eBooks Cube
 
CHAPTER III



To speak in the style of the period, the meeting just described took
place in the year of Rome 747. The month was December, and winter
reigned over all the regions east of the Mediterranean. Such as
ride upon the desert in this season go not far until smitten
with a keen appetite. The company under the little tent were not
exceptions to the rule. They were hungry, and ate heartily; and,
after the wine, they talked.

"To a wayfarer in a strange land nothing is so sweet as to hear his
name on the tongue of a friend," said the Egyptian, who assumed to be
president of the repast. "Before us lie many days of companionship.
It is time we knew each other. So, if it be agreeable, he who came
last shall be first to speak."

Then, slowly at first, like one watchful of himself, the Greek
began:

"What I have to tell, my brethren, is so strange that I hardly
know where to begin or what I may with propriety speak. I do not
yet understand myself. The most I am sure of is that I am doing a
Master's will, and that the service is a constant ecstasy. When I
think of the purpose I am sent to fulfil, there is in me a joy so
inexpressible that I know the will is God's."

The good man paused, unable to proceed, while the others, in sympathy
with his feelings, dropped their gaze.

"Far to the west of this," he began again, "there is a land which
may never be forgotten; if only because the world is too much its
debtor, and because the indebtedness is for things that bring to men
their purest pleasures. I will say nothing of the arts, nothing of
philosophy, of eloquence, of poetry, of war: O my brethren, hers is
the glory which must shine forever in perfected letters, by which
He we go to find and proclaim will be made known to all the earth.
The land I speak of is Greece. I am Gaspar, son of Cleanthes the
Athenian.

"My people," he continued, "were given wholly to study, and from them
I derived the same passion. It happens that two of our philosophers,
the very greatest of the many, teach, one the doctrine of a Soul
in every man, and its Immortality; the other the doctrine of One
God, infinitely just. From the multitude of subjects about which
the schools were disputing, I separated them, as alone worth the
labor of solution; for I thought there was a relation between God
and the soul as yet unknown. On this theme the mind can reason to
a point, a dead, impassable wall; arrived there, all that remains
is to stand and cry aloud for help. So I did; but no voice came
to me over the wall. In despair, I tore myself from the cities
and the schools."

At these words a grave smile of approval lighted the gaunt face
of the Hindoo.

"In the northern part of my country--in Thessaly," the Greek
proceeded to say, "there is a mountain famous as the home of the
gods, where Theus, whom my countrymen believe supreme, has his
abode; Olympus is its name. Thither I betook myself. I found a
cave in a hill where the mountain, coming from the west, bends to
the southeast; there I dwelt, giving myself up to meditation--no,
I gave myself up to waiting for what every breath was a prayer--for
revelation. Believing in God, invisible yet supreme, I also believed
it possible so to yearn for him with all my soul that he would take
compassion and give me answer."

"And he did--he did!" exclaimed the Hindoo, lifting his hands from
the silken cloth upon his lap.

"Hear me, brethren," said the Greek, calming himself with an effort.
"The door of my hermitage looks over an arm of the sea, over the
Thermaic Gulf. One day I saw a man flung overboard from a ship
sailing by. He swam ashore. I received and took care of him.
He was a Jew, learned in the history and laws of his people;
and from him I came to know that the God of my prayers did
indeed exist; and had been for ages their lawmaker, ruler,
and king. What was that but the Revelation I dreamed of? My
faith had not been fruitless; God answered me!"

"As he does all who cry to him with such faith," said the Hindoo.

"But, alas!" the Egyptian added, "how few are there wise enough
to know when he answers them!"

"That was not all," the Greek continued. "The man so sent to me
told me more. He said the prophets who, in the ages which followed
the first revelation, walked and talked with God, declared he would
come again. He gave me the names of the prophets, and from the
sacred books quoted their very language. He told me, further,
that the second coming was at hand--was looked for momentarily
in Jerusalem."

The Greek paused, and the brightness of his countenance faded.

"It is true," he said, after a little--"it is true the man told
me that as God and the revelation of which he spoke had been for
the Jews alone, so it would be again. He that was to come should
be King of the Jews. 'Had he nothing for the rest of the world?'
I asked. 'No,' was the answer, given in a proud voice--'No, we are
his chosen people.' The answer did not crush my hope. Why should
such a God limit his love and benefaction to one land, and, as it
were, to one family? I set my heart upon knowing. At last I broke
through the man's pride, and found that his fathers had been
merely chosen servants to keep the Truth alive, that the world
might at last know it and be saved. When the Jew was gone, and I
was alone again, I chastened my soul with a new prayer--that I
might be permitted to see the King when he was come, and worship
him. One night I sat by the door of my cave trying to get nearer
the mysteries of my existence, knowing which is to know God;
suddenly, on the sea below me, or rather in the darkness that
covered its face, I saw a star begin to burn; slowly it arose and
drew nigh, and stood over the hill and above my door, so that its
light shone full upon me. I fell down, and slept, and in my dream
I heard a voice say:

"'O Gaspar! Thy faith hath conquered! Blessed art thou! With two
others, come from the uttermost parts of the earth, thou shalt see
Him that is promised, and be a witness for him, and the occasion of
testimony in his behalf. In the morning arise, and go meet them,
and keep trust in the Spirit that shall guide thee.'

"And in the morning I awoke with the Spirit as a light within me
surpassing that of the sun. I put off my hermit's garb, and dressed
myself as of old. From a hiding-place I took the treasure which I
had brought from the city. A ship went sailing past. I hailed it,
was taken aboard, and landed at Antioch. There I bought the camel
and his furniture. Through the gardens and orchards that enamel
the banks of the Orontes, I journeyed to Emesa, Damascus, Bostra,
and Philadelphia; thence hither. And so, O brethren, you have my
story. Let me now listen to you."





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