Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
Part 9 out of 13
half blinded by the light in the arena; yet he managed to catch sight
of his antagonists and divine their purpose. At Messala, who was more
than an antagonist to him, he gave one searching look. The air of
passionless hauteur characteristic of the fine patrician face was
there as of old, and so was the Italian beauty, which the helmet
rather increased; but more--it may have been a jealous fancy,
or the effect of the brassy shadow in which the features were
at the moment cast, still the Israelite thought he saw the soul
of the man as through a glass, darkly: cruel, cunning, desperate;
not so excited as determined--a soul in a tension of watchfulness
and fierce resolve.
In a time not longer than was required to turn to his four again,
Ben-Hur felt his own resolution harden to a like temper. At whatever
cost, at all hazards, he would humble this enemy! Prize, friends,
wagers, honor--everything that can be thought of as a possible
interest in the race was lost in the one deliberate purpose.
Regard for life even should not hold him back. Yet there was no
passion, on his part; no blinding rush of heated blood from heart
to brain, and back again; no impulse to fling himself upon Fortune:
he did not believe in Fortune; far otherwise. He had his plan, and,
confiding in himself, he settled to the task never more observant,
never more capable. The air about him seemed aglow with a renewed
and perfect transparency.
When not half-way across the arena, he saw that Messala's rush
would, if there was no collision, and the rope fell, give him the
wall; that the rope would fall, he ceased as soon to doubt; and,
further, it came to him, a sudden flash-like insight, that Messala
knew it was to be let drop at the last moment (prearrangement
with the editor could safely reach that point in the contest);
and it suggested, what more Roman-like than for the official
to lend himself to a countryman who, besides being so popular,
had also so much at stake? There could be no other accounting
for the confidence with which Messala pushed his four forward the
instant his competitors were prudentially checking their fours in
front of the obstruction--no other except madness.
It is one thing to see a necessity and another to act upon it.
Ben-Hur yielded the wall for the time.
The rope fell, and all the fours but his sprang into the course
under urgency of voice and lash. He drew head to the right, and,
with all the speed of his Arabs, darted across the trails of his
opponents, the angle of movement being such as to lose the least
time and gain the greatest possible advance. So, while the spectators
were shivering at the Athenian's mishap, and the Sidonian, Byzantine,
and Corinthian were striving, with such skill as they possessed,
to avoid involvement in the ruin, Ben-Hur swept around and took
the course neck and neck with Messala, though on the outside.
The marvellous skill shown in making the change thus from the
extreme left across to the right without appreciable loss did
not fail the sharp eyes upon the benches; the Circus seemed to
rock and rock again with prolonged applause. Then Esther clasped
her hands in glad surprise; then Sanballat, smiling, offered his
hundred sestertii a second time without a taker; and then the Romans
began to doubt, thinking Messala might have found an equal, if not
a master, and that in an Israelite!
And now, racing together side by side, a narrow interval between
them, the two neared the second goal.
The pedestal of the three pillars there, viewed from the west,
was a stone wall in the form of a half-circle, around which
the course and opposite balcony were bent in exact parallelism.
Making this turn was considered in all respects the most telling
test of a charioteer; it was, in fact, the very feat in which
Orastes failed. As an involuntary admission of interest on the
part of the spectators, a hush fell over all the Circus, so that
for the first time in the race the rattle and clang of the cars
plunging after the tugging steeds were distinctly heard. Then, it
would seem, Messala observed Ben-Hur, and recognized him; and at
once the audacity of the man flamed out in an astonishing manner.
"Down Eros, up Mars!" he shouted, whirling his lash with practised
hand--"Down Eros, up Mars!" he repeated, and caught the well-doing
Arabs of Ben-Hur a cut the like of which they had never known.
The blow was seen in every quarter, and the amazement was universal.
The silence deepened; up on the benches behind the consul the boldest
held his breath, waiting for the outcome. Only a moment thus: then,
involuntarily, down from the balcony, as thunder falls, burst the
indignant cry of the people.
The four sprang forward affrighted. No hand had ever been laid
upon them except in love; they had been nurtured ever so tenderly;
and as they grew, their confidence in man became a lesson to men
beautiful to see. What should such dainty natures do under such
indignity but leap as from death?
Forward they sprang as with one impulse, and forward leaped
the car. Past question, every experience is serviceable to us.
Where got Ben-Hur the large hand and mighty grip which helped
him now so well? Where but from the oar with which so long he
fought the sea? And what was this spring of the floor under his
feet to the dizzy eccentric lurch with which in the old time
the trembling ship yielded to the beat of staggering billows,
drunk with their power? So he kept his place, and gave the four
free rein, and called to them in soothing voice, trying merely to
guide them round the dangerous turn; and before the fever of the
people began to abate, he had back the mastery. Nor that only:
on approaching the first goal, he was again side by side with
Messala, bearing with him the sympathy and admiration of every
one not a Roman. So clearly was the feeling shown, so vigorous
its manifestation, that Messala, with all his boldness, felt it
unsafe to trifle further.
As the cars whirled round the goal, Esther caught sight of Ben-Hur's
face--a little pale, a little higher raised, otherwise calm, even placid.
Immediately a man climbed on the entablature at the west end of
the division wall, and took down one of the conical wooden balls.
A dolphin on the east entablature was taken down at the same time.
In like manner, the second ball and second dolphin disappeared.
And then the third ball and third dolphin.
Three rounds concluded: still Messala held the inside position;
still Ben-Hur moved with him side by side; still the other
competitors followed as before. The contest began to have the
appearance of one of the double races which became so popular
in Rome during the later Caesarean period--Messala and Ben-Hur in
the first, the Corinthian, Sidonian, and Byzantine in the second.
Meantime the ushers succeeded in returning the multitude to their
seats, though the clamor continued to run the rounds, keeping, as it
were, even pace with the rivals in the course below.
In the fifth round the Sidonian succeeded in getting a place
outside Ben-Hur, but lost it directly.
The sixth round was entered upon without change of relative position.
Gradually the speed had been quickened--gradually the blood of
the competitors warmed with the work. Men and beasts seemed to
know alike that the final crisis was near, bringing the time for
the winner to assert himself.
The interest which from the beginning had centred chiefly in the
struggle between the Roman and the Jew, with an intense and general
sympathy for the latter, was fast changing to anxiety on his account.
On all the benches the spectators bent forward motionless, except as
their faces turned following the contestants. Ilderim quitted combing
his beard, and Esther forgot her fears.
"A hundred sestertii on the Jew!" cried Sanballat to the Romans
under the consul's awning.
There was no reply.
"A talent--or five talents, or ten; choose ye!"
He shook his tablets at them defiantly.
"I will take thy sestertii," answered a Roman youth, preparing to
"Do not so," interposed a friend.
"Messala hath reached his utmost speed. See him lean over his
chariot rim, the reins loose as flying ribbons. Look then at
The first one looked.
"By Hercules!" he replied, his countenance falling. "The dog throws
all his weight on the bits. I see, I see! If the gods help not our
friend, he will be run away with by the Israelite. No, not yet.
Look! Jove with us, Jove with us!"
The cry, swelled by every Latin tongue, shook the velaria over
the consul's head.
If it were true that Messala had attained his utmost speed, the effort
was with effect; slowly but certainly he was beginning to forge ahead.
His horses were running with their heads low down; from the balcony
their bodies appeared actually to skim the earth; their nostrils
showed blood red in expansion; their eyes seemed straining in
their sockets. Certainly the good steeds were doing their best!
How long could they keep the pace? It was but the commencement of
the sixth round. On they dashed. As they neared the second goal,
Ben-Hur turned in behind the Roman's car.
The joy of the Messala faction reached its bound: they screamed
and howled, and tossed their colors; and Sanballat filled his
tablets with wagers of their tendering.
Malluch, in the lower gallery over the Gate of Triumph, found it
hard to keep his cheer. He had cherished the vague hint dropped
to him by Ben-Hur of something to happen in the turning of the
western pillars. It was the fifth round, yet the something had
not come; and he had said to himself, the sixth will bring it;
but, lo! Ben-Hur was hardly holding a place at the tail of his
Over in the east end, Simonides' party held their peace. The merchant's
head was bent low. Ilderim tugged at his beard, and dropped his brows
till there was nothing of his eyes but an occasional sparkle of light.
Esther scarcely breathed. Iras alone appeared glad.
Along the home-stretch--sixth round--Messala leading, next him
Ben-Hur, and so close it was the old story:
"First flew Eumelus on Pheretian steeds;
With those of Tros bold Diomed succeeds;
Close on Eumelus' back they puff the wind,
And seem just mounting on his car behind;
Full on his neck he feels the sultry breeze,
And, hovering o'er, their stretching shadow sees."
Thus to the first goal, and round it. Messala, fearful of losing
his place, hugged the stony wall with perilous clasp; a foot to
the left, and he had been dashed to pieces; yet, when the turn
was finished, no man, looking at the wheel-tracks of the two cars,
could have said, here went Messala, there the Jew. They left but
one trace behind them.
As they whirled by, Esther saw Ben-Hur's face again, and it was
whiter than before.
Simonides, shrewder than Esther, said to Ilderim, the moment
the rivals turned into the course, "I am no judge, good sheik,
if Ben-Hur be not about to execute some design. His face hath
To which Ilderim answered, "Saw you how clean they were and fresh?
By the splendor of God, friend, they have not been running! But now
One ball and one dolphin remained on the entablatures; and all
the people drew a long breath, for the beginning of the end was
First, the Sidonian gave the scourge to his four, and, smarting with
fear and pain, they dashed desperately forward, promising for a brief
time to go to the front. The effort ended in promise. Next, the Byzantine
and the Corinthian each made the trial with like result, after which
they were practically out of the race. Thereupon, with a readiness
perfectly explicable, all the factions except the Romans joined
hope in Ben-Hur, and openly indulged their feeling.
"Ben-Hur! Ben-Hur!" they shouted, and the blent voices of the many
rolled overwhelmingly against the consular stand.
From the benches above him as he passed, the favor descended in
"Speed thee, Jew!"
"Take the wall now!"
"On! loose the Arabs! Give them rein and scourge!"
"Let him not have the turn on thee again. Now or never!"
Over the balustrade they stooped low, stretching their hands
imploringly to him.
Either he did not hear, or could not do better, for halfway round
the course and he was still following; at the second goal even
still no change!
And now, to make the turn, Messala began to draw in his left-hand
steeds, an act which necessarily slackened their speed. His spirit
was high; more than one altar was richer of his vows; the Roman
genius was still president. On the three pillars only six hundred
feet away were fame, increase of fortune, promotions, and a triumph
ineffably sweetened by hate, all in store for him! That moment Malluch,
in the gallery, saw Ben-Hur lean forward over his Arabs, and give them
the reins. Out flew the many-folded lash in his hand; over the backs
of the startled steeds it writhed and hissed, and hissed and writhed
again and again; and though it fell not, there were both sting and
menace in its quick report; and as the man passed thus from quiet to
resistless action, his face suffused, his eyes gleaming, along the
reins he seemed to flash his will; and instantly not one, but the
four as one, answered with a leap that landed them alongside the
Roman's car. Messala, on the perilous edge of the goal, heard,
but dared not look to see what the awakening portended. From the
people he received no sign. Above the noises of the race there
was but one voice, and that was Ben-Hur's. In the old Aramaic,
as the sheik himself, he called to the Arabs,
"On, Atair! On, Rigel! What, Antares! dost thou linger now?
Good horse--oho, Aldebaran! I hear them singing in the tents.
I hear the children singing and the women--singing of the stars,
of Atair, Antares, Rigel, Aldebaran, victory!--and the song will
never end. Well done! Home to-morrow, under the black tent--home!
On, Antares! The tribe is waiting for us, and the master is waiting!
'Tis done! 'tis done! Ha, ha! We have overthrown the proud. The hand
that smote us is in the dust. Ours the glory! Ha, ha!--steady! The
work is done--soho! Rest!"
There had never been anything of the kind more simple; seldom anything
At the moment chosen for the dash, Messala was moving in a circle
round the goal. To pass him, Ben-Hur had to cross the track, and
good strategy required the movement to be in a forward direction;
that is, on a like circle limited to the least possible increase.
The thousands on the benches understood it all: they saw the signal
given--the magnificent response; the four close outside Messala's
outer wheel; Ben-Hur's inner wheel behind the other's car--all
this they saw. Then they heard a crash loud enough to send a
thrill through the Circus, and, quicker than thought, out over the
course a spray of shining white and yellow flinders flew. Down on
its right side toppled the bed of the Roman's chariot. There was a
rebound as of the axle hitting the hard earth; another and another;
then the car went to pieces; and Messala, entangled in the reins,
pitched forward headlong.
To increase the horror of the sight by making death certain,
the Sidonian, who had the wall next behind, could not stop
or turn out. Into the wreck full speed he drove; then over the
Roman, and into the latter's four, all mad with fear. Presently,
out of the turmoil, the fighting of horses, the resound of blows,
the murky cloud of dust and sand, he crawled, in time to see the
Corinthian and Byzantine go on down the course after Ben-Hur,
who had not been an instant delayed.
The people arose, and leaped upon the benches, and shouted and screamed.
Those who looked that way caught glimpses of Messala, now under the
trampling of the fours, now under the abandoned cars. He was still;
they thought him dead; but far the greater number followed Ben-Hur
in his career. They had not seen the cunning touch of the reins by
which, turning a little to the left, he caught Messala's wheel with
the iron-shod point of his axle, and crushed it; but they had seen
the transformation of the man, and themselves felt the heat and
glow of his spirit, the heroic resolution, the maddening energy
of action with which, by look, word, and gesture, he so suddenly
inspired his Arabs. And such running! It was rather the long leaping
of lions in harness; but for the lumbering chariot, it seemed the
four were flying. When the Byzantine and Corinthian were halfway
down the course, Ben-Hur turned the first goal.
AND THE RACE WAS WON!
The consul arose; the people shouted themselves hoarse; the editor
came down from his seat, and crowned the victors.
The fortunate man among the boxers was a low-browed, yellow-haired
Saxon, of such brutalized face as to attract a second look from
Ben-Hur, who recognized a teacher with whom he himself had been
a favorite at Rome. From him the young Jew looked up and beheld
Simonides and his party on the balcony. They waved their hands
to him. Esther kept her seat; but Iras arose, and gave him a
smile and a wave of her fan--favors not the less intoxicating to
him because we know, O reader, they would have fallen to Messala
had he been the victor.
The procession was then formed, and, midst the shouting of the
multitude which had had its will, passed out of the Gate of Triumph.
And the day was over.
Ben-Hur tarried across the river with Ilderim; for at midnight,
as previously determined, they would take the road which the
caravan, then thirty hours out, had pursued.
The sheik was happy; his offers of gifts had been royal; but Ben-Hur
had refused everything, insisting that he was satisfied with the
humiliation of his enemy. The generous dispute was long continued.
"Think," the sheik would say, "what thou hast done for me. In every
black tent down to the Akaba and to the ocean, and across to the
Euphrates, and beyond to the sea of the Scythians, the renown of
my Mira and her children will go; and they who sing of them will
magnify me, and forget that I am in the wane of life; and all the
spears now masterless will come to me, and my sword-hands multiply
past counting. Thou dost not know what it is to have sway of the
desert such as will now be mine. I tell thee it will bring tribute
incalculable from commerce, and immunity from kings. Ay, by the
sword of Solomon! doth my messenger seek favor for me of Caesar,
that will he get. Yet nothing--nothing?"
And Ben-Hur would answer,
"Nay, sheik, have I not thy hand and heart? Let thy increase of
power and influence inure to the King who comes. Who shall say
it was not allowed thee for him? In the work I am going to, I may
have great need. Saying no now will leave me to ask of thee with
better grace hereafter."
In the midst of a controversy of the kind, two messengers arrived--Malluch
and one unknown. The former was admitted first.
The good fellow did not attempt to hide his joy over the event of
"But, coming to that with which I am charged," he said, "the master
Simonides sends me to say that, upon the adjournment of the games,
some of the Roman faction made haste to protest against payment of
the money prize."
Ilderim started up, crying, in his shrillest tones,
"By the splendor of God! the East shall decide whether the race
was fairly won."
"Nay, good sheik," said Malluch, "the editor has paid the money."
"When they said Ben-Hur struck Messala's wheel, the editor laughed,
and reminded them of the blow the Arabs had at the turn of the goal."
"And what of the Athenian?"
"He is dead."
"Dead!" cried Ben-Hur.
"Dead!" echoed Ilderim. "What fortune these Roman monsters have!
"Escaped--yes, O sheik, with life; but it shall be a burden to
him. The physicians say he will live, but never walk again."
Ben-Hur looked silently up to heaven. He had a vision of Messala,
chairbound like Simonides, and, like him, going abroad on the
shoulders of servants. The good man had abode well; but what
would this one with his pride and ambition?
"Simonides bade me say, further," Malluch continued, "Sanballat is
having trouble. Drusus, and those who signed with him, referred the
question of paying the five talents they lost to the Consul Maxentius,
and he has referred it to Caesar. Messala also refused his losses,
and Sanballat, in imitation of Drusus, went to the consul, where the
matter is still in advisement. The better Romans say the protestants
shall not be excused; and all the adverse factions join with them.
The city rings with the scandal."
"What says Simonides?" asked Ben-Hur.
"The master laughs, and is well pleased. If the Roman pays, he
is ruined; if he refuses to pay, he is dishonored. The imperial
policy will decide the matter. To offend the East would be a bad
beginning with the Parthians; to offend Sheik Ilderim would be
to antagonize the Desert, over which lie all Maxentius's lines
of operation. Wherefore Simonides bade me tell you to have no
disquiet; Messala will pay."
Ilderim was at once restored to his good-humor.
"Let us be off now," he said, rubbing his hands. "The business will
do well with Simonides. The glory is ours. I will order the horses."
"Stay," said Malluch. "I left a messenger outside. Will you see
"By the splendor of God! I forgot him."
Malluch retired, and was succeeded by a lad of gentle manners and
delicate appearance, who knelt upon one knee, and said, winningly,
"Iras, the daughter of Balthasar, well known to good Sheik Ilderim,
hath intrusted me with a message to the sheik, who, she saith,
will do her great favor so he receive her congratulations on
account of the victory of his four."
"The daughter of my friend is kind," said Ilderim, with sparkling
eyes. "Do thou give her this jewel, in sign of the pleasure I have
from her message."
He took a ring from his finger as he spoke.
"I will as thou sayest, O sheik," the lad replied, and continued,
"The daughter of the Egyptian charged me further. She prays the
good Sheik Ilderim to send word to the youth Ben-Hur that her
father hath taken residence for a time in the palace of Idernee,
where she will receive the youth after the fourth hour to-morrow.
And if, with her congratulations, Sheik Ilderim will accept her
gratitude for this other favor done, she will be ever so pleased."
The sheik looked at Ben-Hur, whose face was suffused with pleasure.
"What will you?" he asked.
"By your leave, O sheik, I will see the fair Egyptian."
Ilderim laughed, and said, "Shall not a man enjoy his youth?"
Then Ben-Hur answered the messenger.
"Say to her who sent you that I, Ben-Hur, will see her at the palace
of Idernee, wherever that may be, to-morrow at noon."
The lad arose, and, with silent salute, departed.
At midnight Ilderim took the road, having arranged to leave a
horse and a guide for Ben-Hur, who was to follow him.
Going next day to fill his appointment with Iras, Ben-Hur turned
from the Omphalus, which was in the heart of the city, into the
Colonnade of Herod, and came shortly to the palace of Idernee.
From the street he passed first into a vestibule, on the sides of
which were stairways under cover, leading up to a portico. Winged
lions sat by the stairs; in the middle there was a gigantic ibis
spouting water over the floor; the lions, ibis, walls, and floor
were reminders of the Egyptians: everything, even the balustrading
of the stairs, was of massive gray stone.
Above the vestibule, and covering the landing of the steps,
arose the portico, a pillared grace, so light, so exquisitely
proportioned, it was at that period hardly possible of conception
except by a Greek. Of marble snowy white, its effect was that of
a lily dropped carelessly upon a great bare rock.
Ben-Hur paused in the shade of the portico to admire its tracery
and finish, and the purity of its marble; then he passed on
into the palace. Ample folding-doors stood open to receive him.
The passage into which he first entered was high, but somewhat
narrow; red tiling formed the floor, and the walls were tinted
to correspond. Yet this plainness was a warning of something
beautiful to come.
He moved on slowly, all his faculties in repose. Presently he
would be in the presence of Iras; she was waiting for him;
waiting with song and story and badinage, sparkling, fanciful,
capricious--with smiles which glorified her glance, and glances
which lent voluptuous suggestion to her whisper. She had sent
for him the evening of the boat-ride on the lake in the Orchard
of Palms; she had sent for him now; and he was going to her in
the beautiful palace of Idernee. He was happy and dreamful rather
The passage brought him to a closed door, in front of which
he paused; and, as he did so, the broad leaves began to open of
themselves, without creak or sound of lock or latch, or touch of
foot or finger. The singularity was lost in the view that broke
Standing in the shade of the dull passage, and looking through
the doorway, he beheld the atrium of a Roman house, roomy and
rich to a fabulous degree of magnificence.
How large the chamber was cannot be stated, because of the
deceit there is in exact proportions; its depth was vista-like,
something never to be said of an equal interior. When he stopped
to make survey, and looked down upon the floor, he was standing
upon the breast of a Leda, represented as caressing a swan; and,
looking farther, he saw the whole floor was similarly laid in mosaic
pictures of mythological subjects. And there were stools and chairs,
each a separate design, and a work of art exquisitely composed,
and tables much carven, and here and there couches which were
invitations of themselves. The articles of furniture, which stood
out from the walls, were duplicated on the floor distinctly as if
they floated unrippled water; even the panelling of the walls,
the figures upon them in painting and bas-relief, and the fresco
of the ceiling were reflected on the floor. The ceiling curved up
towards the centre, where there was an opening through which the
sunlight poured without hindrance, and the sky, ever so blue,
seemed in hand-reach; the impluvium under the opening was guarded
by bronzed rails; the gilded pillars supporting the roof at the
edges of the opening shone like flame where the sun struck them,
and their reflections beneath seemed to stretch to infinite depth.
And there were candelabra quaint and curious, and statuary and vases;
the whole making an interior that would have befitted well the house
on the Palatine Hill which Cicero bought of Crassus, or that other,
yet more famous for extravagance, the Tusculan villa of Scaurus.
Still in his dreamful mood, Ben-Hur sauntered about, charmed by
all he beheld, and waiting. He did not mind a little delay;
when Iras was ready, she would come or send a servant. In every
well-regulated Roman house the atrium was the reception chamber
Twice, thrice, he made the round. As often he stood under the
opening in the roof, and pondered the sky and its azure depth;
then, leaning against a pillar, he studied the distribution of light
and shade, and its effects; here a veil diminishing objects, there a
brilliance exaggerating others; yet nobody came. Time, or rather the
passage of time, began at length to impress itself upon him, and he
wondered why Iras stayed so long. Again he traced out the figures
upon the floor, but not with the satisfaction the first inspection
gave him. He paused often to listen: directly impatience blew a
little fevered breath upon his spirit; next time it blew stronger
and hotter; and at last he woke to a consciousness of the silence
which held the house in thrall, and the thought of it made him
uneasy and distrustful. Still he put the feeling off with a smile
and a promise. "Oh, she is giving the last touch to her eyelids,
or she is arranging a chaplet for me; she will come presently,
more beautiful of the delay!" He sat down then to admire a
candelabrum--a bronze plinth on rollers, filigree on the sides
and edges; the post at one end, and on the end opposite it an altar
and a female celebrant; the lamp-rests swinging by delicate chains
from the extremities of drooping palm-branches; altogether a wonder
in its way. But the silence would obtrude itself: he listened even
as he looked at the pretty object--he listened, but there was not
a sound; the palace was still as a tomb.
There might be a mistake. No, the messenger had come from the
Egyptian, and this was the palace of Idernee. Then he remembered
how mysteriously the door had opened so soundlessly, so of itself.
He would see!
He went to the same door. Though he walked ever so lightly the
sound of his stepping was loud and harsh, and he shrank from it.
He was getting nervous. The cumbrous Roman lock resisted his
first effort to raise it; and the second--the blood chilled in
his cheeks--he wrenched with all his might: in vain--the door
was not even shaken. A sense of danger seized him, and for a
moment he stood irresolute.
Who in Antioch had the motive to do him harm?
And this palace of Idernee? He had seen Egypt in the vestibule,
Athens in the snowy portico; but here, in the atrium, was Rome;
everything about him betrayed Roman ownership. True, the site
was on the great thoroughfare of the city, a very public place
in which to do him violence; but for that reason it was more
accordant with the audacious genius of his enemy. The atrium
underwent a change; with all its elegance and beauty, it was no
more than a trap. Apprehension always paints in black.
The idea irritated Ben-Hur.
There were many doors on the right and left of the atrium, leading,
doubtless, to sleeping-chambers; he tried them, but they were all
firmly fastened. Knocking might bring response. Ashamed to make
outcry, he betook himself to a couch, and, lying down, tried to
All too plainly he was a prisoner; but for what purpose? and by
If the work were Messala's! He sat up, looked about, and smiled
defiantly. There were weapons in every table. But birds had been
starved in golden cages; not so would he--the couches would serve
him as battering-rams; and he was strong, and there was such increase
of might in rage and despair!
Messala himself could not come. He would never walk again; he was
a cripple like Simonides; still he could move others. And where
were there not others to be moved by him? Ben-Hur arose, and tried
the doors again. Once he called out; the room echoed so that he was
startled. With such calmness as he could assume, he made up his mind
to wait a time before attempting to break a way out.
In such a situation the mind has its ebb and flow of disquiet,
with intervals of peace between. At length--how long, though,
he could not have said--he came to the conclusion that the affair
was an accident or mistake. The palace certainly belonged to somebody;
it must have care and keeping: and the keeper would come; the evening
or the night would bring him. Patience!
So concluding, he waited.
Half an hour passed--a much longer period to Ben-Hur--when the door
which had admitted him opened and closed noiselessly as before,
and without attracting his attention.
The moment of the occurrence he was sitting at the farther end of
the room. A footstep startled him.
"At last she has come!" he thought, with a throb of relief and
pleasure, and arose.
The step was heavy, and accompanied with the gride and clang of
coarse sandals. The gilded pillars were between him and the door;
he advanced quietly, and leaned against one of them. Presently he
heard voices--the voices of men--one of them rough and guttural.
What was said he could not understand, as the language was not of
the East or South of Europe.
After a general survey of the room, the strangers crossed to their
left, and were brought into Ben-Hur's view--two men, one very stout,
both tall, and both in short tunics. They had not the air of masters
of the house or domestics. Everything they saw appeared wonderful to
them; everything they stopped to examine they touched. They were
vulgarians. The atrium seemed profaned by their presence. At the
same time, their leisurely manner and the assurance with which
they proceeded pointed to some right or business; if business,
With much jargon they sauntered this way and that, all the time
gradually approaching the pillar by which Ben-Hur was standing.
Off a little way, where a slanted gleam of the sun fell with a
glare upon the mosaic of the floor, there was a statue which
attracted their notice. In examining it, they stopped in the
The mystery surrounding his own presence in the palace tended,
as we have seen, to make Ben-Hur nervous; so now, when in the
tall stout stranger he recognized the Northman whom he had known
in Rome, and seen crowned only the day before in the Circus as
the winning pugilist; when he saw the man's face, scarred with
the wounds of many battles, and imbruted by ferocious passions;
when he surveyed the fellow's naked limbs, very marvels of exercise
and training, and his shoulders of Herculean breadth, a thought of
personal danger started a chill along every vein. A sure instinct
warned him that the opportunity for murder was too perfect to have
come by chance; and here now were the myrmidons, and their business
was with him. He turned an anxious eye upon the Northman's
comrade--young, black-eyed, black-haired, and altogether Jewish
in appearance; he observed, also, that both the men were in costume
exactly such as professionals of their class were in the habit of
wearing in the arena. Putting the several circumstances together,
Ben-Hur could not be longer in doubt: he had been lured into the
palace with design. Out of reach of aid, in this splendid privacy,
he was to die!
At a loss what to do, he gazed from man to man, while there was
enacted within him that miracle of mind by which life is passed
before us in awful detail, to be looked at by ourselves as if it
were another's; and from the evolvement, from a hidden depth, cast up,
as it were, by a hidden hand, he was given to see that he had entered
upon a new life, different from the old one in this: whereas, in that,
he had been the victim of violences done to him, henceforth he was
to be the aggressor. Only yesterday he had found his first victim!
To the purely Christian nature the presentation would have brought
the weakness of remorse. Not so with Ben-Hur; his spirit had its
emotions from the teachings of the first lawgiver, not the last
and greatest one. He had dealt punishment, not wrong, to Messala.
By permission of the Lord, he had triumphed; and he derived faith
from the circumstance--faith the source of all rational strength,
especially strength in peril.
Nor did the influence stop there. The new life was made appear to
him a mission just begun, and holy as the King to come was holy,
and certain as the coming of the King was certain--a mission
in which force was lawful if only because it was unavoidable.
Should he, on the very threshold of such an errand, be afraid?
He undid the sash around his waist, and, baring his head and casting
off his white Jewish gown, stood forth in an undertunic not unlike those
of the enemy, and was ready, body and mind. Folding his arms, he placed
his back against the pillar, and calmly waited.
The examination of the statue was brief. Directly the Northman turned,
and said something in the unknown tongue; then both looked at Ben-Hur.
A few more words, and they advanced towards him.
"Who are you?" he asked, in Latin.
The Northman fetched a smile which did not relieve his face of
its brutalism, and answered,
"This is the palace of Idernee. Whom seek you? Stand and answer."
The words were spoken with earnestness. The strangers stopped;
and in his turn the Northman asked, "Who are you?"
The giant laid his head back upon his shoulders.
"Ha, ha, ha! I have heard how a god once came from a cow licking
a salted stone; but not even a god can make a Roman of a Jew."
The laugh over, he spoke to his companion again, and they moved
"Hold!" said Ben-Hur, quitting the pillar. "One word."
They stopped again.
"A word!" replied the Saxon, folding his immense arms across his
breast, and relaxing the menace beginning to blacken his face.
"A word! Speak."
"You are Thord the Northman."
The giant opened his blue eyes.
"You were lanista in Rome."
"I was your scholar."
"No," said Thord, shaking his head. "By the beard of Irmin, I had
never a Jew to make a fighting-man of."
"But I will prove my saying."
"You came here to kill me."
"That is true."
"Then let this man fight me singly, and I will make the proof on
A gleam of humor shone in the Northman's face. He spoke to his
companion, who made answer; then he replied with the naivete of
a diverted child,
"Wait till I say begin."
By repeated touches of his foot, he pushed a couch out on the
floor, and proceeded leisurely to stretch his burly form upon it;
when perfectly at ease, he said, simply, "Now begin."
Without ado, Ben-Hur walked to his antagonist.
"Defend thyself," he said.
The man, nothing loath, put up his hands.
As the two thus confronted each other in approved position,
there was no discernible inequality between them; on the contrary,
they were as like as brothers. To the stranger's confident smile,
Ben-Hur opposed an earnestness which, had his skill been known,
would have been accepted fair warning of danger. Both knew the
combat was to be mortal.
Ben-Hur feinted with his right hand. The stranger warded,
slightly advancing his left arm. Ere he could return to guard,
Ben-Hur caught him by the wrist in a grip which years at the oar
had made terrible as a vise. The surprise was complete, and no
time given. To throw himself forward; to push the arm across the
man's throat and over his right shoulder, and turn him left side
front; to strike surely with the ready left hand; to strike the
bare neck under the ear--were but petty divisions of the same act.
No need of a second blow. The myrmidon fell heavily, and without
a cry, and lay still.
Ben-Hur turned to Thord.
"Ha! What! By the beard of Irmin!" the latter cried, in astonishment,
rising to a sitting posture. Then he laughed.
"Ha, ha, ha! I could not have done it better myself."
He viewed Ben-Hur coolly from head to foot, and, rising, faced him
with undisguised admiration.
"It was my trick--the trick I have practised for ten years in the
schools of Rome. You are not a Jew. Who are you?"
"You knew Arrius the duumvir."
"Quintus Arrius? Yes, he was my patron."
"He had a son."
"Yes," said Thord, his battered features lighting dully, "I knew
the boy; he would have made a king gladiator. Caesar offered him
his patronage. I taught him the very trick you played on this one
here--a trick impossible except to a hand and arm like mine. It has
won me many a crown."
"I am that son of Arrius."
Thord drew nearer, and viewed him carefully; then his eyes
brightened with genuine pleasure, and, laughing, he held out
"Ha, ha, ha! He told me I would find a Jew here--a Jew--a dog of
a Jew--killing whom was serving the gods."
"Who told you so?" asked Ben-Hur, taking the hand.
"He--Messala--ha, ha, ha!"
"I thought he was hurt."
"He will never walk again. On his bed he told me between groans."
A very vivid portrayal of hate in a few words; and Ben-Hur saw that
the Roman, if he lived, would still be capable and dangerous,
and follow him unrelentingly. Revenge remained to sweeten the
ruined life; therefore the clinging to fortune lost in the wager
with Sanballat. Ben-Hur ran the ground over, with a distinct
foresight of the many ways in which it would be possible for
his enemy to interfere with him in the work he had undertaken for
the King who was coming. Why not he resort to the Roman's methods?
The man hired to kill him could be hired to strike back. It was in
his power to offer higher wages. The temptation was strong; and,
half yielding, he chanced to look down at his late antagonist
lying still, with white upturned face, so like himself. A light
came to him, and he asked, "Thord, what was Messala to give you
for killing me?"
"A thousand sestertii."
"You shall have them yet; and so you do now what I tell you, I will
add three thousand more to the sum."
The giant reflected aloud,
"I won five thousand yesterday; from the Roman one--six. Give me
four, good Arrius--four more--and I will stand firm for you,
though old Thor, my namesake, strike me with his hammer. Make it
four, and I will kill the lying patrician, if you say so. I have
only to cover his mouth with my hand--thus."
He illustrated the process by clapping his hand over his own mouth.
"I see," said Ben-Hur; "ten thousand sestertii is a fortune.
It will enable you to return to Rome, and open a wine-shop near
the Great Circus, and live as becomes the first of the lanistae."
The very scars on the giant's face glowed afresh with the pleasure
the picture gave him.
"I will make it four thousand," Ben-Hur continued; "and in what you
shall do for the money there will be no blood on your hands, Thord.
Hear me now. Did not your friend here look like me?"
"I would have said he was an apple from the same tree."
"Well, if I put on his tunic, and dress him in these clothes of
mine, and you and I go away together, leaving him here, can you
not get your sestertii from Messala all the same? You have only
to make him believe it me that is dead."
Thord laughed till the tears ran into his mouth.
"Ha, ha, ha! Ten thousand sestertii were never won so easily.
And a wine-shop by the Great Circus!--all for a lie without blood
in it! Ha, ha, ha! Give me thy hand, O son of Arrius. Get on now,
and--ha, ha, ha!--if ever you come to Rome, fail not to ask for the
wine-shop of Thord the Northman. By the beard of Irmin, I will give
you the best, though I borrow it from Caesar!"
They shook hands again; after which the exchange of clothes was
effected. It was arranged then that a messenger should go at night
to Thord's lodging-place with the four thousand sestertii. When
they were done, the giant knocked at the front door; it opened
to him; and, passing out of the atrium, he led Ben-Hur into a
room adjoining, where the latter completed his attire from the
coarse garments of the dead pugilist. They separated directly in
"Fail not, O son of Arrius, fail not the wine-shop near the Great
Circus! Ha, ha, ha! By the beard of Irmin, there was never fortune
gained so cheap. The gods keep you!"
Upon leaving the atrium, Ben-Hur gave a last look at the myrmidon
as he lay in the Jewish vestments, and was satisfied. The likeness
was striking. If Thord kept faith, the cheat was a secret to endure
* * * * * *
At night, in the house of Simonides, Ben-Hur told the good man all
that had taken place in the palace of Idernee; and it was agreed
that, after a few days, public inquiry should be set afloat for the
discovery of the whereabouts of the son of Arrius. Eventually the
matter was to be carried boldly to Maxentius; then, if the mystery
came not out, it was concluded that Messala and Gratus would be at
rest and happy, and Ben-Hur free to betake himself to Jerusalem,
to make search for his lost people.
At the leave-taking, Simonides sat in his chair out on the terrace
overlooking the river, and gave his farewell and the peace of the
Lord with the impressment of a father. Esther went with the young
man to the head of the steps.
"If I find my mother, Esther, thou shalt go to her at Jerusalem,
and be a sister to Tirzah."
And with the words he kissed her.
Was it only a kiss of peace?
He crossed the river next to the late quarters of Ilderim, where
he found the Arab who was to serve him as guide. The horses were
"This one is thine," said the Arab.
Ben-Hur looked, and, lo! it was Aldebaran, the swiftest and
brightest of the sons of Mira, and, next to Sirius, the beloved
of the sheik; and he knew the old man's heart came to him along
with the gift.
The corpse in the atrium was taken up and buried by night; and,
as part of Messala's plan, a courier was sent off to Gratus to
make him at rest by the announcement of Ben-Hur's death--this
time past question.
Ere long a wine-shop was opened near the Circus Maximus,
with inscription over the door:
THORD THE NORTHMAN.
"Is that a Death? and are there two?
Is Death that woman's mate?
* * * *
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Nightmare Life-in-Death was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold."
Our story moves forward now thirty days from the night Ben-Hur left
Antioch to go out with Sheik Ilderim into the desert.
A great change has befallen--great at least as respects the fortunes
of our hero. VALERIUS GRATUS HAS BEEN SUCCEEDED BY PONTIUS PILATE!
The removal, it may be remarked, cost Simonides exactly five talents
Roman money in hand paid to Sejanus, who was then in height of power
as imperial favorite; the object being to help Ben-Hur, by lessening
his exposure while in and about Jerusalem attempting discovery of
his people. To such pious use the faithful servant put the winnings
from Drusus and his associates; all of whom, having paid their wagers,
became at once and naturally the enemies of Messala, whose repudiation
was yet an unsettled question in Rome.
Brief as the time was, already the Jews knew the change of rulers
was not for the better.
The cohorts sent to relieve the garrison of Antonia made their entry
into the city by night; next morning the first sight that greeted the
people resident in the neighborhood was the walls of the old Tower
decorated with military ensigns, which unfortunately consisted of
busts of the emperor mixed with eagles and globes. A multitude,
in passion, marched to Caesarea, where Pilate was lingering, and
implored him to remove the detested images. Five days and nights
they beset his palace gates; at last he appointed a meeting with
them in the Circus. When they were assembled, he encircled them
with soldiers; instead of resisting, they offered him their lives,
and conquered. He recalled the images and ensigns to Caesarea,
where Gratus, with more consideration, had kept such abominations
housed during the eleven years of his reign.
The worst of men do once in a while vary their wickednesses by good
acts; so with Pilate. He ordered an inspection of all the prisons
in Judea, and a return of the names of the persons in custody,
with a statement of the crimes for which they had been committed.
Doubtless, the motive was the one so common with officials just
installed--dread of entailed responsibility; the people, however,
in thought of the good which might come of the measure, gave him
credit, and, for a period, were comforted. The revelations were
astonishing. Hundreds of persons were released against whom there
were no accusations; many others came to light who had long been
accounted dead; yet more amazing, there was opening of dungeons not
merely unknown at the time by the people, but actually forgotten by
the prison authorities. With one instance of the latter kind we
have now to deal; and, strange to say, it occurred in Jerusalem.
The Tower of Antonia, which will be remembered as occupying two thirds
of the sacred area on Mount Moriah, was originally a castle built
by the Macedonians. Afterwards, John Hyrcanus erected the castle
into a fortress for the defence of the Temple, and in his day it
was considered impregnable to assault; but when Herod came with
his bolder genius, he strengthened its walls and extended them,
leaving a vast pile which included every appurtenance necessary
for the stronghold he intended it to be forever; such as offices,
barracks, armories, magazines, cisterns, and last, though not least,
prisons of all grades. He levelled the solid rock, and tapped it
with deep excavations, and built over them; connecting the whole
great mass with the Temple by a beautiful colonnade, from the roof
of which one could look down over the courts of the sacred structure.
In such condition the Tower fell at last out of his hands into those
of the Romans, who were quick to see its strength and advantages,
and convert it to uses becoming such masters. All through the
administration of Gratus it had been a garrisoned citadel and
underground prison terrible to revolutionists. Woe when the cohorts
poured from its gates to suppress disorder! Woe not less when a Jew
passed the same gates going in under arrest!
With this explanation, we hasten to our story.
* * * * * *
The order of the new procurator requiring a report of the persons in
custody was received at the Tower of Antonia, and promptly executed;
and two days have gone since the last unfortunate was brought up
for examination. The tabulated statement, ready for forwarding,
lies on the table of the tribune in command; in five minutes more
it will be on the way to Pilate, sojourning in the palace up on
The tribune's office is spacious and cool, and furnished in a
style suitable to the dignity of the commandant of a post in
every respect so important. Looking in upon him about the seventh
hour of the day, the officer appears weary and impatient; when the
report is despatched, he will to the roof of the colonnade for air
and exercise, and the amusement to be had watching the Jews over
in the courts of the Temple. His subordinates and clerks share
In the spell of waiting a man appeared in a doorway leading to an
adjoining apartment. He rattled a bunch of keys, each heavy as a
hammer, and at once attracted the chief's attention.
"Ah, Gesius! come in," the tribune said.
As the new-comer approached the table behind which the chief sat
in an easy-chair, everybody present looked at him, and, observing a
certain expression of alarm and mortification on his face, became silent
that they might hear what he had to say.
"O tribune!" he began, bending low, "I fear to tell what now I
"Another mistake--ha, Gesius?"
"If I could persuade myself it is but a mistake, I would not be
"A crime then--or, worse, a breach of duty. Thou mayst laugh at
Caesar, or curse the gods, and live; but if the offence be to
the eagles--ah, thou knowest, Gesius--go on!"
"It is now about eight years since Valerius Gratus selected me to be
keeper of prisoners here in the Tower," said the man, deliberately.
"I remember the morning I entered upon the duties of my office.
There had been a riot the day before, and fighting in the streets.
We slew many Jews, and suffered on our side. The affair came, it was
said, of an attempt to assassinate Gratus, who had been knocked from
his horse by a tile thrown from a roof. I found him sitting where
you now sit, O tribune, his head swathed in bandages. He told me
of my selection, and gave me these keys, numbered to correspond
with the numbers of the cells; they were the badges of my office,
he said, and not to be parted with. There was a roll of parchment
on the table. Calling me to him, he opened the roll. 'Here are maps of
the cells,' said he. There were three of them. 'This one,' he went on,
'shows the arrangement of the upper floor; this second one gives you
the second floor; and this last is of the lower floor. I give them
to you in trust.' I took them from his hand, and he said, further,
'Now you have the keys and the maps; go immediately, and acquaint
yourself with the whole arrangement; visit each cell, and see
to its condition. When anything is needed for the security of
a prisoner, order it according to your judgment, for you are
the master under me, and no other.'
"I saluted him, and turned to go away; he called me back. 'Ah,
I forgot,' he said. 'Give me the map of the third floor.' I gave
it to him, and he spread it upon the table. 'Here, Gesius,' he said,
'see this cell.' He laid his finger on the one numbered V. 'There are
three men confined in that cell, desperate characters, who by some
means got hold of a state secret, and suffer for their curiosity,
which'--he looked at me severely--'in such matters is worse than a
crime. Accordingly, they are blind and tongueless, and are placed
there for life. They shall have nothing but food and drink, to be
given them through a hole, which you will find in the wall covered
by a slide. Do you hear, Gesius?' I made him answer. 'It is well,'
he continued. 'One thing more which you shall not forget, or'--he
looked at me threateningly--'The door of their cell--cell number
V. on the same floor--this one, Gesius'--he put his finger on the
particular cell to impress my memory--'shall never be opened for
any purpose, neither to let one in nor out, not even yourself.'
'But if they die?' I asked. 'If they die,' he said, 'the cell
shall be their tomb. They were put there to die, and be lost.
The cell is leprous. Do you understand?' With that he let me go."
Gesius stopped, and from the breast of his tunic drew three parchments,
all much yellowed by time and use; selecting one of them, he spread
it upon the table before the tribune, saying, simply, "This is the
The whole company looked at
| Passage |
| | | | | |
| V | IV | III | II | I |
"This is exactly, O tribune, as I had it from Gratus. See, there is
cell number V.," said Gesius.
"I see," the tribune replied. "Go on now. The cell was leprous,
"I would like to ask you a question," remarked the keeper, modestly.
The tribune assented.
"Had I not a right, under the circumstances, to believe the map
a true one?"
"What else couldst thou?"
"Well, it is not a true one."
The chief looked up surprised.
"It is not a true one," the keeper repeated. "It shows but five
cells upon that floor, while there are six."
"Six, sayest thou?"
"I will show you the floor as it is--or as I believe it to be."
Upon a page of his tablets, Gesius drew the following diagram,
and gave it to the tribune:
| | | | | |
| V | IV | III | II | I |
| VI |
"Thou hast done well," said the tribune, examining the drawing,
and thinking the narrative at an end. "I will have the map corrected,
or, better, I will have a new one made, and given thee. Come for it
in the morning."
So saying, he arose.
"But hear me further, O tribune."
"To-morrow, Gesius, to-morrow."
"That which I have yet to tell will not wait."
The tribune good-naturedly resumed his chair.
"I will hurry," said the keeper, humbly, "only let me ask another
question. Had I not a right to believe Gratus in what he further
told me as to the prisoners in cell number V.?"
"Yes, it was thy duty to believe there were three prisoners in the
cell--prisoners of state--blind and without tongues."
"Well," said the keeper, "that was not true either."
"No!" said the tribune, with returning interest.
"Hear, and judge for yourself, O tribune. As required, I visited all
the cells, beginning with those on the first floor, and ending with
those on the lower. The order that the door of number V. should not
be opened had been respected; through all the eight years food and
drink for three men had been passed through a hole in the wall.
I went to the door yesterday, curious to see the wretches who,
against all expectation, had lived so long. The locks refused
the key. We pulled a little, and the door fell down, rusted from
its hinges. Going in, I found but one man, old, blind, tongueless,
and naked. His hair dropped in stiffened mats below his waist.
His skin was like the parchment there. He held his hands out,
and the finger-nails curled and twisted like the claws of a bird.
I asked him where his companions were. He shook his head in denial.
Thinking to find the others, we searched the cell. The floor was dry;
so were the walls. If three men had been shut in there, and two of them
had died, at least their bones would have endured."
"Wherefore thou thinkest--"
"I think, O tribune, there has been but one prisoner there in the
The chief regarded the keeper sharply, and said, "Have a care;
thou art more than saying Valerius lied."
Gesius bowed, but said, "He might have been mistaken."
"No, he was right," said the tribune, warmly. "By thine own statement
he was right. Didst thou not say but now that for eight years food
and drink had been furnished three men?"
The bystanders approved the shrewdness of their chief; yet Gesius
did not seem discomfited.
"You have but half the story, O tribune. When you have it all,
you will agree with me. You know what I did with the man: that I
sent him to the bath, and had him shorn and clothed, and then took
him to the gate of the Tower, and bade him go free. I washed my
hands of him. To-day he came back, and was brought to me. By signs
and tears he at last made me understand he wished to return to his
cell, and I so ordered. As they were leading him off, he broke away
and kissed my feet, and, by piteous dumb imploration, insisted I
should go with him; and I went. The mystery of the three men stayed
in my mind. I was not satisfied about it. Now I am glad I yielded
to his entreaty."
The whole company at this point became very still.
"When we were in the cell again, and the prisoner knew it, he caught
my hand eagerly, and led me to a hole like that through which
we were accustomed to pass him his food. Though large enough to
push your helmet through, it escaped me yesterday. Still holding
my hand, he put his face to the hole and gave a beast-like cry.
A sound came faintly back. I was astonished, and drew him away,
and called out, 'Ho, here!' At first there was no answer. I called
again, and received back these words, 'Be thou praised, O Lord!' Yet
more astonishing, O tribune, the voice was a woman's. And I asked,
'Who are you?' and had reply, 'A woman of Israel, entombed here
with her daughter. Help us quickly, or we die.' I told them to
be of cheer, and hurried here to know your will."
The tribune arose hastily.
"Thou wert right, Gesius," he said, "and I see now. The map was a
lie, and so was the tale of the three men. There have been better
Romans than Valerius Gratus."
"Yes," said the keeper. "I gleaned from the prisoner that he had
regularly given the women of the food and drink he had received."
"It is accounted for," replied the tribune, and observing the
countenances of his friends, and reflecting how well it would be
to have witnesses, he added, "Let us rescue the women. Come all."
Gesuis was pleased.
"We will have to pierce the wall," he said. "I found where a
door had been, but it was filled solidly with stones and mortar."
The tribune stayed to say to a clerk, "Send workmen after me with
tools. Make haste; but hold the report, for I see it will have to
In a short time they were gone.
"A woman of Israel, entombed here with her daughter. Help us quickly,
or we die."
Such was the reply Gesius, the keeper, had from the cell which
appears on his amended map as VI. The reader, when he observed
the answer, knew who the unfortunates were, and, doubtless,
said to himself, "At last the mother of Ben-Hur, and Tirzah,
And so it was.
The morning of their seizure, eight years before, they had been
carried to the Tower, where Gratus proposed to put them out of the
way. He had chosen the Tower for the purpose as more immediately in
his own keeping, and cell VI. because, first, it could be better lost
than any other; and, secondly, it was infected with leprosy; for these
prisoners were not merely to be put in a safe place, but in a place to
die. They were, accordingly, taken down by slaves in the night-time,
when there were no witnesses of the deed; then, in completion of
the savage task, the same slaves walled up the door, after which
they were themselves separated, and sent away never to be heard
of more. To save accusation, and, in the event of discovery,
to leave himself such justification as might be allowed in
a distinction between the infliction of a punishment and the
commission of a double murder, Gratus preferred sinking his victims
where natural death was certain, though slow. That they might linger
along, he selected a convict who had been made blind and tongueless,
and sank him in the only connecting cell, there to serve them with
food and drink. Under no circumstances could the poor wretch tell
the tale or identify either the prisoners or their doomsman. So,
with a cunning partly due to Messala, the Roman, under color of
punishing a brood of assassins, smoothed a path to confiscation
of the estate of the Hurs, of which no portion ever reached the
As the last step in the scheme, Gratus summarily removed the old
keeper of the prisons; not because he knew what had been done--for
he did not--but because, knowing the underground floors as he did,
it would be next to impossible to keep the transaction from him.
Then, with masterly ingenuity, the procurator had new maps drawn
for delivery to a new keeper, with the omission, as we have seen,
of cell VI. The instructions given the latter, taken with the
omission on the map, accomplished the design--the cell and its
unhappy tenants were all alike lost.
What may be thought of the life of the mother and daughter
during the eight years must have relation to their culture
and previous habits. Conditions are pleasant or grievous to
us according to our sensibilities. It is not extreme to say,
if there was a sudden exit of all men from the world, heaven,
as prefigured in the Christian idea, would not be a heaven to
the majority; on the other hand, neither would all suffer equally
in the so-called Tophet. Cultivation has its balances. As the mind
is made intelligent, the capacity of the soul for pure enjoyment
is proportionally increased. Well, therefore, if it be saved! If
lost, however, alas that it ever had cultivation! its capacity for
enjoyment in the one case is the measure of its capacity to suffer
in the other. Wherefore repentance must be something more than mere
remorse for sins; it comprehends a change of nature befitting heaven.
We repeat, to form an adequate idea of the suffering endured by
the mother of Ben-Hur, the reader must think of her spirit and its
sensibilities as much as, if not more than, of the conditions of
the immurement; the question being, not what the conditions were,
but how she was affected by them. And now we may be permitted to
say it was in anticipation of this thought that the scene in the
summer-house on the roof of the family palace was given so fully
in the beginning of the Second Book of our story. So, too, to be
helpful when the inquiry should come up, we ventured the elaborate
description of the palace of the Hurs.
In other words, let the serene, happy, luxurious life in the
princely house be recalled and contrasted with this existence
in the lower dungeon of the Tower of Antonia; then if the reader,
in his effort to realize the misery of the woman, persists in mere
reference to conditions physical, he cannot go amiss; as he is a
lover of his kind, tender of heart, he will be melted with much
sympathy. But will he go further; will he more than sympathize
with her; will he share her agony of mind and spirit; will he at
least try to measure it--let him recall her as she discoursed to
her son of God and nations and heroes; one moment a philosopher,
the next a teacher, and all the time a mother.
Would you hurt a man keenest, strike at his self-love; would you
hurt a woman worst, aim at her affections.
With quickened remembrance of these unfortunates--remembrance
of them as they were--let us go down and see them as they are.
The cell VI. was in form as Gesius drew it on his map. Of its
dimensions but little idea can be had; enough that it was
a roomy, roughened interior, with ledged and broken walls
In the beginning, the site of the Macedonian Castle was separated
from the site of the Temple by a narrow but deep cliff somewhat
in shape of a wedge. The workmen, wishing to hew out a series
of chambers, made their entry in the north face of the cleft,
and worked in, leaving a ceiling of the natural stone; delving farther,
they executed the cells V., IV., III., II., I., with no connection with
number VI. except through number V. In like manner, they constructed the
passage and stairs to the floor above. The process of the work was
precisely that resorted to in carving out the Tombs of the Kings,
yet to be seen a short distance north of Jerusalem; only when the
cutting was done, cell VI. was enclosed on its outer side by a wall
of prodigious stones, in which, for ventilation, narrow apertures
were left bevelled like modern port-holes. Herod, when he took
hold of the Temple and Tower, put a facing yet more massive upon
this outer wall, and shut up all the apertures but one, which yet
admitted a little vitalizing air, and a ray of light not nearly
strong enough to redeem the room from darkness.
Such was cell VI.
Startle not now!
The description of the blind and tongueless wretch just liberated
from cell V. may be accepted to break the horror of what is coming.
The two women are grouped close by the aperture; one is seated,
the other is half reclining against her; there is nothing between
them and the bare rock. The light, slanting upwards, strikes them
with ghastly effect, and we cannot avoid seeing they are without
vesture or covering. At the same time we are helped to the knowledge
that love is there yet, for the two are in each other's arms.
Riches take wings, comforts vanish, hope withers away, but love
stays with us. Love is God.
Where the two are thus grouped the stony floor is polished shining
smooth. Who shall say how much of the eight years they have spent
in that space there in front of the aperture, nursing their hope
of rescue by that timid yet friendly ray of light? When the
brightness came creeping in, they knew it was dawn; when it
began to fade, they knew the world was hushing for the night,
which could not be anywhere so long and utterly dark as with them.
The world! Through that crevice, as if it were broad and high as
a king's gate, they went to the world in thought, and passed the
weary time going up and down as spirits go, looking and asking,
the one for her son, the other for her brother. On the seas they
sought him, and on the islands of the seas; to-day he was in this
city, to-morrow in that other; and everywhere, and at all times,
he was a flitting sojourner; for, as they lived waiting for him,
he lived looking for them. How often their thoughts passed each
other in the endless search, his coming, theirs going! It was such
sweet flattery for them to say to each other, 'While he lives,
we shall not be forgotten; as long as he remembers us, there is
hope!" The strength one can eke from little, who knows till he
has been subjected to the trial?
Our recollections of them in former days enjoin us to be respectful;
their sorrows clothe them with sanctity. Without going too near,
across the dungeon, we see they have undergone a change of
appearance not to be accounted for by time or long confinement.
The mother was beautiful as a woman, the daughter beautiful as a
child; not even love could say so much now. Their hair is long,
unkempt, and strangely white; they make us shrink and shudder
with an indefinable repulsion, though the effect may be from an
illusory glozing of the light glimmering dismally through the
unhealthy murk; or they may be enduring the tortures of hunger
and thirst, not having had to eat or drink since their servant,
the convict, was taken away--that is, since yesterday.
Tirzah, reclining against her mother in half embrace, moans piteously.
"Be quiet, Tirzah. They will come. God is good. We have been mindful
of him, and forgotten not to pray at every sounding of the trumpets
over in the Temple. The light, you see, is still bright; the sun
is standing in the south sky yet, and it is hardly more than the
seventh hour. Somebody will come to us. Let us have faith. God is
Thus the mother. The words were simple and effective, although,
eight years being now to be added to the thirteen she had attained
when last we saw her, Tirzah was no longer a child.
"I will try and be strong, mother," she said. "Your suffering
must be as great as mine; and I do so want to live for you and
my brother! But my tongue burns, my lips scorch. I wonder where
he is, and if he will ever, ever find us!"
There is something in the voices that strikes us singularly--an
unexpected tone, sharp, dry, metallic, unnatural.
The mother draws the daughter closer to her breast, and says, "I
dreamed about him last night, and saw him as plainly, Tirzah, as I
see you. We must believe in dreams, you know, because our fathers
did. The Lord spoke to them so often in that way. I thought we were
in the Women's Court just before the Gate Beautiful; there were
many women with us; and he came and stood in the shade of the
Gate, and looked here and there, at this one and that. My heart
beat strong. I knew he was looking for us, and stretched my arms
to him, and ran, calling him. He heard me and saw me, but he did
not know me. In a moment he was gone."
"Would it not be so, mother, if we were to meet him in fact? We
are so changed."
"It might be so; but--" The mother's head droops, and her face
knits as with a wrench of pain; recovering, however, she goes
on--"but we could make ourselves known to him."
Tirzah tossed her arms, and moaned again.
"Water, mother, water, though but a drop."
The mother stares around in blank helplessness. She has named God
so often, and so often promised in his name, the repetition is
beginning to have a mocking effect upon herself. A shadow passes
before her dimming the dim light, and she is brought down to think
of death as very near, waiting to come in as her faith goes out.
Hardly knowing what she does, speaking aimlessly, because speak
she must, she says again,
"Patience, Tirzah; they are coming--they are almost here."
She thought she heard a sound over by the little trap in the
partition-wall through which they held all their actual communication
with the world. And she was not mistaken. A moment, and the cry of
the convict rang through the cell. Tirzah heard it also; and they
both arose, still keeping hold of each other.
"Praised be the Lord forever!" exclaimed the mother, with the
fervor of restored faith and hope.
"Ho, there!" they heard next; and then, "Who are you?"
The voice was strange. What matter? Except from Tirzah, they were
the first and only words the mother had heard in eight years.
The revulsion was mighty--from death to life--and so instantly!
"A woman of Israel, entombed here with her daughter. Help us quickly,
or we die."
"Be of cheer. I will return."
The women sobbed aloud. They were found; help was coming. From wish
to wish hope flew as the twittering swallows fly. They were found;
they would be released. And restoration would follow--restoration
to all they had lost--home, society, property, son and brother! The
scanty light glozed them with the glory of day, and, forgetful of
pain and thirst and hunger, and of the menace of death, they sank
upon the floor and cried, keeping fast hold of each other the while.
And this time they had not long to wait. Gesius, the keeper,
told his tale methodically, but finished it at last. The tribune
"Within there!" he shouted through the trap.
"Here!" said the mother, rising.
Directly she heard another sound in another place, as of blows
on the wall--blows quick, ringing, and delivered with iron tools.
She did not speak, nor did Tirzah, but they listened, well knowing
the meaning of it all--that a way to liberty was being made for
them. So men a long time buried in deep mines hear the coming of
rescuers, heralded by thrust of bar and beat of pick, and answer
gratefully with heart-throbs, their eyes fixed upon the spot whence
the sounds proceed; and they cannot look away, lest the work should
cease, and they be returned to despair.
The arms outside were strong, the hands skillful, the will good.
Each instant the blows sounded more plainly; now and then a piece
fell with a crash; and liberty came nearer and nearer. Presently
the workmen could be heard speaking. Then--O happiness!--through
a crevice flashed a red ray of torches. Into the darkness it cut
incisive as diamond brilliance, beautiful as if from a spear of
"It is he, mother, it is he! He has found us at last!" cried Tirzah,
with the quickened fancy of youth.
But the mother answered meekly, "God is good!"
A block fell inside, and another--then a great mass, and the door
was open. A man grimed with mortar and stone-dust stepped in,
and stopped, holding a torch over his head. Two or three others
followed with torches, and stood aside for the tribune to enter.
Respect for women is not all a conventionality, for it is the best
proof of their proper nature. The tribune stopped, because they fled
from him--not with fear, be it said, but shame; nor yet, O reader,
from shame alone! From the obscurity of their partial hiding he heard
these words, the saddest, most dreadful, most utterly despairing of
the human tongue:
"Come not near us--unclean, unclean!"
The men flared their torches while they stared at each other.
"Unclean, unclean!" came from the corner again, a slow tremulous
wail exceedingly sorrowful. With such a cry we can imagine a
spirit vanishing from the gates of Paradise, looking back the
So the widow and mother performed her duty, and in the moment
realized that the freedom she had prayed for and dreamed of,
fruit of scarlet and gold seen afar, was but an apple of Sodom
in the hand.
SHE AND TIRZAH WERE--LEPERS!
Possibly the reader does not know all the word means. Let him be
told it with reference to the Law of that time, only a little
modified in this.
"These four are accounted as dead--the blind, the leper, the poor,
and the childless." Thus the Talmud.
That is, to be a leper was to be treated as dead--to be excluded
from the city as a corpse; to be spoken to by the best beloved
and most loving only at a distance; to dwell with none but lepers;
to be utterly unprivileged; to be denied the rites of the Temple
and the synagogue; to go about in rent garments and with covered
mouth, except when crying, "Unclean, unclean!" to find home in the
wilderness or in abandoned tombs; to become a materialized specter
of Hinnom and Gehenna; to be at all times less a living offence to
others than a breathing torment to self; afraid to die, yet without
hope except in death.
Once--she might not tell the day or the year, for down in the
haunted hell even time was lost--once the mother felt a dry scurf
in the palm of her right hand, a trifle which she tried to wash
away. It clung to the member pertinaciously; yet she thought
but little of the sign till Tirzah complained that she, too,
was attacked in the same way. The supply of water was scant,
and they denied themselves drink that they might use it as a
curative. At length the whole hand was attacked; the skin cracked
open, the fingernails loosened from the flesh. There was not much
pain withal, chiefly a steadily increasing discomfort. Later their
lips began to parch and seam. One day the mother, who was cleanly
to godliness, and struggled against the impurities of the dungeon
with all ingenuity, thinking the enemy was taking hold on Tirzah's
face, led her to the light, and, looking with the inspiration of a
terrible dread, lo! the young girl's eyebrows were white as snow.
Oh, the anguish of that assurance!
The mother sat awhile speechless, motionless, paralyzed of soul,
and capable of but one thought--leprosy, leprosy!
When she began to think, mother-like, it was not of herself, but her
child, and, mother-like, her natural tenderness turned to courage,
and she made ready for the last sacrifice of perfect heroism. She
buried her knowledge in her heart; hopeless herself, she redoubled
her devotion to Tirzah, and with wonderful ingenuity--wonderful
chiefly in its very inexhaustibility--continued to keep the
daughter ignorant of what they were beset with, and even hopeful
that it was nothing. She repeated her little games, and retold
her stories, and invented new ones, and listened with ever so
much pleasure to the songs she would have from Tirzah, while on
her own wasting lips the psalms of the singing king and their race
served to bring soothing of forgetfulness, and keep alive in them
both the recollection of the God who would seem to have abandoned
them--the world not more lightly or utterly.
Slowly, steadily, with horrible certainty, the disease spread,
after a while bleaching their heads white, eating holes in their
lips and eyelids, and covering their bodies with scales; then it
fell to their throats shrilling their voices, and to their joints,
hardening the tissues and cartilages--slowly, and, as the mother
well knew, past remedy, it was affecting their lungs and arteries
and bones, at each advance making the sufferers more and more
loathsome; and so it would continue till death, which might be
years before them.
Another day of dread at length came--the day the mother, under
impulsion of duty, at last told Tirzah the name of their ailment;
and the two, in agony of despair, prayed that the end might come
Still, as is the force of habit, these so afflicted grew in time
not merely to speak composedly of their disease; they beheld the
hideous transformation of their persons as of course, and in despite
clung to existence. One tie to earth remained to them; unmindful of
their own loneliness, they kept up a certain spirit by talking
and dreaming of Ben-Hur. The mother promised reunion with him to
the sister, and she to the mother, not doubting, either of them,
that he was equally faithful to them, and would be equally happy of
the meeting. And with the spinning and respinning of this slender
thread they found pleasure, and excused their not dying. In such
manner as we have seen, they were solacing themselves the moment
Gesius called them, at the end of twelve hours' fasting and thirst.
The torches flashed redly through the dungeon, and liberty was come.
"God is good," the widow cried--not for what had been, O reader,
but for what was. In thankfulness for present mercy, nothing so
becomes us as losing sight of past ills.
The tribune came directly; then in the corner to which she had
fled, suddenly a sense of duty smote the elder of the women,
and straightway the awful warning--
Ah, the pang the effort to acquit herself of that duty cost the
mother! Not all the selfishness of joy over the prospect could
keep her blind to the consequences of release, now that it was
at hand. The old happy life could never be again. If she went
near the house called home, it would be to stop at the gate and
cry, "Unclean, unclean!" She must go about with the yearnings of
love alive in her breast strong as ever, and more sensitive even,
because return in kind could not be. The boy of whom she had so
constantly thought, and with all sweet promises such as mothers
find their purest delight in, must, at meeting her, stand afar
off. If he held out his hands to her, and called "Mother, mother,"
for very love of him she must answer, "Unclean, unclean!" And this
other child, before whom, in want of other covering, she was spreading
her long tangled locks, bleached unnaturally white--ah! that she was
she must continue, sole partner of her blasted remainder of life. Yet,
O reader, the brave woman accepted the lot, and took up the cry which
had been its sign immemorially, and which thenceforward was to be her
salutation without change--"Unclean, unclean!"
The tribune heard it with a tremor, but kept his place.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"Two women dying of hunger and thirst. Yet"--the mother did not
falter--"come not near us, nor touch the floor or the wall. Unclean,
"Give me thy story, woman--thy name, and when thou wert put here,
and by whom, and for what."
"There was once in this city of Jerusalem a Prince Ben-Hur, the
friend of all generous Romans, and who had Caesar for his friend.
I am his widow, and this one with me is his child. How may I tell
you for what we were sunk here, when I do not know, unless it was
because we were rich? Valerius Gratus can tell you who our enemy
was, and when our imprisonment began. I cannot. See to what we
have been reduced--oh, see, and have pity!"
The air was heavy with the pest and the smoke of the torches, yet
the Roman called one of the torch-bearers to his side, and wrote
the answer nearly word for word. It was terse, and comprehensive,
containing at once a history, an accusation, and a prayer. No common
person could have made it, and he could not but pity and believe.
"Thou shalt have relief, woman," he said, closing the tablets.
"I will send thee food and drink."
"And raiment, and purifying water, we pray you, O generous Roman!"
"As thou wilt," he replied.
"God is good," said the widow, sobbing. "May his peace abide with
"And, further," he added, "I cannot see thee again. Make preparation,
and to-night I will have thee taken to the gate of the Tower, and set
free. Thou knowest the law. Farewell."
He spoke to the men, and went out the door.
Very shortly some slaves came to the cell with a large gurglet
of water, a basin and napkins, a platter with bread and meat,
and some garments of women's wear; and, setting them down within
reach of the prisoners, they ran away.
About the middle of the first watch, the two were conducted to
the gate, and turned into the street. So the Roman quit himself
of them, and in the city of their fathers they were once more free.
Up to the stars, twinkling merrily as of old, they looked; then they
"What next? and where to?"
About the hour Gesius, the keeper, made his appearance before the
tribune in the Tower of Antonia, a footman was climbing the eastern
face of Mount Olivet. The road was rough and dusty, and vegetation
on that side burned brown, for it was the dry season in Judea.
Well for the traveller that he had youth and strength, not to
speak of the cool, flowing garments with which he was clothed.
He proceeded slowly, looking often to his right and left;
not with the vexed, anxious expression which marks a man going
forward uncertain of the way, but rather the air with which one
approaches as old acquaintance after a long separation--half of
pleasure, half of inquiry; as if he were saying, "I am glad to be
with you again; let me see in what you are changed."
As he arose higher, he sometimes paused to look behind him over
the gradually widening view terminating in the mountains of Moab;
but when at length he drew near the summit, he quickened his step,
unmindful of fatigue, and hurried on without pause or turning of
the face. On the summit--to reach which he bent his steps somewhat
right of the beaten path--he came to a dead stop, arrested as if by
a strong hand. Then one might have seen his eyes dilate, his cheeks
flush, his breath quicken, effects all of one bright sweeping glance
at what lay before him.
The traveller, good reader, was no other than Ben-Hur; the spectacle,
Not the Holy City of to-day, but the Holy City as left by Herod--the
Holy City of the Christ. Beautiful yet, as seen from old Olivet,
what must it have been then?
Ben-Hur betook him to a stone and sat down, and, stripping his
head of the close white handkerchief which served it for covering,
made the survey at leisure.
The same has been done often since by a great variety of persons,
under circumstances surpassingly singular--by the son of Vespasian,
by the Islamite, by the Crusader, conquerors all of them; by many
a pilgrim from the great New World, which waited discovery nearly
fifteen hundred years after the time of our story; but of the
multitude probably not one has taken that view with sensations
more keenly poignant, more sadly sweet, more proudly bitter,
than Ben-Hur. He was stirred by recollections of his countrymen,
their triumphs and vicissitudes, their history the history of God.
The city was of their building, at once a lasting testimony of their
crimes and devotion, their weakness and genius, their religion and
their irreligion. Though he had seen Rome to familiarity, he was
gratified. The sight filled a measure of pride which would have
made him drunk with vainglory but for the thought, princely as
the property was, it did not any longer belong to his countrymen;
the worship in the Temple was by permission of strangers; the hill
where David dwelt was a marbled cheat--an office in which the chosen
of the Lord were wrung and wrung for taxes, and scourged for very
deathlessness of faith. These, however, were pleasures and griefs
of patriotism common to every Jew of the period; in addition,
Ben-Hur brought with him a personal history which would not out
of mind for other consideration whatever, which the spectacle
served only to freshen and vivify.
A country of hills changes but little; where the hills are of rock,
it changes not at all. The scene Ben-Hur beheld is the same now,
except as respects the city. The failure is in the handiwork of
The sun dealt more kindly by the west side of Olivet than by the
east, and men were certainly more loving towards it. The vines
with which it was partially clad, and the sprinkling of trees,
chiefly figs and old wild olives, were comparatively green. Down to
the dry bed of the Cedron the verdure extended, a refreshment to
the vision; there Olivet ceased and Moriah began--a wall of bluff
boldness, white as snow, founded by Solomon, completed by Herod. Up,
up the wall the eye climbed course by course of the ponderous rocks
composing it--up to Solomon's Porch, which was as the pedestal of
the monument, the hill being the plinth. Lingering there a moment,
the eye resumed its climbing, going next to the Gentiles' Court,
then to the Israelites' Court, then to the Women's Court, then to
the Court of the Priests, each a pillared tier of white marble,
one above the other in terraced retrocession; over them all a
crown of crowns infinitely sacred, infinitely beautiful, majestic in
proportions, effulgent with beaten gold--lo! the Tent, the Tabernacle,
the Holy of Holies. The Ark was not there, but Jehovah was--in the
faith of every child of Israel he was there a personal Presence.
As a temple, as a monument, there was nowhere anything of man's
building to approach that superlative apparition. Now, not a stone
of it remains above another. Who shall rebuild that building? When
shall the rebuilding be begun? So asks every pilgrim who has stood
where Ben-Hur was--he asks, knowing the answer is in the bosom of
God, whose secrets are not least marvellous in their well-keeping.
And then the third question, What of him who foretold the ruin
which has so certainly befallen? God? Or man of God? Or--enough
that the question is for us to answer.
And still Ben-Hur's eyes climbed on and up--up over the roof of
the Temple, to the hill Zion, consecrated to sacred memories,
inseparable from the anointed kings. He knew the Cheesemonger's
Valley dipped deep down between Moriah and Zion; that it was spanned
by the Xystus; that there were gardens and palaces in its depths;
but over them all his thoughts soared with his vision to the great
grouping on the royal hill--the house of Caiaphas, the Central
Synagogue, the Roman Praetorium, Hippicus the eternal, and the
sad but mighty cenotaphs Phasaelus and Mariamne--all relieved
against Gareb, purpling in the distance. And when midst them he
singled out the palace of Herod, what could he but think of the
King Who Was Coming, to whom he was himself devoted, whose path he
had undertaken to smooth, whose empty hands he dreamed of filling?
And forward ran his fancy to the day the new King should come to
claim his own and take possession of it--of Moriah and its Temple;
of Zion and its towers and palaces; of Antonia, frowning darkly
there just to the right of the Temple; of the new unwalled city of
Bezetha; of the millions of Israel to assemble with palm-branches
and banners, to sing rejoicing because the Lord had conquered and
given them the world.
Men speak of dreaming as if it were a phenomenon of night and sleep.
They should know better. All results achieved by us are self-promised,
and all self-promises are made in dreams awake. Dreaming is the relief
of labor, the wine that sustains us in act. We learn to love labor,
not for itself, but for the opportunity it furnishes for dreaming,
which is the great under-monotone of real life, unheard, unnoticed,
because of its constancy. Living is dreaming. Only in the grave
are there no dreams. Let no one smile at Ben-Hur for doing that
which he himself would have done at that time and place under the
The sun stooped low in its course. Awhile the flaring disk seemed
to perch itself on the far summit of the mountains in the west,
brazening all the sky above the city, and rimming the walls and
towers with the brightness of gold. Then it disappeared as with
a plunge. The quiet turned Ben-Hur's thought homeward. There was a
point in the sky a little north of the peerless front of the Holy
of Holies upon which he fixed his gaze: under it, straight as a
leadline would have dropped, lay his father's house, if yet the
The mellowing influences of the evening mellowed his feelings,
and, putting his ambitions aside, he thought of the duty that
was bringing him to Jerusalem.
Out in the desert while with Ilderim, looking for strong places
and acquainting himself with it generally, as a soldier studies
a country in which he has projected a campaign, a messenger came
one evening with the news that Gratus was removed, and Pontius
Pilate sent to take his place.
Messala was disabled and believed him dead; Gratus was powerless
and gone; why should Ben-Hur longer defer the search for his mother
and sister? There was nothing to fear now. If he could not himself
see into the prisons of Judea, he could examine them with the eyes
of others. If the lost were found, Pilate could have no motive in
holding them in custody--none, at least, which could not be overcome
by purchase. If found, he would carry them to a place of safety,
and then, in calmer mind, his conscience at rest, this one first
duty done, he could give himself more entirely to the King Who
Was Coming. He resolved at once. That night he counselled with
Ilderim, and obtained his assent. Three Arabs came with him to
Jericho, where he left them and the horses, and proceeded alone
and on foot. Malluch was to meet him in Jerusalem.
Ben-Hur's scheme, be it observed, was as yet a generality.
In view of the future, it was advisable to keep himself in hiding
from the authorities, particularly the Romans. Malluch was shrewd
and trusty; the very man to charge with the conduct of the investigation.
Where to begin was the first point. He had no clear idea about it.
His wish was to commence with the Tower of Antonia. Tradition not
of long standing planted the gloomy pile over a labyrinth of
prison-cells, which, more even than the strong garrison, kept it a
terror to the Jewish fancy. A burial, such as his people had been
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