice victors. Admetus, driver. Color, blue.
"VI. A four of Ilderim, sheik of the Desert. All bays; first race.
Ben-Hur, a Jew, driver. Color, white."
BEN-HUR, A JEW, DRIVER!
Why that name instead of Arrius?
Ben-Hur raised his eyes to Ilderim. He had found the cause of the
Arab's outcry. Both rushed to the same conclusion.
The hand was the hand of Messala!
Evening was hardly come upon Antioch, when the Omphalus, nearly in
the centre of the city, became a troubled fountain from which in
every direction, but chiefly down to the Nymphaeum and east and
west along the Colonnade of Herod, flowed currents of people,
for the time given up to Bacchus and Apollo.
For such indulgence anything more fitting cannot be imagined than
the great roofed streets, which were literally miles on miles
of porticos wrought of marble, polished to the last degree of
finish, and all gifts to the voluptuous city by princes careless
of expenditure where, as in this instance, they thought they were
eternizing themselves. Darkness was not permitted anywhere; and the
singing, the laughter, the shouting, were incessant, and in compound
like the roar of waters dashing through hollow grots, confused by a
multitude of echoes.
The many nationalities represented, though they might have amazed
a stranger, were not peculiar to Antioch. Of the various missions
of the great empire, one seems to have been the fusion of men
and the introduction of strangers to each other; accordingly,
whole peoples rose up and went at pleasure, taking with them
their costumes, customs, speech, and gods; and where they chose,
they stopped, engaged in business, built houses, erected altars,
and were what they had been at home.
There was a peculiarity, however, which could not have failed the
notice of a looker-on this night in Antioch. Nearly everybody wore
the colors of one or other of the charioteers announced for the
morrow's race. Sometimes it was in form of a scarf, sometimes a
badge; often a ribbon or a feather. Whatever the form, it signified
merely the wearer's partiality; thus, green published a friend of
Cleanthes the Athenian, and black an adherent of the Byzantine.
This was according to a custom, old probably as the day of the
race of Orestes--a custom, by the way, worthy of study as a
marvel of history, illustrative of the absurd yet appalling
extremities to which men frequently suffer their follies to
The observer abroad on this occasion, once attracted to the wearing
of colors, would have very shortly decided that there were three
in predominance--green, white, and the mixed scarlet and gold.
But let us from the streets to the palace on the island.
The five great chandeliers in the saloon are freshly lighted. The
assemblage is much the same as that already noticed in connection
with the place. The divan has its corps of sleepers and burden of
garments, and the tables yet resound with the rattle and clash of
dice. Yet the greater part of the company are not doing anything.
They walk about, or yawn tremendously, or pause as they pass
each other to exchange idle nothings. Will the weather be fair
to-morrow? Are the preparations for the games complete? Do the
laws of the Circus in Antioch differ from the laws of the Circus
in Rome? Truth is, the young fellows are suffering from ennui.
Their heavy work is done; that is, we would find their tablets,
could we look at them, covered with memoranda of wagers--wagers
on every contest; on the running, the wrestling, the boxing;
on everything but the chariot-race.
And why not on that?
Good reader, they cannot find anybody who will hazard so much as
a denarius with them against Messala.
There are no colors in the saloon but his.
No one thinks of his defeat.
Why, they say, is he not perfect in his training? Did he not
graduate from an imperial lanista? Were not his horses winners
at the Circensian in the Circus Maximus? And then--ah, yes! he
is a Roman!
In a corner, at ease on the divan, Messala himself may be seen.
Around him, sitting or standing, are his courtierly admirers,
plying him with questions. There is, of course, but one topic.
Enter Drusus and Cecilius.
"Ah!" cries the young prince, throwing himself on the divan at
Messala's feet, "Ah, by Bacchus, I am tired!"
"Whither away?" asks Messala.
"Up the street; up to the Omphalus, and beyond--who shall say how
far? Rivers of people; never so many in the city before. They say
we will see the whole world at the Circus to-morrow."
Messala laughed scornfully.
"The idiots! Perpol! They never beheld a Circensian with Caesar
for editor. But, my Drusus, what found you?"
"O--ah! You forget," said Cecilius.
"What?" asked Drusus.
"The procession of whites."
"Mirabile!" cried Drusus, half rising. "We met a faction of whites,
and they had a banner. But--ha, ha, ha!"
He fell back indolently.
"Cruel Drusus--not to go on," said Messala.
"Scum of the desert were they, my Messala, and garbage-eaters
from the Jacob's Temple in Jerusalem. What had I to do with
"Nay," said Cecilius, "Drusus is afraid of a laugh, but I am not,
"Speak thou, then."
"Well, we stopped the faction, and--"
"Offered them a wager," said Drusus, relenting, and taking the word
from the shadow's mouth. "And--ha, ha, ha!--one fellow with not
enough skin on his face to make a worm for a carp stepped forth,
and--ha, ha, ha!--said yes. I drew my tablets. 'Who is your man?'
I asked. 'Ben-Hur, the Jew,' said he. Then I: 'What shall it be?
How much?' He answered, 'A--a--' Excuse me, Messala. By Jove's
thunder, I cannot go on for laughter! Ha, ha, ha!"
The listeners leaned forward.
Messala looked to Cecilius.
"A shekel," said the latter.
"A shekel! A shekel!"
A burst of scornful laughter ran fast upon the repetition.
"And what did Drusus?" asked Messala.
An outcry over about the door just then occasioned a rush to that
quarter; and, as the noise there continued, and grew louder, even
Cecilius betook himself off, pausing only to say, "The noble Drusus,
my Messala, put up his tablets and--lost the shekel."
"A white! A white!"
"Let him come!"
"This way, this way!"
These and like exclamations filled the saloon, to the stoppage
of other speech. The dice-players quit their games; the sleepers
awoke, rubbed their eyes, drew their tablets, and hurried to the
"I offer you--"
The person so warmly received was the respectable Jew, Ben-Hur's
fellow-voyager from Cyprus. He entered grave, quiet, observant.
His robe was spotlessly white; so was the cloth of his turban.
Bowing and smiling at the welcome, he moved slowly towards the
central table. Arrived there, he drew his robe about him in a
stately manner, took seat, and waved his hand. The gleam of a
jewel on a finger helped him not a little to the silence which
"Romans--most noble Romans--I salute you!" he said.
"Easy, by Jupiter! Who is he?" asked Drusus.
"A dog of Israel--Sanballat by name--purveyor for the army; residence,
Rome; vastly rich; grown so as a contractor of furnishments which
he never furnishes. He spins mischiefs, nevertheless, finer than
spiders spin their webs. Come--by the girdle of Venus! let us
Messala arose as he spoke, and, with Drusus, joined the mass
crowded about the purveyor.
"It came to me on the street," said that person, producing his
tablets, and opening them on the table with an impressive air of
business, "that there was great discomfort in the palace because
offers on Messala were going without takers. The gods, you know,
must have sacrifices; and here am I. You see my color; let us to
the matter. Odds first, amounts next. What will you give me?"
The audacity seemed to stun his hearers.
"Haste!" he said. "I have an engagement with the consul."
The spur was effective.
"Two to one," cried half a dozen in a voice.
"What!" exclaimed the purveyor, astonished. "Only two to one,
and yours a Roman!"
"Take three, then."
"Three say you--only three--and mine but a dog of a Jew! Give me
"Four it is," said a boy, stung by the taunt.
"Five--give me five," cried the purveyor, instantly.
A profound stillness fell upon the assemblage.
"The consul--your master and mine--is waiting for me."
The inaction became awkward to the many.
"Give me five--for the honor of Rome, five."
"Five let it be," said one in answer.
There was a sharp cheer--a commotion--and Messala himself appeared.
"Five let it be," he said.
And Sanballat smiled, and made ready to write.
"If Caesar die to-morrow," he said, "Rome will not be all bereft.
There is at least one other with spirit to take his place. Give me
"Six be it," answered Messala.
There was another shout louder than the first.
"Six be it," repeated Messala. "Six to one--the difference between
a Roman and a Jew. And, having found it, now, O redemptor of the
flesh of swine, let us on. The amount--and quickly. The consul
may send for thee, and I will then be bereft."
Sanballat took the laugh against him coolly, and wrote, and offered
the writing to Messala.
"Read, read!" everybody demanded.
And Messala read:
"Mem.--Chariot-race. Messala of Rome, in wager with Sanballat,
also of Rome, says he will beat Ben-Hur, the Jew. Amount of wager,
twenty talents. Odds to Sanballat, six to one.
There was no noise, no motion. Each person seemed held in the pose
the reading found him. Messala stared at the memorandum, while the
eyes which had him in view opened wide, and stared at him. He felt
the gaze, and thought rapidly. So lately he stood in the same
place, and in the same way hectored the countrymen around him.
They would remember it. If he refused to sign, his hero-ship was
lost. And sign he could not; he was not worth one hundred talents,
nor the fifth part of the sum. Suddenly his mind became a blank;
he stood speechless; the color fled his face. An idea at last came
to his relief.
"Thou Jew!" he said, "where hast thou twenty talents? Show me."
Sanballat's provoking smile deepened.
"There," he replied, offering Messala a paper.
"Read, read!" arose all around.
Again Messala read:
"AT ANTIOCH, Tammuz 16th day.
"The bearer, Sanballat of Rome, hath now to his order with me
fifty talents, coin of Caesar.
"Fifty talents, fifty talents!" echoed the throng, in amazement.
Then Drusus came to the rescue.
"By Hercules!" he shouted, "the paper lies, and the Jew is a liar.
Who but Caesar hath fifty talents at order? Down with the insolent
The cry was angry, and it was angrily repeated; yet Sanballat
kept his seat, and his smile grew more exasperating the longer
he waited. At length Messala spoke.
"Hush! One to one, my countrymen--one to one, for love of our
ancient Roman name."
The timely action recovered him his ascendancy.
"O thou circumcised dog!" he continued, to Sanballat, "I gave thee
six to one, did I not?"
"Yes," said the Jew, quietly.
"Well, give me now the fixing of the amount."
"With reserve, if the amount be trifling, have thy will,"
"Write, then, five in place of twenty."
"Hast thou so much?"
"By the mother of the gods, I will show you receipts."
"Nay, the word of so brave a Roman must pass. Only make the sum
even--six make it, and I will write."
"Write it so."
And forthwith they exchanged writings.
Sanballat immediately arose and looked around him, a sneer in
place of his smile. No man better than he knew those with whom
he was dealing.
"Romans," he said, "another wager, if you dare! Five talents against
five talents that the white will win. I challenge you collectively."
They were again surprised.
"What!" he cried, louder. "Shall it be said in the Circus to-morrow
that a dog of Israel went into the saloon of the palace full of
Roman nobles--among them the scion of a Caesar--and laid five
talents before them in challenge, and they had not the courage
to take it up?"
The sting was unendurable.
"Have done, O insolent!" said Drusus, "write the challenge,
and leave it on the table; and to-morrow, if we find thou hast
indeed so much money to put at such hopeless hazard, I, Drusus,
promise it shall be taken."
Sanballat wrote again, and, rising, said, unmoved as ever, "See,
Drusus, I leave the offer with you. When it is signed, send it
to me any time before the race begins. I will be found with the
consul in a seat over the Porta Pompae. Peace to you; peace to
He bowed, and departed, careless of the shout of derision with
which they pursued him out of the door.
In the night the story of the prodigious wager flew along the
streets and over the city; and Ben-Hur, lying with his four,
was told of it, and also that Messala's whole fortune was on
And he slept never so soundly.
The Circus at Antioch stood on the south bank of the river,
nearly opposite the island, differing in no respect from the
plan of such buildings in general.
In the purest sense, the games were a gift to the public; consequently,
everybody was free to attend; and, vast as the holding capacity of
the structure was, so fearful were the people, on this occasion,
lest there should not be room for them, that, early the day before
the opening of the exhibition, they took up all the vacant spaces
in the vicinity, where their temporary shelter suggested an army
At midnight the entrances were thrown wide, and the rabble,
surging in, occupied the quarters assigned to them, from which
nothing less than an earthquake or an army with spears could
have dislodged them. They dozed the night away on the benches,
and breakfasted there; and there the close of the exercises found
them, patient and sight-hungry as in the beginning.
The better people, their seats secured, began moving towards the
Circus about the first hour of the morning, the noble and very
rich among them distinguished by litters and retinues of liveried
By the second hour, the efflux from the city was a stream unbroken
Exactly as the gnomon of the official dial up in the citadel pointed
the second hour half gone, the legion, in full panoply, and with all
its standards on exhibit, descended from Mount Sulpius; and when the
rear of the last cohort disappeared in the bridge, Antioch was literally
abandoned--not that the Circus could hold the multitude, but that the
multitude was gone out to it, nevertheless.
A great concourse on the river shore witnessed the consul come
over from the island in a barge of state. As the great man landed,
and was received by the legion, the martial show for one brief
moment transcended the attraction of the Circus.
At the third hour, the audience, if such it may be termed, was assembled;
at last, a flourish of trumpets called for silence, and instantly
the gaze of over a hundred thousand persons was directed towards
a pile forming the eastern section of the building.
There was a basement first, broken in the middle by a broad arched
passage, called the Porta Pompae, over which, on an elevated tribunal
magnificently decorated with insignia and legionary standards, the
consul sat in the place of honor. On both sides of the passage the
basement was divided into stalls termed carceres, each protected
in front by massive gates swung to statuesque pilasters. Over the
stalls next was a cornice crowned by a low balustrade; back of
which the seats arose in theatre arrangement, all occupied by a
throng of dignitaries superbly attired. The pile extended the
width of the Circus, and was flanked on both sides by towers
which, besides helping the architects give grace to their work,
served the velaria, or purple awnings, stretched between them so
as to throw the whole quarter in a shade that became exceedingly
grateful as the day advanced.
This structure, it is now thought, can be made useful in helping
the reader to a sufficient understanding of the arrangement of
the rest of the interior of the Circus. He has only to fancy
himself seated on the tribunal with the consul, facing to the
west, where everything is under his eye.
On the right and left, if he will look, he will see the main entrances,
very ample, and guarded by gates hinged to the towers.
Directly below him is the arena--a level plane of considerable
extent, covered with fine white sand. There all the trials will
take place except the running.
Looking across this sanded arena westwardly still, there is a
pedestal of marble supporting three low conical pillars of gray
stone, much carven. Many an eye will hunt for those pillars before
the day is done, for they are the first goal, and mark the beginning
and end of the race-course. Behind the pedestal, leaving a passage-way
and space for an altar, commences a wall ten or twelve feet in breadth
and five or six in height, extending thence exactly two hundred yards,
or one Olympic stadium. At the farther, or westward, extremity of
the wall there is another pedestal, surmounted with pillars which
mark the second goal.
The racers will enter the course on the right of the first goal,
and keep the wall all the time to their left. The beginning and
ending points of the contest lie, consequently, directly in front
of the consul across the arena; and for that reason his seat was
admittedly the most desirable in the Circus.
Now if the reader, who is still supposed to be seated on the
consular tribunal over the Porta Pompae, will look up from the
ground arrangement of the interior, the first point to attract
his notice will be the marking of the outer boundary-line of the
course--that is, a plain-faced, solid wall, fifteen or twenty
feet in height, with a balustrade on its cope, like that over
the carceres, or stalls, in the east. This balcony, if followed
round the course, will be found broken in three places to allow
passages of exit and entrance, two in the north and one in the
west; the latter very ornate, and called the Gate of Triumph,
because, when all is over, the victors will pass out that way,
crowned, and with triumphal escort and ceremonies.
At the west end the balcony encloses the course in the form
of a half circle, and is made to uphold two great galleries.
Directly behind the balustrade on the coping of the balcony is
the first seat, from which ascend the succeeding benches, each
higher than the one in front of it; giving to view a spectacle
of surpassing interest--the spectacle of a vast space ruddy and
glistening with human faces, and rich with varicolored costumes.
The commonalty occupy quarters over in the west, beginning at the
point of termination of an awning, stretched, it would seem, for the
accommodation of the better classes exclusively.
Having thus the whole interior of the Circus under view at the
moment of the sounding of the trumpets, let the reader next imagine
the multitude seated and sunk to sudden silence, and motionless in
its intensity of interest.
Out of the Porta Pompae over in the east rises a sound mixed of
voices and instruments harmonized. Presently, forth issues the
chorus of the procession with which the celebration begins;
the editor and civic authorities of the city, givers of the
games, follow in robes and garlands; then the gods, some on
platforms borne by men, others in great four-wheel carriages
gorgeously decorated; next them, again, the contestants of the
day, each in costume exactly as he will run, wrestle, leap, box,
Slowly crossing the arena, the procession proceeds to make circuit
of the course. The display is beautiful and imposing. Approval runs
before it in a shout, as the water rises and swells in front of a boat
in motion. If the dumb, figured gods make no sign of appreciation
of the welcome, the editor and his associates are not so backward.
The reception of the athletes is even more demonstrative, for there
is not a man in the assemblage who has not something in wager upon
them, though but a mite or farthing. And it is noticeable, as the
classes move by, that the favorites among them are speedily singled
out: either their names are loudest in the uproar, or they are more
profusely showered with wreaths and garlands tossed to them from
If there is a question as to the popularity with the public of
the several games, it is now put to rest. To the splendor of
the chariots and the superexcellent beauty of the horses, the
charioteers add the personality necessary to perfect the charm of
their display. Their tunics, short, sleeveless, and of the finest
woollen texture, are of the assigned colors. A horseman accompanies
each one of them except Ben-Hur, who, for some reason--possibly
distrust--has chosen to go alone; so, too, they are all helmeted
but him. As they approach, the spectators stand upon the benches,
and there is a sensible deepening of the clamor, in which a sharp
listener may detect the shrill piping of women and children; at the
same time, the things roseate flying from the balcony thicken into a
storm, and, striking the men, drop into the chariot-beds, which are
threatened with filling to the tops. Even the horses have a share
in the ovation; nor may it be said they are less conscious than
their masters of the honors they receive.
Very soon, as with the other contestants, it is made apparent
that some of the drivers are more in favor than others; and then
the discovery follows that nearly every individual on the benches,
women and children as well as men, wears a color, most frequently a
ribbon upon the breast or in the hair: now it is green, now yellow,
now blue; but, searching the great body carefully, it is manifest
that there is a preponderance of white, and scarlet and gold.
In a modern assemblage called together as this one is, particularly
where there are sums at hazard upon the race, a preference would be
decided by the qualities or performance of the horses; here, however,
nationality was the rule. If the Byzantine and Sidonian found small
support, it was because their cities were scarcely represented
on the benches. On their side, the Greeks, though very numerous,
were divided between the Corinthian and the Athenian, leaving but
a scant showing of green and yellow. Messala's scarlet and gold
would have been but little better had not the citizens of Antioch,
proverbially a race of courtiers, joined the Romans by adopting the
color of their favorite. There were left then the country people,
or Syrians, the Jews, and the Arabs; and they, from faith in the
blood of the sheik's four, blent largely with hate of the Romans,
whom they desired, above all things, to see beaten and humbled,
mounted the white, making the most noisy, and probably the most
numerous, faction of all.
As the charioteers move on in the circuit, the excitement increases;
at the second goal, where, especially in the galleries, the white is
the ruling color, the people exhaust their flowers and rive the air
Such are the cries.
Upon the passage of the procession, the factionists take their
seats and resume conversation.
"Ah, by Bacchus! was he not handsome?" exclaims a woman, whose
Romanism is betrayed by the colors flying in her hair.
"And how splendid his chariot!" replies a neighbor, of the same
proclivities. "It is all ivory and gold. Jupiter grant he wins!"
The notes on the bench behind them were entirely different.
"A hundred shekels on the Jew!"
The voice is high and shrill.
"Nay, be thou not rash," whispers a moderating friend to the speaker.
"The children of Jacob are not much given to Gentile sports, which are
too often accursed in the sight of the Lord."
"True, but saw you ever one more cool and assured? And what an
arm he has!"
"And what horses!" says a third.
"And for that," a fourth one adds, "they say he has all the tricks
of the Romans."
A woman completes the eulogium:
"Yes, and he is even handsomer than the Roman."
Thus encouraged, the enthusiast shrieks again, "A hundred shekels
on the Jew!"
"Thou fool!" answers an Antiochian, from a bench well forward on
the balcony. "Knowest thou not there are fifty talents laid against
him, six to one, on Messala? Put up thy shekels, lest Abraham rise
and smite thee."
"Ha, ha! thou ass of Antioch! Cease thy bray. Knowest thou not it
was Messala betting on himself?"
Such the reply.
And so ran the controversy, not always good-natured.
When at length the march was ended and the Porta Pompae received
back the procession, Ben-Hur knew he had his prayer.
The eyes of the East were upon his contest with Messala.
About three o'clock, speaking in modern style, the program was
concluded except the chariot-race. The editor, wisely considerate
of the comfort of the people, chose that time for a recess. At once
the vomitoria were thrown open, and all who could hastened to the
portico outside where the restaurateurs had their quarters. Those who
remained yawned, talked, gossiped, consulted their tablets, and,
all distinctions else forgotten, merged into but two classes--the
winners, who were happy, and the losers, who were grum and captious.
Now, however, a third class of spectators, composed of citizens who
desired only to witness the chariot-race, availed themselves of the
recess to come in and take their reserved seats; by so doing they
thought to attract the least attention and give the least offence.
Among these were Simonides and his party, whose places were in the
vicinity of the main entrance on the north side, opposite the consul.
As the four stout servants carried the merchant in his chair up
the aisle, curiosity was much excited. Presently some one called
his name. Those about caught it and passed it on along the benches
to the west; and there was hurried climbing on seats to get sight of
the man about whom common report had coined and put in circulation
a romance so mixed of good fortune and bad that the like had never
been known or heard of before.
Ilderim was also recognized and warmly greeted; but nobody knew
Balthasar or the two women who followed him closely veiled.
The people made way for the party respectfully, and the ushers
seated them in easy speaking distance of each other down by the
balustrade overlooking the arena. In providence of comfort,
they sat upon cushions and had stools for footrests.
The women were Iras and Esther.
Upon being seated, the latter cast a frightened look over
the Circus, and drew the veil closer about her face; while the
Egyptian, letting her veil fall upon her shoulders, gave herself
to view, and gazed at the scene with the seeming unconsciousness
of being stared at, which, in a woman, is usually the result of
long social habitude.
The new-comers generally were yet making their first examination of
the great spectacle, beginning with the consul and his attendants,
when some workmen ran in and commenced to stretch a chalked rope
across the arena from balcony to balcony in front of the pillars
of the first goal.
About the same time, also, six men came in through the Porta Pompae
and took post, one in front of each occupied stall; whereat there
was a prolonged hum of voices in every quarter.
"See, see! The green goes to number four on the right; the Athenian
"And Messala--yes, he is in number two."
"Watch the white! See, he crosses over, he stops; number one it
is--number one on the left."
"No, the black stops there, and the white at number two."
"So it is."
These gate-keepers, it should be understood, were dressed in tunics
colored like those of the competing charioteers; so, when they took
their stations, everybody knew the particular stall in which his
favorite was that moment waiting.
"Did you ever see Messala?" the Egyptian asked Esther.
The Jewess shuddered as she answered no. If not her father's enemy,
the Roman was Ben-Hur's.
"He is beautiful as Apollo."
As Iras spoke, her large eyes brightened and she shook her jeweled
fan. Esther looked at her with the thought, "Is he, then, so much
handsomer than Ben-Hur?" Next moment she heard Ilderim say to
her father, "Yes, his stall is number two on the left of the
Porta Pompae;" and, thinking it was of Ben-Hur he spoke, her eyes
turned that way. Taking but the briefest glance at the wattled face
of the gate, she drew the veil close and muttered a little prayer.
Presently Sanballat came to the party.
"I am just from the stalls, O sheik," he said, bowing gravely to
IIderim, who began combing his beard, while his eyes glittered with
eager inquiry. "The horses are in perfect condition."
Ilderim replied simply, "If they are beaten, I pray it be by some
other than Messala."
Turning then to Simonides, Sanballat drew out a tablet, saying,
"I bring you also something of interest. I reported, you will
remember, the wager concluded with Messala last night, and stated
that I left another which, if taken, was to be delivered to me in
writing to-day before the race began. Here it is."
Simonides took the tablet and read the memorandum carefully.
"Yes," he said, "their emissary came to ask me if you had so much
money with me. Keep the tablet close. If you lose, you know where
to come; if you win"--his face knit hard--"if you win--ah, friend,
see to it! See the signers escape not; hold them to the last shekel.
That is what they would with us."
"Trust me," replied the purveyor.
"Will you not sit with us?" asked Simonides.
"You are very good," the other returned; "but if I leave the consul,
young Rome yonder will boil over. Peace to you; peace to all."
At length the recess came to an end.
The trumpeters blew a call at which the absentees rushed back
to their places. At the same time, some attendants appeared
in the arena, and, climbing upon the division wall, went to an
entablature near the second goal at the west end, and placed upon
it seven wooden balls; then returning to the first goal, upon an
entablature there they set up seven other pieces of wood hewn to
"What shall they do with the balls and fishes, O sheik?" asked
"Hast thou never attended a race?"
"Never before; and hardly know I why I am here."
"Well, they are to keep the count. At the end of each round run
thou shalt see one ball and one fish taken down."
The preparations were now complete, and presently a trumpeter in
gaudy uniform arose by the editor, ready to blow the signal of
commencement promptly at his order. Straightway the stir of the
people and the hum of their conversation died away. Every face
near-by, and every face in the lessening perspective, turned to
the east, as all eyes settled upon the gates of the six stalls
which shut in the competitors.
The unusual flush upon his face gave proof that even Simonides
had caught the universal excitement. Ilderim pulled his beard
fast and furious.
"Look now for the Roman," said the fair Egyptian to Esther, who did
not hear her, for, with close-drawn veil and beating heart, she sat
watching for Ben-Hur.
The structure containing the stalls, it should be observed, was
in form of the segment of a circle, retired on the right so that
its central point was projected forward, and midway the course,
on the starting side of the first goal. Every stall, consequently,
was equally distant from the starting-line or chalked rope above
The trumpet sounded short and sharp; whereupon the starters, one
for each chariot, leaped down from behind the pillars of the goal,
ready to give assistance if any of the fours proved unmanageable.
Again the trumpet blew, and simultaneously the gate-keepers threw
the stalls open.
First appeared the mounted attendants of the charioteers, five in all,
Ben-Hur having rejected the service. The chalked line was lowered to
let them pass, then raised again. They were beautifully mounted,
yet scarcely observed as they rode forward; for all the time the
trampling of eager horses, and the voices of drivers scarcely
less eager, were heard behind in the stalls, so that one might
not look away an instant from the gaping doors.
The chalked line up again, the gate-keepers called their men;
instantly the ushers on the balcony waved their hands, and shouted
with all their strength, "Down! down!"
As well have whistled to stay a storm.
Forth from each stall, like missiles in a volley from so many great
guns, rushed the six fours; and up the vast assemblage arose,
electrified and irrepressible, and, leaping upon the benches,
filled the Circus and the air above it with yells and screams.
This was the time for which they had so patiently waited!--this
the moment of supreme interest treasured up in talk and dreams
since the proclamation of the games!
"He is come--there--look!" cried Iras, pointing to Messala.
"I see him," answered Esther, looking at Ben-Hur.
The veil was withdrawn. For an instant the little Jewess was brave.
An idea of the joy there is in doing an heroic deed under the eyes
of a multitude came to her, and she understood ever after how,
at such times, the souls of men, in the frenzy of performance,
laugh at death or forget it utterly.
The competitors were now under view from nearly every part of
the Circus, yet the race was not begun; they had first to make
the chalked line successfully.
The line was stretched for the purpose of equalizing the start.
If it were dashed upon, discomfiture of man and horses might
be apprehended; on the other hand, to approach it timidly was
to incur the hazard of being thrown behind in the beginning of
the race; and that was certain forfeit of the great advantage
always striven for--the position next the division wall on the
inner line of the course.
This trial, its perils and consequences, the spectators knew
thoroughly; and if the opinion of old Nestor, uttered that time
he handed the reins to his son, were true--
"It is not strength, but art, obtained the prize,
And to be swift is less than to be wise"--
all on the benches might well look for warning of the winner to
be now given, justifying the interest with which they breathlessly
watched for the result.
The arena swam in a dazzle of light; yet each driver looked first
thing for the rope, then for the coveted inner line. So, all six
aiming at the same point and speeding furiously, a collision seemed
inevitable; nor that merely. What if the editor, at the last moment,
dissatisfied with the start, should withhold the signal to drop the
rope? Or if he should not give it in time?
The crossing was about two hundred and fifty feet in width. Quick the
eye, steady the hand, unerring the judgment required. If now one look
away! or his mind wander! or a rein slip! And what attraction in the
ensemble of the thousands over the spreading balcony! Calculating
upon the natural impulse to give one glance--just one--in sooth
of curiosity or vanity, malice might be there with an artifice;
while friendship and love, did they serve the same result, might be
as deadly as malice.
The divine last touch in perfecting the beautiful is animation. Can we
accept the saying, then these latter days, so tame in pastime and
dull in sports, have scarcely anything to compare to the spectacle
offered by the six contestants. Let the reader try to fancy it;
let him first look down upon the arena, and see it glistening
in its frame of dull-gray granite walls; let him then, in this
perfect field, see the chariots, light of wheel, very graceful,
and ornate as paint and burnishing can make them--Messala's rich
with ivory and gold; let him see the drivers, erect and statuesque,
undisturbed by the motion of the cars, their limbs naked, and fresh
and ruddy with the healthful polish of the baths--in their right
hands goads, suggestive of torture dreadful to the thought--in
their left hands, held in careful separation, and high, that they
may not interfere with view of the steeds, the reins passing taut
from the fore ends of the carriage-poles; let him see the fours,
chosen for beauty as well as speed; let him see them in magnificent
action, their masters not more conscious of the situation and all
that is asked and hoped from them--their heads tossing, nostrils in
play, now distent, now contracted--limbs too dainty for the sand
which they touch but to spurn--limbs slender, yet with impact
crushing as hammers--every muscle of the rounded bodies instinct
with glorious life, swelling, diminishing, justifying the world in
taking from them its ultimate measure of force; finally, along with
chariots, drivers, horses, let the reader see the accompanying
shadows fly; and, with such distinctness as the picture comes,
he may share the satisfaction and deeper pleasure of those to
whom it was a thrilling fact, not a feeble fancy. Every age has
its plenty of sorrows; Heaven help where there are no pleasures!
The competitors having started each on the shortest line for the
position next the wall, yielding would be like giving up the race;
and who dared yield? It is not in common nature to change a purpose
in mid-career; and the cries of encouragement from the balcony were
indistinguishable and indescribable: a roar which had the same effect
upon all the drivers.
The fours neared the rope together. Then the trumpeter by the
editor's side blew a signal vigorously. Twenty feet away it
was not heard. Seeing the action, however, the judges dropped
the rope, and not an instant too soon, for the hoof of one of
Messala's horses struck it as it fell. Nothing daunted, the Roman
shook out his long lash, loosed the reins, leaned forward, and,
with a triumphant shout, took the wall.
"Jove with us! Jove with us!" yelled all the Roman faction, in a
frenzy of delight.
As Messala turned in, the bronze lion's head at the end of his
axle caught the fore-leg of the Athenian's right-hand trace-mate,
flinging the brute over against its yoke-fellow. Both staggered,
struggled, and lost their headway. The ushers had their will at
least in part. The thousands held their breath with horror; only up
where the consul sat was there shouting.
"Jove with us!" screamed Drusus, frantically.
"He wins! Jove with us!" answered his associates, seeing Messala
Tablet in hand, Sanballat turned to them; a crash from the course
below stopped his speech, and he could not but look that way.
Messala having passed, the Corinthian was the only contestant on
the Athenian's right, and to that side the latter tried to turn his
broken four; and then; as ill-fortune would have it, the wheel of
the Byzantine, who was next on the left, struck the tail-piece of
his chariot, knocking his feet from under him. There was a crash,
a scream of rage and fear, and the unfortunate Cleanthes fell under
the hoofs of his own steeds: a terrible sight, against which Esther
covered her eyes.
On swept the Corinthian, on the Byzantine, on the Sidonian.
Sanballat looked for Ben-Hur, and turned again to Drusus and his
"A hundred sestertii on the Jew!" he cried.
"Taken!" answered Drusus.
"Another hundred on the Jew!" shouted Sanballat.
Nobody appeared to hear him. He called again; the situation below
was too absorbing, and they were too busy shouting, "Messala! Messala!
Jove with us!"
When the Jewess ventured to look again, a party of workmen were
removing the horses and broken car; another party were taking off
the man himself; and every bench upon which there was a Greek was
vocal with execrations and prayers for vengeance. Suddenly she dropped
her hands; Ben-Hur, unhurt, was to the front, coursing freely forward
along with the Roman! Behind them, in a group, followed the Sidonian,
the Corinthian, and the Byzantine.
The race was on; the souls of the racers were in it; over them
bent the myriads.
When the dash for position began, Ben-Hur, as we have seen, was on
the extreme left of the six. For a moment, like the others, he was
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