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“The noble Arrius forgets that the spirit hath much to do with endurance. By its help the weak sometimes thrive, when the strong perish.”

“From thy speech, thou art a Jew.”

“My ancestors further back than the first Roman were Hebrews.”

“The stubborn pride of thy race is not lost in thee,” said Arrius, observing a flush upon the rower’s face.

“Pride is never so loud as when in chains.”

“What cause hast thou for pride?”

“That I am a Jew.”

Arrius smiled.

“I have not been to Jerusalem,” he said; “but I have heard of its princes. I knew one of them. He was a merchant, and sailed the seas. He was fit to have been a king. Of what degree art thou?”

“I must answer thee from the bench of a galley. I am of the degree of slaves. My father was a prince of Jerusalem, and, as a merchant, he sailed the seas. He was known and honored in the guest-chamber of the great Augustus.”

“His name?”

“Ithamar, of the house of Hur.”

The tribune raised his hand in astonishment.

“A son of Hur–thou?”

After a silence, he asked,

“What brought thee here?”

Judah lowered his head, and his breast labored hard. When his feelings were sufficiently mastered, he looked the tribune in the face, and answered,

“I was accused of attempting to assassinate Valerius Gratus, the procurator.”

“Thou!” cried Arrius, yet more amazed, and retreating a step. “Thou that assassin! All Rome rang with the story. It came to my ship in the river by Lodinum.”

The two regarded each other silently.

“I thought the family of Hur blotted from the earth,” said Arrius, speaking first.

A flood of tender recollections carried the young man’s pride away; tears shone upon his cheeks.

“Mother–mother! And my little Tirzah! Where are they? O tribune, noble tribune, if thou knowest anything of them”–he clasped his hands in appeal–“tell me all thou knowest. Tell me if they are living–if living, where are they? and in what condition? Oh, I pray thee, tell me!”

He drew nearer Arrius, so near that his hands touched the cloak where it dropped from the latter’s folded arms.

“The horrible day is three years gone,” he continued–“three years, O tribune, and every hour a whole lifetime of misery–a lifetime in a bottomless pit with death, and no relief but in labor–and in all that time not a word from any one, not a whisper. Oh, if, in being forgotten, we could only forget! If only I could hide from that scene–my sister torn from me, my mother’s last look! I have felt the plague’s breath, and the shock of ships in battle; I have heard the tempest lashing the sea, and laughed, though others prayed: death would have been a riddance. Bend the oar–yes, in the strain of mighty effort trying to escape the haunting of what that day occurred. Think what little will help me. Tell me they are dead, if no more, for happy they cannot be while I am lost. I have heard them call me in the night; I have seen them on the water walking. Oh, never anything so true as my mother’s love! And Tirzah–her breath was as the breath of white lilies. She was the youngest branch of the palm–so fresh, so tender, so graceful, so beautiful! She made my day all morning. She came and went in music. And mine was the hand that laid them low! I–“

“Dost thou admit thy guilt?” asked Arrius, sternly.

The change that came upon Ben-Hur was wonderful to see, it was so instant and extreme. The voice sharpened; the hands arose tight-clenched; every fibre thrilled; his eyes inflamed.

“Thou hast heard of the God of my fathers,” he said; “of the infinite Jehovah. By his truth and almightiness, and by the love with which he hath followed Israel from the beginning, I swear I am innocent!”

The tribune was much moved.

“O noble Roman!” continued Ben-Hur, “give me a little faith, and, into my darkness, deeper darkening every day, send a light!”

Arrius turned away, and walked the deck.

“Didst thou not have a trial?” he asked, stopping suddenly.

“No!”

The Roman raised his head, surprised.

“No trial–no witnesses! Who passed judgment upon thee?”

Romans, it should be remembered, were at no time such lovers of the law and its forms as in the ages of their decay.

“They bound me with cords, and dragged me to a vault in the Tower. I saw no one. No one spoke to me. Next day soldiers took me to the seaside. I have been a galley-slave ever since.”

“What couldst thou have proven?”

“I was a boy, too young to be a conspirator. Gratus was a stranger to me. If I had meant to kill him, that was not the time or the place. He was riding in the midst of a legion, and it was broad day. I could not have escaped. I was of a class most friendly to Rome. My father had been distinguished for his services to the emperor. We had a great estate to lose. Ruin was certain to myself, my mother, my sister. I had no cause for malice, while every consideration–property, family, life, conscience, the Law–to a son of Israel as the breath of his nostrils–would have stayed my hand, though the foul intent had been ever so strong. I was not mad. Death was preferable to shame; and, believe me, I pray, it is so yet.”

“Who was with thee when the blow was struck?”

“I was on the house-top–my father’s house. Tirzah was with me– at my side–the soul of gentleness. Together we leaned over the parapet to see the legion pass. A tile gave way under my hand, and fell upon Gratus. I thought I had killed him. Ah, what horror I felt!”

“Where was thy mother?”

“In her chamber below.”

“What became of her?”

Ben-Hur clenched his hands, and drew a breath like a gasp.

“I do not know. I saw them drag her away–that is all I know. Out of the house they drove every living thing, even the dumb cattle, and they sealed the gates. The purpose was that she should not return. I, too, ask for her. Oh for one word! She, at least, was innocent. I can forgive–but I pray thy pardon, noble tribune! A slave like me should not talk of forgiveness or of revenge. I am bound to an oar for life.”

Arrius listened intently. He brought all his experience with slaves to his aid. If the feeling shown in this instance were assumed, the acting was perfect; on the other hand, if it were real, the Jew’s innocence might not be doubted; and if he were innocent, with what blind fury the power had been exercised! A whole family blotted out to atone an accident! The thought shocked him.

There is no wiser providence than that our occupations, however rude or bloody, cannot wear us out morally; that such qualities as justice and mercy, if they really possess us, continue to live on under them, like flowers under the snow. The tribune could be inexorable, else he had not been fit for the usages of his calling; he could also be just; and to excite his sense of wrong was to put him in the way to right the wrong. The crews of the ships in which he served came after a time to speak of him as the good tribune. Shrewd readers will not want a better definition of his character.

In this instance there were many circumstances certainly in the young man’s favor, and some to be supposed. Possibly Arrius knew Valerius Gratus without loving him. Possibly he had known the elder Hur. In the course of his appeal, Judah had asked him of that; and, as will be noticed, he had made no reply.

For once the tribune was at loss, and hesitated. His power was ample. He was monarch of the ship. His prepossessions all moved him to mercy. His faith was won. Yet, he said to himself, there was no haste–or, rather, there was haste to Cythera; the best rower could not then be spared; he would wait; he would learn more; he would at least be sure this was the prince Ben-Hur, and that he was of a right disposition. Ordinarily, slaves were liars.

“It is enough,” he said aloud. “Go back to thy place.”

Ben-Hur bowed; looked once more into the master’s face, but saw nothing for hope. He turned away slowly, looked back, and said,

“If thou dost think of me again, O tribune, let it not be lost in thy mind that I prayed thee only for word of my people–mother, sister.”

He moved on.

Arrius followed him with admiring eyes.

“Perpol!” he thought. “With teaching, what a man for the arena! What a runner! Ye gods! what an arm for the sword or the cestus!–Stay!” he said aloud.

Ben-Hur stopped, and the tribune went to him.

“If thou wert free, what wouldst thou do?”

“The noble Arrius mocks me!” Judah said, with trembling lips.

“No; by the gods, no!”

“Then I will answer gladly. I would give myself to duty the first of life. I would know no other. I would know no rest until my mother and Tirzah were restored to home. I would give every day and hour to their happiness. I would wait upon them; never a slave more faithful. They have lost much, but, by the God of my fathers, I would find them more!”

The answer was unexpected by the Roman. For a moment he lost his purpose.

“I spoke to thy ambition,” he said, recovering. “If thy mother and sister were dead, or not to be found, what wouldst thou do?”

A distinct pallor overspread Ben-Hur’s face, and he looked over the sea. There was a struggle with some strong feeling; when it was conquered, he turned to the tribune.

“What pursuit would I follow?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Tribune, I will tell thee truly. Only the night before the dreadful day of which I have spoken, I obtained permission to be a soldier. I am of the same mind yet; and, as in all the earth there is but one school of war, thither I would go.”

“The palaestra!” exclaimed Arrius.

“No; a Roman camp.”

“But thou must first acquaint thyself with the use of arms.”

Now a master may never safely advise a slave. Arrius saw his indiscretion, and, in a breath, chilled his voice and manner.

“Go now,” he said, “and do not build upon what has passed between us. Perhaps I do but play with thee. Or”–he looked away musingly– “or, if thou dost think of it with any hope, choose between the renown of a gladiator and the service of a soldier. The former may come of the favor of the emperor; there is no reward for thee in the latter. Thou art not a Roman. Go!”

A short while after Ben-Hur was upon his bench again.

A man’s task is always light if his heart is light. Handling the oar did not seem so toilsome to Judah. A hope had come to him, like a singing bird. He could hardly see the visitor or hear its song; that it was there, though, he knew; his feelings told him so. The caution of the tribune–“Perhaps I do but play with thee”–was dismissed often as it recurred to his mind. That he had been called by the great man and asked his story was the bread upon which he fed his hungry spirit. Surely something good would come of it. The light about his bench was clear and bright with promises, and he prayed.

“O God! I am a true son of the Israel thou hast so loved! Help me, I pray thee!”

CHAPTER IV

In the Bay of Antemona, east of Cythera the island, the hundred galleys assembled. There the tribune gave one day to inspection. He sailed then to Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades, midway the coasts of Greece and Asia, like a great stone planted in the centre of a highway, from which he could challenge everything that passed; at the same time, he would be in position to go after the pirates instantly, whether they were in the AEgean or out on the Mediterranean.

As the fleet, in order, rowed in towards the mountain shores of the island, a galley was descried coming from the north. Arrius went to meet it. She proved to be a transport just from Byzantium, and from her commander he learned the particulars of which he stood in most need.

The pirates were from all the farther shores of the Euxine. Even Tanais, at the mouth of the river which was supposed to feed Palus Maeotis, was represented among them. Their preparations had been with the greatest secrecy. The first known of them was their appearance off the entrance to the Thracian Bosphorus, followed by the destruction of the fleet in station there. Thence to the outlet of the Hellespont everything afloat had fallen their prey. There were quite sixty galleys in the squadron, all well manned and supplied. A few were biremes, the rest stout triremes. A Greek was in command, and the pilots, said to be familiar with all the Eastern seas, were Greek. The plunder had been incalculable. The panic, consequently, was not on the sea alone; cities, with closed gates, sent their people nightly to the walls. Traffic had almost ceased.

Where were the pirates now?

To this question, of most interest to Arrius, he received answer.

After sacking Hephaestia, on the island of Lemnos, the enemy had coursed across to the Thessalian group, and, by last account, disappeared in the gulfs between Euboea and Hellas.

Such were the tidings.

Then the people of the island, drawn to the hill-tops by the rare spectacle of a hundred ships careering in united squadron, beheld the advance division suddenly turn to the north, and the others follow, wheeling upon the same point like cavalry in a column. News of the piratical descent had reached them, and now, watching the white sails until they faded from sight up between Rhene and Syros, the thoughtful among them took comfort, and were grateful. What Rome seized with strong hand she always defended: in return for their taxes, she gave them safety.

The tribune was more than pleased with the enemy’s movements; he was doubly thankful to Fortune. She had brought swift and sure intelligence, and had lured his foes into the waters where, of all others, destruction was most assured. He knew the havoc one galley could play in a broad sea like the Mediterranean, and the difficulty of finding and overhauling her; he knew, also, how those very circumstances would enhance the service and glory if, at one blow, he could put a finish to the whole piratical array.

If the reader will take a map of Greece and the AEgean, he will notice the island of Euboea lying along the classic coast like a rampart against Asia, leaving a channel between it and the continent quite a hundred and twenty miles in length, and scarcely an average of eight in width. The inlet on the north had admitted the fleet of Xerxes, and now it received the bold raiders from the Euxine. The towns along the Pelasgic and Meliac gulfs were rich and their plunder seductive. All things considered, therefore, Arrius judged that the robbers might be found somewhere below Thermopylae. Welcoming the chance, he resolved to enclose them north and south, to do which not an hour could be lost; even the fruits and wines and women of Naxos must be left behind. So he sailed away without stop or tack until, a little before nightfall, Mount Ocha was seen upreared against the sky, and the pilot reported the Euboean coast.

At a signal the fleet rested upon its oars. When the movement was resumed, Arrius led a division of fifty of the galleys, intending to take them up the channel, while another division, equally strong, turned their prows to the outer or seaward side of the island, with orders to make all haste to the upper inlet, and descend sweeping the waters.

To be sure, neither division was equal in number to the pirates; but each had advantages in compensation, among them, by no means least, a discipline impossible to a lawless horde, however brave. Besides, it was a shrewd count on the tribune’s side, if, peradventure, one should be defeated, the other would find the enemy shattered by his victory, and in condition to be easily overwhelmed.

Meantime Ben-Hur kept his bench, relieved every six hours. The rest in the Bay of Antemona had freshened him, so that the oar was not troublesome, and the chief on the platform found no fault.

People, generally, are not aware of the ease of mind there is in knowing where they are, and where they are going. The sensation of being lost is a keen distress; still worse is the feeling one has in driving blindly into unknown places. Custom had dulled the feeling with Ben-Hur, but only measurably. Pulling away hour after hour, sometimes days and nights together, sensible all the time that the galley was gliding swiftly along some of the many tracks of the broad sea, the longing to know where he was, and whither going, was always present with him; but now it seemed quickened by the hope which had come to new life in his breast since the interview with the tribune. The narrower the abiding-place happens to be, the more intense is the longing; and so he found. He seemed to hear every sound of the ship in labor, and listened to each one as if it were a voice come to tell him something; he looked to the grating overhead, and through it into the light of which so small a portion was his, expecting, he knew not what; and many times he caught himself on the point of yielding to the impulse to speak to the chief on the platform, than which no circumstance of battle would have astonished that dignitary more.

In his long service, by watching the shifting of the meager sunbeams upon the cabin floor when the ship was under way, he had come to know, generally, the quarter into which she was sailing. This, of course, was only of clear days like those good-fortune was sending the tribune. The experience had not failed him in the period succeeding the departure from Cythera. Thinking they were tending towards the old Judean country, he was sensitive to every variation from the course. With a pang, he had observed the sudden change northward which, as has been noticed, took place near Naxos: the cause, however, he could not even conjecture; for it must be remembered that, in common with his fellow-slaves, he knew nothing of the situation, and had no interest in the voyage. His place was at the oar, and he was held there inexorably, whether at anchor or under sail. Once only in three years had he been permitted an outlook from the deck. The occasion we have seen. He had no idea that, following the vessel he was helping drive, there was a great squadron close at hand and in beautiful order; no more did he know the object of which it was in pursuit.

When the sun, going down, withdrew his last ray from the cabin, the galley still held northward. Night fell, yet Ben-Hur could discern no change. About that time the smell of incense floated down the gangways from the deck.

“The tribune is at the altar,” he thought. “Can it be we are going into battle?”

He became observant.

Now he had been in many battles without having seen one. From his bench he had heard them above and about him, until he was familiar with all their notes, almost as a singer with a song. So, too, he had become acquainted with many of the preliminaries of an engagement, of which, with a Roman as well as a Greek, the most invariable was the sacrifice to the gods. The rites were the same as those performed at the beginning of a voyage, and to him, when noticed, they were always an admonition.

A battle, it should be observed, possessed for him and his fellow-slaves of the oar an interest unlike that of the sailor and marine; it came, not of the danger encountered but of the fact that defeat, if survived, might bring an alteration of condition–possibly freedom–at least a change of masters, which might be for the better.

In good time the lanterns were lighted and hung by the stairs, and the tribune came down from the deck. At his word the marines put on their armor. At his word again, the machines were looked to, and spears, javelins, and arrows, in great sheaves, brought and laid upon the floor, together with jars of inflammable oil, and baskets of cotton balls wound loose like the wicking of candles. And when, finally, Ben-Hur saw the tribune mount his platform and don his armor, and get his helmet and shield out, the meaning of the preparations might not be any longer doubted, and he made ready for the last ignominy of his service.

To every bench, as a fixture, there was a chain with heavy anklets. These the hortator proceeded to lock upon the oarsmen, going from number to number, leaving no choice but to obey, and, in event of disaster, no possibility of escape.

In the cabin, then, a silence fell, broken, at first, only by the sough of the oars turning in the leathern cases. Every man upon the benches felt the shame, Ben-Hur more keenly than his companions. He would have put it away at any price. Soon the clanking of the fetters notified him of the progress the chief was making in his round. He would come to him in turn; but would not the tribune interpose for him?

The thought may be set down to vanity or selfishness, as the reader pleases; it certainly, at that moment, took possession of Ben-Hur. He believed the Roman would interpose; anyhow, the circumstance would test the man’s feelings. If, intent upon the battle, he would but think of him, it would be proof of his opinion formed–proof that he had been tacitly promoted above his associates in misery–such proof as would justify hope.

Ben-Hur waited anxiously. The interval seemed like an age. At every turn of the oar he looked towards the tribune, who, his simple preparations made, lay down upon the couch and composed himself to rest; whereupon number sixty chid himself, and laughed grimly, and resolved not to look that way again.

The hortator approached. Now he was at number one–the rattle of the iron links sounded horribly. At last number sixty! Calm from despair, Ben-Hur held his oar at poise, and gave his foot to the officer. Then the tribune stirred–sat up–beckoned to the chief.

A strong revulsion seized the Jew. From the hortator, the great man glanced at him; and when he dropped his oar all the section of the ship on his side seemed aglow. He heard nothing of what was said; enough that the chain hung idly from its staple in the bench, and that the chief, going to his seat, began to beat the sounding-board. The notes of the gavel were never so like music. With his breast against the leaded handle, he pushed with all his might–pushed until the shaft bent as if about to break.

The chief went to the tribune, and, smiling, pointed to number sixty.

“What strength!” he said.

“And what spirit!” the tribune answered. “Perpol! He is better without the irons. Put them on him no more.”

So saying, he stretched himself upon the couch again.

The ship sailed on hour after hour under the oars in water scarcely rippled by the wind. And the people not on duty slept, Arrius in his place, the marines on the floor.

Once–twice–Ben-Hur was relieved; but he could not sleep. Three years of night, and through the darkness a sunbeam at last! At sea adrift and lost, and now land! Dead so long, and, lo! the thrill and stir of resurrection. Sleep was not for such an hour. Hope deals with the future; now and the past are but servants that wait on her with impulse and suggestive circumstance. Starting from the favor of the tribune, she carried him forward indefinitely. The wonder is, not that things so purely imaginative as the results she points us to can make us so happy, but that we can receive them as so real. They must be as gorgeous poppies under the influence of which, under the crimson and purple and gold, reason lies down the while, and is not. Sorrows assuaged, home and the fortunes of his house restored; mother and sister in his arms once more–such were the central ideas which made him happier that moment than he had ever been. That he was rushing, as on wings, into horrible battle had, for the time, nothing to do with his thoughts. The things thus in hope were unmixed with doubts–they WERE. Hence his joy so full, so perfect, there was no room in his heart for revenge. Messala, Gratus, Rome, and all the bitter, passionate memories connected with them, were as dead plagues–miasms of the earth above which he floated, far and safe, listening to singing stars.

The deeper darkness before the dawn was upon the waters, and all things going well with the Astroea, when a man, descending from the deck, walked swiftly to the platform where the tribune slept, and awoke him. Arrius arose, put on his helmet, sword, and shield, and went to the commander of the marines.

“The pirates are close by. Up and ready!” he said, and passed to the stairs, calm, confident, insomuch that one might have thought, “Happy fellow! Apicius has set a feast for him.”

CHAPTER V

Every soul aboard, even the ship, awoke. Officers went to their quarters. The marines took arms, and were led out, looking in all respects like legionaries. Sheaves of arrows and armfuls of javelins were carried on deck. By the central stairs the oil-tanks and fire-balls were set ready for use. Additional lanterns were lighted. Buckets were filled with water. The rowers in relief assembled under guard in front of the chief. As Providence would have it, Ben-Hur was one of the latter. Overhead he heard the muffled noises of the final preparations–of the sailors furling sail, spreading the nettings, unslinging the machines, and hanging the armor of bull-hide over the side. Presently quiet settled about the galley again; quiet full of vague dread and expectation, which, interpreted, means READY.

At a signal passed down from the deck, and communicated to the hortator by a petty officer stationed on the stairs, all at once the oars stopped.

What did it mean?

Of the hundred and twenty slaves chained to the benches, not one but asked himself the question. They were without incentive. Patriotism, love of honor, sense of duty, brought them no inspiration. They felt the thrill common to men rushed helpless and blind into danger. It may be supposed the dullest of them, poising his oar, thought of all that might happen, yet could promise himself nothing; for victory would but rivet his chains the firmer, while the chances of the ship were his; sinking or on fire, he was doomed to her fate.

Of the situation without they might not ask. And who were the enemy? And what if they were friends, brethren, countrymen? The reader, carrying the suggestion forward, will see the necessity which governed the Roman when, in such emergencies, he locked the hapless wretches to their seats.

There was little time, however, for such thought with them. A sound like the rowing of galleys astern attracted Ben-Hur, and the Astroea rocked as if in the midst of countering waves. The idea of a fleet at hand broke upon him–a fleet in manoeuvre– forming probably for attack. His blood started with the fancy.

Another signal came down from the deck. The oars dipped, and the galley started imperceptibly. No sound from without, none from within, yet each man in the cabin instinctively poised himself for a shock; the very ship seemed to catch the sense, and hold its breath, and go crouched tiger-like.

In such a situation time is inappreciable; so that Ben-Hur could form no judgment of distance gone. At last there was a sound of trumpets on deck, full, clear, long blown. The chief beat the sounding-board until it rang; the rowers reached forward full length, and, deepening the dip of their oars, pulled suddenly with all their united force. The galley, quivering in every timber, answered with a leap. Other trumpets joined in the clamor–all from the rear, none forward–from the latter quarter only a rising sound of voices in tumult heard briefly. There was a mighty blow; the rowers in front of the chief’s platform reeled, some of them fell; the ship bounded back, recovered, and rushed on more irresistibly than before. Shrill and high arose the shrieks of men in terror; over the blare of trumpets, and the grind and crash of the collision, they arose; then under his feet, under the keel, pounding, rumbling, breaking to pieces, drowning, Ben-Hur felt something overridden. The men about him looked at each other afraid. A shout of triumph from the deck– the beak of the Roman had won! But who were they whom the sea had drunk? Of what tongue, from what land were they?

No pause, no stay! Forward rushed the Astroea; and, as it went, some sailors ran down, and plunging the cotton balls into the oil-tanks, tossed them dripping to comrades at the head of the stairs: fire was to be added to other horrors of the combat.

Directly the galley heeled over so far that the oarsmen on the uppermost side with difficulty kept their benches. Again the hearty Roman cheer, and with it despairing shrieks. An opposing vessel, caught by the grappling-hooks of the great crane swinging from the prow, was being lifted into the air that it might be dropped and sunk.

The shouting increased on the right hand and on the left; before, behind, swelled an indescribable clamor. Occasionally there was a crash, followed by sudden peals of fright, telling of other ships ridden down, and their crews drowned in the vortexes.

Nor was the fight all on one side. Now and then a Roman in armor was borne down the hatchway, and laid bleeding, sometimes dying, on the floor.

Sometimes, also, puffs of smoke, blended with steam, and foul with the scent of roasting human flesh, poured into the cabin, turning the dimming light into yellow murk. Gasping for breath the while, Ben-Hur knew they were passing through the cloud of a ship on fire, and burning up with the rowers chained to the benches.

The Astroea all this time was in motion. Suddenly she stopped. The oars forward were dashed from the hands of the rowers, and the rowers from their benches. On deck, then, a furious trampling, and on the sides a grinding of ships afoul of each other. For the first time the beating of the gavel was lost in the uproar. Men sank on the floor in fear or looked about seeking a hiding-place. In the midst of the panic a body plunged or was pitched headlong down the hatchway, falling near Ben-Hur. He beheld the half-naked carcass, a mass of hair blackening the face, and under it a shield of bull-hide and wicker-work–a barbarian from the white-skinned nations of the North whom death had robbed of plunder and revenge. How came he there? An iron hand had snatched him from the opposing deck–no, the Astroea had been boarded! The Romans were fighting on their own deck? A chill smote the young Jew: Arrius was hard pressed–he might be defending his own life. If he should be slain! God of Abraham forefend! The hopes and dreams so lately come, were they only hopes and dreams? Mother and sister–house–home–Holy Land–was he not to see them, after all? The tumult thundered above him; he looked around; in the cabin all was confusion–the rowers on the benches paralyzed; men running blindly hither and thither; only the chief on his seat imperturbable, vainly beating the sounding-board, and waiting the orders of the tribune–in the red murk illustrating the matchless discipline which had won the world.

The example had a good effect upon Ben-Hur. He controlled himself enough to think. Honor and duty bound the Roman to the platform; but what had he to do with such motives then? The bench was a thing to run from; while, if he were to die a slave, who would be the better of the sacrifice? With him living was duty, if not honor. His life belonged to his people. They arose before him never more real: he saw them, their arms outstretched; he heard them imploring him. And he would go to them. He started–stopped. Alas! a Roman judgment held him in doom. While it endured, escape would be profitless. In the wide, wide earth there was no place in which he would be safe from the imperial demand; upon the land none, nor upon the sea. Whereas he required freedom according to the forms of law, so only could he abide in Judea and execute the filial purpose to which he would devote himself: in other land he would not live. Dear God! How he had waited and watched and prayed for such a release! And how it had been delayed! But at last he had seen it in the promise of the tribune. What else the great man’s meaning? And if the benefactor so belated should now be slain! The dead come not back to redeem the pledges of the living. It should not be–Arrius should not die. At least, better perish with him than survive a galley-slave.

Once more Ben-Hur looked around. Upon the roof of the cabin the battle yet beat; against the sides the hostile vessels yet crushed and grided. On the benches, the slaves struggled to tear loose from their chains, and, finding their efforts vain, howled like madmen; the guards had gone upstairs; discipline was out, panic in. No, the chief kept his chair, unchanged, calm as ever–except the gavel, weaponless. Vainly with his clangor he filled the lulls in the din. Ben-Hur gave him a last look, then broke away–not in flight, but to seek the tribune.

A very short space lay between him and the stairs of the hatchway aft. He took it with a leap, and was half-way up the steps–up far enough to catch a glimpse of the sky blood-red with fire, of the ships alongside, of the sea covered with ships and wrecks, of the fight closed in about the pilot’s quarter, the assailants many, the defenders few–when suddenly his foothold was knocked away, and he pitched backward. The floor, when he reached it, seemed to be lifting itself and breaking to pieces; then, in a twinkling, the whole after-part of the hull broke asunder, and, as if it had all the time been lying in wait, the sea, hissing and foaming, leaped in, and all became darkness and surging water to Ben-Hur.

It cannot be said that the young Jew helped himself in this stress. Besides his usual strength, he had the indefinite extra force which nature keeps in reserve for just such perils to life; yet the darkness, and the whirl and roar of water, stupefied him. Even the holding his breath was involuntary.

The influx of the flood tossed him like a log forward into the cabin, where he would have drowned but for the refluence of the sinking motion. As it was, fathoms under the surface the hollow mass vomited him forth, and he arose along with the loosed debris. In the act of rising, he clutched something, and held to it. The time he was under seemed an age longer than it really was; at last he gained the top; with a great gasp he filled his lungs afresh, and, tossing the water from his hair and eyes, climbed higher upon the plank he held, and looked about him.

Death had pursued him closely under the waves; he found it waiting for him when he was risen–waiting multiform.

Smoke lay upon the sea like a semitransparent fog, through which here and there shone cores of intense brilliance. A quick intelligence told him that they were ships on fire. The battle was yet on; nor could he say who was victor. Within the radius of his vision now and then ships passed, shooting shadows athwart lights. Out of the dun clouds farther on he caught the crash of other ships colliding. The danger, however, was closer at hand. When the Astroea went down, her deck, it will be recollected, held her own crew, and the crews of the two galleys which had attacked her at the same time, all of whom were ingulfed. Many of them came to the surface together, and on the same plank or support of whatever kind continued the combat, begun possibly in the vortex fathoms down. Writhing and twisting in deadly embrace, sometimes striking with sword or javelin, they kept the sea around them in agitation, at one place inky-black, at another aflame with fiery reflections. With their struggles he had nothing to do; they were all his enemies: not one of them but would kill him for the plank upon which he floated. He made haste to get away.

About that time he heard oars in quickest movement, and beheld a galley coming down upon him. The tall prow seemed doubly tall, and the red light playing upon its gilt and carving gave it an appearance of snaky life. Under its foot the water churned to flying foam.

He struck out, pushing the plank, which was very broad and unmanageable. Seconds were precious–half a second might save or lose him. In the crisis of the effort, up from the sea, within arm’s reach, a helmet shot like a gleam of gold. Next came two hands with fingers extended–large hands were they, and strong– their hold once fixed, might not be loosed. Ben-Hur swerved from them appalled. Up rose the helmet and the head it encased–then two arms, which began to beat the water wildly–the head turned back, and gave the face to the light. The mouth gaping wide; the eyes open, but sightless, and the bloodless pallor of a drowning man–never anything more ghastly! Yet he gave a cry of joy at the sight, and as the face was going under again, he caught the sufferer by the chain which passed from the helmet beneath the chin, and drew him to the plank.

The man was Arrius, the tribune.

For a while the water foamed and eddied violently about Ben-Hur, taxing all his strength to hold to the support and at the same time keep the Roman’s head above the surface. The galley had passed, leaving the two barely outside the stroke of its oars. Right through the floating men, over heads helmeted as well as heads bare, she drove, in her wake nothing but the sea sparkling with fire. A muffled crash, succeeded by a great outcry, made the rescuer look again from his charge. A certain savage pleasure touched his heart–the Astroea was avenged.

After that the battle moved on. Resistance turned to flight. But who were the victors? Ben-Hur was sensible how much his freedom and the life of the tribune depended upon that event. He pushed the plank under the latter until it floated him, after which all his care was to keep him there. The dawn came slowly. He watched its growing hopefully, yet sometimes afraid. Would it bring the Romans or the pirates? If the pirates, his charge was lost.

At last morning broke in full, the air without a breath. Off to the left he saw the land, too far to think of attempting to make it. Here and there men were adrift like himself. In spots the sea was blackened by charred and sometimes smoking fragments. A galley up a long way was lying to with a torn sail hanging from the tilted yard, and the oars all idle. Still farther away he could discern moving specks, which he thought might be ships in flight or pursuit, or they might be white birds a-wing.

An hour passed thus. His anxiety increased. If relief came not speedily, Arrius would die. Sometimes he seemed already dead, he lay so still. He took the helmet off, and then, with greater difficulty, the cuirass; the heart he found fluttering. He took hope at the sign, and held on. There was nothing to do but wait, and, after the manner of his people, pray.

CHAPTER VI

The throes of recovery from drowning are more painful than the drowning. These Arrius passed through, and, at length, to Ben-Hur’s delight, reached the point of speech.

Gradually, from incoherent questions as to where he was, and by whom and how he had been saved, he reverted to the battle. The doubt of the victory stimulated his faculties to full return, a result aided not a little by a long rest–such as could be had on their frail support. After a while he became talkative.

“Our rescue, I see, depends upon the result of the fight. I see also what thou hast done for me. To speak fairly, thou hast saved my life at the risk of thy own. I make the acknowledgment broadly; and, whatever cometh, thou hast my thanks. More than that, if fortune doth but serve me kindly, and we get well out of this peril, I will do thee such favor as becometh a Roman who hath power and opportunity to prove his gratitude. Yet, yet it is to be seen if, with thy good intent, thou hast really done me a kindness; or, rather, speaking to thy good-will”–he hesitated–“I would exact of thee a promise to do me, in a certain event, the greatest favor one man can do another–and of that let me have thy pledge now.”

“If the thing be not forbidden, I will do it,” Ben-Hur replied.

Arrius rested again.

“Art thou, indeed, a son of Hur, the Jew?” he next asked.

“It is as I have said.”

“I knew thy father–“

Judah drew himself nearer, for the tribune’s voice was weak–he drew nearer, and listened eagerly–at last he thought to hear of home.

“I knew him, and loved him,” Arrius continued.

There was another pause, during which something diverted the speaker’s thought.

“It cannot be,” he proceeded, “that thou, a son of his, hast not heard of Cato and Brutus. They were very great men, and never as great as in death. In their dying, they left this law–A Roman may not survive his good-fortune. Art thou listening?”

“I hear.”

“It is a custom of gentlemen in Rome to wear a ring. There is one on my hand. Take it now.”

He held the hand to Judah, who did as he asked.

“Now put it on thine own hand.”

Ben-Hur did so.

“The trinket hath its uses,” said Arrius next. “I have property and money. I am accounted rich even in Rome. I have no family. Show the ring to my freedman, who hath control in my absence; you will find him in a villa near Misenum. Tell him how it came to thee, and ask anything, or all he may have; he will not refuse the demand. If I live, I will do better by thee. I will make thee free, and restore thee to thy home and people; or thou mayst give thyself to the pursuit that pleaseth thee most. Dost thou hear?”

“I could not choose but hear.”

“Then pledge me. By the gods–“

“Nay, good tribune, I am a Jew.”

“By thy God, then, or in the form most sacred to those of thy faith–pledge me to do what I tell thee now, and as I tell thee; I am waiting, let me have thy promise.”

“Noble Arrius, I am warned by thy manner to expect something of gravest concern. Tell me thy wish first.”

“Wilt thou promise then?”

“That were to give the pledge, and– Blessed be the God of my fathers! yonder cometh a ship!”

“In what direction?”

“From the north.”

“Canst thou tell her nationality by outward signs?”

“No. My service hath been at the oars.”

“Hath she a flag?”

“I cannot see one.”

Arrius remained quiet some time, apparently in deep reflection.

“Does the ship hold this way yet?” he at length asked.

“Still this way.”

“Look for the flag now.”

“She hath none.”

“Nor any other sign?”

“She hath a sail set, and is of three banks, and cometh swiftly– that is all I can say of her.”

“A Roman in triumph would have out many flags. She must be an enemy. Hear now,” said Arrius, becoming grave again, “hear, while yet I may speak. If the galley be a pirate, thy life is safe; they may not give thee freedom; they may put thee to the oar again; but they will not kill thee. On the other hand, I–“

The tribune faltered.

“Perpol!” he continued, resolutely. “I am too old to submit to dishonor. In Rome, let them tell how Quintus Arrius, as became a Roman tribune, went down with his ship in the midst of the foe. This is what I would have thee do. If the galley prove a pirate, push me from the plank and drown me. Dost thou hear? Swear thou wilt do it.”

“I will not swear,” said Ben-Hur, firmly; “neither will I do the deed. The Law, which is to me most binding, O tribune, would make me answerable for thy life. Take back the ring”–he took the seal from his finger–“take it back, and all thy promises of favor in the event of delivery from this peril. The judgment which sent me to the oar for life made me a slave, yet I am not a slave; no more am I thy freedman. I am a son of Israel, and this moment, at least, my own master. Take back the ring.”

Arrius remained passive.

“Thou wilt not?” Judah continued. “Not in anger, then, nor in any despite, but to free myself from a hateful obligation, I will give thy gift to the sea. See, O tribune!”

He tossed the ring away. Arrius heard the splash where it struck and sank, though he did not look.

“Thou hast done a foolish thing,” he said; “foolish for one placed as thou art. I am not dependent upon thee for death. Life is a thread I can break without thy help; and, if I do, what will become of thee? Men determined on death prefer it at the hands of others, for the reason that the soul which Plato giveth us is rebellious at the thought of self-destruction; that is all. If the ship be a pirate, I will escape from the world. My mind is fixed. I am a Roman. Success and honor are all in all. Yet I would have served thee; thou wouldst not. The ring was the only witness of my will available in this situation. We are both lost. I will die regretting the victory and glory wrested from me; thou wilt live to die a little later, mourning the pious duties undone because of this folly. I pity thee.”

Ben-Hur saw the consequences of his act more distinctly than before, yet he did not falter.

“In the three years of my servitude, O tribune, thou wert the first to look upon me kindly. No, no! There was another.” The voice dropped, the eyes became humid, and he saw plainly as if it were then before him the face of the boy who helped him to a drink by the old well at Nazareth. “At least,” he proceeded, “thou wert the first to ask me who I was; and if, when I reached out and caught thee, blind and sinking the last time, I, too, had thought of the many ways in which thou couldst be useful to me in my wretchedness, still the act was not all selfish; this I pray you to believe. Moreover, seeing as God giveth me to know, the ends I dream of are to be wrought by fair means alone. As a thing of conscience, I would rather die with thee than be thy slayer. My mind is firmly set as thine; though thou wert to offer me all Rome, O tribune, and it belonged to thee to make the gift good, I would not kill thee. Thy Cato and Brutus were as little children compared to the Hebrew whose law a Jew must obey.”

“But my request. Hast–“

“Thy command would be of more weight, and that would not move me. I have said.”

Both became silent, waiting.

Ben-Hur looked often at the coming ship. Arrius rested with closed eyes, indifferent.

“Art thou sure she is an enemy?” Ben-Hur asked.

“I think so,” was the reply.

“She stops, and puts a boat over the side.”

“Dost thou see her flag?”

“Is there no other sign by which she may be known if Roman?”

“If Roman, she hath a helmet over the mast’s top.”

“Then be of cheer. I see the helmet.”

Still Arrius was not assured.

“The men in the small boat are taking in the people afloat. Pirates are not humane.”

“They may need rowers,” Arrius replied, recurring, possibly, to times when he had made rescues for the purpose.

Ben-Hur was very watchful of the actions of the strangers.

“The ship moves off,” he said.

“Whither?”

“Over on our right there is a galley which I take to be deserted. The new-comer heads towards it. Now she is alongside. Now she is sending men aboard.”

Then Arrius opened his eyes and threw off his calm.

“Thank thou thy God,” he said to Ben-Hur, after a look at the galleys, “thank thou thy God, as I do my many gods. A pirate would sink, not save, yon ship. By the act and the helmet on the mast I know a Roman. The victory is mine. Fortune hath not deserted me. We are saved. Wave thy hand–call to them–bring them quickly. I shall be duumvir, and thou! I knew thy father, and loved him. He was a prince indeed. He taught me a Jew was not a barbarian. I will take thee with me. I will make thee my son. Give thy God thanks, and call the sailors. Haste! The pursuit must be kept. Not a robber shall escape. Hasten them!”

Judah raised himself upon the plank, and waved his hand, and called with all his might; at last he drew the attention of the sailors in the small boat, and they were speedily taken up.

Arrius was received on the galley with all the honors due a hero so the favorite of Fortune. Upon a couch on the deck he heard the particulars of the conclusion of the fight. When the survivors afloat upon the water were all saved and the prize secured, he spread his flag of commandant anew, and hurried northward to rejoin the fleet and perfect the victory. In due time the fifty vessels coming down the channel closed in upon the fugitive pirates, and crushed them utterly; not one escaped. To swell the tribune’s glory, twenty galleys of the enemy were captured.

Upon his return from the cruise, Arrius had warm welcome on the mole at Misenum. The young man attending him very early attracted the attention of his friends there; and to their questions as to who he was the tribune proceeded in the most affectionate manner to tell the story of his rescue and introduce the stranger, omitting carefully all that pertained to the latter’s previous history. At the end of the narrative, he called Ben-Hur to him, and said, with a hand resting affectionately upon his shoulder,

“Good friends, this is my son and heir, who, as he is to take my property–if it be the will of the gods that I leave any–shall be known to you by my name. I pray you all to love him as you love me.”

Speedily as opportunity permitted, the adoption was formally perfected. And in such manner the brave Roman kept his faith with Ben-Hur, giving him happy introduction into the imperial world. The month succeeding Arrius’s return, the armilustrium was celebrated with the utmost magnificence in the theater of Scaurus. One side of the structure was taken up with military trophies; among which by far the most conspicuous and most admired were twenty prows, complemented by their corresponding aplustra, cut bodily from as many galleys; and over them, so as to be legible to the eighty thousand spectators in the seats, was this inscription:

———————————————- TAKEN FROM THE PIRATES IN THE GULF OF EURIPUS, BY
QUINTUS ARRIUS,
DUUMVIR.
———————————————-

BOOK FOURTH

“Alva. Should the monarch prove unjust– And, at this time–

Queen. Then I must wait for justice Until it come; and they are happiest far Whose consciences may calmly wait their right.” Schiller, Don Carlos (act iv., sc. xv.)

CHAPTER I

The month to which we now come is July, the year that of our Lord 29, and the place Antioch, then Queen of the East, and next to Rome the strongest, if not the most populous, city in the world.

There is an opinion that the extravagance and dissoluteness of the age had their origin in Rome, and spread thence throughout the empire; that the great cities but reflected the manners of their mistress on the Tiber. This may be doubted. The reaction of the conquest would seem to have been upon the morals of the conqueror. In Greece she found a spring of corruption; so also in Egypt; and the student, having exhausted the subject, will close the books assured that the flow of the demoralizing river was from the East westwardly, and that this very city of Antioch, one of the oldest seats of Assyrian power and splendor, was a principal source of the deadly stream.

A transport galley entered the mouth of the river Orontes from the blue waters of the sea. It was in the forenoon. The heat was great, yet all on board who could avail themselves of the privilege were on deck–Ben-Hur among others.

The five years had brought the young Jew to perfect manhood. Though the robe of white linen in which he was attired somewhat masked his form, his appearance was unusually attractive. For an hour and more he had occupied a seat in the shade of the sail, and in that time several fellow-passengers of his own nationality had tried to engage him in conversation, but without avail. His replies to their questions had been brief, though gravely courteous, and in the Latin tongue. The purity of his speech, his cultivated manners, his reticence, served to stimulate their curiosity the more. Such as observed him closely were struck by an incongruity between his demeanor, which had the ease and grace of a patrician, and certain points of his person. Thus his arms were disproportionately long; and when, to steady himself against the motion of the vessel, he took hold of anything near by, the size of his hands and their evident power compelled remark; so the wonder who and what he was mixed continually with a wish to know the particulars of his life. In other words, his air cannot be better described than as a notice–This man has a story to tell.

The galley, in coming, had stopped at one of the ports of Cyprus, and picked up a Hebrew of most respectable appearance, quiet, reserved, paternal. Ben-Hur ventured to ask him some questions; the replies won his confidence, and resulted finally in an extended conversation.

It chanced also that as the galley from Cyprus entered the receiving bay of the Orontes, two other vessels which had been sighted out in the sea met it and passed into the river at the same time; and as they did so both the strangers threw out small flags of brightest yellow. There was much conjecture as to the meaning of the signals. At length a passenger addressed himself to the respectable Hebrew for information upon the subject.

“Yes, I know the meaning of the flags,” he replied; “they do not signify nationality–they are merely marks of ownership.”

“Has the owner many ships?”

“He has.”

“You know him?”

“I have dealt with him.”

The passengers looked at the speaker as if requesting him to go on. Ben-Hur listened with interest.

“He lives in Antioch,” the Hebrew continued, in his quiet way. “That he is vastly rich has brought him into notice, and the talk about him is not always kind. There used to be in Jerusalem a prince of very ancient family named Hur.”

Judah strove to be composed, yet his heart beat quicker.

“The prince was a merchant, with a genius for business. He set on foot many enterprises, some reaching far East, others West. In the great cities he had branch houses. The one in Antioch was in charge of a man said by some to have been a family servant called Simonides, Greek in name, yet an Israelite. The master was drowned at sea. His business, however, went on, and was scarcely less prosperous. After a while misfortune overtook the family. The prince’s only son, nearly grown, tried to kill the procurator Gratus in one of the streets of Jerusalem. He failed by a narrow chance, and has not since been heard of. In fact, the Roman’s rage took in the whole house–not one of the name was left alive. Their palace was sealed up, and is now a rookery for pigeons; the estate was confiscated; everything that could be traced to the ownership of the Hurs was confiscated. The procurator cured his hurt with a golden salve.”

The passengers laughed.

“You mean he kept the property,” said one of them.

“They say so,” the Hebrew replied; “I am only telling a story as I received it. And, to go on, Simonides, who had been the prince’s agent here in Antioch, opened trade in a short time on his own account, and in a space incredibly brief became the master merchant of the city. In imitation of his master, he sent caravans to India; and on the sea at present he has galleys enough to make a royal fleet. They say nothing goes amiss with him. His camels do not die, except of old age; his ships never founder; if he throw a chip into the river, it will come back to him gold.”

“How long has he been going on thus?”

“Not ten years.”

“He must have had a good start.”

“Yes, they say the procurator took only the prince’s property ready at hand–his horses, cattle, houses, land, vessels, goods. The money could not be found, though there must have been vast sums of it. What became of it has been an unsolved mystery.”

“Not to me,” said a passenger, with a sneer.

“I understand you,” the Hebrew answered. “Others have had your idea. That it furnished old Simonides his start is a common belief. The procurator is of that opinion–or he has been–for twice in five years he has caught the merchant, and put him to torture.”

Judah griped the rope he was holding with crushing force.

“It is said,” the narrator continued, “that there is not a sound bone in the man’s body. The last time I saw him he sat in a chair, a shapeless cripple, propped against cushions.”

“So tortured!” exclaimed several listeners in a breath.

“Disease could not have produced such a deformity. Still the suffering made no impression upon him. All he had was his lawfully, and he was making lawful use of it–that was the most they wrung from him. Now, however, he is past persecution. He has a license to trade signed by Tiberius himself.”

“He paid roundly for it, I warrant.”

“These ships are his,” the Hebrew continued, passing the remark. “It is a custom among his sailors to salute each other upon meeting by throwing out yellow flags, sight of which is as much as to say, ‘We have had a fortunate voyage.'”

The story ended there.

When the transport was fairly in the channel of the river, Judah spoke to the Hebrew.

“What was the name of the merchant’s master?”

“Ben-Hur, Prince of Jerusalem.”

“What became of the prince’s family?”

“The boy was sent to the galleys. I may say he is dead. One year is the ordinary limit of life under that sentence. The widow and daughter have not been heard of; those who know what became of them will not speak. They died doubtless in the cells of one of the castles which spot the waysides of Judea.”

Judah walked to the pilot’s quarter. So absorbed was he in thought that he scarcely noticed the shores of the river, which from sea to city were surpassingly beautiful with orchards of all the Syrian fruits and vines, clustered about villas rich as those of Neapolis. No more did he observe the vessels passing in an endless fleet, nor hear the singing and shouting of the sailors, some in labor, some in merriment. The sky was full of sunlight, lying in hazy warmth upon the land and the water; nowhere except over his life was there a shadow.

Once only he awoke to a momentary interest, and that was when some one pointed out the Grove of Daphne, discernible from a bend in the river.

CHAPTER II

When the city came into view, the passengers were on deck, eager that nothing of the scene might escape them. The respectable Jew already introduced to the reader was the principal spokesman.

“The river here runs to the west,” he said, in the way of general answer. “I remember when it washed the base of the walls; but as Roman subjects we have lived in peace, and, as always happens in such times, trade has had its will; now the whole river front is taken up with wharves and docks. Yonder”–the speaker pointed southward–“is Mount Casius, or, as these people love to call it, the Mountains of Orontes, looking across to its brother Amnus in the north; and between them lies the Plain of Antioch. Farther on are the Black Mountains, whence the Ducts of the Kings bring the purest water to wash the thirsty streets and people; yet they are forests in wilderness state, dense, and full of birds and beasts.”

“Where is the lake?” one asked.

“Over north there. You can take horse, if you wish to see it–or, better, a boat, for a tributary connects it with the river.”

“The Grove of Daphne!” he said, to a third inquirer. “Nobody can describe it; only beware! It was begun by Apollo, and completed by him. He prefers it to Olympus. People go there for one look– just one–and never come away. They have a saying which tells it all–‘Better be a worm and feed on the mulberries of Daphne than a king’s guest.'”

“Then you advise me to stay away from it?”

“Not I! Go you will. Everybody goes, cynic philosopher, virile boy, women, and priests–all go. So sure am I of what you will do that I assume to advise you. Do not take quarters in the city– that will be loss of time; but go at once to the village in the edge of the grove. The way is through a garden, under the spray of fountains. The lovers of the god and his Penaean maid built the town; and in its porticos and paths and thousand retreats you will find characters and habits and sweets and kinds elsewhere impossible. But the wall of the city! there it is, the masterpiece of Xeraeus, the master of mural architecture.”

All eyes followed his pointing finger.

“This part was raised by order of the first of the Seleucidae. Three hundred years have made it part of the rock it rests upon.”

The defense justified the encomium. High, solid, and with many bold angles, it curved southwardly out of view.

“On the top there are four hundred towers, each a reservoir of water,” the Hebrew continued. “Look now! Over the wall, tall as it is, see in the distance two hills, which you may know as the rival crests of Sulpius. The structure on the farthest one is the citadel, garrisoned all the year round by a Roman legion. Opposite it this way rises the Temple of Jupiter, and under that the front of the legate’s residence–a palace full of offices, and yet a fortress against which a mob would dash harmlessly as a south wind.”

At this point the sailors began taking in sail, whereupon the Hebrew exclaimed, heartily, “See! you who hate the sea, and you who have vows, get ready your curses and your prayers. The bridge yonder, over which the road to Seleucia is carried, marks the limit of navigation. What the ship unloads for further transit, the camel takes up there. Above the bridge begins the island upon which Calinicus built his new city, connecting it with five great viaducts so solid time has made no impression upon them, nor floods nor earthquakes. Of the main town, my friends, I have only to say you will be happier all your lives for having seen it.”

As he concluded, the ship turned and made slowly for her wharf under the wall, bringing even more fairly to view the life with which the river at that point was possessed. Finally, the lines were thrown, the oars shipped, and the voyage was done. Then Ben-Hur sought the respectable Hebrew.

“Let me trouble you a moment before saying farewell.”

The man bowed assent.

“Your story of the merchant has made me curious to see him. You called him Simonides?”

“Yes. He is a Jew with a Greek name.”

“Where is he to be found?”

The acquaintance gave a sharp look before he answered,

“I may save you mortification. He is not a money-lender.”

“Nor am I a money-borrower,” said Ben-Hur, smiling at the other’s shrewdness.

The man raised his head and considered an instant.

“One would think,” he then replied, “that the richest merchant in Antioch would have a house for business corresponding to his wealth; but if you would find him in the day, follow the river to yon bridge, under which he quarters in a building that looks like a buttress of the wall. Before the door there is an immense landing, always covered with cargoes come and to go. The fleet that lies moored there is his. You cannot fail to find him.”

“I give you thanks.”

“The peace of our fathers go with you.”

“And with you.”

With that they separated.

Two street-porters, loaded with his baggage, received Ben-Hur’s orders upon the wharf.

“To the citadel,” he said; a direction which implied an official military connection.

Two great streets, cutting each other at right angles, divided the city into quarters. A curious and immense structure, called the Nymphaeum, arose at the foot of the one running north and south. When the porters turned south there, the new-comer, though fresh from Rome, was amazed at the magnificence of the avenue. On the right and left there were palaces, and between them extended indefinitely double colonnades of marble, leaving separate ways for footmen, beasts, and chariots; the whole under shade, and cooled by fountains of incessant flow.

Ben-Hur was not in mood to enjoy the spectacle. The story of Simonides haunted him. Arrived at the Omphalus–a monument of four arches wide as the streets, superbly illustrated, and erected to himself by Epiphanes, the eighth of the Seleucidae–he suddenly changed his mind.

“I will not go to the citadel to-night,” he said to the porters. “Take me to the khan nearest the bridge on the road to Seleucia.”

The party faced about, and in good time he was deposited in a public house of primitive but ample construction, within stone’s-throw of the bridge under which old Simonides had his quarters. He lay upon the house-top through the night. In his inner mind lived the thought, “Now–now I will hear of home–and mother–and the dear little Tirzah. If they are on earth, I will find them.”

CHAPTER III

Next day early, to the neglect of the city, Ben-Hur sought the house of Simonides. Through an embattled gateway he passed to a continuity of wharves; thence up the river midst a busy press, to the Seleucian Bridge, under which he paused to take in the scene.

There, directly under the bridge, was the merchant’s house, a mass of gray stone, unhewn, referable to no style, looking, as the voyager had described it, like a buttress of the wall against which it leaned. Two immense doors in front communicated with the wharf. Some holes near the top, heavily barred, served as windows. Weeds waved from the crevices, and in places black moss splotched the otherwise bald stones.

The doors were open. Through one of them business went in; through the other it came out; and there was hurry, hurry in all its movements.

On the wharf there were piles of goods in every kind of package, and groups of slaves, stripped to the waist, going about in the abandon of labor.

Below the bridge lay a fleet of galleys, some loading, others unloading. A yellow flag blew out from each masthead. From fleet and wharf, and from ship to ship, the bondmen of traffic passed in clamorous counter-currents.

Above the bridge, across the river, a wall rose from the water’s edge, over which towered the fanciful cornices and turrets of an imperial palace, covering every foot of the island spoken of in the Hebrew’s description. But, with all its suggestions, Ben-Hur scarcely noticed it. Now, at last, he thought to hear of his people–this, certainly, if Simonides had indeed been his father’s slave. But would the man acknowledge the relation? That would be to give up his riches and the sovereignty of trade so royally witnessed on the wharf and river. And what was of still greater consequence to the merchant, it would be to forego his career in the midst of amazing success, and yield himself voluntarily once more a slave. Simple thought of the demand seemed a monstrous audacity. Stripped of diplomatic address, it was to say, You are my slave; give me all you have, and–yourself.

Yet Ben-Hur derived strength for the interview from faith in his rights and the hope uppermost in his heart. If the story to which he was yielding were true, Simonides belonged to him, with all he had. For the wealth, be it said in justice, he cared nothing. When he started to the door determined in mind, it was with a promise to himself–“Let him tell me of mother and Tirzah, and I will give him his freedom without account.”

He passed boldly into the house.

The interior was that of a vast depot where, in ordered spaces, and under careful arrangement, goods of every kind were heaped and pent. Though the light was murky and the air stifling, men moved about briskly; and in places he saw workmen with saws and hammers making packages for shipments. Down a path between the piles he walked slowly, wondering if the man of whose genius there were here such abounding proofs could have been his father’s slave? If so, to what class had he belonged? If a Jew, was he the son of a servant? Or was he a debtor or a debtor’s son? Or had he been sentenced and sold for theft? These thoughts, as they passed, in nowise disturbed the growing respect for the merchant of which he was each instant more and more conscious. A peculiarity of our admiration for another is that it is always looking for circumstances to justify itself.

At length a man approached and spoke to him.

“What would you have?”

“I would see Simonides, the merchant.”

“Will you come this way?”

By a number of paths left in the stowage, they finally came to a flight of steps; ascending which, he found himself on the roof of the depot, and in front of a structure which cannot be better described than as a lesser stone house built upon another, invisible from the landing below, and out west of the bridge under the open sky. The roof, hemmed in by a low wall, seemed like a terrace, which, to his astonishment, was brilliant with flowers; in the rich surrounding, the house sat squat, a plain square block, unbroken except by a doorway in front. A dustless path led to the door, through a bordering of shrubs of Persian rose in perfect bloom. Breathing a sweet attar-perfume, he followed the guide.

At the end of a darkened passage within, they stopped before a curtain half parted. The man called out,

“A stranger to see the master.”

A clear voice replied, “In God’s name, let him enter.”

A Roman might have called the apartment into which the visitor was ushered his atrium. The walls were paneled; each panel was comparted like a modern office-desk, and each compartment crowded with labelled folios all filemot with age and use. Between the panels, and above and below them, were borders of wood once white, now tinted like cream, and carved with marvellous intricacy of design. Above a cornice of gilded balls, the ceiling rose in pavilion style until it broke into a shallow dome set with hundreds of panes of violet mica, permitting a flood of light deliciously reposeful. The floor was carpeted with gray rugs so thick that an invading foot fell half buried and soundless.

In the midlight of the room were two persons–a man resting in a chair high-backed, broad-armed, and lined with pliant cushions; and at his left, leaning against the back of the chair, a girl well forward into womanhood. At sight of them Ben-Hur felt the blood redden his forehead; bowing, as much to recover himself as in respect, he lost the lifting of the hands, and the shiver and shrink with which the sitter caught sight of him–an emotion as swift to go as it had been to come. When he raised his eyes the two were in the same position, except the girl’s hand had fallen and was resting lightly upon the elder’s shoulder; both of them were regarding him fixedly.

“If you are Simonides, the merchant, and a Jew”–Ben-Hur stopped an instant–“then the peace of the God of our father Abraham upon you and–yours.”

The last word was addressed to the girl.

“I am the Simonides of whom you speak, by birthright a Jew,” the man made answer, in a voice singularly clear. “I am Simonides, and a Jew; and I return you your salutation, with prayer to know who calls upon me.”

Ben-Hur looked as he listened, and where the figure of the man should have been in healthful roundness, there was only a formless heap sunk in the depths of the cushions, and covered by a quilted robe of sombre silk. Over the heap shone a head royally proportioned–the ideal head of a statesman and conqueror–a head broad of base and domelike in front, such as Angelo would have modelled for Caesar. White hair dropped in thin locks over the white brows, deepening the blackness of the eyes shining through them like sullen lights. The face was bloodless, and much puffed with folds, especially under the chin. In other words, the head and face were those of a man who might move the world more readily than the world could move him–a man to be twice twelve times tortured into the shapeless cripple he was, without a groan, much less a confession; a man to yield his life, but never a purpose or a point; a man born in armor, and assailable only through his loves. To him Ben-Hur stretched his hands, open and palm up, as he would offer peace at the same time he asked it.

“I am Judah, son of Ithamar, late head of the House of Hur, and a prince of Jerusalem.”

The merchant’s right hand lay outside the robe–a long, thin hand, articulate to deformity with suffering. It closed tightly; otherwise there was not the slightest expression of feeling of any kind on his part; nothing to warrant an inference of surprise or interest; nothing but this calm answer,

“The princes of Jerusalem, of the pure blood, are always welcome in my house; you are welcome. Give the young man a seat, Esther.”

The girl took an ottoman near by, and carried it to Ben-Hur. As she arose from placing the seat, their eyes met.

“The peace of our Lord with you,” she said, modestly. “Be seated and at rest.”

When she resumed her place by the chair, she had not divined his purpose. The powers of woman go not so far: if the matter is of finer feeling, such as pity, mercy, sympathy, that she detects; and therein is a difference between her and man which will endure as long as she remains, by nature, alive to such feelings. She was simply sure he brought some wound of life for healing.

Ben-Hur did not take the offered seat, but said, deferentially, “I pray the good master Simonides that he will not hold me an intruder. Coming up the river yesterday, I heard he knew my father.”

“I knew the Prince Hur. We were associated in some enterprises lawful to merchants who find profit in lands beyond the sea and the desert. But sit, I pray you–and, Esther, some wine for the young man. Nehemiah speaks of a son of Hur who once ruled the half part of Jerusalem; an old house; very old, by the faith! In the days of Moses and Joshua even some of them found favor in the sight of the Lord, and divided honors with those princes among men. It can hardly be that their descendant, lineally come to us, will refuse a cup of wine-fat of the genuine vine of Sorek, grown on the south hill-sides of Hebron.”

By the time of the conclusion of this speech, Esther was before Ben-Hur with a silver cup filled from a vase upon a table a little removed from the chair. She offered the drink with downcast face. He touched her hand gently to put it away. Again their eyes met; whereat he noticed that she was small, not nearly to his shoulder in height; but very graceful, and fair and sweet of face, with eyes black and inexpressibly soft. She is kind and pretty, he thought, and looks as Tirzah would were she living. Poor Tirzah! Then he said aloud,

“No, thy father–if he is thy father?”–he paused.

“I am Esther, the daughter of Simonides,” she said, with dignity.

“Then, fair Esther, thy father, when he has heard my further speech, will not think worse of me if yet I am slow to take his wine of famous extract; nor less I hope not to lose grace in thy sight. Stand thou here with me a moment!”

Both of them, as in common cause, turned to the merchant. “Simonides!” he said, firmly, “my father, at his death, had a trusted servant of thy name, and it has been told me that thou art the man!”

There was a sudden start of the wrenched limbs under the robe, and the thin hand clenched.

“Esther, Esther!” the man called, sternly; “here, not there, as thou art thy mother’s child and mine–here, not there, I say!”

The girl looked once from father to visitor; then she replaced the cup upon the table, and went dutifully to the chair. Her countenance sufficiently expressed her wonder and alarm.

Simonides lifted his left hand, and gave it into hers, lying lovingly upon his shoulder, and said, dispassionately, “I have grown old in dealing with men–old before my time. If he who told thee that whereof thou speakest was a friend acquainted with my history, and spoke of it not harshly, he must have persuaded thee that I could not be else than a man distrustful of my kind. The God of Israel help him who, at the end of life, is constrained to acknowledge so much! My loves are few, but they are. One of them is a soul which”–he carried the hand holding his to his lips, in manner unmistakable–“a soul which to this time has been unselfishly mine, and such sweet comfort that, were it taken from me, I would die.”

Esther’s head drooped until her cheek touched his.

“The other love is but a memory; of which I will say further that, like a benison of the Lord, it hath a compass to contain a whole family, if only”–his voice lowered and trembled–“if only I knew where they were.”

Ben-Hur’s face suffused, and, advancing a step, he cried, impulsively, “My mother and sister! Oh, it is of them you speak!”

Esther, as if spoken to, raised her head; but Simonides returned to his calm, and answered, coldly, “Hear me to the end. Because I am that I am, and because of the loves of which I have spoken, before I make return to thy demand touching my relations to the Prince Hur, and as something which of right should come first, do thou show me proofs of who thou art. Is thy witness in writing? Or cometh it in person?”

The demand was plain, and the right of it indisputable. Ben-Hur blushed, clasped his hands, stammered, and turned away at loss. Simonides pressed him.

“The proofs, the proofs, I say! Set them before me–lay them in my hands!”

Yet Ben-Hur had no answer. He had not anticipated the requirement; and, now that it was made, to him as never before came the awful fact that the three years in the galley had carried away all the proofs of his identity; mother and sister gone, he did not live in the knowledge of any human being. Many there were acquainted with him, but that was all. Had Quintus Arrius been present, what could he have said more than where he found him, and that he believed the pretender to be the son of Hur? But, as will presently appear in full, the brave Roman sailor was dead. Judah had felt the loneliness before; to the core of life the sense struck him now. He stood, hands clasped, face averted, in stupefaction. Simonides respected his suffering, and waited in silence.

“Master Simonides,” he said, at length, “I can only tell my story; and I will not that unless you stay judgment so long, and with good-will deign to hear me.”

“Speak,” said Simonides, now, indeed, master of the situation–“speak, and I will listen the more willingly that I have not denied you to be the very person you claim yourself.”

Ben-Hur proceeded then, and told his life hurriedly, yet with the feeling which is the source of all eloquence; but as we are familiar with it down to his landing at Misenum, in company with Arrius, returned victorious from the AEgean, at that point we will take up the words.

“My benefactor was loved and trusted by the emperor, who heaped him with honorable rewards. The merchants of the East contributed magnificent presents, and he became doubly rich among the rich of Rome. May a Jew forget his religion? or his birthplace, if it were the Holy Land of our fathers? The good man adopted me his son by formal rites of law; and I strove to make him just return: no child was ever more dutiful to father than I to him. He would have had me a scholar; in art, philosophy, rhetoric, oratory, he would have furnished me the most famous teacher. I declined his insistence, because I was a Jew, and could not forget the Lord God, or the glory of the prophets, or the city set on the hills by David and Solomon. Oh, ask you why I accepted any of the benefactions of the Roman? I loved him; next place, I thought with his help, array influences which would enable me one day to unseal the mystery close-locking the fate of my mother and sister; and to these there was yet another motive of which I shall not speak except to say it controlled me so far that I devoted myself to arms, and the acquisition of everything deemed essential to thorough knowledge of the art of war. In the palaestrae and circuses of the city I toiled, and in the camps no less; and in all of them I have a name, but not that of my fathers. The crowns I won–and on the walls of the villa by Misenum there are many of them–all came to me as the son of Arrius, the duumvir. In that relation only am I known among Romans. . . . In steadfast pursuit of my secret aim, I left Rome for Antioch, intending to accompany the Consul Maxentius in the campaign he is organizing against the Parthians. Master of personal skill in all arms, I seek now the higher knowledge pertaining to the conduct of bodies of men in the field. The consul has admitted me one of his military family. But yesterday, as our ship entered the Orontes, two other ships sailed in with us flying yellow flags. A fellow-passenger and countryman from Cyprus explained that the vessels belonged to Simonides, the master-merchant of Antioch; he told us, also, who the merchant was; his marvellous success in commerce; of his fleets and caravans, and their coming and going; and, not knowing I had interest in the theme beyond my associate listeners, he said Simonides was a Jew, once the servant of the Prince Hur; nor did he conceal the cruelties of Gratus, or the purpose of their infliction.”

At this allusion Simonides bowed his head, and, as if to help him conceal his feelings and her own deep sympathy, the daughter hid her face on his neck. Directly he raised his eyes, and said, in a clear voice, “I am listening.”

“O good Simonides!” Ben-Hur then said, advancing a step, his whole soul seeking expression, “I see thou art not convinced, and that yet I stand in the shadow of thy distrust.”

The merchant held his features fixed as marble, and his tongue as still.

“And not less clearly, I see the difficulties of my position,” Ben-Hur continued. “All my Roman connection I can prove; I have only to call upon the consul, now the guest of the governor of the city; but I cannot prove the particulars of thy demand upon me. I cannot prove I am my father’s son. They who could serve me in that–alas! they are dead or lost.”

He covered his face with his hands; whereupon Esther arose, and, taking the rejected cup to him, said, “The wine is of the country we all so love. Drink, I pray thee!”

The voice was sweet as that of Rebekah offering drink at the well near Nahor the city; he saw there were tears in her eyes, and he drank, saying, “Daughter of Simonides, thy heart is full of goodness; and merciful art thou to let the stranger share it with thy father. Be thou blessed of our God! I thank thee.”

Then he addressed himself to the merchant again:

“As I have no proof that I am my father’s son, I will withdraw that I demanded of thee, O Simonides, and go hence to trouble you no more; only let me say I did not seek thy return to servitude nor account of thy fortune; in any event, I would have said, as now I say, that all which is product of thy labor and genius is thine; keep it in welcome. I have no need of any part thereof. When the good Quintus, my second father, sailed on the voyage which was his last, he left me his heir, princely rich. If, therefore, thou cost think of me again, be it with remembrance of this question, which, as I do swear by the prophets and Jehovah, thy God and mine, was the chief purpose of my coming here: What cost thou know–what canst thou tell me–of my mother and Tirzah, my sister–she who should be in beauty and grace even as this one, thy sweetness of life, if not thy very life? Oh! what canst thou tell me of them?”

The tears ran down Esther’s cheeks; but the man was wilful: in a clear voice, he replied,

“I have said I knew the Prince Ben-Hur. I remember hearing of the misfortune which overtook his family. I remember the bitterness with which I heard it. He who wrought such misery to the widow of my friend is the same who, in the same spirit, hath since wrought upon me. I will go further, and say to you, I have made diligent quest concerning the family, but–I have nothing to tell you of them. They are lost.”

Ben-Hur uttered a great groan.

“Then–then it is another hope broken!” he said, struggling with his feelings. “I am used to disappointments. I pray you pardon my intrusion; and if I have occasioned you annoyance, forgive it because of my sorrow. I have nothing now to live for but vengeance. Farewell.”

At the curtain he turned, and said, simply, “I thank you both.”

“Peace go with you,” the merchant said.

Esther could not speak for sobbing.

And so he departed.

CHAPTER IV

Scarcely was Ben-Hur gone, when Simonides seemed to wake as from sleep: his countenance flushed; the sullen light of his eyes changed to brightness; and he said, cheerily,

“Esther, ring–quick!”

She went to the table, and rang a service-bell.

One of the panels in the wall swung back, exposing a doorway which gave admittance to a man who passed round to the merchant’s front, and saluted him with a half-salaam.

“Malluch, here–nearer–to the chair,” the master said, imperiously. “I have a mission which shall not fail though the sun should. Hearken! A young man is now descending to the store-room–tall, comely, and in the garb of Israel; follow him, his shadow not more faithful; and every night send me report of where he is, what he does, and the company he keeps; and if, without discovery, you overhear his conversations, report them word for word, together with whatever will serve to expose him, his habits, motives, life. Understand you? Go quickly! Stay, Malluch: if he leave the city, go after him–and, mark you, Malluch, be as a friend. If he bespeak you, tell him what you will to the occasion most suited, except that you are in my service, of that, not a word. Haste–make haste!”

The man saluted as before, and was gone.

Then Simonides rubbed his wan hands together, and laughed.

“What is the day, daughter?” he said, in the midst of the mood. “What is the day? I wish to remember it for happiness come. See, and look for it laughing, and laughing tell me, Esther.”

The merriment seemed unnatural to her; and, as if to entreat him from it, she answered, sorrowfully, “Woe’s me, father, that I should ever forget this day!”

His hands fell down the instant, and his chin, dropping upon his breast, lost itself in the muffling folds of flesh composing his lower face.

“True, most true, my daughter!” he said, without looking up. “This is the twentieth day of the fourth month. To-day, five years ago, my Rachel, thy mother, fell down and died. They brought me home broken as thou seest me, and we found her dead of grief. Oh, to me she was a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of En-Gedi! I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey. We laid her away in a lonely place–in a tomb cut in the mountain; no one near her. Yet in the darkness she left me a little light, which the years have increased to a brightness of morning.” He raised his hand and rested it upon his daughter’s head. “Dear Lord, I thank thee that now in my Esther my lost Rachel liveth again!”

Directly he lifted his head, and said, as with a sudden thought, “Is it not clear day outside?”

“It was, when the young man came in.”

“Then let Abimelech come and take me to the garden, where I can see the river and the ships, and I will tell thee, dear Esther, why but now my mouth filled with laughter, and my tongue with singing, and my spirit was like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices.”

In answer to the bell a servant came, and at her bidding pushed the chair, set on little wheels for the purpose, out of the room to the roof of the lower house, called by him his garden. Out through the roses, and by beds of lesser flowers, all triumphs of careful attendance, but now unnoticed, he was rolled to a position from which he could view the palace-tops over against him on the island, the bridge in lessening perspective to the farther shore, and the river below the bridge crowded with vessels, all swimming amidst the dancing splendors of the early sun upon the rippling water. There the servant left him with Esther.

The much shouting of laborers, and their beating and pounding, did not disturb him any more than the tramping of people on the bridge floor almost overhead, being as familiar to his ear as the view before him to his eye, and therefore unnoticeable, except as suggestions of profits in promise.

Esther sat on the arm of the chair nursing his hand, and waiting his speech, which came at length in the calm way, the mighty will having carried him back to himself.

“When the young man was speaking, Esther, I observed thee, and thought thou wert won by him.”

Her eyes fell as she replied,

“Speak you of faith, father, I believed him.”

“In thy eyes, then, he is the lost son of the Prince Hur?”

“If he is not–” She hesitated.

“And if he is not, Esther?”

“I have been thy handmaiden, father, since my mother answered the call of the Lord God; by thy side I have heard and seen thee deal in wise ways with all manner of men seeking profit, holy and unholy; and now I say, if indeed the young man be not the prince he claims to be, then before me falsehood never played so well the part of righteous truth.”

“By the glory of Solomon, daughter, thou speakest earnestly. Dost thou believe thy father his father’s servant?”

“I understood him to ask of that as something he had but heard.”

For a time Simonides’ gaze swam among his swimming ships, though they had no place in his mind.

“Well, thou art a good child, Esther, of genuine Jewish shrewdness, and of years and strength to hear a sorrowful tale. Wherefore give me heed, and I will tell you of myself, and of thy mother, and of many things pertaining to the past not in thy knowledge or thy dreams–things withheld from the persecuting Romans for a hope’s sake, and from thee that thy nature should grow towards the Lord straight as the reed to the sun. . . . I was born in a tomb in the valley of Hinnom, on the south side of Zion. My father and mother were Hebrew bond-servants, tenders of the fig and olive trees growing, with many vines, in the King’s Garden hard by Siloam; and in my boyhood I helped them. They were of the class bound to serve forever. They sold me to the Prince Hur, then, next to Herod the King, the richest man in Jerusalem. From the garden he transferred me to his storehouse in Alexandria of Egypt, where I came of age. I served him six years, and in the seventh, by the law of Moses, I went free.”

Esther clapped her hands lightly.

“Oh, then, thou art not his father’s servant!”

“Nay, daughter, hear. Now, in those days there were lawyers in the cloisters of the Temple who disputed vehemently, saying the children of servants bound forever took the condition of their parents; but the Prince Hur was a man righteous in all things, and an interpreter of the law after the straitest sect, though not of them. He said I was a Hebrew servant bought, in the true meaning of the great lawgiver, and, by sealed writings, which I yet have, he set me free.”

“And my mother?” Esther asked.

“Thou shalt hear all, Esther; be patient. Before I am through thou shalt see it were easier for me to forget myself than thy mother. . . . At the end of my service, I came up to Jerusalem to the Passover. My master entertained me. I was in love with him already, and I prayed to be continued in his service. He consented, and I served him yet another seven years, but as a hired son of Israel. In his behalf I had charge of ventures on the sea by ships, and of ventures on land by caravans eastward to Susa and Persepolis, and the lands of silk beyond them. Perilous passages were they, my daughter;