eBooks Cube
 
CHAPTER VI



The good man, like the bad, must die; but, remembering the lesson
of our faith, we say of him and the event, "No matter, he will
open his eyes in heaven." Nearest this in life is the waking
from healthful sleep to a quick consciousness of happy sights
and sounds.

When Judah awoke, the sun was up over the mountains; the pigeons
were abroad in flocks, filling the air with the gleams of their
white wings; and off southeast he beheld the Temple, an apparition
of gold in the blue of the sky. These, however, were familiar
objects, and they received but a glance; upon the edge of the
divan, close by him, a girl scarcely fifteen sat singing to
the accompaniment of a nebel, which she rested upon her knee,
and touched gracefully. To her he turned listening; and this
was what she sang:

THE SONG.

"Wake not, but hear me, love!
Adrift, adrift on slumber's sea,
Thy spirit call to list to me.
Wake not, but hear me, love!
A gift from Sleep, the restful king,
All happy, happy dreams I bring.

"Wake not, but hear me, love!
Of all the world of dreams 'tis thine
This once to choose the most divine.
So choose, and sleep, my love!
But ne'er again in choice be free,
Unless, unless--thou dream'st of me."


She put the instrument down, and, resting her hands in her lap,
waited for him to speak. And as it has become necessary to tell
somewhat of her, we will avail ourselves of the chance, and add
such particulars of the family into whose privacy we are brought
as the reader may wish to know.

The favors of Herod had left surviving him many persons of vast
estate. Where this fortune was joined to undoubted lineal descent
from some famous son of one of the tribes, especially Judah, the happy
individual was accounted a Prince of Jerusalem--a distinction which
sufficed to bring him the homage of his less favored countrymen,
and the respect, if nothing more, of the Gentiles with whom business
and social circumstance brought him into dealing. Of this class none
had won in private or public life a higher regard than the father
of the lad whom we have been following. With a remembrance of his
nationality which never failed him, he had yet been true to the
king, and served him faithfully at home and abroad. Some offices
had taken him to Rome, where his conduct attracted the notice of
Augustus, who strove without reserve to engage his friendship.
In his house, accordingly, were many presents, such as had
gratified the vanity of kings--purple togas, ivory chairs,
golden pateroe--chiefly valuable on account of the imperial
hand which had honorably conferred them. Such a man could not
fail to be rich; yet his wealth was not altogether the largess
of royal patrons. He had welcomed the law that bound him to some
pursuit; and, instead of one, he entered into many. Of the herdsmen
watching flocks on the plains and hill-sides, far as old Lebanon,
numbers reported to him as their employer; in the cities by the sea,
and in those inland, he founded houses of traffic; his ships brought
him silver from Spain, whose mines were then the richest known;
while his caravans came twice a year from the East, laden with
silks and spices. In faith he was a Hebrew, observant of the law
and every essential rite; his place in the synagogue and Temple
knew him well; he was thoroughly learned in the Scriptures;
he delighted in the society of the college-masters, and carried
his reverence for Hillel almost to the point of worship. Yet he
was in no sense a Separatist; his hospitality took in strangers
from every land; the carping Pharisees even accused him of having
more than once entertained Samaritans at his table. Had he been a
Gentile, and lived, the world might have heard of him as the rival of
Herodes Atticus: as it was, he perished at sea some ten years before
this second period of our story, in the prime of life, and lamented
everywhere in Judea. We are already acquainted with two members of
his family--his widow and son; the only other was a daughter--she
whom we have seen singing to her brother.

Tirzah was her name, and as the two looked at each other, their
resemblance was plain. Her features had the regularity of his, and
were of the same Jewish type; they had also the charm of childish
innocency of expression. Home-life and its trustful love permitted
the negligent attire in which she appeared. A chemise buttoned upon
the right shoulder, and passing loosely over the breast and back and
under the left arm, but half concealed her person above the waist,
while it left the arms entirely nude. A girdle caught the folds of
the garment, marking the commencement of the skirt. The coiffure
was very simple and becoming--a silken cap, Tyrian-dyed; and over
that a striped scarf of the same material, beautifully embroidered,
and wound about in thin folds so as to show the shape of the head
without enlarging it; the whole finished by a tassel dropping
from the crown point of the cap. She had rings, ear and finger;
anklets and bracelets, all of gold; and around her neck there was
a collar of gold, curiously garnished with a network of delicate
chains, to which were pendants of pearl. The edges of her eyelids
were painted, and the tips of her fingers stained. Her hair fell
in two long plaits down her back. A curled lock rested upon each
cheek in front of the ear. Altogether it would have been impossible
to deny her grace, refinement, and beauty.

"Very pretty, my Tirzah, very pretty!" he said, with animation.

"The song?" she asked.

"Yes--and the singer, too. It has the conceit of a Greek. Where did
you get it?"

"You remember the Greek who sang in the theatre last month? They
said he used to be a singer at the court for Herod and his sister
Salome. He came out just after an exhibition of wrestlers, when the
house was full of noise. At his first note everything became so quiet
that I heard every word. I got the song from him."

"But he sang in Greek."

"And I in Hebrew."

"Ah, yes. I am proud of my little sister. Have you another as
good?"

"Very many. But let them go now. Amrah sent me to tell you she will
bring you your breakfast, and that you need not come down. She should
be here by this time. She thinks you sick--that a dreadful accident
happened you yesterday. What was it? Tell me, and I will help Amrah
doctor you. She knows the cures of the Egyptians, who were always
a stupid set; but I have a great many recipes of the Arabs who--"

"Are even more stupid than the Egyptians," he said, shaking his
head.

"Do you think so? Very well, then," she replied, almost without
pause, and putting her hands to her left ear. "We will have
nothing to do with any of them. I have here what is much surer
and better--the amulet which was given to some of our people--I
cannot tell when, it was so far back--by a Persian magician. See,
the inscription is almost worn out."

She offered him the earring, which he took, looked at, and handed
back, laughing.

"If I were dying, Tirzah, I could not use the charm. It is a relic
of idolatry, forbidden every believing son and daughter of Abraham.
Take it, but do not wear it any more."

"Forbidden! Not so," she said. "Our father's mother wore it I do
not know how many Sabbaths in her life. It has cured I do not know
how many people--more than three anyhow. It is approved-- look,
here is the mark of the rabbis."

"I have no faith in amulets."

She raised her eyes to his in astonishment.

"What would Amrah say?"

"Amrah's father and mother tended sakiyeh for a garden on the Nile."

"But Gamaliel!"

"He says they are godless inventions of unbelievers and Shechemites."

Tirzah looked at the ring doubtfully.

"What shall I do with it?"

"Wear it, my little sister. It becomes you--it helps make you
beautiful, though I think you that without help."

Satisfied, she returned the amulet to her ear just as Amrah entered
the summer chamber, bearing a platter, with wash-bowl, water,
and napkins.

Not being a Pharisee, the ablution was short and simple with
Judah. The servant then went out, leaving Tirzah to dress his
hair. When a lock was disposed to her satisfaction, she would
unloose the small metallic mirror which, as was the fashion
among her fair countrywomen, she wore at her girdle, and gave
it to him, that he might see the triumph, and how handsome it
made him. Meanwhile they kept up their conversation.

"What do you think, Tirzah?--I am going away."

She dropped her hands with amazement.

"Going away! When? Where? For what?"

He laughed.

"Three questions, all in a breath! What a body you are!" Next
instant he became serious. "You know the law requires me to follow
some occupation. Our good father set me an example. Even you would
despise me if I spent in idleness the results of his industry and
knowledge. I am going to Rome."

"Oh, I will go with you."

"You must stay with mother. If both of us leave her she will die."

The brightness faded from her face.

"Ah, yes, yes! But--must you go? Here in Jerusalem you can learn
all that is needed to be a merchant--if that is what you are
thinking of."

"But that is not what I am thinking of. The law does not require
the son to be what the father was."

"What else can you be?"

"A soldier," he replied, with a certain pride of voice.

Tears came into her eyes.

"You will be killed."

"If God's will, be it so. But, Tirzah, the soldiers are not all
killed."

She threw her arms around his neck, as if to hold him back.

"We are so happy! Stay at home, my brother."

"Home cannot always be what it is. You yourself will be going away
before long."

"Never!"

He smiled at her earnestness.

"A prince of Judah, or some other of one of the tribes, will come
soon and claim my Tirzah, and ride away with her, to be the light
of another house. What will then become of me?"

She answered with sobs.

"War is a trade," he continued, more soberly. "To learn it thoroughly,
one must go to school, and there is no school like a Roman camp."

"You would not fight for Rome?" she asked, holding her breath.

"And you--even you hate her. The whole world hates her. In that,
O Tirzah, find the reason of the answer I give you-- Yes, I will
fight for her, if, in return, she will teach me how one day to
fight against her."

"When will you go?"

Amrah's steps were then heard returning.

"Hist!" he said. "Do not let her know of what I am thinking."

The faithful slave came in with breakfast, and placed the waiter
holding it upon a stool before them; then, with white napkins upon
her arm, she remained to serve them. They dipped their fingers
in a bowl of water, and were rinsing them, when a noise arrested
their attention. They listened, and distinguished martial music
in the street on the north side of the house.

"Soldiers from the Praetorium! I must see them," he cried,
springing from the divan, and running out.

In a moment more he was leaning over the parapet of tiles which
guarded the roof at the extreme northeast corner, so absorbed
that he did not notice Tirzah by his side, resting one hand upon
his shoulder.

Their position--the roof being the highest one in the locality--
commanded the house-tops eastward as far as the huge irregular
Tower of Antonia, which has been already mentioned as a citadel for
the garrison and military headquarters for the governor. The street,
not more than ten feet wide, was spanned here and there by bridges,
open and covered, which, like the roofs along the way, were beginning
to be occupied by men, women, and children, called out by the music.
The word is used, though it is hardly fitting; what the people heard
when they came forth was rather an uproar of trumpets and the shriller
litui so delightful to the soldiers.

The array after a while came into view of the two upon the house
of the Hurs. First, a vanguard of the light-armed--mostly slingers
and bowmen--marching with wide intervals between their ranks and
files; next a body of heavy-armed infantry, bearing large shields,
and hastoe longoe, or spears identical with those used in the duels
before Ilium; then the musicians; and then an officer riding alone,
but followed closely by a guard of cavalry; after them again,
a column of infantry also heavy-armed, which, moving in close
order, crowded the streets from wall to wall, and appeared to
be without end.

The brawny limbs of the men; the cadenced motion from right to left
of the shields; the sparkle of scales, buckles, and breastplates
and helms, all perfectly burnished; the plumes nodding above the
tall crests; the sway of ensigns and iron-shod spears; the bold,
confident step, exactly timed and measured; the demeanor, so grave,
yet so watchful; the machine-like unity of the whole moving mass--made
an impression upon Judah, but as something felt rather than seen.
Two objects fixed his attention--the eagle of the legion first--a
gilded effigy perched on a tall shaft, with wings outspread until
they met above its head. He knew that, when brought from its chamber
in the Tower, it had been received with divine honors.

The officer riding alone in the midst of the column was the other
attraction. His head was bare; otherwise he was in full armor. At his
left hip he wore a short sword; in his hand, however, he carried
a truncheon, which looked like a roll of white paper. He sat upon
a purple cloth instead of a saddle, and that, and a bridle with a
forestall of gold and reins of yellow silk broadly fringed at the
lower edge, completed the housings of the horse.

While the man was yet in the distance, Judah observed that his
presence was sufficient to throw the people looking at him into
angry excitement. They would lean over the parapets or stand boldly
out, and shake their fists at him; they followed him with loud cries,
and spit at him as he passed under the bridges; the women even flung
their sandals, sometimes with such good effect as to hit him. When he
was nearer, the yells became distinguishable--"Robber, tyrant, dog of
a Roman! Away with Ishmael! Give us back our Hannas!"

When quite near, Judah could see that, as was but natural, the man
did not share the indifference so superbly shown by the soldiers;
his face was dark and sullen, and the glances he occasionally cast
at his persecutors were full of menace; the very timid shrank from
them.

Now the lad had heard of the custom, borrowed from a habit of the
first Caesar, by which chief commanders, to indicate their rank,
appeared in public with only a laurel vine upon their heads.
By that sign he knew this officer--VALERIUS GRATUS, THE NEW
PROCURATOR OF JUDEA!

To say truth now, the Roman under the unprovoked storm had the
young Jew's sympathy; so that when he reached the corner of the
house, the latter leaned yet farther over the parapet to see him
go by, and in the act rested a hand upon a tile which had been a
long time cracked and allowed to go unnoticed. The pressure was
strong enough to displace the outer piece, which started to fall.
A thrill of horror shot through the youth. He reached out to catch
the missile. In appearance the motion was exactly that of one
pitching something from him. The effort failed--nay, it served to
push the descending fragment farther out over the wall. He shouted
with all his might. The soldiers of the guard looked up; so did the
great man, and that moment the missile struck him, and he fell from
his seat as dead.

The cohort halted; the guards leaped from their horses, and hastened
to cover the chief with their shields. On the other hand, the people
who witnessed the affair, never doubting that the blow had been
purposely dealt, cheered the lad as he yet stooped in full view
over the parapet, transfixed by what he beheld, and by anticipation
of the consequences flashed all too plainly upon him.

A mischievous spirit flew with incredible speed from roof to
roof along the line of march, seizing the people, and urging
them all alike. They laid hands upon the parapets and tore up
the tiling and the sunburnt mud of which the house-tops were for
the most part made, and with blind fury began to fling them upon
the legionaries halted below. A battle then ensued. Discipline,
of course, prevailed. The struggle, the slaughter, the skill of
one side, the desperation of the other, are alike unnecessary to
our story. Let us look rather to the wretched author of it all.

He arose from the parapet, his face very pale.

"O Tirzah, Tirzah! What will become of us?"

She had not seen the occurrence below, but was listening to the
shouting and watching the mad activity of the people in view on
the houses. Something terrible was going on, she knew; but what
it was, or the cause, or that she or any of those dear to her
were in danger, she did not know.

"What has happened? What does it all mean?" she asked, in sudden
alarm.

"I have killed the Roman governor. The tile fell upon him."

An unseen hand appeared to sprinkle her face with the dust of
ashes--it grew white so instantly. She put her arm around him,
and looked wistfully, but without a word, into his eyes.
His fears had passed to her, and the sight of them gave
him strength.

"I did not do it purposely, Tirzah--it was an accident," he said,
more calmly.

"What will they do?" she asked.

He looked off over the tumult momentarily deepening in the street
and on the roofs, and thought of the sullen countenance of Gratus.
If he were not dead, where would his vengeance stop? And if he
were dead, to what height of fury would not the violence of the
people lash the legionaries? To evade an answer, he peered over
the parapet again, just as the guard were assisting the Roman to
remount his horse.

"He lives, he lives, Tirzah! Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers!"

With that outcry, and a brightened countenance, he drew back and
replied to her question.

"Be not afraid, Tirzah. I will explain how it happened, and they
will remember our father and his services, and not hurt us."

He was leading her to the summer-house, when the roof jarred
under their feet, and a crash of strong timbers being burst away,
followed by a cry of surprise and agony, arose apparently from the
court-yard below. He stopped and listened. The cry was repeated;
then came a rush of many feet, and voices lifted in rage blent
with voices in prayer; and then the screams of women in mortal
terror. The soldiers had beaten in the north gate, and were in
possession of the house. The terrible sense of being hunted smote
him. His first impulse was to fly; but where? Nothing but wings
would serve him. Tirzah, her eyes wild with fear, caught his arm.

"O Judah, what does it mean?"

The servants were being butchered--and his mother! Was not one
of the voices he heard hers? With all the will left him, he said,
"Stay here, and wait for me, Tirzah. I will go down and see what
is the matter, and come back to you."

His voice was not steady as he wished. She clung closer to him.

Clearer, shriller, no longer a fancy, his mother's cry arose.
He hesitated no longer.

"Come, then, let us go."

The terrace or gallery at the foot of the steps was crowded with
soldiers. Other soldiers with drawn swords ran in and out of the
chambers. At one place a number of women on their knees clung to each
other or prayed for mercy. Apart from them, one with torn garments,
and long hair streaming over her face, struggled to tear loose from
a man all whose strength was tasked to keep his hold. Her cries
were shrillest of all; cutting through the clamor, they had risen
distinguishably to the roof. To her Judah sprang--his steps were
long and swift, almost a winged flight-- "Mother, mother!" he
shouted. She stretched her hands towards him; but when almost
touching them he was seized and forced aside. Then he heard some
one say, speaking loudly,

"That is he!"

Judah looked, and saw--Messala.

"What, the assassin--that?" said a tall man, in legionary armor
of beautiful finish. "Why, he is but a boy."

"Gods!" replied Messala, not forgetting his drawl. "A new philosophy!
What would Seneca say to the proposition that a man must be old before
he can hate enough to kill? You have him; and that is his mother;
yonder his sister. You have the whole family."

For love of them, Judah forgot his quarrel.

"Help them, O my Messala! Remember our childhood and help them.
I--Judah--pray you."

Messala affected not to hear.

"I cannot be of further use to you," he said to the officer.
"There is richer entertainment in the street. Down Eros, up Mars!"

With the last words he disappeared. Judah understood him, and,
in the bitterness of his soul, prayed to Heaven.

"In the hour of thy vengeance, O Lord," he said, "be mine the hand
to put it upon him!"

By great exertion, he drew nearer the officer.

"O sir, the woman you hear is my mother. Spare her, spare my
sister yonder. God is just, he will give you mercy for mercy."

The man appeared to be moved.

"To the Tower with the women!" he shouted, "but do them no harm.
I will demand them of you." Then to those holding Judah, he said,
"Get cords, and bind his hands, and take him to the street.
His punishment is reserved."

The mother was carried away. The little Tirzah, in her home attire,
stupefied with fear, went passively with her keepers. Judah gave
each of them a last look, and covered his face with his hands,
as if to possess himself of the scene fadelessly. He may have
shed tears, though no one saw them.

There took place in him then what may be justly called the wonder
of life. The thoughtful reader of these pages has ere this discerned
enough to know that the young Jew in disposition was gentle even
to womanliness--a result that seldom fails the habit of loving and
being loved. The circumstances through which he had come had made
no call upon the harsher elements of his nature, if such he had.
At times he had felt the stir and impulses of ambition, but they
had been like the formless dreams of a child walking by the sea
and gazing at the coming and going of stately ships. But now, if we
can imagine an idol, sensible of the worship it was accustomed to,
dashed suddenly from its altar, and lying amidst the wreck of its
little world of love, an idea may be had of what had befallen the
young Ben-Hur, and of its effect upon his being. Yet there was no
sign, nothing to indicate that he had undergone a change, except
that when he raised his head, and held his arms out to be bound,
the bend of the Cupid's bow had vanished from his lips. In that
instant he had put off childhood and become a man.

A trumpet sounded in the court-yard. With the cessation of the
call, the gallery was cleared of the soldiery; many of whom,
as they dared not appear in the ranks with visible plunder in
their hands, flung what they had upon the floor, until it was
strewn with articles of richest virtu. When Judah descended,
the formation was complete, and the officer waiting to see his
last order executed.

The mother, daughter, and entire household were led out of the
north gate, the ruins of which choked the passageway. The cries
of the domestics, some of whom had been born in the house, were most
pitiable. When, finally, the horses and all the dumb tenantry of the
place were driven past him, Judah began to comprehend the scope of
the procurator's vengeance. The very structure was devoted. Far as
the order was possible of execution, nothing living was to be left
within its walls. If in Judea there were others desperate enough to
think of assassinating a Roman governor, the story of what befell
the princely family of Hur would be a warning to them, while the
ruin of the habitation would keep the story alive.

The officer waited outside while a detail of men temporarily
restored the gate.

In the street the fighting had almost ceased. Upon the houses
here and there clouds of dust told where the struggle was yet
prolonged. The cohort was, for the most part, standing at rest,
its splendor, like its ranks, in nowise diminished. Borne past
the point of care for himself, Judah had heart for nothing in
view but the prisoners, among whom he looked in vain for his
mother and Tirzah.

Suddenly, from the earth where she had been lying, a woman arose
and started swiftly back to the gate. Some of the guards reached
out to seize her, and a great shout followed their failure. She ran
to Judah, and, dropping down, clasped his knees, the coarse black
hair powdered with dust veiling her eyes.

"O Amrah, good Amrah," he said to her, "God help you; I cannot."

She could not speak.

He bent down, and whispered, "Live, Amrah, for Tirzah and my mother.
They will come back, and--"

A soldier drew her away; whereupon she sprang up and rushed through
the gateway and passage into the vacant court-yard.

"Let her go," the officer shouted. "We will seal the house, and she
will starve."

The men resumed their work, and, when it was finished there,
passed round to the west side. That gate was also secured,
after which the palace of the Hurs was lost to use.

The cohort at length marched back to the Tower, where the procurator
stayed to recover from his hurts and dispose of his prisoners. On the
tenth day following, he visited the Market-place.





Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace
Category:
General Fiction
Nabou.com: the big site