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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."





Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace
Category:
General Fiction
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